Solving the problem of life and death is, essentially, the great matter of our life. Every human being is familiar with the sting of that question.
Some believe that there is no answer… Others say that paradise will come after a life of suffering, or that the answer is to be found outside of ordinary life’s phenomena…
Right from the start, Buddha taught that ordinary life – called samsara in Buddhism – is full of suffering because we live it immersed in ignorance, victims of greed and aversion. Buddha very clearly says that nirvana, the heavenly state, is not to be seeked elsewhere, or later, but that it exists at the heart of this life, emerging the moment we put out all the passions that afflict us.
Eternal life has always been present, and will always be, through birth and death. Solving the problem of life and death is finding nirvana – utter peace – in the flow of births and deaths.
What we call birth and death is just the constant transformations of this eternal life of the universe, without beginning and without end. But merely knowing this is not very helpful, if we cannot realize it. As long as we keep looking for something other than what we’ve been given, we remain in the infernal cycle of samsara, unsatisfied. It’s important to understand that it’s in the midst of the situations we encounter, regardless of what they are, that we can find the extinction of suffering – nirvana. When we realize this in our life, we’ve solved the great matter.
When we manage to look up from our world of suffering, we can have the lightning intuition that there is something bigger, absolute, eternal, at the heart of life.
Humans are religious animals. They express their religious dimension when they glimpse, beyond their personal worries, the mystery of eternity. Just like Buddha did in his time, his disciples continue to sit zazen every day, unmoving, venerating this absolute dimension at the heart of their cells, of their life. They can then understand Racine’s words:
“To worship the eternal, I come into His temple.”
In these times of crisis and lack of faith, we must return, trustfully, to the ungraspable, unknowable absolute. Concerned only with the world of form and appearance, we neglect what’s essential: ultimate reality.
What’s more, the vastness of those unknowable spaces terrifies us. But the 28th patriarch of our school, Bodhidharma, found, in the darkness of the unknowing, something warm, comforting, soothing; he rushes toward it with confidence.
“How wonderful it is to return to our unity with the mystery!” says he.
The one who brings this dimension into his life is no longer overwhelmed by the sounds of spring, or saddened by the colours of autumn; he is as he is, no matter the seasons of his life.
When it’s time to live, there is only one thing to do: live with all our heart. When old age and death come, again, embrace it wholeheartedly.
In the meantime, having taken this human form, let’s not waste the present moment. Each moment, regardless of what it contains, is precious: it deserves all our love, all our attention. It deserves that we devote ourselves to it with an open heart, with a mind freed from all attachment.
That is how we realize samsara and nirvana as one single thing.
(Taiun Jean-Pierre Faure)