Life is a continuation

We come to the practice of meditation seeking relief from our suffering, and meditation can teach us how to transform our suffering and obtain basic relief. But the deepest kind of relief is the realization of nirvana. There are two dimensions to life, and we should be able to touch both. One is like a wave, and we call it the historical dimension. The other is like the water, and we call it the ultimate dimension, or nirvana. We usually touch just the wave, but when we discover how to touch the water, we receive the highest fruit that meditation can offer.
In the historical dimension, we have birth certificates and death certificates. The day your mother passes away, you suffer. If someone sits close to you and shows her concern, you feel some relief. You have her friendship, her support, her warm hand to hold. This is the world of waves. It is characterized by birth and death, ups and downs, being and nonbeing. A wave has a beginning and an end, but we cannot ascribe these characteristics to water. In the world of water, there is no birth or death, no being or nonbeing, no beginning or end. When we touch the water, we touch reality in its ultimate dimension and are liberated from all of these concepts.
To be born means from nothing you become something.
The second-century philosopher Nagarjuna asked, “Before something was born, did it exist or not?” Before the egg was born from a chicken, was it existent or nonexistent? If it were already there, how could it have been born? Since a baby is also already present in the womb of her mother, how can we say she is not yet born? Nagarjuna says that something already present cannot be born. To be born means from nothing you become something; from no one you become someone. But nothing can be born from nothing. A flower is born from soil, minerals, seeds, sunshine, rain, and many other things. Meditation reveals to us the no-birth of all things. Life is a continuation. Instead of singing “Happy Birthday,” we can sing “Happy Continuation.” Even the day of our mother’s death is a day of continuation; she continues in many other forms.
A friend of mine has been taking care of her ninety-three-year-old mother. The doctors say that her mother will die any day. For more than a year, my friend has been teaching her mother meditation exercises that have been very helpful. She began by watering the seeds of happiness in her mother, and now her mother becomes very alive every time my friend comes around. Recently she told her mother, “This body is not exactly yours. Your body is much larger. You have nine children, dozens of grandchildren, and also great-grandchildren. We are all continuations of you, and we are very happy and healthy. You are quite alive in us.”
Her mother was able to see that, and she smiled. My friend continued, “When you were young, you were able to teach many people how to cook and do many other things. You made people happy. Now we are doing the same thing; we are continuing the work you have begun. When you were young, you wrote poetry and sang, and now many of us write poems and sing beautifully. You are continuing in us. You are many beings at the same time.” This is a meditation on nonself. It helps her mother see that her body is just a small part of her true self. She understands that when her body departs, she will continue in many other forms.
Who can say that your mother has passed away? You cannot describe her as being or nonbeing, alive or dead, because these notions belong to the historical dimension. When you touch your mother in the ultimate dimension, you see that she is still with you. The same is true of a flower. A flower may pretend to be born, but it has always been there in other forms. Later it may pretend to die, but we should not be fooled. She is just playing a game of hide-and-seek. She reveals herself to us and then hides herself away. If we are attentive, we can touch her anytime we want.
One day as I was about to step on a dry leaf, I saw the leaf in the ultimate dimension. I saw that it was not really dead, but it was merging with the moist soil and preparing to appear on the tree the following spring in another form. I smiled at the leaf and said, “You are pretending.”
Thich Nhat Hanh