The following extracts are taken from two books by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay, for short). Those in normal typeface are from ‘The Other Shore’ and those in italics can be found in ‘No Death, No Fear’. As we continue to practice our love of Mother Earth, we can stop to look deeply and enjoy the liberation of no separate self.
Reflections on a Leaf
One autumn day while I was walking in the park, I became absorbed in the contemplation of a very small and beautiful leaf in the shape of a heart. It was turning red and barely hanging on to the branch, about to fall… Usually we think of the tree as the mother of the leaf, but contemplating I could see the leaf was also mother to the tree.
The sap the tree’s roots take up is only water, amino acids and minerals – not rich enough to nourish the tree. So the tree distributes that sap to the leaves, which, with the help of the sun and carbon dioxide, transform into sap rich in sugars which the leaves send back to the tree. Since the leaf is linked to the tree by a stem the communication between them is easy to see…
We are nourished and sustained by countless parents. The river, wild animals, plants, the soil and all its minerals are our mothers and fathers, and are mothers and fathers to all phenomena on planet Earth. That is why in the sutras it is said that living beings have been our parents through countless lifetimes…
Suddenly I had a kind of insight very much like the insight contained in the Heart Sutra. You have to see life.
You shouldn’t say, life of the leaf, but life in the leaf and life in the tree.
I saw the leaf leave the branch and float down to the soil, dancing joyfully, because as it floated it saw itself already there in the tree. I was so happy, I bowed my head, and I knew that we have a lot to learn from the leaf because it was not afraid; it knew that nothing can be born and nothing can die.
I am more than this body
We should not identify the leaf cadaver we see on the ground as being the whole of the leaf. Only then do we truly see the leaf, which is present everywhere.
After many months of nourishing the tree, nourishing other species, providing shade and making life beautiful, the leaf lets go and gracefully falls to the ground, without any fear, because it knows it has gone out into many directions. It does not identify itself with the form that is floating down to earth, because what is floating down is just a small part of itself that will become one with the earth; in the future it may become a leaf or a flower again. There is nothing to attain and nothing is lost.
When we look into a leaf we should look deeply like this in order to see the interdependent co-arising of the leaf, to see that the leaf is not just present in the leaf. It is also present in the tree and in all other phenomena. Once we are able to see in this way, our grief and our sorrow will disappear.
Drinking our tea, we see “The leaves that remain are only a very small part of the tea. The tea that goes into me is a much bigger part of the tea. It is the richest part.
We are the same; our essence has gone into our children, our friends, and the entire universe. We have to find ourselves in those directions and not in the spent tea leaves.”
The Gift of Nonfear
We should not wait until we are on our deathbed to begin to contemplate that this body is not myself. We should begin right away to look deeply into this truth…
Most people are used to living in the realm of birth and death, and they forget about the realm of no-birth and no-death. We need to know that in this very moment we are living the life of no-birth and no-death. The word ‘know’ here is important.
To know is to realise.
Realisation is mindfulness.
All the work of meditation is aimed at waking us up to one thing: that birth and death can never touch us in any way whatsoever.
“When you practice looking deeply, you see your true nature of no birth, no death; no being, no non-being; no coming, no going; no same, no different. When you see this, you are free from fear. You are free from craving and free from jealousy. No fear is the ultimate joy. When you have the insight of no fear, you are free. And like the great beings, you ride serenely on the waves of birth and death.”
At our next meeting, on Saturday 7th April, we will take time to reflect on these teachings and share our experiences. Dear Reader, you are welcome to join us.