I was inspired to create this blog by the wonderful teachings of Zen Master, poet and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh (aka Thay – “teacher” in Vietnamese). The simple, kind mindfulness practice that Thay has been teaching for more than 50 years is extremely transformational for many people around the world and I hope many more will benefit from it, transform their suffering, and help others do the same.
Sometimes, the practice of mindfulness is described as “heartfulness” (as in Chinese, Vietnamese and many Easy Asian languages the characters for “mind” and “heart” are identical), and yet with other occasions, Thay likes to describe it as flowerness: our capacity to be fresh as a flower, solid as a mountain, still as a lake and free as space.
Here is an edited fragment from the transcript of a Dharma talk that Thay offered in July 1997, where he explains how we can rediscover our flowerness. The talk was aimed at the children, but as with all his talks for young people, Thay actually :
“You may recuperate the Buddha nature in you very quickly. We have made some short poems (gathas) for you to practice:
1. Flower – Fresh
You can practice breathing in, breathing out three times with the flower in mind. “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.” You do it in such a way that you become a real flower. It is not difficult: if you want to be a flower, you will be a flower.
Relax. Smile. Smile with your eyes. Smile with your mouth. Smile with your ears. Smile with your body. You can do it.
“Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.” In fact, we are all flowers. Human beings are a kind of flower. If you don’t look exactly like a flower it is because you have not taken good care of yourself, you have cried too much, you have dried yourself up. You have allowed sorrow and worry to enter you and destroy you.
So, recuperate. Restore your flowerness. This is one of the ways to do it. “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower.”
This is not imagination. You are a flower. You have the right to recuperate your flowerness.
There are many of us when we grow old—sixty, seventy, eighty—we are able to retain our flowerness. Congratulations to you who are able to do so. I have seen people eighty, ninety, still very fresh. We have to admire these people. We have to follow their example. We have to learn from them how to retain our flowerness. “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.”
You know, a flower does not seem to do anything, but without flowers, life would seem very sad. So you don’t have to do anything. If you can be a flower, you serve the world already.
2. Mountain – Solid
Now, you know that stability is very important. A stable person can inspire people and make them happy. The image of the mountain can help you to practice: “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain.” Nothing can assault me. If you have a stable position for your body, if you know how to sit erect; if you know how to enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, and become the master of yourself, then any provocation, any sorrow, anything you imagine cannot shake you. So you stay solid like a mountain.
“Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid.” Solid as a mountain, that is our practice. You learn to be solid in your sitting position and then you will learn to be solid in your way of walking. You will be solid in your way of driving. You will be a solid driver. When you cook your dinner, you can practice your solidity, also.
Three times. “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid.”
3. Still Water – Reflecting
There are times when you look at the water you see it very still. So still you can see the blue sky and the white clouds in it. You can see the trees reflected in it, exactly like up there. If you have a camera, you just aim at the surface of the lake and take the picture. When you develop it people might think that you took it from up there because the image is so faithful. So when your mind is calm, still like that water, you will reflect everything as it is. You don’t distort things. You don’t have wrong perceptions, because wrong perceptions make you angry, make you suffer.
Wrong perceptions always make us suffer and that is why we have to learn to see things as they are and not distort them. It is very important to practice being calm like still water because still water can reflect things as they are. “Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they truly are.” Three times.
4. Space – Free
Lastly, freedom, space. “Breathing in, I see myself as space. Breathing out, I feel free.” People who have space within don’t suffer. People who have space around them, they don’t suffer.
It’s like the moon. Look at the moon traveling in the empty sky. It has a lot of space around it. The moon is serene, happy. But we, sometimes, we don’t have space inside. We are full of worries, of anger, of fear, of projects, of desire. We don’t allow ourselves to have space inside, and there is no space outside at all.
We don’t feel that we have the time. We don’t feel that we have space to move around. What kind of life are we having? When we love someone, we love in such a way that we no longer have any time, any space and we deprive the person we love of space and time, and love becomes a prison for us and for the other person. That is not true love. If you love someone and if that someone isn’t capable of moving any more, that’s not love. So space is a very big gift. You have to offer him space if you want him to be truly happy. Offering him space inside. Offering him space outside around him. This is a very important practice. We will learn how to put more space inside and to arrange so that we have plenty of space around us. That is very crucial for our happiness. “Breathing in, I see myself as space. Breathing out, I feel free.”
Many people in their lives buy a lot of ropes and tie themselves up and finally, they cannot move. First they think that these ropes are very much needed for their happiness. I would not be happy if I don’t have that rope. The rope of fame. The rope of wealth. There are many kinds of ropes. I would not be happy if I could not buy that rope. So we buy all kinds of ties. Not only one to put around our necks but several kinds of ties to put around our bodies, our feelings, our perceptions and finally we can no longer move. We have no space. Happiness is impossible. That is why we have to practice to free ourselves and to put into ourselves a lot of space and around us also. This is a technique of liberation. “Breathing in, I see myself as space. Breathing out, I feel free.”
During this practice we develop our flowerness. We develop our solidity. We develop our calm, stillness and we develop our freedom. These qualities combined together we call Buddha nature. So the Buddha is not something outside. The Buddha may be a person like Shakyamuni. But the Buddha nature is in you and if you practice well you can touch that Buddha nature in you and you will develop your flowerness, your solidity, your freedom and your stillness.
You see, meditation can be fun. There are many ways of practicing meditation, and when you meditate like this you can touch the Buddha within. Don’t think that a statue is the Buddha. The statue is made of clay only. We want the real Buddha. The real Buddha is made of these four elements: freshness, solidity, stillness and freedom. And you know that these elements are within.
Visiting the Buddha at least once a day is important. If you get agitated several times a day, it is very important to visit your Buddha several times a day.”