This is the second book I’ve read by Hạnh, the first being Living Buddha, Living Christ. To those unfamiliar, Hạnh is a buddhist monk from Vietnam. He became a well known peace activist during the Vietnam work. During that time, he worked with the likes of Martin Luther King Jr and Thomas Merton.
I have been deeply affected by King and Merton, which is what piqued my interest in Hạnh. I’ve also grown in respect for many of the tenants of Buddhism that I’ve come to understand. Yet, I want to be clear upfront, I read Hahn as a Christian, looking to grow further in my Christian faith. I do so not adversarially, looking for weaknesses or contradictions. I do so out of a posture of hopeful admiration. Trusting that all truth is God’s truth. Believing that my faith, and the tradition it has grown out of, has a limited perspective, constrained by culture and history. Searching for perspectives that will challenge me to reconsider my assumptions.
Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.
This book is a gentle and charming walk through the principles of mindfulness, inter-being (how everything is connected) and living non-violently. It is an exploration in how “right” living will lead to “right” thinking. Orthopraxy to Orthodoxy for you christian nerds. I find that much of what Hạnh discusses can be fully integrated into christian beliefs. In fact, it has been instrumental for me in maintaining many of them. This is because so much of it focuses on practical, tangible actions. Stop, breathe, let go. There is no special prayer to say, no confused expectation of whether it will be answered. Just breathing. Sitting. Acknowledging your emotions and letting go of them.
This may have been obvious to you, but I always considered prayer an active, internal speaking of words . It’s been through the words of Hahn and monks of many other traditions that the view has changed. I’ve learned that prayer is broader, subtler and much quieter than I ever realized it could be. To sit still and silent, with my heart bent towards the love of the father, is as “spiritual” and important as saying the Lords prayer. The Hebrew word for the Holy Spirit is ruach, which translates to “air in motion”, or simply, breath. To focus on my breath is to connect with the Holy Spirit. These practices have shifted my faith from being one of the head to one of the heart.
Please, consider giving this short book a read. The language may seem flowery or indirect if you’re unfamiliar, but stick with it. They all work together to build a cohesive pattern of thought that is worth internalizing.