Another man suggested, “I have looked in the whole history of Zen, and there has only been one monk who died standing.”
The old master said, “My God, that means I cannot even die standing. Somebody has done it already; it will be a repetition. Listening to you all I was wondering if you have ever heard of anybody dying standing on his head?”
They all looked at each other and said, “We have never heard of anybody dying standing on his head.”
The master said, “That is perfectly original, so I’m going to do it. Look!”
He stood on his head and died.
Now, a man, dead, standing on his head…even alive it is difficult to stand on your head. The disciples were very much disturbed: “What to do now? It is suspicious…whether he is really dead or pretending.”
They tried listening to his heart – no sound. They tried to hear his breathing – no sign. But a certain ritual has to be performed before a great master is put on the funeral pyre, and they were afraid that there might be a mistake, that they might put a living master on the funeral pyre. The funeral pyre was ready in the grounds of the monastery. Somebody said, “His sister is also a great master; she is just in the nunnery close by. And she is older than him – he is ninety and she is ninety-three. If anybody can do anything, that is the right person.”
Somebody ran away and called the sister. She came, saying, “He is so mischievous. From the very beginning he has been doing mischievous things, but now he should die like a gentleman. He is making a mockery of death.”
She came and hit him, and he fell. And he started laughing.
She said, “You behave! Death is an important occasion. Just go to your bed and die silently. I’m going. I will not be coming back if somebody comes to call me; I have other things to do.” In the East, when the older sister says something, when an older person says something, one has to follow.
The old master, laughing, put his body on the bed and said to his disciples, “Okay, I close my eyes. Take me to the funeral pyre.”
They said, “Now we are even suspicious about whether you will be dead on the bed too.”
He said, “Believe me, this time I’m really going to die.”
But they waited. They took their time, just making excuses – that they were making the funeral pyre, and watching him to see whether he gave any sign. And he did give – he opened one of his eyes and just looked at what was happening, and said, “Be quick, I’m dead,” and he closed his eyes. Finally, they had to put him on the funeral pyre not knowing exactly whether he was dead or not.
An ancient said, “Those who hear this, even if they don’t believe, have blessings greater than humans or gods.”