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The Great Death

A sudden awakening breaks down all physical and mental boundaries and leads to a complete dissolution of the self construct. The deposits of mental structures and karma are washed away allowing the light of the Original Self to shine forth and illuminate everything (hence the term enlightenment). That "event" is so profound that it can rightly be called the Great Death, after which “the resurrected one” becomes tathā-gata/ tathā-āgata, " the one who has thus gone" /  "the one who has thus come" (not to be confused with conscious death during the dying process of the body).


Since the Great Death represents the end of the separation of the individual and the One, when it occurs there is no self that can experience anything. Therefore, the Great Death should not be seen as an experience, especially not as an experience that can be explained in ways that operate within a dualistic reality (such as words). Namely, the concept of experience is related to the thinking mind, which after "returning" to the dualistic reality evaluates the interruption of perception related to this reality as an intense experience that requires greater attention. Therefore, it will feverishly begin to assess, and analyze the paradoxical impressions that have arisen due to the dissolution of the boundaries that separate the Self from the Source, all in an attempt to understand the implication of the "happened" on the physical existence of which it is a part.


Although the Great Death (the death of the self) is often mistaken for the death of the Ego, there is a fundamental difference between these two important "experiences." Namely, the death of the Ego is limited to the plane of form, while the death of the self transcends both form and formless. Additionally, the death of the Ego does not necessarily dissolve the construct of the self, while the death of the self will always dissolve the construct of the Ego. However, it is also important to understand that as long as the physical body exists, the nihilation of the "ego" is only an illusion. Namely, the innate ego, which is responsible for self-preservation, will only be purified during the process of the Great Death, while its final dissolution will occur only through the death of the body. So, not Nirvana, but Parinirvana represents final liberation.


The Great Death is associated to a sudden awakening and is similar to a tsunami that destroys everything in its path, before receding and calming down. Although Ego Death can also be experienced explosively, it is never sudden, but is rather more like a dam bursting after prolonged pressure of collected water.  Death of the Ego and the self also differ in the distance to which they catapult the experiencer. The death of the Ego will push the person to the distance which relates to one's degree of conditioning where the obstacles on the Path are still seen as obstacles, but since perception is no longer egocentric, the inner programming is revealed as well. On the other hand, the death of the self, catapults a person to the farthest end of the Path that physical manifestation can reach, where the obstacles cease to exist, the conditioning breaks down, and the rewiring takes place.


This happens because, with the Great Death, a person plunges into a state of complete absorption in which there is no self-consciousness, no subject and no object, no space and no time. The all-encompassing  and limitless void burns away all afflictions, and karmik bonds. Ultimate knowledge is instantly absorbed, ignorance vanishes and root-causes dissolve forever. The answers to all questions open up like cherry blossoms, and the past, present and future pass in non linear manner. Immeasurable bliss pervades everything, and the words in the Vimalakirti Sutra about the ability of a liberated bodhisattva to transfer Mount Sumeru, or an entire universe, into a single mustard seed, become abundantly clear.


With the death of the Ego, one does not reach such a state. Although there is a major shift in perception, that can drastically changes one's life, since the thinking mind is in modus operandi all the time, the separation is still there. As a result, the person is driven by the desire to understand the deeper meaning and purpose of existence, but the soul-searching and self-reflection are becoming more intense and effective.  In contrast, after the Great Death, the “resurrected Self” has already gained full insight, there are no desires, and the meaning and purpose of life are clear. Hence, the search is over. As a result, the direction in which a person moves will be different depending on whether one has undergone Ego death or self death. If the Ego "disappears", the journey becomes clearer, but still focused on personal ascension. On the contrary, those who are resurrected after the Great Death have already reached the Top and can therefore descend in order to help others climb up.


Everyone's life is both ordinary and extraordinary. Everyone goes through birth, the same stages of physical development and physical death. Everyone takes-in life energy, transforms it and releases waste. However, while these experiences are guaranteed to all, there is no guarantee that everyone will also experience the death of the Ego-construct, much less the death of the self. The truth is that it is not so easy to die while still alive, why the Great Death is actually rare.


There is also no practice that will lead everyone in some linear fashion to comprehensive maturity.  And although the support of an experienced and mature guide is therefore of great importance, even the best teacher does not have to be the key to the realization of the original nature, just as a solo journey does not have to end in failure. Namely, the death of the Ego and the death of the self can happen with or without the accompaniment of a teacher, organized practice or religion.


If the death of the Self occurs during a particular practice, within a particular religion, or under the guidance of a particular teacher, after the resurrection of the Self one often continues to mature, seemingly without significant changes, within a same environment. If, on the other hand, the death of the self occurs without guidance and outside of a religious institution, the transition may seem more drastic (e.g. through a change in behavior, social circles, or lifestyle).


However, regardless of the environment in which the Great Death occurred, immediately after that “experience”, a retreat into silence is necessary in order for the processes and insights to harmonize, stabilize and crystallize. The length of withdrawal can be shorter or longer, and it is not rare if it lasts until the end of physical life.


Today's culture has a conflicted relationship with silence and withdrawal because the modern man, driven by the Ego, has a hard time distinguishing between spiritual retreat and running away from the world or from oneself. But the call of silence after the Great Death is so loud that retreat into solitude cannot be prevented by any worldly or religious restrictions. This period of spiritual maturation is a necessary part of the spiritual Path and was accepted and practiced in all religions. However, in ancient times, the sages, hermits and solitary monks were not necessary seen as eccentrics but as guardians of the highest Path. Close to the rhythms of nature, the ancient seekers of Truth understood that the transformation of the Self is possible only through retreat into solitude. They knew that just as the miraculous process by which a caterpillar transforms into a butterfly becomes possible only through the stage of withdrawal into a cocoon, so the process of Self transformation inevitably requires protected seclusion.


Modern age is driven by a materialistic worldview, why anything that deviates from the authority of the thinking mind is met with suspicion and skepticism. Accordingly, immaterial concepts such as the original Self, the void, Oneness, God, the Dao, the Great Death, sudden or solo awakening, are most often characterized as folly and fantasy.


Awakening without a teacher (known as Mushi-dokugo (無師独悟), or Jigo-jishō (自悟自証) in Japanese Zen Buddhism) is particularly under attack because the state of mind is not directly assessable. Even if we live with someone day in and day out, we won't be able to judge their true level of awakened consciousness until we wake up ourselves. Namely, only tathāgata can recognize another tathāgata. Only fully awakaned Self can see through.


In religious institutions, this lack of transparency is bridged by applying means that are normally used in the secular world - by measuring spiritual "progress" through passed stages of practice, monastic education or an established hierarchical structure. This way of measuring inner attainment, while it may provide a useful framework, is not good enough even for measuring worldly knowledge, and is certainly inadequate for the highest attainments on the spiritual Path.


Believing that spiritual awakening can only be achieved by following certain steps, or that the guidance of a teacher or religion is a guarantee of achieving one's own enlightenment, is just as wrong as believing that continuous practice is not necessary or that a spiritual teacher cannot help. Both of these (opposing) views are just a suggestions of a dualistically oriented mind, which, once transcended, realizes that even though a spiritual peak may be reached without following a particular spiritual practice, without belonging to a religious collective and without the guidance of a particular teacher, one has actually never been separated from the rest of existence or from the Source itself. Therefore, if enlightenment is genuine, the "self-enlightened" person will be aware of all the support she received on the way to the liberation, feeling inexpressible gratitude towards all friends and enemies, all forms and formless manifestations, all short encounters or long relationships. Indeed, the resurrected Self is irreversibly aware of the interconnectedness of everyone and everything and continues to be nourished by unwavering gratitude. Those who believe they have reached the highest state of consciousness unaided and independently have certainly not yet died the Great Death.


The paradox that, on the one hand, there is no "practice" that can lead to absolute liberation, and on the other hand, final liberation cannot be achieved without "a practice", leads the thinking mind to a dead end from which the only way out is its transcendence. As a result, even the most banal life activities will be transformed into a catalytic practice.


All Soto Zen monasteries place great importance on the practice which uses ordinary activities as a vehicle. A conscious work (samu) is perceived as the key to maintain total presence and alertness from moment to moment. But the ordinality of such practice also suggests that not only nuns & monks, but also lay people have countless opportunities to attain ultimate understanding of the limitless reality and reach self-realization. In fact, life itself is the greatest and most important practice that is given to everyone. When lived consciously, life always leads to the opening of the heart, greater receptivity, and thus to the realization of one's own nature. It is true that self-realization cannot always be achieved by sudden awakening, but even if it takes a gentler and more gradual course, it will always break through all boundaries in the end. In the boundless emptiness that is revealed at that moment, one sees the nature of everything and realises that form and formlessness are equally empty, and therefore neither self nor death actually exist.

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I think I manage to get to a surface understanding with an intuitive:tentative grasp of deeper states or non-states. Thank you dear Sensei for drawing the contours of in chartered land. 🙏🙂🙏🤔🤔🤔

Doka Sensei
Doka Sensei
28 de fev.
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Thinking in "Not thinking" manner is the Path ✨


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The first three paragraphs are more than enough for one reading! I’ll proceed tomorrow although I am in the fog and I am not even sure I am making any sense of your words, dear Sensei, I am afraid that I am too far away to apppehend what you are trying to convey to us/me. Thanks all the same for sharing the indecible. 🙂🙏😌😔

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