Socrates’ inquiry into death

1001 Tales told by the Master

“From the very moment of conception the search starts… Until death the search continues.”

The Death of Socrates

Kakuan painted ten pictures of the whole search of man – and man is a search. He is not only an inquirer: he is inquiry. From the very moment of conception the search starts. If you ask scientists they will say that when a man and woman meet, the man releases millions of cells and those cells start running somewhere, towards the female egg. They don’t know where it is, but they run fast. The search has started. They are very tiny cells but they are seeking the egg. One of them will reach; others will perish on the way. One of them will reach the egg, will be born into the world. From that moment the search has started, the inquiry has started. Until death the search continues.

Socrates was dying. His disciples started crying and weeping; it was natural, but he said to them, “Stop! Don’t disturb me – let me inquire into death. Don’t distract me! You can cry later on, I will be gone soon. Right now, let me inquire what death is. I have been waiting my whole life for this moment to go into the reality of death.”

He was poisoned. He was lying on his bed watching what death is, inquiring what death is. And then he said to his disciples, “My feet are getting numb, but I am still as much as I was before. Nothing has been taken away from me. My feeling of my being is as total as before. My feet are gone.”

Then he said, “My legs are gone, but I am still the same. I cannot see myself reduced to anything less. I remain the total.” Then he said, “My stomach is feeling numb, my hands are feeling numb.” But he was very excited, ecstatic. He said, “But I still say to you: I am the same, nothing has been taken away from me.” And then he started smiling and he said, “This shows that sooner or later death will take my heart also – but it cannot take me.” Then he said, “My hands are gone, now even my heart is sinking, and these will be my last words because my tongue is becoming numb. But I tell you, remember, these are my last words: I am still the same, total.”

This is the inquiry into death. From the very conception to the very end, man is an inquiry into the search for truth. And if you are not searching for truth, you are not a man. Then you have missed. Then at the most you look like a man, but you are not man. Your humanity is only in appearance but not in your heart. And don’t be deceived by appearances: when you look in the mirror you can see that you are a man, that proves nothing. Unless your inquiry grows to such heights that your whole energy is transformed into inquiry and you become a quest, you are not man.

That is the difference between other animals and man. They live, they don’t inquire. They simply live, they don’t inquire. No animal has ever asked: What is truth? What is life? What is the meaning of life? Why are we here? From where do we come? To what goal are we destined? No tree, no bird, no animal – this big earth has not asked this. This tremendously vast sky has never inquired about this.

This is the glory of man. He is very small but bigger than the sky, because something in him is unique – the inquiry. Even the vast sky is not so vast as man, because there may be an end to the sky, but there is no end to man’s inquiry. It is an eternal pilgrimage – beginningless, endless. These ten bulls are a pictorial representation of the inquiry, the inquiry that I call man.

Series compiled by Shanti
All excerpts of this series can be found in: 1001 Tales

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