This is one of my favorite quotes from Albert Einstein:
"The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion that stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed. It was the experience of mystery -- even if mixed with fear -- that engendered religion. A knowledge of the existence of something we cannot penetrate…it is this knowledge and this emotion that constitute true religiosity. In this sense, and only this sense, I am a deeply religious man. I am satisfied with the mystery of life's eternity and with a knowledge, a sense, of the marvelous structure of existence -- as well as the humble attempt to understand even a tiny portion of the Reason (or God) that manifests itself in nature."
What's the importance of these words? First, let's look at the word, "I". Ego is attached with I. The word "want" is an expression of desire.
If you remove these two words, "I" and "want", you have only one thing left: peace
All of creation is One; an Eternal Oneness. Animals, trees, and flowers know this beingness, this oneness, not with an intellectual knowing, but a knowing which comes from stillness and just being, a beingness that comes only in the moment of Now.
The great spiritual master, Jesus, said, "Look at the lilies, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin."
Those who really want peace in their lives will let go of all ego and desire. Drop all negativity as if you're holding a hot coal in your hand.
Have you heard of the mythic bird with golden plumage? The story has been told for centuries and the Egyptians called the bird the Phoenix.
As it is told, every five hundred years this magical bird renewed his quest for his true self. The bird knew that to find his true self, he would have to let go of his bad habits, beliefs, and defenses. So he built a pyre of cinnamon and myrrh, sat in the flames, and burned to death.
Out of the ashes, however, he rose as a new being which was a fusion of who he had been before and who he had become. He became a new bird, yet ever more himself, changed, and at the same time the eternal Phoenix.
Elizabeth Lesser, founder of The Omega Institute, and author of the book, Broken Open, uses this ancient story to demonstrate how we humans, like the Phoenix bird, become shattered and broken at times, and our lives ask us to die before we die - to change within and to be reborn. She calls it the Phoenix Process.
Most people carry around an illusion of who they "think" they are and are searching for that generous, wise, loving, compassionate self within. What needs to burn in the ashes are fear, rigidity, blame, and a sense of separateness. By letting go, by turning loose of resistance to whatever comes our way in life, Elizabeth tells us that even the most momentous situation has the power to transform one's life. She says, "It's all in the way we listen for the messages in the flames and dig for the treasure in the ashes."
By dying before you die, the egoic mind disappears in time on its own, for some people it happens instantly, but most people don't notice it happening at all. One day, however, you will notice it has quietly been vanishing behind the scenes. You discover you are not afraid anymore, a gift of openness and empathy for all beings has enveloped you, and you enjoy a more potent experience of being human.
If I were to name a theme for this blog it would be this: "Everything is connected,nothing lasts, and you are not alone." I would also say this is a simple explanation of what Buddhism teaches.
Fear of death, fear of change, or just the fear of getting old is a common source of anxiety for many. How do we accept the inevitable?
First of all, by knowing that your physical body is not who you ultimately are is a liberating experience. When you turn inward, practice being in the moment of now, notice there are no problems in the stillness of now. Why is that? Because only now is where you find God, or you can use the words the Source, or Consciousness, or Awareness. You can call it any of these. They are just words I use to try to convey something that is actually impossible to express with words or ideas. Only by experiencing this moment of now,(which is all there ever is anyhow) and being the awareness to it, will you KNOW God. Be still and KNOW. Watch the thoughts and emotions float in and out of your mind, like soft clouds going by. You are not that. Feel your body, follow your breath. You are not that. Who is doing the noticing, the witnessing, and who is aware? Who is the Awareness? Isn't it who you are?
Fear of aging and dying comes from when we are attached to the "maya", or the illusion, of a false world and think that our body and thoughts are real. The body, thoughts and emotions, all of these forms, will perish, and they ARE perishing, in fact, every moment without you noticing any of it. So how can forms that are changing constantly and disappearing every moment be REAL? What is it that is REAL?
When we come to terms with radical impermanence, and turn the sorrows of that insight into joy and contentment, we will live in and on each moment.
Turn inward and there lies the peace that every living being desires.
A transcription from a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh during a retreat with five hundred people in Hong Kong on 15 May 2007
In order to answer what happens us when we die, we need to answer another question – what happens when we are alive? What is happening now to us? In English we say ‘we are’ but it’s proper to say ‘we are becoming’ because things are becoming. We’re not the same person in two consecutive minutes.
A picture of you as baby looks different to you now. The fact is you are not exactly the same as that baby and not entirely a different person either. In a picture of you as a five year old, you are not exactly the same as that child and not entirely a different person either – the form, feelings and mental formations are different. In the middle way there is no sameness and no otherness.
You may think you are still alive but in fact you have been dying everyday, every minute, cells die and are born - for neither do we have funerals or birthdays (laughter). Death is a very necessary condition of birth. With no death, there is no birth. They inter-are and happen in every moment to the experienced meditator. For instance a cloud may have died many times, into rain, streams, water. The cloud may want to wave to itself on earth! Rain is a continuation of the cloud. With a meditation practitioner nothing can hide itself. When I drink tea, it’s very pleasant to be aware I am drinking cloud.
When you are a parent, you die and are reborn as your children. “You are my continuation, I love you.” The Buddha told us how to ensure a beautiful continuation – a compassionate thought, a beautiful thought. Forgiveness is our continuation. If anger, separation and hate arise, then we will not ensure a beautiful continuation. When we pronounce a word that is compassionate, good and beautiful that is our continuation.
When a cloud is polluted, the rain is polluted. So purifying thoughts, word and action creates a beautiful continuation. We can see the effects of our speech in our children. My disciples are my continuation – both monastic and lay. I want to transmit loving speech, action and thought. This is called karma in Buddhism. This body of mine will disintegrate but my karma will continue – karma means action. My karma is already in the world. My continuation is everywhere in the world. When you look at one of my disciples walking with compassion, I know he is my continuation. I don’t want to transmit my negative emotions, I want to transform them before I transmit them. The dissolution of this body is not my end. Surely I will continue after the dissolution of this body. So don’t worry about my death, I am not going to die.
Let us meditate on the birth of a cloud. Does it have a birth certificate? (laughter) Examine the notion of birth – the notion that nothing can come from something, from no-one to someone. Is it possible for something to come from nothing? Scientifically this is not possible.
The cloud was water in an ocean, lake, river and heat from the sun gave it birth – the moment of continuation. For instance, birth – before you were born you were in your mother’s womb. The moment of birth is a moment of continuation. Is the moment of conception the start? You are half from your dad and half from your mum already, this is also a moment of continuation. When you practise meditation you can see things like that.
It is impossible for a cloud to die. It can become water, snow – it cannot become nothing. It is also impossible for us to die. Speech, action and thought continue in the future. The person who dies still continues because we are not capable of using meditators’ eyes. They continue in us and around us. All our ancestors are alive in us. Our ancestors are in our chromosomes.
I wrote a book ‘No Death, No Fear’. When conditions are right I manifest and when not, not. There is no coming, no going. Before she manifests we should not call her non-existing. Before manifestation you cannot call her non-being. They are a pair of opposites.
Meditating on the nature of creation and being may be the best way to understanding God. The theologian Paul Koenig describes God as the Ground of Being. Who then is the Ground of Non-being? This diminishes God. In Buddhism both notions of being and non-being can describe reality. Similarly, above and below, Europe and here.
Nirvana is the absence of all notions, birth and death, coming and going, sameness and otherness. According to Buddhism, ‘to be or not to be’ is not a real question. Meditation takes us beyond to a place of fearlessness. We’re too busy, so we become victims of anger, fear. If we have really touched our nature of no birth/death, we know to die is one of the root conditions to realise oneself. We have to learn how to die in every moment in order to be fully alive. This teaching on the middle way is the cream of Buddha’s teaching. Many of our ancestors realised this and were not afraid of death.
We should be able to release our tensions. We are the karma we produce every day in our daily life, if we know how, to ensure continuation. I have a disciple in Vietnam who wants to build a stupa with my ashes. He wants to put a plaque with the words ‘Here lies my beloved teacher’. But I want to write ‘There is nothing here’ (lots of laughter). Because if you look deeply there is continuation.
I treasure the time I have left, more for me to practise. I want to generate energy of love, compassion and understanding so I can continue beautifully. I would like you to do the same. Use your time wisely. Every moment produce beautiful thoughts, loving, kindness, forgiveness. Say beautiful things, inspire, forgive, act physically to protect and help. We know we are capable of producing beautiful karma for good continuations and the happiness of other people.
When the time comes for dissolution of this body you may like to release it easily. You aren’t to grasp – releasing body and perception. Remember the image of a cloud in the sky seeing continuation in rice and ice-cream waving to itself. You can already see your continuation. The art of living is continuation. For myself and the other beings.
Sariputra – one of Buddha’s main disciples, Ananda and other friends went to see Anathapindika a lay disciple who was a businessman and dying. He had made time to come to dharma talks and weekly practice. When the Venerables came they asked whether the pain had diminished. He replied that it was increasing. The monks led him on a meditation on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. After a few minutes there was no more suffering and he smiled.
When you sit close to a person dying talk to them of happy experiences in their life. Touch seeds of happiness in them.
The monks asked Anathapindika to look at his feelings and perceptions. “I am life without boundaries, this body is a residue.”
Help the dying person not to cling to his or her body. If there is regret, help them to see they are not their feelings. When conditions are manifested this body manifests and when not, it goes. The nature of this body is not birth, death, coming or going – not hurt by notion of being or non-being. I am free from birth or death. That practice helps me.
Anathapindika cried. Ananda asked, “why are you crying?” “No, I don’t regret anything,” Anathapindika replied. “Why are you crying?” asked Ananda. “I cry because I am so moved by such a wonderful practice as today,” Anathapindika said. “We monastics receive this every day,” said Ananda. “There are those amongst us lay people who still need this, please tell the Lord Buddha this.” Ananda promised to tell the Buddha, and Anathapindika died smiling peacefully. Thich Nhat Hanh gave an illustration with a box of matches. Holding up an unlit match, he said, “there is flame, but the conditions to manifest it are not here now.”
Then he lit the match and blew it out. He said when the conditions were right (the conditions being his hand striking the match to the matchbox), the flame became. And when the conditions were not right, the flame was extinguished.
Christianity is one of many religions that casts a light that is purely dazzling! However, a 'shadow' has been following this brilliant jewel of a light for centuries now. I'll let the comments from another blog explain what I mean.
From the website of "Eternal Awareness": http://eternalawareness.ning.com/
Mark Walter: Religions tend to have a ‘shadow’ which is the opposite of their strongest principles, or qualities. For Christianity, this seems to be intolerance – there is no other religion that has such resistance to embracing the beliefs of others (including, and perhaps especially, other Christian denominations), and such a need to ‘convert’ others. Islam, the religion of submission, seems to manifest its shadow in an inability to accept; Taoism, the religion of the formless, in an obsession with rituals and customs. And so forth.
Michael Larkin: I so very much agree with this. It's one of the shadows of Christianity that somehow Jesus shouldered the responsibility for all our sins - just an extension of the old scapegoat idea. The doctrine of the redemption has long seemed to me to be total poppycock, and when you can get past it, the light it casts is dazzling. Christ didn't die so that we can live, but lived so that we can live. Study and imitate his life, don't be preoccupied with his death.
Mark Walter, creator of the "Eternal Awareness" web blog commented: One day someone asked if I knew Jesus had died for my sins. "Yes, I do," I replied. "I think it is so awful that no one would take responsibility for their own sins... that everyone let him take all the blame. So, I have decided to take responsibility for my own sins, and am prepared to die for them at any time."
On the banks of the holy Ganga in North India, 40,000 people were gathered to hear the Dalai Lama speak. It was in January, 2001 and the audience included Hindus, Muslims, Christian, Buddhists, Jews, and Sikhs. When His Holiness took the microphone, a silence settled over the crowd. He spoke at first in his usual style which included telling a few jokes, reciting a prayer for the peace and welfare of mankind, and then he began explaing what the essence of dharma is. Dharma is the virtuous path, but it means more than accepting the beliefs of a specific religion. The Dalai Lama explained that compassion is the core of dharma. When you embrace all and exclude none, when you love all and hate none, selfless service becomes a natural part of your life, he said. Your inner conflicts and restlessness melt away, and you become established in peace. This peace begins to fill your surroundings. You are no longer a source of fear for others, and others are no longer a source of fear for you. This is how you create heaven, or paradise, here and now. It is within you.
Finally, at the end of his talk, questions were invited from the audience. A man said, "I understand Buddhism does not believe in God. What is your opinion about God? Does God exist or not?". His Holiness laughed, grabbed the hands of the two spiritual leaders on each side of him, lifted them in the air, fixed his gaze upon the audience, and said emphatically, "God exists or God does not exist. Leave it for us. Your task is to learn how to live peacefully."
The audience was awestruck. Many appeared perplexed at his reply. But, many did get it. Think of this: the Buddha , 2,500 years ago, was a spiritually enlightened leader who refrained from speaking about God. India possessed thousands of scriptures which were believed to be living revelations that proclaimed God's existence, gave methods for reaching God and receiving his grace. Yet, India was torn by strife. People believed that God was one and all-pervading, yet that belief did not lead them to experience their underlying unity. People believed God was an embodiment of love and compassion, yet that belief did not stop them from their hatred and cruelty. It was clear then, and it is clear in today's times, that a mere belief in God does not automatically make us good, and that a lack of such beliefs do not make us bad. Mere belief does not take away doubts, fear, or destructive and negative behaviour.
The Dalai Lama was telling everyone there that belief in God or religion doesn't ground one in the direct experience of the truth. To experience that truth, one must have a clear, calm, and tranquil mind, and this mind must be turned inward. Sadhana is the practice of turning inward. "Upon protection of the mind, the whole world is protected, and upon its destruction, the whole world is destroyed", say the scriptures. Cultivating a virtuous mind, then, is our dharma.
Rama,Sri Ramakrishna -- Do you know what I see? I see Him as all. Men and other creatures appear to me only as hollow forms, moving their heads and hands and feet, but within is the Lord Himself.
Holy Mother -- When one realizes God, He grants knowledge and illumination from within; one knows it oneself. In the fullness of one’s spiritual realization one will find that He who resides in one’s heart, resides in the hearts of others as well - the oppressed, the persecuted, the untouchable, and the outcast.
Swami Vivekananda -- It is impossible to find God outside of ourselves. Our own souls contribute all of the divinity that is outside of us. We are the greatest temple. The objectification is only a faint imitation of what we see within ourselves.
Buddha -- The subject on which I meditate is truth. The practice to which I devote myself is the truth. The topic of my conversation is truth. My thoughts are always in truth. For lo! my self has become the truth.
Guru Nanak -- As fragrance abides in the flower, As the reflection is within the mirror, So doth thy Lord abide within thee, Why search Him without?
Jesus Christ -- Being asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, he answered them, "The kingdom of God is not coming with signs to be observed; nor will they say, ‘Lo, here it is!’ or ‘There!’ for behold, the kingdom of God is within you."
Judaism -- Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me. Cast me not away from thy presence, and take not the holy Spirit from me.
Krishna -- I am the Self, O Gudekesa, seated in the hearts of all creatures. I am the beginning, the middle, and the end of all beings.
Mohammed -- He who knows his own self, knows God.
Native American -- The first peace, which is most important, is that which comes within the souls of men when they realize their relationship, their oneness, with the universe and all its Powers, and when they realize that at the center of the universe dwells Wakan-Tanka, and that this center is really everywhere, it is within each of us. This is the real Peace, and the others are but reflections of this. The second peace is that which is made between two individuals, and the third is that which is made between two nations. But above all you should understand that there can never be peace between nations until there is first known that true peace which, as I have often said, is within the souls of men.
Rama -- Think that you are Parabrahman, you have no attachment, you are all-knowing and you are pure. Always feel like this and establish your oneness with the Paramatman and derive bliss within yourself without caring to know what is outside of you.
Sankara -- Cherish your Guru’s lotus feet and free yourself without delay from the enslavement to this world. Curb your senses and your mind and see the Lord within your heart.
Vedas -- There is one Supreme Ruler, the inmost Self of all beings, who makes His one form manifold. Eternal happiness belongs to the wise, who perceive Him within themselves - not to others.
Zoroaster -- One need not scale the heights of the heavens nor travel along the highways of the world to find Ahura Mazda. With purity of mind and holiness of heart one can find Him in one’s own heart.
"Those of us who have transcended mythical belief systems know without any doubt that there is no God up in the sky. But when we awaken to what I call the evolutionary impulse—the mysterious passion to evolve, to become, to develop on every level—we rediscover who God is. When we begin to experience the aspiration to evolve as that unique ecstatic compulsion in our own heart and mind, that's when the God who fell out of the sky is awakening within ourselves, as the urge to take the next step.
Fourteen billion years ago, there was nothing. Then, suddenly, there was an enormous explosion—an explosion that never stopped and is still reverberating here and now. So what I'm describing is a perspective and a state of consciousness in which the very first cause is waking up to itself as we wake up to our own impulse to evolve. That's Evolutionary Enlightenment: when the spark that initiated fourteen billion years of development becomes conscious of itself. When you realize this and recognize this at the deepest level of your being, and then choose to take responsibility for it, it is then that you know without any doubt that it's up to you to make this world a better place. It's up to you. In that realization, you discover a reason for living, which is spiritually empowering. It is where you will find dignity, self-respect, ultimate meaning, and purposefulness."
Buddha entered a village. A man asked him as he was entering the village, "Does God exist?" He said, "No, absolutely no."
In the afternoon another man came and he asked, "Does God exist?" And he said, "Yes, absolutely yes."
In the evening a third man came and he asked, "Does God exist?" Buddha closed his eyes and remained utterly silent. The man also closed his eyes. Something transpired in that silence. After a few minutes the man touched Buddha's feet, bowed down, paid his respects and said, "You are the first man who has answered my question."
Now, Buddha's attendant, Ananda, was very much puzzled: "In the morning he said no, in the afternoon he said yes, in the evening he did not answer at all. What is the matter? What is really the truth?"
So when Buddha was going to sleep, Ananda said, "First you answer me; otherwise I will not be able to sleep. You have to be a little more compassionate towards me too. I have been with you the whole day. Those three people don't know about the other answers, but I have heard all the three answers. What about me? I am troubled."
Buddha said, "I was not talking to you at all! You had not asked, I had not answered YOU. The first man who came was a theist, the second man who came was an atheist, the third man who came was an agnostic. My answer had nothing to do with God, my answer had something to do with the questioner. I was answering the questioner; it was absolutely unconcerned with God.
"The person who believes in God, I will say no to him because I want him to drop his idea of God, I want him to be free of his idea of God -- which is borrowed. He has not experienced. If he had experienced he would not have asked me; there would have been no need.
"The person who believed in God, he was trying to find confirmation for his belief from me. I was not going to say yes to him -- I am not going to confirm anybody's belief. I had to say no, I had to deny, just to destroy his belief, because all beliefs are barriers to knowing the truth. Theist or atheist, all beliefs, Hindu or Christian or Mohammedan, all beliefs are barriers.
"And the person with whom I remained silent was the right inquirer. He had no belief, hence there was no question of destroying anything. I kept silent. That was my message to him: Be silent and know. Don't ask, there is no need to ask. It is not a question which can be answered. It is not an inquiry but a quest, a thirst. Be silent and know.
I had answered him also; through my silence I gave him the message and he immediately followed it -- he also became silent. I closed my eyes, he closed his eyes; I looked in, he looked in, and then something transpired. That's why he was so much overwhelmed, he felt so much gratitude, for the simple reason that I did not give him any intellectual answer. He had not come for any intellectual answer; intellectual answers are available very cheap. He needed something existential -- he needed a taste. I gave him a taste."