Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk who was one of the world’s most influential Zen masters, passed at the age of 95 on Saturday at his home in the Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam.
I have been reading Your True Home: The everyday wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh this month, so this wise man and his work were very much on my mind when the news came. The 365 meditations in Your True Home are focused on the monk’s embrace of mindfulness. * Each meditation is only a few sentences in length, but the brevity is part of what contributes to their power.
If one reads these works on an annual calendar basis, Meditation #22 coincides with the day of Thich Nhat Hanh’s passing. It is entitled The Lamp of Mindfulness.
We have a lamp inside us, the lamp of mindfulness, which we can light anytime. The oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, and our peaceful smile. We have to light up that lamp of mindfulness so the light will shine out and the darkness will dissipate and cease. Our practice is to light the lamp.
Breathing and walking come through these readings again and again. Being aware of our breath brings us into a mindfulness of the things we can control, even — and maybe especially — when we are faced with a challenge. With mindful walking our steps are no longer a means to arrive at an end. We don’t walk mindfully to reach a goal. Each step, rather, is an end to itself if we are truly present. “There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”
In a post from last October, I took another of the meditations from Your True Home to think about that practice of walking. Moving at the speed of life as we walk, we touch the earth, transforming and healing ourselves.
Walking is a form of touching the earth. We touch the earth with our feet, and we heal the earth, we heal ourselves, and we heal humankind. Whenever you have an extra five, ten, or fifteen minutes, enjoy walking. With every step it’s possible to bring healing and nourishment to our body and our mind. Every step taken in mindfulness and freedom can help us heal and transform, and the world will be healed and transformed together with us.
As a result of that posting, one of my readers used the comments section to send a link to a video called Godspeed: The Pace of Being Known that takes Thich Nhat Hanh’s words and applies them to a modern life in a powerful way. Early in the video, the subject of the video notes that, “When I was running it was easy to stay hidden. To avoid being known.” Walking at the speed of life helps us know ourselves, know others, and be known by others.
There is a lifetime of learning to be found in Your True Home. “In Buddhism, it is said that love and compassion are made out of one substance, which is called ‘understanding.’ … If understanding is not there, it is impossible for you to accept and love someone.” It is with understanding that we stop blaming and criticizing. “Your compassion is born of your understanding of the situation.”
The New York Times obituary captures the essentials of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life, including his work with The Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in the 1960s.
A prolific author, poet, teacher and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam after opposing the war in the 1960s and became a leading voice in a movement he called “engaged Buddhism,” the application of Buddhist principles to political and social reform.
The obituary writer also notes that Thich Nhat Hanh dismissed the idea of death.
“Birth and death are only notions,” he wrote in his book “No Death, No Fear.” “They are not real.”
Thich Nhat Hanh helped change this world for the better. More importantly, he showed millions how to do the same.
More to come…
* The link on mindfulness takes one to an interview with Thich Nhat Hanh by Oprah Winfrey.