The Book of Yourself Newsletter

Issue 19: June 2023

Dear Friends,

I am rather late with this newsletter. My apologies. Much has been happening in the way of immediate challenges and unexpected events, so that my energy and attention had to be directed in all sorts of directions and at times with unpredictable urgency. I have just returned from a trip to Switzerland, where I was for about three weeks. My old friend, mentor and benefactor Friedrich Grohe was in a bad way, so I drove off to Rougemont as soon as I could. Friedrich is 93 and for the last few years has been experiencing a series of increasingly challenging health issues, mostly due to a very weak heart. That is not surprising for his age. He was in hospital when I arrived but is now in a stable condition and living at home, where he is being cared for around the clock. He is lucid and at ease with his departure, whenever that should be. That is rather a touching thing to see. K sometimes asked why don’t we human beings die with the beauty and dignity of an autumn leaf? That’s undoubtedly a consummation devoutly to be wished, though perhaps not always in our power to attain. He suggested that the manner of our death is closely bound with the way we live, how we treat our bodies and whether we spend our days in egocentric pursuits, with their inherent conflict and sorrow. The art of living and the art of dying being one and the same.

“Look at the old men and women, how decrepit, how lost, how unhappy and how ugly they look. Is it because they have not really understood either the living or the dying? They have used life, they waste away their life with incessant conflict which only exercises and gives strength to the self, the ‘me’, the ego. We spend our days in such varieties of conflict and unhappiness, with some joy and pleasure, drinking, smoking, late nights and work, work, work. And at the end of one’s life one faces that thing called death and is frightened of it.”
Krishnamurti to Himself, pg. 133

It might sound a bit harsh to describe old people as decrepit, ugly, unhappy and lost, but perhaps such a dramatic depiction is not far from the actual fate of the common run of humanity, particularly in our so-called civilised world. Dying with beauty and dignity, with a smile on our faces, reconciled with our past and at ease with our passing, might be increasingly rare. Most of us die in hospitals surrounded by medical staff and not in our own beds at home surrounded by friends and family. Death, which has been with us all along, was consistently ignored, put at a distance, at the end, not viewed as our constant companion at each step of the way.

“Death was always there waiting, watching; you couldn’t escape it, even though it was worshipped. There were so many beliefs, so many hopes and so many doctors but it was always there, in every house, in every hut; wherever you lived it was there, with disease or with health. You were burnt on the banks of a river or buried in marble halls; to death it was all the same, young, old or newly born. Tears, the latest drugs and flowers cannot dissuade death; it is so final and absolute. But who thinks of it, till it comes; you avoid it, turn your face away from it.”
Notebook, pg. 346

It is perhaps altogether natural that every living thing should do what it can to avoid death, for death means the ending of the organism. That is part of our biological survival instinct. Extended to the psyche, that survival implies the preservation and continuity of ourselves as psychological entities. So just like we would naturally avoid any physical threat to our survival, so do we avoid facing the implications of the finality of death when it comes to our own consciousness and personalities. The psyche would thus be an extrapolation from the biological and just as in the biological there is a tension between death and survival, so is there a struggle in the psyche between the demand for continuity and its ending. (Some psychologists, notably Sigmund Freud, named these opposing principles Eros and Thanatos, respectively.) But, of course, the ubiquity and inevitability of death must be reckoned with, giving rise to various philosophical explanations and religious beliefs, most of them implying an afterlife and some notion of reincarnation through which we might attain our final liberation from the round of life and death. This view, however comforting, is still based on the notion of continuity and therefore of time as the way to the attainment of an ideal perfection. In this traditional approach, life and death are still separate, whereas the truth may be that they are one and the same.

“But life is death; they are inseparable. You cannot have one without the other, however much you may love the one. You cannot separate the one from the other and spend all the days of your life cheating the other. It is there as your shadow, night and day, sleeping or waking. Your house is more or less permanent, the government or someone in the family will get it; your family will inherit your name but they too will pass away, with all your beliefs, fears and guilt. There is nothing permanent, not even your bank account, though you may like to have it till the last moment. Nothing is permanent and so your heart says, ‘Let’s live for the day’, but the day is full of sorrow and shadows. The more superficial you are, the more dead you are but even for you, it is waiting there, even for the quick-witted, none can avoid it, do what you will. But it is with life and so live with it, die every day, as you live every day, die to all the miseries, to all the pleasures. Don’t keep one, locked away deep in your heart, die to everything, to your memories, to your youth, to your gods, to your saviours and also to your family. Be an outsider to everything. Don’t die tomorrow but today, to everything that you have known. Then there is no fear which is the shadow of death. Then you will see that life is not one thing and death another; the ending is the beginning. Then the mind is beyond time; fear is time, thought breeds it. With the death of the past, the experiences, memories, the new and the old traditions, mind is made new and there is the unknown, the not measurable.”
Notebook, pp. 347-348
The constancy of death is borne out by the fact of impermanence. Nothing endures forever. One’s possessions and one’s name will fade away together with one’s knowledge, achievements, pleasures, fears and guilt. So, whether we like it or not, everything is in a process of constant change, of coming into being and passing away. We fear death because we are attached to things, people and ideas, to our bank accounts, our families, our gods, our memories. These identifications become the substance of what we are and live for. We might live in constant battle, endless work and suffering but that is the life we know and that we cling to. To die every day, as K suggests, to all these things would mean to die to the make-believe permanence of the self. Not to separate the end and the beginning collapses the movement of time as becoming. It is the psychological continuity of the past that breeds fear.

“There is a withering away; the machinery of the physical organism deteriorates, gets worn out which is death. But that is inevitable, as the lead of this pencil will wear out. Is that what causes fear? Or the death of the world of becoming, gaining, achieving? That world has no validity; it’s the world of make-believe, of escape. The fact, the what is, and the what should be are two entirely different things. The what should be involves time and distance, sorrow and fear. Death of these leaves only the fact, the what is. There is no future to what is; thought cannot change the fact, it can only escape from it and when all the urge to escape is dead, then the fact undergoes a tremendous mutation. But there must be death to thought which is time. When time as thought is not, then is there the fact, the what is? When there is destruction of time, as thought, there’s no movement in any direction, no space to cover, there’s only the stillness of emptiness. This is total destruction of time as yesterday, today and tomorrow, as the memory of continuity, of becoming.”
Notebook, pg. 113

Psychologically we are time, and it is time that creates the division between living and dying. This division is a fragmentation of life. We are the content of our consciousness. Consciousness is not individual but the consciousness of humanity. It is the ground on which all human beings stand, so we are the world. Our life is the ‘me’ to which we cling. Death is the ending of everything we know, the total denial of psychological time, of the ‘me’. This understanding reveals the extraordinary significance of death in life because when the past ends there is the new. K’s deep insight challenges us to be masters of time and asks whether we can end our attachments and live with death as part of life. Life and death are one when we end to the time-bound content of consciousness while living. Without time there is no fear of death.

“One has to find out for oneself what it means to die; then there is no fear, therefore every day is a new day – and I really mean this, one can do this – so that your mind and your eyes see life as something totally new. That is eternity. That is the quality of the mind that has come upon this timeless state, because it has known what it means to die every day to everything it has collected during the day. Surely, in that there is love. Love is something totally new every day, but pleasure is not, pleasure has continuity. Love is always new and therefore it is its own eternity.”
The Awakening of Intelligence, pg. 84

For K death means the ending of time, of all the things we have accumulated inwardly, of the known, of ambition and the continuity of pleasure, ending our hurts every day so the mind is innocent. Dying to time and thought ends fear and that ending reveals the creative newness of each day. This timeless quality of mind emerges from the emptying of the psychological content of consciousness, of the self. This quality of emptiness, of inner space and silence, K calls meditation. A mind in meditation knows death, love and creation. For such a mind there is no reincarnation because it is incarnating every day. It is a timeless vision of immortality that has nothing to do with one’s own continuity in time either in this world or in the hereafter and their eternal return. It is a daunting and beautiful dissolution of one of our greatest sources of suffering, for in that timeless state death is life and fear and sorrow have no dominion.

Each of us, however, must meet this fundamental reality, face up to our ending, both physically and psychologically. If death is life, then it is not to be postponed, for life is always and only now. Living with death thus means dying while living, which is from moment to moment. One key to this dying is to stay with what is, which requires the understanding of how the past distorts the fact and brings about division and conflict. As our life is our consciousness, which is the psychological time of the ‘me’, the deeper key to transformation is the emptying of its content. This is what K calls the religious mind, in whose timeless emptiness there is the flowering of love, compassion and intelligence, of beauty, goodness and truth. But the description is not the described and these depths of being remain to be discovered.

Be well, amigos, and stay awake to the creative simultaneity of living and dying.


Photos: J. Gómez Rodríguez: 1. The Eiger, Mürren, CH; 2. Sundown, Rougemont, CH.

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