He who dies before he dies does not die when he dies.
The only contents of the first page of Jon Kabat-Zinn’s Ph.D. thesis
Die while you’re alive and be absolutely dead. Then do whatever you want: it’s all good.
Bunan (17th Century Zen Master)
With the heart-breaking recent news of well-known people taking their lives, I hasten to point out that these quotations are not referring to a physical ending. But rather the death of the contracted ego self: what Eckhart Tolle calls little me. The little me needs to be right. And always needs more. While it is entirely an intellectual creation– a thought-based entity– we animate it, breathe life into it with our full identification with it.
Death of ego. Sounds like flipping a switch: ok, got it, kill ego.
The famously did occur for Tolle, after years of intense suffering. He thought ‘I can’t live with myself any longer’. Then considered the subject and object of that sentence and concluded ‘There must be two of me.’ He awoke in the morning with a complete absence of mental commentary which continues to this day.
But his experience is unique. And for that reason misleading.
Through the consistent practice of mindfulness we gradually increase space around thinking– we gain the capacity to see the world through the lens of awareness instead of ego.
Paradoxically instead of killing the ego, we learn to embrace it: letting it be.
Just as in Rumi’s The Guest House, the little me is welcomed in all its mainfestations: ‘depression, meanness, shame, malice, sorrow, dark thoughts’. Each time we notice judging, wanting, not wanting, we do so with kindness and acceptance.
It is this very ability to discern sensations, thoughts, emotions with awareness by being fully present that begins to open the door to freedom. ‘Recognition and liberation are instantaneous’ according to The Tibetan Book of the Dead. Without awareness we are the thoughts and emotions.
So maybe good old Wayne Dyer sums it up best:
I’ve learned that what’s true in nature is true for all humans in understanding ourselves. Just as the blossoms on a fruit tree fall away as the fruit grows so does our need for a bouquet of rationalizations vanish as the Divine produces the authentic self.