In the blog category “Book Reviews”, I will review many classic books written by teachers and practitioners of mindfulness meditation. I have been reading such books for more than 2 decades now. I will systematically review these books, one by one, so that it may help readers of this blog make informed decision about purchasing them and learning from them.
Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He suffered a major stroke in November 2014, Thay has been on a long journey of recovery. Unfortunately he is still unable to speak, and has some paralysis on the right side of his body. At the time of writing this review, i.e. late September 2021, Thay is currently residing at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam, where he first ordained as a novice monk over 70 years ago.
“The Miracle of Mindfulness” was one of his first books first published in 1975. It was originally a long letter written by Thay to a main staff member of a school that he had founded. “Blooming of a Lotus” was published in 1993. It was translated from Vietnamese language by Annabel Laity. This book provides guided meditations for achieving the Miracle of Mindfulness. This book is equally significant, if not more, than “The Miracle of Mindfulness” but it does not seem to be that popular among practitioners of mindfulness meditation. I hope that my review of this book will generate a renewed interest in its contents.
This book has gone through may revisions over the years after it was first published. New content has been added to it on a continuous basis. My review is based off its 2009 edition.
Anapanasati Sutta and 4 Foundations of Mindfulness
Buddha’s Anapanasati Sutta (Breath-Mindfulness Discourse) is a discourse that details his instructions on using awareness of the breath (anapana) as an initial focus for meditation. This discourse includes sixteen steps of practice, and groups them into four tetrads, associating them with the four foundations of mindfulness. The first tetrad instructs us to use our breath to be mindful of our bodies (first foundation). The second tetrad instructs us to use our breath to be mindful of our feelings (second foundation). The third tetrad instructs us to use our breath to be mindful of our minds (third foundation). Finally, the fourth tetrad instructs us to use our breath to be mindful of objects of our minds (fourth foundation).
The importance of “Blooming of a Lotus” is that it has guided meditations that cover all the four foundations of mindfulness. While reading it for the first time a few years ago, I quickly realized that the collection of meditations in the book were not meant to be read but rather were meant to be practiced by readers. Each conscious breathing exercise comprised of multiple “verses” that guided readers to unify their breath, body, heart and mind.
For example; in its first chapter entitled “Mindfulness of the Body”, there is a guided meditation called “Touching, Connecting”. It begins with the following instructions”
Aware of the hair on my head, I breathe in
Smiling to the hair on my head, I breathe out
Aware of my eyes, I breathe in
Smiling to my eyes, I breathe out
Aware of my ears, I breathe in
Smiling to my ears, I breathe out
4 Limitless Qualities
There are many benefits that accrue from doing these practices. One of the benefits involve the development of the “4 Limitless Qualities”. These are four of the most important virtues within Buddhism because they represent love and goodwill toward all sentient beings, without limit. These 4 qualities that unlock unlimited potential for contentment, connectedness within us and connectedness with other sentient beings around us are:
- Sympathetic joy
Within this book, there are many instructions that guide us to experience many different unpleasant feelings and emotions like anger, jealousy, etc. while breathing in. While breathing out, we smile to them. By smiling at them, we immediately invoke the quality of Equanimity. There are other exercises that include instructions for us to know the nature of impermanence within our bodies as well as in the physical world outside of our bodies. During this process, when we realize the sheer extent of suffering we cause to ourselves and others by not following this principle of impermanence, we invoke the qualities of Loving Kindness as well as Compassion. Finally, there are exercises within the book that allow us to develop a state of deep relaxation within our minds and bodies. These lead to the quality of Joy inside of us, the kind of joy that is not conditioned by any external conditions.
Conclusion and Call for Action
Thich Nhat Hanh’s “The Blooming of a Lotus” is a book that is required reading for all enthusiastic practitioners of mindfulness meditation. For mindfulness teachers on the other hand, I would like to issue a call for action. There is a great need for them to create guided meditations along these lines and to make them available to everyone. The benefits cannot be overstated. I have created some guided meditations and have placed them on my website. I have very carefully attributed them to Thay and his amazing book. I would love to create more resources along these lines but do not have a lot of time to devote to it. I would love to explore opportunities to partner with other teachers to create free offerings for people to use on a regular basis.