With the sangha a few years ago, I read many of the Buddhist sutras as well as Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentaries. It’s good to plunge in and read these classic texts in community. However, the Lotus Sutra was a bit too much for us and we didn’t finish. Perhaps I will resume it next year.
Nhat Hanh’s book The Path of Emancipation (Parallax Press, 2000) is based on talks and answers to questions from a 21-day retreat. While he addresses many themes in depth, what I find most useful are his short teachings, one-liners even, which, if I summon them at the right moment, are conducive to happiness, peace, and appreciation.
Here is a sample…
“The first element of the practice is to stop struggling.”
“Taking refuge in the Sangha is not a declaration of faith. It is a practice.”
“Everywhere is Plum Village.”
“The flower and the sunshine inter-are.” Continue reading
On Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2016.
Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is a survivor. Narrowly missing death in South Vietnam on more than one occasion during the 1960s, he had many students killed in the bloodshed during the American War. He and other Tiep Hien Buddhists could not return to their country for fear of persecution, or worse. Uprooted, he ended up living in France, where he and friends slowly began to rebuild their lives.
At Home in the World, published in 2016, offers snapshots of nine full decades of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life. It bears keeping in mind that his country was living under a French colonial occupation regime, followed by U.S. intervention and invasion. He and his friends knew what it was like to live under the U.S. bombs.
Nhat Hanh admits that in his youth he was a “revolutionary monk.” He and his brothers wanted to rejuvenate Vietnamese Buddhism, and they had to reckon with a conservative religious establishment. Their motivation was simple: “Taking action against injustice is not enough. We believed action must embody mindfulness. If there is no awareness, action will only cause more harm. Our group believed it must be possible to combine meditation and action to create mindful action.”  Continue reading
Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help.
I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression–face, voice–communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.
Our world is something like a small boat. Compared with the cosmos, our planet is a very small boat. We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the sea. You know that we have more than 5o,ooo nuclear weapons. Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person, that each of you is that person.
–from Being Peace, talks to peace workers and meditation students
At a recent gathering of our Sangha, I shared the following excerpt from Pema Chödrön’s book, Go to the Places That Scare You…
The second of the three lords of materialism is the lord of speech. This lord represents how we use beliefs of all kinds to give us the illusion of certainty about the nature of reality. Any of the “isms”–political, ecological, philosophical, or spiritual–can be misused in this way. “Political correctness” is a good example of how this lord operates. When we believe in the correctness of our view, we can be very narrow-minded and prejudiced about the faults of other people.
For example, how do I react when my beliefs about the government are challenged? How about when others don’t agree with how I feel about homosexuality or women’s rights or the environment? What happens when my ideas about smoking or drinking are challenged? What do I do when my religious convictions are not shared?
New practitioners often embrace meditation or the Buddhist teachings with passionate enthusiasm. We feel part of a new group, glad to have a new perspective. But do we then judge people who see the world differently? Do we close our minds to others because they don’t believe in karma? Continue reading
In such circumstances priests and nuns cannot go on preaching morality; the war has destroyed not only human lives but all human values as well. It undermines all government structures and systems of society, destroys the very foundations of democracy, freedom, and all human systems of values. Its shame is not just the shame of the Vietnamese, but of the whole world. The whole family of mankind will share the guilt if they do not help to stop this war.
Breathing in, all this toxicity
Breathing out, compassion is available
Breathing in, noticing this state of being stunned
Breathing out, realizing this state is impermanent
Breathing in my friends’ despair
Breathing out: May their vigor return
Surely he had been been tested in hell
The Tibetan offered a song with these lines:
Lack of mindfulness will allow the negative forces to overcome you
Without mindfulness and presence of mind, nothing can be accomplished
Breathing in, I remember Nhat Chi Mai
Breathing out, I regain my balance
We are so fortunate to be alive at this time, so many teachers to learn with and from.
Here’s one: Dipa Ma who was born in East Bengal, lived for years in Burma, and spent her last years in Calcutta. Several American teachers were greatly inspired and influenced by her, such as Sharon Salzberg, Joseph Goldstein, and Jack Kornfield.
A book worth meditating on is by Amy Schmidt, entitled, Dipa Ma: The Life and Teachings of a Buddhist Master; here are a couple short anecdotes I’ve adapted from her students, which I think you’ll appreciate!
“Dipa Ma and I were on an airplane
Coming to the States from India.
It was very, very turbulent,
And at one point, the plane hit an air pocket and dropped.
Drinks and other objects flew up to the ceiling
As the plane dropped downward before hitting stable air again.
I kind of screamed.
Dipa Ma was sitting across the aisle from me
And she reached out and took my hand
And she just held it.
Then she whispered,
‘The daughters of the Buddha are fearless.’” Continue reading
I wrote this 12 years ago, and just came across it….
One of the recommendations I have given some of my students who want to move in the direction of a deeper commitment to social justice after university studies is: Find and nurture a community. Without other people on a similar path to encourage and challenge you, it will be easier to forget the suffering of our city and our world, and it can be harder to resist the consumerism and complacency of middle-class American life.
Recently, I finished a small book by Thich Nhat Hanh that elaborates on this advice I have shared with recent graduates of Saint Louis University. Nhat Hanh, who was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King back in the mid-1960s for the Nobel Peace Prize, was an important influence on both Trappist monk Thomas Merton and Jesuit peacemaker Daniel Berrigan. He has lived in exile from his native Vietnam since 1966, and has inspired a large following in Western countries since the 1980s. In addition to being a Zen Master, poet, and activist, he is a prolific author. The book I want to bring to your attention is entitled Joyfully Together: The Art of Building a Harmonious Community (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 2003). Continue reading
Innumerable spheres enter one sphere.
One sphere enters innumerable spheres.
Someone asked Yudhishthira, “What is the most wondrous thing in the entire world?” He said, “The most wondrous thing in the entire world is that all around us people can be dying and we don’t believe it can happen to us.”
Sharon Salzburg, Loving-Kindness: The Revolutionary Art of Happiness
Yammamoto Gempo Roshi used to say, “There is no murder worse than the killing of time.” He devoted an entire teisho to this topic, reading aloud from the crime section of the newspaper. So-and-so knifed his wife and children. So-and-so ran amok at his workplace. After each item, he would repeat his theme, “There is no murder worse than the killing of time.” Indeed. Let’s make that our theme as well.
–Robert Aitken, Miniatures of a Zen Master
My friend Sherri put together this tribute to Thich Nhat Hanh’s community in Mississippi, Magnolia Grove. I hope you enjoy it in mindfulness!