To follow the Bodhisattva path, we have to practice for the liberation of all beings everywhere. If we are practicing for only ourselves, or for an abstract idea of enlightenment that is apart from everyone else, we are not following the Buddha’s teachings (39).
While we don’t have to be perfect, we can use our compassion to lessen the suffering of others and bring them peace.
When we meditate, we stop what we are doing to find the calm within ourselves (samatha) and look deeply into the nature of reality (vipasyana) (40).
Meditation is not as hard as we imagine it to be. As Ajahn Brahm said in “A Talk About Nothing,” all we have to do is do nothing.
We’re so used to being busy all the time that we are often uncomfortable with doing nothing. But when we can let go of our thoughts about the past and future, when we can rest in the space of the moment, not trying to gain anything, go anywhere, or become anyone special, we can find so much freedom.
When we misinterpret the Dharma, we bring a lot of suffering to ourselves and the people around us.
We don’t have to argue, show off, or struggle to selfishly achieve a higher state. We can attain liberation for everyone and everything.
But even after studying the Dharma, we should let go of it too (40–43). It’s not wise to not cling to its teachings.
Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:
In the Snake Sutra, the Buddha also tells us that the Dharma is a raft we can use to cross the river and get to the other shore. But if after we’ve crossed the river, we continue to carry the raft on our shoulders, that would be foolish. The raft is not the shore (45)… If we try to make the Buddha’s teaching into a doctrine, we miss the point (52)… Do not become a prisoner of any ideology, even Buddhist ones (54).
When we look into impermanence, we begin to cherish our lives more. The present moment is precious to us, a fleeting miracle. Nothing will remain the same forever.
But in the ultimate dimension, there is no birth and death, self and other, here and there. We’re like waves in an ocean. As Thich Nhat Hanh wrote:
When we look at the vast ocean, we see many waves. We may describe them as high or low, big or small, vigorous or less vigorous, but these terms cannot be applied to water. From the standpoint of the wave, there is birth and there is death, but these are just signs. The wave is, at the same time, water. If the wave only sees itself as a wave, it will be frightened to death. The wave must look deeply into herself in order to realize that she is, at the same time, water. If we take away the water, the wave cannot be; and if we remove the waves, there will be no water. Wave is water, and water is wave. They belong to different levels of being. We cannot compare the two. The words and concepts that are ascribed to the wave cannot be ascribed to the water. (100)
We are made up of elements that are not us. Just as a flower cannot exist without the conditions that are connected to it, such as the sun and rain and clouds, we cannot exist without the conditions that are connected to us. Without spacetime, without the pressure of gravity, without the confluence of events that came before us, we would cease to be. We are made up of the cosmos just as the cosmos is made up of us.
When we touch time, we touch space. When we are in the present moment, we are with our past and future. Everything relies on everything else.
When we take care of ourselves, we take care of others. When we take care of others, we take care of ourselves.
We are interconnected with all the elements in our environment such as the sun and sea and moon, flora and fauna. If we harm our environment, we harm ourselves out of ignorance and delusion.
Sometimes we cannot touch the present moment because we are trapped by our ideas, mistaking them for reality.
As Alan Watts said, “We confuse the menu for the meal.”
The Lotus Sutra taught that we have the capability to be enlightened. We can be free of our suffering and help others to be free too (58).
When we look into our impermanence, when we move beyond our conceptions, we begin to notice that there is no version of us that is separate from everything else.
We realize that we are “made of air, sunshine, minerals, and water, that we are a child of earth and sky, linked to all other beings, both animate and inanimate” (70).
We have to be skillful enough to use our ideas without being used by them (71).
When we are imprisoned by our cravings, hatred, and ignorance, when we cannot escape from our projections and prejudices, we will suffer (70).
Sometimes it is hard for us to leave behind our unwholesome habits. We are so used to sorting our experiences into mental categories and making judgments about them. We are unconsciously seeking out information that conforms to our beliefs while resisting information that goes against our beliefs. Most of the time, we mistake our narrow interpretations of reality for all of reality.
We can practice mindfulness while scrubbing the dishes, driving to work, walking, sitting, going to the bathroom, listening to a friend, and eating a meal.
Everything can be our teacher.
We can help others, not out of a desire to receive something in return, but to help in that moment.
We don’t have to struggle for peace when that peace is within us now. Rather than concerning ourselves with notions of freedom in the distant future, we can be free with our every breath and action. We only need to wake up to where we are.
Just as the conditions around us make up who we are, we make up the conditions around us too.
Thich Nhat Hanh said that if our mind is “filled with afflictions and delusions, we live in a world of afflictions and delusions. If our mind is pure and filled with mindfulness, compassion, and love,” we live in a world of mindfulness, compassion, and love (93).
We can help other beings through our love and compassion. We can cultivate a deep reverence for all of life. Our species depends on so many elements to flourish, from the society we live in to the clean air we breathe.
We need to protect our planet to save ourselves and everyone we care about. When we see how interconnected we are, and how much we depend on each other to survive, we will be motivated to help.
But it is not just up to us. We have to organize with each other. We need communities that are deeply committed to the practice of peace.
Hanh, Thich Nhat. Cultivating the Mind of Love: The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition. Parallax Press. January 1, 1996.