When reading Buddhist writings, you may come across this notion of “no birth, no death.” When you first encounter this, you may be shocked and incredulous. You’re supposed to be. That’s the whole idea: to invite you to question the beliefs and assumptions that are so obvious and apparent to you that you would never think to doubt them.

Nirvana means “extinction,” as in the extinction of a candle’s flame. First and foremost, nirvana means extinction of all concepts and notions. Our concepts about things prevents us from really touching the reality of the present moment. 

Negating concepts like “birth” and “death” can be good medicine for us sometimes, as it may help us loosen our grip on those concepts. But “no birth and death” can also easily become simply a new concept that we grab hold of. Although dogmas arise in response to questions, they may be an expression of a desire to eliminate those questions. Questions spring from wonder, which is the experience of the inadequacy of all concepts in the face of the reality of the present moment. It is hard for us to dwell in the emptiness of that place of questioning, in the openness of wonder. But that is the only place we are ever truly alive.

So please feel free to investigate what arises in whatever manner appears best to you. The wonder and openness that we experience in mindfulness leads to questions. Embrace these questions. Sometimes the questions lead to doubts. Embrace these doubts. As the Buddha said, “Right it is to doubt, right it is to question what is doubtful and what is not clear.” We are not called to blind faith. We are invited to inquire, investigate, and form questions arising from our wonder, openness, and curiosity. Buddha did not establish a system of orthodoxy or epistemological authority, but rather a way of practicing that embraces and incorporates open investigation: “As the wise test the purity of gold by burning, cutting, and examining it, so should you accept my words after examining them and not out of regard and reverence for me.”

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