Illuminating Quotes on Death

Birth is not a beginning. Death is not an end. There is existence without limitation. There is continuity without a starting-point. Existence without limitation is Space. Continuity without a starting-point is Time. There is birth, there is death, there is issuing forth, there is entering in. That through which one passes in and out without seeing its form, that is the Portal of God. The Portal of God is Non-Existence. Existence could not make existence existence. It must have proceeded from Non-Existence. And Non-Existence and Nothing are One... At the beginning there was nothing. Then life came, to be quickly followed by death. They made Nothing the head, Life the trunk, and Death the tail of existence, claiming as friends whoever knew that existence and non-existence, and life and death were all One.

— Chuang Tzu (399-295 B.C.)
    Chuang Tzu, Ch. 23 "Kêng Sang Ch'u"
    translated by Herbert A. Giles (1926)

We had gone round the thicket (the Webicht), and had turned by Tiefurt into the Weimar road, where we had a view of the setting sun. Goethe was for a while lost in thought. He then said to me, in the words of one of the ancients—

Untergehend sogar ist's immer dieselbige Sonne.
“Still it continues the self-same sun, even while it's sinking.”

“At the age of 75,” Goethe continued, with much cheerfulness, “one must, of course, think sometimes of death. But this thought never gives me the least uneasiness, for I am fully convinced that our spirit is a being of a nature quite indestructible, and that its activity continues from eternity to eternity. It is like the sun, which seems to set only to our earthly eyes, but which, in reality, never sets, but shines on unceasingly.”

The sun had, in the meanwhile, sunk behind the Ettersberg. We felt in the wood the chill of the evening, and drove all the quicker to Wiemar, and to Goethe's house. Goethe urged me to go in with him for a while, and I did so. He was in an extremely engaging mood. He talked a great deal about his theory of colors, and of his obstinate opponents; remarking that he was sure that he had done something in this science.

— Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832)
    Conversations with Eckermann, May 2, 1824

The love that is in me, the justice, the truth can never die & that is all of me that will not die. All the rest of me is so much death— my ignorance, my vice, my corporeal pleasure. But I am nothing else than a capacity for justice, truth, love, freedom, power. I can inhale, imbibe them forevermore. They shall be so much to me that I am nothing, they all. Then shall God be all in all. Herein is my Immortality. (October 24, 1836)

I said when I awoke, After some more sleepings & wakings I shall lie on this mattress sick; then dead; and through my glad entry they will carry these bones. Where shall I be then? I lift my head and beheld the spotless orange light of the morning beaming up from the dark hills into the wide Universe. (October 21, 1837)

The event of death is always astounding; our philosophy never reaches, never possesses it; we are always at the beginning of our catechism; alwasys the definition is yet to be made, What is Death? I see nothing to help beyond observing what the mind's habit is in regard to that crisis. Simply, I have nothing to do with it. It is nothing to me. After I have made my will & set my house in order, I shall do in the immediate expectation of death the same things I should do without it. (October 28, 1837)

Life & Death are apparitions. Last night the Teachers' Sunday School met here & the theme was Judgment. I affirmed that we were Spirits now incarnated & should always be Spirits incarnated. Our thought is the income of God. I taste therefore of eternity & pronounce of eternal law Now & not hereafter. Space & time are but forms of thought. I proceed from God now & ever shall so proceed. Death is but an appearance. Yes & life's circumstances are but an appearance through which the firm virtue of this God-law penetrates & which it moulds. The inertia of matter & of fortune & of our employment is the feebleness of our spirit. (May 14, 1838)

— Ralph Waldo Emerson (1803-1882), Journals

Death is known to us simply as the end. It is the period, often placed before the close of the sentence and followed only by memories or after-effects in others. For the person concerned, however, the sand has run out of the glass; the rolling stone has come to rest. When death confronts us, life always seems like a downward flow or like a clock that has been wound up and whose eventual "running down" is taken for granted...

The curve of life is like the parabola of a projectile which, disturbed from its initial state of rest, rises and then returns to a state of repose... Like a projectile flying to its goal, life ends in death. Even its ascent and its zenith are only steps and means to this goal... For, enlightenment or no enlightenment, consciousness or no consciousness, nature prepares itself for death.

— Carl Gustav Jung (1875-1961), "The Soul & Death"
    Wirklichkeit der Seele, 1934 (translated by R.F.C. Hull)
    Collected Works of Carl Jung, Volume 8

Whenever we are shaken by this voice reminding us of our end, we ask anxiously what it means that we have a beginning and an end, that we come from the darkness of the "not yet" and rush ahead towards the darkness of the "no more"? When Augustine asked this question, he began his attempt to answer it with a prayer. And it is right to do so because praying means elevating oneself to the eternal. In fact, there is no other way of judging time than to see it in the light of the eternal...

We go toward something that is not yet, and we come from something that is no more. We are what we are by what we come from. We have a beginning as we have an end. There was a time which was not our time. We hear of it from those who are older than we; we read about it in history books; we try to envision the unimaginable billions of years in which we did not exist...

When the writer of the fourth Gospel speaks of the eternity of Christ, he does not only point to His return to eternity, but also to His coming from eternity. “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” Christ comes from another dimension than that in which the past lies... He does not say "I was" before Abraham; but He says "I am" before Abraham was. He speaks of his beginning out of eternity. And this is the beginning of everything that is— not the uncounted billions of years but the eternal is the ultimate point in our past.

The mystery of the past from which we come is that it is and is not in every moment of our lives. It is, insofar as we are what the past has made of us. In every cell of our bodies, in every trait of our faces, in every movement of our souls, our past is in the present.

In each human life a struggle is going on with the past. Blessings fight with curses. Often we do not recognize what are blessings and what are curses... A pathetic struggle with their past is going on almost without interruption in many men and women in our time. No medical healing can solve this conflict, because no medical healing can change the past. Only a blessing which lies above the conflict of blessing and curse can heal; it is the blessing which changes what seems to be unchangeable— the past. It cannot change the facts: what has happened has happened and remains so in all eternity! But the meaning of the facts can be changed by the eternal, and the name of this change is the experience of "forgiveness." If the menaing of the past is changed by forgiveness, its influence on the future is also changed. The character of curse is taken away from it. It has become a blessing by the transforming power of forgiveness...

The mystery of the future and the mystery of the past are united in the mystery of the present. Our time the time we have, is the time in which we have "presence."... The mystery is that we have a present; and even more, that we have our future also because we anticipate it in the present; and we have our past also because we remember it in the present. In the present our future and our past are ours. But there is no "present" if we think of the never-ending flux of time... It is the eternal which stops the flux of time. It is the eternal "now" which provides for us a temporal "now." But sometimes it breaks powerfully into our consciousness and gives us the certainty of the eternal, of a dimension of time which cuts into time and gives us our time.

People who are never aware of this dimension lose the possibility of resting in the present. As the letter to the Hebrews describes it, they never enter into the divine rest. They are held by the past and cannot separate themselves from it, or they escape towards the future unable to rest in the present. They have not entered the eternal rest which stops the flux of time and gives us the blessing of the present. Perhaps this is the most conspicuous characteristic of our period, especially in the Western world and particularly in this country. It lacks the courage to accept "presence" because it has lost the dimension of the eternal.

“I am the beginning and the end.” This is said to us who live in the bondage of time, who have to face the end, who cannot escape the past, who need a present to stand upon. Each of the modes of time has its peculiar mystery, each of them gives its peculiar anxiety. Each of them drives us to an ultimate question. There is one answer to these questions— the eternal. There is one power which surpasses the all-consuming power of time— the eternal: He who was and is and is to come, the beginning and the end. He gives us forgiveness for what has passed; He gives us courage for what is to come. He gives us rest in His eternal presence.

— Paul Tillich (1886-1965), "The Eternal Now"
    in Herman Feifel (ed.) The Meaning of Death, 1959

The jnani's [enlightened one's] "I" includes the body and everything else. He does not identify himself with the body in life or death. For there cannot be anything apart from "I" for him. If the body falls away, there is no loss for the "I". The "I" remains the same. If the body feels dead let it raise the question. Being inert it cannot. "I" never dies and does not ask the question. Who then dies? Who asks questions? Death is only a thought and nothing more. He who thinks raises troubles. Let the thinker tell us what happens to him in death. The real "I" is silent. On should not think "I am this— I am not that." To say "this or that" is wrong. They are also limitations. Only "I am" is the truth. Silence is "I". If one thinks "I am this", another thinks "I am this" and so on, there is a clash of thoughts and so many religions are the result. The truth remains as it is, not affected by any statements, conflicting or otherwise.

— Ramana Maharshi (1879-1950)
    Talks with Ramana Maharshi, Sept. 15, 1936

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