“If I take death into my life, acknowledge it, and face it squarely, I will free myself from the anxiety of death and the pettiness of life – and only then will I be free to become myself.” – Martin Heidegger.
Mans Greatest Fear
It is often said that man’s underlying fear is the fear of death. This holds an element of truth, but more accurately, the root fear is one’s non-existence.
They fear Nothingness.
But perhaps we misconstrue the meaning of Nothingness. It is not some eternal dark room demanding our attention as the ego would like to portray, but a state of boundlessness and purity out of which everything arises and returns — a field of potential so vast that the mind cannot comprehend. And when the mind cannot understand, it fears.
This fear drives both ‘successful’ people and the average man. Man’s drive towards money, power and fame is a meagre attempt at filling this seeming void.
Let’s consider western medicine as an example for a moment. Death is viewed as a failure. It’s seen as negative and to be avoided at all costs.
This approach is simply a collective manifestation of man’s greatest fear, a grip so strong that death is the enemy — an unnatural take on the most natural process in the Universe.
This is not a message to improve medicine; there is no care for that. It’s pointing out the obvious flaw in how the entire industry is built.
And the average man’s life is driven by precisely the same thing.
“If you realise that all things change, there is nothing you will try to hold on to. If you are not afraid of dying, there is nothing you cannot achieve.” – Lao Tzu.
Life’s Transitory Nature And What That Means
We tend to see death as the opposite of life – but that’s incorrect. Death is life. If there was no death, there could be no sense of aliveness. Nature is a miraculous abundance of birth and death interchange.
This is an eternal dance between birth and death. From the micro-organisms in our blood, the soil, the body, and the galaxies in the night sky.
It is just that the average mind does not wish to comprehend one’s temporary existence and rejects the notion without having the courage to consider it.
One’s successes, failures, thoughts, emotions and life, in general, are transitory, vibrant in one moment and obliterated the next. This is a quality of existence.
Of course, we can choose to put meaning and purpose onto these transitory things, but we are talking truth here, reality as it is rather than how we want it to be.
Can impermanent things have meaning, or do we imply meaning to make life a little more comfortable?
There is no suggestion here that giving transitory things meaning is wrong, not at all. I’m asking that if one is truly sincere in their pursuit, can we categorically hold that transitory things have any purpose other than what it is?
Does a pear have any purpose other than being a pear?
Pleasure And Death
The average man’s need for constant pleasure is also rooted in one’s fear of mortality.
In its countless forms, pleasure-seeking is a quick hit to maintain one’s sense of aliveness. There is little difference between the heroin addict and the persistent pleasure-seeker; it’s just a matter of degree.
The inauthentic life is abundant for these pleasure-seekers – they’re one and the same. And again, it’s fundamentally a death avoidance mechanism.
There is nothing to do here such as ‘stop pleasure seeking’; it is merely about understanding and perception – the doing takes care of itself.
“We are born from a quiet sleep, and we die to a calm awakening” ― Chuang Tzu.
Death Before You Die
So what if mans greatest fear, Nothingness, is actually what they’re unknowingly seeking? That boundless potential being the only absolute Freedom.
Nothingness is boundless, limitless Freedom; everything else is a limitation.
Ego consciousness requires boundaries to make sense of reality. Without these categorisations, the mind would be obliterated, and man could not function, so this process certainly has utility.
Zen practitioners are encouraged to do an exercise called Maraṇasati, which is a contemplation of one’s death. Maranasati enables the student to face one’s mortality and naturally reduces anxiety to the transitory nature of all things.
Dying before one dies means dying to oneself, not the world. It is dying to what we thought we were, our beliefs and conditioning.
Humans are in a constant death and rebirth process until they awaken fully to the nature of reality. In fact, the dream we are living has no other purpose than one’s awakening.
Death And Human Greatness
What utility does accepting death have? How can it affect one’s life?
Only when one sincerely owns their mortality can they take full responsibility for their life.
One who no longer fears death lives fully. He lives in accordance with nature.
Ironically there is a sense of peace with the acceptance of death, and a man’s actions mirror this essence. They begin to free themselves from the limited pseudo-self implanted by the atrocity of society. Much of man’s bowing to authority, in the form of group-think or false idols, is a wish to return to comfort.
Beyond pseudo-self death is Freedom, which is ironically the only real Freedom there is, and the only way to greatness as nature intended.