Thursday, August 21, 2014

No Birth No Death

-In the Hight Desert-

I find great truth in the Buddhist teaching that there is "no birth and no death." The thing is that this concept is so foreign to a traditional "Western" mindset that it's sometimes very difficult to talk about or explain. I guess that's why I was so struck by something I came across yesterday in Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh's few-sentence, simple illustration of "no birth, no death."  Suddenly this profound concept came alive for me and made perfect sense:

Look at this piece of paper. It didn't come from nothing because from nothing you can't suddenly become something. Looking deeply into the sheet of paper, we can see the trees, the soil, sun, rain, and cloud that nourished the trees, the lumberjack, and the paper mill. This is where the sheet of paper comes from. Taking the form of a sheet of paper is only a new manifestation, not a birth.

And, it's impossible for the sheet of paper to die. When you burn a sheet of paper it turns into smoke vapor ash and heat, it continues in other forms

So the nature of the sheet of paper is "no birth and no death."

I was formed and fashioned in a classic "Western," dualistic, categorical, mechanistic worldview. I thought of myself as a separated entity apart from the world out there apart from me. There was "me" down here and "God" up there.  There was "me" and there were "others" who were apart from me. There was "me" and there were "things" out there. There was a beginning and there was an end to everything that exists,  "a place for everything and everything in it's place." 

The world of "God," the world of other people, the world of nature and things - all very nice and neat and orderly, all explainable and all quite controllable. 

I actually don't believe any of that any longer. 

In my later years of life, all my easy answers and glib explanations have shattered around me and I have come to understand that the world is a wonderful mystery in which I participate, and not a mechanism that I can control or explain. 

This morning, I once again sit in my desert garden basking in the warmth of the rising sun, listening to the sounds of life pulsating all around me, and I am awed by the great mystery of existence. 

As I sit here I think about Master Hanh's "sheet of paper" and realize that I am like that sheet of paper in his illustration.  I am not some separated entity born on a day in November.  On that November day "I" emerged from the sea of life, and everything and everyone who ever existed before me  now flows through me.  I was not born on that day, I became a new manifestation of life on that day. 

I belong to everything and everyone that ever was, is now or ever will be.

I also know that there is no death, for one day I will return back to that ocean of life from which I once emerged on that November day, and the name of that sea of life is "God."  

It's all such a wonderful, beautiful, awesome, uncontrollable, unexplainable mystery. There is no birth and there is no death, there is only "now."

Surrendering to the "now" I find that peace which passes all understanding. 


  1. Paul, it's like you picked my brain. I am so happy to hear others have had the same conclusion I had. It is also interesting that the same systems of errors produced in both of us the same conclusion about those errors. I confronted those very same things, came to see they were wrong and concluded what you did. Thich Nhat Hanh is a wise man.

    1. Thanks my friend.

      Thich Nhat Hanh is one of my favorite teachers. His wisdom seems simple on the surface but it is always so deep and so profound when you dig deeper.