Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced Tick-Naught-Han) is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk.  During the war
in Vietnam, he worked tirelessly for reconciliation between North and South Vietnam.  His lifelong
efforts to generate peace moved Martin Luther King, Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize
in 1967.  He lives in exile in a small community in France where he teaches, writes, gardens,
and works to help refugees worldwide.  He has conducted many mindfulness retreats in Europe
and North America helping veterans, children, environmentalists, psychotherapists, artists and many
thousands of individuals seeking peace in their hearts, and in their world.  Read more about him here.

 thinkers home

 

When I see someone smile, I know immediately that he or she is dwelling in awareness.  This half-smile, how many artists have labored to bring it to the lips of countless statues and paintings?  I am sure the same smile must have been on the faces of the sculptors and painters as they worked.  Can you imagine an angry painter giving birth to such a smile?  Mona Lisa's smile is light, just a hint of a smile.  Yet even a smile like that is enough to relax all the muscles in our face, to banish all worries and fatigue.  A tiny bud of a smile on our lips nourishes awareness and calms us miraculously.  It returns us
to the peace we thought we had lost.

      
If we do not change our daily lives, we cannot change the world.
  
Sometimes in a crowd we feel tired, cold, and lonely.  We may wish to withdraw to be by ourselves and become warm again, as I did when I closed the windows and sat by the fire, protected from the damp, cold wind.  Our senses are our windows to the world, and sometimes the wind blows through them and disturbs everything within us.  Some of us leave our windows open all the time, allowing the sights and sounds of the world to invade us, penetrate us, and expose our sad, troubled selves.  We feel so cold, lonely, and afraid.  Do you ever find yourself watching an awful TV program, unable to turn it off?  The raucous noises, explosions of gunfire, are upsetting.  Yet you don't get up and turn it off.  Why do you torture yourself in this way?  Don't you want to close your windows?  Are you frightened of solitude--the emptiness and the loneliness you may find when you face yourself alone?
   

If we face our unpleasant feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we can transform them into a kind of energy that is healthy and has the capacity to nourish us.  By the work of mindful observation, our unpleasant feelings can illuminate so much for us, offering us insight and understanding into ourselves and society.

  

There are so many things that can provide us with peace.  Next time
you take a shower or a bath, I suggest you hold your big toes in
mindfulness.  We pay attention to everything except our toes.  When
we hold our toes in mindfulness and smile at them, we will find that
our bodies have been very kind to us.  We know that any cell in our
toes can turn cancerous, but our toes have been behaving very well,
avoiding that kind of problem.  Yet, we have not been nice to them
at all.  These kinds of practices can bring us happiness.

 

True love always brings joy to ourselves and the one we love.
If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love.

 

 

Therapists want to help us throw out what is unwanted and keep only
what is wanted.  But what is left may not be very much.  If we try
to throw away what we donít want, we may throw away most of ourselves.
Instead of acting as if we can dispose of parts of ourselves, we should learn
the art of transformation.  We can transform our anger, for example,
into something more wholesome, like understanding.  We do not need surgery
to remove our anger.  If we become angry at our anger, we will have two angers
at the same time.  We only have to observe it with love and attention.  If we take care
of our anger this way, without trying to run away from it, it will transform itself.
This is peacemaking.  If we are peaceful in ourselves, we can make peace
with our anger.  We can deal with depression, anxiety, fear,
or any unpleasant feeling in the same way.

   
 

The Buddha spoke gently, "Once a person is caught by belief
in a doctrine, one loses all one's freedom. When one
becomes dogmatic, that person believes his or her doctrine
is the only truth and that all other doctrines are heresy.
Disputes and conflicts all arise from narrow views. They can
extend endlessly, wasting precious time and sometimes even
leading to war. Attachment to views is the greatest impediment
to the spiritual path. Bound to narrow views, one becomes
so entangled that it is no longer possible
to let the door of truth open."

 
Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky?
Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it?  No, we just enjoy it.
Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this.
Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine,
the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing.
We don't need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky.
We don't have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing.
We can be in touch with these things right now.
 

  
The foundation of happiness is mindfulness.  The basic condition for being happy
is our consciousness of being happy.  If we are not aware that we are happy, we are
not really happy.  When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache
is a wonderful thing.  But when we do not have a toothache, we are still not happy.
A non-toothache is very pleasant.  There are so many things that are enjoyable,
but when we donít practice mindfulness, we donít appreciate them.  When we practice
mindfulness, we come to cherish these things and we learn how to protect them.
By taking good care of the present moment, we take good care of the future.
Working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment.
   

There is no enlightenment outside of daily life.

 
The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability
to recognize the physical, material, and psychological suffering of
others, to put ourselves "inside the skin" of the other.  We "go inside"
their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves
their suffering.  Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough
to see their suffering.  We must become one with the subject of
our observation.  When we are in contact with another's suffering,
a feeling of compassion is born in us.
Compassion means, literally, "to suffer with."

  

We can use our breathing to be in contact with out feelings and accept them.  If our breathing is light and calm--a natural result of conscious breathing--our mind and body will slowly become light, calm, and clear, and our feelings also.  Mindful observation is based on the principle of "non-duality":  our feeling is not separate from us or caused merely by something outside us; our feeling is us, and for the moment we are that feeling.  We are neither drowned in nor terrorized by the feeling, nor do we reject it. Our attitude of not clinging to or rejecting our feelings is the attitude of letting go, an important part of meditation practice.

If we face our unpleasant feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we can transform them into the kind of energy that is healthy and has the capacity to nourish us.  By the work of mindful observation, our unpleasant feelings can illuminate so much for us, offering us insight and understanding into ourselves and society.

  

 

The source of love is deep in us, and we can help others realize a lot
of happiness.  One word, one action, or one thought can reduce another
person's suffering and bring him or her joy.  One word can give comfort
and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict,
or open the door to liberation.  One action can save a person's life or help him
or her take advantage of a rare opportunity.  One thought can do the same,
because thoughts always lead to words and actions.  If love is in our heart,
every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle.  Because understanding
is the very foundation of love, words and actions that emerge from our love are always helpful.

  
Every morning, when we wake up, we have twenty-four
brand-new hours to live.  What a precious gift!  We have
the capacity to live in a way that these twenty-four hours
will bring peace, joy, and happiness to ourselves and others.

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in
everything we do and see.  The question is whether or not
we are in touch with it.  We don't have to travel far away
to enjoy the blue sky.  We don't have to leave our city or
even our neighborhood to enjoy the eyes of a beautiful child.
Even the air we breathe can be a source of joy.

We can smile, breathe, walk, and eat our meals in a way that
allows us to be in touch with the abundance of happiness that
is available.  We are very good at preparing to live, but not very
good at living.  We know how to sacrifice ten years for a diploma,
and we are willing to work very hard to get a job, a car, a house,
and so on.  But we have difficulty remembering that we are alive
in the present moment, the only moment there is for us to be alive.
Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace,
joy, and serenity.  We need only to be awake, alive in the present moment.

  
  

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only
when you aren't doing them.  Once you are standing in front of the sink
with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really
quite pleasant.  I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware
of the dish,  the water, and each movement of my hands.  I know that
if I hurry in order to eat dessert sooner, the time of washing dishes
will be unpleasant and not worth living.  That would be a pity,
for each minute, each second of life is a miracle.  The dishes themselves
and that fact that I am here washing them are miracles!

  

Our smile will bring happiness to us and to those around us.  Even if
we spend a lot of money on gifts for everyone in our family, nothing
we buy could give them as much happiness as the gift of our awareness,
our smile.  And this precious gift costs nothing.

    
There are so many things that can provide us with peace.  Next time you take
a shower or a bath, I suggest you hold your big toes in mindfulness.  We pay
attention to everything except our toes.  When we hold our toes in mindfulness
and smile at them, we will find that our bodies have been very kind to us.  We know
that any cell in our toes can turn cancerous, but our toes have been behaving
very well, avoiding that kind of problem.  Yet, we have not been nice to them
at all.  These kinds of practices can bring us happiness.
    

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Do not let a desire for wealth cause you to become so consumed by
your work that you prevent happiness for yourself and your family
in the present moment.  Happiness is foremost.
A look filled with understanding, an accepting smile, a loving word,
a meal shared in warmth and awareness are the things which create
happiness in the present moment.  By nourishing awareness in the
present moment, you can avoid causing suffering to yourself and those
around you.  The way you look at others, your smile, and your small
acts of caring can create happiness.  True happiness
does not depend on wealth or fame.
    

The Buddha explained that the source of true happiness is living in ease and
freedom, fully experiencing the wonders of life.  Happiness is being aware of
what is going on in the present moment, free from both clinging and aversion.
A happy person cherishes the wonders taking place in the present moment--
a cool breeze, the morning sky, a golden flower, a violet bamboo tree, the
smile of a child.  A happy person can appreciate these things without being
bound by them. . . . because one understands that a flower will wilt, one is not
sad when it does.  A happy person understands the nature of birth and death.
His or her happiness is true happiness, and this person does not
even worry about or fear his or her own death.

   




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