The Death Problem
The fact of death is everybodies problem. We cannot get away from it. We may spend most of our lives just not thinking about it, pushing away all references to it and refusing to contemplate the inevitability of our own personal death, but it does not go away. It remains in the background and there is no knowing when it will be foisted full force into our personal consciousness. It’s an insecure way to live and this insecurity manifests in all kinds of ways in our lives.
The whole point of spiritual teachings is about this problem.
One way of looking at the problem is from the perspective of identification, what we think we are.
Consciously or unconsciously most people living in The West take themselves to be a body or a body/mind complex.
We are in a state of terror about our health, preserving the body for as long as possible. This deep concern is the direct result of not knowing what follows death of the body. Is there total annihilation of me? Will I wake up on the other side to demons and terrors? Or will I have earned a place in heaven, the realm of happiness and joy?
What has happened to the people I have known and loved who have died? None of them come back to tell me about it, so all I have left of them is what my imagination offers me. And that’s an unreliable source.
Spiritual teachings of one kind or another all tell us that we are immortal, that there is something about us that is beyond death of the body and mind.
But, how do we find it?
We can approach it from the perspective of challenging the basis of our identification with the body and mind.
This amounts to checking to see if we really are a body in our own experience.
We can check in our own experience to see if; changes in the body change the “me” that I know myself to be, if the loss of some sense, sight or hearing would change the essential “me”, if you are more or less yourself in old age as opposed to when you were a child, if you become more yourself when you gain weight and less yourself when you lose it, and so on.
You can check to see if you were more you when your head is full of a particular kind of knowledge or not, if you are more you when you are praying than when you are eating your dinner and chatting with others, if your are more you when you when climbing a mountain or lying in bed just ready to fall asleep.
In these personal investigations of your own experience you will find that there is something that is always present, regardless of any circumstances or thought streams or emotions.
You won’t find it as an object of any kind. It’s not something that you see or hear, but it is always there. It is the sense of presence or awareness or consciousness.
This is the beginnings of finding something other than body and mind in yourself. The spiritual path of investigation of yourself from the perspective of challenging your assumed identity as body or mind is a path of debunking the ideas that keep you in a state of identification with body and mind.
All of us have picked up assumptions about life from our culture.
Western society places most emphasis in the reality of the material world. Chrisianity has placed an overlay on this perspective by adding a layer of beliefs about a supposed after life, without being able to prove its existence so many people from The West, unable to deny the fact of death, pour a layer of wishful thinking about an afterlife over it.
Some succeed better than others in adapting this Christian belief layer, thereby placating their anxiety about death, but rarely do we check to validate or debunk these beliefs for our selves.
The Catholic church does have practises and teachings, directly coming from The Sermon on the Mount, which encourages an investigation of ourselves directly but these are mainly found in contemplative orders and the writing of their mystics.
These practises lay emphasis on the need to test every belief against ones own experience and intelligence. By intelligence here I mean the ability to be discriminating in our beliefs and thoughts.
The message has always been that “the kingom of heaven is within you” and where else would you look for it except within your own experience in its totality, thoughts and emotions and most of all the ability to acquire a skill of discernment within yourself about yourself.
A way into this inner investigation is by learning to test your own assumptions and learning to see how beliefs were picked up in life and to then examine them in light of the spiritual teachings.
This is what is usually referred to under the heading of Self-inquiry.
It is through this work on yourself that you become open to the possibility that you are not what you thought you were, body/mind and there is real possibility that what you really are will be revealed to you.
If and when this happens the question of death no longer interests you. You know what you are beyond a body and mind.
This is the ultimate goal of all spiritual teachings and practises.