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‘We drink a cup of tea, but we do not know we are drinking a cup of tea. We sit with the person we love, but we don’t know that she is there. We walk, but we are not really walking. We are someplace else, thinking about the past or the future. The horse of our habit energy is carrying us along, and we are its captive. We need to stop our horse and reclaim our liberty. We need to shine the light of mindfulness on everything we do, so the darkness of forgetfulness will disappear.’

– Thich Nhat Hanh

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Image  from n9nlinear.tumblr.com

‘When a feeling of sadness, despair, or anger arises, we should stop what we are doing in order to go home to ourselves and take care. We can sit or lie down and begin to practice mindful breathing. The daily practice of breathing can be very helpful. A strong emotion is like a storm, and when a storm is about to arrive, we should prepare so we can cope with it. We should not dwell on the level of our head and our thinking but bring all our attention down to the level of our abdomen. We may practice mindful breathing and become aware of the rise and fall of our abdomen. Breathing in, rising; breathing out, falling. Rising, falling. We stop all the thinking because thinking can make the emotion stronger.

We should be aware that an emotion is only an emotion; it arrives, stays for some time, and then passes, just like a storm. We should not die just because of one emotion. We should remind young people about this. We are much more than our emotions, and we can take care of them whether we are feeling anger or despair. We don’t think anymore, we just focus 100 percent of our attention on the rise and fall of the abdomen and in that moment we are safe. Our emotion may last five or ten minutes but if we continue to breathe in and out, we will be safe, because mindfulness is protecting us. Mindfulness is the Buddha in us, helping us practice belly breathing…

We are like a tree during a storm. If you look at the top of a tree, you may have the impression that the tree can be blown away or that the branches can be broken anytime, but if you direct your attention to the trunk of the tree and become aware that the tree is deeply rooted in the soil, then you see the solidity of the tree. The mind is the top of the tree, so don’t dwell there; bring your mind down to the trunk. The abdomen is the trunk, so stick to it, practice mindful, deep breathing, and after that the emotion will pass. When you have survived one emotion, you know that next time a strong emotion arises, you will survive again. But don’t wait for the next strong emotion to practice. It is important that you practice deep, mindful breathing every day.’

– Thich Nhat Hanh

Matters of the Heart

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“Our mind is filled with noise, and that’s why we can’t hear the call of life, the call of love. Our heart is calling us, but we don’t hear. We don’t have the time to listen to our heart. Mindfulness is the practice that quiets the noise inside us.”

-Thich Nhat Hahn

For Bentley. You left paw prints on my heart.

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‘This body is not me; I am not caught in this body, I am life without boundaries, I have never been born and I have never died. Over there the wide ocean and the sky with many galaxies All manifests from the basis of consciousness. Since beginningless time I have always been free. Birth and death are only a door through which we go in and out. Birth and death are only a game of hide-and-seek. So smile to me and take my hand and wave good-bye. Tomorrow we shall meet again or even before. We shall always be meeting again at the true source, Always meeting again on the myriad paths of life.’

Thich Nhat Hanh, No Death, No Fear

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The Eyes of the Elephant Queen: Thich Nhat Hanh

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The following extract is taken from The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology (2008) by Thich Nhat Hanh.  

Every step we make has the power to heal and transform. Not only can we heal ourselves by our steps, but we can help the Earth and the environment.

The Mahaparinirvana Sutra describes the life of the Buddha during his last year—the places he travelled, the people he met, and the teachings he gave. In the sutra, it is said that the Buddha had just spent the Rains Retreat near the city of Vaishali, north of the Ganges River, and that he then decided to travel north in order to return to the town of his birth, Kapilavastu. Although he knew this was the last time he would ever see the beautiful city of Vaishali, he did not lift his hand to wave good-bye. Instead, we find this sentence in the sutra:

The Buddha, on his way, turned around, and with the eyes  of an elephant queen, he surveyed the city of Vaishali for  the last time and said, “Ananda, don’t you think that Vaishali  is beautiful?”  After having surveyed the city of Vaishali with a gentle gaze that took in all of its beauty, the Buddha turned back to the north and began to walk.

When the Buddha looks, he does so with the eyes of the elephant queen in order to look deeply and recognize what is there. We, too, have the eyes of the Buddha and of the elephant queen. If you see deeply into the beauty of nature around you, you’re looking with the eyes of the Buddha. It is extremely kind of you to look on behalf of the Buddha, to contemplate the world for the Buddha, because you are his continuation.

So when you practice sitting meditation, sit for the Buddha. The Buddha in you is sitting upright, the Buddha in you is enjoying every in-breath and out-breath, the Buddha in you is contemplating the world with mindfulness and getting in touch with the beauty of nature.

If you know how to contemplate the beauty of nature with the eyes of the Buddha, you will not say that your life has no meaning. You can listen with the ears of the Buddha, you can contemplate the world with the eyes of the Buddha, and thanks to that, your children and their children will also be able to look and contemplate like the Buddha. You transmit the Buddha to your children and to their children, in the way you walk, sit, look, and listen, even in the way you eat. This is something that you can do now. Starting today, you can already be a real and true continuation of the Buddha, our spiritual ancestor.

Every minute of our daily lives is an opportunity for us to walk like a buddha, to listen with compassion like a buddha, to sit as peacefully and as happily as a buddha, and to look deeply and enjoy the beauties of the world like a buddha. In doing so, we are helping our father, our mother, our ancestors, and our children in us to evolve, and we are also helping our teacher to fulfil his vow, his aspiration. In this way, our life will truly become a concrete message of love. Living our lives in this way, we can help prevent global warming from harming our planet.

When we look deeply into ourselves, we can identify elements of the Kingdom of God that are available in the here and now. To me the Kingdom of God or the Pure Land of the Buddha is not a vague idea; it is a reality. That pine tree standing on the mountain is so beautiful, solid, and green. To me the pine tree belongs to the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha. Your beautiful child with her fresh smile belongs to the Kingdom of God, and you also belong to the Kingdom of God. If we’re capable of recognizing the flowing river, the blue sky, the blossoming tree, the singing bird, the majestic mountains, the countless animals, the sunlight, the fog, the snow, the innumerable wonders of life as miracles that belong to the Kingdom of God, we’ll do our best to preserve them and not allow them to be destroyed. If we recognize that this planet belongs to the Kingdom of God, we will cherish and protect it so we can enjoy it for a long time, and so that our children and their children will have a chance to enjoy it.

The Buddha teaches us about the cycle of samsara, a cycle in which the same suffering repeats itself. If we don’t practice, we won’t be able to step out of it. With mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful dwelling in the present moment, we don’t need to consume and run after objects of craving in order to be happy. In our monastery at Plum Village, nobody has their own bank account, no one has a private car or a private cell phone, and the monks, nuns, and laypeople who live here don’t receive any salary. And yet there’s joy and happiness, there’s brotherhood and sisterhood. We don’t need the “American dream” anymore. Breathing in, we get in touch with the stars, the moon, the clouds, the mountain, the river. When we’re inhabited by the energy of mindfulness and concentration, every step we take leads us into the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha.

When we look deeply into a flower, we see the elements that have come together to allow it to manifest. We can see clouds manifesting as rain. Without the rain, nothing can grow. When I touch the flower, I’m touching the cloud and touching the rain. This is not just poetry, it’s reality. If we take the clouds and the rain out of the flower, the flower will not be there. With the eye of the Buddha, we are able to see the clouds and the rain in the flower. We can touch the sun without burning our fingers. Without the sun nothing can grow, so it’s not possible to take the sun out of the flower. The flower cannot be as a separate entity; it has to inter-be with the light, with the clouds, with the rain. The word “interbeing” is closer to reality that the word “being.” Being really means interbeing.

The same is true for me, for you, and for the Buddha. The Buddha has to inter-be with everything. Interbeing and nonself are the objects of our contemplation. We have to train ourselves so that in our daily lives we can touch the truth of interbeing and nonself in every moment. You are in touch with the clouds, with the rain, with the children, with the trees, with the rivers, with your planet, and that contact reveals the true nature of reality, the nature of impermanence, nonself, interdependence, and interbeing.

We have destroyed our Mother Earth in the same way bacteria or a virus can destroy a human body. Mother Earth is also a body. Of course, there are bacteria that are beneficial to the human body, that protect the body and help generate enzymes that we need. Similarly, if the human species wakes up and knows how to live with responsibility, compassion, and loving kindness, the human species can be a living organism with the capacity to protect the body of Mother Earth. We have to see that we inter-are with our Mother Earth, that we live with her and die with her.

It’s wonderful to realize that we are all in a family, we are all children of the Earth. We should take care of each other and we should take care of our environment, and this is possible with the practice of being together as a large family. A positive change in individual awareness will bring about a positive change in the collective awareness. Protecting the planet must be given the first priority. I hope you will take the time to sit down with each other, have tea with your friends and your family, and discuss these things. Invite Bodhisattva Earth Holder to sit and collaborate with you. Then make your decision and act to save our beautiful planet. Changing your way of living will bring you a lot of joy right away and, with your first mindful breath, healing will begin.

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Thích Nhất Hạnh: Cultivating Compassion

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Drawing courtesy of Michael Volpicelli from Masterwork Artistry

“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. Blaming has no positive effect at all, nor does trying to persuade using reason and argument.

That is my experience.

No blame, no reasoning, no argument, just understanding. If you understand, and you show that you understand, you can love, and the situation will change.”

Thích Nhất Hạnh- Peace is Every Step 

Compassion is a Verb 

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Compassion isn’t something you have, it’s something you do. It’s a practice that enables you to shift your perceptive to see and experience life in a very different way than most of us are accustomed to. If you are able to view life from a compassionate place within, then you detach from your ego and its need to always be right. The ego dissolves and you work from your heart instead.  In doing this, you become more emotionally mature and you are free from yourself and your need to be validated. This in turn helps free you from suffering.

Peace and Harmony: 20 Inspiring Quotes From Thich Nhat Hanh

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In my quest to develop a greater understanding of the concept of mindfulness, I stumbled upon Thich Nhat Hanh and his teachings. A Vietnamese monk and a distinguished Zen master, Hanh is the author of many great books including ‘Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life’ and ‘The Miracle of Mindfulness’. He is also a poet and a peace activist. In 1967, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. He is revered for his powerful teachings on mindfulness and how it can be used as a tool to create personal inner peace and peace on earth.

But you don’t have to be a Buddhist to appreciate Hanh’s teachings. I use his quotes for daily inspiration. They serve as a reminder on how to cultivate a healthier mind, a more mindful life and a happier existence. While often quite profound, his ideas are in essence simple and accessible to anyone. ‘Perfecting’ his concepts however, will be the challenge of my lifetime.

Here is a compilation of some of my favourite Thich Nhat Hanh quotes. What are yours?

 “Breath is the bridge which connects life to consciousness, which unites your body to your thoughts. Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take hold of your mind again.”

 “For things to reveal themselves to us, we need to be ready to abandon our views about them.”

  “It is not impermanence that makes us suffer. What makes us suffer is wanting things to be permanent when they are not.”

 “We have a lamp inside us. The oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, and our peaceful smile. Our practice is to light up the lamp.”

  “To meditate with mindful breathing is to bring body and mind back to the present moment so that you do not miss your appointment with life.”

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

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 “When our heart is filled with loving-kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, its capacity becomes boundless, immeasurable. With such a vast heart, immense as the wide-open sea, suffering cannot overpower us, just as a small handful of salt cannot make a great river salty.”

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

 “We are here to awaken from our illusion of separateness.”

 “Do not fight against pain; do not fight against irritation or jealousy. Embrace them with great tenderness, as though you were embracing a little baby. Your anger is yourself, and you should not be violent toward it. The same thing goes for all your emotions.”

 “Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.”

 “Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment.”

 “There are people moving around us who are consumed by their past, terrified of their future, and stuck in their anger and jealousy. They are not alive; they are just walking corpses.”

  “You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”

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 “To love our enemy is impossible. The moment we understand our enemy, we feel compassion towards him/her, and he/she is no longer our enemy.”

 “Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.”

 “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

 “The secret to happiness is happiness itself. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, the wonder of our breathing. We don’t have to travel anywhere else to do so. We can be in touch with these things right now.”

 “Breathing in, I calm body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.”

 “Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

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~ Thich Nhat Hanh