Jiddu Krishnamurti on fear of death and continuity after death
Question: Why is there such fear of death?
This is not a problem merely for the superstitious or the so-called educated; it is a problem for each one of us, and we must find out for ourselves the truth of the matter, neither accepting nor rejecting, neither believing nor being skeptical. The man who is afraid of death and therefore clings to belief in reincarnation, in this or that, will never find out the truth of the matter; but a mind that really wants to know and is trying to find out what is true is in quite a different state; and that is what we are doing here.
Now, what is it that continues? Do you understand, sirs? How do you know you have continued from yesterday, and that, if all goes well and there is no accident, you will continue through today to tomorrow? You know that only through memory, do you not? Let us keep it very simple, and not philosophize or introduce a lot of words. So I know I exist only because of memory. The mere statement that I exist has no meaning, but I know I exist because today I remember having existed yesterday, and I hope to exist tomorrow.
So the thread of continuity is memory - the memory which has been accumulating for centuries, which has gone through a great many experiences, distortions, frustrations, sorrows, joys, the endless struggle of ambition. We want all that to continue, and because we do not know what is going to happen to it when the body dies, fear comes into being. That is one fact. And why do we divide death from living? It may be altogether wrong to divide them. It may be that living is dying - and perhaps that is the beauty of living. But living is something which most of us have not fully grasped or understood, nor have we understood what death is; so we are afraid of living, and we are afraid of death.
Now, what do we mean by living? Living is not merely going to the office or passing examinations or having children or the everlasting struggle for bread and butter; that is only part of it. Living also implies seeing the trees, the sunlight on the river, a bird on the wing, the moon through the clouds; it is to be aware of smiles and tears, of turmoils and anxieties; it is to know love, to be gentle, compassionate, and to perceive the extraordinary depth and width of existence. Do we know all that? Or do we know only a little part of it, the part which is made up of my struggle, my job, my family, my virtue, my religion, my caste, my country? All we know is the 'me' with its self-centered activities, and that is what we call life.
So we do not know what living is. We have divided living from dying, which shows that we have not understood the whole depth and width of life, in which death may be included. I think death is not something apart from life. It is only when we die every day to all the things we have gathered - to our knowledge, our experiences, to all our virtues - that we can live. We do not live because we are continuing from yesterday, through today, to tomorrow.
Surely, only that which comes to an end has a beginning, but we never come to an end. Again, this is not just a poetical saying, so don't brush it aside. We have no beginning because we are not dying; we never know a timeless moment, and so we are concerned about death. For most of us, living is a process of struggle and tears; and what we are frightened of is not the unknown, which we call death, but of losing all that we have known. And what do we know? Not very much. This is not cynical but factual. What do we actually know? Hardly anything.
Our names, our little bank accounts, our jobs, our families, what other people have said in the Gita, the Bible, or the Upanishads, the various preoccupations of a superficial life - these things we know, but we do not know the depths of our own being. So we are covering the unknown with the known, and we are afraid to let go of, to renounce, the known. But to renounce in order to find God is not renunciation; it is merely another form of seeking a reward. A man who renounces the world in order to find God will never find God because he is still out to get something.
There is total renunciation only when there is no asking for anything, no laying up for tomorrow, which is to die to everything of yesterday. Then you will find that death is not something to be afraid of and run away from, nor does it demand belief in the beyond. It is the known that captures and holds us, not the unknown; and the mind is full of the known. It is only when the mind is free from the known that the unknown can be. Death and life are one; and death is to be experienced, not at the last moment through disease and corruption, or accident, but while we are living and the mind is vigorous.
You see, sirs, timelessness is a state of mind, and as long as we are thinking in terms of time, there is death and the fear of death. Timelessness is not to be glibly talked about but to be directly experienced, and there can be no experiencing of timelessness as long as there is a continuity of all the things that one has gathered. So the mind must be free from all its accumulations, and only then is there the coming into being of the unknown. What we are afraid of is letting go of the known, but a mind that is not dead to the known, free from the known, can never experience the extraordinary state of timelessness.
Source - Jiddu Krishnamurti talks in India, March 28, 1956
^Top Back to Counseling