A Book Preview

mb29-BookTransformation at the Base:
Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness
Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, 2001

Introduction

The twelfth-century Vietnamese Zen master
Thuong Chieu, “Always Shining,” said, “When we
understand how our mind works, the practice becomes
easy.” This is a book on Buddhist psychology, offered
to help us see how the mind works through understanding the nature of consciousness. These Fifty Verses can be seen as a kind of road map to the path of practice. Through meditation, the Buddha came to understand his own mind deeply, and for more than two thousand five hundred years his followers have learned how to take care of their own minds and bodies in order to obtain transformation and peace …

As a novice monk, I studied and memorized Vasubandhu’s Twenty and Thirty Verses in Chinese. When I came to the West, I realized that these important teachings on Buddhist psychology could open doors of understanding for people here. So, in 1990 I composed the Fifty Verses to continue to polish the precious gems offered by the Buddha, Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, Xuanzang, Fazang and others . ..

I have tried in this book to present the Manifestation – Only teachings in a completely Mahayana way. If, while rea ding, you don’t understand a particular word or phrase, please don’t try too hard. Allow the teachings to enter you as you might listen to music, or in the way the earth allows the rain to permeate it. If you use only your intellect to study these verses, it would be like putting plastic over the earth. But if you allow this Dharma rain to penetrate your consciousness, these Fifty Verses will offer you the whole of the Abhidharma teachings ” in a nutshell.”

– Excerpted from the Introduction written by Thich Nhat Hanh.

Ripening

Store consciousness ripens in two ways – as our person (the world of sentient beings) and as our environment (the instrumental world). In the moment, we ca n touch the ripen ed fruit that is ourself, our friends, and our world. Tomorrow, that ripened fruit will be different – better or worse, depending on our individual and collective actions. In Buddhism, action (karma) takes three forms: body, speech, and mind. Our actions of body, speech and mind, when brought together, create the qualities of our happiness or suffering. We are the author of our destiny. The quality of our being depends upon the quality of our prior actions. This is called maturation.

Some seeds take longer to ripen than others. Some maintain the same basic nature before and after ripening. Some are completely different before and after ripening. Someone could sow a musical seed. Before that seed ripens, we do not sing well and the melodies we compose are not very beautiful. As we practice more and more, the seed ripens and there is a change and the music we create becomes more melodious. Ripening takes place in every moment. Our body, our consciousness, and the world are the matured fruits of this ripening.

Consciousness is at the heart of everything. Space, time, and the four great elements are all displays of consciousness. All six have the nature of interbeing. If we look deeply into one, we find the other five. We have the power to create and arrive at a new maturation when we know how to transform the seeds in our store consciousness. We may think that a new maturation only takes place after we release this body, this actual manifestation of our eight consciousnesses. But looking deeply, we see that maturation takes place in every moment. We have the capacity to renew ourselves in every moment.

~ Excerpted from Chapter Thirty Five: Ripening


 

Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
Thich Nhat Hanh
Coming out in Fall 2001 by Riverhead Books

This book is a love letter to us all. Written in simple language, full of concrete methods and practices, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us with great compassion and wisdom that we can transform the fire of anger in us into a cool, refreshing lake.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us that if we love someone, we must tell him or her when we are angry, not only when we are happy. We must learn to speak lovingly about our hurt and anger, and within twenty-four hours. The stories and step-by-step instructions guide us towards expressing our anger wisely, with great patience for ourselves and the other person. When we look deeply into our situation, we see that we are not the only one that suffers. Our partner, child, parent, or friend is also in great need of our understanding and compassion. Learning to care for our own anger is at the same time learning to care for our beloved ones.

Many stories of reconciliation and healing are artfully interwoven with the down-to-earth teachings. We meet a woman on the brink of suicide because her marriage is so painful and explosive. She encounters the Dharma and she gains deep insight into how she herself has helped to create her situation and caused her husband tremendous suffering. Through the practice of deep listening and loving speech, she is able to transform her relationship and restore communication in her family. There are parents and children who hadn’t spoken to each other in years who were able to reestablish love and trust.

This book is about making happiness a reality, making peace and compassion manifest again in our lives, our relationships, our communities and society. We need the teachings and the methods presented in this book. .. badly. How we deal with our individual anger has everything to do with the reality of violence and war in the world. Practicing these teachings is stopping wars before they start.

If you want a book that will help you heal yourself, your relationships, bring peace, joy and insight into your everyday life through very concrete, simple practices, this is it.

by Sister Chau Nghiem

Excerpt: Caring for Your Baby, Anger

When anger begins to surface, you have to be like a mother listening for the cries of her baby. If a mother is working in the kitchen and hears her baby crying, she puts down whatever she is doing, and goes to comfort her baby. She may be making a very good soup; the soup is important, but it s much less important than the suffering of her baby. She has to put down the soup, and go to the baby’s room. Her appearance in the room is like sunshine because the mother is full of warmth, concern and tenderness. The first thing she does is pick up the baby and embrace him tenderly. When mother embraces her baby, her energy penetrates him and soothes him. This is exactly what you have to learn to do. You have to abandon everything that you are doing, because your most important task is to go back to yourself and take care of your baby, your anger. Nothing is more urgent than taking good care of your baby.

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Remember when you were a little child and you had a fever; although they gave you aspirin or other medicine, you didn’t feel better until your mother came and put her hand on your burning forehead? Thatfelt so good! Her hand was like the hand of a goddess. When she touched you with her hand, a lot of freshness, love and compassion penetrated into your body. The hand of your mother is your own hand. Her hand is still alive in yours, if you know how to breathe in and out, to be mindful. Then, touching your forehead with your very own hand, you will see that your mother s hand is still there, touching your forehead. You will have the same energy of love and tenderness for yourself . ..

As practitioners, we have to be anger specialists. We have to attend to our anger; we have to practice until we understand the roots of our anger and how it works. We hold our baby of anger in mindfulness so that we get relief We continue the practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking, as a lullaby for our angel: The energy of mindfulness penetrates into the energy of angel; exactly like the energy of the mother penetrates into the energy of the baby. There s no difference at all. If you know how to practice mindful breathing, smiling, and walking meditation, it is certain that you will find relief in five, ten or fifteen minutes.

Permission was given by Riverhead Books to print this excerpt.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village

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Book Reviews

mb48-BookReviews1World As Lover, World As Self
Courage for Global Justice and Ecological Renewal

By Joanna Macy
Revised edition
Parallax Press, 2007
Paperback, 202 pages

Reviewed by Emily Whittle

Every once in a while a book falls into my lap that I want to purchase by the case and give away at busy street corners or drop from airplanes like packages of medicine. World As Lover, World As Self by Joanna Macy is one of those books.

This is how Macy describes her book: “Carl Jung said that at the core of each life’s journey is one question we are born to pursue. The one question threading through my life here on this beautiful Earth is about how to be fully present to my world — present enough to rejoice and be useful — while we as a species are progressively destroying it. This book is my attempt to answer this preoccupation, as well as insight into the relief and guidance I have found in the teachings of the Buddha.”

Joanna Macy looks unblinking at the feeling of despair over the rapid extinction of species and the unprecedented plundering of our planet’s lands and waters. Giving voice to the pain of being alive in a special time when human beings have lost the certainty of the continuity of our species is an act of courage and of compassion. Her words brought me to tears, but they were tears of relief — the relief of honesty and clear naming.

Once named and honored, she proceeds to outline a path to heal our grief by first mining the past for wisdom that can help us, finding inspiration in the Buddha’s teaching of interdependent co-arising. This teaching “first shows us how profoundly we’re entangled in the web of life, thus relieving us of our human arrogance and loneliness. Second, it frees us from having to have it all figured out ahead of time, for the solutions arise as we walk the path and meet each other on the road. And lastly, it reveals our distinctiveness as humans: our capacity to choose.”

Ahhh! Already, I feel lighter.

Moving on to the present, she shares practical exercises to cultivate our gratitude, a sure antidote to despair. The Mohawk Thanksgiving Prayer gives me goose bumps and draws more tears. Reading it at sangha, I hear scattered sniffling and know a nerve has been touched.

She addresses the problems of apathy, burnout, and overwhelm that plague social activists, offering additional practical strategies for collective strengthening and awakening. Her suggestions provide a scaffold that can be creatively adapted to groups of many persuasions and focus.

In the final section, Macy addresses the future, challenging us to alter our sense of time through a powerful guided meditation, telescoping our life as Gaia into twenty-four hours. Seen in this context, our human history begins at one second to midnight. Then, rendering that final second into another twenty-four-hour day, the Buddha and Jesus arrive at six seconds to midnight; our industrial age bursting on the scene only in the last microseconds. But what swift changes those microseconds bring!

If the threat of our annihilation is the catalyst to our birthing as compassionate guardians of the Earth’s future, then even toxic nuclear waste can be viewed as a great gift. We can wake up. Books like this can be a valuable guide on the path of transformation.

mb48-BookReviews2Buddha Mind, Buddha Body
Walking Toward Enlightenment

by Thich Nhat Hanh
Parallax Press, Berkeley, 2007
Softcover, 146 pages

Reviewed by Judith Toy

I am reading this book in the second month after the sudden passing of our thirty-six-year-old son, Jesse. I chose it because the back cover reads: “In… this follow-up to his classic book, Understanding Our Mind, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how we can instill the habit of happiness in our consciousness.” I want my happiness back. I am reading it because, just as in the days when I first fell into the arms of Zen, I am desperate.

Back then, my sister-in-law and her two sons, my teenage nephews, had been murdered. Now our son is dead of a heroin overdose. The rhythm of Thay’s syntax in this book calms me. And his incredible clarity, as always, brightens my mind.

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s great gifts to the world is a group method of outdoor walking meditation which he adapted from Shakyamuni Buddha’s first alms rounds. In Buddha Mind, Buddha Body, which would serve well as a primer for new students, Thay weaves in and out of walking meditation. “You can take a step and touch the earth in such a way that you establish yourself in the present moment, and you will arrive in the here and now. You don’t need to make any effort at all.” A good place to begin.

To this practice, he adds the basics of Buddhist psychology and the way to happiness through the Six Paramitas, which he supplements with a lucid explanation of the importance of Finding Wise Friends and the Four Elements of Love, the ground of our Bodhisattva path. Walking Meditation, Touching the Earth, and Total Relaxation are exercises offered by Thay so we can make manifest the words of this wisdom book, which includes the Verses on the Characteristics of the Eight Consciousnesses in both Chinese and English in Appendix I, and a Sanskrit key in Appendix II.

Buddha Mind, Buddha Body, is comprehensive. Thay tells how our minds work and how our feet work, and he shows us how we can use both body and mind to walk into the realm of happiness and reclaim our sovereignty, our free will. He shows us once again that happiness and freedom are not an individual matter. We will be liberated only when we can inter-be with all forms of life.

Yet this is only speculation until I can put into practice what our teacher so clearly articulates here through poems, stories, sutras, and scientific studies. So I put down the book and head for the mountain wilderness to walk with my late sister-in-law and my two nephews and our son, Jesse. “Jesse,” I say, “walk with me.” I call to Dougie, Danny, Louise. “Please walk with me.” I follow my breathing. With my boot soles, I kiss the red earth where Cherokee once roamed.

They are with me, too. And the mica strewn on every path in southern Appalachia — like glitter on the clay-red soil and decomposing leaves — shines as tiny mirrors, the net of Indra reflecting all Buddhas everywhere, each a window to the cosmos.

I am thinking of my Sangha friend Susan when on the path I spy a heart-shaped rock. Susan collects these! I pick it up and hold it in my palm. Its temperature is cold, but I know that, like my heart, if I continue to hold it, its original warmth will return. Suddenly I notice I feel happy, even in my sorrow.

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