Find the undying in the dying

A questioner said to a teacher: “These scriptural texts are all dead things. Perhaps they were alive to the people who gave them, and those who first heard them, but that was long ago. Now they’re dead, and nothing can bring dead things back to life!”

It is even said by some Christian theologians (if they can be called so) that Christ’s message was presented in religious terms because that was the thought of the time: today that part of the message is dead, and what remains is the duty to one’s neighbour. This is the reverse of what Christ himself said:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart,
with all your soul, with all your mind.
That is the greatest commandment.
It comes first.”

In the same way this man said to the teacher: “Dead things can never live again.” So the teacher took him out for a walk past a farm, where the teacher asked the farmer, whom he knew well, to give him a handful of hay from the haystack.

He said, “This grass is dead, is it not?”
“I’m going to make it live,” remarked the teacher.

Presently they came to a field with a horse in it. The teacher held out the hay and the horse ate it. The teacher said: “Now this dead grass is becoming the vigour and splendour of the living horse. In the same way these texts, as you rightly say, are dead; but when you digest them and incorporate them into yourself – not just look at them (if the horse just looks at the hay it will do him no good) – when you incorporate them into yourself through restraint of the senses and one-pointed meditation, then they will become the vigour and splendour of wisdom.”
As an example, take the text which comes near the beginning of the Bhagavad Gita:

As a man casts off worn-out clothes and puts on new ones,
so does the incarnated self leave its worn-out bodies and enlighten new forms.

Many people feel a stir of life in themselves on hearing these words, but then the mind says: “Well, how do we know? How could it ever be proved?” and then the text becomes dead. It may remain as a vaguely exalting or consoling idea, but it is dead.

A living yogic tradition, however, tells us that a text like this applies not merely to life after death, but to our lives now. We are taking on clothes of personality, of habits, of ideas of ourselves, and we hang on to these clothes. We think, “This is me”. But we must become able to put off clothes, and take on others which are new, and in practice this means independence of the clothes which we think are ourselves. Some of us are, so to speak, wearing evening dress all the time: “We can’t work in the garden, it would spoil our fine clothes.” And those who do work in the garden, enjoying it, say, “We could not come into the kitchen; we have mud on our shoes.” We must be able to put off these clothes and put on others, not thinking that habitual attitudes and ways are ourselves: they are only clothes.

When we can shed our clothes of personality and reputation and habit, we become flexible, and clearsighted. The clothes, the fixed habits, prevent us from seeing realities. Even in the things where we regard ourselves as expert, these fixed attitudes, identification of ourselves with attitudes, in the end frustrate us. `Experts’ often blindly resist new ideas.
Fixed attitudes prevent independence. If we know that there is something which does not die although all the attitudes which we regard as ourselves do die, then we begin to become independent. The texts must be applied to daily life.

Let us try this by meditating, now for a few minutes, on a related verse from the Gita:


In present experience, everything is dying. My body is dying, my thoughts are dying-they rise up and they die. The feelings are dying, all the relations with other people are dying. But these is something in this constant flow which is not dying. The text points to something in our experience which we have not yet noticed. So let us now sit still and mark the flow in the mind, mark how it all changes and passes. And then try to mark something which doesn’t change, which doesn’t die in the dying.

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