Posts Tagged ‘Thich Nhat Hanh’

Seeing as how the Thanksgiving holiday is coming to an end here in Canada, I thought that it would be interesting to talk about a buddhist practice of eating mindfully. The thanksgiving holiday is usually illustrated with images of families getting together and enjoying big meals of turkey and pumpkin pies, a representation of the first meal between natives and “pilgrims” (the white people who showed up from Europe), it is also timed with the fall harvest. We are meant to give thanks to diverse things in our lives, a humbling experience, to help us realize what is truly important in our lives. With this focus on food and eating, we should examine our relationship to food and our mindfulness practice. I am sure that most of you who have been on retreat have done what is called “eating meditation”, something that we unfortunately do not do in our daily lives, we seem to shove whatever food we can between meetings and errands that we may have throughout the day. This practice, however, should be in our daily routines, by doing so, we could help control our weight (we live in a world where there are more people who are overweight than are hungry or underweight) which in turn will help us steer away from many health problems that are linked to unhealthy eating habits, and also help us have a better relationship with our food and bodies.

If we are able to slow down and really enjoy our food, our life and our health, we are able to take on a much deeper quality. It is important to sit and eat quietly and enjoy every bite, to be aware of our community, to be aware of the hard and loving work that has gone in the preparation of our food. Not only do we become physically nourished, but we also become spiritually nourished. The way that we eat influences everything else that we do during our day. To look deeply into one’s food and meditate is just as important as our sitting and walking practice, it is just another opportunity to practice and to examine our relationship to food. Everyone knows that people have been known to eat their emotions, our worries and projects consume us and we comfort ourselves by over-eating foods without taking the time to examine every bite and everything that is linked to what is on our plates. By eating a lot of stress and worries, this becomes harmful to our bodies, and most importantly our minds. Thich Nhat Hanh, in his book Savour: Mindful Eating, Mindful Living, has a verse that he recites while he eats:

In the dimension of space and time, We chew as rhythmically as we breathe, In the dimension of space and time, We chew as rhythmically as we breathe. Maintaining the lives of all our ancestors, opening an upward path for descendants. So when we eat mindfully we can be in direct contact with our ancestors as well as our descendants and use the time of eating to see how we can nourish the best things our ancestors have passed onto us and how to continue to transmit what is most precious to future generations.

An ongoing debate in Buddhist circles is what kind of diet one should have if they are to practice mindful eating in relation to the precepts. If we take the menu of Plum Village where Thay lives, it would be a vegan menu of simple foods, it is believed that the most nourishing food (nutrition and spiritually) is one that is not born out of suffering (depending what your beliefs may be about factory farming). A typical menu when on retreat is oatmeal for breakfast, a vegetable meal for lunch (grains and steamed vegetables for example), and then something light like soup for supper. It is important to eat what is most healthy, seeing as how food can, just like any other stimuli, can trigger emotions and feelings that will manifest in our minds. Food can thus create positive or negative emotions in our minds, of course this relationship will vary from person to person.

We live in a country of abundance, we have easy access to foods and drinks that are not good for us and that are served in big portions. There are very persuasive advertising that bombards our senses and we are then conditioned to crave these unhealthy foods. Besides filling our bodies with foods high in sugar and fats, we are becoming more and more of a car based culture, we are thus eating heavier and fatty foods all while moving less. Our lives are always fast paced, how are we to be mindful in our living if we are trying to accomplish seven things at a time? (talking on the cell phone, checking e-mail, watching TV, and putting some pre-made food in our mouths?) This is one of the main reasons why people can not live in the moment and are not fully aware of what they are eating and what they are doing, which is essential for maintaining a healthy weight.

The next time that you sit in front of a plate of food, Thay would suggest these five contemplations:

1- This food is the gift of the whole universe: the earth, the sky, numerous living beings, and much hard, loving work.

2- May we eat with mindfulness and gratitude so as to be worthy to receive it.

3- May we recognize and transform our unwholesome mental formations, especially our greed, and learn to eat with moderation.

4- May we keep our compassion alive by eating in such a way that we reduce the suffering of living beings, preserve our planet, and reverse the process of global warming.

5- We accept this food so that we may nurture our sisterhood and brotherhood, strengthen our community and nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

If this idea of eating more mindfully is something that interests you, I highly recommend that you pick up Thay’s new book Savour and develop a practice where you will have a healthier relationship with your food and mind. We are working towards a more mindful life, this includes all activities in our lives, no matter what we are doing we must take the time to treasure every experience and be as present and aware as possible. This is how we will be able to live life most fully and to help maintain healthy relationships with others and ourselves. Take the time next time that you sit to eat and see how it feels to take the time to savour every bite! Happy Thanksgiving everyone!


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Anyone who has ever gone to a buddhism section of their local book store will usually come across Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese monk that has had a major impact on the development of Western buddhism and the idea of engaged buddhism. Thay (how he is called by the people who know him) was involved many non-violent peace efforts with his fellow monks. He once said:

When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on-not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.

It is from there that engaged buddhism was born, when Thay entered the monastery as a novice monk he witnessed the suffering that was being caused by the war in Vietnam. He was eager to practice buddhism in a way that he could bring it into society, but this was difficult seeing as how traditionally the teachings did not offer engaged buddhism. Buddhism has to do with your daily life, it is about your suffering and the suffering of the world around you. You can then learn to help someone and do mindfulness breathing at the same time, it is to not get lost in action. Action can be meditation at the same time.

Thay has also been very involved in the peace movement since the 60s and continues to work towards a more peaceful world. He had suggested and asked Martin Luther King to speak out against the war in Vietnam, which as we all know he did speak out against the violence that was happening against the Vietnamese people. When they met in Geneva for the Peace on Earth conference, Thay told him that the Vietnamese people were very thankful for what he had done and viewed him as a Bodhisattva that was taking care of his people and all other people around the world. Martin Luther King actually nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, unfortunately he has never received the honour. Nonviolence and compassion are the basis of the peace movement, you need peace, understanding, and loving-kindness within yourself for your actions to be truly for peace, peace has to start with yourself. A problem that occurred during the peace movement in the 60s was that the people got impatient with the lack of results that they were getting a lot of anger and violence then appeared at the end of the peace movement. In other words, we must work on the suffering within ourselves and the world around us, it is important to not have a dualistic view when it comes to this.

Thich Nhat Hanh has published over 100 books that deal with many subjects related to meditation, the buddhist teachings, and how to spread the message of peace in the world. He resides in France, since his exile from Vietnam, at Plum Village. He has conducted some peace walks in the USA, works with Vietnam veterans to help them make peace with the war and its victims, and continues to work towards a more peaceful world. I definitely recommend picking up some of his books, listening to the many dharma talks available online, and if you are ever near Plum Village to take the time and spend some time there meditating and working towards finding peace within yourself.

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