Thich Nhat Hanh opens this inspirational follow-up to Understanding Our Mind with the question, Is free will possible? That query becomes a leitmotif as the author considers how the mind functions and how we can work to cultivate freedom and understanding in mind, spirit, and body. Nhat Hanh discusses the connection between psychology, neuroscience, and meditation. He describes the importance of creativity and visualization in a successful meditation practice, presents basic Buddhist practices, particularly walking and sitting meditation, and writes movingly about the importance of brotherhood and sisterhood in finding love, happiness, and harmonious coexistence with others. Punctuated with memorable stories from the life of the Buddha as well as anecdotes and observations from his own life, Buddha Mind, Buddha Body conveys powerful life lessons in Nhat Hanh’s characteristically light, humorous style.
“It’s impossible to read this book without being inspired to redouble one’s efforts on behalf of other people, on behalf of all beings, and on behalf of the planet.” —Sylvia Boorstein
1) “When we walk in mindfulness, our feet become the Buddha’s feet. We all have to walk, and whether we are walking in a small prison cell or in a beautiful garden, we have the opportunity to reconnect with the Buddha, the most respected loved being on two feet.”
2) “In the last 5 million years our brain has changed a lot. But in the last 200,000 years it has remained very much the same––the same size and weight. However, the mind has made very big steps in these 200,000 years, especially in the last century. Therefore, to say that mind and brain are the same is absurd. But if we say they are two different things, we are wrong also. Reality surpasses these extremes and is free from the notion of sameness and otherness.”
It’s very nice to walk for your parents, your grandma, your grandpa who may not have known the practice of walking meditation. Maybe in the whole of their life they didn’t have a chance to make peaceful, happy steps and establish themselves fully in the present moment. This is a pity, and many of us find ourselves in the same situation. Make a step and touch the earth in such a way that you can establish yourself entirely in the present moment, and you will completely arrive in the here and the now. It doesn’t require any effort at all. Your foot touches the earth mindfully and you arrive firmly in the here and the now—and suddenly you are free, free from all projects, all worries, all expectations; you are fully present, fully alive, and you are touching the Earth. I’m sure you can make a step like that. Because there is a Buddha in you—it’s called Buddha nature, the capacity of being aware of what is going on. What is going on is I am alive, I am making a step.
Even in the most difficult situation, you can walk like a Buddha. Last March we were visiting Korea, and there was a moment when we were surrounded by thousands of people. Each of them was holding a camera, they were closing in, and there was no path to walk, and they were all aiming their camera at me. It was a very difficult situation in which to do walking meditation. I said, “Dear Buddha, I give up, you walk for me.” Right away the Buddha came, and he walked with complete freedom, and the crowd just made way for the Buddha to walk. No effort was made. If you are finding some difficulty, just step aside, and allow the Buddha to take place; the Buddha is in you. This works in all situations. I have tried; it works in all situations. It’s like when you’re using a computer and a problem comes up that you can’t resolve, and your big brother who’s skillful at the computer comes in and says, “Move over a little, I’ll take over.” And as soon as he sits down, everything is all right. It’s like that. When you are finding things difficult, then withdraw and allow the Buddha to take place. It’s very easy. And for me it always works. You have to have faith in the Buddha within, and allow the Buddha to walk.
In the Avatamsaka Sutra there is a very delicious portion of the sutra describing the young man Sudhana looking for the mother of the Buddha. The young Sudhana has gone to many teachers in order to learn. His teacher is the great Manjushri Bodhisattva who encouraged him to go and learn from many people, not only the old teachers but also young teachers, not only Buddhist teachers but also non-Buddhist teachers. And one day he heard that he should go and meet the mother of the Buddha; he could learn a lot from her. So he tried looking for her, and he spent a lot of energy not being able to find her. Then someone told him, “You don’t have to go; just sit down and practice mindful breathing and visualization, and she will come.” Then he stopped searching, he sat down and he practiced. And suddenly he saw from deep in the earth a lotus come up and bloom with one thousand petals. And sitting on one of these petals he saw the mother of the Buddha, the lady Mahamaya. And he was so happy; he joined his palms and looked up. And then Mahamaya said, “Young man, do you know something? The moment when I conceived Siddhartha was a wonderful moment; there was a kind of bliss that made my whole body feel wonderful—the presence of a Buddha within you is a wonderful thing. You cannot be happier than that. You know something, young man, after Siddhartha came into my womb, countless bodhisattvas came from many directions and asked my permission to go in and to pay a visit to my son, to make sure that their friend was comfortable in there—countless bodhisattva friends of Siddhartha came. And they were all able to enter my womb—millions of them. Yet I had the impression that if there had been more bodhisattvas, who had wanted to go in, there was still plenty of room for them. Young man, do you know something? I am the mother of all Buddhas in the past. I am the mother of all the Buddhas in the present. And I shall be the mother of all Buddhas in the future.”
And who is Mahamaya, the mother of the Buddha? Is she someone outside of you, or you yourself? All of us carry a Buddha in our womb. Mahamaya is the one who is very aware of that—while she walks, while she sits, she is very careful, because she knows that she carries a Buddha within. Everything she eats or drinks, everything she does, every film she watches she knows will have an effect on her child. The Buddha Shakyamuni has said, “You are a Buddha.” There is a baby Buddha in each of you, whether you are a lady or a gentleman you carry within yourself a Buddha. Yet we are not as careful as Mahamaya in our way of eating, drinking, smoking, worrying, and getting absorbed in our projects. We are not a responsible mother of the Buddha. And just as with Mahamaya, there is plenty of room inside us, not only for one Buddha, but for countless Buddhas. And we can declare like Mahamaya that we were the mother of all Buddhas in the past. We can be the mother of all Buddhas in the present. And we shall be able to be the mother of all Buddhas in the future.
Visualizations like these erase all feelings of inadequacy. You can behave with the responsibility of a Buddha’s mother so that the Buddha in you has a chance to manifest for you and for the world. That is why visualization is a very important tool in meditation and transformation. Someone whose mind is polluted by greed and anger can’t do it well. So the purification of our mind and our thinking is very important. The practice of the mindfulness trainings, the practice of mindful walking and sitting and the practice of Samadhi (concentration) help to purify the mind and bring the fire of concentration to burn away the ignorance and delusion. If we erase our wrong perceptions reality can reveal itself very clearly to us.