This last week I had the great pleasure of being in St. Catharines, Ontario for a mindfulness retreat. This was led by the wonderful folk of Plum Village and dear Thây, Thich Nhat Hanh himself. (Thây is “teacher” in Vietnamese, and is what most people call Thich Nhat Hanh – which is nice because his name’s a bit of a mouthful).
The practice of mindfulness is about being fully present in each moment. This is beyond carpe diem. It is about cultivating peace, understanding and compassion within (and for) yourself, in order to live peacefully with, and protect, all life (people, animals, plants and minerals). The main concept is that we cannot possibly be a positive force in the world if we are not first a positive force within ourselves. It makes a lot of sense to me. We cannot lend what we don’t have. In order to bring peace, we must be peace. If you look at the works of other big time peace activists (Gandhi, Martin Luther King, Jr., Mother Teresa), they all say similar things.
(Fun fact, TNH was pals with Martin Luther King, Jr. and was instrumental in MLK’s stance on opposing the Vietnam War. MLK then nominated TNH for a Nobel Peace Prize).
Now, obviously if you are focusing on living peacefully and protecting all life, you have to take a clear look at your consumption patterns. The Big Ideas in Thây’s tradition are known as the “Five Mindfulness Trainings.” As Thây puts it, these are the Buddhist contribution to a global ethic. Honestly, they outline the type of living ideal for our beautiful, suffering, interconnected world.
Two of these trainings in particular deal with the issues I’m talking about.
The Second Mindfulness Training, True Happiness, says (in part):
Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others… I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not external conditions, and I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy. I am committed to working in a way that I can help reduce the suffering of living beings on Earth and reverse the process of global warming.
Hard to argue with that. This is entirely in keeping with what I’ve been struggling toward. I also really appreciate the concept of not possessing things that should belong to others. I wonder what I possess that should not be mine…
The Fifth Mindfulness Training, Nourishment and Healing, says (in part):
Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking and consuming… I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety or other suffering by losing myself in consumption. I will make every effort to consume in a way that preserves peace, joy, and well-being in my body and mind, and in the collective body and mind of my family, my society and our Earth.
Again, pretty straightforward. Though this training focuses more on what we eat, drink, watch, read and dwell on, it has implications for everything we consume. It also touches on the very serious problem of us using consumption as a way to cover up or push away our problems, rather than dealing with them.
It was amazing to be among almost 1400 laypersons and about 50 monks and nuns who are all willing to deal with these issues together for the betterment of themselves and the betterment of the world.
Let us all be mindful of our consumption. Why we are consuming, what we are consuming and how our consumption is affecting ourselves and every living thing on this planet.