Copyright © 2001 Thich Nhat Hanh.
All rights reserved.
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"To dwell happily in the present moment," was a common phrase of the Buddha. Often he advised his disciples, "Do not lose yourselves in the past, do not run after the future. The past no longer is, the future has not yet come." They does his utmost to encourage his students to be in the present moment. Once, when organizing a retreat in Plum Village, we had some problems of an organizational nature which seemed to me to be of paramount importance at that time. I saw Thây in the garden and related the problem to him. Rather than tell me directly what I should do he led me to a small magnolia tree and asked whether I had enjoyed the fragrance of this flower yet. There are so many wonderful things in our world to enjoy, and yet we concentrate on what is not going well.
Sometimes Thây walks through the kitchen where his disciples are preparing a meal, and he asks someone, "What are you doing, my child?" Thây can see very well that his disciple is washing lettuce or cutting green beans. The aim of the question is not to enlighten Thây as to what someone is doing but to awaken the disciple to the present moment. The answer might be: "Thank you for bringing me back to my true self," or a smile of recognition that we are not in the present moment.
Thây has brought to us in the West some precious jewels from the Asian practice of Buddhism. But he has also reminded us that we have many jewels in our own spiritual traditions which we may have forgotten and which we could revive. Thây records how when he heard the sound of the Angelus bell in Czechoslovakia it brought to him the soul of ancient Europe. He was reminded how in Vietnam it used to be the custom to stop when the temple bell was heard in the village. No doubt the villagers would use those moments to recollect the Buddha. Thây always teaches his students to stop and to breathe when they hear the sound of the bell in the meditation center. No matter what we are doing we use this opportunity to stop and come back to our true self. Since the sound of bells is not available to many of us in our daily life, Thây has suggested we substitute the sound of the telephone ringing. Thây has suggested that we simply breathe when we hear the sound of the bell or the telephone, using the opportunity to come back to our true self. Thus the practice becomes open to everyone, whether Buddhist, Jewish, or Christian.
Thây has often taught that our mind is like a television set with many channels. In the present moment we can choose the channel that we want to watch. Buddha has taught that there are fifty-one mental formations including love, joy, hate, jealousy, feelings, and perceptions, and it is up to us to choose which program we want to watch. For many of us, however, a program will appear on the screen of our mental television which is not of our choosing. This is because we have not yet trained in the art of mindfulness, which is the art of recognizing which mental formation is arising and of taking good care of that mental formation as it arises and for as long as it is present. The more mindful we are the more we can choose which mental formations appear on the screen of our mind.
Thây does not mean to tell us that we should not suffer or that suffering is wrong. Thây has suffered much and would not advise us not to suffer. It is our suffering that makes us compassionate. It is our suffering that acts as compost to bring about the flowers and fruits of understanding and compassion. Thây tells his disciples, "You have every right to suffer, but you do not have the right not to practice when you suffer." If we do not practice mindful breathing and walking when we suffer, we shall drown in our suffering and it will not be converted into that compost on which the flowers of understanding can grow.
Sister Annabel Laity
|Through the deserted gate
full of ripened leaves,
I follow the small path.
Earth is as red as a child's lips.
I am aware
of each step
Call Me by My True Names
LIFE IS A MIRACLE
In Vietnam when I was a young monk, each village temple had a big bell, like those in Christian churches in Europe and America. Whenever the bell was invited to sound, all the villagers would stop what they were doing and pause for a few moments to breathe in and out in mindfulness. At Plum Village, the community where I live in France, we do the same. Every time we hear the bell, we go back to ourselves and enjoy our breathing. When we breathe in, we say, silently, "Listen, listen," and when we breathe out, we say, "This wonderful sound brings me back to my true home."
Our true home is in the present moment. To live in the present moment is a miracle. The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green Earth in the present moment, to appreciate the peace and beauty that are available now. Peace is all around us in the world and in nature and within us in our bodies and our spirits. Once we learn to touch this peace, we will be healed and transformed. It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice. We need only to find ways to bring our body and mind back to the present moment so we can touch what is refreshing, healing, and wondrous.
Last year in New York City, I rode in a taxi, and I saw that the driver was not at all happy. He was not in the present moment. There was no peace or joy in him, no capacity of being alive while doing the work of driving, and he expressed it in the way he drove. Many of us do the same. We rush about, but we are not at one with what we are doing; we are not at peace. Our body is here, but our mind is somewhere else in the past or the future, possessed by anger, frustration, hopes, or dreams. We are not really alive; we are like ghosts. If our beautiful child were to come up to us and offer us a smile, we would miss him completely, and he would miss us. What a pity!
In The Stranger, Albert Camus described a man who was going to be executed in a few days. Sitting alone in his cell, he noticed a small patch of blue sky through the skylight, and suddenly he felt deeply in touch with life, deeply in the present moment. He vowed to live his remaining days in mindfulness, in full appreciation of each moment, and he did so for several days. Then, just three hours before the time of his execution, a priest came into the cell to receive a confession and administer the last rites. But the man wanted only to be alone. He tried many ways to get the priest to leave, and when he finally succeeded, he said to himself that the priest lived like a dead man. "Il vit comme un mort." He saw that the one who was trying to save him was less alive than he, the one who was about to be executed.
Many of us, although alive, are not really alive, because we are not able to touch life in the present moment. We are like dead people, as Camus says. I would like to share with you a few simple exercises we can practice that can help us reunify our body and mind and get back in touch with life in the present moment. The first is called conscious breathing, and human beings like us have been practicing this for more than three thousand years. As we breathe in, we know we are breathing in, and as we breathe out, we know we are breathing out. As we do this, we observe many elements of happiness inside us and around us. We can really enjoy touching our breathing and our being alive.
Life is found only in the present moment. I think we should have a holiday to celebrate this fact. We have holidays for so many important occasions Christmas, New Year's, Mother's Day, Father's Day, even Earth Day why not celebrate a day when we can live happily in the present moment all day long? I would like to declare today "Today's Day," a day dedicated to touching the Earth, touching the sky, touching the trees, and touching the peace that is available in the present moment.
The best way to touch is with mindfulness. You know, it is possible to touch without mindfulness. When you wash your face in the morning, you might touch your eyes without being aware that you are touching them. You might be thinking about other things. But if you wash your face in mindfulness, aware that you have eyes that can see, that the water comes from distant sources to make washing your face possible, your washing will be much deeper. As you touch your eyes, you can say, "Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes."
Our eyes are refreshing, healing, and peaceful elements that are available to us. We pay so much attention to what is wrong, why not notice what is wonderful and refreshing? We rarely take the time to appreciate our eyes. When we touch our eyes with our hands and our mindfulness, we notice that our eyes are precious jewels that are fundamental for our happiness. Those who have lost their sight feel that if they could see as well as we do, they would be in paradise. We only need to open our eyes, and we see every kind of form and color the blue sky, the beautiful hills, the trees, the clouds, the rivers, the children, the butterflies. Just sitting here and enjoying these colors and shapes, we can be extremely happy. Seeing is a miracle, a condition for our happiness, yet most of the time we take it for granted. We don't act as if we are in paradise. When we practice breathing in and becoming aware of our eyes, breathing out and smiling to our eyes, we touch real peace and joy.
We can do the same with our heart. "Breathing in, I am aware of my heart. Breathing out, I smile to my heart." If we practice this a few times, we will realize that our heart has been working hard, day and night, for many years to keep us alive. Our heart pumps thousands of gallons of blood every day, without stopping. Even while we sleep, our heart continues its work to bring us peace and well-being. Our heart is an element of peace and joy, but we don't touch or appreciate it. We only touch the things that make us suffer, and because of that, we give our heart a hard time by our worries and strong emotions, and by what we eat and drink. Doing so, we undermine our own peace and joy. When we practice breathing in and becoming aware of our heart, breathing out and smiling to our heart, we become enlightened. We see our heart so clearly. When we smile to our heart, we are massaging it with our compassion. When we know what to eat and what not to eat, what to drink and what not to drink, what worries and despair we should avoid, we will keep our heart safe.
When we have a toothache, we know that not having a toothache is a wonderful thing. "Breathing in, I am aware of my non-toothache. Breathing out, I smile at my non-toothache." We can touch our non-toothache with our mindfulness, and even with our hands. When we have asthma and can hardly breathe, we realize that breathing freely is a wonderful thing. Even when we have just a stuffed nose, we know that breathing freely is a wonderful thing.
Every day we touch what is wrong, and, as a result, we are becoming less and less healthy. That is why we have to learn to practice touching what is not wronginside us and around us. When we get in touch with our eyes, our heart, our liver, our breathing, and our non-toothache and really enjoy them, we see that the conditions for peace and happiness are already present. When we walk mindfully and touch the Earth with our feet, when we drink tea with friends and touch the tea and our friendship, we get healed, and we can bring this healing to society. The more we have suffered in the past, the stronger a healer we can become. We can learn to transform our suffering into the kind of insight that will help our friends and society.
We do not have to die to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. In fact we have to be fully alive. When we breathe in and out and hug a beautiful tree, we are in Heaven. When we take one conscious breath, aware of our eyes, our heart, our liver, and our non-toothache, we are transported to Paradise right away. Peace is available. We only have to touch it. When we are truly alive, we can see that the tree is part of Heaven, and we are also part of Heaven. The whole universe is conspiring to reveal this to us, but we are so out of touch that we invest our resources in cutting down the trees. If we want to enter Heaven on Earth, we need only one conscious step and one conscious breath. When we touch peace, everything becomes real. We become ourselves, fully alive in the present moment, and the tree, our child, and everything else reveal themselves to us in their full splendor.
"The miracle is to walk on Earth." This statement was made by Zen Master Lin Chi. The miracle is not to walk on thin air or water, but to walk on Earth. The Earth is so beautiful. We are beautiful also. We can allow ourselves to walk mindfully, touching the Earth, our wonderful mother, with each step. We don't need to wish our friends, "Peace be with you." Peace is already with them. We only need to help them cultivate the habit of touching peace in each moment. Touching Peace
SUFFERING IS NOT ENOUGH
Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.
If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. 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. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.
We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don't know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time we turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not used to being with ourselves, and we act as if we don't like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.
Meditation is to be aware of what is going onin our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day forty thousand children die of hunger. The superpowers now have more than fifty thousand nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice meditation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.
Recently I was sitting with a group of children, and a boy named Tim was smiling beautifully. I said, "Tim, you have a very beautiful smile," and he said, "Thank you." I told him, "You don't have to thank me, I have to thank you. Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful. Instead of saying, `Thank you,' you should say `You're welcome.'"
If a child smiles, if an adult smiles, that is very important. 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. When I see Tim smiling, I am so happy. If he is aware that he is making other people happy, he can say, "You are welcome."
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From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth. This is not a retreat, it is a treat. During walking meditation, during kitchen and garden work, during sitting meditation, all day long, we can practice smiling. At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about why. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we have sovereignty over ourselves, that we are not drowned into forgetfulness. This kind of smile can be seen on the faces of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.
I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.
|Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
"Breathing in, I calm my body." This line is like drinking a glass of ice water you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.
"Breathing out, I smile." You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why Buddhas and bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.
"Dwelling in the present moment." While I sit here, I don't think of somewhere else, of the future or the past. I sit here, and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend to be alive in the future, not now. We say, "Wait until I finish school and get my Ph.D. degree, and then I will be really alive." When we have it, and it's not easy to get, we say to ourselves, "I have to wait until I have a job in order to be really alive." And then after the job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future, the distant future, we don't know when. Now is not the moment to be alive. We may never be alive at all in our entire life. Therefore, the technique, if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive is the present moment.
"I know this is a wonderful moment." This is the only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present moment is our most important task. "Calming, Smiling, Present moment Wonderful moment." Being Peace
SUNSHINE AND GREEN LEAVES
Today three children, two girls and a little boy, came from the village to play with Thanh Thuy. The four of them ran off to play on the hillside behind our house and were gone for about an hour when they returned to ask for something to drink. I took the last bottle of homemade apple juice and gave them each a full glass, serving Thuy last. Since her juice was from the bottom of the bottle, it had some pulp in it. When she noticed the particles, she pouted and refused to drink it. So the four children went back to their games on the hillside, and Thuy had not drunk anything.
Half an hour later, while I was meditating in my room, I heard her calling. Thuy wanted to get herself a glass of cold water, but even on tiptoes she couldn't reach the faucet. I reminded her of the glass of juice on the table and asked her to drink that first. Turning to look at it, she saw that the pulp had settled and the juice looked clear and delicious. She went to the table and took the glass with both hands. After drinking half of it, she put it down and asked, "Is this a different glass, Uncle Monk?" (a common term for Vietnamese children to use when addressing an older monk).
"No," I answered. "It's the same one as before. It sat quietly for a bit, and now it's clear and delicious." Thuy looked at the glass again. "It really is good. Was it meditating like you, Uncle Monk?" I laughed and patted her head. "Let's say that I imitate the apple juice when I sit; that is closer to the truth."
Every night at Thuy's bedtime, I sit in meditation. I let her sleep in the same room, near where I am sitting. We have agreed that while I am sitting, she will go to bed without talking. In that peaceful atmosphere, rest comes easily to her, and she is usually asleep within five or ten minutes. When I finish sitting, I cover her with a blanket.
Thanh Thuy is the child of "boat people." She is not yet four and a half years old. She crossed the seas with her father and arrived in Malaysia in April of last year. Her mother stayed in Vietnam. When her father arrived here in France, he left Thuy with us for several months while he went to Paris to look for a job.
Every night Thanh Thuy sees me sit. I told her that I am "sitting in meditation" without explaining what it means or why I do it. Every night when she sees me wash my face, put on my robes, and light a stick of incense to make the room fragrant, she knows that soon I will begin "meditating." She also knows that it is time for her to brush her teeth, change into pajamas, and go quietly to bed. I have never had to remind her.
Without a doubt, Thuy thought that the apple juice was sitting for a while to clear itself, just like her Uncle Monk. "Was it meditating like you?" I think that Thanh Thuy, not yet four and a half, understands the meaning of meditation without any explanation. The apple juice became clear after resting awhile. In the same way, if we rest in meditation awhile, we too become clear. This clarity refreshes us and gives us strength and serenity. As we feel ourselves refreshed, our surroundings also become refreshed. Children like to be near us, not just to get candy and hear stories. They like to be near us because they can feel this "freshness."
We can be better than a glass of apple juice. Not only can we settle peacefully while sitting still, we can also do it while standing, lying down, walking, or even working. What prevents you from allowing the sun of awareness to shine while you take a walk, make a cup of tea or coffee, or wash your clothes? When I first became a student at the Tu Hieu Monastery, I learned to maintain awareness during all activities weeding the garden, raking leaves around the pond, washing dishes in the kitchen. I practiced mindfulness in the way taught by Zen Master Doc The in his little manual, Essentials of the Practice to Apply Each Day. According to this small book, we must be fully aware of all our actions. While waking up we know that we are waking up; while buttoning our jacket, we know that we are buttoning our jacket; while washing our hands we know that we are washing our hands. Master Doc The composed short poems for us to recite while washing our hands or buttoning our jackets to help us remain firmly rooted in awareness. Here is the poem he wrote for us to recite while buttoning our jackets:
|While buttoning my jacke
I hope that all beings
Will keep their hearts warm
And not lose themselves
With the aid of verses like this, it is easy for the sun of awareness to shine its light on our physical actions as well as our thoughts and feelings. When I was a child I often heard my mother tell my elder sister that a girl must pay attention to her every movement. I was glad I was a boy who didn't have to pay attention like that. It was only when I began to practice meditation that I realized that I had to pay a thousand times more attention to my movements than my sister had. And not only to my movements, but also to my thoughts and feelings! My mother, like all mothers, knew that a girl who pays attention to her movements becomes more beautiful. Her movements are not jerky, rushed, or clumsy; they become gentle, calm, and graceful. Without knowing it, my mother taught my sister meditation.
In the same way, someone who practices awareness becomes beautiful to see. A Zen master, observing a student ringing the bell, sweeping the yard, setting the table, can guess how ripe that student is, can measure the student's "level of meditation" in his or her manners and personality. This "level" is the fruit of the practice of awareness, and the master calls it "the flavor of Zen."
The secret of meditation is to be conscious of each second of your existence and to keep the sun of awareness continually shining in both the physical and psychological realms, in all circumstances, on each thing that arises. While drinking a cup of tea, our mind must be fully present in the act of drinking the tea. Drinking tea or coffee can be one of our daily pleasures if we partake of it fully. How much time do you set aside for one cup of tea? In coffee shops in New York or Tokyo, people come in, order their coffee, drink it quickly, pay, and rush out to do something else. This takes a few minutes at most. Often there is loud music playing, and your ears hear the music, your eyes watch others gulping down their coffee, and your mind is thinking of what to do next. You can't really call this drinking coffee.
Have you ever participated in a tea ceremony? It may take two or three hours just being together and drinking one or two cups of tea. The time is not spent talkingonly being together and drinking tea. Perhaps you think this is irresponsible because the participants are not worrying about the world situation, but you must admit that people who spend their time this way know how to drink tea, know the pleasure of having tea with a friend.
Devoting two hours to a cup of tea is, I agree, a little extreme. There are many other things to do: gardening, laundry, washing dishes, binding books, writing. Perhaps these other tasks are less pleasant than drinking tea or walking in the hills, but if we do them in full awareness, we will find them quite agreeable. Even washing the dishes after a big meal can be a joy.
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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 warm water, it really isn't so bad. 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 go and have a cup of tea, the time 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 the fact that I am here washing them are miracles! Each bowl I wash, each poem I compose, each time I invite a bell to sound is a miracle, and each has exactly the same value. One day, while washing a bowl, I felt that my movements were as sacred and respectful as bathing a newborn Buddha. If he were to read this, that newborn Buddha would certainly be happy for me, and not at all insulted at being compared with a bowl.
Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane. I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy. Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end that is, not only do we do the dishes in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes to live fully in each moment while washing them.
If I am incapable of washing dishes joyfully, if I want to finish them quickly so I can go and have a cup of tea, I will be equally incapable of drinking the tea joyfully. With the cup in my hands I will be thinking about what to do next, and the fragrance and the flavor of the tea, together with the pleasure of drinking it, will be lost. I will always be dragged into the future, never able to live in the present moment.
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We lead extremely busy lives. Even though we do not have to do as much manual labor as people in former times, we never seem to have enough time for ourselves. I know people who say they do not even have enough time to eat or breathe, and it appears to me to be true! What can we do about this? Can we take hold of time with both hands and slow it down?
First, let us light the torch of our awareness and learn again how to drink tea, eat, wash dishes, walk, sit, drive, and work in awareness. We do not have to be swept along by circumstances. We are not just a leaf or a log in a rushing river. With awareness, each of our daily acts takes on a new meaning, and we discover that we are more than machines, that our activities are not just mindless repetitions. We find that life is a miracle, the universe is a miracle, and we too are a miracle.
The Sun My Heart
A lotus for you,
a Buddha to be.
The tradition of joining our palms together and bowing when we meet someone is very beautiful. Millions of men and women in Asia greet each other this way every day. When someone offers me a cup of tea, I always bow respectfully. As I join my palms, I breathe in and say, "A lotus for you." As I bow, I breathe out and say, "A Buddha to be." To join our palms in a lotus bud is to offer the person standing before us a fresh flower. But we have to remember not to join our palms mechanically. We must be aware of the person we are greeting. When our respect is sincere, we remember that he or she has the nature of a Buddha, the nature of awakening.
It is necessary for us to see the Buddha in the person before us. If we practice this way regularly, we will see a change in ourselves. We will develop humility, and we will also realize that our abilities are boundless. When we know how to respect others, we also know how to respect ourselves.
As I bow, mindfulness becomes real in me. Seeing my deep reverence, the person to whom I bow also becomes awake, and he or she may like to form a lotus and bow to me, breathing in and out. With one greeting, mindfulness becomes present in both of us as we touch the Buddha with our hearts, not just with our hands. Suddenly, the Buddha in each of us begins to shine, and we are in touch with the present moment.
Sometimes we think that we are superior to others perhaps more educated or intelligent. Seeing an uneducated person, a feeling of disdain may arise, but this attitude does not help anyone. Our knowledge is relative and limited. An orchid, for example, knows how to produce noble, symmetrical flowers, and a snail knows how to make a beautiful, well-proportioned shell. Compared with this kind of knowledge, our knowledge is not worth boasting about, even if we have a Ph.D. We should bow deeply before the orchid and the snail and join our palms reverently before the monarch butterfly and the magnolia tree. Feeling respect for all species of living beings and inanimate objects will help us recognize a part of the Buddha nature in ourselves.
In the West, you may prefer to shake hands. But if you greet others mindfully and respectfully, whatever form you use, the Buddha is present.
Present Moment Wonderful Moment
Walking meditation can be very enjoyable. We walk slowly, alone or with friends, if possible in some beautiful place. Walking meditation is really to enjoy the walking walking not in order to arrive, just for walking. The purpose is to be in the present moment and enjoy each step you make. Therefore you have to shake off all worries and anxieties, not thinking of the future, not thinking of the past, just enjoying the present moment. You can take the hand of a child as you walk, as if you are the happiest person on Earth. We walk all the time, but usually it is more like running. Our hurried steps print anxiety and sorrow on the Earth. If we can take one step in peace, we can take two, three, four, and then five steps for the peace and happiness of humankind.
Our mind darts from one thing to another, like a monkey swinging from branch to branch without stopping to rest. Thoughts have millions of pathways, and we are forever pulled along by them into the world of forgetfulness. If we can transform our walking path into a field for meditation, our feet will take every step in full awareness. Our breathing will be in harmony with our steps, and our mind will naturally be at ease. Every step we take will reinforce our peace and joy and cause a stream of calm energy to flow through us. Then we can say, "With each step, a gentle wind blows."
The Buddha is often represented by artists as seated upon a lotus flower to suggest the peace and happiness he enjoys. Artists also depict lotus flowers blooming under the footsteps of the newly-born Buddha. If we take steps without anxiety, in peace and joy, then we, too, will cause a flower to bloom on the Earth with every step.
Present Moment Wonderful Moment
A TANGERINE PARTY
Yesterday, in our retreat, we had a tangerine party. Everyone was offered one tangerine. We put the tangerine on the palm of our hand and looked at it, breathing in a way that the tangerine became real. Most of the time when we eat a tangerine, we do not look at it. We think about many other things. To look at a tangerine is to see the blossom forming into the fruit, to see the sunshine and the rain. The tangerine in our palm is the wonderful presence of life. We are able to really see that tangerine and smell its blossom and the warm, moist earth. As the tangerine becomes real, we become real. Life in that moment becomes real.
Mindfully we began to peel our tangerine and smell its fragrance. We carefully took each section of the tangerine and put it on our tongue, and we could feel that it was a real tangerine. We ate each section of the tangerine in perfect mindfulness until we finished the entire fruit. Eating a tangerine in this way is very important, because both the tangerine and the eater of the tangerine become real. This, too, is the basic work for peace.
In Buddhist meditation we do not struggle for the kind of enlightenment that will happen five or ten years from now. We practice so that each moment of our life becomes real life. And, therefore, when we meditate, we sit for sitting; we don't sit for something else. If we sit for twenty minutes, these twenty minutes should bring us joy, life. If we practice walking meditation, we walk just for walking, not to arrive. We have to be alive with each step, and if we are, each step brings real life back to us. The same kind of mindfulness can be practiced when we eat breakfast, or when we hold a child in our arms. Hugging is a Western custom, but we from the East would like to contribute the practice of conscious breathing to it. When you hold a child in your arms, or hug your mother, or your husband, or your friend, breathe in and out three times and your happiness will be multiplied by at least tenfold. And when you look at someone, really look at them with mindfulness, and practice conscious breathing.
At the beginning of each meal, I recommend that you look at your plate and silently recite, "My plate is empty now, but I know that it is going to be filled with delicious food in just a moment." While waiting to be served or to serve yourself, I suggest you breathe three times and look at it even more deeply. "At this very moment many, many people around the world are also holding a plate, but their plate is going to be empty for a long time." Forty thousand children die each day because of the lack of food. Children alone. We can be very happy to have such wonderful food, but we also suffer because we are capable of seeing. But when we see in this way, it makes us sane, because the way in front of us is clear the way to live so that we can make peace with ourselves and with the world. When we see the good and the bad, the wondrous and the deep suffering, we have to live in a way that we can make peace between ourselves and the world. Understanding is the fruit of meditation. Understanding is the basis of everything.
Each breath we take, each step we make, each smile we realize, is a positive contribution to peace, a necessary step in the direction of peace for the world. In the light of interbeing, peace and happiness in your daily life means peace and happiness in the world. The Heart of Understanding