on September 7, 2003
People have a hard time understanding why I love and respect a monk so much. But his writings are so clear, so pure and simple, uncluttered, that they make sense just to pick up and read like a regular book. The only difference between his books and a good story_book is that his books are about your Life and they require Practice. All of which requires joy too!
This wonderful teacher talks to us in this book about emptiness, a wonderful concept we are all learning in our own time. In it, he clearly states examples of emptiness or impermanence in ways that are directly the result of his own experience and observation. One gets the sense that he has shown us some truth about death and life, and how they interlink and come together in a ballet of pictures and words. He writes with true wisdom, and the only result is, indeed, comfort.
The spiritual life requires discipline. It requires a sense of purpose, and perhaps, motivation. But one thing I know is that it is not unbearable and uncomfortable as many would have you believe. Through his unique teachings, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us that there is no end and no beginning to things. If you are grieving the loss of a loved one, this book is as good as counseling.
on December 22, 2005
I think there are so few reviews on this book because how can you put into words that which touches you so deeply? How can you relay the beauty of a flower or the beauty of a moment made just for you: in a picture? in a description? How can you truly relay in words something that is so much bigger?
There were several moments while reading this book where I just quietly and peacefully put the book down and just sat and tried to absorb it. You know this is something special when you are in the moment of reading the book and you know it is a special moment going on. Suddenly, everything makes sense. The entire human existence makes sense. All fear goes away. All self-doubt and worry... it all goes away.
And what comes in its place is peace. Security. A deeper understanding of how we got here and where we are going.
When I finished the book, I just put it down and peacefully absorbed it. My husband looked at me and asked, "What's wrong?" And I just looked at him, paused for a moment, and said, "I think I just got it." He asked what that meant. And I told him I couldn't explain it.
I "got" it.
on April 21, 2008
I first thought the book was simple and repetitive. But when I experienced a loss and re-read the book, I finally realized how profound this book really is.
I had been dealing with the subject of death for quite a few years. (I started with the book HAGAKURE, by Tsunetomo Yamamoto. You may or may not like to check that out. It's a more stoic approach to similar subjects). Anyway, I wanted to conquer the idea of my own inevitable mortality, so that when the time comes, I will handle it with grace. So, my approach was to prepare beforehand.
As I said, I was working on my OWN mortality. It never occured to me that I might also apply it to someone else. Someone I love recently died. That was the 1st real loss that I've encountered, so I was devastated. All those years of preparing myself didn't really mean much (though at the time, I thought I was ready and that I knew it all). I had already owned a copy of this book and read it several years ago. Feeling in the pits, I decided to pull the book out and read it again, as this time it is much more applicable (since I'm experiencing loss).
The book seemed so simple beforehand. It was a quick read. Thich Nhat Hanh also seemed repetitive; I felt bored several times. This, as it turns out, was my fault, not his. He is such a good teacher that he makes everything seem so simple. However, after someone I loved very much died, I re-read this book, and I realized how profound it really is. The reason why Thich is so repetitive, is because you need to drill it into you head so that you really understand it. It's like learning how to count to ten. No one is born knowing how to count to ten. But you drill it until the day when you know it all by heart. Trust me, this book is more profound than it seems; do not just read through it and think that it's all obvious and that you already know it. Reading and learning is not good enough; you have to experience it!
It's like this: death is not real. You cannot create something out of nothing, and you cannot become nothing from something. It's not the reality of things. (Physics will agree with that, for you scientists out there). The problem is that we're deluded. This delusion creates in us a false sense of reality, and that leads to our suffering. We fear death because we think we become nothing. We fear death, because we do not understand it. The problem is that we've learned the wrong way; we need to unlearn our delusions and see death as it really is: simply a change in form. Basically, it's moving on. We want to stay in one place, but the fact of the universe is that it is always changing. We are deluded into remaining stagnant in a universe that, let's face it, is not going to stop and wait for us.
This book helped me immensely in my loss. But it's neverending; you can't just reach a certain point and then stop; you'll lose it. You have to keep going. It's one of those books I will always keep with me. Get this book beforehand, and slowly introduce it into your life and try to apply it. Don't wait until you experience a loss. You will be too devastated. It's never too late to prepare youself for what's inevitable. It will greatly diminish your sense of despair. That much I can gaurantee.
on February 18, 2008
In Western thought we think of our life as if when we're born, we enter one door and then when we die we exit another. Some think we go into heaven or hell after dying and others think we just disappear into oblivian. Whichever alternative one believes, it does nothing to assuage fear about dying. This book reveals a different alternative to this kind of Western thought on dying, the Buddhist view. If the thought of dying gives us so much fear, then maybe that isn't the correct way to think about it. This idea that we inter life through a door and then exit it through another door into nothingness only instills fear. The Buddhist view is that we always exist, but when conditions are right we manifest and when conditions are not right for us then we do not manifest in our human form. When a cloud disappears, it continues to exist but in a different form, as either water or vapor. The cloud doesn't cease existing, it transforms itself. All of nature is like this. If we are fearful of dying, it's because we are thinking about it in a way that isn't reality. "If you keep looking you will see instead of birth and death, there is only continuing transformation." This is a wonderful book and should be read by everyone, but especially by the elderly.
on February 27, 2004
For those of you who purchase this book with the bonus CD included along with the package, you are in luck. Thich Nhat Hanh takes us through meditation practice with the help of Sounds True, the Buddhist recording company. This CD is great to listen to when you want to set aside time for reflection, or just as a gentle reminder of the wonderful world we live in articulated through the voice of Thay. In this book Thich Nhat Hanh takes us all on the journey of discovery. We are provided with insightful commentary on this difficult subject of death from this much-loved Buddhist master; all in a language and format we can all connect ourselves to. What is to fear in death? We might become fearful that we will become "nothing." Whatever our deductions of what death is are, these are merely concepts. We fear the unknown perhaps. But the unknown is in every single moment, so breaking free from our misconceptions of death means stepping into fearlessness of life. Every moment is unknown. Death is unknown. Zero degrees is three hundred and sixty degrees. No beginning, no end. Only help all beings, it's the Great Bodhisattva Vow. Then there is no life or death, instead, only the Great Vow. Buy this book if you are troubled by death and life, it can calm the human heart. Letting you know all is well. Though everything may seem crazy and chaotic, all is well. Enjoy.
on January 23, 2006
I had lost someone dear, the pain was great. This book appeared just at the right time in my life, it is helping me make sense of our existance. Written in clear understandable language, everyone should read it. It certainly has helped me.
From a flame and a cloud, these pages teach impermanence and no-self. Simple terms, complex doctrines made concise, meditative, and calming. I read this after my father's death and when parents of friends of mine died. While familiar with Buddhist basics already, I'm challenged by the intangible idea of continuity that transcends form and duration.
Nhat Hanh repeats his lessons. He returns to the cloud analogy, transformed into rain and water, milk and grass, cows and ice cream! In a cup of tea, our DNA, a burst of diffused fireworks, a plum tree's pit, he directs us to recognize life as it's sustained rather than ended. As cells live and die, so our consciousness comes and goes. Rather than "creation" or "departure" the monk prefers to say: "Manifestation and the cessation of manifestation are constantly taking place. We do not remain the same in two consecutive moments. The same is true of the river, the flame, the cloud or the sunflower." (71) This sums up the two hundred pages, but again, in the flow of the discourse, the recapitulation and elaboration of the spare lesson, we hear as if with a musical motif the theme deepened, played with, pondered, and intoned.
Christians may find this book especially helpful, for it explains some dharma teachings while comparing them to the Living Christ resurrected in our world. He notes how Christmas should be more a "Continuation Day" rather than a birthday of the One incarnated but not "created"; similarly, we are encouraged to think of ourselves as part of a continuum that has never begun or ended in the universal scheme that defies easy summary, but whose wisdom will, by "skillful means," blossom.
The latter half of the book shows how this can happen. "Touching the Earth" in three meditations offers ways to inculcate the notion of emptiness, impermanence, and how we connect to our ancestors and our progeny in non-theistic guided thoughts that anyone, regardless of their beliefs, can incorporate. While this book would not serve as a primer on dharma (try perhaps Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse's "What Makes You 'Not' a Buddhist" or "Buddhism Without Beliefs" by Stephen Batchelor for comparable introductions, both reviewed by me recently), it can provide a welcome companion for those bereaved or mourning.
He reminds us how the Buddha continues in the people we see, and in our selves if we pause to reflect on our true nature and practice awareness. Again, fundamental truths, but ones often obscured and abandoned to our peril. "Practice like a wave. Take the time to look deeply into yourself and recognize that your nature is the nature of no-birth and no-death. You can break through to freedom and fearlessness this way. This method of practice will help us to live without fear, and it will help us to die peacefully without regret." Taken in slowly, this will begin to make more sense than many of these statements may seem initially to contain, if a reader's facing Buddhist discourse such as this for the first time.
He also adds in the final chapter advice on comforting a dying person, and ways that we can ease their pain and ours with confidence that "emptiness is not the opposite of existence." Rather than existing or not existing totally, Nhat Hanh interprets the Buddha's teaching as telling us that "notions of being and non-being cannot be applied to reality." This seems contradictory, but just as matter changes into other energy even if invisible to us, so does our consciousness manifest or cease; neither nihilism nor eternalism substitutes for this profound but, for Westerners, often elusive concept to conceive of, this notion of "nothing is born, nothing dies." The chapters pace themselves as if dictated from the meditative mind, often a few paragraphs suffice for a shorter reflection within each section. This makes therefore an ideal resource to dip into for spiritual refreshment and emotional support.
I read this on my birthday, and turned to find that "the vertical line" with a year inserted of the reader's imagined birth and death-date fit, at least so far, mine-- eerily to the year of my conception! I wondered about this coincidence, when news of Michael Jackson's sudden death then came into my household: a small reminder of the lessons this Buddhist monk warns us about, to never take the future for granted, to look not to fame or riches but to family and neighbors as our bodhissatvas to show us the way to a surer path to ultimate reality beyond the temptations and distractions peddled by so many in our world. There's no talk of karma here, only confidence that continuity demands us to accept that we must die to live again, and to leave fear behind to embrace love.
on December 6, 2011
After losing both parents, and a dear friend all within a few years, and almost losing my husband to cancer right after that, I developed a deep fear of death. What really happens after we die? How do we avoid the pain and fear of death? Why does the American society avoid open conversations around death? A journey into the study of Buddhism began to answer these questions for me, but, it was Thich Nhat Hanh's "No Death, No Fear" that really turned the light onto what had been a dark subject for me. With rational logic, expressed through beautiful prose, Thay (as he is called by followers)was able to show me how death brings but a different manifestation of myself. That from something there can not become nothing, and from nothing, there cannot become something. By asking such simple questions as, "Where were you when your grandmother was born?", Hanh asks the reader to look deeply at our existence and how important our 'non-self' is in defining our life, and that eternity exists within us at every moment we care to truly be in it.
on January 31, 2008
This has been one of the most powerful books I've ever read. It helped me through the death of my father. My mother is now nearing the end of her life in this body and I'm re-reading it. I suspect that I will revisit it many times . . .
on August 1, 2006
As a student of Advaita Vedanta, I could not be more delighted to come across this eloquently and beautifully written treatise by Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh. At the core of Buddha's teachings lies the Jewel of the Heart Sutra which deals with our Changeless and Original Nature, Emptiness, captured in the phrase "emptiness is form, form is emptiness". Thay takes this rather abstract Buddhist concept and expounds on its profound wisdom and practical implications in our everyday lives through antecdotal stories, mindfulness practices and guided breathing exercises with pure simplicity and casual ease devoid of the usual metaphysical language accompanying such profound teachings. Perhaps the most practical implication of absorbing Thay's Buddhist message is to connect and abide in our essential Buddha Nature until we are fully absorbed by it, in Realization or Enlightenment. Mindfulness is about being fully Present in the Eternal Moment and from this point of Stillness touching our essential core or the "ultimate dimension". To truly "Be Happy" there is the delusion or "notion" of birth and death to be overcome or transcended. With the Grace and ease of a true Zen Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, skillfully guides us on the pathless path without distance back into our Heart, our true Home which in Reality we have never left. This is our true nature, beyond duality, and thus beyond fear. Through various guided exercises, Thay, shows us the illusion of our concepts and reveals the understanding of impermanence, emptiness or "suchness", interbeingness. I found this book extremely helpful in lifting my awareness and consciousness beyond the subtle confines of duality into the "ultimate dimension" beyond the "notions" of birth and death. To touch this Reality is to know the Self beyond the polarities of self and no-self, mind and no-mind, being and non-being. When we truly understand we are not the body, we touch our true Buddha Nature and in this realization lies our true healing and liberation beyond fear. We have arrived, we are Home. In the Ultimate we eternally dwell. OM Mani Padme Hum.