A well-worn phrase that creates yet another apparent obstacle while trudging along the spiritual path. Probably most often found in the Zen tradition, for example:
Zen Master: ‘Do you have a question?’
Student: ‘Yes, what is death?’
Zen Master: ‘You are already dead.’
But let’s not point any fingers. It’s a lovely concept and very catchy in its own way. Besides, what more enticing subject is there than death? Our time as a ‘living’ being on this planet is limited. Look around at the billions of people. Look at their faces. Listen to their story. Watch as they succeed and fail, celebrate and mourn. What’s the one thing that we know for certain about every human being, every living thing on this planet? We are, it is, they are, all going to die.
Isn’t death the focal point of all of the world’s major religions, philosophies, and even political dogma? How about novels, screenplays, folk tales and songs, nursery rhymes and epic poems? Death. What is it like? What happens when we die? Is there an afterlife? Resurrection or reincarnation? Heaven and Hell? It can’t really be the end of me, can it? Etcetera.
There are two ways to interpret this term. The first would be to say that you are ‘already dead’ because you think yourself to be a separate entity made up of thoughts, memories, images, projections, sensations, feelings, and perceptions. All of these are fleeting qualities, coming and going like clouds in the sky, and cannot be considered real in the truest sense. Yet you identify with them, and, in so doing, miss what’s actually going on. You might say that you miss seeing, or, more accurately, being, that which always exists regardless of the cloud cover – the clear blue sky. So, in this case, because you relate to everyone and everything through this filter of illusionary aspects of an imagined self, you are already dead to what is happening right now.
The second would be that you are ‘Already Dead’ because your original nature, your essential nature, is that of formless emptiness. This is a more accurate description of who you, we, really are, although it is just a description, not the real thing. When you understand, recognize, experience, that all of the qualities you once attributed to your identity as a separate individual are false, all that’s left is emptiness without form – the clear blue sky. Clouds come and go, feelings arise and pass away, sensations become more and then less intense, yet you remain unchanged and all-knowing throughout.
Now ask yourself the question, am I already dead, or Already Dead? Actually, there is no correct answer – there is only This. And you, I, we, are that.