Tag Archives: monk

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Greatest Teaching on Love and Mindfulness

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The first time I was exposed to well-known Buddhist monk, peace activist, and author Thich Nhat Hanh, who visited Boston over the weekend, was when I read his book, Miracle of Mindfulness in a college course on Buddhism. I still recall one of our homework assignments for the class. We had to wash the dishes…which was awesome for my roommates. I’d pulled dish duty. A monk said so.

But, the assignment wasn’t to wash the dishes the way any of us typically wash the dishes, dashing off a chore so that we can move on to something better. Instead, the assignment required us to wash the dishes while being fully present and mindful. Never mind what happens next. We were learning through real-life practice that the powerful moment–the only one over which we have any guarantee or influence–is the one happening now. Don’t wait until later to be compassionate or kind, attentive and aware. A mind does not get stronger that way. It stays distracted and anxious about what comes next… And after that?… And then what?

On Sunday, in Copley Square, I was again reminded how miraculous mindfulness can be. I went with the expectation that I’d sit quietly, among hundreds of other people, in the presence of a revered Zen master, but didn’t anticipate much more. I knew it would feel meaningful and maybe solemn. I imagined we’d hear car horns or passing Duck Tours as we meditated. Quack, quack! I hoped he’d speak a little bit. Hopefully, we could hear and understand him. I momentarily wondered if it was unsafe to congregate in an open and vulnerable public space doing something spiritual, possibly viewed as religious. After all, we were in front of a church, among hundreds of Buddhists, yards from the Boston Marathon finish line, where two bombs went off five months ago to the date.

Trinity Church’s Reverend Dr. William Rich acknowledged this fact as he introduced Thich Nhat Hanh, who was now sitting under the hot sun clad in a knit hat and multiple layers of robes and meditations shawls. Wasn’t he melting? It struck me that it couldn’t be a coincidence, this event to sit in peace and healing near an area subjected to so much suffering a short time ago. The week before had also marked the anniversary of 9/11, the reverend noted. We were still at war and now considering military action in Syria. The day before marked the Jewish holiday of atoning for sins, Yom Kippur. In any number of ways, no matter who you were, the message of the day was clear. We are here to be together in peace. We’re here to practice greater awareness and compassion because the world needs both right now.

Small and centered, the 85-year-old Vietnamese monk in a knitted hat.

Following his introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh did something surprising to some. He said nothing. He didn’t even open his eyes. Instead, he sat silently and meditated, signaling for a typically pulsing cross-section of the city to join him. I don’t recall car horns. Definitely no quacking. A few small children giggled or cried briefly in the crowd, but mostly, it was very quiet.

When he eventually spoke, about 25-minutes later, the famous monk said only this: Breathing in, I am aware of my breath. Breathing out, I am aware of my breath, a simple mantra to set the stage for a talk that would succinctly and poetically teach a diverse group what it means to be mindful and how it creates peace. Next, he said: Breathing in, I enjoy breathing in. Breathing out, I enjoy breathing out.

The mantras and teachings gained momentum from there. We breathed in and out qualities of a mountain’s solidity and stability, water’s stillness and reflection, a flower’s freshness and beauty, and space. Breathing in, I have the element of space within me. Breathing out, I feel free… Space: free. Nothing was too heady. No one was left out. It was the most simple yet moving talk I’ve ever witnessed on meditation or Buddhism. If I was exposed to this teacher first in college, I was now getting schooled in a whole new way.

Then, the talk dovetailed into territory I would not have predicted for an 85-year-old celibate monk: love. It could have easily represented love for a family member or friend, but to hear a monk use the word darling in three different types of mantras suggested romantic love, and it made everyone smile. Darling, I am here. Darling, I know you are here. Darling, I know that you suffer, and I am here for you.  

“The most precious thing you can offer your loved one is your presence,” he said. “To be present means to be there. How can you love, if you are not there?” His voice was gentle, but the message reverberated. Love (romantic or otherwise) doesn’t work if we’re distracted or hiding– behind suffering, the TV, iPhone, alcohol, who knows. We all have our means of avoiding reality, some healthier than others. To love means to understand suffering, our own and our darling’s.

He linked the two segments of the talk seamlessly– the meditation, breathing, and mantras– with his thoughts on love. We practice meditation so that we can restore our presence and feel more stable, free, fresh, and beautiful. “You cannot buy it in a market,” the adorable monk cautioned in his sing-song accent, of the level of presence needed for true love. “You have to produce it yourself.”

Somewhere along the way, my tear ducts started producing an abundance of water. I was overwhelmed. It was too beautiful maybe, the day, his words, the fact that my present moment looked, felt, and sounded the way it did, and I was sharing it with hundreds of other people, some of whom must have been having a similar experience. Their suffering was all around, their love, too. I felt a hand on my arm, which startled me. It was a kind woman offering a tissue. I could hear others nearby also weeping. Monks and nuns were chanting now, singing the name of Avalokiteshvara, the saint of compassion, and a cello played. Damn cello, gets me every time. Vast blue sky space stretched overhead, and the ground on which we sat felt solid and stable. We were being restored.

The Buddhist monks and nuns chanting… also the cello. Sniff.

Life will always contain suffering, and it will offer opportunities to cultivate compassion, grow love, and strengthen our minds through presence and practice. Copley Square will always be the place where we went after the marathon to leave flowers, candles, sneakers, and letters. It’s where people cried and prayed  Often, they felt hopeless. Today, a proper memorial resides in the same spot, on the periphery of where Thich Nhat Hanh’s meditation event occurred. The earth, there, hugging the edge of the space where so many people sat in peace and thought about love.

I still hurry through the dishes most of the time, and while writing this post, I wolfed down an apple and peanut butter so fast, I barely tasted either of them. My spoon scrapped the bottom of the bowl, and I thought, heyyy, who ate my snack? But, then, a teacher or moment reminds me of the miracle of mindfulness and skill of being present. How I can always practice, beginning simply with breathing in and breathing out. And, sometimes, the expectations in my mind are blown away by the real-life experience.

 

Originally published on my website, Om Gal.

The Coolest Meditator In The World

The Dalai Lama @ The Vancouver Peace SummitHe turned 78 last Saturday and still says he meditates for three hours every day, starting at 4 am. He says he is just a simple monk and that kindness is his religion, calling for love and compassion to promote world peace.

When we met with the Dalai Lama he was standing on his veranda overlooking the beautiful Himalayan Mountain range, smiling and waving for us to come. We went to bow as is the tradition but he lifted us, took our hands, and said: “We are all equal here.”

We really didn’t know what to expect as he walked us into his sitting room. We imagined this spiritual leader to millions would be a serene Buddha-like figure sitting on a throne, yet he sat between us on his couch, still holding our hands, for forty-five minutes. He was the most ordinary person we ever hung out with. The world’s greatest meditator was simple and unassuming, he felt like our best friend, and he laughed a lot.

Ed and Deb Shapiro with the Dalai LamaJust by sitting with the Dalai Lama we realized the effect of his years of meditation, as his very presence emanated all those qualities that meditators seek, such as inner peace, loving kindness, authenticity, and mindful awareness. This is particularly seen in his devotion to ahimsa, non-injury, and his policy of non-violence, which is why he won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1989.

Research, such as that conducted by neuroscientist Richie Davidson, a friend of the Dalai Lama’s, at Wisconsin University, and shared in our book Be The Change, proves how meditation actually develops the part of our brain that increases compassion and loving kindness. “By training the mind, we can actually change the brain toward greater contentment,” says Dr. Davidson in Be The Change. “There is certainly evidence to show that meditation practices designed to cultivate compassion and loving kindness change the brain in many positive ways.”

However, the mind desires endless entertainment and much prefers being distracted than facing the constant dramas racing around inside it. The idea of sitting still and watching our breath can appear boring, meaningless, even a time-waster, and not at all fun or creative. Yet meditation invites an undoing of what isn’t and a revealing of what is; we don’t become someone else, rather we become more who we really are, which is far from boring! It is about being fully present in this moment, no matter what we are doing: if washing the dishes, then let any thoughts and distractions dissolve into the soap bubbles; when eating, be aware of every bite, taste, and texture.

As the Dalai Lama wrote in the foreword to our book:

I strongly recommend anyone interested in meditation not to simply read what these people have to say, but to try it out. If you like it and its useful to you, keep it up. Treat this book as you would a cookery book. You wouldn’t merely read recipes with approval, you’d try them out. Some you’d like and would use again. Like cookery, meditation only makes sense if you put it into effect.

A regular practice of meditation can produce discernible changes in the brain in a matter of just six to eight weeks. To feel the difference in yourself try the practice below.

Weed Pulling Meditation

Find a comfortable and upright place to sit. Take a few deep breaths, then watch the flow of your breath as it enters and leaves.

Now bring your focus to your heart, and as you breathe in feel as if your heart is opening and softening; as you breathe out, release any tension or resistance. Sit here for a few minutes.

Now visualize yourself walking in a beautiful but overgrown garden. All sorts of colorful flowers surround you, but among them are numerous weeds.

You find a place to sit amidst the plants and mindfully begin to remove the weeds. Each one represents a negative aspect of yourself or your life. Name it as you remove it, and watch it leave your mind as you discard it.

The more weeds you remove the lighter you feel, as if a weight is being removed from you. As you do this, the flowers are growing stronger and brighter.

Stay here as long as you like. You may not have time to pull up all the weeds, so before you leave promise that you will be back again to remove some more.

When you are ready, silently repeat three times, “May I be happy, may my mind be like a beautiful garden.” Take a deep breath and let it go. Then fill the rest of your day with kindness and smiles.

* * *

Listen to our weekly LIVE radio show every Tuesday at 8:00pm EST: Going Out Of Your Mind.

Join our Be The Change Meditate e-Conference that will uplift and inspire you. 30 eclectic meditation teachers, including Marianne Williamson, Congressman Tim Ryan, author of Mindful Nation, Sharon Salzberg, Robert Thurman, Gangaji, Joan Borysenko, Seane Corn, neuroscientist Richie Davidson who proves how meditation affects the brain, Roshi Joan Halifax, Tara Stiles, and us, Ed and Deb Shapiro, authors of the conference companion book, BE THE CHANGE: How Meditation Can Transform You and The World. Expect your life to never be the same again!

For more information: www.edanddebshapiro.com

photo by: Kris Krug

“Decoding Deepak”: A sneak-peak at the upcoming film

You probably know Deepak Chopra as a physician, a writer, a speaker, or, as he says, “an explorer of consciousness.” You may have read some (or all!) of his more than 65 books, and perhaps you’ve seen him speak at an event on consciousness, science, or spirituality. You may have seen videos of him on The Chopra Well. Remember this line from “Meet the Chopras”? “I am a luminous, stardust being that was manufactured in the dust of the Big Bang.” Classic Deepak.

Well, here is your chance to see another side of Deepak…Deepak Chopra the father, the grandfather, the everyday man living his life. Gotham, Deepak’s son, spent a year traveling around the world with his father in an attempt to unpack the persona that has developed around the man. The resulting documentary, “Decoding Deepak,” is scheduled for release in theaters and on demand October 5.

To give you an idea of what to look forward to, here is an excerpted scene from the film. In the scene, Gotham and Deepak have arrived in Thailand where Deepak is soon to be honored in a traditional Buddhist ceremony for monkhood. Separated from his work, social networks, and chaotic schedule, he grows restless.

Cool, huh? Yes, even Deepak Chopra is plugged in to social networks. And even Deepak Chopra can grow restless without them. This is just a taste of what’s to come.

Subscribe for The Chopra Well so you don’t miss the next excerpted scene from “Decoding Deepak.” And then catch the entire film, starting October 5, in select theaters and on demand.