For Whom the Bell Tolls

“There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.” Ernest Hemingway

For Whom the Bell Tolls

Yes, I borrowed the title from a great writer. But I don’t think he would mind, for he also borrowed it[1]. Building on the work of each other is a good thing: it brings things to a higher revelation. No man is an island. Ernest Hemingway was a great figure in English literature and a brave man. I dedicate this article to a thing he said: “There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.”

When it is about our former self, something that once existed but is no longer, then the bell is a funeral bell. Can we hear our own death bell and live? Yes, when we talk about change, about transformation of consciousness, then to hear our own funeral bell is a positive thing.

Death is a scary subject. It is associated with loss, disease, pain, emptiness and loneliness. Because of our fear, we don’t come to terms with death. Even though it is the only certainty in life, it stays distant from us as if it doesn’t concern us. Of course, on the news broadcasts we see deceased people every day, but we don’t let the reality in. It is as if we are looking into another world, until death hits our own close circle. Then things change. Denying reality works only for a little while. The unwanted aspects of life catch up with us and break down our illusionary world. That is a hard thing and in general we need time to recover and accept the real situation.

The big question

This article is not meant as a heavy and gloomy text, on the contrary! That is why I ask the big question right away: Can we overcome death? Can we cut off death? It is a question as old as mankind.

Seen from an abstract perspective there are two approaches to this problem. Firstly, there is the attempt to improve and perfect the old situation. Secondly, there is the path of transformation, of death and rebirth, of turning lead into gold. The first approach is widely practiced and omnipresent, the second is rare and hidden. That’s why they are also called the wide and the narrow path.

From a natural point of view, the wide path is logical and normal. The I-central consciousness always takes itself as the starting point. We don’t see the big picture, because we have to take care of our needs and protect ourselves from surrounding dangers. That makes the world scary. We always have to run towards or from something. We are always under pressure. We have to do the impossible: create a safe place for ourselves.

While we travel the wide path, we are hard to stop. In fact, we can only stop ourselves. We haven’t seen the fundamental problem yet and are full of dreams: we will colonize Mars, we will transfer our consciousness to a robot brain, we will… We keep on dreaming and our technology seems to turn our desires into reality.


But the thing is: in nature we never go anywhere, we never become anything. We only go around in circles. It is only the illusion we project on nature, which gives the conviction that we are progressing, that we are on the right path to our goal.

Lao Tsu says: “All things are born together; I see them return again.[2] This little sentence reflects the essence of nature. The elements are united in living forms, death separates them again. Things turn back to their starting point and the process repeats itself. Of course, we are free to keep on trying, to repeat our attempt, but the observation from Lao Tsu stays the same: “I see them return again”.

In the end, these endless repetitions, the circular course of nature, open a window in us. Seeing the impossibility of the old way, our consciousness understands that there must be more to life than robotic routine. Then we discover that there is another way, the narrow path.

Death, love and life

The narrow path is in many ways the opposite of the wide path. For an I-central consciousness, it is very difficult to see the merit of the narrow gate. This fundamental obstacle has to do with the notion of death. When I say ‘death’, I don’t mean the physical end, but inner, psychological death: the dying of the I-central consciousness.

Krishnamurti says in a conversation called ‘Death, life and love are indivisible’: “Living is dying. And love is essentially dying to the me. (…) Living, love and death are one thing.

How can living be dying? It sounds very strange and contradictory. How can what is most desired, and what is most unwanted, be one thing?

The narrow path is about conquering death. What is death? Everything in nature moves in circles. This never-ending change, this turning back to the starting point, we call death. Winter dies, spring is born. The sun sets, the night is born. We die in the material world, we are born in the afterlife, the land beyond the veil. Later we also die in this reflection sphere and a new life on earth begins.

In general, we are afraid of these changes and the insecurity they bring. But it is this fear and the holding on to transient things that makes us victims of death. How do we disarm death? We move in the opposite direction, towards death. The narrow path teaches us to surrender ourselves voluntarily to death. Not physically, but inwardly, psychologically.

When we detach ourselves from all earthly things, we free ourselves from our anchors. We give back everything we have taken from the earth. It is not that we can’t have certain things, but inwardly we are detached, free from them. It is not only detachment from material objects, but also from our goals and ambitions, desires, ideals, knowledge, religion, authorities, opinions, and so on. Inwardly we are not going anywhere, we are not becoming anyone. This is very frightening for the average person. In one word ‘terrible’, because it is dying.

Terrifying it is, but only because we don’t understand the qualities of death. What does the inner grave bring us? Silence and clarity. When all fog is gone, all opinions, all conflicts, all little human worries, then the sky is clear. Not a cloud to be seen. The consciousness is clear as crystal, silent as a mountain lake. Now we understand life, now we see the truth. In the grave of our foolish little self we find silence, clarity and peace.

The Truth

In this inner open space, the open grave, true Life can manifest itself. The Truth was always there, it was just covered by the enormous pile of human ignorance. Now we understand why dying and Living are one thing. We die to our foolishness, our ignorance and greed, we live in the Truth.

Meister Eckhart says: “Love is as strong as death, as hard as hell. Death separates the soul from the body, but love separates all things from the soul.[3]

He conveys the same as Krishnamurti. When we die in the ordinary sense, our body gets separated from our soul, our consciousness. But when we die inwardly, psychologically, because we seek Truth, then our love for the Truth separates all things from the soul. The fire of love purifies our consciousness. This fire transforms our consciousness, turns us into truly living souls. Now we understand why death, love and life are indivisible.

When we summarize the two paths, we see the following schematic structure:

The narrow path: Love (for the Truth) brings death, brings clarity, brings Life.

The wide path: Love (for the ordinary life) brings death, brings repetition, brings experience.

It is experience, the ongoing sensation of gain and loss which opens us inwardly to the possibility of a new path, the path of the narrow gate.


Recently I was in a Roman tomb in Hisarya. Although the books say it is Roman, it has typical Egyptian features[4]. To enter the tomb there is a descending corridor which leads to it. When I reached the door of the tomb, I had to kneel, the entrance was quite low. This bowing for death is also expressed in the Great Pyramid of Giza. It is the descending corridor which leads to the subterranean chamber and the dead-end passage. What does this narrow gate tell us? We have to kneel for death to find Life. To accept death, to come to terms with death, is the gate through which we can reach a new life, a transformed state of consciousness.

It is all about reconciliation. We have taken a lot of things from the earth, and that makes us debtors. If we don’t see this, we are the proud human beings who think they have conquered the earth. In our ignorance, we stand tall and cannot enter the tomb. We haven’t paid our debts yet. But in the end the burden of our debts brings us self-knowledge.

True self-knowledge is important because it makes us accept ourselves and also death. In essence it is the same thing. Life in nature and death are completely intertwined. The verdict of nature is indisputable. If we don’t see this we live in an illusion and struggle with death. It is a fight we cannot win, but we are free to try it. One day, when we are tired and long for redemption, we understand that we can’t stand tall in an I-central sense and truly Live. The relative and the Absolute do not go together. We stop our attempt to perfect the relative and accept ourselves, death included. We accept reality. We bow for death, we kneel before the narrow gate and death lets us pass. We enter the inner tomb where we find clarity and peace. We come to terms with ourselves.


It sounds like the end but the mystery of man is much deeper. Death was not the end, nor the enemy, it was just the gatekeeper. It didn’t grant us passage because illusions can’t be accepted on the path to true Life. Ignorance and illusions are the heel of Achilles. Our feet were in the wrong direction.

It is amazing that the secret of Life is displayed and conveyed so openly, and still it is vastly hidden, not understood at all. Many wise men and teachers of mankind have drawn attention to it. Jesus the Christ said: “For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.”[5]

In the tomb of Christian Rosycross was written: “While living, I made this compendium of the universe my tomb.”[6]

Every true spiritual path knows the phase of liquidation of the past, the inner death. If we ignore this phase and stand tall, the gatekeeper won’t let us pass. Then we keep going the endless, circular course of nature. When we understand this unchangeable condition in the end, we are bewildered. The truth of it is so overwhelming, its necessity so logical and inescapable, that we don’t understand why it has taken us so long to see it.

In the end, our feet turn in the right direction. Achilles comes to terms with his heel. We have come such a long way, we have been the victim of our own ignorance so many times. But finally we see, we understand. The old man, tired and full of experience, sees the sea, the eternal breath of the creator. Then the bell tolls.


[1] John Donne:

[2] Tao Te Ching chapter 16,

[3] Sermon four


[5] Matthew 16:25

[6] The Call of the Brotherhood of the Rosycross

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Date: September 15, 2023
Author: Niels van Saane (Bulgaria)
Photo: Haotian Zheng on Unsplash CCO

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