Sunday, September 14, 2014

Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh on Mindfulness and its essence for non-violent living

With this article we continue our efforts to bring you the life-saving choices offered by a non-violent view and commitment. This is, indeed, the essential work of a "universal heart". Thich Nhat Hanh is known to many of you as a profound spiritual teacher of "Engaged Buddhism" that extends its broad, generous vision to include all. I (Stephanie Dowrick) believe him to be a vital teacher for these times. Below, we include some words from Thich Nhat Hanh, first shared by Trevor Carolan, of Shambhala Sun, and then some more recent words from this beautiful peacemaker himself. We cannot urge you strongly enough also to find his books, and follow - literally - in his footsteps of mindful, peace-giving living.  Could anything matter more?

"Non-violence does not mean non-action. It means we act with love and compassion, living in such a way that a future will be possible for our children and their children."

A small man garbed in the drab brown robes of his Order, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke quietly, plaintively, in good English with occasional French inflections. His words and speech were restful, like a balm to the ears and conscience. Most everything about Thich Nhat Hanh was marked by calmness, a soft yin-ness that goes beyond simple stillness. When he spoke, it was with great mindfulness—a word, an action to which he is especially devoted.

Thich Nhat Hanh began with a story. "One day I was practising mindful movement in a wood with the people of our community," he said softly. "Everyday we practice this, walking slowly, mindfully, to enjoy every step; then we sit down.

"One day, I suddenly realized that the tree standing in front of me allowed my movement to be possible. I saw very clearly that I was able to breathe in because of its presence in front of me. It was standing there for me, and I was breathing in and out for the tree. I saw this connection very profoundly.

"In my tradition we speak of 'interbeing.' We cannot 'be' by ourself alone; we must be with everything else," he continued. "So, for example, we 'inter-are' with a tree: if it is not there, we are not there either.

"In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha advises us to consider four notions: the notions of self, of humanity, of living beings, and of life span. He also advises that the practice of removing these notions from mind is not difficult; anyone can do it."

And later:

"Intellect alone is not enough to guide us. To shape the future of the twenty-first century, we need something else. 

Without peace and happiness we cannot take care of ourselves; we cannot take care of other species and we cannot take care of the world.

"That is why it is important for us to live in such a way that every moment we are there deeply with our true presence, always alive and nourishing the insight of Interbeing.

"To me, mindfulness is very much like the Holy Spirit. All of us have the seed of the Holy Spirit in us; the capacity of healing, transforming and loving. Where there is suffering, mindfulness responds with the energy of compassion and understanding. Compassion is where the rivers of Christianity and Buddhism meet.

"In the Christian and Jewish traditions, we learn to live in the presence of God," he affirmed. "Our Buddhist equivalent is the practice of cultivating mindfulness, of living deeply every moment with the energy of the Holy Spirit. If we change our daily lives—the way we think, speak and act—we begin to change the world.

"This is what I discussed with Dr. Martin Luther King many years ago; that the practice of mindfulness is not just for hours of silent meditation, but for every moment of the day. Other teachers, like St. Basil, have said it is possible to pray as we work, and in Vietnam, we invented 'Engaged Buddhism' so we could continue our contemplative life in the midst of helping the victims of war. We worked to relieve the suffering while trying to maintain our own mindfulness.

The young Thich Nhat Hanh with Dr Martin Luther King

"So to conclude, the practice of looking deeply does not mean being inactive. We become very active with our understanding. Non-violence does not mean non-action. It means we act with love and compassion, living in such a way that a future will be possible for our children and their children. "

And now, more words from Thich Nhat Hanh

"Many years ago when I visited Italy, I met a Catholic priest who organized a
public talk for me. We had time to talk with each other, and I asked him this
question: 'My friend, what is the Holy Spirit to you?' And he said that the Holy
Spirit is the energy of God, sent by God to us. I thought that expression is
beautiful, and as a Buddhist practitioner I can accept it very easily.

 "The Holy Spirit is the kind of energy that helps you to be compassionate, to
be healed of your ill being. I think Catholics and Protestants would agree about
that: the Holy Spirit is the agent of healing, of transformation, of joy, of
being there.

"In Buddhist circles, we say very much the same thing to describe mindfulness.
To us, mindfulness is the energy that can help us to be there, in the here and
the now. Mindfulness helps us to be alive, and since we are there, we are
capable of touching life deeply, of understanding, of accepting, of loving. If
we continue to develop that energy of understanding and loving, then we will get
the healing and transformation that we need. That is why the Holy Spirit is
exactly what we call the energy of mindfulness.

"I can say that a Buddha or a bodhisattva is someone who is made of the energy
of mindfulness. Each of us has a seed of mindfulness within ourselves. If we
practice walking, sitting, smiling, breathing, eating, doing things every day
with mindfulness, we help that seed of mindfulness in us to grow, and it will
generate that energy of mindfulness that helps us to be alive, fully present in
the here and the now, helping us to understand, to accept, forgive, and to love,
to be healed. That is why it is correct to say that the energy of mindfulness is
the energy of a Buddha, of a bodhisattva.

 "We have that energy in ourselves, and if we know how to practice, we can
generate that energy from within. To me, the expressions 'Holy Spirit' and
'Mindfulness' both point to the same thing—something that is very concrete, that
is available us in the here and the now, and not just an idea, a notion."

We would be delighted to have your comments. We also invite you to support the voluntary work of the Book Club by choosing to purchase your books through our bookstore links, above right. They return a tiny but helpful % to us from any book orders made via this website. Going to "Search" you will also find other article on this website about Thich Nhat Hanh. Meanwhile, and all the while, we wish you peace in your hearts, and in our world.

Madeleine's flower, blooming in the sweet air of deep appreciation.

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