Thich Nhat Hanh on Meditation, Contemplation

The goal of meditation is to see reality as it is in all its clarity, radiance and truth.  Jesus taught that “the kingdom/queendom of God is among us and within us.”

Blocking advancement of riot police with meditation. Photo by Spenser on Unsplash.

Thich Naht Hanh describes meditation as

developing our capacity for deep looking, listening, and awareness of the present state of things beginning with ourselves. 

In his own words, meditation is

…stopping, calming, and looking deeply.  When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, we can see and listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy.

Authentic meditation practice does not force one to withdraw from everyday existence, but to stay there with new eyes and fuller heart and not to run away from things.  It is about being fully present to what is.  Says Thich Naht Hanh:

The technique is to be in the present moment, to be aware that we are here and now, that the only moment to be alive is the present moment.

Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, on Loving Speech & Deep Listening. Video taken from the official Plum Village App YouTube Channel.

Buddhism does not offer us a new religion so much as practices that anyone can develop, no matter what one’s spiritual tradition is.  “It is not a matter of faith; it is a matter of practice,” Thich Naht Hanh points out. 

Buddhist teaching is not so much about reading texts as it is practicing meditation and ways to mindfulness.  “The living Dharma is not a library of scriptures….It is mindfulness manifested in your daily life.”  When we do this we become agents for transformation and we become gentler people. 

Meditating in front of waterfall in Bali, Indonesia. Photo by Filbert Mangundap on Unsplash.

There are ways to come to perceive the bigger reality in which we swim, the true depths of the space and time which we inhabit and that inhabit us.  This is what it means to be awake. 

A Buddha is someone who is awake….Our true home is in the present moment.  The miracle is not to walk on water.  The miracle is to walk on the green earth in the present moment.

And, I might add, to recognize the great miracle of earth and existence and ourselves being part of existence.  As Eckhart put it, “isness is God.”

Our species learns the better parts about itself, that we are capable of forgiveness and nonviolence, for example.  We can, This Nhat Hanh promises, choose to “live in a way that reduces the world’s suffering.”  The primary practice is stilling the busy mind. 

Meditation means to look deeply.  Meditation is to be still: to sit still, to stand still, and to walk with stillness.

The goal is mindfulness.  What is mindfulness?  “Mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha.”

Documentary on gratitude from the Network for Grateful Living, featuring Thich Nhat Hanh and Brother David Steindl – Rast.

In meditation we are emptied—not only of busyness but of concepts.  “Emptiness means the emptiness of a separate existence, the emptiness of a permanent entity, emptiness of all concepts.  The practice is to transcend both notions of being and non-being.”  In this stilling of our mind and its busyness we return home to our true selves, our primal nature.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths, pp. 190-192.

Banner Image: Woman meditation in Williamsburg, United States. Photo by JD Mason on Unsplash.

Queries for Contemplation

Buddha and Jesus (and Paul) call us to “be awake” and to see the glory or radiance of existence.  Is being still and being emptied part of your journey to wakefulness and recognizing the kingdom/queendom of God in our midst?

Recommended Reading

One River, Many Wells: Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths

Matthew Fox calls on all the world traditions for their wisdom and their inspiration in a work that is far more than a list of theological position papers but a new way to pray—to meditate in a global spiritual context on the wisdom all our traditions share. Fox chooses 18 themes that are foundational to any spirituality and demonstrates how all the world spiritual traditions offer wisdom about each.“Reading One River, Many Wells is like entering the rich silence of a masterfully directed retreat. As you read this text, you reflect, you pray, you embrace Divinity. Truly no words can fully express my respect and awe for this magnificent contribution to contemporary spirituality.” –Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

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3 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh on Meditation, Contemplation”

  1. Avatar

    “Kingdom/Queendom” are too top down for me, and too anthropomorphic. I prefer the use of “Kin-dom” which helps us feel our relation with all creation, four and two legged, swimmers, wingers, burrowers, plants, trees, organic and inorganic – all of us brothers and sisters in the family of creator our mother-father. I feel we are together in creation spirituality, and I am grateful beyond words for Brother Fox bringing together persons who in-spire our shared life of beauty.

  2. Avatar

    “One River, Many Wells / Wisdom Springing from Global Faiths” is in the primary bibliography of my ebook on comparative mysticism. It teaches us that there are many paths to the same goal.

    “Mindfulness [attentiveness] should be strong everywhere, for mindfulness keeps the mind away from all distraction, into which it might fall and away from idleness.” Buddhaghosa (B)

    1. Avatar

      Thank you, Ron, for your generosity. I have downloaded your ebook and I’m sure I will enjoy reading it. Thank you for all the work and wisdom you put into your writing and for this gift.

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