teisho 1125 (2008)
It is the need to exist, the insistence on existence, that is the source of our suffering. Existence comes from two words: ex-which means outside of, and then sistere, to stand. So existence is to stand outside, and it is this need to stand outside that is the source of our suffering. It is standing outside of ourselves that is the real key. Standing outside of ourselves arises from the creation of the world that we undertake. The sense of self stands at the center of the world we create. Being at the center, being the one, is the key to existence.
Nisargadatta is asked: ‘When the body dies, do you remain?’ And he replies, ‘Nothing dies. The body is just imagined, there is no such thing.’ We chant the Prajna Paramita: ‘No eye, ear, nose, tongue, body, mind…’ In other words, we are affirming this illusory nature. Ultimately the Prajna Paramita is the chant of death. If you are going to see into What am I? you must see truly into death.
Nisargadatta is then asked: ‘when you die, we will see your body cremated. that will be our experience of your death. What will your experience of death be?’ And he answers: ‘Time will come to an end.’ This is called the great death, the death of time. The questioner asks, ‘ Does that mean the world and its content will come to an end.?’ Nisargardatta replies, ‘The world is your personal experience, how can it be affected?’
When a person dies, time comes to an end for that person. But what kind of death is this? We have said that seeing into yourself is the same as seeing into death. It is seeing into the illusory sense of the self which is at issue. When we consider death and it brings up fear, we are considering nothing, negation, annihilation. The thrust to exist, the need to be one, special, unique, is negated by the fear of death, there is no longer the ability to affirm an absolute self. Yet it is that need to affirm an absolute self that is behind our idea of ourselves. There is the sense that death is the greatest mystery, but the mystery of death is the mystery of what it means to be, not what it means to die.
The great mystery is I am. Beyond the thrust to existence, giving it vitality and life, is I am. It is the apparent negation of that which cannot be negated, that which is beyond existence, which is the mystery. How can that which cannot be negated be negated by death? When we put it in those terms, we see the mystery crumble because the negation is an idea. I am is the reality. When we ask Who am I?, if one is really serious with this question, it is inevitable that it can bring about a great sense of unease, even anxiety and fear.
What we call the world is that which is encompassed by your immediate experience. Your world consists of memories, of fears and hopes. You might have been giving a talk for two hours. Where has it gone when it is finished? When you have a thought and then that thought no longer exists, where has it gone? Now you are dying, where has it all gone? If life is your experience, where does that experience go when you die? At death, the beginning, middle and end of life are merged together, it is the end of time. Time has come to a stop; it was, but is no more.
We think that because we die there is no longer life; and because we live, there is not yet death. Is it possible that life is the body of death? In which case, what we call death is no longer a dark empty hole, but a brilliant, scintillating light of life. Immortality is freedom from the feeling I am. But this is not extinction. On the contrary, it is a state infinitely more real, aware and happy than you can possibly imagine. Only existence is no more. Existence comes out of the sense of self.
Many feel that their feelings are the truth, and the feeling I am is often confused with the truth. But the truth I am is beyond all feeling. As it says in the Prajna Paramita, it is beyond consciousness itself.