I have been so fortunate in this life to have encountered several genuine teachers of the Dharma. Today I am thinking about one of them, Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately called “Thay” by his students. I have been practicing with a mindfulness practice center in Thay’s tradition for the past two years. I want to take a moment to thank Thay for his teachings.
There are three aspects of Thay’s teachings that have been particularly relevant for me. One is acceptance. Thay has tirelessly traveled, taught, and written to share the practice of mindfulness with the world. He does not distinguish between people based on their religion or lack of religion or any other factor. He truly believes that mindfulness can help anyone to relate more peacefully, joyfully, and deeply to the world. While he has written books on Buddhist philosophy, most of his books are written to be accessible by a very wide audience, including people with little or no experience with Buddhism. Nevertheless, the practices he teaches in those books, the path of being truly awake to the present moment, can be followed for a lifetime. Thay’s centers welcome all people, regardless of their root religious traditions or current affiliation. Thank you Thay for teaching me the importance of acceptance.
The second aspect is that of interconnectedness. Thay coined the term “interbeing”. He teaches that we can learn to see the sun in a tangerine, a rain cloud in a piece of paper. He brings the difficult Buddhist concept of emptiness alive. Thay teaches that none of us exist in a vacuum, self-arisen and self-perpetuating. In fact, “I” do not exist at all without the presence of so very many non-“I” elements. “I” am composed of my parents, my teachers, the food I eat, the people who grow the food, the people who transport and sell it, the earth on which the food grew, the insects killed to harvest the food, the sun and rain that nourished the plants, and everything else in the whole universe that came together to make and sustain me. Thay presents the fullest embodiment I know of one of my favorite Buddhist images: the Jewel Net of Indra, a net of galactic proportions with a jewel at each intersection, every jewel reflecting every other jewel into infinity. Thank you Thay for teaching me about interconnectedness.
The third aspect of Thay’s teachings that I am most grateful for is his example of living simply and rightly. I have always associated Thay with Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. All three are leaders whose lives embodied their teachings. There is a story that Thay likes to tell of a village that was destroyed during the Vietnam War. The student volunteers led by Thay, who were dedicated to nonviolent social justice and thus faced tremendous suspicion by both sides in the war, helped to rebuild the village. The village was bombed again. The students rebuilt it again. And yet again, the village was destroyed. The students went to Thay and asked him what they should do. He said that they should rebuild the village because not to rebuild would be to give into despair. Sometimes I too feel overwhelmed and ready to give into despair. At those times and all others, Thay’s Mindfulness Trainings serve as a compass for me to know what is right. The Mindfulness Trainings are based in the traditional precepts of Buddhism but expanded to recognize the entire world of consequences of our actions of body, speech, and mind. Thank you Thay for teaching me how to follow the Mindfulness Trainings so that I can live simply and rightly and be at peace with myself and the world.
Precious teacher, I bow in gratitude.
I like to walk alone on country paths, rice plants and wild grasses on both sides, putting each foot down on the earth in mindfulness, knowing that I walk on the wondrous earth. In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality. People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth. Every day we are engaged in a miracle which we don’t even recognize: a blue sky, white clouds, green leaves, the black, curious eyes of a child–our own two eyes. All is a miracle.
– Thich Nhat Hanh, The Miracle of Mindfulness