The Japanese master Ekido was a severe teacher and his pupils feared him.
One day, as one of his pupils was striking the time of day on the
temple gong, he missed a beat because he was watching a beautiful girl who was passing the gates. Unknown to the pupil, Ekido was standing behind him. Ekido struck the pupil with his staff, and the shock stopped the heart of the pupil and he died.
Because the old custom of the pupil signing his life over to the master had sunk to a mere formality, Ekido was discredited by the general public. But after this incident, Ekido produced ten enlightened
successors, an unusually high number.
This type of phenomenon is special to Zen and to Zen masters. Only a Zen master beats his disciples, and sometimes it happens that the disciple dies through beating. Ordinarily this looks very cruel, violent, mad. Religious people cannot conceive how a master can be so cruel as to kill a disciple, but those who know feel differently.
A man who is enlightened knows well that nobody is ever killed. The inner is eternal, it goes on and on. It may change bodies but the change is only of houses, the change is only of dresses, the change is only of vehicles. The traveler goes on and on, nothing dies.
The moment of death can become the moment of enlightenment also, both are so similar. When someone becomes enlightened it is a death deeper than ordinary death; when someone becomes enlightened he comes to know that he is not the body. The attachment, the identification, disappears. For the first time he can see an unbridgeable gap. He is here, the body is there; there is an abyss between. He has never been the body and the body has never been him. This death is deeper than ordinary death; when you die ordinarily you are still identified with the body.
This death is still deeper. Not only are you unidentified with the body, your identification with the mind, with the ego, also disappears. You are left simply as an emptiness, as an inner space, boundless; you are neither the body nor the mind.
In ordinary death only the body dies; the mind goes on following you like a shadow. The mind is the problem, not the body. Through the mind you have become one with the body, and unless the mind disappears you will go on getting into newer bodies, into newer vehicles, and the wheel of life will go on and on. When you become enlightened, suddenly you are not the body, you are not the mind. Only then do you come to know who you are. The body is a seed, the mind is also a seed; hidden beyond them is you.
Sometimes it happens that a Zen master can coincide the moment of your death with your enlightenment. In the right moment he can hit you: the body falls down – everybody can see that – but deep within, the ego falls down also. Only you and the master know. It is not cruelty, it is the highest form of compassion, and only a very great master can do it. It is very subtle to feel the moment of your death, and to make it a point of inner transformation and transfiguration.