When Teng Yin Feng was about to die he said to the people around him, “I have seen monks die sitting and lying, but have any died standing?” “Yes, some,” they replied.
“How about upside down?” asked Teng.
“No, never such a thing,” they said. So Teng died standing on his head and his clothes also rose up, close to his body.
It was decided to carry him to the burning ground, but he still stood there without moving. People from far and near gazed with astonishment at the scene.
His younger sister, a nun, happened to be there. She grumbled at him, “When you were alive you took no notice of laws and customs; and even now you’re dead you’re making a nuisance of yourself.”
She then prodded her brother with her finger, and he fell down with a bang. Then they went off to the crematorium.
Death is the root of all fear, and if there is fear, you cannot live. With fear there is no life. If there is fear you are already dead. This is the vicious circle: you are afraid of death, and because of fear you cannot live, you are already dead. Then you become more afraid, and the fear creeps into your very center; you become just a trembling.
As I see you, you are just a trembling. If you dig deeply you will always find the fear of death. This fear is the root of all fears. In any fear, whatsoever the form of the fear, somewhere the fear of death is hidden. Why are people so afraid of death? Is death really a phenomenon to be afraid of?
The first thing to remember is that you don’t know death. You have not known it, so how can you be afraid of something that you don’t know? That’s impossible. You can be afraid of something you know, but of something that is totally unknown, absolutely unknown, how can you be afraid? Fear needs an object to be afraid of.
You cannot really be afraid of death, you must be afraid of something else. That something else is an unfulfilled life. You have not been able to live, you have not been able to achieve a fulfillment, you have not been able to overflow, you have not been able to celebrate. Your life has been an emptiness, a hollowness, a nothing.
Death is coming near and you have not been able to live yet – this creates the fear. Death is coming near and you will be no more. The opportunity is being taken away. Every moment you are losing life and you have not lived yet – this creates the fear. Death is approaching – that is not the fear. The fear is that you have not lived yet and death is knocking at the door; the time to leave has come and you are yet unfulfilled.
If you have lived you have a fulfillment, a contentment, a deep gratitude. You have flowered; there is nothing more to achieve. Then you are not afraid of death; rather, you welcome it. You have achieved: now death comes like a deep sleep after the day’s labor – a whole day of achievement, of fulfillment, of reaching, of meeting, of encountering, of flowering, and then death comes like a deep sleep. You welcome it. When the tree has flowered, death is welcome; when the tree is still struggling to flower, there is fear.
If you are afraid of death, that is simply one indication that your life has been a wastage. It has been like a desert, nothing has flowered in it. It has been like a pond, closed in itself, not moving anywhere. It has not been like a river – flowing, dancing, running towards the ultimate.