Tuesday, June 10, 2008

timor mortis

I must not fear.
Fear is the mind-killer.
Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration.
I will face my fear.
I will permit it to pass over me and through me.
And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path.
Where the fear has gone there will be nothing.
Only I will remain. 1

Meditation on inevitable death should be performed daily. Every day when one's body and mind are at peace, one should meditate upon being ripped apart by arrows, rifles, spears and swords, being carried away by surging waves, being thrown into the midst of a great fire, being struck by lightning, being shaken to death by a great earthquake, falling from thousand-foot cliffs, dying of disease or committing seppuku at the death of one's master. And every day without fail one should consider himself as dead.

Whatever your creed, I believe each one of us must answer the question of death. Each of us will, without doubt, die. Death is the reality that delimits, defines, demarcates human existence as we know it. What is death, and what may or may not lie beyond it, shapes our whole lives, and the avoidance of reckoning with that reality will either shape our lives in its turn, or leave us to lead lives of quiet self-delusion.

At the heart of Christianity are a number of paradoxes. We worship a God whom we call 'the Author of Life', and yet affirm that death is not the end. In fact, the radical news of the gospel is that, for those who are willing to abandon the supreme value of their own life, to embrace death in the wake of the one who says, 'I am the Life', will find that death for his sake is life eternal. This radical re-evaluation of the place of death wars with the affirmation of life, just as the paradox of the tree of life in Genesis 1 finds strange resonances with the 'tree' of death that is the cross, and the tree of life that re-appears in the book of endings and beginnings, the Apocalypse of John the Seer.

This radical re-orientation creates dissonance in the mind, as the illuminated understanding proclaims death to self, to the world, and life to God, and that a purified and perfect eternal life begins now, but finds consummation in the physical death of the self and the purgative death of the world. So Paul the Apostle can write, "For me to live is Christ, to die is gain"3, and Jesus says, "Do not fear those who kill the body".4

Therefore, I find the words of Herbert and the Hagakure very apropos. They call for a meditation upon the illusory reality of fear, and the inevitability of death. Once freed from the fear of death by the acceptance of its inevitability, and as a follower of a resurrected Jew, one finds oneself gradually embracing a fearless life, holding one's own death as merely an inevitable transition, a death for the deathless, the beginning of life anew.

1Herbert, Frank Dune 1965
2Hagakure: The way of the samurai
3Phil 1:21
4Luke 12:4

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