By Thich Nhat Hahn
Mindfulness brings concentration. Concentration brings insight. Insight liberates you from your ignorance, your anger, your craving. When you are free from your afflictions, happiness becomes possible. How can you be happy when you are overloaded with anger, ignorance, and craving? That is why the insight that can liberate you from these afflictions is the key to happiness. There are many conditions of happiness that are present, but people don’t recognize them because they are not mindful.
When body and mind are together, you are fully present. You are fully alive and you can touch the wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. So you practice not only with your mind but with your body. Body and mind should be experienced as one thing, not two. On that ground, you see that everything you are looking for is already there. Whether it is enlightenment, nirvana, liberation, Buddha, dharma, sangha, or happiness, it is right there. In fact, that is the only place, the only moment, where you can find these things.
Conversely, when mind and body are separate, when we’re lost in thought and are not in the present, we lead what you’ve described as a kind of corpselike existence.
Maybe intellectually people know that they should live in the present moment, but the habit energy that has been there for a long time is always pushing them to rush around, so they have lost their capacity to be in the present moment in order to lead their life deeply. That is why the practice is important, and talking is not enough. You have to practice enough to really stop your running around so that you can establish yourself in the present moment. That is the very beginning of the practice: stopping. Stopping, looking deeply, and finding happiness and liberation—that is the Buddhist path.
You emphasize taking joy and pleasure in the practice—the joy of walking on this Earth, the pleasure of taking an in-breath mindfully. Maybe it’s our puritanical background, but I think it’s easy for us to look on Buddhist practice as something that’s supposed to be strict and joyless. It can almost feel wrong to associate religion with pleasure and celebration.
I think when people listen to the teachings of the four noble truths, they hear the words ill-being and suffering, and they think that Buddhism is only about suffering. But they don’t know that the third noble truth is about happiness, the opposite of suffering. There is suffering, and there’s a path leading to suffering. But there is also the cessation of suffering, which means happiness, and there is a path leading to happiness. Maybe it would be good to put the second two noble truths first. The first truth would be happiness, and the second truth would be the path leading to happiness. Then the third truth would be suffering, and the fourth would be the causes of suffering.
When we are mindful we discover joy, but we also discover the pain and wounds within us, which is a difficult experience. What do you teach people about how to relate to that suffering when it arises?
Suffering and happiness inter-are. We can recognize happiness only against the background of suffering. It’s like when you recognize the white against the background of the black. Only if you have been hungry can you experience the joy of having something to eat. If you experience the suffering of war, you can recognize the value of peace. Otherwise, you don’t appreciate peace, and you want to make war. So your experience of the suffering of war serves as the background for your happiness about peace. Therefore, to have some suffering is very important. You learn from suffering, and against that background, you can recognize happiness.