If you ask those following a meditative path who their most influential teachers have been then you will start to see a pattern where a few names come up over and over again. And one of those names will undoubtedly be Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Thích Nhất Hạnh, or 'Thầy' ('teacher') as he is often known has for many of us been one of our most treasured teachers. His insight, compassion and clarity of teaching has been a blessing to us all, and I can personally say that I feel privileged to have been alive at the same time as him. I have never met him, and yet his books and teachings have been deeply important to me - and I am sure many of you reading this can say the same.
This Sunday, the 11th, marks his 94th birthday (or 'continuance day' as some in his tradition say). This week there have been conflicting reports on his health. Six years ago he suffered a brain hemorrhage and has been fragile since. A couple of years ago he returned to his homeland of Vietnam a final time and has been living at Từ Hiếu Temple for "his remaining days."
But for now I want to focus on the great joy and insight that he has given us in his life. Reading all that he has accomplished is special enough alone - but for me the real testament to Thầy is the sheer number of people who have stories about how his teachings have touched them.
For me one of the most influential things he has taught me is a small, simple poem. He introduces it in his book 'Being Peace' in this way:
I, too, hope you will try it. I have linked below a short audio meditation using this poem which you are welcome to use if you wish. A few of us have committed to press 'play' at 7pm PT on Sunday 11th October - Thầy's birthday. It seems like a fitting thing to do.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 the Buddhas and the 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 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 wonderful task. 'Calming, Smiling, Present moment, Wonderful moment.' I hope you will try it.
I hope that this finds you all well and happy,
If the above player doesn't work for you please click here.
Photo by Duc (pixiduc) from Paris, France.