Suffering Is Not Enough
by Thich Nhat Hanh
Life is filled with suffering, but
it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine,
the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch
with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere,
If we are not happy, if we are not
peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those
we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are happy, if we
are peaceful, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in
our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need
to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we
have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each
second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are,
any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of
each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don't need to go
to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don't have to travel into the future
to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now.
It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.
We are so busy we hardly have time
to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look
at ourselves. Society is organized in such a way that even when we have
some leisure time, we don't know how to use it to get back in touch
with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time--we
turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere.
We are not used to being with ourselves, and we act like we don't like
ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.
Meditation is to be aware of what is
going on--in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world.
Each day 40,000 children die from hunger. The superpowers now have more
than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times.
Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning
along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To
practice mediation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not
think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well,
we have to smile a lot.
Recently I was sitting with a group
of children, and a boy named Tim was smiling beautifully. I said, "Tim,
you have a beautiful smile," and he said, "Thank you." I told him, "You
don't have to thank me, I have to thank you. Because of your smile,
you make life more beautiful. Instead of saying, 'Thank you,' you should
say, 'You're welcome.'"
If a child smiles, if an adult smiles,
that is very important. If in our daily life we can smile, if we can
be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it.
This is the most basic kind of peace work. When I see Tim smiling, I
am so happy. If he is aware that he is making other people happy, he
can say, "You are welcome."
* * *
From time to time, to remind ourselves to relax, to be peaceful, we
may wish to set aside some time for a retreat, a day of mindfulness,
when we can walk slowly, smile, drink tea with a friend, enjoy being
together as if we are the happiest people on Earth. This is not a retreat,
it is a treat. During walking meditation, during kitchen and garden
work, during sitting meditation, all day long, we can practice smiling.
At first you may find it difficult to smile, and we have to think about
why. Smiling means that we are ourselves, that we are not drowned into
forgetfulness. This kind of smile can be seen on the faces of Buddhas
I would like to offer one short poem
you can recite from time to time, while breathing and smiling.
Breathing in, I calm body and mind.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is the only moment.
"Breathing in, I calm body and mind."
This line is like drinking a glass of ice water--you feel the cold,
the freshness, permeate your body. When I breathe in and recite this
line, I actually feel the breathing calming my body, calming my mind.
"Breathing out, I smile." You know
the effect of a smile. A smile can relax hundreds of muscles in your
face, and relax your nervous system. A smile makes you master of yourself.
That is why the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas are always smiling. When you
smile, you realize the wonder of the smile.
"Dwelling in the present moment." While
I sit here, I don't think of somewhere else, of the future or the past.
I sit here and I know where I am. This is very important. We tend to
be alive in the future, not now. We say, "Wait until I finish school
and get my Ph. D. degree, and then I will be really alive." When we
have it, and it's not easy to get, we say to ourselves, "I have to wait
until I get a job, in order to be *really* alive." And then after the
job, a car. After the car, a house. We are not capable of being alive
in the present moment. We tend to postpone being alive to the future,
the distant future, we don't know when. Now is not the moment to be
alive. We may never be alive in our entire life. Therefore, the technique,
if we have to speak of a technique, is to be in the present moment,
to be aware that we are here and now, and the only moment to be alive
is the present moment. "I know this is the only moment." This is the
only moment that is real. To be here and now, and enjoy the present
moment is our most important task. "Calming. Smiling, Present moment,
Only moment." I hope you will try it.
* * *
Even though life is hard, even though
it is sometimes difficult to smile, we have to try. Just as when we
wish each other, "Good morning," it must be a real "Good morning." Recently,
one friend asked me, "How can I force myself to smile when I am filled
with sorrow? It isnt natural." I told her she must be able to smile
to her sorrow, because we are more than our sorrow. A human being is
like a television set with millions of channels. If we turn the Buddha
on, we are the Buddha. If we turn a smile on, we really are the smile.
We cannot let just one channel dominate us. We have the seed of everything
in us, and we have to seize the situation in our hand, to recover our
own sovereignty. When we sit down peacefully,
breathing and smiling, with awareness, we are our true selves, we have
sovereignty over ourselves. When we open ourselves up to a TV program,
we let ourselves be invaded by the program. Sometimes it is a good program,
but often it is just noisy. Because we want to have something other
than ourselves enter us, we sit there and let a noisy television invade
us, assail us, destroy us. Even if our nervous system suffers, we don't
have the courage to stand up and turn it off, because if we do that,
we will have to return to our self.
Meditation is the opposite. It helps us return to our true self. Practicing
meditation in this kind of society is very difficult. Everything seems
to work in concert to take us away from our true self. We have thousands
of things, like video tapes and music, which help us to be away from
ourselves. Practicing meditation is to be aware, to smile, to breathe.
These are on the opposite side. We go back to ourselves in order to
see what is going on, because to meditate means to be aware of what
is going on. What is going on is very important.
* * *
Suppose you are expecting a child.
You need to breathe and smile for him or her. Please don't wait until
your baby is born before beginning to take care of him or her. You can
take care of your baby right now, or even sooner. If you cannot smile,
that is very serious. You might think, "I am too sad. Smiling is not
the correct thing to do." Maybe crying or shouting would be correct,
but your baby will get it--anything you are, anything you do, is for
Even if you do not have a baby in your
womb, the seed is already there. Even if you are not married, even if
you are a man, you should be aware that a baby is already there, the
seeds of future generations are already there. Please don't wait until
the doctors tell you that you are going to have a baby to begin to take
care of it. It is already there. Whatever you are, whatever you do,
your baby will get it. Anything you eat, any worries that are on your
mind will be for him or her. Can you tell me that you cannot smile?
Think of the baby, and smile for him, for her, for the future generations.
Please don't tell me that a smile and your sorrow just don't go together.
Its your sorrow, but what about your baby? It's not his sorrow, its
not her sorrow.
Children understand very well that
in each woman, in each man, there is a capacity of waking up, of understanding,
and of loving. Many children have told me that they cannot show me anyone
who does not have this capacity. Some people allow it to develop and
some do not, but everyone has it. This capacity of waking up, of being
aware of what is going on in your feelings, in your body, in your perceptions,
in the world, is called Buddha nature, the capacity of understanding
and loving. Since the baby of that Buddha is in us, we should give him
or her a chance. Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile,
then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration
against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our
capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.
From Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, edited by Arnold
Kotler, Parallax Press, P. O. Box 7355, Berkeley, California.94707.
A present from Donald Rothberg.