Each Friday, we share three topical longreads in our Weekend Reader newsletter. This week, we celebrate Thich Nhat Hanh’s 93rd birthday with three of his great teachings. Sign up here to receive the Weekend Reader in your inbox.
Today marks the 93rd birthday of the great Zen master, peace activist, and teacher of mindful living, Thich Nhat Hanh. He has made a worldwide impact with his simple yet profound teachings, leading countless people toward lives of more mindfulness and happiness.
The story of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life can be seen as an incredible teaching in itself. Luckily for us all, he’s gifted us with a wealth of other teachings, too. Whether it be on working with anger, protecting the earth, or the perfection of this very moment, the wisdom he’s shared with us all is both ageless and especially relevant to the suffering of today’s world.
I’ve always admired how Thich Nhat Hanh can say so much in just a few words. His beautiful calligraphies offer bite-sized teachings like “This is it,” and “No mud, no lotus.” His talks and written teachings go even deeper, of course, but every time, a simple string of words stands out, bringing me back to the present moment. “Every step,” he says, “brings peace and joy, because every step is a miracle.”
Thich Nhat Hanh’s words always remind me of what a gift it is to simply exist. Below are three of my favorite teachings from him, which never fail to to do just that. You can find even more on our “Best of Thich Nhat Hanh” page. Happy Birthday, Thich Nhat Hanh!
—Lilly Greenblatt, associate editor, LionsRoar.com
“Breathing in, I know that I am breathing in.” It is such a simple practice, but it can transform your life. The great meditation master Thich Nhat Hanh teaches five mindfulness exercises to help you live with happiness and joy.
Most people are forgetful; they are not really there a lot of the time. Their mind is caught in their worries, their fears, their anger, and their regrets, and they are not mindful of being there. That state of being is called forgetfulness — you are there but you are not there. You are caught in the past or in the future. You are not there in the present moment, living your life deeply. That is forgetfulness.
The opposite of forgetfulness is mindfulness. Mindfulness is when you are truly there, mind and body together. You breathe in and out mindfully, you bring your mind back to your body, and you are there. When your mind is there with your body, you are established in the present moment. Then you can recognize the many conditions of happiness that are in you and around you, and happiness just comes naturally.
We live a kind of artificial life, says Thich Nhat Hanh, lost in plans, worries, and anger. Our practice is to wake up and live each moment fully, allowing this moment to be the most wonderful experience of our life.
Some twenty years ago, a young man came to me and told me exactly this — that he had only three months to live. I asked him to sit down with me and have a cup of tea. “My friend,” I said to him, “you must drink this tea in such a way that life is possible. We must live this moment we have together in a deep way.”
One day is a lot. A picnic lasts only half a day, but you can live it fully, with a lot of happiness. So why not three months? Your life is a kind of picnic, and you should arrange it intelligently.
Thich Nhat Hanh answers a retreatant’s question on what to do in the face of suffering.
Anything you do for yourself, you do for the world. Don’t think that you and the world are two separate things. When you breathe in mindfully and gently, when you feel the wonder of being alive, remember that you’re also doing this for the world. Practicing with that kind of insight, you will succeed in helping the world. You don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. You can do it right now, today.