Some might say it’s death by chocolate. A long slow velvety kind of death. Reminds me of an early Seventies foreign film starring Marcello Mastroianni called La Grande Bouffe (or Blowout). The plot concerned a group of suicidal gourmands, or foodies who got together at a chateau one weekend and proceeded to literally gorge themselves to death on French cuisine. Maybe it’s become a cult film, it definitely was a classic of a kind.
With the great Mastroianni heading an insane French-Italian cast the film was one of the most perverse I’d ever seen, both utterly disgusting and a howler at times. Here were six or seven charming gentlemen elegantly and endlessly stuffing their guts until they belched, choked, farted, defecated, puked and screwed (there was a woman at the chateau as well, doing the cooking and other services) their way to the other side.
Yucch! Such messy ways to go. Such being the decomposition of the physical body.
According to Hindu and Buddhist teachings there is a far neater formula for a certain kind of death. A death that transcends death itself. Here it is:
You have to die before you die
so when you die you don’t die.
Say what? (That’s what I said when I first heard it.)
“You have to die before you die so that when you die you don’t die.”
Maybe you’ve heard that phrase before and pondered it for a while. Or maybe you dismissed it as mind bending new agey mumbo jumbo. I’ve seen comments on spirituality web sites where people are taking stabs at its meaning and kinda sorta feeling around its edges but not quite penetrating its sweet juicy heart.
Once you get it, this catchy little aphorism becomes a key to deepening your practice. So let’s plunge in.
You have to die before you die…
By “you” the Buddhist and Hindu sages mean your small egoic self. The part of us that goes out every day and tries to wrestle the world around to its way of doing things, the part that wants this and avoids that. Since we truly never know when death will strike us—it could be at any moment, before lunch or without clean underwear on—if the ego is dominating things at that time, the sages say there is no possibility of dying with a peaceful heart and liberated spirit.
Let’s face it, the ego is the world’s biggest despot. It sees whatever’s out there and shouts, “Hey that one’s mine and I will only be happy if I have it/smell it/taste it, blahblah,” be it person, place or thing. Then way or another we’re enslaved. Yet to be happy and live a life that’s free of suffering we must find a way to die to the world of its wants. Since most everything the ego wants stems from sensory input—that being every type of happiness it imagines to be Out There—then it must die to the world of the senses and their pleasures.
What the f*^%!!, I hear you gasping, you mean I can’t enjoy…. Wait! Before you start listing all the delicious things in your life that you love (raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens notwithstanding) this doesn’t mean you give them up. It’s not like you’re handing them over to the Yoga police. You’re not necessarily scratching sex or caramel mocha lattes off the list. Although if your addictions to certain things have been plaguing you and/or causing grief to those around you then dying before you die will ensure those things falling away, gradually or even cold turkey.
While not exactly as ascetic as trading in your Pranas and high heeled pumps for sackcloth and ashes—a potential ego trip right there— this means stepping back from the senses and, through Yoga, meditation, the Yamas (social ethics) and the Niyamas (personal conduct) eventually becoming completely detached from them. Otherwise the ego will make sure that our senses take us on a rollercoaster ride every time. Whatever appears alluring to them we want, believing that will make us happy. That’s relatively true, because the ego is momentarily appeased. But is it ultimate Truth? No way. Because anything that exists in this world is impermanent. It has a beginning (birth or manufacture) and an ending (death or obsolescence). Ultimate Truth—the kind that the sages say lives within us—is beginningless and endless. Accept no substitutes!
Looking back now after years of Yoga saturation I can see La Grande Bouffe as a parable, a cautionary tale. A warning as to what may befall us, not necessarily when we use food as a way out of our woes but how our senses can subvert our best intentions. The ego’s dying to the senses gives us greater freedom to enjoy them fully, perhaps for the first time in our lives. There’s no giving up our sweetest, sexiest sense pleasures by dropping them with an attitude of defeat. Instead we can offer them up to our highest nature. We can totally and guiltlessly savor the succulence of life because we no longer allow our senses to run our heads and our bodies. As my Siddha Yoga meditation master, Gurumayi Chidvilasananda has said, we can “let the senses do their dance.” Meanwhile we watch from our abiding equanimity, inwardly focused on our highest self, mindful in every moment. If you want to crave anything, crave to know that permanently blissful state of being.
On the mat the best way to gain intimate understanding of dying before you die of is through Savasana, or Corpse pose. We’re talking about the actual Corpse pose here, rather than “guided relaxation,” yummy as that may be. Once you have turned sight, sound, taste and touch inward, and then sunk your body into the earth it takes at least ten minutes for the mind to fully wind down and another ten to begin to feel the benefits of inner awareness. If not available to you in classes then allow time for full Savasana in your home practice.
…so that when you die you don’t die.
As stated before, the Self is birthless and deathless, without a beginning or ending. This is your true nature. You are Satchitananda—Truth, Consciousness and Bliss. You are in all things as they are in you. This is the state of Interbeing spoken of by Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh. He can revel in a flower, seeing in it the hand of nature and the light of the sun that gave it life and know that he and that flower are one. As the 18th century poet and mystic William Blake’s put it:
And heaven in a wildflower.
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand,
And eternity in an hour…
Why wait when you can be what you truly are right now. When you have died before you die nothing in the world can mess with you. You are the coolest, the most alive of the undead. You will have realized the Self. Not just the “Now I get it!” kind of realization but simply becoming Real, really authentically You. The moment when it’s your body’s time to go it will go. You, fully liberated, gloriously free will go on. And on. And on….
We’ll conclude for now with some observations from k.d. lang.
images: www.aquarianeyes.wordpress.com, www.vitalsomatics.com, www.thehypertexts.com
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