A Zen Detective Investigates Death

A Zen Detective Investigates Death

By Pete Sierra

“What’s going to happen after I die?” I asked the Zen detective.

“Why do you want to know?

“It worries me.”

“What happened before you were conceived?

“I don’t know.”

“Doesn’t that worry you?”

“Not really.”

“Why not? It could have been terrible.”

“Maybe, but it’s over and I don’t remember. It’s what will happen after death that worries me.”

“I don’t get it,” he said looking amused. “You don’t worry about it because it isn’t happening now and because you don’t remember it. Right?”


“Well, what will happen after death is not happening now, and you don’t remember it either. So why should it bother you?”

“Are you trying to be cute? I didn’t hire you to be cute.I want to know the truth.”

He smiled and rubbed his bald head. “Investigating a future crime is very difficult, I’m going to need your full cooperation. I don’t want to hide from you that you are the main suspect.”

“Me? How could I be a suspect regarding my fate after death?”

“Excuse me, the crime I’m investigating isn’t your fate, but your imaginary death.”

“Don’t be ridiculous! How could my death be imaginary? It’s a certainty that I’m going to die.”

“Is it really? Are you dying this very instant?”


“Who is the one then who is going to die? Is it the baby, the child, the young man you once were; one of those who are going to die?”

“No, they are gone, but my body is going to die and this was their body.”

“Are you sure of that? Is the size of the body the same?”


“Is the shape, or weight the same?”


“Are the atoms the same?”

“No, all atoms in the body are replaced within seven years.”

“So, neither the form, nor the substance are the same? Correct?”

“My memories are. I’m the memory of my life.”

He laughed. “It seems you are becoming less substantial with each question. “Do you remember every hour of your life?”

“No I don’t.”

“Do you remember every day, every month of your life?”


“So your memories have been dying all along, have they not?”


“Has this caused you any pain?”


“When a memory vanishes are you aware it’s vanishing?”

“Not at all.”

“Could you be your memories and don’t feel anything when
they perish?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So neither your form, your substance, your thoughts, feelings, perceptions, opinions or memories have remained the same throughout your life.”

“My consciousness has.”

“Your consciousness of what?”

“Not my consciousness of something. Just pure consciousness.”

“Have you ever been conscious without being conscious of something?”

“I don’t think so.”

“Consciousness is not a permanent state is it? In a deep sleep without dreams you are not conscious are you? So if consciousness stops in deep sleep, is there a reason to think it will persist after death?”

“I don’t think so.”

“So we haven’t found anything permanent to call yourself have we? Do you know who or what you really are?” he asked.

“No, I don’t.”

“Should you worry then about what happens to this elusive stranger after death?”

“Suffering worries me.”

“Suffering can only occur when we are conscious, and if consciousness can’t survive deep sleep, how could it survive death? So, if suffering worries you, inquire into how to stop it now. But I doubt that inquiry will interest you. People never worry about the present. Do they? It’s the idea of the past, or the future that causes most mental disquietude.”


16 Responses to “A Zen Detective Investigates Death”

  1. Pradeep Apte Says:

    Your ‘being’ depends on body and mind
    Body and mind are detructable
    Truth is not dependant on anything
    Nor can Truth be destroyed
    Then how can your ‘being’ be true?
    -NIsargadatta Maharaj

  2. Normand Joly Says:

    For the first time since I have been studying Buddhism,I finally

    You have no idea what a breakthrough your detective has
    just made in my mind :in this instant:

    I humbly thank you
    Normand Joly
    I’ll be BACKKKKK

  3. Just before Ninakawa passed away, the zen Master Ikkyu visited him.
    “Shall I lead you on?” Ikkyu asked.
    Ninakawa replied, “I came here alone, and I go alone, what help could you be to me?”
    Ikkyu answered, “If you think you really come and go, that is your delusion. Let me show you the path on which there is no coming and going.”
    With his words, Ikkyu revealed the path so clearly that Ninakawa smiled and passed away.

  4. Hi Hsin,

    “Coming and going” means change.

    Can we notice change without memory?
    Without memory there is only now, and
    no way to compare it to the past. Past,
    change, and memory are three different
    words forthe same thing.

    Without memory there is not even the
    notion of an self who could die.


  5. Anna Ruiz Says:


    Your stories enthrall me… I shall hope you and I both live forever that you may write them and I shall read them.



  6. Different clients; different motives; different crimes–but at the end of the day, it’s always the same case.

  7. null set Says:


  8. How is it that if all the atoms in our bodies are renewed every 7 years that people can still get pain from old but healed injuries? For example I have recently broken my ankle and on reading in a support site there are people suffering arthritis in injuries that occurred 10 years previously. I must be missing something here. My sister sprained her thumb years ago and in cold weather it still sometimes causes her pain. I am sitting with a zen group. Prior to finding zen meditation I have also had experiences where I have been in another part of the room and can see my body as if it is separate from my feeling of self. I could float back and enter my body as if it were a suit or some such.

    • cerosoul Says:

      Interesting question! It’s the formation in which
      the atoms march that makes a human being.
      The atoms in a 150 pounds pig are the same
      as mine, but the shape of the form is different.
      Just as the letters in this message can be replaced
      with similar letters of a different font without altering
      its meaning, the atoms in my body can be replaced
      by new ones and I still can feel old pains.

      Thanks for your comments,


  9. Thanks for your reply Pete. I appreciate it but would you unpack it in a bit more detail for me please? I still haven’t got my head around how it may happen. norsca

  10. Hi Norsca where did you read about this site?

    Well, you know all human cells die and are
    replaced. This happens gradually, but over
    a period of 7 to 10 years all are replaced.

    You can read more in Wiki answers:

  11. just so you know, this has garnered some serious discussion on my facebook. a seriously awesome post. thanky!

  12. I’m glad! Thanks for letting me know.


  13. “Have you ever been conscious without being conscious of something?”

    “I don’t think so.”

    “Consciousness is not a permanent state is it? In a deep sleep without dreams you are not conscious are you? So if consciousness stops in deep sleep, is there a reason to think it will persist after death.

    Have you ever been aware of being conscious?
    Yes I think so, in fact all the time.
    After you awake are you aware that you have been asleep.
    Yes I think so. Yes awareness persists even when I am unconcious
    Awareness is who I am, so there is no death.

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