Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen master and political reformer, "appears to have died"
For nearly 20 years, my brother Larry maintained a relationship with Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who wrote over 100 titles on meditation, mindfulness, and related topics.
Thay, as his followers call him, passed away yesterday at the age of 95.
At this moment, it feels appropriate to share a few of Thay’s own beliefs about death:
“Our greatest fear is that when we die we will become nothing. Many of us believe that our entire existence is only a life span beginning the moment we are born or conceived and ending the moment we die. We believe that we are born from nothing and when we die we become nothing. And so we are filled with fear of annihilation.
“The Buddha has a very different understanding of our existence. It is the understanding that birth and death are notions. They are not real. The fact that we think they are true makes a powerful illusion that causes our suffering. The Buddha taught that there is no birth; there is no death; there is no coming; there is no going; there is no same; there is no different; there is no permanent self; there is no annihilation. We only think there is. When we understand that we cannot be destroyed, we are liberated from fear. It is a great relief. We can enjoy life and appreciate it in a new way.”
This body is not me. I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
And I have never died.
My headline, which includes the phrase “appears to have died”, is not intended to be cute. Please read Thay’s words again. There is no death, he said. Today, I believe him.
On my bedroom wall, I have a piece of Thay's calligraphy, which my brother gave me:
For many years now, I have pondered these words. They are one of the reasons I am always positive online, even though I am not always positive. They come to mind when I am tempted to debate with whatever hate-filled person is screaming loudest in my vicinity. They remind me to be optimistic when so many people are pessimistic.
My brother is a film producer who lives to make action movies; he's fun and irreverent. But he's also been meditating far longer than me and fully understands the power of dwelling in the present moment.
Larry originally went to meet Thay searching for inspiration about Mortal Kombat characters. After two hours with Thay, Larry said he felt like he had been on vacation for a week. He asked Thay his secret.
The monk said, "No secret. Practice."
As Larry told me later, he thought, "Wow... I could learn this? I was hooked."
A few years ago, Thay asked Larry to make a film about mindfulness. He wanted to be in it, but didn't want it to be about him. Larry wrestled with the idea for a good long time, then finally agreed. You can find that film on Amazon, Google and Vudu.
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