to understand something is to be one with it

Thich Nhat Hanh on the Satipatthana Sutta, the basic manual on meditation from the time of the Buddha

To understand something is to take that thing up and to be one with it. The Indians have a wonderful example. If a grain of salt would like to measure the degree of saltiness of the ocean, to have a perception of the saltiness of the ocean, it drops itself into the ocean and becomes one with it, and the perception is perfect.

Nowadays, nuclear physicists have begun to feel the same way. When they get deeply into the world of subatomic particles, they see their mind in it. An electron is first of all your concept of the electron. The object of your study is no longer separated from your mind. Your mind is very much in it. Modern physicists think that the word “observer” is no longer valid, because an observer is distinct from the object he observes. They have discovered that if you retain that kind of distinction, you cannot go very far in subatomic nuclear science. So they have proposed the word “participant.”You are not an observer, you are a participant.

That is the way I always feel when I give a lecture. I don’t want the audience to be outside, to observe, to listen only. I want them to be one with me, to practice, to breathe. The speaker and the people who listen must become one in order for right perception to take place. Nonduality means “not two,” but “not two” also means “not one.” That is why we say “nondual” instead of “one.” Because if there is one, there are two. If you want to avoid two, you have to avoid one also.

In the Satipatthana Sutta, the basic manual on meditation from the time of the Buddha, it is recorded, “The practitioner will have to contemplate body in the body, feelings in the feelings, mind in the mind, objects of mind in the objects of mind.” The words are clear. The repetition, “body in the body,” is not just to underline the importance of it. Contemplating body in the body means that you do not stand outside of something to contemplate it. You must be one with it, with no distinction between the contemplator and the contemplated. Contemplating body in the body means that you should not look on your body as the object of your contemplation. You have to be one with it.

The message is clear. “Nonduality” is the key word for Buddhist meditation. To sit is not enough. We have to be at the same time. To be what? To be is to be a something, you cannot be a nothing. To eat, you have to eat something, you cannot just eat nothing. To be aware is to be aware of something. To be angry is to be angry at something. So to be is to be something, and that something is what is going on: in your body, in your mind, in your feelings, and in the world.

While sitting, you sit and you are. You are what? You are the breathing. Not only the one who breathes-you are the breathing and the smiling. It is like a television set of one million channels. When you turn the breathing on, you are the breathing. When you turn the irritation on, you are the irritation. You are one with it. Irritation and breathing are not things outside of you. You contemplate them in them, because you are one with them.

If I have a feeling of anger, how would I meditate on that? How would I deal with it, as a Buddhist, or as an intelligent person? I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight, to have surgery in order to remove it. I know that anger is me, and I am anger. Nonduality, not two (a-dvaita). I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence.

Because anger is me, I have to tend my anger as I would tend a younger brother or sister, with love, with care, because I myself am anger, I am in it, I am it. In Buddhism we do not consider anger, hatred, greed as enemies we have to fight, to destroy, to annihilate. If we annihilate anger, we annihilate ourselves.

Dealing with anger in that way would be like transforming yourself into a battlefield, tearing yourself into parts, one part taking the side of Buddha, and one part taking the side of Mara. If you struggle in that way, you do violence to yourself. If you cannot be compassionate to yourself, you will not be able to be compassionate to others. When we get angry, we have to produce awareness: “I am angry. Anger is in me. I am anger.” That is the first thing to do.

In the case of a minor irritation, the recognition of the presence of the irritation, along with a smile and a few breaths will usually be enough to transform the irritation into something more positive, like forgiveness, understanding, and love. Irritation is a destructive energy. We cannot destroy the energy; we can only convert it into a more constructive energy. Forgiveness is a constructive energy. Understanding is a constructive energy.

Suppose you are in the desert, and you only have one glass of muddy water. You have to transform the muddy water into clear water to drink, you cannot just throw it away. So you let it settle for a while, and clear water will appear. In the same way, we have to convert anger into some kind of energy that is more constructive, because anger is you. Without anger you have nothing left.

That is the work of meditation.

excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh, “Being Peace”, PDF p. 43


The human has the faculty of smile. When I smile there is an immediate shift in my experience. Sometimes smiling happens spontaneously in the natural course of how things go. My smile is also a powerful tool to consciously create a certain deeper feeling tone for my experience.

When I smile I experience a pleasant sensation, like a brightening in my whole being. It is accompanied by a feeling of acceptance and opening up which softens me and dissolves rigidity. Smiling I become more easily aware of the many beautiful and healthy things that are within and around me in my life.

My first teacher Rajo said, “Your smile is like a safety belt: never start your ride without it!”tomas-smiling

 He often led us in the following meditation:

“Look into your body. Inside your body. Inside your body is space. This space is vast, unlimited. Look into the vast, unlimited space inside your body and smile into that space.

In the space inside your body there is silence. The silence is vast, unlimited. It is not touched by sounds or noises. Look into the vast, unlimited silence in the space inside your body and smile into the silence.”

Another man whom I regard as my teacher is the Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. Thay, as he is affectionately called by his students, encourages us to use the power of our smile in various ways to help lessen our suffering and heal us.

Some examples:

“Breathing in I smile to my body. Breathing out I calm my body.” “Aware of my lower back I breathe in. Breathing out I smile to my lower back” “Hello my irritation. I see you. I am here now. I will take care of you.” and smile to my irritation and nourish it with my smile, so that is calms down and perhaps subsides.

Thay recounts the following from a children’s meditation group: “Recently I was sitting with a group of children, and a boy named Tim was smiling beautifully. I said, “Tim, you have a very beautiful smile,” and he said, “Thank you.” I told him, “You don’t have to thank me, I have to thank you. Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.
“Instead of saying, ‘Thank you,’ you could say, ‘You’re welcome.’” If a child smiles, if an adult smiles, that is very important. If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work . When I see Tim smiling, I am so happy. If he is aware that he is making other people happy, he can say, “You’re welcome.”
“From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness, when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being together as if we are the happiest people on Earth. This is not a retreat, it is a treat. During walking meditation, during kitchen and garden work, during sitting meditation, all day long, we can practice smiling.
“At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about why. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we have sovereignty over ourselves, that we are not drowned in forgetfulness. This kind of smile can be seen on the faces of Buddhas and bodhisattvas.”(excerpt from Being Peace)
Thay continues:
“I would like to offer one short poem you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling: Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is a wonderful moment. “Breathing in, I calm my body.” Reciting this line is like drinking a glass of ice water—you feel the cold, the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind. “Breathing out, I smile .” You know the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself. That is why the Buddhas and bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.

“Even though life is hard, even though it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. Just as when we wish each other “Good morning,” it must be a real “Good morning.” Recently, one friend asked me, “How can I force myself to smile when I am filled with sorrow? It isn’t natural.” I told her she must be able to smile to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow. A human being is like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha on, we are the Buddha. If we turn sorrow on, we are sorrow. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile. We can’t let just one channel dominate us. We have the seeds of everything in us, and we have to take the situation in hand to recover our own sovereignty.

“When we sit down peacefully, breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have sovereignty over ourselves. When we open ourselves up to a TV program, we let ourselves be invaded by the program. Sometimes it is a good program, but often it is just noisy. Because we want to have something other than ourselves enter us, we sit there and let a noisy television program invade us, assail us, destroy us.”
“Suppose you are expecting a child. You need to breathe and smile for the baby. Please don’t wait until your baby is born before beginning to take care of him or her. You can take care of your baby right now, or even sooner. If you can’t smile, that’s very serious. You might think, “I’m too sad. Smiling just isn’t the correct thing to do. ” Maybe crying or shouting would be correct, but your baby will get it—anything you are, anything you do, is for your baby.

“Whatever you are, whatever you do, your baby will receive it. Anything you eat, any worries that are on your mind will be for him or her. Can you tell me that you cannot smile? Think of the baby, and smile for him, for her, for the future generations. Please don’t tell me that a smile and your sorrow just don’t go together. It’s your sorrow, but what about your baby? It’s not his sorrow, it’s not her sorrow.

“Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.”

mystery of mysteries revisited

At this time we are experiencing a tremendous influx of information, much of which is contradictory and most is deeply disquieting. I am posting two of the classical translations of Verse One of the Tao Te Ching with the suggestion to contemplate the reconciliation of the opposites.

Be safe and remember to breathe and smile!




hsüan chih yu hsüan

(xuan zhi you xuan)

mystery of mysteries


Lao Tzu – Tao Te Ching Verse One (several translations)

These two things spirit and matter, so different in nature, have the same origin. This unity of origin is the mystery of mysteries, but it is the gateway to spirituality.

(Translated by Dwight Goddard – 1919) Continue reading

watch it take place


Chinese drinking tea


Ram Dass:

“Learn how to honor your incarnation perfectly, so that you can be free through form. Not in spite of form. Most of us think we are only free when we break out of form, but while you’re in this incarnation there is no way out of form. You are in form. So the real question is how can you be free in form? I used to think real freedom came from the ability to not work, political freedom, external freedom in circumstance. Real freedom comes from the ability to be able to not identify with ones thoughts. To move through the entirety of everything you do in a day, and all of the emotions and practicalities, and yet you don’t identify with any of it and just watch it take place, as a dance.”