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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 60 The true practitioner understands real rebirth, real continu- ation. There are two views concerning life after death. Quite a number of people, including scientists, believe that after we die, there’ll be nothing left. From being we become nonbeing. They don’t believe that there is something that continues after you die. That view is called nihilism. In this view, either there is no soul or the soul completely dies. After death, our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness are completely gone. The opposite view, eternalism, is that after we die, we are still here and we will continue forever. Our soul is immortal. While our physical body may die, our soul continues forever, whether in paradise or in hell. The Buddha called these two views just another pair of opposites. Before you can answer the question, “What will happen to me after I die?” you need to answer another question, “What is happening to me in the present moment?” Examining this ques- tion is the essence of meditation. If we don’t know how to look deeply into what is happening to us in the here and the now, how can we know what will happen to us when we are dead? When we look at a candle, we say that the candle is radiat- ing light, heat, and fragrance. The light is one kind of energy and night. We can feel their impermanence and so we are tempted to say that the first two lines of this gatha are true. But the danger of this statement is that we may believe that formations are real and impermanence is an absolute truth. And we may use that kind of truth as a weapon in order to fight against those who don’t agree with our ideas. “Formations” is a notion, an idea. “Impermanence” is another notion. Neither is more true than the other. When you say, “All formations are impermanent,” you are indirectly confirming their permanence. When you con- firm the existence of something, you are also implying the exis- tence of its opposite. When you say the right exists, you have to accept the existence of the left. When you confirm that something is “high,” you’re saying something else is “low.” Impermanence becomes a notion that opposes the notion of permanence. So though perhaps it tried to escape, the first two lines of the gatha are still in the realm of conventional, relative truth. To reach the absolute truth, the ultimate truth, you need to release the conventional truth found there. There’s a Chinese term that means halfway truths and another that means all-the- way, hitting-the-bottom truths. The first two lines are a half- way truth and the third and fourth lines try to remove what we learned in the first two. When the notions are removed, then the perfect silence, the ex- tinction of all notions, the destruction of all pairs of opposites, is called great joy. That is the teaching of absolute truth, of nirvana. What does nirvana mean? It is absolute happiness. It’s not a place you can go; it’s a fruit that you can have wherever you are. It’s al- ready inside us. The wave doesn’t have to seek out the water. Water is what the wave has to realize as her own foundation of being. If you have come from a Jewish or Christian background, you may like to compare the idea of nirvana, great bliss, with the idea of God. Because our idea of God may be only that, an idea. We have to overcome the idea in order to really touch God as a reality. Nirvana can also be merely the idea of nirvana. Buddha also can be just an idea. But it’s not the idea that we need; we need the ultimate reality. The first two lines of the gatha dwell in the realm of oppo- sites: birth and death, permanence and impermanence, being and nonbeing. In God, in nirvana, opposites no longer exist. If you say God exists, that’s wrong. If you say God doesn’t exist, that’s equally wrong. Because God cannot be described in terms of being and nonbeing. To be or not to be, that is not the ques- tion. The notions of being and nonbeing are obstacles that you have to remove in order for ultimate reality to manifest. In classical Chinese, the third line of the gatha literally says, “But when both birth and death die.” What does it mean by “death dying”? It means you have to kill your notions of birth and death. As someone who practices the way of the Buddha, you have the sword of the bodhisattva Manjushri, which is sharp enough to remove wrong perceptions and cut through all notions, including those of birth and death. Paris, walking meditation, 2007. PHOTOBYDUCTRUONG SEPT 58-65.indd 60 SEPT 58-65.indd 60 6/25/07 5:04:55 PM 6/25/07 5:04:55 PM