A Cloud Never Dies
“Death is essential to making life possible. Death is transformation. Death is continuation.”
In my lifetime I have had countless wonderful teachers, including you, the recipient of this letter. Today I read the news that one of my most significant teachers, Thich Nhat Hanh, has died. Of course, if you understand him, you know this is just to say he has transformed from his body to a different form. He hasn’t disappeared from the world. Because nothing does. Think of a cloud. When it has gone, where did it go? It has transformed. Maybe into rain or snow, perhaps it is in a river or the ocean. You wouldn’t say 'The cloud has died.' It's true that birth and death are real concepts that are useful for us in our daily lives. “But they are not the whole truth,” as Thay says. At the deepest level of truth, there is no birth and no death. There is only transformation. This is true of both you and I. We transform and we continue in the world.
“You may say, 'Thich Nhat Hanh has died.' But this is not true. I will never die. My nature is the nature of the cloud. The nature of no birth and no death. Just as it’s impossible for a cloud to die, it’s impossible for me to die.” This quote, and the one at the beginning of this letter, are from The Art of Living - the first book I read of Thay’s. It radically changed my understanding of the world. I found this book when I was seeking to understand death more clearly. It helped me understand not only death, but the entire world, so much more truthfully. Life, Death, the world, have never been more beautiful to me.
Thich Nhat Hanh is continued in many people, in mindfulness and peace. He is continued in me. And I know he is always with me, everywhere. He knew of his continuation long before today. You need not be facing death to know and see how you are continued in others. You can enjoy this, now. As you are alive, see yourself alive in others. How would you like to be continued in them?
In The Art of Living, Thay tells a story from years ago when a disciple informed him that they had a stupa built for his final resting place. He didn’t want it, but he said if his ashes were placed there, they would need to put an inscription that says “I am not in here.” But some may misunderstand this to mean he is outside the stupa, so they would need another inscription that says “I am not out there, either.” Which still may not be understood correctly, so a third inscription would be necessary. “If I am to be found anywhere, it is in your peaceful way of breathing and walking. That is my continuation. Even though we may never have met in person, if when you breathe in, you find peace in your breathing, I am there with you.”
This puts a smile on my face.
May you find something to smile about today.