Chapter 8: Off to Hell - Yo ho!
The first question:
What is the Zen attitude towards death?
Laughter. Yes, laughter is the Zen attitude towards death and towards life too, because life and death are not separate. Whatsoever is your attitude towards life will be your attitude towards death, because death comes as the ultimate flowering of life. Life exists for death. Life exists through death. Without death there will be no life at all. Death is not the end but the culmination, the crescendo. Death is not the enemy it is the friend. It makes life possible.
So the Zen attitude about death is exactly the same as is the Zen attitude towards life - that of laughter, joy, celebration. And if you can laugh at death, in death, you are free from all. Then you are freedom. If you cannot laugh at death you will not be able to laugh in life either because death is always coming. Each act in life, each move in life, brings death closer. Each moment that you live you get closer to death. If you cannot laugh with death, how can you laugh with life and in life?
But there is a difference between the Zen Buddhists and the other religions. Other religions are not that deep: other religions also say that there is no need to fear death because the soul is immortal. But in the very idea of the immortality of the soul, your mind is seeking eternity and nothing else. In the very idea of immortality you are denying death, you are saying there is no death. You are saying, “So why be afraid? There is no death. I am going to live - if not as this body, still I am going to live as this soul. My essential being will continue. So why fear death? Death will not be destroying me. I will remain, I will persist, I will continue.” The other religions compromise with your desire to remain forever, they give you a consolation. They say, “Don’t be worried. You will be in some other body, in some other form, but you will continue.” This seems to be a clinging.
But the Zen approach towards death is utterly different, immensely profound. Other religions say death is not to be worried about, not to be feared, because the soul is eternal. Zen says: There cannot be any death because you are not. There is nobody to die. See the difference - there is nobody to die. The self exists not, so death cannot take anything away from you. Life cannot give you anything and death cannot take anything away. There is no purpose in life and no purpose in death. There is nobody to die. Other religions say you will not die so don’t be worried about death. Zen says: You exist not - for whom are you worrying? There is nobody in life and there will be nobody in death; you are pure emptiness. Nothing has ever happened there.