“The Nature of No-Birth and No-Death The cloud cannot become nothing. It is possible for a cloud to become rain or snow or hail. But it’s not possible for a cloud to become nothing. That’s why the view of annihilation is a wrong view. If you’re a scientist and you think that after the disintegration of this body you are no longer there—you become nothing, you pass from being to nonbeing—then you are not a very good scientist, because your view goes against the evidence. … A cloud has not come from nothing. A cloud always comes from something. So there is no birth; there is only a continuation. That is the nature of everything: no-birth, no-death. The eighteenth-century French scientist Antoine Lavoisier declared, “Rien ne se crée, rien ne se perd” (Nothing is created, nothing is lost). Lavoisier saw the same truth that the Buddha saw, that nothing is born and nothing dies. Our true nature is no-birth and no-death. Only when we touch our true nature can we transcend the fear of nonbeing, the fear of annihilation.” ~Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh has an unusual interpretation of what birth and death means. Most of us say that when an egg hatches and a chicken pops out, that chicken has just been born. Hanh says that is not true because the chicken existed as an egg before that. And before the egg, it was something else. So while his belief in no-birth is correct, so is the conventional belief in birth and death. That is possible because most of us have a different definition of birth and death than Hanh does. He is interpreting birth as an arrival from complete nonexistence. By that definition, there is no birth, only change. But most of us think of a major change in form as birth. That is especially true when what we think of as none-living matter becomes a living plant or animal. Things can get confusing, however, when we have to deal with beings that go through metamorphosis as part of their life. Does the caterpillar die to give birth to the butterfly? Most would say “No,” but by the standard definition of birth, the butterfly was born, so the caterpillar must have died.
My personal feeling is that Hahn is correct, though not exactly for the reasons he states. I think all being are immortal because all beings have a spirit. Since spirits exist outside the confines of time and space, they are immortal. Therefore, they are never born and never die. Eternal life exists for the spirit and soul, not for the body.
If there is no birth, then logically there can be no death. Again, however, that is only true if you accept Hanh’s view on what death means. If you think of death as complete nonexistence, then he is correct. That just doesn’t happen. But if death to you means that the body-mind-personality combination that makes up what we think of as a being ceases, then death is real.
Once again, however, there is more to us than the body, mind, and personality. We also have a spirit and soul. The spirit and soul are immortal. Only they experience eternal life. But there is a catch to it.
We are born on the material plane with our spirit and soul in a dormant state. They are not conscious, not full functioning. We have to awaken them and develop them just as we have to develop the body and mind. Then we have to integrate out mind and personality with the spirit and soul. If we do that while we are still alive in the physical sense, then we will become immortal as an integrated being and achieve true eternal life.