No Sameness, No Otherness

Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh Dharma Talk on Ancestors Day 2008

The question is: the plant of corn and the seed of corn, are they one or two things?

If they are one thing, both of them are the same thing. Or, are they two totally different things? That is a very Buddhist question. That is a difficult one, the plant of corn and the seed of corn. You know that the young plant of corn comes from the seed of corn, and now the question is whether these things are one thing or two separate things.

Of course, there were children who said that they are just one thing. There were other children who said they are two different things: the seed of corn is not a plant of corn, a plant of corn is not a seed of corn. They are different. But, the third answer is correct. A few children said, “Well, they are neither the same thing, nor two different things.” This is a very complicated answer, but it is the right answer.

The teaching this morning is a little bit difficult. Suppose this is the seed of corn and this is the plant of corn. We know very well that the plant of corn comes from the seed of corn. This is very clear, because you have by yourself planted the seed of corn and you saw the seed of corn sprouting and become the plant of corn.

Logically, you see that the seed is a seed. A plant is a plant. A plant cannot be a seed, and a seed cannot be a plant. That is the formal logic. But if you look deeply – look deeply is the word for meditation, and to meditate is to have the time to look deeply – we think these things are two different things, but without this one the other one cannot be, because the other one comes from this one.

So, there are three answers. The first answer is that the seed and the plant are one. The second answer is they are two different things. And the third answer is neither the same nor two different things. They are neither the same thing, nor two different things, because a plant does look different from a seed. The third answer, which is the right answer, is no sameness, no otherness. It is neither the same, nor two different things.

Suppose you look at the family album and you see yourself as a baby. You were just born for two weeks and then your mother took a picture of you. The picture is still in the album. And now you are 12 or 14, now you look at the baby. You are so different from the tender baby in the picture. And you ask yourself, “Am I the same person as the baby or am I a totally different person?”

You are quite different in size and in many aspects. The form, the feelings, the perceptions, the mental formations, consciousness, they are all different. You are very different from the tender baby in the picture. So, to say that you are the same thing as the baby is somehow wrong, because you are quite different from the baby.

But, to say that you and the tender baby are two totally different things is wrong, too, because without that baby you cannot be yourself.

So, the answer is in the middle way, and the middle way is a very Buddhist expression. The answer given by the Buddha is, you are not the same, and you are not a different person, either. So, the Buddhist answer is, no sameness, no otherness.

And this is one of the deeper teachings of the Buddha, but I trust that even if you are still very young, you can understand, because that is the truth.

About Still Water Sangha of MN

We are a community, formed with enthusiasm and joy, practicing Mindfulness and Meditation together in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. We meet on Monday nights from 7-8:30pm in a private home in Stillwater, Minnesota.
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