The Art of Witnessing – Illness and the Fear of Death

The Art of Witnessing – Illness and The Fear of Death

This article is part 2 of “The Art of Witnessing – Turn Your Suffering into Moments of Meditation“.

“This is the initial preparation. Once this preparation is complete, then it is easy to enter death with awareness. Not only easy, but it will happen most certainly.

“As such, we are not afraid of death really.

After all, even to be afraid of death, one needs to be familiar with death. How can we feel afraid of something we know nothing about?

“So, we have no fear of death really; rather, in our minds death exists in the form of a disease. That’s the idea we have of it.

“When even minor illnesses leave us in so much trouble – the foot hurts and we suffer so much, the head hurts and we suffer so much – what a torture it will be when the entire body will hurt and fall apart!

The fear of death is the sum total of all our illnesses. Death in itself, however, is not an illness.

“Death has nothing to do with illness – it is not even remotely connected with it.

“It is a different matter if illnesses precede death, but there is no cause-and-effect relationship between the two.

“It is beside the point that a man dies following an illness, but one need not be mistaken and think that illness causes death. Perhaps the reverse is the case.

Because a man comes close to death, he grabs on to illness. No one ever dies of illness. As death approaches, he begins to catch illnesses.

“As death draws near, his body becomes weak, his receptivity toward sickness increases. He becomes vulnerable, he begins to look for illnesses. The same illness would not be able to affect him were the man closer to life. Perhaps it would not have been able to catch hold of him.

“Do you know there are some moments when you are more receptive to illnesses, while there are some when you are not?

“In moments of disappointment and sadness a person becomes vulnerable to illness, while a man full of hope and optimism becomes unreceptive to it.

Even illness does not enter you without your willingness to accept it – your inner acceptance is needed.

“Hence, no matter how many medicines are given to them, those who are of a suicidal mind can never be cured. Their minds remain unreceptive to medications. Their minds go on seeking illnesses, inviting diseases with open arms, but keeping their doors very tightly closed as far as medications are concerned.

“No, no one ever dies of illness. Rather, one becomes vulnerable to illnesses because of approaching death. That’s why illness occurs first, then death follows.

“We normally think what happens first is the cause, and that which follows it is the effect. That’s erroneous thinking. Illness is not the cause. Invariably the cause is death. The illness is merely the effect.

So the fear of death in our minds is really the fear of illness.

“First of all, we create the fear of death by adding up all our illnesses.

“The second thing worth remembering is that all the people we have seen dying, we have not really seen them dying, we have only seen them falling ill.

“How can we ever see anyone dying?

“Death is such an utterly inner phenomenon, no one can be a witness to it.

“Think twice before you ever testify to seeing such and such a person die, because it is a very difficult thing to see someone dying. To this day it has never happened on this earth.

“No one has ever seen anyone dying. Only this much has been seen: a man fell ill, grew more ill, and more and more ill, and one day it became known that the man is no longer alive.

“But basically, no one has ever seen when a person died.

No one has ever been able to pinpoint at which moment a person died, and what exactly happened in the process of dying. The only thing we have seen is a man being set free from life.

“We have not seen a boat touching the other shore; we have only seen it leaving this shore.

“We have seen a consciousness move away from the shores of life, and then after a certain point we have lost sight of it. The body that remains with us is no longer alive, as it was until yesterday, and so we think the man is dead.

For us, death is an inference; it is not an event that occurs right before us.

“We have seen sick people, we have seen the suffering of a dying man – the cramping of his limbs, his eyes rolling up, his face deforming, his jaws clenching; we have seen that perhaps the man wants to say something but cannot – we have seen all this.

“We have with us the sum of all this; it has become part of our collective mind.

Whatever has been happening at the time of death over millions of years, we have collected it all. We are afraid of that.

“We are also frightened of facing the same difficulties at the time of our death. Hence, man has devised very clever means. He has dismissed the fact of death from the whole idea of life.

“We create cemeteries outside the town so that we are not reminded of death more often. Really, ideally a cemetery should be created in the middle of the town, because there is nothing in life more certain than death itself: everything else is uncertain.

“Other things may or may not be. The only thing which one can believe in definitively is death. Death is the most certain thing; no one can doubt its existence.

We can doubt the existence of God; we can doubt the existence of the soul; we can doubt life itself, but there is no way to doubt death. Death is.

“That which is so certain we have put outside the town. If a funeral passes by, the mother calls her children to come inside the house, because somebody is dead.

“Actually, if someone is dead everyone should be asked to come out so they can watch the greatest fact of life passing by.

Everyone is bound to pass through death. There is no need to deny it.

But we are so scared of death we don’t even want to mention it….”


Excerpted from Osho, And Now and Here, Talk #12 – Becoming a Witness

To read this complete talk and see all the available media formats, click here.

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