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Thread: Miracle of Mindfulness

  1. #1

    Miracle of Mindfulness

    Gassho All,
    I am a new contributor to the forum. We have a small but persistent zen practice group here in the QC - Illinois-Iowa but I enjoy checking in at Treeleaf. As with most all of us, I read the zen books for entertainment and try not to let them interfere with my practice. :wink: Has anyone tried any of the exercises in Thich Nhat Hanh's book, The Miracle of Mindfulness? Here in Iowa, we are in the nexus of political campaigns right now and I've been looking at them with the "mindfulness" lens. "Mindfulness is the miracle by which we master and restore ourselves." TNH

  2. #2
    Miracle of Mindfulness is a great book, I think I've tried just about every exercise in it. Although, I don't tend to use them much anymore, I would say that it has been an influential work for my practice and approach to Buddhism.

  3. #3
    Don't have anything to say about the book, but welcome aboard the crazy train Lloyd.

  4. #4
    Peace is Every Step was one of the first Buddhist books that I read. A great deal of my early sitting was based around THN's teachings. His sense of being patient with the world and accepting the place where you are have really stuck with me.
    About the only direct practice that I still utilize is the "half-smile" suggestion that he makes frequently. Somehow the physiological change resulting from a hint of a smile helps me on the occasions when I notice that I am rejecting the reality of my life.


    Gassho,
    Bill

  5. #5
    Welcome aboard Lloyd, I think I am the only guy here who has never read any TNH. Hmmm... Maybe that will change one day.

    Gassho
    Jordan

  6. #6
    I admire TNH very much and his teachings influence my practice a lot.

  7. #7
    Hello, Lloyd! Hope you enjoy your stay with us.

    Well, if Jordan is the only guy who hasn't read TNH I guess I qualify as the only gal who hasn't, so I can't speak to your question regarding his book.

    In Gassho~

    *Lynn,

  8. #8
    Hello and welcome Lloyd.

    I too haven't read anything by Thich Nhat Hanh, so Jordan and Lynn you aren't alone there.

    gassho

  9. #9
    ! What!! A welcome that slipped by??!

    Hi and Welcome Lloyd!

    I am also another who hasnt read anything by TNH :x

    Gassho
    Dirk

  10. #10
    Hey Lloyd,

    Welcome! In the beginning of my practice, I read a few TNH books. The only one that has "stuck" with me is his brief commentary on the Heart Sutra. That and exactly what Bill said:

    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    About the only direct practice that I still utilize is the "half-smile" suggestion that he makes frequently. Somehow the physiological change resulting from a hint of a smile helps me on the occasions when I notice that I am rejecting the reality of my life.
    I pretty much had forgotten where I picked that up. Thanks for reminding me, Bill!

    Gassho,
    Keith

  11. #11
    Hi Lloyd.

    I like the half-smile too. I also get a kick out of TNH speaking to inanimate objects or when he says he literally hugs trees (the original tree-hugger?).

    In Miracle of Mindfullness, I think your talking about the excercises toward the end before he gets to the sutras, right? I've done most of them. I think they're very similar to excercises for many contemplation practices. Of course, TNH always has such a sweet way of describing them. I like the suffering due to lack of wisdom practice. One thing I have to note is that since starting Shikantaza, I've decided to do never do his excercises while on my zafu. I keep that for zazen only. I either do them sitting in my office or while doing meditative walking.

    The one I pass on is the skeleton meditation. Yeah, I know, it's an aversion excercise but no dice!

  12. #12
    Quote Originally Posted by DontKnow
    About the only direct practice that I still utilize is the "half-smile" suggestion that he makes frequently. Somehow the physiological change resulting from a hint of a smile helps me on the occasions when I notice that I am rejecting the reality of my life.
    There is a true physiological reason why the "half-smile" works. Neuorological research shows that the brain (the mirror cells, I believe) assume that, since you are smiling, there must be grounds to be happy and it becomes a self-fulfilling process.


    Zajonc, R. B., Emotion and Facial Efference: A Theory Reclaimed, Scince, 1985, 288, 15-2

    He also asserted that elation follows the smile, not the opposite. The blood flow changes caused by contracting the facial muscles in the smile alter cerebral blood flow and cause an emotional change. He extends this reasoning to account for all kinds of other bizarre facial habits associated with emotions -- wrinkled forheads, rubbing one's eyes, hand on forehead, pulling earlobes, licking lips, etc.
    That being said, I have reservations about the Practice (gee, I am so critical of every darn thing today!!!) if it means that we associate Buddhist Practice with having to feel happy happy happy. In my mind, Buddhist Practice is much more powerful if about being as we are, which is not always happy. Sometimes, to be human is to be sad, and "suffereing" is to reject and resist that normal sadness (the suffering is not the sadness itself). So, please practice sitting sometime with a half-frown, and embrace that. Or better, just sit with whatever comes.

    Gassho, Jundo

  13. #13
    Hey Jundo, I read your post with a "half smile" on my face. :wink:

    Actually, I think the half smile is more of a practice of mindfullness as opposed to elation. It's a calming measure to get you back into perspective. I think that's why he stresses half smile.

    So its or even 8) but NOT

  14. #14
    I must admit, after reading 'Being Peace' and 'Zen Keys', I can't say I'm a fan of TNH's writtings. I find him a great role model, a little like a Zen Dalai Lama (just a bit), but I just don't seem to connect with his written works. :?

  15. #15
    Hey,

    While I agree with Jundo that we should sit and live with whatever comes up in whatever state we find ourselves without making more or less of it than it is, I also agree with Tracy here:

    Quote Originally Posted by TracyF
    Actually, I think the half smile is more of a practice of mindfullness as opposed to elation. It's a calming measure to get you back into perspective. I think that's why he stresses half smile.
    This is how I've always took that half-smile teaching - not to be "happy" when I'm not, but more as a reminder of where I am.

    Gassho,
    Keith

  16. #16
    Jundo wrote:
    That being said, I have reservations about the Practice (gee, I am so critical of every darn thing today!!!) if it means that we associate Buddhist Practice with having to feel happy happy happy. In my mind, Buddhist Practice is much more powerful if about being as we are, which is not always happy.
    Like Keith and Tracy, I don't find any happiness that comes with the hint of a smile, but the world seems to come ZOOM! back into clarity . . . it is a difficult thing to describe, subtle but also very meaningful. But to clarify, it is not an attempt to change my circumstance from sad to happy. Besides, maybe our original face is one with a bit of a smile, and dukkha changes it to something else. :wink:

    Bill

    PS-- I realize that there is still the dualistic trap of preferring moments of clarity over others. My take here is that TNH suggested it, I tried it, it fits, . . . otherwise we could also reject the lotus position, straight back, etc. because they all suggest that other ways are inferior.

  17. #17
    Well, my Dad used to say about a faucet with a small leak ... "if it works, don't fix it".

    You have to decide for yourself what the Practice is and how it work for you. Apparently, you guys are taking it in a helpful way, different from "happy happy happy". So, if it works for you .... DON'T FIX IT!

    Gassho, Jundo (HALF SMILE)

  18. #18
    Hi,

    Quote Originally Posted by Jundo
    There is a true physiological reason why the "half-smile" works. Neuorological research shows that the brain (the mirror cells, I believe) assume that, since you are smiling, there must be grounds to be happy and it becomes a self-fulfilling process.
    That's interesting. It reminded me of a suggestion of Sawaki Roshi's to just put your hands in gassho when you're having an argument with your wife and see what happens. :wink:

    Gassho
    Ken

  19. #19

    Miracle of Mindfulness

    By some miracle this leaf has now blown in from Northern Ireland to become a member of Treeleaf! I belong to a small Zen group, and Treeleaf and Jundo have become very helpful for us as we don't have a resident teacher. I now feel among friends.
    Regarding The Miracle of Mindfulness - it was one of my first books many years ago and I think a very useful one, especially for beginners.
    I have been on retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh and on several with his nuns.
    The retreats were not as structured as some and a lot of time given to group discussions, planting trees, long walks, and zazen twice a day.
    He would have given one talk per day.
    I still feel the influence though of his mindfulness training all these years on.
    I notice someone mentioned his "Grace before meals" earlier and for anyone with kids this is his "A Child's Grace".
    "The silver rain, the golden sun, The fields where scarlet poppies run,
    And all the ripples of the wheat, are in the bread that I do eat.
    So when I pause for every meal, and say this grace, I always feel,
    That I am eating rain and sun, and fields where scarlet poppies run."

  20. #20
    Hi Jenny,

    Welcome again. Thank you for that. Pressed Palm, Jundo

  21. #21
    Hi Jenny,

    Glad you finally made it!

    Gassho,
    John

  22. #22
    Hi Jenny,

    Welcome to Treeleaf!

    Gassho,
    Keith

  23. #23

  24. #24

    Greetings Jenny

    Welcome to A bit o" the Irish. Thanks for sharing about your experience with TNH. It must have been a rare event. My own recent day of mindfulness was a refreshing break from the normal routine - kind of like a snow day here in the midwest when all schedules suspend around nature's timeout.

  25. #25

    Miracle of Mindfulness

    Hi Lloyd, thanks for your welcome. Good to know you are also with a small Zen group (we have around 8 in ours but very keen).
    We have had one day of snow this winter and when it happens it is top of the new bulletins and everything is chaos. Next day it has gone!
    Our group study a book and discuss it over a cup of tea each week.
    It has been decided to read our Treeleaf one, Opening the Hand of Thought. Unfortunately copies at the moment are as rare as hen's teeth.
    We have just finished "Susuki Roshi's "Not Always So" and we have had some heated debates!
    Gassho Jenny

  26. #26
    I have also read TNH and have always taken his suggestions as ways to come back to mindfulness. I also like the half smile, but my favorite is to smile and breathe deeply before you answer the phone! It brings me back to the idea that the person on the other end was not calling just to annoy me.

  27. #27
    Stephanie
    Guest
    I'm a big fan of the Hanh!

    Sometimes his style is a bit too sugary-sweet for me, but overall his gentle words have inspired me a lot over the years.

    Oddly enough, though, what may be my favorite book of his is actually an intense mind-blower of a philosophy book he wrote called Transformation At The Base that might surprise those familiar with only his "lighter" stuff. A very nice book to read in conjunction with Red Pine's treatment of the Heart Sutra. (And of course, TNH's treatment of the Heart Sutra is a classic as well.)

    Jenny, thanks so much for sharing the "Child's Grace." What a beautiful poem, I think I might like it better than all the other Buddhist graces I've heard so far.

  28. #28

    Miracle of Mindfulness

    Thanks Stephenie, glad you liked the poem. Sometimes I think the simple things are important too. There is in Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings a gentle side in what can at times seem like an austere tradition.
    This morning I was reading in a book by Catherine Ingram a story about a boy of about 5 who had been found living with wild dogs in India. She was at a private gathering to see the boy and the Dalai Lama was also there.
    The child was on all fours, eyes darting wildly and like a frightened animal. Therapists and officials were there who had been trying to train him
    back to normality.
    The Dalai Lama, while the story was being explained to him, just reached down and smiling, began to gently stroke the child's head while murmuring softly to him. The child eventually just curled up and lay at his feet.
    I was thinking isn't this perhaps what each of us would really like? To be accepted unconditionally, gently stroked and murmured to and to feel that we are o.k. the way we are.
    Just sharing a few thoughts.
    Jenny

  29. #29
    Stephanie
    Guest
    Lovely story Jenny, thank you for sharing it.

    And I agree about the power of unconditional acceptance and love. I'm currently doing an internship where I work with residents at a community residence for the chronically mentally ill as part of my graduate social work curriculum. There is so much to learn about engaging, building trust, and facilitating change, and there's so much I still don't do that well, still so much I forget, but just the fact that I'm there listening, and care, seems like it may be the biggest part anyway.

    It's such a deep pleasure to see the way people who are often shunned by others open up and smile when they realize that they are being accepted for who they are and "allowed" to speak their minds to someone who is not ignoring or recoiling at them. I'm always struck with deep sorrow and remorse when I slip into judgement or irritation. I'm human, and I don't beat myself up for it, but it is amazing how clear a guide one's conscience can be in these matters.

  30. #30

    Miracle of Mindfulness

    Sounds like you are doing a great bit of work Stephanie, and difficult too.
    Jenny

  31. #31
    Quote Originally Posted by Stephanie
    I'm a big fan of the Hanh!


    Oddly enough, though, what may be my favorite book of his is actually an intense mind-blower of a philosophy book he wrote called Transformation At The Base that might surprise those familiar with only his "lighter" stuff. A very nice book to read in conjunction with Red Pine's treatment of the Heart Sutra. (And of course, TNH's treatment of the Heart Sutra is a classic as well.)
    Stephanie, you might also appreciate Thich Nhat Hanh's more recent book, Nothing to Do, Nowhere to Go, which is a detailed commentary on the Rinzai Record. Master Rinzai (aka Master Linji) emphasized direct experience and sudden realization, and the episodes reported in the Rinzai Record contain many instances of violence (i.e., the Master hitting his disciples) as well as Rinzai's famous shout, which Thich Nhat Hanh likens to a sword cutting off the head of a question and returning the disciple to immediate experience. Thich Nhat Hanh's manner is gentle, and his commitment to non-violence is radical and absolute. But his practice is rooted in the teachings of Linji and the rigors of Vietnamese Rinzai Zen, and its core is anything but soft or sentimental. Not all of his followers are aware of that.

    Regarding the half-smile that Thich Nhat Hanh advocates, I think it is best understood as a means of cultivating compassionate attention, whether to oneself or others. It is a component of "mindfulness of feelings," or the second Foundation of Mindfulness, and its origin may be traced to the Sattipathana Sutra. In tandem with mindfulness of breathing and directed to parts of the body, the half-smile brings kind attention to whatever it touches. In Thich Nhat Hanh's practice, the intent is not to be continuously happy or to whistle a happy tune but to nourish and restore parts of the body that may have been neglected or abused.

    Gassho,

    Ben

  32. #32
    This is a wonderful thread and it's fascinating to read everyone's take on TNH. I haven't read anything by him yet, but after reading this thread, I have a list and am on a mission to go to the book store tonight after work.

    Jenny, I am LOVING your stories and the poem you shared is simply lovely. I have a 5 year old daughter that I will be sharing it with. Thanks so much!

    I often struggle with how to share Zen and Buddhism with her, being that she is 5 I figure maybe the best thing is to just set an example. And explore more when or if she becomes more interested.

    I got off topic didn't I? DOH! ops:

  33. #33
    No Jenifer. That's right on topic. A lot of people around here are in the same situation. If you have any questions try posting a new topic or talk to Jundo or Keith (he teaches children).

    And don't forget to sit

    Gassho Will

  34. #34
    That being said, I have reservations about the Practice (gee, I am so critical of every darn thing today!!!) if it means that we associate Buddhist Practice with having to feel happy happy happy.

    I don't know if I read that the same way. When I read TNH's words about the half smile, or his breath excersise in "Peace Is Every Step," (Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out I smile. Dwelling in this present moment, I know this is a wonderful moment.) I sore of see it more as being about contentment an being in and accepting the present as it comes.
    I had a great t-shirt idea the other day. It says, in big letters, "Zen." Then in small letters under that it says, "It is what it is."
    I really think that's the heart of TNH's smiling thing... the simple acceptance that "it is what it is." How one responds from there is up to them... but approaching it with that half smile's got to be a good start.
    Just my own thoughts.
    With a smile...

  35. #35
    . I have a 5 year old daughter that I will be sharing it with. Thanks so much!

    I often struggle with how to share Zen and Buddhism with her, being that she is 5 I figure maybe the best thing is to just set an example. And explore more when or if she becomes more interested.

    Jenny, glad to have you with us - I lived in Omaha for many years. Five year olds have the mindfulness, being in the moment, that adults hope to recapture. I remember my daughter being so into her drawing that she would forget to eat

  36. #36
    Zen practitioners who wish to learn more about the Vietnamese roots of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh's practice can find explanatory remarks at:

    http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/articles ... owers2.htm


    Here is an excerpt:

    The meditation that I share in the West has its roots in Vietnam of the third century. We had a very famous Zen master, Master Tang Hoi, whose father was a soldier from India and his mother a young Vietnamese woman. When his parents passed away, the child Tang Hoi went to a temple in northern Vietnam to become a monastic. He translated commentaries on the sutras in that temple in Vietnam, then went to China where he became the first Zen master teaching meditation in China ó three hundred years before Bodhidharma. I wrote a book about Zen Master Tang Hoi, and I said that Vietnamese Buddhists should worship this Zen master as our first Zen master of Vietnam. An artist drew his picture for me so we could have it on the altars at our different centers.

    In Vietnam we have the Mahayana tradition and the Hinayana tradition. I was lucky that when I was trained in the Mahayana tradition I also had time to research the stream of original Buddhism. I discovered that Zen Master Tang Hoi had used the original Buddhist sutras with a very open view of the Mahayana tradition. That is why when we organize retreats in Europe or North America, many people come from different traditions and they feel very comfortable. Our practice combines both Mahayana and Hinayana traditions and the basic sutras we use in meditation are present in all different schools ó in the Pali, Chinese, Sanskrit, Korean, and Tibetan Canons of Buddhist scriptures. I have translated and written commentaries on sutras about meditation like Learning the Better Way to Live Alone and The Mindfulness of Breathing. Even though I didnít talk about them tonight, the spirit of my talk was based on the insight of these sutras.


    Gassho,

    Ben

  37. #37
    Quote Originally Posted by Shiju
    Zen practitioners who wish to learn more about the Vietnamese roots of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh's practice can find explanatory remarks at:

    http://www.mindfulnessbell.org/articles ... owers2.htm


    Here is an excerpt:

    The meditation that I share in the West has its roots in Vietnam of the third century. We had a very famous Zen master, Master Tang Hoi, whose father was a soldier from India and his mother a young Vietnamese woman. When his parents passed away, the child Tang Hoi went to a temple in northern Vietnam to become a monastic. He translated commentaries on the sutras in that temple in Vietnam, then went to China where he became the first Zen master teaching meditation in China ó three hundred years before Bodhidharma. I wrote a book about Zen Master Tang Hoi, and I said that Vietnamese Buddhists should worship this Zen master as our first Zen master of Vietnam. An artist drew his picture for me so we could have it on the altars at our different centers.

    In Vietnam we have the Mahayana tradition and the Hinayana tradition. I was lucky that when I was trained in the Mahayana tradition I also had time to research the stream of original Buddhism. I discovered that Zen Master Tang Hoi had used the original Buddhist sutras with a very open view of the Mahayana tradition. That is why when we organize retreats in Europe or North America, many people come from different traditions and they feel very comfortable. Our practice combines both Mahayana and Hinayana traditions and the basic sutras we use in meditation are present in all different schools ó in the Pali, Chinese, Sanskrit, Korean, and Tibetan Canons of Buddhist scriptures. I have translated and written commentaries on sutras about meditation like Learning the Better Way to Live Alone and The Mindfulness of Breathing. Even though I didnít talk about them tonight, the spirit of my talk was based on the insight of these sutras.


    Gassho,

    Ben
    I think this is interesting, and may be along the same lines, Suzuki Roshi once described Soto Zen as being Hinayana Buddhists with Mahayana Minds.

    Gassho,
    Jordan

  38. #38
    Hi,

    Ven TNH is a marvelous teacher of meditation and the Precepts. Although my understanding is that Master Naht Hanh's teachings tend well toward the Ch'an/Zen side of the mixture, folks new to Zen might want to know that Buddhism in Vietnam tends to be a mixture of North Asian (mostly Chinese) and Southeast Asian (Cambodian and Thai) Buddhism. Ch'an/Zen in Vietnam is in the Rinzai tradition, and is actually a mixture of Zen and Pure Land teachings (and some indigenous traditions). So, the flavor can be quite different sometimes from the flavor of the Japanese Soto tradition (although the universe is still the same). A bit like the difference between Chinese, Japanese and Vietnamese food? Pure Land Buddhism preaches faith in the Buddha Amida, a cosmic savior, who will take believers who intone his name to the "Pure Land" heaven upon death (sound generally like another religion we know??)

    Here is a little article about Vietnamese Buddhism ...

    http://buddhismtoday.com/english/medita ... reland.htm

    Since Zen is more a methodology than a system of thought, although it certainly does have a system of thought, the self-power of Zen, contains the other power of Pure Land. Once you have self power, you must have other power. After all, the Recitation of the Buddha's name is used as a concentration exercise. This is where Chinese/ Vietnamese Pure Land differs from Japanese forms. The Vietnamese Pure Land adherents also meditate whenever they have the time to, whereas Jodosinshu says that meditation is a mere psychological trick, where you think you are capable of saving yourself. They say we must drop meditation and all thoughts of saving ourselves, and rely only upon Buddha Amitabha to save us. Their practice is to realize exactly who and what they are, without any rosy constructs placed upon their realization.

    If your practice is to devoid everything in your mind, does it matter is you use a koan, shikentaza or recreating the Buddha in your mind? All of these techniques work if they are done with great diligence and bring the meditator to the same point, to the satori experience (that is to insight, which Theravadans praise so much.)

    When you begin Pure Land practice, you think of the Buddha and his Pure Land as being apart from you. But as you practice it, slowly you come to realize that you and Amitabha are one and the same. You can experience the Pure Land right here and now.
    Gassho, Jundo

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