Thich Nhat Hanh is a poet, Zen master, and peacemaker who lives in Plum Village, a practice center in southwestern France. Since the early 1980s, he has come regularly to North America to lecture and give retreats on the art of mindful living. In this profound and deeply engaging work of scholarship, Nhat Hanh presents his interpretations of "Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness," which draw upon Buddhist thought from India during three periods and include teachings from the works of such monks as Vasubandhu, Sthiramati, Xuanzang, Fazang, and others. Here in one volume is a richly developed overview of Buddhist psychology.
At the outset, Thich Nhat Hanh pleads to the reader: "Allow the teachings to enter you as you might listen to music, or in the way the earth allows the rain to permeate it." In other words, be open and receptive as a newborn, putting aside preconceptions, rigid ways of thinking, and the whole clanging armor of judgment and criticism.
This leads naturally to the image that will be at the core of the text: "Our mind is a field in which every kind of seed is sown seeds of compassion, joy, and hope, seeds of sorrow, fear, and difficulties. Every day our thoughts, words, and deeds plant new seeds in the field of our consciousness, and what these seeds generate becomes the substance of our life."
Much of the suffering we experience arises from our propensity to mistake our perceptions for reality. In addition to our own delusions, there are "habit energies" handed down to us from our parents, our culture, our nation. Our illusions about love, for example, are amplified by the culture's definitions of romance: in both instances, the idealized person we love is not a real person but an image created by our consciousness. Nhat Hanh spells out the disastrous results of this process: "Because our perception is 'stained' by our emotions, memories, views, and knowledge, we cannot touch the true nature of what we observe."
The Buddhist practice of mindfulness helps keep us focused on what lies in front of us in the present moment. The challenge of "maturing" or "ripening" is to water the wholesome seeds in ourselves and in others. Nhat Hanh hopes that we can all become skilled gardeners who are able to use the kitchen garbage as compost: "If we know how to compost our afflictions of greed, hatred, ignorance, pride, doubt, views, agitation, torpor, and forgetfulness, we can transform them into peace, joy, liberation, and happiness."
In this Buddhist psychology, nothing can be excluded; everything can be used as raw material for transformation and the ongoing process of our maturation. Whether exploring the many levels of interbeing or pondering the mysteries of rebirth, Thich Nhat Hanh opens our eyes to the spiritual practice of seeing deeply.