We are all dying Buddhas

Notes On A Zen Life 12–4–2022

Andrew R. French
3 min readDec 4, 2022

Our modern culture focuses primarily on the light, on living and the joy of being alive. It only really accepts, to a large degree, white Christian heteronormative capitalist culture as the primary path toward happiness. This of course is ridiculous. There are many paths toward joy and living and the light, as many paths as people on the planet.

But even after we find our own path toward the light, we find ourselves slumped over in depression. Even after many successes in this world we find no joy. When our bank accounts are full we still weep in our cars as we mourn the loss of a friend or the diagnoses of a disease that might take our lives.

There is no escaping the inevitable old age, sickness, and death. When we are young we think we are bullet proof, but time simple wears on us like water on a rock. Soon we are full of potholes carved by minute grains of sand carried by the turbulence of a flowing river.

We are all already buddhas, we are all live in the buddhafield. This morning I realized that even buddha is dying, just like we are. There is no difference between buddha dying and us dying. The reason that life is so undeniably precious is that death is there, right beyond the light.

And so light and death are always in balance, and nothing, not a thing, is composed primarily of light. There will always be darkness to balance illumination. And some of us are trapped in long and torturous darkness, and some of us want desperately to see the light just once.

And we will. Life is complex and incredibly painful, but luckily the only constant is that it is always changing.

The truth is that we don’t need anything to be happy in the here and the now, but we have to find ourselves in the here and the now before we can ever be happy. When we don’t live in the present, we are already, in some ways, dead. We are living in the dark, even when we surround ourselves with things that appear light, like TV shows and fun events. Likewise, we can live in the light even when we are fully enmeshed in the darkness of human suffering, if we are able to be present in the moment.

And so I find myself suffering again. And I feel aversion. I don’t want to feel this! And I watch something that distracts me for this moment, then this moment, then this moment, extending the period of time when I don’t have to confront myself and find a dying buddha crying in the dark.

But there is one thing I’ve learned after 28 years of practicing zen, and that is if you don’t confront that darkness, if you don’t let it into your life and be gentle with it, if you run away from it day after day after day, you will make yourself sick and ultimately this will most cause great illness. And so the practice is to confront the darkness piece by piece on the cushion, or on the ground, or on the chair, as we practice zen and find ourselves back in the moment once again.

When we are present we can allow ourselves to feel peace again, regardless of our circumstances. This is what we are truly seeking. Not fame, wealth, power, money. Just peace, love, and small joys.

These are my thoughts today.

If you appreciate them, please offer a thumbs up in in gratitude!

Thank you.

I have practiced zen in the Soto Zen tradition for almost 28 years now, as well as in the Plum Village tradition with a local sangha for the last year. Zen is the bedrock, and compassion is the life.



Andrew R. French

Writer at the Intersection of Earth Science and Culture