Evening had just set in, the sun was dipping at the horizon and its redness filled the sky. It was amazing to see how it lit up the sky even in its last moments. At that time a Zen monk was on his way through the hills when he came across this man who was trying to roll a large stone down a cliff.
He rushed towards the man and asked, "Why do you want to roll down this rock? It could hurt someone below."
The man answered, "I wanted to test how it would be if I rolled down."
"But why at all do you want to!" exclaimed the monk, unable to understand what the man was up to.
"I want to die, but you see I'm scared of falling, lest it leaves me limbless rather than dying. I thought of poison too, but these days everything is adulterated, maybe the poison is not genuine and consuming it too might just leave me with some gastric problem rather than killing me. Do you know of some sure shot way to die? It would be a bonus if it's without pain or risk", the man said with a wry smile.
The monk was shocked as he heard this but nevertheless kept calm and asked "Why at all are you wanting to die?! Life is so..."
And before he could say any further the man interrupted "...is so painful and miserable. My parents died few months ago, my wife is quarrelsome and disloyal, my kids are vagrant, and all of them spend out whatever I earn by working hard. There are so many problems at work place also. My employer sacked me, to give my job to his relative. There isn't any hope left to live. So just tell me how to die."
He folded his hands, knelt and prayed to the monk "Please tell me", he cried and sobbed as he said.
The monk overcome with compassion held his hand and said, “I know of a man who can help you. Come with me." And he took the man to meet his Master.
When they were in the Master's presence, the monk said to his Master, "Revered Master, this man is here to learn the art of dying."
The Master observed the man closely and said to him, “This will take quite some time, hope you are not in a hurry to die."
The man, now happy at the prospect of learning to die, said "As long as it is certain that I will die and the process is without pain, time will not matter."
"Now sit here with your eyes closed", said the Master.
The man did as told. There was silence in the room, but after a while the man started to feel restless. He started thinking about his family. He remembered his parents. He worried what his wife might be upto and what all his children were doing to ruin his savings and reputation. Though his eyes were closed and he was silent on the outside his inside was a mess of thoughts. He started feeling restless. This continued for a while and he impatiently waited for the Master's call to open his eyes. But the Master did not say anything. One hour passed this way. Now his restlessness was getting too much to control so he opened his eyes and saw the Master sitting peacefully before him.
The man immediately reminded himself of the miserable household problems and resolved better this time to die, sat with eyes closed again. Now a different set of thoughts occurred to him. He thought, 'will I really die by just sitting here like this? I doubt. Even falling from a cliff or consuming poison are surer ways to die but only that they are painful.'
All that while he kept doubting if he would really die by this technique of simply sitting with eyes closed and kept struggling with his thoughts. Another hour passed like this and his restlessness grew and he again opened his eyes and saw the Master sitting peacefully before him. He said, "I really doubt if I will die this way. Two hours have passed and nothing happened so far."
Master smiled and said, "You said you were not in a hurry. Still if you doubt me you can try your own methods."
The man recalled how his techniques had seemed scary to him. So he decided to stay on. He sat again with his eyes closed.
Then slowly he sat more peacefully with lesser thoughts. Thus two weeks passed by and he did not feel the need to open his eyes again.
Meanwhile his absence at his place had made his family anxious. None of them knew where he was. They searched but after few days of searching gave up and assumed he was no more. His wife and sons now became wary of the limited resources they had to survive upon. So they started working hard for survival. While at work they had to follow a more disciplined life. Things were improving at the other end of his life. His employer was finding his relative to be inefficient and irresponsible and wanted him to return.
After three months the Master asked him to open his eyes. But now he didn't want to. Then the Master said, "Now you are dead already, so you may go."
The man then opened his eyes. This opening of the eyes was opening them in a true sense as he realised that, by the techniques that he had been thinking of applying to achieve death would have only gotten rid of his body, but inside he would have remained the same. So shedding of the body alone was not quite like dying or rather liberating him from his tribulations. While sitting here like this for few months in meditation, he had lost his thoughts and shed all his negativity. Though his body was still there, he had died internally, a true and more liberating death.
He had learnt the 'Art of dying'!
Author: Jyoti Prateek