Living, Dying, and Remembering Wonder

Living, Dying, and Remembering Wonder

Discussion date: Thu, May 18, 2023 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,

Mark Wonder Thomas, a long-time Still Water practitioner, transitioned from his body this past Sunday, May 14th. When he was born in 1941, his parents wrote in “W.” as his middle name on his birth certificate. Apparently both his parents had relatives with names that started with a “W,” and they could not decide which one to use. So they agreed to let the boy figure it out for himself. It took Mark almost seventy years to conclude that the “W.” stood for Wonder, and he asked his Still Water friends to use that name.

Wonder was a friend and a stalwart of the Still Water community for more than twenty-eight years. He was generous and caring. He valued authenticity and connection. His Dharma sharing comments were vulnerable and self-deprecating, and sometimes included a just-created ditty. Throughout his last week his family and friends had many opportunities to tell him that they loved him and were grateful for all he had given them. His final moments were a peaceful letting go.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will remember Wonder and also explore together what it actually means to live and to die. It was a subject Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) often addressed.

In 2014 I participated in the “What Happens When We Die?” retreat at Plum Village. In a blog post I summarized what was for me the core teaching of the retreat:

Among the participants in the 21-day retreat were corn seeds that the sisters and brothers had planted several weeks before the retreat. Often they sat in little pots on the podium next to Thay. From time to time, Thay would have a conversation with them: “Dear little corn plant, do you remember when you were a seed? Are you the same as that seed? Are you different from that seed?”

Then he would answer: “You are both the same and different. You are the continuation of the seed. You are the seed in new form.”

And then he would extend the insight, “It is the same with the parent and the child. With Jesus and his followers, with the cloud and the rain.” They are all the same and different.

Toward the end of the retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh offered a short answer to the question “What happens when we die?

“We don’t die!”

If we can see the corn seed in the corn plant, then we can see our continuations in other forms. It is an insight that releases us from many fears and forms of sufferings. Rather than thinking in terms of being and non-being, birth and death, it helps if we use phrases such as manifestation and continuation to remind ourselves of the corn seed and the corn plant.

You are invited to be with us this Thursday evening.

Warm wishes and many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner


The Insight of Emptiness is a Bridge, from a 2014 blog post by Mitchell Ratner

The tradition of mindfulness practice teaches that there are two dimensions or ways of looking at the world.

In the conventional dimension things exist separately and we make sense of the world through naming the separate entities and using dualistic language, such as being and non-being. It is the perspective of the waves that explain their existence in terms of birth and death, same and other. Everything is outside of other things. The conventional world includes the Dharmadhatu, all the phenomena of the world: mental, physical, and physiological. It includes all of God’s creations.

In the ultimate dimension everything exist in dependence on everything else. Trees, clouds, humans, and everything else arises from conditions. They are empty of separate selves. It is the waves seen from the perspective of the constantly changing water. In Buddhist language it is the world of suchness, “reality just as it is.” In Western religious terms, it is the realm of God.

Ease, fearlessness, and release from suffering grow in us when we can begin, bit by bit, to experience our lives in terms of the ultimate dimension. During the 21-Day Retreat Thich Nhat Hanh taught several times that a wonderful way of bringing the ultimate into our lives is through the insight of “emptiness” or “interbeing” — throughout each day, to remind ourselves not to be caught by the forms of things. The corn plant is not separate from the corn seed, and also not separate from the water, the sun, and the soil. The child is not separate from the father, the mother, the ancestors, and his or her environment. The mud is not separate from the lotus. Your suffering and happiness are not separate from my suffering and happiness.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, May 18, 2023


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