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Chapter 13: The Great Death

Joshu and The Great Death
Joshu asked Tosu, “What if a man of the great death comes back to life again?”
Tosu said, “You should not go by night; wait for the light of day and come.”

Setcho comments:

Open-eyed, he was all the more as if dead;
What use to test the master with something taboo?
Even the Buddha said he had not reached there;
Who knows when to throw ashes in another’s eyes?

You are one who has come back to life from the great death. Yet we who have not died are not nearly so abundantly alive as you. Would you please talk about this?

And question two:

You are like an exotic flower or rare species of creature whom I have watched and listened to and tried to find words to describe for the past fourteen years.
To hear you talk of the state you are in is to feel endlessly in awe. One of the most intriguing things about you is that you are always so absolutely present and at the same time so totally absent.
Would you please comment?

And the third:

Okay.I’m going to lighten up.
For a master of Yaa-hoo and Yaa-boo
what could possibly be taboo?

The death we know is always somebody else. Once we know our own death, pass through it, a tremendous realization arises that death is the greatest fiction.

This realization is called “the great death.” Everybody dies, but the small death; only very blessed ones have died the great death. It simply means they die with total awareness, seeing body and mind separating from their consciousness. But the consciousness, the flame of their being is eternal. It goes on moving into new forms and ultimately it moves into the formless.

This small anecdote is about the great death. Zen is always special in its expression. Joshu calls it the great death because it is not death. The great death in reality is the great life.

Only the small death is death.

The difference is of consciousness and unconsciousness. You die unconsciously - this is the small death; you will have a small rebirth. Neither will you know your death nor will you know your birth. If you die meditatively, alert, aware, it is the great death - and great death is followed by great birth.

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