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. [...]
Everything is pretending to be born and pretending to die. The Buddha said, “When conditions are sufficient, the body reveals itself, and we say the body is. When conditions are not sufficient, the body cannot be perceived by us, and we say the body is not.” The day of our so-called death is a day of our continuation in many other forms. If you know how to touch your mother in the ultimate dimension, she will always be there with you. If you touch your hand, your face, or your hair, and look very deeply, you can see that she is there in you, smiling. This is a deep practice, and it is also the deepest kind of relief.
Nirvana means extinction, the extinction of all notions and concepts, including the concepts of birth, death, being, nonbeing, coming, and going. Nirvana is the ultimate dimension of life, a state of coolness, peace, and joy. It is not a state to be attained after you die. You can touch nirvana right now by breathing, walking, and drinking your tea in mindfulness. You have been “nirvanized” since the very nonbeginning. Everything and everyone is dwelling in nirvana.
Nikos Kazantzakis tells the story of St. Francis of Assisi standing in front of an almond tree in midwinter. St. Francis asked the tree to tell him about God, and suddenly the tree began to blossom. In just a few seconds, the almond tree was covered with beautiful flowers. When I read this story, I was very impressed. I saw that St. Francis stood on the side of the ultimate dimension. It was winter; there were no leaves, flowers, or fruits, but he saw the flowers.
We may feel that we are incapable of touching the ultimate dimension, but that is not correct. We have done so already. The problem is how to do it more deeply and more frequently. The phrase, “Think globally,” for example, is in the direction of touching the ultimate dimension. When we see things globally, we have more wisdom and we feel much better. We are not caught by small situations. When we see globally, we avoid many mistakes, and we have a more profound view of happiness and life. [...]
When you touch one moment with deep awareness, you touch all moments. According to the Avatamsaka Sutra, if you live one moment deeply, that moment contains all the past and all the future in it. "The one contains the all." Touching the present moment does not mean getting rid of the past or the future. As you touch the present moment, you realize that the present is made of the past and is creating the future. Touching the present, you touch the past and the future at the same time. You touch globally the infinity of time, the ultimate dimension of reality. When you drink a cup of tea very deeply, you touch the present moment and you touch the whole of time. It is what St. Francis did when he touched the almond tree so profoundly that he could see it flowering even in the middle of winter. He transcended time.
Excerpted from Beyond Birth and Death. Thich Nhat Hanh was a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, a peace activist and author. He passed away on Jan 22, 2022.