In his Dharma talk “Freedom from Being Caught in the Past or the Future”, Thich Nhất Hạnh began by reminding us how we are so often not mindful, and that we often are thinking about the past or the future. Long experience has built up habits that keep us forever running. But in reality, neither the past nor the future exist; only the present is real. If we can stop running and fully exist in the present, we can experience the “Kingdom of God”, or the Pure Land of the Buddha. This peace is always available to us; we need only to stop running and be in the present moment.
Nhất Hạnh recommended the practice of mindful walking to all of us. He suggested that we use the words “I have arrived” with every step we take while breathing in, and “I am home” with every step we take while breathing out. Timing our breathing to our steps, we might have two steps while breathing in, and three steps while breathing out. Or we might be more relaxed and take more steps for each breath, or breathe faster and take fewer steps. Use the number of steps your lungs need, and remind yourself “I have arrived” while breathing in, and “I am home” while breathing out. One might also use other phrases: “In the here / In the now”, “I am solid / I am free”, and “In the ultimate / I dwell”.
In our discussion, more than one person commented on how peaceful Nhất Hạnh seemed. His face is peaceful, his voice is calming, and he seems to glide when he walks — the practice of mindful walking certainly seems to have benefitted him! We also talked amongst ourselves about how to apply these teachings in more stressful circumstances. Mindful walking is easier on a peaceful retreat, surrounded by monastics, but harder among the stresses of everyday life. We don’t have a single solution, but being consistent with one’s practice can help, as well as exploring Thich Nhất Hạnh’s teachings on mindfulness more deeply.
Thích Nhất Hạnh died on January 22, 2022, and we were grateful to have this opportunity to remember his life together by hearing him speak about mindfulness.
The video we shared during our session, a brief summary of Thích Nhất Hạnh’s contributions, and additional resources are posted below. Happy learning!
From the Teachers: Mindfulness
Freedom from Being Caught in the Past or the Future — by Thích Nhất Hạnh*
* About Thích Nhất Hạnh:
Thích Nhất Hạnh; born as Nguyen Xuan Bao (October 11, 1926 – January 22, 2022); was a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, peace activist, prolific author, poet, teacher, and founder of the Plum Village Tradition, historically recognized as the main inspiration for engaged Buddhism. Known as the “father of mindfulness”, Nhất Hạnh was a major influence on Western practices of Buddhism.
In the mid-1960s, Nhất Hạnh co-founded the School of Youth for Social Services and created the Order of Interbeing. He was exiled from Vietnam in 1966 after expressing opposition to the war. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Nhất Hạnh established dozens of monasteries and practice centers and spent many years living at the Plum Village Monastery, which he founded in 1982 in southwest France near Thénac, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. Nhất Hạnh promoted deep listening as a nonviolent solution to conflict and sought to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of all elements in nature. He coined the term “engaged Buddhism” in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire.
After a 39-year exile, Nhất Hạnh was permitted to visit Vietnam in 2005. In November 2018, he returned to Vietnam to his “root temple”, Từ Hiếu Temple, near Huế, where he lived until his death on January 22, 2022, at the age of 95.
For more comprehensive information about Thích Nhất Hạnh’s life, please visit the Plum Village website using these links:
- The Life Story of Thich Nhat Hanh [ https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/biography/ ]
- Thich Nhat Hanh: Extended Biography [ https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/thich-nhat-hanh-full-biography/ ]
To read more about Thích Nhất Hạnh’s teachings on mindfulness, start with the followings:
- The Art of Mindful Living – instructions on practicing mindfulness while breathing, walking, sitting, eating, and resting.
[ https://plumvillage.org/mindfulness-practice/ ]
- Extended Practises – instructions on practicing mindfulness during various activity and mind states, including: Waking Up, Hugging, Drinking Tea, Living Together, Sharing, Keeping Noble Silence, Having a Lazy Day, Taking care of our bodies, In Solitude, Touching The Earth, Taking Refuge, Sangha Building, Feeling Angry, Bowing, Going Home… and more.
[ https://plumvillage.org/extended-mindfulness-practises/ ]
- Books by Thích Nhất Hạnh – the Master has published over 100 titles in English, this page on the Plum Village website organize his writing by subjects and audience types. Use the “jump to →” links above each category to find what interest you most.
[ https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/key-books/#where-to-start ]
- Interviews with Thích Nhất Hạnh – this page on the Plum Village website lists interviews the Master has given to national and international media over the last twenty years. Under “Filter by Topic“, click on the down arrow icon to open up the full list of topic selection to find what interest you most.
[ https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/interviews-with-thich-nhat-hanh/#filter=.topics-mindfulness ]