This is a translation and commentary by Thich Nhat Hanh on the Sutra on Knowing the Better Way To Live Alone, the earliest teaching of the Buddha on living fully in the present moment.
In this contemporary interpretation, Thich Nhat Hanh explains that “living alone” does not mean isolating ourselves from society. To live alone is to live in mindfulness, free from worries about the past and future. We enjoy life as we live it right now. In his signature gentle and clear style, Nhat Hanh reminds us that our appointment with life is in this very moment, and there is nothing that needs to get in our way. This revised edition features a new introduction by the author.
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Some days we may feel hollow, exhausted, and joyless, not really our true selves. On such days, even if we try to be in touch with others, our efforts will be in vain. The more we try, the more we fail. When this happens, we should stop trying to be in touch with what is outside of ourselves and come back to being in touch with ourselves, to being alone. We should close the door on to society, come back to ourselves, and practice conscious breathing, observing deeply what is going on inside and around us. We accept all the phenomena we observe, say hello to them, and smile to them. We do well to do simple things, like walking or sitting meditation, washing our clothes, cleaning the floor, making tea, and cleaning the bathroom in mindfulness. If we do these things, we will restore the richness of our spiritual life.
Peace, joy, liberation, awakening, happiness, Buddhahood, the source, everything we long for and seek after can only be found in the present moment. To abandon the present moment in order to look for these things in the future is to throw away the substance and hold on to the shadow. In Buddhism, aimlessness (apranihita) is taught as a way to help the practitioner stop pursuing the future and return wholly to the present. To be able to stop pursuing the future allows us to realize that all the wonderful things we seek are present in us, in the present moment. Life is not a particular place or a destination. Life is a path. To practice walking meditation is to go without needing to arrive. Every step can bring us peace, joy, and liberation. That is why we walk in the spirit of aimlessness. There is no way to liberation, peace, and joy; peace and joy are themselves the way. Our appointment with the Buddha, with liberation, and with happiness is here and now. We should not miss this appointment.