Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh

"Life is precious as it is. All the elements for your happiness are already here. There is no need to run, strive, search, or struggle. Just be. Just being in the moment in this place is the deepest practice of meditation."--Thich Nhat Hanh

The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh is a small book that contains a large amount of insight. One of the main ideas is that it is very important to be actively engaged in whatever one is doing at a particular moment, as opposed to worrying about the future or fretting about the past. Hanh explains:

It is of no use to sit in a peaceful forest if our mind is lost in the city. When we live with a child or a friend, their freshness and warmth can relax us. But if our heart is not with them, their precious presence is neglected, and they no longer exist. We must be aware of them to appreciate their value, to allow them to be our happiness. If through carelessness and forgetfulness we become dissatisfied with them, and begin asking too much of them or reprimanding them, we will lose them. Only after they are gone will we realize their preciousness and feel regret. But once they are gone, all of our regrets are in vain.

Hanh's writing style can seem almost childishly simple but do not be misled; his way of thinking and his way of living are pure and profound:

Have a look at the apple tree in your yard. Look at it with complete attention. It is truly a miracle. If you notice it, you will take good care of it, and you too are part of its miraculousness. Even after you have cared for it for only a week, its leaves are already greener and shinier. It is exactly the same with the people who are around you. Under the influence of awareness, you become more attentive, understanding, and loving, and your presence not only nourishes you and makes you lovelier, it enhances them as well. Our entire society can be changed by one person's peaceful presence.

Hanh explains that peacefulness should not be confused with passivity and/or weakness:

Understanding and compassion are very powerful sources of energy. They are the opposite of stupidity and passivity. If you think that compassion is passive, weak, or cowardly, then you don't know what real understanding or compassion is. If you think that compassionate people do not resist and challenge injustice, you are wrong. They are warriors, heroes, and heroines who have gained many victories...

Human beings are not our enemy. Our enemy is not the other person. Our enemy is the violence, ignorance, and injustice in us and in the other person. When we are armed with compassion and understanding, we fight not against other people, but against the tendency to invade, to dominate, and to exploit. We don't want to kill others, but we will not let them dominate and exploit us or other people. You have to protect yourself. You are not stupid. You are very intelligent and you have insight. Being compassionate does not mean allowing other people to do violence to themselves or to you. Being compassionate means being intelligent. Nonviolent action that springs from love can only be intelligent action.

John Wooden urged his players to "never mistake activity with achievement." It is tempting to think that every situation, encounter and confrontation demands immediate action/activity but often the best response is to stay calm and look at things in a larger context before making any bold statements or moves. Instantly lashing out in response to every real and perceived injustice can provoke other people to lash out in return. The best chess players excel at what I call "the art of doing nothing while accomplishing something," meaning that they subtly and relentlessly improve their positions very patiently without taking unnecessary risks; it is difficult to do this in chess and even more difficult to do this in life but mastery of this quiet approach leads to many victories.

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