Book #14 – A non-fiction book – No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom For Life by Thich Nhat Hanh
I came across this book at my aunt’s place many months ago and opened it up to a random page in casual interest to find words that made a lot of sense to me. Intrigued, I downloaded this and many other books by Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh to read “later” (How many of you can relate with me? I download hundreds of interesting books to read “later” and never end up reading them!)
We all go through personal loss, fear of death and grief at one point of our lives or another. Everyone rejoices at the birth of a new being but none of our emotional faculties can really ever prepare us for death, no matter how sudden or impending it may have been. Buddhism has a very profound yet scientific explanation regarding birth and death, one which is logical at the same time comforting.
No matter how open-minded we may be, some of the notions, concepts, beliefs, prejudices and biases that we have been brought up with always form the basis for many of our decisions and judgements. The Buddha observed that the ultimate goal of life is to achieve nirvana which can only be achieved by breaking the bondage of all concepts and notions in our minds that cause us much distress and keep us from our true reality of complete happiness and freedom. One of these is the concept of birth and death.
The Buddha said the nature of your reality is the nature of no birth and no death; no coming, no going, no being, no non-being, no same, no different. The teaching sounds as though it contradicts the teaching that everything that is born must die, the teaching that we cannot escape death, sickness and old age. Practice looking deeply. You will realize that birth is a notion, death is a notion, coming is a notion, going is a notion, being is a notion and non-being is a notion. We have to remove all notions concerning reality. Then we touch the ultimate reality, or suchness.
Nothing is created, there’s only a transfer of energy from one form to the other. This is something we’ve studied in physics at school but maybe never thought about it carefully in life. Buddhism talks about applying this scientific fact and calls it manifestation. The book mentions several examples one of which is that of a cloud that changes its form into rain that subsequently gets transferred into our body in the form of food and water and repeats its cycle. Similarly, so does the manifestation of life.
Nothing has a separate self, and nothing exists by itself. If we examine things carefully, we will see that all phenomena, including ourselves, are composites. We are made up of other parts. We are made up of our mother and father, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, the earth, the sun and innumerable non-self elements. All these parts depend on causes and conditions. We see that all that has existed, exists or will exist is interconnected and interdependent. All that we see has only manifested because it is a part of something else, of other conditions that make it possible to manifest. All phenomena are neither produced nor destroyed, because they are in a constant process of manifesting.
We are also guided to open our eyes and see that our historical dimension (or the reality that we have been led to believe) is different from our ultimate dimension (the reality that is our true nature). There are detailed examples that help us think outside the box and remove many mental barriers regarding everything in life. The book talks about simple ways of Buddhist meditation and practicing looking deeply in our daily lives and being aware to really awaken ourselves. Although these new and alternative thoughts are not easy to comprehend, practicing mindfulness can slowly help us rewire some of our preconceived notions.
I found myself asking several questions regarding pain and suffering. How can we justify suffering if there is no death, no fear, no coming, no going? There is an answer to that in the book as well. Your actions cause ripple effects around everything else. What you do or don’t do decides the course for others. Although the examples made sense, the justifications were still a bit difficult to take in.
How can I be happy? It’s simple, the Buddha says. Live in the present moment. In other words, be thankful of what you already have in your life.
Please take a pen and a sheet of paper. Go to the foot of a tree or to your writing desk, and make a list of all the things that can make you happy right now: the clouds in the sky, the flowers in the garden, the children playing, the fact that you have met the practice of mindfulness, your beloved ones sitting in the next room, your two eyes in good condition. The list is endless. You have enough already to be happy now. You have enough to be free from coming and going, up and down, birth and death. Nourish yourself every day with the wonderful things that life has to offer you. Nourish yourself in the present moment. Walk in the kingdom of God.
Finally, your own experience is the best teacher. This is what Buddhism is all about.
The Buddha has advised us that we should not accept any teachings as true just because a famous master teaches them or because they are found in holy books. This also includes the Buddhist canon. We can only accept teachings that we have put into practice with our own awakened understanding and that we can see with our own experience to be true.
I highly recommend this book. It’s a huge eye-opener. The philosophies are practical and the spiritual teachings of Buddhism are simple ways of life, the basics of which anyone can practice in their daily lives no matter what faith they follow or even if they don’t follow a faith at all. It’s all about the mind, soul and awareness of the self and waking up to the ultimate reality.
Book Rating: 4 stars out of 5