“I am a continuation like the rain is a continuation of the cloud.” —Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh—the beloved Vietnamese monk, peace activist, and poet—was born on October 11, 1926 in central Vietnam. And as many know, the Zen master peacefully passed away earlier this year on January 22 at his root temple, Tu Hieu Temple, in Hue, Vietnam.
While we can identify the dates of his birth and death, Nhat Hanh often taught his students that people, and all things, do not truly die. Rather, they continue. In his book No Death, No Fear, Nhat Hanh explains how our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death because there is always a continuation, just like how a cloud transforms into rain:
This body is just a manifestation, like a cloud. When a cloud is no longer a cloud, it is not lost. It has not become nothing; it has transformed; it has become rain. Therefore we should not identify our self with our body. This body is not me. I am not caught in this body. I am life without limit.
In honor of his Continuation Day, the term followers use instead of birthday to represent that we are never really born and we never really die, here is a selection of the timeless wisdom that Nhat Hanh has shared in Tricycle over the years.
“To love is, first of all, to accept ourselves as we actually are. That is why in this love meditation, ‘Know thyself’ is the first practice of love. When we practice this, we see the conditions that have caused us to be the way we are. This makes it easy for us to accept ourselves, including our suffering and our happiness at the same time.”
Excerpted from No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering by Thich Nhat Hanh © 2014. Reprinted with permission by Parallax Press.
“These days, we are always ‘connected,’ but we continue to feel lonely. We check incoming e-mail and social media sites multiple times a day. We e-mail or post one message after another. We want to share; we want to receive. We busy ourselves all day long in an effort to connect. What are we so afraid of? We may feel an inner void, a sense of isolation, of sorrow, of restlessness. We may feel desolate and unloved. We may feel that we lack something important. Some of these feelings are very old and have been with us always, underneath all our doing and our thinking. Having plenty of stimuli makes it easy for us to distract ourselves from what we’re feeling. But when there is silence, all these things present themselves clearly.”
Excerpted from Silence: The Power of Quiet in a World Full of Noise by Thich Nhat Hanh © 2015. Reprinted with permission by Unified Buddhist Church, Inc.
“We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind. Our mind darts from one thing to another, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch without stopping to rest. Thoughts have millions of pathways, and we are forever pulled along by them into the world of forgetfulness. If we can transform our walking path into a field for meditation, our feet will take every step in full awareness, our breathing will be in harmony with our steps, and our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us. Then we can say, ‘With each step, a gentle wind blows.’”
“Every home, no matter how small, can have a breathing room. We may have a room for everything else—a bathroom, a bedroom, a living room—but most of us don’t have a room for our own breathing and peace of mind. If you live in a one-room studio, or don’t have enough space to set aside a whole room, you can make a breathing space or a breathing corner. . . When you feel uneasy, sad, or angry, you can go into the breathing room, close the door, sit down, invite a sound of the bell—in the Zen tradition, we don’t say that we ring or strike the bell, instead we “invite” the bell with the “inviter” (usually a wooden stick)—and practice breathing mindfully. When you breathe like this for 10 or 15 minutes, you begin to feel better. Without such a room, you may not allow yourself to take a break, even in your own home. You may be restless, angry with others, or sad. If you spend even a few minutes in your breathing room, you can ease your suffering and better understand the source of your discomfort.”
Excerpted from Making Space by Thich Nhat Hanh © 2012. Excerpted with permission of Parallax Press.
“When a painful feeling comes up, we often try to suppress it. We don’t feel comfortable when our suffering surfaces, and we want to push it back down or cover it up. But as a mindfulness practitioner, we allow the suffering to surface so we can clearly identify it and embrace it. This will bring transformation and relief. The first thing we have to do is accept the mud in ourselves. When we recognize and accept our difficult feelings and emotions, we begin to feel more at peace. When we see that mud is something that can help us grow, we become less afraid of it.”
Excerpted from The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh © 2017. Reprinted with permission by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers.
“We can look deeply to see that our mother is not only out there, but in here. Our mothers and fathers are fully present in every cell of our bodies. We carry them into the future. We can learn to talk to the father and the mother inside. I often talk to my mother, my father, and all of the ancestors inside me. I know that I am only a continuation of them. With that kind of insight, you know that even with the disintegration of the body of your mother, your mother still continues inside you, especially in the energies she has created in terms of thought, speech, and action.”
“The first of the Three Gems is the Buddha. When we say, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha’ we should also understand that ‘The Buddha takes refuge in me,’ because without the second part the first part is not complete. The Buddha needs us for awakening, understanding, and love to be real things and not just concepts. They must be real things that have real effects on life. Whenever I say, ‘I take refuge in the Buddha,’ I hear ‘Buddha takes refuge in me.’ We are all Buddhas, because only through us can understanding and love become tangible and effective. [Vietnamese Buddhist monk] Thich Thanh Van was killed during his effort to help other people. He was a good Buddhist, he was a good Buddha, because he was able to help tens of thousands of people, victims of the war. Because of him, awakening, understanding, and love were real things. So we can call him a Buddha body, in Sanskrit Buddhakaya. For Buddhism to be real, there must be a Buddhakaya, an embodiment of awakened activity. Otherwise Buddhism is just a word.”
“If you have a supportive sangha, it’s easy to nourish your bodhicitta, the seeds of enlightenment. If you don’t have anyone who understands you, who encourages you in the practice of the living dharma, your desire to practice may wither. Your sangha—family, friends, and copractitioners—is the soil, and you are the seed. No matter how vigorous the seed is, if the soil does not provide nourishment, your seed will die. A good sangha is crucial for the practice.”
Excerpted from Cultivating the Mind of Love by Thich Nhat Hanh © 2008. Reprinted with permission of Parallax Press, www.parallax.org.
“Buddhism is more of a way of life than a religion. It is like a fruit. You may like a number of fruits, like bananas, oranges, mandarins, and so on. You are committed to eating these fruits. But then someone tells you that there is a fruit called mango and it would be wonderful for you to try that fruit. It will be a pity if you don’t know what a mango is. But eating a mango does not require you to abandon your habit of eating oranges. Why not try it? You may like it a lot. Buddhism is a kind of mango, you see—a way of life, an experience that is worth trying. It is open for everyone. You can continue to be a Jew or a Catholic while enjoying Buddhism. I think that’s a wonderful thing.”
“For many of us, the notions of birth and death, coming and going, cause our greatest pain. We think the person we loved came to us from somewhere and has now gone away somewhere. But our true nature is the nature of no coming and no going. We have not come from anywhere, and we will not go anywhere. When conditions are sufficient, we manifest in a particular way. When conditions are no longer sufficient, we no longer manifest in that way. This doesn’t mean that we don’t exist. If we’re afraid of death, it’s because we don’t understand that things do not really die.”
Excerpted from Fear: Essential Wisdom for Getting Through the Storm by Thich Nhat Hanh © 2012 by Unified Buddhist Church. Published by HarperOne, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted by permission.