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Lions Roar : January 2016
Beyond Birth and Death The greatest relief you can ever obtain comes from touching the nature of no-birth and no-death. It is our idea of birth and death that takes away our peace and happiness in everyday life. And it is meditation that will rid us of the fear that is born from the idea of birth and death. This is the virtue of deep looking in meditation. It helps you to see the heart of reality very deeply. To touch the nature of interbeing is to touch the very nature of no-death and no-birth. The notion of death, of nothingness, is very dangerous. It makes people suffer a lot. In Buddhist teaching nothingness is only a concept, and it is never applicable to reality. The Buddha said, “When conditions are sufficient, the thing manifests, and when they are not sufficient, the thing remains hidden.” There is neither birth nor death. There is only manifestation, appearance. Concepts like birth and death, being and nonbeing, are not ap- plicable to reality. The wave on the water is free from birth and death. It is free from being and nonbeing. The wave is the wave. The word suchness describes reality as it is. Concepts and ideas are incapable of expressing reality as it is. Nirvana, the ultimate reality, cannot be described, because it is free of all concepts and ideas. Nirvana is the extinction of all concepts. It is total freedom. Most of our suffering arises from our ideas and concepts. If you are able to free yourself from these concepts, anxiety and fear will disappear. Nirvana, the ultimate reality, or God, is of the nature of no-birth and no-death. It is total free- dom. We need to touch this reality to leave behind the fear con- nected with the idea of birth and death. We are afraid of nonbeing. “I am somebody, I am some- thing,” we feel. “Today I am, and I am afraid that one day I will no longer be.” But it is impossible for being to become nonbe- ing. The Buddha said it in absolutely simple terms: “This is, because that is.” This refers to the manifestation of phenomena on the basis of the law of interdependent origination. When conditions are sufficient, there is a manifestation. You could call that “being,” but that would be inaccurate. In the same way, you could call the situation before manifestation arises “nonbe- ing,” but that is equally incorrect. The situation is simply one of manifestation or non-manifestation. Just because something is not visibly manifest, you cannot say that it is nonexistent, just so much nothing. In April at Plum Village, you do not see sunflowers. The hills are not covered with their blossoms, but you cannot say that there are no sun- flowers. The sunflowers are hidden in the earth; they are just lacking one of the conditions for their manifestation, sunshine. It is false to say that the sunflowers do not exist. Existence and nonexistence are just concepts. There is only manifestation and non-manifestation, which depend on our perception. If you have perception that is deep enough, a deep insight into life, then you are free from all these concepts such as being and nonbeing, birth and death. This is the highest level of the Buddha’s teaching. You are looking for relief for your pain; ESSENTIAL TEACHINGS OF THICH NHAT HANH BUDDHIST PHILOSOPHY • MEDITATION • PSYCH OLOGY • ZEN • PEACE • SAVING THE EARTH PHOTOBYDONFARBER SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 54