Author: Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Cultivating Compassion and Understanding
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Cultivating Compassion and Understanding

This year, while I was leading a retreat in the Netherlands and a Day of Mindfulness in Belgium, I learned that our Dharma Teacher Karl Schmied died in Germany. He was a good Dharma Teacher… Karl’s dharma name was True Dharma Eyes. Thay transmitted the lamp to him to be a lay Dharma Teacher of Plum Village. After that, Karl led many retreats in Austria, Germany, Italy, and so on.  I remember one time after Karl’s first retreat, he said goodbye to us in order to go to a business meeting in the South of Germany. I asked him whether it was possible not to go to the meeting and attend the second retreat. He said, “No, it is not possible.” But when I finished the orientation talk at the second retreat, I saw that he was sitting in the crowd. It turned out that while driving, he was reflecting on what Thay had said during the first retreat, that you have to learn how to release your cows. If you have too many cows to take care of, then you have no time. Many of you may not have heard about cow releasing. The story is like this: One day the Buddha was sitting with his monks in the woods. They had just finished their mindful lunch and were about to start a question and answer session. A peasant passed by and asked the Buddha, “Dear monk, have you seen my cows passing by here?” The Buddha said, “What cows?” “My cows, six of them, I don’t know why but this morning they all ran away. I had also cultivated three acres of sesame seeds, but this year the insects ate them all. I think I am going to kill myself. I have lost everything!” The Buddha said, “Dear friend, we have not seen your cows passing by here. You better look for them in the other direction.” After the farmer had gone, the Buddha looked at his monks and smiled and said, “My dear friends, do you know that you are lucky, you do not have any cows to lose.” Sometimes, we possess a number of things, and we think that these possessions are very crucial to our happiness, our safety. But if you look deeply, you’ll see that maybe what you possess are obstacles for your happiness. If you know how to let them go, to release your cow, happiness becomes possible. During the Dharma talk, I advised people to write down the names of their cows on a sheet of paper and to look deeply to see whether they are truly essential for their happiness. Otherwise, they should learn to release their cows. You have an idea as to how you can be happy, and you are stuck in that idea. That idea is a cow, a big cow. If you cannot get that position, you cannot be happy, that is a cow, a big cow. If you cannot get that diploma, you suffer all your life, and this is a cow. Sometimes, our cow is our belief in a kind of doctrine, a kind of ideology. You think that happiness will not be possible without that doctrine, that ideology. There are countries that hold onto their ideology for fifty years, seventy years. They suffer a lot before they can release their cow. So the most difficult cow to release is your idea about your happiness. And there are other cows around you, you think that you cannot survive without these cows. But in fact you suffer because of them. So halfway to the meeting, Karl decided to release his cow, he made a U-turn and came back to the retreat. We all suffered when we learned that he died. But looking deeply, we see that he continues to be there in other form, because what he had done, had said, are still there – those are his continuation. He continues to build the Sangha. He continues to serve as the ground of the practice. So it is not true that after death he does not continue. We continue with our karma. When you produce a thought, that thought bears your signature – that is your continuation. When you say something, that statement carries your signature – that is your continuation. When you do something, the action also carries your signature – that is your continuation. Whether we continue beautifully or not is up to us. If you produce beautiful thoughts, speech and actions, then your continuation will be beautiful. Every one of us cares about a beautiful continuation. I myself also care about a beautiful continuation. The disintegration of this body does not mean the end of me, no. It is like my pot of tea. There are tea leaves inside. When I pour hot water in it, the essence, the most essential of the tea comes out into the water, and I drink the tea. When I pour hot water for the second time, the tea becomes weaker and I still enjoy it. But if you keep pouring new hot water, then the tea leaves that remain have lost most of the essence. The tea I drink may continue in the form of a poem, in the form of a thought, in the form of a Dharma Talk. If you look deeply, you’ll see the continuation of the tea. What is left in the teapot is not truly the tea anymore. It is just a little bit of residue that you can put in the ground to nourish plants. So when we die, the disintegration of this body is only the residue, not much. The best things in us have gone in terms of karma – in terms of thought, speech and action – and that is our true continuation. So we should care about our continuation by taking care of our thought, our speech, and our action. Because nothing is lost, rien ne se perdre. This is true. That kind of energy will come together and that will allow us to manifest again as a continuation. So, to die does not mean that from something you become nothing, from someone you become no one. That is not true. We should have time to reflect on that. To die, in our minds, means that from someone, you suddenly become no one. That is not the truth. It is not true that from something you become nothing. When you look deeply into something like a cloud, you see that the nature of the cloud is the nature of no birth and no death. What does it mean to be born? In our mind, to be born means that from nothing, we suddenly become something. From no one, we suddenly become someone. That is our definition of birth. But looking deeply, practicing meditation, you see that there is nothing like that in the world. A cloud does not come from nothing. A cloud is a continuation of the water in the lake, in the ocean; a continuation of heat and so on. So the birth of a cloud means manifestation, a new manifestation. When a cloud dies, what does it mean? A cloud cannot die, a cloud can only become something else, like rain, hale, snow, ice, or tea. A cloud cannot just become nothing. Imagine a cloud floating in the sky and half of it begins to be transformed into rain. Visualize the half cloud looking down and see half of herself becoming a stream of water and the cloud is smiling to herself in her new manifestation. Nothing is lost. To be a cloud floating in the sky is beautiful. To become the rain falling on the hills, on the grass, becoming one with the river is also wonderful. Why are we afraid of dying? There is no death. There is only transformation, new manifestation. You should have the time to look deeply. There is a fear that one day we will get old, we will die, and that is why the practice of meditation, the practice of deep looking can help us transcend birth and death. When I was a novice monk, I thought it was a difficult practice. But as I grew up, I see that it is not so difficult. You might touch your immortality, your nature of no birth and no death, just by looking deeply. Scientists, if they do well, can also find that truth. The French scientist Lavoisier said that nothing is born, nothing dies. He practiced looking deeply into matter, and realized that “Rien ne se créer, rien ne se perdre.” If it is so, why should we be afraid of being born or dying? Looking at anything, like a flower, a cloud, or a bird, you can touch the nature of no birth and no death, and that is the ultimate aim of Buddhist meditation – to touch your own nature of no birth and no death. With that kind of realization, fear is no longer in us. True happiness can only be there when there is no fear. With fear inside, true happiness will not be possible. So apparently, there is birth and death, but touching things deeply, we see they are only appearances, only manifestations. A cloud does not really die. A cloud, although having disappeared from the sky, is still there in its new form, be it rain or snow. That is why when you drink your tea or when you drink your water, if you can see the cloud in the tea and in the water, you begin to see the truth. That is why it is good to have the time to sit down and practice looking deeply at the nature of ourselves, the nature of reality, the true nature of no birth and no death. Siddhartha sat at the foot of a Banyan tree, and practiced deep looking. He found out that transcending birth and death is possible. With that non-fear in him, he was able to share his wisdom to help people transform their suffering. So to die means you stop one form of manifestation in order to begin another form of manifestation, and you can do it joyfully. When the cloud is about to be transformed into rain, if it is aware that being a cloud is wonderful, and being the rain is also wonderful, the cloud can fall down as rain, singing. To be a leaf on the branch is wonderful, and to fall down to become the earth and nourish the tree is also wonderful. No sorrow is needed. If during our lifetime we do not have time to contemplate these basic issues, it would be a pity. It would be a pity that we are so preoccupied with small issues like paying the telephone bills, the taxes, and so on. So we should arrange our lives so that we have the time to enjoy the practice of looking deeply. We know that when our mind is free from anger, fear, jealously, it is more serene, calm, and concentrated. With that, we can have a breakthrough into the heart of reality, because our afflictions prevent us from seeing things clearly. When you are angry, when you are fearful, you are not calm, you are not lucid. That is why practicing calming, practicing transforming the afflictions help you to have the kind of mind that is capable of discovering the truth. We should also tell our friends who are researching in science that they should know that transforming their afflictions is a very important aspect of research. If their mind is clouded with anger and fear, they cannot see things clearly because the mind is the most basic instrument for research. You might create a lot of instruments, like the microscopic lens, or atom accelerators, but these are only secondary instruments. The basic instrument is your mind. If your mind is clouded, you cannot see reality. It is a source of strength that we have to tap into in order to receive nourishment and healing. When you produce a thought of compassion, of understanding, of forgiveness, you are on the same frequency as the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. You can tune into the energy. When you are capable of pronouncing something in terms of forgiveness, in terms of compassion and understanding, you are in tune with the world of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas. Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are described in Buddhism as Great Beings – Mahasattvas. Great beings are like us, free from birth and death. They are always there with their energy. There is a huge ocean of good energy and if you know how to get in touch with it, you will receive the healing and nourishment you need. If you can put yourself on the same frequencies, there will be synergy between your mind wave and the mind wave of the Bodhisattvas and Buddhas. That is why in the Buddhist tradition, we practice the recollection of the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha, because the three jewels have a lot of energy. The Buddha is always there, not only around you but inside of you. If you produce a thought of compassion, of forgiveness, of understanding, you’ll be in tune, you will be on the same frequency with the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and you can get in touch with a tremendous source of energy. This is understandable because of the law of affinity. We are here in Plum Village, sitting together like this because we have something in common; we are searching for the same thing. There is a collective karma that helps unite us today. It is not by chance that you have come here. There is a link. We have affinity with each other. When we come together, we do not discuss about politics, consumption, sex, fame and so on. We are tuned to the same kind of the energy. We get in touch with the teachings of the Buddha, with the Buddha’s compassion, his understanding, and we receive the nourishment from the three jewels – the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. So it is very important to tune ourselves in such a way that we will be on the same frequencies with three jewels and the Great Beings. The Great beings are not necessarily Buddhists. They can be Christians, Jews and so on. They are always there for us, and if we know how to get in touch, we will tap into their strength, their tremendous energy. It is like the Internet. You can get in touch with very dark areas that will pull you into an abyss. But with the same Internet, you can get in touch with wonderful areas that will bring you knowledge, understanding and compassion. You don’t need to go anywhere. You just sit in front of your computer, and you get in touch with anything that you want to be in touch with. The same thing is true. You are sitting here, and you don’t have to go to India, to go to the Pure Land, to go to the Kingdom of God. If you know how to tune into the right frequencies, the Kingdom of God will manifest inside of you, the Pure Land of the Buddha will also manifest inside of you, and you can tap into that ocean of wholesome energy, to be nourished, to be healed, right here and right now. While you are sitting mindfully, while you are walking mindfully, while you are washing mindfully, you are on the same frequencies with the Great beings, and this is the practice.   With deep gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh This article is from a transcript of Dharma Talk given by Thay in Plum Village on 28 July 2006. The article is slightly edited for direct relevance and brevity.  Please visit here for more talks and writings of  Thich Nhat Hanh
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The Heart Sutra
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The Heart Sutra: the Fullness of Emptiness

Emptiness is not something to be afraid of, says Thich Nhat Hanh. The Heart Sutra teaches us that form may be empty of self but it’s full of everything else. If you are a poet, you will see clearly that there is a cloud floating in this sheet of paper. Without a cloud, there will be no rain; without rain, the trees cannot grow; and without trees, we cannot make paper. The cloud is essential for the paper to exist. If the cloud is not here, the sheet of paper cannot be here either. We can say that the cloud and the paper inter-are. “Interbeing” is a word that is not in the dictionary yet, but if we combine the prefix “inter-” with the verb “to be,” we have a new verb, “inter-be.” If we look into this sheet of paper even more deeply, we can see the sunshine in it. If the sunshine is not there, the forest cannot grow. In fact, nothing can grow. Even we cannot grow without sunshine. So we know that the sunshine is also in this sheet of paper. The paper and the sunshine inter-are. And if we continue to look, we can see the logger who cut the tree and brought it to the mill to be transformed into paper. And we see the wheat. We know that the logger cannot exist without his daily bread, and therefore the wheat that became his bread is also in this sheet of paper. And the logger’s father and mother are in it too. When we look in this way, we see that without all of these things, this sheet of paper cannot exist. Looking even more deeply, we can see we are in it too. This is not difficult to see, because when we look at a sheet of paper, the sheet of paper is part of our perception. Your mind is in here and mine is also, so we can say that everything is in here in this sheet of paper. You cannot point out one thing that is not here—time, space, the earth, the rain, the minerals in the soil, the sunshine, the cloud, the river, the heat. Everything coexists with this sheet of paper. That is why I think the word inter-be should be in the dictionary. To be is to inter-be. You cannot just be by yourself alone. You have to inter-be with every other thing. This sheet of paper is, because everything else is. Suppose we try to return one of the elements to its source. The word “emptiness” should not scare us. It is a wonderful word. Suppose we return the sunshine to the sun. Do you think that this sheet of paper would be possible? No, without sunshine nothing can be. And if we return the logger to his mother, then we have no sheet of paper either. The fact is that this sheet of paper is made up only of “non-paper elements.” And if we return these non-paper elements to their sources, then there can be no paper at all. Without non-paper elements, like mind, logger, sunshine, and so on, there will be no paper. As thin as this sheet of paper is, it contains everything in the universe in it. But the Heart Sutra seems to say the opposite. Avalokiteshvara tells us that things are empty. Let us look more closely. Empty of What? The Bodhisattva Avalokita, while moving in the deep course of Perfect Understanding, shed light on the five skandhas and found them equally empty. Bodhi means being awake, and sattva means a living being, so bodhisattva means an awakened being. All of us are sometimes bodhisattvas, and sometimes not. Avalokita is the shorter name of the Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Avalokita is neither male nor female and sometimes appears as a man and sometimes as a woman. In Chinese, Vietnamese, Korean, and Japanese, this bodhisattva’s name is sometimes translated as Guanyin, Quan Am, Gwaneum, and Kannon, which means “the one who listens and hears the cries of the world in order to come and help.” Avalokiteshvara also embodies the spirit of non-fear, as he himself has transcended fear. The Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra is his wonderful gift to us. According to Avalokiteshvara, this sheet of paper is empty; but according to our analysis, it is full of everything. There seems to be a contradiction between our observation and his. Avalokita found the five skandhas empty. But empty of what? The key word is empty. To be empty is to be empty of something. If I am holding a cup of water and I ask you, “Is this cup empty?” you will say, “No, it is full of water.” But if I pour out the water and ask you again, you may say, “Yes, it is empty.” But empty of what? Empty means empty of something. The cup cannot be empty of nothing. “Empty” doesn’t mean anything unless you know “empty of what?” My cup is empty of water, but it is not empty of air. To be empty is to be empty of something. This is quite a discovery. When Avalokita says that the five skandhas are equally empty, to help him be precise we must ask, “Mr. Avalokita, empty of what?” The five skandhas, which may be translated into English as five heaps, or five aggregates, are the five elements that comprise a human being. These five elements flow like a river in every one of us. In fact, these are really five rivers flowing together in us: the river of form, which means our bodies; the river of feelings; the river of perceptions; the river of mental formations; and the river of consciousness. They are always flowing in us. So according to Avalokita, when he looked deeply into the nature of these five rivers, he suddenly saw that all five are empty. If we ask, “Empty of what?” he has to answer. And this is what he said: “They are empty of a separate self.” That means none of these five rivers can exist by itself alone. Each of the five rivers has to be made by the other four. It has to coexist; it has to inter-be with all the others. “Emptiness” means empty of a separate self. It is full of everything. In our bodies we have lungs, heart, kidneys, stomach, and blood. None of these can exist independently. They can only coexist with the others. Your lungs and your blood are two things, but neither can exist separately. The lungs take in air and enrich the blood, and, in turn, the blood nourishes the lungs. Without the blood, the lungs cannot be alive, and without the lungs, the blood cannot be cleansed. Lungs and blood inter-are. The same is true with kidneys and blood, kidneys and stomach, lungs and heart, blood and heart, and so on. When Avalokita says that our sheet of paper is empty, he means it is empty of a separate, independent existence. It cannot just be by itself. It has to inter-be with the sunshine, the cloud, the forest, the logger, the mind, and everything else. It is empty of a separate self. But, empty of a separate self means full of everything. So it seems that our observation and that of Avalokita do not contradict each other after all. Avalokita looked deeply into the five skandhas of form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness, and he discovered that none of them can be by itself alone. Each can only inter-be with all the others. So he tells us that form is empty. Form is empty of a separate self, but it is full of everything in the cosmos. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Long Live Emptiness Listen, Shariputra, form is emptiness, and emptiness is form.Form is not other than emptiness, emptiness is not other than form.The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Form is the wave and emptiness is the water. To understand this, we have to think differently than many of us who were raised in the West were trained to think. In the West, when we draw a circle, we consider it to be zero, nothingness. But in India and many other Asian countries, a circle means totality, wholeness. The meaning is the opposite. So “form is emptiness, and emptiness is form” is like wave is water, water is wave. “Form is not other than emptiness, emptiness is not other than form. The same is true with feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness,” because these contain each other. Because one exists, everything exists. In the Vietnamese literary canon, there are two lines of poetry by a twelfth-century Zen master of the Ly dynasty that say: If the cosmos exists, then the smallest speck of dust exists.If the smallest speck of dust doesn’t exist,then the whole cosmos doesn’t exist. The poet means that the notions of existence and nonexistence are just created by our minds. He also said that “the entire cosmos can be put on the tip of a hair,” and “the sun and the moon can be seen in a mustard seed.” These images show us that one contains everything, and everything is just one. Because form is emptiness, form is possible. In form we find everything else—feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. “Emptiness” means empty of a separate self. It is full of everything, full of life. The word “emptiness” should not scare us. It is a wonderful word. To be empty does not mean to be nonexistent. If the sheet of paper is not empty, how could the sunshine, the logger, and the forest come into it? How could it be a sheet of paper? The cup, in order to be empty, has to be there. Form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness, in order to be empty of a separate self, have to be there. Emptiness is the ground of everything. “Thanks to emptiness, everything is possible.” That is a declaration made by Nagarjuna, a Buddhist philosopher of the second century. Emptiness is quite an optimistic concept. If I am not empty, I cannot be here. And if you are not empty, you cannot be there. Because you are there, I can be here. This is the true meaning of emptiness. Form does not have a separate existence. Avalokita wants us to understand this point. Happy Continuation Listen, Shariputra, all dharmas are marked with emptiness.They are neither produced nor destroyed. Dharmas in this line means “things.” A human being is a dharma. A tree is a dharma. A cloud is a dharma. The sunshine is a dharma. Everything that can be conceived of is a dharma. So when we say, “All dharmas are marked with emptiness,” we are saying, “Everything has emptiness as its own nature.” And that is why everything can be. There is a lot of joy in this statement. It means nothing can be born, nothing can die. Avalokita has said something extremely important. Every day in our lives, we see birth and we see death. When a person is born, a birth certificate is printed for them. After they die, a death certificate is made. These certificates confirm the existence of birth and death. But Avalokita said, “No, there is no birth and death.” We have to look more deeply to see whether his statement is true. What is the date on which you were born, your birth date? Before that date, did you already exist? Were you already there before you were born? Let me help you. To be born means from nothing you become something. My question is, before you were born, were you already there? Suppose a hen is about to lay an egg. Before she gives birth, do you think the egg is already there? Yes, of course. It is inside. You also were inside before you were outside. That means that before you were born, you already existed—inside your mother. The fact is that if something is already there, it does not need to be born. To be born means from nothing you become something. If you are already something, what is the use of being born? So, your so-called birthday is really your continuation day. The next time you celebrate, you can say, “Happy Continuation Day.” I think that we may have a better concept of when we were born. If we go back nine months to the time of our conception, we have a better date to put on our birth certificates. In China, and also in Vietnam, when you are born, you are already considered one year old. So we say we begin to be at the time of our conception in our mother’s womb, and we write down that date on our birth certificate. But the question remains: Even before that date, did you exist or not? If you say “yes,” I think you are correct. Before your conception, you were there already, maybe half in your father, half in your mother. Because from nothing, we can never become something. Can you name one thing that was once a nothing? A cloud? Do you think that a cloud can be born out of nothing? Before becoming a cloud, it was water, maybe flowing as a river. It was not nothing. Do you agree? We cannot conceive of the birth of anything. There is only continuation. Please look back even further and you will see that you not only exist in your father and mother, but you also exist in your grandparents and your great-grandparents. As I look more deeply, I can see that in a former life I was a cloud. This is not poetry; it is science. Why do I say that in a former life I was a cloud? Because I am still a cloud. Without the cloud, I cannot be here. I am the cloud, the river, and the air at this very moment, so I know that in the past I have been a cloud, a river, and the air. And I was a rock. I was the minerals in the water. This is not a question of belief in reincarnation. This is the history of life on Earth. We have been gas, sunshine, water, fungi, and plants. We have been single-celled beings. The Buddha said that in one of his former lives, he was a tree. He was a fish; he was a deer. These are not superstitious things. Every one of us has been a cloud, a deer, a bird, a fish, and we continue to be these things, not just in former lives. This is not just the case with birth. Nothing can be born, and also nothing can die. That is what Avalokita said. Do you think that a cloud can die? To die means that from something you become nothing. Do you think that we can make something a nothing? Let us go back to our sheet of paper. We may have the illusion that to destroy it, all we have to do is light a match and burn it up. But if we burn a sheet of paper, some of it will become smoke, and the smoke will rise and continue to be. The heat that is caused by the burning paper will enter into the cosmos and penetrate other things. The heat is the next life of the paper. The ash that is formed will become part of the soil, and the sheet of paper, in his or her next life, might be a cloud and a rose at the same time. We have to be very careful and attentive in order to realize that this sheet of paper has never been born and it will never die. It can take on other forms of being, but we are not capable of transforming a sheet of paper into nothingness. Everything is like that, even you and I. We are not subject to birth and death. One autumn day I was in a park, absorbed in the contemplation of a very small but beautiful leaf in the shape of a heart. Its color was almost red, and it was barely hanging on the branch, nearly ready to fall down. I spent a long time with it, and I asked the leaf a lot of questions. I found out the leaf had been a mother to the tree. Usually we think that the tree is the mother and the leaves are just children, but as I looked at the leaf I saw that the leaf is also a mother to the tree. The sap that the roots take up is only water and minerals, not good enough to nourish the tree, so the tree distributes that sap to the leaves. The leaves take the responsibility of transforming that rough sap into refined sap and, with the help of the sun and gas, sending it back in order to nourish the tree. Therefore, the leaves are also the mother to the tree. And since the leaf is linked to the tree by a stem, the communication between them is easy to see. We do not have a stem linking us to our mother anymore, but when we were in her womb we had a very long stem, an umbilical cord. The oxygen and the nourishment we needed came to us through that stem. Unfortunately, on the day we call our birthday, it was cut and we received the illusion that we are independent. That is a mistake. We continue to rely on our mother for a very long time, and we have several other mothers as well. The Earth is our mother. We have a great many stems linking us to our mother Earth. There is a stem linking us with the cloud. If there is no cloud, there is no water for us to drink. We are made of at least seventy percent water; the stem between the cloud and us is really there. This is also the case with the river, the forest, the logger, and the farmer. There are hundreds of thousands of stems linking us to everything in the cosmos, and therefore we can be. Do you see the link between you and me? If you are not there, I am not here; that is certain. If you do not see it yet, look more deeply and I am sure you will see. This is not philosophy. You really have to see. I asked the leaf whether it was scared because it was autumn and the other leaves were falling. The leaf told me, “No. During the whole spring and summer I was very alive. I worked hard and helped nourish the tree, and much of me is in the tree. Please do not say that I am just this form, because this leaf form is only a tiny part of me. I am the whole tree. I know that I am already inside the tree, and when I go back to the soil, I will continue to nourish the tree. That’s why I do not worry. As I leave this branch and float to the ground, I will wave to the tree and tell her, ‘I will see you again very soon.’” If a wave only sees its form, with its beginning and end, it will be afraid of birth and death. But if the wave sees that it is water and identifies itself with the water, then it will be emancipated from birth and death. Each wave is born and is going to die, but the water is free from birth and death. Suddenly I saw a kind of wisdom very much like the wisdom contained in the Heart Sutra. You have to see life. You shouldn’t say, life of the leaf, but life in the leaf, and life in the tree. My life is just Life, and you can see it in me and in the tree. That day there was a wind blowing and, after a while, I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. It was so happy. I bowed my head, and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf because it was not afraid—it knew that nothing can be born and nothing can die. The cloud in the sky will also not be scared. When the time comes, the cloud will become rain. It is fun becoming rain, falling down, chanting, and becoming part of the Mississippi River, or the Amazon River, or the Mekong River, or falling onto vegetables and later becoming part of a human being. It is a very exciting adventure. The cloud knows that if it falls to the earth it might become part of the ocean. So the cloud isn’t afraid. Only humans are afraid. A wave on the ocean has a beginning and an end, a birth and a death. But Avalokiteshvara tells us that the wave is empty. The wave is full of water, but it is empty of a separate self. A wave is a form that has been made possible, thanks to the existence of wind and water. If a wave only sees its form, with its beginning and end, it will be afraid of birth and death. But if the wave sees that it is water and identifies itself with the water, then it will be emancipated from birth and death. Each wave is born and is going to die, but the water is free from birth and death. So you see there are many lessons we can learn from the cloud, the water, the wave, the leaf—and from everything else in the cosmos, too. If you look at anything carefully and deeply enough, you discover the mystery of inter-being, and once you have seen it you will no longer be subject to fear—fear of birth, or fear of death. Birth and death are only ideas we have in our minds, and these ideas cannot be applied to reality. It is just like the idea of above and below. We are very sure that when we point up, it is above, and when we point in the opposite direction, it is below. Heaven is above, and hell is below. But the people who are sitting right now on the other side of the planet must disagree, because the idea of above and below does not apply to the cosmos, nor does the idea of birth and death. So please continue to look back and you will see that you have always been here. Let us look together and penetrate into the life of a leaf, so we may be one with the leaf. Let us penetrate and be one with the cloud or with the wave, to realize our own nature as water and be free from our fear. If we look very deeply, we will transcend birth and death. Tomorrow, I will continue to be. But you will have to be very attentive to see me. I will be a flower, or a leaf. I will be in these forms and I will say hello to you. If you are attentive enough, you will recognize me, and you may greet me. I will be very happy.   With deep gratitude to Thich Nhat Hanh
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