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The Zen Master


"Feelings come and go like clouds in a windy sky.

Conscious breathing is my anchor."

Thich Nhat Hanh

Back in the early 90's', a friend gave me a book by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh called, Peace is Every Step. At that time, I had been on the spiritual path for over 10 years, and was already a seasoned meditator, though I hadn't really tasted any kind of real stillness in my own life. As I read the Masters words, I remember thinking, 'can living with peace and joy in my life actually be this easy?' After all, he basically only taught two practices; mindful breathing and being present in the here and now. Of course, that sounded way too simple for my very complicated mind, so while I enjoyed the book, and 'learned' a thing or two from it, off I went to continue my search for something more elusive and mysterious that I was sure was going to lead to the 'enlightenment' that I craved.

Over the next 10 years or so, as I careened from one teaching to the next, one teacher to the next, I would occasionally buy the latest book by Thay (as Thich Nhat Hanh is known by his students. The word means teacher, with an added meaning of respect, like Sensei in Japanese). Each time I read one of these books, I noticed that he kept coming back to the two teachings he had written about all those years earlier: mindful breathing and present moment awareness. In fact, I remember thinking, 'he just writes the same book over and over and puts a different title on it!'

Yet, there came a time when I found myself very open to the simplicity of Thays' teaching, a time when I was completely exhausted from all of my decades of 'seeking' and ready to come home to the ease and joy of the here and now. I heard the Masters teaching with fresh ears and, more importantly, opened to his simple practices with a new-found curiosity and receptivity. As I practiced, I began to realize the truth for myself; that indeed, there were really only two practices necessary to realize the truth of who and what we are (our Buddha Nature); mindful breathing and present moment awareness! In these two ways of walking through our experience, we discover the Stillness that is essential for an awakened life, and let go of everything else that is a distraction.

As we prepare for the screening of Walk With Me, the powerful documentary on Thich Nhat Hanh's life on Sept. 14 at Westpark Cinemas in Irvine, why not spend some time practicing these two teachings in your own life? Anchor to your own 'buddha breath' and have a look around you with clear, open eyes. Let go of thinking that you already 'know' everything, and allow yourself to 'know' nothing. What you just may discover is that everything is available to you here and now, on this very breath, in this very moment, and there's nothing else you need to do in order to be who you already are, to reach where you already are. In this simplicity, you just may realize the truth of the old Zen saying for yourself:

"In Zen, everything is obvious. There is no 'next'.

There is only this, here and now"

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