Archive for April, 2009

30
Apr
09

Resting in the River


Thich Nhat Hanh

            My dear friends, suppose someone is holding a pebble and
throws it in the air and the pebble begins to fall down into a
river.
            After  the pebble touches the surface of the water, it
allows itself to sink slowly into the river.


It will reach the bed of the river without any effort. Once
the pebble is at the bottom of the river, it continues to
rest. It allows the water to pass by.

I
think the pebble reaches the bed of the river by the shortest
path because it allows itself to fall without making any
effort. During our sitting meditation we can allow ourselves
to rest like a pebble. We can allow ourselves to sink
naturally without effort to the position of sitting, the
position of resting.


Resting is a very important practice; we have to learn the art
of resting. Resting is the first part of Buddhist meditation.
You should allow your body and your mind to rest. Our mind as
well as our body needs to rest.


The problem is that not many of us know how to allow our body
and mind to rest. We are always struggling; struggling has
become a kind of habit. We cannot resist being active,
struggling all the time. We struggle even during our sleep.


It is very important to realize that we have the habit energy
of struggling. We have to be able to recognize a habit when it
manifests itself because if we know how to recognize our
habit, it will lose its energy and will not be able to push us
anymore.


Ten years ago I was in India visiting the ex-untouchable
community of Buddhists. A friend who belonged to the caste
organized the trip for me. I was sitting on the bus, enjoying
the landscape outside, contemplating the palm trees and the
vegetation. Suddenly I turned and I saw him looking very
tense. There was no reason why he had to be tense like that. I
thought that he was trying to make my visit pleasant and maybe
that was the reason he was so tense. I told him, "Dear friend,
I know that you want to make my trip pleasant, but I am
already very happy. I’ve already enjoyed the trip. So why
don’t you sit back, smile, and relax?" He said, "Okay," and he
sat back and he tried to relax.

I
was pleased and I turned my face toward the window again and I
enjoyed the palm trees and other things. But just a few
minutes after when I looked back at him he was as tense as
before. He was not able to relax, to allow himself to relax. I
knew that he belonged to that section of the population that
had been struggling for many thousand years. He was
discriminated against. He had suffered so much, his ancestors
and himself and his children. So the tendency to struggle has
been there for many thousand years. That is why it was very
difficult for him to allow himself to rest.


We have to practice in order to be able to transform this
habit in us. The habit of struggle has become a powerful
source of energy that is shaping our behavior, our actions and
our reactions.


When an animal in the jungle is wounded, it knows how to find
a quiet place, lie down and do nothing. The animal knows that
is the only way to get healed-to lay down and just rest, not
thinking of anything, including hunting and eating. Not eating
is a very wonderful way of allowing your body to rest. We are
so concerned about how to get nutrition that we are afraid of
resting, of allowing our body to rest and to fast. The animal
knows that it does not need to eat. What it needs is to rest,
to do nothing, and that is why its health is restored.


In our consciousness there are wounds also, lots of pains. Our
consciousness also needs to rest in order to restore itself.
Our consciousness is just like our body. Our body knows how to
heal itself if we allow it the chance to do so. When we get a
cut on our finger we don’t have to do anything except to clean
it and to allow it the time to heal, because our body knows
how to heal itself. The same thing is true with our
consciousness; our consciousness knows how to heal itself if
we know how to allow it to do so. But we don’t allow it. We
always try to do something. We worry so much about healing,
which is why we do not get the healing we need. Only if we
know how to allow them to rest can our body and our soul heal
themselves.


But there is in us what we call the energy of restlessness. We
cannot be at peace with ourselves. We cannot be peaceful. We
cannot sit; we cannot lie down. There is some energy in us to
do this, to do that, to think of this, to think of that, and
that kind of restlessness makes us unhappy. That is why it is
so important for us to learn first of all to allow our body to
rest. We have to learn how to deal with all our energy of
restlessness. That is why we have to learn these techniques of
allowing our body and our consciousness to rest.

I
would like to offer you some instructions about walking
meditation. The first thing we shall do early tomorrow morning
is to practice walking together, which we call walking
meditation. Walking meditation means to enjoy walking without
any intention to arrive. We don’t need to arrive anywhere. We
just walk. We enjoy walking. That means walking is already
stopping, and that needs some training.


Usually in our daily life we walk because we want to go
somewhere. Walking is only a means to an end, and that is why
we do not enjoy every step we take. Walking meditation is
different. Walking is only for walking. You enjoy every step
you take. So this is a kind of revolution in walking. You
allow yourself to enjoy every step you take.


The Zen master Ling Chi said that the miracle is not to walk
on burning charcoal or in the thin air or on the water; the
miracle is just to walk on earth. You breathe in. You become
aware of the fact that you are alive. You are still alive and
you are walking on this beautiful planet. That is already
performing a miracle. The greatest of all miracles is to be
alive. We have to awaken ourselves to the truth that we are
here, alive. We are here making steps on this beautiful
planet. This is already performing a miracle.


But we have to be here in order for the miracle to be
possible. We have to bring ourselves back to the here and the
now. Therefore each step we take becomes a miracle. If you are
able to walk like that, each step will be very nourishing and
healing. You walk as if you kiss the earth with your feet, as
if you massage the earth with your feet. There is a lot of
love in that practice of walking meditation.


The Buddha said that the past is gone and the future is not
yet here. Let us not regret the past. Let us not worry about
the future. to the present moment and live deeply the present
moment. Because the present moment is the only moment where
you can touch life. Life is available only in the present
moment. That is why walking meditation is to go back to the
present moment, in order to be alive again and to touch life
deeply in that moment. In order to be able to touch the earth
with our feet and enjoy walking, we have to establish
ourselves firmly in the present moment, in the here and the
now.


In walking meditation, we walk like a free person. This is not
political freedom. This is freedom from afflictions, from
sorrow, from fear. Unless you are free you cannot enjoy
walking. I would like to propose to you a short poem that you
might like to use for walking meditation:

 

I have arrived. I am home.

In the here. In the now.


I am solid. I am free.


In the ultimate I dwell.

 


You might like to take two steps and breathe in and say, I
have arrived, I have arrived. And when you breathe out, you
take another two steps and say silently, I am home, I am home.
Our true home is really in the here and in the now. Because
only in the here and the now can we touch life. As the Buddha
said, life is available only in the here and the now, so going
back to the present moment is going home. That is why you take
one step or two steps and you awaken to the fact that you have
arrived. You have arrived in the present moment.


If you are able to arrive, then you will stop running-running
within and running without. There is a belief in us that
happiness cannot be possible in the here and the now. We have
to go somewhere. We have to go to the future in order to be
able to really be happy. That kind of thinking has been there
for a long time. Maybe that feeling has been transmitted to us
from our ancestors and our parents. That is why we have to
wake up to the presence of that habit energy in us and to do
the reverse. The Buddha said that it is possible for us to be
peaceful and happy in the present moment. That is the teaching
of trista dharma sadha vihara. It means living happily right
in the present moment. When you are there, body and mind
united, you have an opportunity to touch the conditions of
your happiness. If you are able to touch these conditions of
happiness that are already available in the here and the now,
you can be happy right away. You don’t have to run anywhere,
especially into the future.


When we practice walking, we might be aware that we have
strong feet. Our feet are strong enough for us to enjoy
running and walking. That is one condition for happiness that
is available. When I breathe in and I become aware of my eyes,
I encounter another condition for my happiness. Breathing in,
I am aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes. This
is an exercise, a very simple exercise to help you realize
that you have eyes which are still in good condition. You need
only to open your eyes to see the blue sky, the white cloud,
the luxurious vegetation. You can see all kinds of forms and
colors just because you have eyes still in good condition.
Your eyes are another condition for your happiness. We have so
many conditions like that for our happiness and yet we are
still unhappy. We still want to run away from the present
moment, hoping we’ll find some happiness in the future.


Breathing in, I’m aware of my heart. Breathing out, I smile to
my heart. That is another exercise. When you practice like
that you touch your heart with your mindfulness. If you
continue a minute, you realize that you still have a heart
that functions normally. It is wonderful to have a heart that
still functions normally. There are people who don’t have a
heart like that and their deepest desire is to have a heart
like you. So conditions for happiness may be more than enough
for us to be happy, but we are not able to be happy because of
that tendency to run away from the present moment.


To take an in-breath, to smile, and to touch the conditions of
happiness that are available, is something that all of us can
do. Because of that we can stop and establish ourselves in the
present moment. That is the teaching of living happily in the
present moment. Please train yourself to make the present
moment, the here and the now, into your true home. That is the
only home that we have. That is the only place where we can
touch life. Everything we are looking for must be found in the
here and the now. In that way walking meditation can be a
great pleasure and can be very healing.


Do you have to make any effort to practice walking meditation?
I don’t think so. It is like when you drink a glass of orange
juice. Do you think that you have to make an effort in order
to enjoy the orange juice? No. Walking is like that. To really
enjoy a glass of orange juice, you have to be there one
hundred per cent mind and body together. If you are there,
mind and body firmly established in the present moment, then a
glass of orange juice will become a real thing for you. You
are real; therefore, the juice is real. And there life is
real. Life exists. Life is deep during the time you drink your
orange juice.


When you contemplate a beautiful sunset, do you have to make
any effort? I don’t think so. You don’t have to make any
effort in order to enjoy a beautiful sunset. You need only to
be there, to be there mind and body together. But if your body
is there and your mind is in the past or in the future, then
the beautiful sunset will not be there for you.


There is a kind of energy that helps you to be there body and
mind together. That energy is called mindfulness. Mindfulness
is the capacity of being there body and mind united. When you
drink your orange juice, drink mindfully and you will enjoy
your juice because you are really there one hundred per cent.
If your body and mind are united when you contemplate the
beautiful sunset, it means that you are mindful. Mindfulness
helps you to be there in order for the beautiful sunset to be
there too. While you walk, if you allow yourself to be there
mind and body together, then walking will become mindful
walking; it will be healing, refreshing and nourishing.


To meditate means first of all to be there, to be on your
cushion, to be on your walking meditation path. Eating also is
a meditation if you are really there, present one hundred per
cent with your food. The essential is to be there. So please
when you practice walking meditation, don’t make any effort.
Allow yourself to be like that pebble at rest. The pebble is
resting at the bottom of the river and the pebble does not
have to do anything. While you are walking, you are resting.
While you are sitting, you are resting. If you struggle during
your sitting meditation or walking meditation, you are not
doing it right. The Buddha said, "My practice is the practice
of non-practice." That means a lot. Give up all struggle.
Allow yourself to be, to rest.

I
sit on my meditation cushion. I consider it to be something
very pleasant. I don’t struggle at all on my cushion. I allow
myself to be, to rest. I don’t make any effort and that is why
I do not get any trouble while sitting. While sitting I do not
struggle and that is why all my muscles are relaxed. If you
struggle during your sitting meditation, you will very soon
have pain in your shoulders and back and things like that. But
if you allow yourself to be rested on your cushion you can sit
very long, and each minute is light, refreshing, nourishing
and healing.


It is not sitting in order to struggle to get enlightenment.
No. Sitting first of all is for the pleasure of sitting.
Walking first of all is for the pleasure of walking. And
eating is for the pleasure of eating. And the art is to be
there one hundred per cent.


When I was a novice I learned how to light a stick of incense
in mindfulness. You see, when you light incense you think that
the purpose of lighting incense is to have the incense
pervading the Buddha’s home. But lighting the incense is just
for lighting the incense. You pick up a stick of incense
mindfully and you enjoy that, because it is by itself an act
of meditation. During the time you pick up the stick of
incense you are mindful, you are concentrated, you are real,
because your body and your mind are together. And the stick of
incense is real. When you strike a match, you do the same
thing. During the time you strike a match, you only strike a
match. You don’t do anything else. You don’t think of other
things. You are perfectly mindful of striking a match. You are
concentrated on it, and you enjoy the act of lighting the
incense.


When you hold a stick of incense, it is the same. When I stick
it into the incense burner, I put my left hand on my right
hand. That is the tradition. Everyone in the Buddhist
tradition lights incense in that way. The stick of incense is
very light; one hand is enough in order to hold it. Why do you
have to put your left hand on your right hand? Because it
means that you are doing it with one hundred per cent of your
body and your mind.


Be there truly. Be there one hundred per cent of yourself. In
every moment of your daily life. That is the essence of true
Buddhist meditation. Each of us knows that we can do that, so
let us train to live each moment of our daily life deeply.
That is why I like to define mindfulness as the energy that
helps us to be there one hundred per cent. The energy of your
true presence.


Breathing in-in the here, in the here. Breathing out-in the
now, in the now. Although these are different words they mean
exactly the same thing. I have arrived in the here. I have
arrived in the now. I am home in the here. I am home in the
now.


When you practice like that, you practice stopping. Stopping
is the basic Buddhist practice of meditation. You stop
running. You stop struggling. You allow yourself to rest, to
heal, to calm.


And after a few minutes of practice you might switch into
doing the third line-I am solid, I am free. This is not
auto-suggestion. Why? Because if you have succeeded in
arriving in the here and in the now you are much freer. You
are free from the past, from the future, from your worries,
from your fear. And you become much more solid; your steps
become more solid and you become more solid in your body and
in your mind. Solidity becomes a reality after a few minutes
of arriving, of being home.


Solidity and freedom are two characteristics of nirvana.
Nirvana is not something abstract. The Buddha said we can
touch nirvana with our own body. So while you practice walking
meditation you can begin to touch nirvana already with your
body and your spirit. When you feel you are a little bit more
solid, a little bit more free, then you begin to touch nirvana
with your body and spirit. Solidity and freedom are the true
base for your happiness and well being. No happiness, no well
being, is possible without solidity and freedom.


The last line of the poem is wonderful. In the ultimate I
dwell. In the ultimate. In the ultimate. I dwell. I dwell. The
ultimate here is the true foundation of your being.


Let us visualize the waves on the ocean, several waves
appearing on the surface of the ocean. Some waves are big,
there are those that are small, and each wave seems to have
its own life. A wave may have ideas like, "I am a wave. I am
only a wave among many waves. I am smaller than the other
wave. I am less beautiful. I last less than the other wave."
Ideas like that. A wave can be caught in jealousy, in fear, in
discrimination.


But if the wave is able to bend down and touch the water
within herself, it will realize that while it is a wave, it is
at the same time water. Water is the foundation of the wave.
While waves can be high and low, more and less beautiful, the
water is free from all these notions. That is why if we are
able to touch the foundation of our being, we can release our
fear and our suffering.


Touching the foundation of our being means touching nirvana.
Our foundation is not subjected to birth and death, being and
non-being. A wave can live the life of a wave, but a wave can
do much better than that. While living the life of a wave, a
wave can live a life of the water. The more our solidity and
our freedom grows, the deeper we touch the ground of our own
being. That is the door for emancipation, for the greatest
relief.

14
Apr
09

大慧集