What is Death?

First of all, to get it out of the way, biological death for a human being is generally accepted as being

the irreversible cessation of all biological functions that sustain an organism. It can also be defined as the irreversible cessation of functioning of the whole brain, including brainstem (Wikipedia)

Every biological organism eventually dies, passes away, ceases to function.

Apart from this - or including this - what is the significance of death for us?

Interestingly, “death” is one of those words whose etymology means exactly the same thing as the current used word.

The proto-Indo-European root (dheu) means “to pass away, die, become senseless.”

One way of looking at death is as impermanence. Everything is constantly in a state of change, of flux, and nothing stays the same. The non-staying of things is one of the roots of death.

That is, everything from molecules and atoms, to palm trees and kangaroos, to galaxies and even whole universes, is subject to alteration, change, non-staying. Everything is in constant movement, and death is a (or the?) key ingredient in this.

Loss of control? …

Yes, this is surely one element in death’s significance for us: we cannot ultimately control biological death.

Of course, with modern medicine and a healthy lifestyle we can prolong life much further than our ancestors ever could. Doctors can now revive a patient whose heart has stopped beating, or whose lungs are no longer successfully breathing. People can be kept alive even though some of their critical organs no longer function normally. And some scientists believe that there may be a way of prolonging life still further, through genetic engineering and the like.

However, death can come at any time, and for anybody. And when it comes it cannot be denied. So biological death is both unpredictable (to a large extent at least), and irreversible (when it actually takes place).

Perhaps death is a clue that we lack true control at all even when we think we have it (i.e. while we are living)?

We cannot control the fact that everything is in constant flux and change (non-staying) either.

Death may or may not be the same as impermanence/change, but they are surely related, no?

The snake skin that was living, is thrown off as dead skin, to make room for the new living skin.

James and Douglas

If we believe what K has said then there is no ‘you’ or ‘me’… but there is a human brain that is trapped. And with death that brain disappears and is replaced by others also trapped.

So the significance of death for this brain is to free itself while it still lives…

…we need to understand belief.

Somebody says you’re “trapped”. If you don’t believe it, you say ‘stupid’…if you do believe it you find out if it’s so. And then you ‘do’ what you can to be free before the end.

Physical death has significance for the survival of the planet. Other than that for us humans who constantly accumulate knowledge and wealth for comfort death is a threat.
What the teachings says about death is not biological death but ending of the past,the “me” thing.

This is my experience of sensing death, non conceptually.
I observe(d) death in nature; it is “mixed” with life: I see dying leaves on the ground, I see trees which lost their branches; I sense that there was (is!!) life before which I can('t) see, and there is life now which is already dead, cause tomorrow is now. All time is now, and nature, if observed intensely, reveals this truth. It is all I can say about death, in this very moment, on a Sunday morning.


One has observed a few “deaths”, on the street. And the paramedics were pumping away on the “lifeless” body. And all of a sudden, there was the seeing of the life energy move from out there into the feet of the “lifeless” body, and Charley said: “He’s coming back”; and the paramedic turned and looked at Charley, and Charley smiled at him, and then the other paramedic said, “I got a pulse.” It was a beautiful day, sky was such a lovely blue.

Birth and death is the end of memory, but not the end of tendencies.

I think I understand what you are saying Dan. Can I maybe put it in different words?

Human consciousness is not mine or yours, it is human consciousness.

With the death of the brain there is an ending of the illusion of a separate (individual) consciousness, but the common stream of human consciousness continues (manifesting in the brains of other people as they are born).

So the significance of death for the brain (in which human consciousness is manifest), is to empty consciousness of its contents so that it no longer contributes to the common stream of human suffering, illusion, ignorance, violence, etc.

Is this right? Have I understood - more or less - what you are suggesting?

I hope you don’t mind Crina, but I have slightly edited your post to make it a little clearer for myself:

So, I understand by this that (in nature) life and death (the living and the dying) are completely interconnected, and happen - are happening (all the time) - in the present, now.

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Seeing that change is part of life - this Death thing seems essentialy to mean the ending of a moment held to be real (or realer than the rest) - or the thing we call X, is no more.

My Death is essentially the ending of what I have identified as me. Its about identification.

Yes. There seems to be a narrow hinterland between life and death in which there is still room for the unexpected. The irreversible loss of brain function has not yet occurred, but the heart may have stopped beating and the body may no longer be breathing. Usually this is sufficient to lead to irreversible death; but in some cases - whether due to medical intervention, or some other factor - the heart starts beating again, the lungs resume their breathing, and consciousness (or awareness) returns. Sometimes people who have experienced this report having some kind of ‘near death event’; and even if they don’t, they certainly were very near to irreversible biological death.

Some people report that when the body dies the “life energy” remains related to the body for a time, although I don’t understand why this is or what it means.

As you know, Krishnamurti seems to have had this situation occur several times in his life - one in particular (what Lutyens calls his “dialogue with death”) when he was recovering from a prostate operation. There is no reason to believe that K’s heart stopped during this event, or that his lungs stopped breathing - so it wasn’t the kind of ‘near death experience’ we have heard about elsewhere. But seems clear that Krishnamurti was very close to dying (biologically) during the hour that his “dialogue” took place.

In the “dialogue” K reports that “death” (i.e. a personification of death) was persuading the body that it was time (to die), and the body was refusing because it felt an instinctive loyalty to a third presence in the room - an “other” - which was interceding on its behalf, mediating between the body and “death”. K reports that the conversation was “urbane”, not emotional, and that there was even “a great sense of humour among the three of them.” He concludes by saying that life and death are indeed “very close together.”

The main criterion Krishnamurti suggests for such a “dialogue” is not to be “too identified with your own body, your own thoughts, and your own direction.”

Yes, to not continue in the ‘direction’, the direction that has been suggested as a ‘wrong turn’

I guess you could say that each brain has , before its natural death, the opportunity to ‘right the wrong’ in itself. For me that implies the ending of attachment, the ending of identification, being in the present, etc.