The Essence of Death

There were a few wandering clouds in the early morning sky which was so pale, quiet and without time. The sun was waiting for the excellency of the morning to finish. The dew was on the meadows and there were no shadows and the trees were alone, waiting for them. It was very early and even the stream was hesitant to make its boisterous run. It was quiet and the breeze hadn’t yet awakened and the leaves were still. There was no smoke yet from any of the houses but the roofs began to glow with the coming light. The stars were yielding reluctantly to dawn and there was that peculiar silent expectation when the sun is about to come; the hills were waiting and so were the trees and meadows open in their joy. Then the sun touched the mountain tops, a gentle soothing touch and the snow became bright with the early morning light; the leaves began to stir from the long night and smoke was going straight up from one of the cottages and the stream was chattering away, without any restraint. And slowly, hesitantly and with delicate shyness the long shadows spread across the land; the mountains cast their shadows on the hills and the hills on the meadows and the trees were waiting for their shadows but soon they were there, the light ones and the deep ones, the feathery and the heavy. And the aspens were dancing, the day had begun.

Meditation is this attention in which there is an awareness, without choice, of the movement of all things, the cawing of the crows, the electric saw ripping through the wood, the trembling of leaves, the noisy stream, a boy calling, the feelings, the motives, the thoughts chasing each other and going deeper, the awareness of total consciousness. And in this attention, time as yesterday pursuing into the space of tomorrow and the twisting and turning of consciousness has become quiet and still. In this stillness there is an immeasurable, not comparable movement; a movement that has no being, that’s the essence of bliss and death and life. A movement that cannot be followed for it leaves no path and because it is still, motionless; it is the essence of all motion.

The road went west, curling through rain-soaked meadows, past small villages on the slope of hills, crossing the mountain streams of clear snow waters, past churches with copper steeples; it went on and on into dark, cavernous clouds and rain, with mountains closing in. It began to drizzle, and looking back casually through the back window of the slow-moving car, from where we had come, there were the sunlit clouds, blue sky and the bright, clear mountains. Without saying a word, instinctively, the car stopped, backed and turned and we went on towards light and mountains. It was impossibly beautiful and as the road turned into an open valley, the heart stood still; it was still and as open as the expanding valley, it was completely shattering. We had been through that valley several times; the shape of the hills were fairly familiar; the meadows and the cottages were recognizable and the familiar noise of the stream was there. Everything was there except the brain, though it was driving the car. Everything had become so intense, there was death. Not because the brain was quiet, not because of the beauty of the land, or of the light on the clouds or the immovable dignity of the mountains; it was none of these things, though all these things may have added something towards it. It was literally death; everything suddenly coming to an end; there was no continuity, the brain was directing the body in driving the car and that was all. Literally that was all. The car went on for some time and stopped. There was life and death, so closely, intimately, inseparably together and neither was important. Something shattering had taken place.

There was no deception or imagination; it was much too serious for that kind of silly aberration; it was not something to play about. Death is not a casual affair and it would not go; there’s no argument with it. You can have a lifelong discussion with life but it is not possible with death. It’s so final and absolute. It wasn’t the death of the body; that would be a fairly simple and decisive event. Living with death was quite another matter. There was life and there was death; they were there inexorably united. It wasn’t a psychological death; it wasn’t a shock that drove out all thought, all feeling; it wasn’t a sudden aberration of the brain nor a mental illness. It was none of these things nor a curious decision of a brain that was tired or in despair. It wasn’t an unconscious wish for death. It was none of these things; these would be immature and so easily connived at. It was something in a different dimension; it was something that defied time-space description.

It was there, the very essence of death. The essence of self is death but this death was the very essence of life as well. In fact they were not separate, life and death. This was not something conjured up by the brain for its comfort and ideational security. The very living was the dying and dying was living. In that car, with all that beauty and colour, with that ‘feeling’ of ecstasy, death was part of love, part of everything. Death wasn’t a symbol, an idea, a thing that one knew. It was there, in reality, in fact, as intense and demanding as the honk of a car that wanted to pass. As life would never leave nor can be set aside, so death now would never leave or be put aside. It was there with an extraordinary intensity and with a finality.

All night one lived with it; it seemed to have taken possession of the brain and the usual activities; not too many of the brain’s movements went on but there was a casual indifference about them. There was indifference previously but now it was past and beyond all formulation. Everything had become much more intense, both life and death.

Death was there on waking, without sorrow, but with life. It was a marvellous morning. There was that benediction which was the delight of the mountains and of the trees.


It was a warm day and there were plenty of shadows; the rocks shone with a solid brilliance. The dark pines never seemed to move, unlike those aspens which were ready to tremble at the slightest whisper. There was a strong breeze from the west, sweeping through the valley. The rocks were so alive that they seemed to run after the clouds and the clouds clung to them, taking the shape and the curve of the rocks; they flowed around them and it was difficult to separate the rocks from the clouds. And the trees were walking with the clouds. The whole valley seemed to be moving and the small, narrow paths that went up to the woods and beyond, seemed to yield and come alive. And the sparkling meadows were the haunt of shy flowers. But this morning rocks ruled the valley; they were of so many colours that there was only colour; these rocks were gentle this morning and they were of so many shapes and sizes. And they were so indifferent to everything, to the wind, rains and to the explosions for the needs of man. They had been there and they were going to be past all time.

It was a splendid morning and the sun was everywhere and every leaf was stirring; it was a good morning for the drive, not long but enough to see the beauty of the land. It was a morning that was made new by death, not the death of decay, disease or accident but the death that destroys for creation to be. There is no creation if death does not sweep away all the things that the brain has put together to safeguard the self-centred existence. Death, previously, was a new form of continuity; death was associated with continuity. With death came a new existence, a new experience, a new breath and a new life. The old ceased and the new was born and the new then gave place to yet another new. Death was the means to the new state, new invention, to a new way of life, to a new thought. It was a frightening change but that very change brought a fresh hope.

But now death did not bring anything new, a new horizon, a new breath. It is death, absolute and final. And then there’s nothing, neither past nor future. Nothing. There’s no giving birth to anything. But there’s no despair, no seeking; complete death without time; looking out of great depths which are not there. Death is there without the old or the new. It is death without smile and tear. It is not a mask covering up, hiding some reality. The reality is death and there’s no need for cover. Death has wiped away everything and left nothing. This nothing is the dance of the leaf, it is the call of that child. It is nothing and there must be nothing. What continues is decay, the machine, the habit, the ambition. There is corruption but not in death. Death is total nothingness. It must be there for out of that, life is, love is. For in this nothingness creation is. Without absolute death, there’s no creation.

We were reading something, casually and remarking about the state of the world when suddenly and unexpectedly the room became full with that benediction, which has come so often now. The door was open in the little room and we were just going to eat when through the open door it came. One could literally, physically feel it, like a wave flowing into the room. It became ‘more’ and ‘more’ intense, the more is not comparatively used; it was something that was incredibly strong and immovable, with shattering power. Words are not the thing and the actual thing can never be put into words; it must be seen, heard and lived; then it has quite a different significance.