[REVIEW] – No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life


In one of my posts I told you about my experience with the fear of death, and at the end of it I recommended a useful, enlightening reading: No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh. This book aims to explain how to overcome fear of death through a spiritual approach.

The author of more than one hundred books of poetry, fiction and philosophy, Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk and one of the most beloved Buddhist teachers alive today around the world. Poet, Zen master, mystic, scholar, activist  and chairman of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation during the Vietnam War, he was nominated by Dr Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize.

In this book, he offers a way to regard life that addresses the fear most people have of death. His worldview transcends the physical manifestations we’re accustomed to regarding reality. Nhat Hanh says that our true being is not segmented by birth or death: it exists across space and time, manifesting only when causes and conditions are right.

No Death, No Fear — press reviews

Here are some press reviews of the book:

Thich Nhat Hanh always invites us to look deeply, and he does so once again in No Death, No Fear. Recognizing interconnections, Nhat Hanh brings us to beginnings, how they depend on endings, and how they are but temporary manifestations. Everything endures, he says, but in different forms. And this isn’t just a palliative to make us feel better for a while. Nhat Hanh’s philosophy of Interbeing takes the long view, challenging us to open our eyes to subtle transformations. He shows how extraordinary things happen when we are fully present with others and at peace with ourselves, both of which require openness and deep looking. In his bestselling style of easy prose, compelling anecdotes, and pragmatic advice, Nhat Hanh gradually drains the force out of grief and fear, transforming them into happiness and insightful living. Death doesn’t have to be a roadblock, and in No Death, No Fear Thich Nhat Hanh shows us the way around. — Brian Bruya

Zen master Nhat Hanh turns his hard-earned wisdom as a survivor of war, persecution, and exile to the age-old dilemma of what happens when one dies. If the greatest fear is, as he suggests, that one becomes nothing, then how is one to live with this threat of complete annihilation? Using Buddhist parables and anecdotes, Nhat Hanh offers an alternative perspective. Buddhists see birth and death as mere concepts, not manifestations of reality. When someone dies, they are still with us, just in a different form. In this view, a continuation, a connection between people and nature persists because time is understood as being circular: nothing begins; nothing ends; it just is. Nhat Hanh’s beliefs are certainly not for everyone, especially those who definitely feel most comfortable within the set rules and established doctrines of the Western traditions. Others may find his perspective on the ultimate mystery of the human condition refreshing, especially when it is expressed as calmly and matter-of-factly as Nhat Hanh expresses it. — June Sawyers

At some point in their lives, most people are haunted by the question ‘What happens after death?’ Beloved teacher, poet, and activist Thich Nhat Hanh takes this question to heart in his latest book about how to understand death and stop fearing life…His advice is founded on personal examples, and guided meditations help readers grapple with the loss of a loved one, confront their mortality, and live each day to its fullest. — Tricycle

[A] masterwork…Thich Nhat Hanh has rendered us an invaluable service by opening our hearts and minds…” — Spirituality & Health Journal

Some words from the author

Regarding birth and death, the explanation given by Buddhism is very profound and yet scientific; very logical, and at the same time deeply comforting. According to Buddha, the common concept of birth and death is one of the bondage that causes us much distress and prevents us from achieving our true reality of complete happiness and freedom.

The Buddha said the nature of your reality is the nature of no birth and no death; no coming, no going, no being, no non-being, no same, no different. The teaching sounds as though it contradicts the teaching that everything that is born must die, the teaching that we cannot escape death, sickness and old age. Practice looking deeply. You will realize that birth is a notion, death is a notion, coming is a notion, going is a notion, being is a notion and non-being is a notion. We have to remove all notions concerning reality. Then we touch the ultimate reality, or suchness.

Nothing is created, there’s only a transformation of matter and energy from one form to the other. After all, this is also one of the basic principles of Physics, but its validity is not limited to the physical world, as we may have believed so far: it is true in the whole Manifestation. We have to look beyond the veil of maya.

Thich Nhat Hanh mentions several examples, one of which is that of a cloud. A cloud is always changing its form, then it passes into rain and subsequently gets transferred into our body in the form of food and water; and then repeats its cycle. The Manifestation of Life works similarly.

Nothing has a separate self, and nothing exists by itself. If we examine things carefully, we will see that all phenomena, including ourselves, are composites. We are made up of other parts. We are made up of our mother and father, our grandmothers and grandfathers, our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, the earth, the sun and innumerable non-self elements. All these parts depend on causes and conditions. We see that all that has existed, exists or will exist is interconnected and interdependent. All that we see has only manifested because it is a part of something else, of other conditions that make it possible to manifest. All phenomena are neither produced nor destroyed, because they are in a constant process of manifesting.

Meditation, mindfulness and full constant awareness in our daily life are fundamental tools that help us attaining such deep insight of Manifestation: these practices can slowly help us rewire some of our preconceived notions. How can I get rid of fear, worry and distress? How can I be happy? Buddha says: live in the present moment and be thankful of what you already have in your life. It’s that simple. 😉

Please take a pen and a sheet of paper. Go to the foot of a tree or to your writing desk, and make a list of all the things that can make you happy right now: the clouds in the sky, the flowers in the garden, the children playing, the fact that you have met the practice of mindfulness, your beloved ones sitting in the next room, your two eyes in good condition. The list is endless. You have enough already to be happy now. You have enough to be free from coming and going, up and down, birth and death. Nourish yourself every day with the wonderful things that life has to offer you. Nourish yourself in the present moment. Walk in the kingdom of God.

Finally, your own experience is the best teacher. This is what Buddhism is all about.

My conclusive recommendation

This book can really throw open your eyes. After all, the spiritual teachings of Buddhism are just a matter of mind and awareness applied to your daily life, so that anyone can practice it, whatever his faith may be, or even with no faith at all.

No Death, No Fear: Comforting Wisdom for Life, by Thich Nhat Hanh, is a book which I definitely recommend. Of course, feel free to leave your comments below if you have already read the book. 😉