Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, poet, gardener and tireless advocate of peace, offers us lessons in everyday wisdom. You may enjoy Thich Nhat Hanh’s first book in English, The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975), his classic Peace is Every Step, or his Google talk.

The Miracle of Mindfulness helped put the word “Mindfulness” in the English dictionary; Peace is Every Step is an inspirational book—reading a page or two before you sit down to meditate will energize your practice. His Google talk may leave you wishing for more.
The Sun, My Heart is my personal favourite. “Take it with you on the bus or the subway,” Thich Nhat Hanh recommends in the Introduction, “You may like to read a few lines, then close it and put it back in your pocket, and read another few lines sometime later.”

Some Thich Nhat Hanh quotes you might enjoy:

“When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over.  He does not need punishment; he needs help. That’s the message he is sending.”

“Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”

“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”

Call Me By My True Names is Thich Nhat Hanh’s book of poetry. In that book, a different face of his personality emerges: in his poems, he is no longer speaking in a didactic voice, but with the voice of birds and flowers; with the voice of inspiration.
Here is one of his poems:

Peace is every step. The shining red sun is my heart.
Each flower smiles with me.
How green, how fresh all that grows.
How cool the wind blows.
Peace is every step. It turns the endless path to joy.

A few more quotes:

“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”

“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering.  Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.”

“When you plant lettuce, if it does not grow well, you don’t blame the lettuce. You look for reasons it is not doing well. It may need fertilizer, or more water, or less sun. You never blame the lettuce. Yet if we have problems with our friends or family, we blame the other person. But if we know how to take care of them, they will grow well, like the lettuce.

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Thich Nhat Hanh also shows us ways to follow Buddha’s teachings that are appropriate for our day. “You have the Buddha in you. It is your capacity to wake up, to understand, to love. The Buddha is not on a cloud. The Buddha is awakening, understanding, and compassion, and you have buddhanature. Practice helps buddhanature grow (from an interview with Andrea Miller of Lion’s Roar magazine).

For me, that makes it easier to listen to Buddha’s voice—we do not need earphones to hear it, as the voice comes from inside us. It has been saying, “Don’t be intoxicated with your own self. See also with the thousands of eyes, and listen with the thousands of ears of other beings. You need some guidelines in order to live peacefully with others and with nature.”

These guidelines are known as the five precepts:
Do not kill; best, do no harm.
Do not take what is not given.
In intimate relations, love the whole woman, love the whole man.
Speak kindly, and without deception.
Stay away from alcohol; it clouds the mind.
(My interpretation)

Do not think of the five precepts as only moral rules.
For one thing, they are voluntary: it is not a ‘Buddha on a cloud’ that dictates them, it is our own values that inspire them.
For another, they drive our sense of wellbeing and happiness as they are essential to good relationships, to a harmonious family, and to a congenial workplace. This earns them a place in mindfulness practice.

In practicing the first precept, do not get stuck on the pros and cons of swatting a mosquito. Concentrate rather on important matters such wars, the clear-cutting of forests, and the factory farming of animals.

According to the David Suzuki Foundation, livestock production occupies 30 per cent of the planet’s land surface and is responsible for 18 per cent of greenhouse gases such as methane and nitrous oxide. It is also inefficient as much of the food an animal eats goes into running its own metabolism. There are ecological reasons for eating less meat.

Here is an interesting detail: “Analyzing data from 33 independent studies with over 19,000 people in aggregate, we found a moderate gender difference in moral identity,’ reports the Greater Good Magazine. ‘Women identified with moral traits more strongly than did men. These findings are consistent with a great deal of prior research that has found women to have higher, more steadfast ethical standards and to act more ethically than men in a variety of behavioral realms.”

Here’s a scenario: You are selling your old car. The car is missing a fuel cap, and it also has a transmission problem that shows up every once in a while. Would you reveal these to a potential buyer?

This and other similar questions were put to the participants in the studies. Compared to men, women reported a greater commitment to negotiating in good faith and in a completely honest and trustworthy manner with the buyer.

I find these findings interesting as some religions have seen women in an unfavourable light compared to men…