Mindfulness and the Buddha Horse - a teaching from Thich Nhat Hanh

Stopping, Resting, Calming, Healing

a teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh


Buddhist meditation has two aspects - shamatha and vipashyana. We tend to stress the importance of the latter (vipashyana, "looking deeply") because it can bring us insight and liberate us from suffering. But the practice of shamatha ("stopping") is fundamental. If we cannot stop, we cannot have insight.


There is a story in Zen circles about a man and a horse. The horse is galloping quickly, and it appears that the man on the horse is going somewhere important. Another man, standing alongside the road, shouts, "Where are you going?" and the first man replies "I don't know! Ask the horse!" This is also our story.

We are riding a horse, we don't know where we are going, and we can't stop. The horse is our habit energy pulling us along, and we are powerless.


We are always running and it has become a habit. We struggle all the time, even during our sleep. We are at war within ourselves, and we can easily start a war with others.


We have to learn the art of stopping -- stopping our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfullness, the strong emotions that rule us. When an emotion rushes through us like a storm, we have no peace. We turn the TV on and off, we pick up a book and put it down. How can we stop our fear, despair, anger, and craving?

We can stop by practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful smiling, and deep looking in order to understand.


But our habit energies are often stronger than our volition. We say and do things we don't want to and afterwards we regret it. We make ourselves and others suffer, and we bring about alot of damage. We may vow not to do it again, but we do it again. Why? Because our habit energies (vashana) push us.


We need the energy of mindfulness to recognize and be present with our habit energy in order to stop this course of destruction. With mindfulness, we have the capacity to recognize habit energy every time it manifests. "Hello, my habit energy! I know you are there!" If we just smile to it, it will lose much of its strength. Mindfulness is the energy that allows us to recognize our habit energy, and prevent it from dominating us.


Thich Nhat Hanh


We may use mindfulness to take note of our habit energy, to watch and witness, to practice being present with what is, and to begin to break free.




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