June 7, 2012

What's up with Zen? Part 2: Thich Nhat Hanh

The last post about Zen was What's up with Zen?. Since then, I've done some more research about Zen and found that the following books are recommended to learn more: Zen and the art of motorcycle maintenance, Zen in the art of archery, and Zen mind, beginners mind. After reading a couple of pages in each, I lost motivation and gave up. Or as the Zen master himself, Steve Jobs, would have said: The products suck! Then I recalled an episode from the internet show "The random show" with Kevin Rose and Tim Ferriss, where they talked about great books to read. One of those books recommended by Kevin Rose was No death, no fear by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thich Nhat Hanh  was born in 1926 and is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk. He has written several books - among them a book with the name The miracle of mindfulness - which I think gives the best introduction to Zen. Here are some excerpts from the book:

The definition of mindfulness is to keep one's consciousness alive to the present reality. If you are walking on a road - your mind should be on experiencing the walking on the road. If you find your mind is wandering away to something else than walking on the road, you should begin concentrating on your breathing. Take control of your own breath and notice that you are breathing in and out - until you forget that you are concentrating on the breathing. It may sound strange, but attention to breathing has a central part to play in meditation.
"But active, concerned people don't have time to spend leisurely, walking along paths of green  grass and sitting beneath trees. One must prepare projects, consult with the neighbors, try to resolve a million difficulties; there is hard work to do. One must deal with every kind of hardship, every moment keeping one's attention focused on the work, alert, ready to handle the situation ably and intelligently. Then how are we to practice mindfulness? 
My answer is: keep your attention focused on the work, be alert and ready to handle ably and intelligently any situation which may arise - this is mindfulness. If we are not in control of ourselves but instead let our impatience or anger interfere, then our work is no longer of any value." 
Practicing mindfulness is something you should do every hour of the day - while walking the dog, while washing the dishes, while drinking coffee.

Thich Nhat Hanh was also nominated to the Nobel peace prize by Martin Luther King. Here are his views on war:
"Take the situation of a country suffering war. Try to see that every person involved in the conflict is a victim. See that no person desires the suffering to continue. See that the situation is possible because of the clinging to ideologies and to an unjust world economic system which is upheld by every person through ignorance or through lack of resolve to change it."
Here's another great quote from the book:
"Recall the bitterest failures in your life and examine each of them. Examine your talent, your virtue, your capacity, and the absence of favorable conditions that led to the failures. Examine to see all the complexes that have arisen within you from the feeling that you are not capable of realizing success. Shed the light of interdependence on the whole matter to see that failures cannot be accounted for by your inabilities but rather by the lack of favorable conditions. See that you have no strength to shoulder these failures, that these failures are not your own self. See to it that you are free from them."

If you would like to learn more about mindfulness, you might want to watch this lecture at Google:

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