Death - Talk 5 Santa Sabina 2012 Sesshin
By Zoketsu Norman Fischer | September 22, 2012
Excerpted by Barbara Byrum
For those of you, like me, who are practicing in order to prepare for death, I have some teachings for you.
... He [Baizhang] says, "Don't have any obsessions and don't have any fixed, intellectual interpretations." Which sounds funny. Who would think that you would be debating intellectual things when you are dying? "Let me see, now. Is there God or not? Is there free will?" [Laughter]
I think he means letting all thoughts, perceptions, images, sounds, and so on, gently arise and then letting them go, whatever they are. If something really strong comes, and you get stuck on it with fear - which is sticky - then the thing you get stuck to will get bigger and bigger and bigger, and more and more scary. If fear comes, and you get stuck to the fear with more fear, then the fear gets bigger and turns into panic.
So make your mind gentle and let everything come and go. This is not having obsessions. Then, try not to get fixated on your interpretations. For instance, you might say, "Oh my God, I'm dying. This is terrible!" But that would be an interpretation. Nobody is dying. No one ever dies. Death is entirely conceptual. The only thing is coming and going. Coming and going. Coming and going. Coming and going, forever.
Anyway, whatever your interpretation is about who you are, or what is going on, or who anyone else is, you try not to get stuck on it. You try to come back to the immediacy of what is going on. Then, as he says, you will be free. Death is merciful. Death will take care of you. You don't have to do anything. Just let death take care of you.
Again, it is obvious that this is an instruction for life, as well as for death. In the Japanese tradition, they call dying "Returning to silence." It's really beautiful, isn't it? Silence is nirvana. Peace. It isn't a big absence. It is the potential for anything and everything to arise. The charged emptiness of life and death.
We can feel it in our sitting. Once all of our struggles to be or to do have exhausted themselves, our mind becomes simple and willing and soft.
So in the time we have remaining in this beautiful, silent sesshin, let's try to practice like this. We are all getting ready for dying. Clearing away all the old, gnarled underbrush of a lifetime's confusion. Little by little, we peer ahead, and we see the beautiful road opening up.