“An Encounter With the Spirit of Death”
By: Forrest Rivers(originally published on the mindfulword.org)
Two seekers of wisdom spent all day climbing a formidable mountain. After many hours of walking, the duo finally arrived at the summit, where they were greeted by an old mountain goat.
The two startled humans stared uneasily at the mighty being before them, and nervously shuffled backward. In turn, the mountain goat stared back at the pair with a look of amused bewilderment. The seekers grew exceedingly frightened and turned to run away. But before they could move, the mountain goat gently spoke to them through telepathy:
“Why do you have fear?”
The mountain goat conveyed feelings of great compassion through its inner voice, as it awaited a response from the still-terrified humans. After a few moments of stunned silence, the first seeker gathered up the courage to speak:
“Illustrious master, we feared for our lives. Your form is both wild and intimidating.”
The mountain goat warmly replied:
“But why did you fear for your lives at this very moment? Did you not just encounter the spirit of death all along your pilgrimage up to this hallowed peak? And did you not unknowingly stroll past a den of hungry bears and circumvent perilous cliffs on your way to this summit? Why did you not cower in fear then? One step closer to the den and you would’ve met the wrath of an imposing mama bear. One misstep along the rugged trail to the pinnacle and you would’ve plummeted to your death!”
The first seeker thought for a lengthy moment and then responded:
“I suppose we didn’t have fear in either case, because death didn’t seem imminent. We didn’t come face to face with a bear as we did with you. Nor did we fear the treacherous road up to this point because we’re seasoned climbers.”
The mountain goat pondered the first seeker’s words, and again replied:
“I see. But you still haven’t answered my initial question. Why do you have fear?”
A look of mild exasperation swept across the face of the first seeker, as they retorted:
“I think I answered that question already. We felt fear because we believed our lives were in immediate danger.”
The wise mountain goat looked firmly at the first seeker and said:
“You must learn not to fear death—imminent or not. No matter how hard you try to push your fear of it away, you’ll encounter it. “
The mountain goat paused for dramatic effect and then continued:
“I call your attention to a famous inscription on an old tombstone that reads: ‘Dear friend, please know as you pass by, as you are now, so once was I. As I am now so you will be. Prepare yourself to follow me. ‘
What this inscription teaches is that rather than live in fear, it’s infinitely wiser to embrace death as part of the natural cycle—or way—of being. The degree to which you can consciously come to terms with this existential inevitability also determines the depth to which you live this life. “
The second seeker, who’d been silent, finally chimed in:
“Oh, venerable seer, my soul knows the truth in your wise words. But my mind is frightened at what lies beyond the end of the body. Please tell me, what is death and what’s in store for us beyond it?”
The mountain goat carefully gathered its thoughts before explaining:
“Death is, and death is not. Death is taking off the tight shoe. Death is the entrance into a world without beginning or end. Death is the continuance of a sacred cycle in which the soul drops the body and continues its quest to enlightenment. Death is the survival of pure awareness beyond the contours of the flesh. And death is the inner realm by which the soul reflects the light of its own luminous essence.
“Death is to reunite with the eternal Brahman and the one within all. Death is the entrance into the deepest realms of consciousness and where one goes interminably in preparation for rebirth in a new body. Death is a karmic bridge between the memories of yesterday and the promises of tomorrow. Death is to be fully present and clear of illusion. Death is to merge in complete union with the Eternal One—who alone is true.”
The second seeker looked in awe at the mighty being before them, and asked:
“If death is all this, wise master, and elemental to the way of being, why are people in my own culture taught to fear it?”
The mountain goat fixed an emphatic gaze on both seekers and said:
“Delusion! People in your culture live in Delusion! Well maybe not all the people of … but surely those with any measure of influence and power. Your teachers and celebrities contribute to the cloud of delusion surrounding death. Your media spokesmen and politicians, too. And even your very parents … those inspiring souls who raised you with tender love through your innocent youth.
“However, none keep you more blind to death’s true nature than your high priests, rabbis and preachers. You see, here in the West, there’s a peculiar and arrogant tendency among your religious figures to attach their own fears and insecurities about death to their sermons and interpretations of scripture.”
The second seeker grew silent as they digested the sheer honesty of the mountain goat’s words. Finally, after a few moments of reflection, the first seeker spoke once again:
“Oh Noble One, how may we learn not to fear death?”
Before the mountain goat could reply, the second seeker quickly added:
“And how shall we, oh Illumined Being, come to accept death as part of the way?
The mountain goat stared lovingly at both seekers of wisdom and replied:
“What’s required now is for both of you to find the courage to prepare for the inevitability of your own deaths. Only through such preparation will you discover the truth of how to live right now. Be brave, learn how to sit still and meditate upon death. Make meditation a daily practice and come to study the sacred cycles of life and death in nature.
“Stroll through the woods in all four seasons and observe the unique qualities of each. Note the innocence of spring, the vitality of summer, the crispness of autumn and the stillness of winter. You’ll come to feel that each are beautiful, each are transcendent and each are interrelated. Finally, come to experience death not as an end but as a return to your purest essence.”
The wise seekers raised their heads up and looked reverently at their great teacher. The mountain goat bowed its head to both its disciples and suddenly transformed into a soaring eagle.
Both humbled aspirants burst into tears as they watched God’s first messenger fly above the enchanted blue mountain range and into the heavens. As the eagle flew out of sight, the last words that this soulful duo heard were:
“Look within. Be free. Fear not the inevitable approach of death.”