Death is our own shadow. If we keep running away from it we will not be able to stand before it and recognize what it is. If that man had stopped and seen what was behind him, perhaps he would have laughed and said, “What kind of a person am I, running away from a shadow?” No one can ever escape from a shadow; no one can ever win a fight with a shadow. This does not mean, however, that the shadow is stronger than we are and that we can never be victorious; it simply means that there is no shadow, that there is no question of being victorious. You cannot win against that which does not exist. That’s why people keep facing defeat by death – because death is merely a shadow of life.
As life moves forward, its shadow moves along with it too. Death is the shadow that forms behind life, and we never want to look back, to see what it is. We have fallen, exhausted, so many times – after having run this race again and again. It is not that you have come to this shore for the first time; you must have been here before – maybe it was not this shore, then some other shore. It may not have been this body; then some other body – but the race must have been the same. The legs must have been the same; the race must have been the same.
Through many lives we live carrying the fear of death, and yet we are neither able to recognize it nor to see it. We are so scared and frightened that when death approaches, when its total shadow closes in on us, out of fear we become unconscious. Generally, no one remains conscious at the moment of death. If, even once, one were to remain conscious, the fear of death would disappear forever. If, just once, a man could see what dying is like, what happens in death, then the next time he would have no fear of death because there would be no death. Not that he would be victorious over death – we can only achieve victory over something which exists. Just by knowing death, it disappears. Then nothing remains over which to be victorious.
We have died many times before, but whenever death has occurred we have been unconscious. This is similar to when a physician or a surgeon gives anesthesia before an operation so you won’t feel the pain. We are so very afraid of dying that at the time of death we become unconscious willingly. We become unconscious just a little before dying. We die unconscious, and then we are reborn in a state of unconsciousness. We neither see death, nor do we see birth – and hence we are never able to understand that life is eternal. Birth and death are nothing more than stopovers on the journey where we change clothes or horses.
In olden times there were no railroads and people traveled in horse-drawn carriages. They traveled from one place to another, and when the horses grew tired they exchanged them for fresh horses at an inn, and then they would change them again at the next village. However, the people changing the horses never felt that now they have died and now they are being born again, because when they changed horses they did so consciously.
Sometimes it used to happen that a horseman would travel after drinking. When he would look around in that state, after the horses were changed, it would make him wonder how everything had changed, how everything appeared so different. I have heard that once a drunk horseman even said, “Could it be that I am changed too? This doesn’t seem to be the same horse I was riding. Could it be that I have become a different man?”