My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book by the renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, activist, and poet, Thich Nhat Hanh, offers pointers on how to live a life of mindfulness. Like most of Hanh’s works, this one is brief, concise, and the front and back matter account for about as much verbiage as the chapters themselves.
The seven chapters that make up the book proper examine mindfulness from various angles, with various approaches, and have a loose organization. The most readable of these chapters–owing to its narrative format–is the last, which retells a Tolstoy story about an Emperor who receives three questions and–unable to find suitable answers by offering a reward to his subjects–dons a disguise and visits a hermit sage. Needless to say, the sage (and life events) enlighten the Emperor, and the answers revolve around the theme of mindfulness. Among the most thought-provoking of the chapters is one that proposes that one take one day of the week to focus on mindfulness. Hanh offers advice on how to best select and structure such a day.
While the appended matter of some of Thich Hhat Hanh’s books can read like filler (intended to reach a page quota), that isn’t so much the case with this book. The most valuable of the appendices gives 32 exercises for building mindfulness. Many of these exercises are variations on a theme, and some are much more extensive than others, but it’s a crucial section and might even be called the heart of the book. Likewise, there are five sutra translations that will be appreciated by readers who are actually Buddhist. (Non-Buddhists may find the sutras to be a less colorful and more repetitive restatement of what Hahn has told them in the chapters. If one pays attention to the chapters and does the exercises, reading the sutra’s isn’t necessary for those who are not students of the religion.)
There is an odd postscript by one of Hanh’s students that is like those I’ve seen in other Hanh books. It’s an odd little testimonial. I put it in the filler category as anyone buying the book knows who Thich Nhat Hanh is and about the accolades he has received and, therefore, they don’t need a prologue telling them how awesome he is. It actually detracts from his persona as a wise man, because it makes one wonder who inspired the little ego trip. I suspect this is more a publisher desired addenda than an author inspired one, but, at any rate, it’s not useful. It can be interesting to hear about the war days, but there’s an outlet for that. Furthermore, I would think the place to tell us how awesome the author is would be at the beginning of the book–not the end. If one gets to the back matter, he must have done something to impress one.
I’d recommend this book for meditators, would-be meditators, and anyone who thinks that life is slipping through his or her fingers because of constant stress and a runaway mind.