Book Excerpts

Inspiring readings to incorporate into your practice.

Footsteps of the Buddha

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh “At Home in the World: Stories & Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life” (2015)

The first time I visited India was in 1968. I had been in Tokyo before that, and while there, I learned that the peace negotiations for Vietnam were starting in Paris. So I left for Paris to help set up a Buddhist delegation that could be present at the peace talks. On my way, I stopped in India, hoping to have an opportunity to visit the place where the Buddha reached enlightenment. From New Delhi I took a plane to go to Patna, north of the Ganges River. From Patna I could go to Bodhgaya where the Buddha was enlightened. That plane followed the footsteps of the Buddha along the Ganges River.

The Buddha didn’t travel by car, by airplane, or by train. He just walked. He walked to many cities. Once he even walked as far as Delhi. He visited over fifteen kingdoms on foot. Knowing that, as I was looking down on the Ganges, I could see his footsteps everywhere. The Buddha’s footsteps continue to bring his solidity, freedom, peace, joy, and happiness everywhere.

It was very nice to have fifteen minutes to visualize the Buddha down there, walking and sharing his happiness, his enlightenment, his peace and joy with the Earth and with the human beings who inhabited that region of the Earth. I was moved to tears, looking down as I sat on the plane, seeing the presence of the Buddha in the here and the now. Looking down, I vowed that I would practice walking meditation in order to bring the steps of the Buddha to other parts of the world. We can walk in Europe, in the Americas, in Australia, in Africa, and we can continue the Buddha, bringing peace and joy, solidity and freedom to many parts of the world.

I have been all over the world. I have shared the practice of walking meditation with so many people. I have many friends, both monastic and lay, who have been walking like that on all five continents. So the Buddha is now everywhere, and not just in the delta of the Ganges River.

Visiting India that time, I had an opportunity to climb the Gridhrakuta Mountain. The Buddha used to like staying there, in the vicinity of Rajagraha, the capital of Magadha, the country where King Bimbisara reigned.

A group of friends—monks, nuns, and laypeople—climbed the Gridhrakuta Mountain with me. There was a monk with us whose name was Mahagosananda. He was still young at the time. Later on he became the patriarch of Cambodia. We climbed the Gridhrakuta Mountain slowly and mindfully. When we arrived at the top, close to the place where the Buddha used to sit, we all sat down and we were able to see the same beautiful sunset that the Buddha used to see. We sat and we practiced mindful breathing and contemplated the beauty of the sunset. We were using the eyes of the Buddha to admire and enjoy the beautiful sunset.

King Bimbisara had a stone path built from the foot of the mountain to the top so that the Buddha could climb up and down more easily. That stone path is still there. If you go there you can also enjoy climbing the mountain, using the same stone path, and you may visualize that the Buddha has stepped on those very same stones.

I Am Not in Here

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh “At Home in the World: Stories & Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life” (2015)

I have a disciple in Vietnam who wants to build a stupa for my ashes when I die. He and others want to put a plaque with the words, “Here lies my beloved teacher.” I told them not to waste the temple land.

“Do not put me in a small pot and put me in there” I said. “I don’t want to continue like that. It would be better to scatter the ashes outside to help the trees to grow.”

I suggested that, if they still insist on building a stupa, they have the plaque say, “I am not in here.” But in case people don’t get it, they could add a second plaque, “I am not out there either.” If still people don’t understand, then you can write on the third and last
plaque, “I may be found in your way of breathing and walking.”

This body of mine will disintegrate, but my actions will continue me. In my daily life I always practice to see my continuation all around me. We don’t need to wait until the total dissolution of this body to continue—we continue in every moment. 

If you think that I am only this body, then you have not truly seen me. When you look at my friends, you see my continuation. When you see someone walking with compassion, you know he is my continuation. 

I don’t see why we have to say “I will die,” because I can already see myself in you, in other people, and in future generations.

Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. It is impossible for a cloud to die. It can become rain or ice, but it cannot become nothing. The cloud does not need to have a soul in order to continue. There’s no beginning and no end. I will never die. There will be a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death. 

I will continue, always.

What Happens When You Die?

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh, “The Art of Living: Peace and Freedom in the Here and Now(2017)

“We have a tendency to think that we have a separate self that is born at one moment and must die at another, and that is permanent during the time we are alive. As long as we have this wrong view, we will suffer; we will create suffering for those around us, and we will cause harm to other species and to our precious planet.
 
We are not limited to our physical body, even when we are alive.  We inter-are with our ancestors, our descendants, and the whole cosmos. We don’t have a separate self, we are never really born, and we never really die. We are interconnected with all life, and we are always in transformation.
 
Can you see how you are continued in your parents, in your brothers and sisters, in your teachers and friends? Can you see the continuation body of your parents and loved ones? We don’t need to get old or die in order to see our continuation body. We don’t need to wait for the complete disintegration of this body in order to begin to see our continuation body, just as a cloud doesn’t need to have been entirely transformed into rain in order to see her continuation body. Can you see your rain, your river, your ocean?
 
Each one of us should train ourselves to see our continuation body in the present moment. If we can see our continuation body while we’re still alive, we’ll know how to cultivate it to ensure a beautiful continuation in the future. This is the true joy of living. Then, when the time comes for the dissolution of our physical body, we will be able to release it easily.
 
So, the shortest answer to the question, “What happens when I die?” is that you don’t die. And that is the truth, because when you understand the nature of the person who is dying, and you understand the act of dying, you will see there is no such thing as death anymore. There is no self that dies. There is only transformation.
 
When we practice mindfulness, we can get many kinds of relief. But the greatest relief and peace comes when  we are able to touch our nature of no birth and no death. This is something doable. It’s something possible. And it gives us a lot of freedom. If we are in touch with our cosmic body, our God body, our nirvana body, then we are no longer afraid of dying. This is the cream of the Buddha’s teaching and practice. There are those who can die happily, because they have touched this insight.”

Limitless Life

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Excerpted from Thich Nhat Hanh, “Touching the Earth: Intimate Conversations with the Buddha” (2017 Rev. Ed.)

I see that this body made of the four elements is not really me and I am not limited by this body. I am the whole of the river of life of blood and spiritual ancestors that has been continuously flowing for thousands of years and flows on for thousands of years into the future. I am one with my ancestors and my descendants. I am life that is manifest in countless different forms. I am one with all species whether they are peaceful and joyful or suffering and afraid. 

I am present everywhere in this world. I have been present in the past and will be there in the future. The disintegration of this body does not touch me, just as when the petals of the plum blossom fall it does not mean the end of the plum tree. 

I see that I am like a wave on the surface of the ocean. I see myself in all the other waves, and all the other waves in myself. The manifestation or the disappearance of the wave does not lessen the presence of the ocean. 

My Dharma body and spiritual life are unborn and undying. I am able to see the presence of myself before this body manifested and after this body has disintegrated. 

I am able to see the presence of myself outside of this body, even in the present moment. Eighty or ninety years is not my lifetime. 

My lifetime, like that of a leaf or of a Buddha, is immeasurable. I am able to go beyond the idea that I am a body separate from all other manifestations of life, in time and in space.

Jump To Footsteps of the Buddha, I Am Not in Here, What Happens When You Die?, Limitless Life, The Story of A River

The Story of A River

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Born on the top of a mountain, the little spring dances her way down. The stream of water sings as she travels. She wants to go fast. She is unable to go slowly. Running, rushing, is the only way, maybe even flying. She wants to arrive. Arrive where? Arrive at the ocean. She has heard of the deep, blue , beautiful ocean. To become one with the ocean, that is what she wants.

Coming down to the plains, she grows into a young river. Winding her way through the beautiful meadows, she has to slow down. " Why can't I run the way I could when I was a creek? I want to reach the deep, blue ocean. If I continue this slowly, how will I ever arrive there at all?" As a creek, she was not happy with what she was, she really wanted to grow into a river. But, as a river, she does not feel happy either. She cannot bear to slow down.

Then, as she slows down, the young river begins to notice the beautiful clouds reflected in her water. They are of different colors and shapes floating in the sky, and they seem to be free to go anywhere they please. Wanting to be like a cloud, she begins to chase after the clouds, one after another. " I am not happy as a river. I want to be like you, or I shall suffer. Life is really not worth living". So the river begins to play the game. She chases after clouds. She learns to laugh and cry. But the clouds do not stay in one place for very long. 

"They reflect themselves in my water, but then they leave. 
No cloud seems to be faithful. Every cloud I know has left me. No cloud has ever brought me satisfaction or happiness. I hate their betrayal. The excitement of chasing after the clouds is not worth the sufferingand despair".

One afternoon, a strong wind carried all the clouds away. The sky became desperately empty. There were no more clouds to chase after. Life became empty for the river. She was so lonely she didn't want to live anymore. But how could a river die? From something you become nothing? From someone, you become on one? Is it possible? During the night, the river went back to herself. She could not sleep. She listened to her own cries, the lapping of her water against the shore. 

This was the first time she had ever listened to herself deeply, and in doing so, she discovered something very important: her water was made of clouds. She had been chasing after clouds and she did not know that the clouds were her own nature. The river realized that the object of her search was within her. She touched peace. Suddenly, she could stop. She no longer felt the need to run after something outside herself. She was already what she wanted to become. The peace she experienced was truly gratifying and brought her a deep rest, a deep sleep.

When the river woke up the next morning, she discovered something new and wonderful reflected in her water - the blue sky. "How deep it is, how calm. The sky is immense, stable, welcoming and utterly free". It seemed impossible to believe that this was the first time the river ever reflected the sky in her water. But that is true, because in the past, she was interested only in the clouds, and she never paid attention to the sky. No cloud could ever leave the sky. She knew that the clouds were there, hidden somewhere in the blue sky. The sky must contain within itself all the clouds and waters. Clouds seem impermanent, but the sky is always there as the faithful home of all the clouds.

Touching the sky, the river touched stability. She touched the ultimate. In the past, she had only touched the coming, going, being, and nonbeing of the clouds. Now she was able to touch the home of all coming, going, being, and nonbeing. No one could take the sky out of her water anymore. How wonderful it was to stop and touch! The stopping and touching brought her true stability and peace. She had arrived home.

That afternoon, the wind ceased to blow. The clouds came back one by one. The river had become wise. She was able to welcome each cloud with a smile. The clouds of many colors and shapes seemed to be the same, but then again they were no longer the same for the river. She did not feel the need to possess or chase after any particular cloud. She smiled to each cloud with equanimity and loving kindness. She enjoyed their reflections in her water. But when they drifted away, the river did not feel deserted.She waved to them, saying "Goodbye. Have a nice journey." She was no longer bound to any of the clouds. The day was a happy one. 

That night, when the river calmly opened up her heart to the sky, she received the most wonderful image ever reflected in her water - a beautiful full moon, a moon so bright, so refreshing, smiling. All space seem to be there for the enjoyment of the moon, and she looked utterly free. The river reflected the moon in her water and enjoyed the same freedom and happiness.

The full moon of the Buddha travels in the sky of utmost emptiness. If the rivers of living beings are calm the refreshing moon will reflect beautifully in their water. What a wonderful festive night for everyone - sky, clouds, moon, stars, and water. In the boundless peace, sky, clouds, moon, stars, and water enjoyed walking in meditation together. They walked with no need to arrive anywhere, not even the ocean. The could just be happy in the present moment. The river did not need to arrive at the ocean to become
water. She knew she was water by nature and at the same time a cloud, the moon, the sky, the stars , and the snow. 

Why should she run away from herself? Who speaks of a river as not flowing? A river does flow, yes.

But she does not need to rush.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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