We know that heat and water form clouds; clouds do not come from nothing. If we look deeply at a cloud floating happily in the sky, we can see its previous life. When cold air touches the cloud, the cloud continues in the form of rain. This is not the death of the cloud but a transformation and continuation. The new form the cloud takes on is no less beautiful than its previous form. The cloud does not panic, rather, it sings aloud while transforming itself into rain. It is wonderful to be a cloud floating in the sky, but it is also wonderful to be rain falling on the ground and becoming part of the river or a rice field. Nothing is created; nothing is destroyed. There is no birth or death. This is what we recite in the Heart Sutra. The ideas of creation and annihilation are discarded. … The French scientist Lavoisier said of matter and energy: “Nothing is born, nothing dies.” He uses the same language as the Heart Sutra. There is only transformation. Sometimes we call this reincarnation or rebirth, but transformation is a better word.We have practiced looking into the nature of a sheet of paper. We have seen that the sheet of paper does not come from nothing. Before being paper, it was many other things: a tree, sunshine, and a cloud. We burned the paper thinking we could reduce it to nothing, but we did not succeed. The sheet of paper transformed itself into several things at once: smoke rising, heat penetrating the cosmos, and ash that might become a tiny flower in the grass tomorrow. Our ideas of being and nonbeing, birth and death, are just ideas, which we have to throw away. They cannot be applied to reality.
Master Tong Hoi said that we have never been born and we will never die. There is only manifestation and continuation.
We are free from birth and death. Our true nature is no-birth and no-death. This is the only way to dissipate our fears. If we have this deep insight, we will be liberated from our anguish and fear of being and nonbeing. The Buddha said that all fears and cravings are born of ignorance. Through knowledge and insight we gain emancipation. Looking deeply is the practice of meditation. It is a shame if we are too busy in our lives to live mindfully and with concentration, to touch reality deeply.
Source – Thich Nhat Hanh, The Path of Emancipation, Full Circle, Delhi, 2008.