Many of you will have already heard the sad news that beloved Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh,) is seriously ill in Plum Village in rural France, where he has lived for many years. Whether he will survive or not we do not know yet. He is 88 years old now and for most of his life he has been a simple Buddhist Monk; a humble and beautiful being who has been an inspirational to us all. “Where were you before you were born?” is a beautiful talk from so many given over the years. He takes this deeply philosophical question of life and death, turns it in to a homily providing us with an answer that is as simple as pie.
Today, we hear that Thay is now in hospital, sadly he is in the process of passing away. It’s a great loss for the world.
Where Were You Before You Were Born?
Sometimes people ask you: “When is your birthday?” But you might ask yourself a more interesting question: “Before that day which is called my birthday, where was I?” Ask a cloud: “What is your date of birth?” Before you were born, where were you?”
If you ask the cloud, “How old are you? Can you give me your date of birth?” you can listen deeply and you may hear a reply. You can imagine the cloud being born. Before being born it was the water on the ocean’s surface. Or it was in the river and then it became vapor. It was also the sun because the sun makes the vapor. The wind is there too, helping the water to become a cloud. The cloud does not come from nothing; there has been only a change in form. It is not a birth of something out of nothing.
Sooner or later the cloud will change into rain or snow or ice. If you look deeply into the rain, you can see the cloud. The cloud is not lost; it is transformed into rain, and the rain is transformed into healthy soil and the soil into cherry trees and the cherry trees into blossoms, the blossoms into cherries and then into the cherry pie you eat. Today if you eat a piece of cherry pie, give yourself time to look at the pie and say:
“Hello, cloud! I recognize you.”
By doing that, you have insight and understanding into the real nature of the pie and the cloud. You can also see the ocean, the river, the heat, the sun, the soil and the trees in the pie. Looking deeply, you do not see a real date of death for the cloud. All that happens is that the cloud transforms into rain or snow. There is no real death because there is always a continuation. A cloud continues the ocean, the river and the heat of the sun, and the rain continues the cloud.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh