The Miracle of Mindfulness

The Miracle of Mindfulness

by Thich Nhat Hanh, Nhat

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In this beautiful and lucid guide, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers gentle anecdotes and practical exercise as a means of learning the skills of mindfulness--being awake and fully aware. From washing the dishes to answering the phone to peeling an orange, he reminds us that each moment holds within it an opportunity to work toward greater self-understanding and peacefulness.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780807012390
Publisher: Beacon Press
Publication date: 06/07/1999
Edition description: New Edition
Pages: 140
Sales rank: 27,462
Product dimensions: 6.86(w) x 7.18(h) x 0.50(d)

About the Author

Thich Nhat Hanh is author of Living Buddha, Living Christ and The Blooming of a Lotus.

Read an Excerpt

Chapter One

The Essential Discipline

Yesterday Allen came over to visit with his son Joey. Joey has grown so quickly! He's already seven years old and is fluent in French and English. He even uses a bit of slang he's picked up on the street. Raising children here is very different from the way we raise children at home. Here parents believe that "freedom is necessary for a child's development." During the two hours that Allen and I were talking, Allen had to keep a constant eye on Joey. Joey played, chattered away, and interrupted us, making it: impossible to carry on a real conversation. I gave him several picture books for children but he barely glanced at them before tossing them aside and interrupting our conversation again. He demands the constant attention of grown-ups.

    Later, Joey put on his jacket and went outside to play with a neighbor's child. I asked Allen, "Do you find family life easy?" Allen didn't answer directly. He said that during the past few weeks, since the birth of Aha, he had been unable to sleep any length of time. During the night, Sue wakes him up and—because she is too tired herself—asks him to check to make sure Ana is still breathing. "I get up and look at the baby and then come back and fall asleep again. Sometimes the ritual happens two or three times a night."

    "Is family life easier than being a bachelor?" I asked. Allen didn't answer directly. But I understood. I asked another question: "A lot of people say that if you have a family you're less lonely and have more security. Is that true?"Allen nodded his head and mumbled something softly. But I understood.

    Then Allen said, "I've discovered a Way to have a lot more time. In the past, I used to look at my time as if it were divided into several parts. One part I reserved for Joey, another part was for Sue, another part to help with Ana, another part for household work. The time left over I considered my own. I could read, write, do research, go for walks.

    "But now I try not to divide time into parts anymore. I consider my time with Joey and Sue as my own time. When I help Joey with his homework, I try to find ways of seeing his time as my own time. I go through his lesson with him, sharing his presence and finding ways to be interested in what we do during that time. The time for him becomes my own time. The same with Sue. The remarkable thing is that now I have unlimited time for myself!"

    Allen smiled as he spoke. I was surprised. I knew that Allen hadn't learned this from reading any books. This was something he had discovered for himself in his own daily life.

Washing the dishes to wash the dishes

    Thirty years ago, when I was still a novice at Tu Hieu Pagoda, washing the dishes was hardly a pleasant task. During the Season of Retreat when all the monks returned to the monastery, two novices had to do all the cooking and wash the dishes for sometimes well over one hundred monks. There was no soap. We had only ashes, rice husks, and coconut husks, and that was all. Cleaning such a high stack of bowls was a chore, especially during the winter when the water was freezing cold. Then you had to heat up a big pot of water before you could do any scrubbing. Nowadays one stands in a kitchen equipped with liquid soap, special scrubpads, and even running hot water which makes it all the more agreeable. It is easier to enjoy washing the dishes now. Anyone can wash them in a hurry, then sit down and enjoy a cup of tea afterwards. I can see a machine for washing clothes, although I wash my own things out by hand, but a dishwashing machine is going just a little too far!

    While washing the dishes one should only be washing the dishes, which means that while washing the dishes one should be completely aware of the fact that one is washing the dishes. At first glance, that might seem a little silly: why put so much stress on a simple thing? But that's precisely the point. The fact that I am standing there and washing these bowls is a wondrous reality. I'm being completely myself, following my breath, conscious of my presence, and conscious of my thoughts and actions. There's no way I can be tossed around mindlessly like a bottle slapped here and there on the waves.

The cup in your hands

    In the United States, I have a close friend named Jim Forest. When I first met him eight years ago, he was working with the Catholic Peace Fellowship. Last winter, Jim came to visit. I usually wash the dishes after we've finished the evening meal, before sitting down and drinking tea with everyone else. One night, Jim asked if he might do the dishes. I said, "Go ahead, but if you wash the dishes you must know the way to wash them." Jim replied, "Come on, you think I don't know how to wash the dishes?" I answered, "There are two ways to wash the dishes. The first is to wash the dishes in order to have clean dishes and the second is to wash the dishes in order to wash the dishes." Jim was delighted and said, "I choose the second way—to wash the dishes to wash the dishes." From then on, Jim knew how to wash the dishes. I transferred the "responsibility" to him for an entire week.

    If while washing dishes, we think only of the cup of tea that awaits us, thus hurrying to get the dishes out of the way as if they were a nuisance, then we are not "washing the dishes to wash the dishes." What's more, we are not alive during the time we are washing the dishes. In fact we are completely incapable of realizing the miracle of life while standing at the sink. If we can't wash the dishes, the chances are we won't be able to drink our tea either. While drinking the cup of tea, we will only be thinking of other things, barely aware of the cup in our hands. Thus we are sucked away into the future --and we are incapable of actually living one minute of life.

Eating a tangerine

    I remember a number of years ago, when Jim and I were first traveling together in the United States, we sat under a tree and shared a tangerine. He began to talk about what we would be doing in the future. Whenever we thought about a project that seemed attractive or inspiring, Jim became so immersed in it that he literally forgot about what he was doing in the present. He popped a section of tangerine in his mouth and, before he had begun chewing it, had another slice ready to pop into his mouth again. He was hardly aware he was eating a tangerine. All I had to say was, "You ought to eat the tangerine section you've already taken." Jim was startled into realizing what he was doing.

    It was as if he hadn't been eating the tangerine at all. If he had been eating anything, he was "eating" his future plans.

    A tangerine has sections. If you can eat just one section, you can probably eat the entire tangerine. But if you can't eat a single section, you cannot eat the tangerine. Jim understood. He slowly put his hand down and focused on the presence of the slice already in his mouth. He chewed it thoughtfully before reaching down and taking another section.

    Later, when Jim went to prison for activities against the war, I was worried about whether he could endure the four walls of prison and sent him a very short letter: "Do you remember the tangerine we shared when we were together? Your being there is like the tangerine. Eat it and be one with it. Tomorrow it will be no more."

The Essential Discipline

    More than thirty years ago, when I first entered the monastery, the monks gave me a small book called "The Essential Discipline for Daily Use," written by the Buddhist monk Doc The from Bao Son pagoda, and they told me to memorize it. It was a thin book. It couldn't have been more than 40 pages, but it contained all the thoughts Doc The used to awaken his mind while doing any task. When he woke up in the morning, his first thought was, "Just awakened, I hope that every person will attain great awareness and see in complete clarity." When he washed his hands, he used this thought to place himself in mindfulness: "Washing my hands, I hope that every person will have pure hands to receive reality." The book is comprised entirely of such sentences. Their goal was to help the beginning practitioner take hold of his own consciousness. The Zen Master Doc The helped all of us young novices to practice, in a relatively easy way, those things which are taught in the Sutra of Mindfulness. Each time you put on your robe, washed the dishes, went to the bathroom, folded your mat, carried buckets of water, or brushed your teeth, you could use one of the thoughts from the book in order to take hold of your own consciousness.

    The Sutra of Mindfulness says, "When walking, the practitioner must be conscious that he is walking. When sitting, the practitioner must be conscious that he is sitting. When lying down, the practitioner must be conscious that he is lying down.... No matter what position one's body is in, the practitioner must be conscious of that position. Practicing thus, the practitioner lives in direct and constant mindfulness of the body ..." The mindfulness of the positions of one's body is not enough, however. We must be conscious of each breath, each movement, every thought and feeling, everything which has any relation to ourselves.

    But what is the purpose of the Sutra's instruction? Where are we to find the time to practice such mindfulness? If you spend all day practicing mindfulness, how will there ever be enough time to do all the work that needs to be done to change and to build an alternative society? How does Allen manage to work, study Joey's lesson, take Ana's diapers to the laundromat, and practice mindfulness at the same time?

Table of Contents

Translator's Preface by Mobi Hovii
One The Essential Discipline1
Two The Miracle Is to Walk on Earth11
Three A Day of Mindfulness27
Four The Pebble33
Five One Is All, All Is One: The Five Aggregates45
Six The Almond Tree in Your Front Yard55
Seven Three Wondrous Answers69
Exercises in Mindfulness79
Nhat Hanh: Seeing with the Eyes of Compassion by James Forest101
Selection of Buddhist Sutras109

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The Miracle of Mindfulness 4.3 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 40 reviews.
LiveWorkRead More than 1 year ago
It's a rare and magnificent discovery when I encounter a book that changes my perspective on life. This is one of those books! This book is the perfect reprieve for us stressed out, professional city dwellers. It encourages patience, calmness and acceptance. If all of this sounds too cliche to you, you need the book more than I did. Not a book to be read just once - a book to cherish and live by. Read it, love it, live it. And then repeat.
Persephone-Leeds More than 1 year ago
The Miracle of Mindfulness speaks with you simply, directly, and precisely. The author is a storyteller, a teacher, and a speaking partner at the same time. He speaks with you in an unassuming, honest manner that you are compelled to listen. In this safe, free, state of mind, the words become a part of you. The words and the teaching dance with your thoughts: it becomes beautiful within you. The wisdom finds its way to your soothed heart. The teaching comes about easily and naturally. It is an excellent book, not to learn about mindfulness, but to become mindful.
Shevshevory More than 1 year ago
Thich Nhat Hanh's Miracle of Mindfulness will always have a special place in my heart. It was the first book of his that I read, and it still seems to me the best example he has written about remaining mindful during difficult and challenging times. His writing is very personal, but easy to grasp. He offers vignettes that illustrate Bhuddhist tennants of non-attachment and mindfulness. Too often, these books about Buddhism can be esoteric or hard to follow, but Hanh's book is easy to digest and very relatable to everyday people.
jjneel2605 More than 1 year ago
I love Thich Nhat Hanh's work and this is one of the best. Take the time and become mindful today. It will change your life. Read this book.
Guest More than 1 year ago
thich nhat hanh's gentle teachings are so clearly illustrated in this volume. he teaches that peace is not something that is illusive, but rather a constant state of being that can be attained by all who are willing to look at the present moment.
Manuel68 More than 1 year ago
This is an awesome book. You can find a very good guide to start living on different way.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The writings of Thich Nhat Hahn were recommended to me by a Soto Buddhist Monk. After reading this book, I add my own recommendation. An excellent introduction to Meditation and Buddhism. The path through everyday life is a varied one. Each moment on that path can be experienced only if we are paying attention. That is what Thich Nhat Hahn calls 'Mindfulness'. If only for the moment that you are reading the book, you are mindfuly aware, then Thich Nhat Hahn has done his job.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This book changed my life. I learned to be in the present moment through the beautiful and inspiring prose of Thich Nhat Hahn.
susandietrichschneider More than 1 year ago
The book I would want if I were ever stranded on a desert island.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Thich Nhat Hanh is perhaps one of the best known teachers on mindfulness, introducing us to this remarkable transformative form of awareness.
mamorico on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
My favorite book about meditation technique. Accessible and patient, reading this book calms the mind.
LisaMaria_C on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The subtitle is "an introduction to the practice of meditation." That's a bit misleading. This is a lot more than a value-free manual. The introduction tells us this the main text was originally a long letter from Thich Nhat Hanh to a fellow Buddhist monk in Vietnam in the midst of the war in 1975. Hanh, exiled from Vietnam, worked against the war and was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize. Translated into English under his supervision by a friend, you can't sever this from it's Buddhist context. There's a lot about Buddhist philosophy here--even a discussion about such issues at the "naive" depiction of the faith in Hesse's Siddharta. The last chapter consists of a "Selection of Buddhist Sutras" (which I found impenetrable). The writing is lucid, but even though written in deceptively simple language, a lot of the concepts are pretty sophisticated and I think take repeated reading to really understand. Mind you, this isn't an introduction to Buddhism per se. This isn't the place to find an overview of the religion and the focus is on meditation and "mindfulness." Hanh's concept of meditation and mindfulness doesn't necessarily mean what you do in a lotus position while going "ohm." He means by it living in the moment and fully alert even as you drink tea or wash dishes. "Mindfulness frees us of forgetfulness and dispersion and makes it possible to live fully each minute of life." Not that he doesn't see a place for more formal meditation, and he provides several practical exercises, particularly focusing on the breath. "Our breath is the bridge from out body to our mind... it alone is the tool which can bring them both together."My introduction to meditation actually was in the mandatory Religion class in my Catholic high school. I remember feeling silly as we were directed to go "ohm." Later I'd be reintroduced to the practice when I took Yoga classes. I remember feeling frustrated as I was told to clear my mind of all thought--which I thought impossible. So it was interesting and useful that it's not what Hanh directs. He says rather when you have thoughts during meditation, you acknowledge the thought--or feeling. "The essential thing is not to let any feeling or thought arise without recognizing it in mindfulness, like a palace guard who is aware of every face that passes in the front corridor." It's an interesting and useful book if you're curious about meditation and Buddhism, written clearly and succinctly--the main text of the book is only about a hundred pages. Although to get much out of it means reading with mindfulness--repeatedly, slowly, taking notes--and practicing the exercises. And in that regard, I think it does help to do it with others rather than just try to work through the book by yourself.
ltrain on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I can't get this book out of my mind, but I suppose that is the point. I read this book on a plane ride to Europe where I travelled alone. Mentally, I was introduced to a practice of applying a new consciousness to all things--beginning with one of the most simple, yet challenging: breathing. I love Thich Nhat Hanh and believe that anything he writes, no matter how concise becomes a manifestation of peace and wisdom. It does not matter which of his texts you choose because the teachings are essential and deepen with experience and meditation on life in light of this text. I find that the miracle of this book is that I continue to return to it as I reflect on everything I learn and experience in this life.
StephenBarkley on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A couple years ago I found myself sitting in the back seat of a truck beside a person I met the night before while bumming a ride back to my van after an semi-aborted canoe trip. After learning I was a pastor he asked, ¿what¿s your view on meditation?¿ I know the answer I was taught in Bible College. Christian meditation is a filling of the mind with scriptures, where Eastern-style meditation is a wicked emptying of the mind where who-knows-what can enter. My back-seat companion convinced me to look into things a little further. The Miracle of Mindfulness is the result of that conversation.This short and simple work describes the fullness of life available to us when we slow down and notice everything around us. And we start to take notice by following our breath. It¿s really that simple. Slow down, breathe deep, and focus on every breath you take. The world opens up before you. Since most of our lives are spent reacting to stimulus around us, and stress has become an epidemic, this is some good advice.I should comment on the relationship between Buddhism and Christianity. I know many Christian readers see nothing good in other world religions. In my view, other world religions are human attempts on the basis of natural revelation to understand the divine. Why should we not learn where there¿s wisdom to be found? As they say, all truth is God¿s truth.I was encouraged by Thich Nhat Hanh¿s respectful tone whenever he spoke of Christians. I¿ve started to integrate small breathing exercises into some of my morning devotions. It¿s amazing how seven deep breaths will clear my mind to receive God¿s Word.Of course, there were parts of this book more directly related to Buddhism that I found difficult. The selection of Buddhist Sutras at the end, and some of metaphysical views on human nature were misguided.Following the breath, while not an end in itself, is a good means to experience eternal life in God¿s multifaceted creation.
jwcooper3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
A good introduction to meditation and mindfullness. About half the book was written by Hanh, the rest are writings from other sources that may be on interest to those going full blown gonzo into Buddhist Zen practice but adds little for the beginner.
Arctic-Stranger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
What is going on...RIGHT NOW? How much of our lives do we miss because we not paying attention? (I once stole away from a stressful situation by going to the beach for a few hours. While I was on the beach I day dreamed peaceful it would be to be to be laying on the beach!) Thich Nhat Hanh gives us a few tools to help us reclaim who we are, right now. Not who we want to be, or who we think we are. This book may take you to a place you have rarely been--the present.
ransage on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
If you like books by Thich Nhat Hanh, then I think this is an excellent book. It is not the best introduction to mindfulness practice, but it provides an excellent feel for the underlying concepts. As described in the forword, this book is translated from materials that Thich Nhat Hanh was sending to monks serving during the Vietnam war while he was exiled. For those from the Christian tradition, it has some of the characteristics of the various "letters", but I think this is far more accessible. I recommend most people skip the second half of the book; I think re-reading the first half is a better experience.
IonaS on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Unfortunately, I had to read this book in Danish translation, since the library wouldn't get it for me in English (I can't buy all the books I read). The English version is a translation from the Vietnamese, the author Thich Nhat Hanh being a Buddhist monk who wrote the book in 1974 as a letter to a teacher at a social school in South Vietnam from his exile in France.The book exhorts the reader to mindfulness, i.e. to live in the "now", as Echart Tolle directs us to do, and explains how to do so. When you do the dishes, you don't do so to get them clean, but just for the sake of doing them. You do them with mindfulness and love for the process.The author's words (even in translation) are imbued with peace and calm, and I found myself reading the book more slowly than I otherwise might have done.Thich Nhat Hanh's text is inspiring and useful. Its essence is his advocacy of the importance of breathing exercises in order to obtain mindfulness, and innumerable of these are found in a subsequent section on mindfulness exercises as a whole.A chapter enlightens us about the author Nhat Hanh who at the time of writing what turned into the book was committed to explaining to the Americans the necessity of stopping the bombings and killings in his country. He is a poet and Zen Master.The final sections of the book are devoted to a selection of buddhist Sutras, which I couldn't really make head or tail of.But all in all, an admirable book - a good introduction to mindfulness meditation.I will now be trying to obtain other works of this author, preferably some that have not been translated into Danish, so I have a better chance of getting hold of them in English, for instance, "The long road turns to joy".
dalevywasbri on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
The Miracle of Mindfulness is a good introduction to a very specific thing, unfortunately that thing is a very small part of Buddhism and meditation. Simply put Zen Buddhism is the radical branch of Buddhism, while the other schools are off debating long doctrines and esoteric practices Zen practitioners will be contemplating Koans like ¿¿What is the Buddha?¿ `Three pounds of Flax.¿¿ The point of the whole practice of Zen is to bring the Buddha back into the world, Nhat Hanh spends a lot of time on this, which is helpful ¿ if you are trying to understand Zen. Unfortunately, this book is really only an introduction into Zen practice, and not even zen meditative practice at that (one school on Zen, Soto, will literally spend whole sutras on just breaking down sitting meditation).From what couple chapters I have read ¿Mindfulness in Plain English¿ by Bhante Henepola Gunaratana is a far better guide to meditation than this book. Thich Nhat Hanh has written stuff I like, but this is more about Zen practice in general than meditation, hence three stars.
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Thicht Nhat Hanh is an important voice for our World. Living in the present moment and mindfulness of our connectedness with all matter and energy in the Cosmos puts us in our proper place in time.
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