Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Sure and Certain Hope

-At the Desert Retreat House-

When I get up every morning I am usually greeted by the brilliant sun rising over the eastern mountains, crystal clear blue skies, a desert landscape that extends as far as the eye can see; but it wasn't like that yesterday as an unexpected sandstorm whipped up into the region and stayed with us for most of the day.  All day long all I could see were dark clouds of misty sand covering the sun and obscuring the blue skies and the majestic mountains. 

As the day progressed I realized how much those heavy, gloomy clouds of sand were affecting my mood. I was used to living in a space of wide, expansive beauty but now it was as if I had been lowered into some type of pit - no way out, smothering.  

Then in a flash of insight I realized that, even though I couldn't see it, I knew for certain that all the beauty and expansive freedom was still there - it was only temporarily blocked from my view. It came to me that this is exactly what having "hope" is all about.

I have stood in many cemeteries and presided over many funerals in my life. Standing at the grave, I have pronounced that in the face of death we have "sure and certain hope." It was always a very powerful experience for me to stand in the midst of clouds of great sorrow and proclaim that message of hope--not just  "hope," but "sure and certain" hope.  

I have often been asked how "hope" can be "sure and certain" - that's because most people think of hope as some sort of "wishful thinking," - "I hope I get the job, I hope I might win the lottery, I hope it doesn't rain on the day of the picnic."

However, genuine hope is never just "wishful thinking;" genuine hope is always "sure and certain." We may not be able to see the beauty because it is covered by a veil of dark heavy clouds; but when we are "sure and certain" that the beauty is there, we have "hope."

In his book, Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm, Buddhist monk and teacher Thich Nhat Hanh wisely observes:

Our greatest fear is that when we die we will become nothing.

Death looks so final. When the physical body dies it looks like there is nothing left. In his book, Master Hanh observes that nothing that "is" ever becomes "no-being." He goes on to use the example of a cloud that disappears in the sky. When that happens the cloud hasn't become "nothing," it is not annihilated but rather transformed into mist rising up into the atmosphere and returned to the rivers and the oceans. The lesson nature teaches is that once something "is" it never turns into "nothing." 

And so I can stand at a grave, look at death in the eye and be sure and certain that death is not a doorway into nothingness. At my death I can be sure and certain that I will be transformed, returned to the ocean of "God" from which I first sprung up. I don't know how this all will happen or what it will be like but I know that the transformation will happen.  I know I will not become nothing. So I have hope- a sure and certain hope.

We often say that "courage" is the opposite of "fear," but I think maybe it's "hope." The opposite of "fear" is "hope," and if you aren't afraid of death what else is there to fear?

The sun is back out again today, blue skies, majestic mountains and open vistas have come back into view. My hope has been well-founded. 


  1. I agree with the thoughts you presented by Thich Nhat Hanh . I also like the realistic way in which Buddhists consider the fact of physical death. Our western tradition imposes two much reality on the physical facts of our existence. As I understand it those facts do not describe who we are, they simply are a stage for who we are to say something. When the stage lights go off and the curtain drops the actor has not died, the play is simply over.

    Of course I don't know if I'm right? I don't remember ever not being alive and I don't remember being dead. One of the first responsibilities of being alive is to solve the riddle death presents.