No Birth, No Death
If we are mindful of the true nature of reality, then we never truly lose anyone--even to death
By Thich Nhat Hanh
Excerpted with permission from "No Death, No Fear"
published by Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam.
Our greatest fear is that when we die we will become nothing. Many of us believe that our entire existence is only a life span beginning the moment we are born or conceived and ending the moment we die. We believe that we are born from nothing and that when we die we become nothing. And so, we are filled with fear of annihilation.
The Buddha has a very different understanding of our existence. It is the understanding that birth and death are notions. They are not real. The fact that we think they are true makes a powerful illusion that causes all our suffering. The Buddha taught there is no birth, there is no death; there is no coming, there is no going; there is no same, there is no difference; there is no permanent self, there is no annihilation. We only think there is. When we understand that we cannot be destroyed, we are liberated from fear. It is a great relief. We can enjoy life and appreciate it in a new way.
The same thing happens when we lose any of our beloved ones. The day my mother died I wrote in my journal, A serious misfortune of my life has arrived. I suffered for more than one year after the passing away of my mother. But one night, in the highlands of Vietnam, I was sleeping in the hut in my hermitage. I dreamed of my mother. I saw myself sitting with her and we were having a wonderful talk. She looked young and beautiful, her hair flowing down. It was so pleasant to sit there and talk to her as if she had never died.
When I woke up it was about two in the morning and I felt very strongly as though I had never lost my mother. The impression that my mother was still with me was very clear. I understood then that the idea of having lost my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother was just an idea. It was obvious in that moment that my mother is always alive in me.
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk, poet, peace activist, and the author of more than one hundred books, including the national bestsellers 'Anger' and 'Living Buddha, Living Christ.' He lives in Plum Village, a monastic community in southwestern France.