On Jan. 22, 2022, the Venerable Buddhist Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, passed away in Vietnam. Besides the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh has to be considered as the most significant propagator of Buddhism during our lifetimes.
He wrote 100 books on Buddhism. Over the years of my ministry, I have used his books countless times for study classes, adult discussions, and as a source for my own Dharma talks. His books are so beautifully written, easy to understand yet profoundly deep, and relatable to anyone.
Today, I would like to pay my deep respects to this wonderful teacher of the Dharma.
Of the books that Thich Nhat Hanh has composed, one of my favorites is his book, “No Death, No Fear.” I find this book the most comforting for someone who has lost a loved one, and I have referred and given this book to many over the years.
One of the metaphors that I have learned from Thich Nhat Hanh is the metaphor of the candle. When we burn a candle, we think that the candle’s life is gone when the wax is gone and the flame has been extinguished. But Thich Nhat Hanh points out by saying, “But wait a minute. As the candle is burning, it gives out light and warmth. Even when the wax is gone and the flame is extinguished, the light and warmth that the candle has been emitting, continues to extend out into the world.”
I have often used this image and metaphor in my messages at memorial services. When we lose a loved one, we deeply miss their physical presence. We think that they are “gone,” just like the life of a candle when the flame is gone. But Thich Nhat Hanh directs us to see the light and warmth that the candle has been extending out into the world. He directs us to reflect on the light and warmth that we have received, and continue to receive from our loved ones.
Now, we are the ones to receive the light and warmth from the life and heart of Thich Nhat Hanh. His teachings that he has shared throughout his life continue to give light and warmth to the world.
In one of his books, I read about an episode in which Thich Nhat Hanh once spoke at a prison. He entered the room of maybe 200 prisoners, and they were talking and the room was noisy. Thich Nhat Hanh sat in the middle of the room and did not say a word. The prisoners mumbled to themselves, “Isn’t this monk going to talk? I thought he was going to give us a talk? How come he doesn’t speak?”
Minutes and minutes passed, and still Thich Nhat Hanh did not speak. Gradually, the room got quieter and quieter. Eventually, the prisoners became totally silent. Thich Nhat Hanh began to speak, and shared a Dharma message to those prisoners.
One person, a single person, who is at peace and tranquil, can transform a whole room full of loud and noisy people. One person can give light and warmth to a world that is dark and cold. That person was Thich Nhat Hanh.
In his book, “No Death, No Fear,” Thich Nhat Hanh shares a song that he composed based on a Buddhist text. I would like to share it here as my tribute to his life and teachings:
This body is not me; I am not caught in this body,
I am life without boundaries,
I have never been born and I have never died.
Over the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies,
All manifests from the basis of consciousness.
Since beginningless time I have always been free.
Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out.
Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek.
So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye.
Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before.
We shall always be meeting again at the true source,
Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.