The emperor asked Master Gudo, “What happens to a man of enlightenment after death?”
“How should I know?” replied Gudo.
“Because you are a Master”, answered the emperor.
“Yes Sir,” said Gudo, “But not a dead one.”
~ Zen Koan ~
Acharya Prashant: The man of Zen, lives in the fact when it comes to the senses and the mind; and lives in the Truth when it comes to the Self. His mind looks no further than the fact and that is because his mind is seated in the Truth.
Death is never a fact. Death is always an imagination, a concept, something to be encountered, something to be avoided.
Death is always an imagination, a concept, something to be encountered, something to be avoided.
When the emperor asks the Master about death, the Master simply says, “Not dead yet. How do I know? I only know that which is. You can ask me about life and I can say something. You can ask me about this moment, you can ask me about our meeting, and I can say something. But if you ask me imaginary questions, I will be simply honest and say, ‘How do I know?’ When dead, then I will talk about death.”
Remember, death is never a fact. Nobody ever sees his death. You are most concerned with your own elimination. And it is funny because by definition you will not survive to experience your own elimination.
The Master is telling the king, through his quirky, terse reply that stop asking stupid questions. You do not even know what life is and you are asking about death. You are not even fully alive yet. And you are asking about death. And you aren’t fully alive precisely because you are concerned more with miscellaneous matters like death than the present matter of living.
When you are thinking so much about all stuff here and there then how will you know Zen? Move an inch, left or right, and you deviate from the path of Zen. It is a very narrow, very unforgiving path. Getting it?
If somebody tells you about after-worlds, he is as much of a dreamer as you are. The Real Teacher will not tell you of other worlds. He will bring you back from the other worlds that you are already in. He will bring you back to this, here. In telling the king that he doesn’t know about death, Gudo has told the king that he knows all about life. Not only has he told the king that he knows life, but he has also told the king what the king must know. This is the Zen way of instruction. The strike of the sword – fast, smooth, one-go and game over. No lengthy preaching, no elaborations.
When one says something happens after something, one implies that time continues. Does time continue after death? Is the expression ‘after’ applicable to death? How can something happen after death when time itself stops at death? That is why the king’s query cannot get a reasonable reply. When time itself has stopped, what is the point in asking ‘after’? But our usual assumption is that “I am in a world. Time is in the world. And even after I go away, the world will continue to run, time will continue to move.” This assumption is not a fact. With you are gone, the universe also goes away. With you dead, time also falls dead. So, the expression ‘after death’ is a meaningless expression. It deserves no reply.
Listener 1: One asks – ‘What will happen after death?’ in search of some meaning because there is no meaning in life. It’s like you ask – ‘What are we doing this weekend?’, because you are bored on Thursday and Friday. So, you are looking for what you will do on Sunday.
And it is seen that these questions are often raised by the so-called religious people. Those who are completely submerged in the material pleasures, they rarely ask these questions, that ‘What is there after death?’
AP: You know, God is an absence.
Seriously, you must be grateful for the things that do not happen to you (smilingly). When we say, “I thank the Lord for all that he has given me,” this is a totally nonsensical prayer. You should thank for what he has not given you.
Shouldn’t you be thankful if you have not been given this question – ‘What will happen after death?’ To how many of you does this question not come? Now, you must be thankful for this. “Thank you heavens, for not giving me this question?” Because there is no end to stupidity. You can be given all kinds of stupid questions and you can keep struggling to find your answers. You can be given all kinds of doubts and you can keep struggling to remove them, or verify them.
And that is why the Truth is so easy to miss because it is an absence.
It is always ‘not’ something.
Grace here is not having this question. You look at the cacophony arising from the neighbour’s house. And then you realise that you have been so blessed, “Thank God for not giving me a wife.” It is the absences that you must be thankful for. “Thanks for not giving me disease.” But because you don’t have disease, it is very easy to miss that you have not been given disease. That is why we miss the Truth so much. It is obviously easy to miss an absence.
Having spoken on this Koan, on this Zen story, you know I realized one thing: If this question has indeed come to somebody’s mind, then the game is ninety-nine percent over for him. Now, it will be very difficult to redeem him. Because any answer, any explanation that would be given would be a very insufficient explanation. Hence, the only thing that you can wish for is that the question itself never arises. If it has arisen, then all teachers are going to struggle. No teacher will be able to give a very curative answer.
You must be thankful for the questions that you do not have.
~ Excerpts from a ‘Shabd-Yoga’ session. Edited for clarity.
Watch the session: Acharya Prashant on Zen: Thank God for what He has not given you
Read more articles on this topic:
Article 1: The imaginary fear of death
Article 2: Me and Time
Article 3: The sound of one hand clapping