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Series II - Chapter 14 - ‘The Fear Of Death’
ON THE RED earth in front of the house there were quantities of trumpet-like flowers with golden hearts. They had large, mauve petals and a delicate scent. They would be swept away during the day, but in the darkness of night they covered the red earth. The creeper was strong with serrated leaves which glistened in the morning sun. Some children carelessly trod on the flowers, and a man getting hurriedly into his car never even looked at them. A passer-by picked one, smelt it, and carried it away, to be dropped presently. A woman who must have been a servant came out of the house, picked a flower, and put it in her hair. How beautiful those flowers were, and how quickly they were withering in the sun!
“I have always been haunted by some kind of fear. As a child I was very timid, shy and sensitive, and now I am afraid of old age and death. I know we must all die but no amount of rationalizing seems to calm this fear. I have joined the Psychical Research Society, attended a few séances, and read what the great teachers have said about death; but fear of it is still there. I even tied psychoanalysis, but that was no good either. This fear has become quite a problem to me; I wake up in the middle of the night with frightful dreams, and all of them are in one way or another concerned with death. I am strangely frightened of violence and death. The war was a continual nightmare to me, and now I am really very disturbed. It is not a neurosis, but I can see that it might become one. I have done everything that I possibly can to control this fear; I have tried to run away from it, but at the end of my escape I have not been able to shake it off. I have listened to a few rather stupid lectures on reincarnation, and have somewhat studied the Hindu and Buddhist literature concerning it. But all this has been very unsatisfactory, at least to me. I am not just superficially afraid of death, but there is a very deep fear of it.”
How do you approach the future, the tomorrow death? Are you trying to find the truth of the matter, or are you seeking reassurance, a gratifying assertion of continuity or annihilation? Do you want the truth, or a comforting answer? “When you put it that way, I really do not know what I am afraid of; but the fear is both there and urgent.”
What is your problem? Do you want to be free from fear, or are you seeking the truth regarding death? “What do you mean by the truth regarding death?”
Death is an unavoidable fact; do what you will, it is irrevocable, final and true. But do you want to know the truth of what is beyond death? “From everything I have studied and from the few materializations I have seen at séances, there is obviously some kind of continuity after death. Thought in some form continues, which you yourself have asserted. Just as the broadcasting of songs, words and pictures requires a receiver at the other end, so thought which continues after death needs an instrument through which it can express itself. The instrument may be a medium, or thought may incarnate itself in another manner. This is all fairly clear and can be experimented with and understood; but even though I have gone into this matter fairly deeply, there is still an unfathomable fear which I think is definitely connected with death.”
Death is inevitable. Continuity can be ended, or it can be nourished and maintained. That which has continuity can never renew itself, it can never be the new, it can never understand the unknown. Continuity is duration, and that which is everlasting is not the timeless. Through time, duration, the timeless is not. There must be ending for the new to be. The new is not within the continuation of thought. Thought is continuous movement in time; this movement cannot enclose within itself a state of being which is not of time. Thought is founded on the past, its very being is of time. Time is not only chronological but it is thought as a movement of the past through the present to the future; it is the movement of memory, of the word, the picture, the symbol, the record, the repetition. Thought, memory, is continuous through word and repetition. The ending of thought is the beginning of the new; the death of thought is life eternal. There must be constant ending for the new to be. That which is new is not continuous; the new can never be within the field of time. The new is only in death from moment to moment. There must be death every day for the unknown to be. The ending is the beginning, but fear prevents the ending.
“I know I have fear, and I don’t know what is beyond it.”
What do we mean by fear? What is fear? Fear is not an abstraction, it does not exist independently, in isolation. It comes into being only in relation to something. In the process of relationship, fear manifests itself; there is no fear apart from relationship. Now what is it that you are afraid of? You say you are afraid of death. What do we mean by death? Though we have theories, speculations, and there are certain observable facts, death is still the unknown. Whatever we may know about it, death itself cannot be brought into the field of the known; we stretch out a hand to grasp it, but it is not. Association is the known, and the unknown cannot be made familiar; habit cannot capture it, so there is fear.
Can the known, the mind, ever comprehend or contain the unknown? The hand that stretches out can receive only the knowable, it cannot hold the unknowable. To desire experience is to give continuity to thought; to desire experience is to give strength to the past; to desire experience is to further the known. You want to experience death, do you not? Though living, you want to know what death is. But do you know what living is? You know life only as conflict, confusion, antagonism, passing joy and pain. But is that life? Are struggle and sorrow life? In this state which we call life we want to experience something that is not in our own field of consciousness. This pain, this struggle, the hate that is enfolded in joy, is what we call living; and we want to experience something which is the opposite of what we call living. The opposite is the continuation of what is, perhaps modified. But death is not the opposite. It is the unknown. The knowable craves to experience death, the unknown; but, do what it will, it cannot experience death, therefore it is fearful. Is that it?
“You have stated it clearly. If I could know or experience what death is while living, then surely fear would cease.”
Because you cannot experience death, you are afraid of it. Can the conscious experience that state which is not to be brought into being through the conscious? That which can be experienced is the projection of the conscious, the known. The known can only experience the known; experience is always within the field of the known; the known cannot experience what is beyond its field. Experiencing is utterly different from experience. Experiencing is not within the field of the experiencer; but as experiencing fades, the experiencer and the experience come into being, and then experiencing is brought into the field of the known. The knower, the experiencer, craves for the state of experiencing, the unknown; and as the experiencer, the knower, cannot enter into the state of experiencing, he is afraid. He is fear he is not separate from it. The experiencer of fear is not an observer of it; he is fear itself, the very instrument of fear.
“What do you mean by fear? I know I am afraid of death. I don’t feel that I am fear, but I am fearful of something. I fear and am separate from fear. Fear is a sensation distinct from the ‘I’ who is looking at it, analysing it. I am the observer, and fear is the observed. How can the observer and the observed be one?”
You say that you are the observer, and fear is the observed. But is that so? Are you an entity separate from your qualities? Are you not identical with your qualities? Are you not your thoughts, emotions, and so on? You are not separate from your qualities, thoughts. You are your thoughts. Thought creates the I ‘you’, the supposedly separate entity; without thought, the thinker is not. Seeing the impermanence of itself, thought creates the thinker as the permanent, the enduring; and the thinker then becomes the experiencer, the analyser, the observer separate from the transient. We all crave some kind of permanency, and seeing impermanence about us, thought creates the thinker who is supposed to be permanent. The thinker then proceeds to build up other and higher states of permanency: the soul, the atman, the higher self, and so on. Thought is the foundation of this whole structure. But that is another matter. We are concerned with fear. What is fear? Let us see what it is.
You say you are afraid of death. Since you cannot experience it, you are afraid of it. Death is the unknown, and you are afraid of the unknown. Is that it? Now, can you be afraid of that which you do not know? If something is unknown to you, how can you be afraid of it? You are really afraid not of the unknown, of death, but of loss of the known, because that might cause pain, or take away your pleasure, your gratification. It is the known that causes fear, not the unknown. How can the unknown cause fear?
It is not measurable in terms of pleasure and pain: it is unknown.
Fear cannot exist by itself, it comes in relationship to something. You are actually afraid of the known in its relation to death, are you not? Because you cling to the known, to an experience, you are frightened of what the future might be. But the ‘what might be’, the future, is merely a reaction, a speculation, the opposite of what is. This is so, is it not? “Yes, that seems to be right.”
And do you know what is? Do you understand it? Have you opened the cupboard of the known and looked into it? Are you not also frightened of what you might discover there? Have you ever inquired into the known, into what you possess? “No, I have not. I have always taken the known for granted. I have accepted the past as one accepts sunlight or rain. I have never considered it; one is almost unconscious of it, as one is of one’s shadow. Now that you mention it, I suppose I am also afraid to find out what might be there.”
Are not most of us afraid to look at ourselves? We might discover unpleasant things, so we would rather not look, we prefer to be ignorant of what is. We are not only afraid of what might be in the future, but also of what might be in the present. We are afraid to know ourselves as we are, and this avoidance of what is is making us afraid of what might be. We approach the so-called known with fear, and also the unknown, death. The avoidance of what is is the desire for gratification. We are seeking security, constantly demanding that there shall be no disturbance; and it is this desire not to be disturbed that makes us avoid what is and fear what might be. Fear is the ignorance of what is, and our life is spent in a constant state of fear.
“But how is one to get rid of this fear?”
To get rid of something you must understand it. Is there fear, or only the desire not to see? It is the desire not to see that brings on fear; and when you don’t want to understand the full significance of what is, fear acts as a preventive. You can lead a gratifying life by deliberately avoiding all inquiry into what is, and many do this; but they are not happy, nor are those who amuse them- selves with a superficial study of what is. Only those who are earnest in their inquiry can be aware of happiness; to them alone is there freedom from fear.
“Then how is one to understand what is?”
The what is is to be seen in the mirror of relationship, relationship with all things. The what is cannot be understood in withdrawal, in isolation; it cannot be understood if there is the interpreter, the translator who denies or accepts. The what is can be understood only when the mind is utterly passive, when it is not operating on what is. “Is it not extremely difficult to be passively aware?”
It is, as long as there is thought.