January 1997 Notes on Thây’s “Cultivating the Mind of Love”

Thich Nhat Hanh. Cultivating the Mind of Love: The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mayahana Buddhist Tradition.

“The best way to touch the Buddha — not to look for a person, a non-person, a name, a characteristic, prestige, or a tradition, but to observe our own mind and see how it functions.”

In “Dharma Rain,” he distinguishes between store consciousness and mind consciousness and encourages us to water the seeds of goodness and love in our store consciousness, for there the Buddha is already to be found.  The Dharma rain can nourish these seeds, if I am awake to them all around (cat is Buddha!).

In “First Love,” he  shares some of his early, formative experiences about wanting to be a monk and  his Joycean vision of the young nun when he was 24.

In “The Advent of Mahayana Buddhism,” he stresses that  the tradition had to face the hierarchy of monastics over householders and in the Vimalakirti Sutra, this distinction was abolished, since Buddhism could be taught by anyone who had realized her awakened mind.

In “The Beauty of Spring,” he shares  about his first love and reminds us that our own first love is still here, shaping our lives.  He knows his peace had been disturbed, he thought she looked like Kwan Yin, he reads her his poetry, he can’t sleep, he wants to tell her he loves her, but can’t immediately, and so on.  All of which says:  I am just like you, reader!  But they both wanted to be practitioners, and how to do this and be in love?  By staying committed to the precepts, mindfulness, sangha, bodhicitta, and transformation.

In “The Better Way to Catch a Snake,” he gives an overview of the sutra by the same name, the essence of which is, “the raft is not the shore,” for even the best teachings can become a hindrance if not used appropriately in the given circumstances.  Even the best teachings can be clung to too tightly.  This is just like taking one of Jesus’ teachings out of context and making an idol out of it.  This chapter is an elaboration on the 1rst interbeing precept, to wit, even Buddhist notions can be dangerous.

In “The Guard,” he  writes about his renewal efforts in Vietnam, and his sharing these visions with the nun and it’s like they were one — in shared ideals and hope for their religion and country (this would have been around 1950, with the French still occupying and exploiting Vietnam).   Rather than go and visit her late at night, he guarded her and did not go.  He did not want to do anything that would diminish their  path together.  He did not knock on her door.

In “The Diamond That  Cuts through Illusion,” he comments on this sutra and reminds us that there is no self, no person, no living being, no life span, for this reflects  an all-too-dualistic mind-set.  These are notions, shmotions.  He warns against having ever more subtle dualisms, like non-self (he talks about angry Buddhists who didn’t like the “self” reference in his bell gatha); in essence, if we are aware that the self is always made of non-self-elements, we will never be enslaved by or afraid of the notion of self and non-self.  Thus, it’s dangerous to believe strongly in a permanent self before and after death and the annihilation of self, both equally misguided.  “Is the Buddha alive or dead?  It is a matter of fuel.  Perhaps you are the fuel, and you continue the life of the Buddha.  We cannot say the Buddha is alive or dead. Reality transcends birth, death, production, and destruction.” 45

In “Saying Good-bye,” for parting is such sweet sorrow, he describes their farewell.  “At times, I just called her name in a soft voice to keep from missing her too much.”  Their one innocent moment of physical contact.  [Compare with Merton]

In “The Three Dharma Seals,”  he explains impermanence, non-self, and nirvana (the extinction of afflictions — craving, hatred, and ignorance — and notions).

In “Swimming Upstream,” he describes their separation.   He looks at her through the eyes of interbeing: “The moment I understood that, she became transformed into something much more powerful.  That sea of deep love is in every one of us.” 56  Case of unanswered and unreceived letters.  His love for her grew into love for so many other monks and nuns, it was not narrowly confined to her.  I am my love and that love has no beginning and no end.

In “Doors of Liberation,”  he examines the teachings of emptiness, signlessness, and wishlessness.  Emptiness is a door of liberation for it frees me from the fear of birth and death.  We get confused by externals, signs, so, “We take care of the well-being of the self, but we do not think much about the well-being of the non-self.” 63  Or, “A bodhisattva is not a bodhisattva, that is why he is truly a bodhisattva.” 63  Wishlessness means we are already in the Buddha land or Kingdom of God, nothing to strive for.

In “Sangha/Community,” he stresses how these can provide reinforcement to our own goals, how they provide examples of conscious living, and help us focus on continuing our practice.  His community did not judge him when he missed the nunlove.  He began to see her everywhere, though, as his love evolved.  He was animated and directed by bodhicitta.

In “The Avatamsaka Realm,” he describes the realm of enlightenment as full of flowers, light, ocean, Dharma clouds, jewels, lion seats, wonderful images and poetry, Indra’s net, etc., to image the nature of interbeing, the one in the many, and the many in the one, the transcendence of space and time, where everything is penetrating everything else, what a dazzling vision!  Example: If I practice Mev’s teaching, she continues to live. This realm is present NOW, for “If our mind is pure and filled with mindfulness, compassion, and love, we live in the Avatamsaka world.” 87

In “The Lotus Sutra,”  he stresses the need for reconciliation in the tradition.  Everyone has the capacity to become a fully enlightened Buddha.  The Buddha is present everywhere, all the time.  In other words, we need to enter the ultimate dimension, not just the historical dimension.

In “A Walk in the Ultimate Dimension,” he reminds that with the eyes of interbeing, “we will know that she is made of non-person elements, we can touch her here and now.”   For, “The past is looking at the future and smiling, the future is looking at the past and smiling, and both can be found and touched in the present.” 111


1 Comment

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *