(originally written 03/01/10)
"Death is nothing to us."
Death. I've gone 'round and 'round with death, arguing (post-mortem) with the great existentialists as well as many other dead philosophers, prophets and saints of all stripes. The only definition of Death I am satisfied with is: Life. Death is defined by Life. Death by itself is nothing.
I think Thich Nhat Hanh is saying the same thing, just in different words. When he talks about "our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death," I think he is just being a tad confusing. There is a lot easier way to say that, a non-ambiguous way, a way that has already been said: death is nothing to us, life is everything to us. The nature of no-birth and no-death is life. Life is the experience between the points of birth and death. The times before birth and after death do not hold any experiences for this manifestation of life we call our Self.
Death is nothing to us.
That sentence is so stark, so unequivocal, so definite that we revolt against accepting it. But if one quiets the mind, gets rid of all those mindful and mindless notions just as Thich Nhat Hanh says, and takes stock of what experiences we know death bestows upon a person . . . well then, there is absolutely nothing.
It is silly to fear nothing. -- and the original meaning of silly meant "blessed", so that sentence is like a paradox in itself, meaning opposite things at the same time: it is silly to fear nothing (be afraid) but it is a blessed state to fear nothing (fear no thing). But that's just a silly, nonsensical, tangent anyway. The important point is: losing the fear of death frees us from fearing life.
"Accustom yourself to believe that death is nothing to us, for good and evil imply awareness, and death is the privation of all awareness; therefore a right understanding that death is nothing to us makes the mortality of life enjoyable, not by adding to life an unlimited time, but by taking away the yearning after immortality. For life has no terror; for those who thoroughly apprehend that there are no terrors for them in ceasing to live." -- Epicurus, Letter to Menoeceus
Similarly, we should regard the time before we were born as nothing to us, as well. Life, the experience of life is all there is to us. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "You are what you are looking for."
And in that he said it beautifully. That is all there is, there does not need to be more: "You are what you are looking for."