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Chapter 8: Off to Hell - Yo ho!

Because the master continued with his regular duties during the next few days, some of the monks thought he was having a little fun at their expense. Most however, were struck with grief.

By the evening of the seventh, nothing unusual had happened. Nonetheless, Tetsugen had them all assemble and taught them for the last time about the Buddha’s enlightenment. He then arranged his affairs and went into his room.

At dawn he took a bath, put on his ceremonial robes, and sitting erect in the lotus posture composed this death poem:

Shakyamuni descended the mountain.
I went up.
In my teaching,
I guess I’ve always been something of a maverick.
And now I’m off to hell - yo ho!
The inquisitiveness of men is pure folly.

Then, shutting his eyes and still sitting, he died.

A Zen master can die any moment; he can decide. Why? - because he is already dead. The day he became enlightened he died. Now only the visible form goes on living - inside all is emptiness. He is thoroughly dead so any day he can drop this form. It is just a soap bubble: a small prick and it will be gone. And you cannot choose a better day to die than Buddha’s enlightenment day, because that day Buddha died.

There is a beautiful story about Buddha: he was born on a certain day, the same day he became enlightened, and the same day he died. The birth, the enlightenment and death, all these three great things happened on the same day. This is very indicative - it says birth, enlightenment and death are all the same. It has a message: They are all alike. They are not different, their quality is the same.

Birth is a kind of death. When a child is born out of the womb, if the child could verbalize what is happening he would say, “I am dying.” Because he has lived for nine months in the womb in such comfort, in such luxury, in such convenience; no worry, no problem, no work. Everything is available, you need not even ask for it. He need not even breathe on his own, the mother breathes for him. He need not eat, the mother eats for him. He simply lives. It is paradise.

Psychologists say that the search for paradise is nothing but the memory, the nostalgia, of the womb, because you have lived for those nine months at the highest peak of comfort, luxury. And the whole search for paradise is for nothing but how to enter into that kind of warm womb again.

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