When Ikkyu died himself, he collected all his disciples and asked them,” Just tell me some new way of dying, because I am not interested in imitation. People die on their beds; I don’t want to die on the bed.” The bed is the most dangerous thing — 99.9 percent of people die there, beware! So whenever you go to bed, remember: This place is very close to the graveyard. His disciples knew that he was a crazy man — now, whoever has ever bothered about how one dies? People simply die.
Ikkyu asked, “Has somebody a suggestion?”
One man said, “You can die sitting in the lotus posture.” Ikkyu said, “That is not new. Many other masters have died in that posture. Suggest something new, novel!”
One man said, “You can die standing.” Ikkyu said, “That looks a little better.” But a disciple objected; he said, “Although it is not well known, I know one Zen master who has died standing. So you will be number two.” Ikkyu said, “Then reject it. Suggest something new. I want to be first!”
One of his disciples suggested, “Then there is only one way. You die standing on your head, in a head stand, shirshan. Nobody has ever tried it.” Ikkyu said, “That is right. That suits me! I am so grateful to you.” He stood on his head and died.
Now the disciples were in trouble. They knew what to do when somebody dies on a bed — that his clothes have to be changed, that he has to be given a bath, new clothes have to be put on him, and then he is taken to the funeral — but what to do with this man who is standing on his head? He has not even fallen, and he is dead!
They tried in every possible way to find out whether he was dead or alive. He was dead, but there was no precedent, so they didn’t know what procedure should be followed.
Somebody said, “I know his elder sister, who is also a Zen mystic. She lives in a nearby monastery. And he was always respectful to her. I will call her, perhaps she can say something. It is better to inquire before we do anything wrong.”
The sister came, and she was very angry. She came and she said, “Ikkyu, you have been your whole life mischievous; at least in death, behave! Just lie down on the bed!” And Ikkyu jumped up and lay down on the bed and died. And the sister simply went out. She did not bother that he had died.
In the East it is not thought good to not follow the order of your elders, and particularly at such a moment. The disciples were amazed, because they had tried everything — the heart was not beating, the pulse was not there, they had moved a mirror in front of his nose, and there was no shadow of vapor. What had happened?
As the sister shouted at him, he immediately jumped, and just like an obedient child lay down on the bed and died! Even death is a game. And the sister did not even wait for the funeral.
To those who know that life is eternal, death means nothing. It is the death only of your physical body, not of your consciousness. And particularly a man like Ikkyu is not going to be reborn; he will not be again en-caged in another body. He will be moving into the eternity, into the ocean of the consciousness of the whole existence. It is a moment of celebration.
Way of Dying – Philosophical Stories
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