The Sea Turtle
You have probably heard by now that the great teacher Thích Nhất Hạnh passed away yesterday (or today, depending on your time-zone). Thầy had been ill for many years after suffering a brain hemorrhage, and passed away peacefully at his root temple, Từ Hiếu Temple, in Huế Vietnam.
Like many of you I am sure, Thầy was a huge influence on my thinking and path, especially through his books, and while I never met the great man I will miss him.
But while I have a tinge of sadness here the overwhelming feeling I have is that of gratitude. Through Thầy's whole life he left a huge imprint on our society - from his teachings to his acts of compassion and work for peace, his influence will continue. As Terry Pratchett said, “Do you not know that a man is not dead while his name is still spoken?*”
Earlier this week I was reminded of the metaphor of the Sea Turtle that The Buddha uses in the Chiggala Sutta:
"Monks, suppose that this great earth were totally covered with water, and a man were to toss a yoke with a single hole there. A wind from the east would push it west, a wind from the west would push it east. A wind from the north would push it south, a wind from the south would push it north. And suppose a blind sea-turtle were there. It would come to the surface once every one hundred years. Now what do you think: would that blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole?"
"It would be a sheer coincidence, lord, that the blind sea-turtle, coming to the surface once every one hundred years, would stick his neck into the yoke with a single hole."
"It's likewise a sheer coincidence that one obtains the human state. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, arises in the world. It's likewise a sheer coincidence that a doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world. Now, this human state has been obtained. A Tathagata, worthy & rightly self-awakened, has arisen in the world. A doctrine & discipline expounded by a Tathagata appears in the world.
"Therefore your duty is the contemplation, 'This is stress... This is the origination of stress... This is the cessation of stress.' Your duty is the contemplation, 'This is the path of practice leading to the cessation of stress.'"
What this is teaching us is that even being born a human with the ability to learn and reason is an unusual and precious thing, and being born in a time when we are able to hear the teachings is even more precious - so we are told not to waste it.
We are all incredibly fortunate to be living in a time where our access to the teachings of great men and women is unprecedented
On the passing of Thầy we should all reflect on our fortune in being alive at the same time he was, and our unfettered access to his teachings and those of many other wonderful teachers. This is not something to take for granted.
PS: A couple of years ago I posted a small tribute to Thầy for his 94th Birthday - you can find it here on our site. I also posted at the time a fully guided audio meditation using his short poem for contemplation, focusing on the line 'Breathing In, I Smile.' I can't think of a more appropriate meditation to do right now, so I have linked it below.
(*) GNU STP
"Chiggala Sutta: The Hole" (SN 56.48), translated from the Pali by Thanissaro Bhikkhu. Access to Insight (BCBS Edition), 1 July 2010, http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka/sn/sn56/sn56.048.than.html .