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A Response to:

"Living Buddha, Living Christ"
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Copyright 1999-2002 by John WorldPeace

All  rights reserved


A.. To be Greatful   100600

During a conference on religion and peace, a Protestant minister came up to me toward the end of one of our meals together and said, "Are you a grateful person?"  I was surprised.  I was eating slowly, and I thought to myself, Yes, I am a grateful person.  The minister continued, "If you are really greatful, how can you not believe in God?  God has created everything we enjoy, including the food we eat.  Since you do not believe in God, you are not grateful for anything."  

I think the problem here is that western religions (Christianity, Judaism and Islam) personalize God as an anthropomorphic being.  Buddhist do not use the term God because they are more in tune with the Infinite nature of what the western religionist would call the omniscience aspect of God.  The infinite God, what I refer to as the Infinite Potential (from which all things manifest and back into which all things disintegrate) is what western religionist would define as the omnipresent omniscient aspect of their personalized God (Jehovah, Allah).  The Buddhists just do not give any consideration to this personal aspect of God as most western religionist do not give much consideration to the unknowable all pervasive aspects of God.  It is difficult for western religionists to pray to or meditate upon a God that has no anthropomorphic aspects.  Buddhists relate to the abstraction of God and western religionist relate to the tangible being aspect of God.  To Buddhists it is difficult to limit God to any kind of definable, describable entity.

What is more unfortunate in this exchange is the arrogance of the Protestant minister in essentially discounting Buddhism for failing to personalize God.  It seems that for the minister, Buddhism is really not a religion because there is no emphasis on a personal God.  And yet Buddhist acknowledge the God (Buddha) in everyone.  So Buddhist are relating to the all inclusive oneness of the Infinite Potential (God) which is generally a much more expanded concept of God than the limited anthropomorphic concept of God familiar to western religionist.

Further, I personally incorporate the personal and infinite concepts of God when I consider the Infinite Potential.  The Buddhist have no word for God because the word God is inseparable from the concept of a super being.  The problem is there is no common term and this is why I coined the term Infinite Potential.  For me, God is a manifestation of the Infinite Potential.  All things are a manifestation of the Infinite Potential.  God is at one with the Infinite Potential and we are at one with God and the Infinite Potential.  The western religionist just feels more comfortable connecting with the personal aspects of the infinite nature of God and the Buddhist don't.  It is just a matter of looking at the literal aspect of God as opposed to the abstract aspect of God.

I thought to myself, I feel extremely grateful for everything.  

But it is to the Infinite Potential to which you feel grateful, not a super being.

Every time I touch food, whenever I see a flower, when I breathe fresh air, I always feel grateful.

This is because Buddhists feel at one with the Infinite Potential whereas western religionist focus on the separate personal aspects of God and therefore they feel separate from God as opposed to existing within or a part of God.

Why should he say that I am not?

Because Buddhists do not limit the Infinite Potential to a personalized God.

I had this incident in mind many years later when I proposed to friends at Plum Village that we celebrate a Buddhist Thanksgiving Day every year.  On that day, we practice real gratitude -- thanking our mothers, fathers, ancestors, friends, and all beings for everything.

The problem here is that I do not think that Brother Hanh even understood what the minister was saying.  Mothers, fathers, ancestors, friends, and all beings are in the western mind created by God.  God is the ultimate provider in the western religious mind.  God is a limited concept of the Infinite Potential.  So Brother Hanh is giving thanks to only the earthly providers of food and not the ultimate provider.  Therefore, in the minister's mindset, Brother Hanh is not grateful.

Since Brother Hanh feels a part of the whole (oneness) of the Infinite Potential and at one with all things, he does not see himself separate from a personalized God and so cannot conceive of being grateful to an aspect of the Infinite Potential (God) that he cannot relate to.

If you meet the Protestant minister, I hope you will tell him that we are not ungrateful.

I will tell him that you are still not grateful to his concept of a personalized God.

 We feel grateful for everyone and everything.

But the minister was not talking about being grateful for everyone and everything but he was talking about being grateful to his personal God for everyone and everything.

Every time we eat a meal, gratitude is our practice. We are grateful for being together as a community.  We are grateful that we have food to eat, and we really enjoy the food and the presence of each other.  We feel grateful throughout the meal and throughout the day, and we express this by being fully aware of the food and living every moment deeply.  This is how I express my gratitude to all of life.

And I think all of life here could be used to refer to the Infinite Potential.  Again, Brother Hanh feels at one with All There Is, the Infinite Potential, and not separate from God, a manifestation of the Infinite Oneness.  Since Brother Hanh is at one with God, he does not feel obligated to be grateful to the personal aspect of  God but seeks to become more mindful of the all inclusive omniscience of God (the Infinite Potential).

And I think this inability of western religionist to feel at one with God and the inability of Buddhist to feel separate from God is the source of much confusion between the two groups of religionist.

B. Looking into our food. 100700

Mindful eating is an important practice.  It nourishes awareness in us.  Children are very capable of practicing with us.  In Buddhist monasteries, we eat our meals in silence to make it easier to give full attention to the food and to the other members of the community who are present.  And we chew each morsel of food thoroughly, at least thirty times, to help us be truly in touch with it.  Eating this way is very good for digestion.

What Brother Hanh is doing is meditating while eating. We can practice the same thing when driving, when walking, when working (if we are in a repetitive job), or painting or doing most anything that requires little concentration.  However, in life outside the monastery, one has other duties and obligations which generally prevent spending this much time eating a meal.  Life in a monastery is busy I am sure, but probably not like living in a fast moving society where the majority of people must work and raise a family.  Outside the monastery, we have to find other vehicles upon which to practice our mindfulness.

Before every meal, a monk or a nun recites the Five Contemplations: "This food is the gift of the whole universe -- the earth, the sky, and much hard work.  May we live in a way that is worthy of this food.  May we transform our unskilled states of mind, especially that of greed.  May we eat only foods that nourish us and prevent illness.  May we accept this food for the realization of the way of understanding and love."

Many religious families have the habit of saying a prayer before eating.  The prayers are different but they have the same effect of reminding us that we are part of something which is much more than ourselves.  Regardless of religion, prayers and mediations such as the one above increase our mindfulness.

Then we can look at the food deeply, in a way that allows it to become real.  Contemplating our food before eating in mindfulness can be a real source of happiness.

I think it can be a source of peace. To consider that we must eat that which the earth produces to sustain our bodies should help us to be mindful of the fact that we must honor the planet or we will surely die.  Without food we starve, without air we suffocate and without water we die of thirst.  In that sense, the earth is our mother and we must honor her and not destroy her ability to nourish us.

Every time I hold a bowl of rice, I know how fortunate I am.  I know that forty thousand children die every day because of the lack of food and that many people are lonely, without friends or family.  I visualize them and feel deep compassion.

In all that we do, we should be mindful that there are others who are not as fortunate as ourselves.  Many of the basic things that we have, food, clothing and shelter, are not possessed by many millions of people.  However, after becoming mindful of this, we need to ask ourselves what we can do to reach out to others.  

You do not need to be in a monastery to practice this.  You can practice at home at your dining table.

This is true.  No matter where you are when you partake of a meal, you can practice mindfulness of what food means to you and what the lack of food means to others.

Eating mindfully is a wonderful way to nourish compassion, and it encourages us to do something to help those who are hungry and lonely.

And since many of us eat several times a day, it should be easy to maintain this mindfulness.

We needn't be afraid of eating without having the TV, radio, newspaper, or a complicated conversation to distract us.  In fact, it is wonderful and joyful to be completely present with our food.

If we have time to be fully present when eating that is good.  If we do not have time to do this, then we can use other daily tasks to practice our mindfulness.  If one really wants to become mindful while eating, one could prepare one's food and meditate and pray as one cooks.

C. Living in the presence of God  100700

In the Jewish tradition, the sacredness of mealtimes is very much emphasized.  You cook, set the table, and eat in the presence of God.  "Piety" is an important word in Judaism, because all of life is a reflection of God, the infinite source of holiness.  

And this in truth applies to all religions.

The entire world, all the good things in life, belong to God,

Actually all things manifest from God.  God does not possess things.  All things are God.

so when you enjoy something, you think of God and enjoy it in His presence.

I think many people who are in the process of truly enjoying something thank God for the blessing of joy.

It is very close to the Buddhist appreciation of interbeing and interpenetration.  When you wake up, you are aware that God created the world.  When you see rays of sunlight streaming through your window, you recognize the presence of God.  When you stand up and your feet touch the ground, you know the earth belongs to God.

The problem with the world presently is the overemphasis on ownership.  And so I dislike relating God to ownership.  Ownership has to do with the way of the world.  God has to do with the unseen force from which all things manifest.  You cannot own oneness.  You are at one with your leg and your arms.  They do not belong to the torso or the head.  Such are the manifestations of God (The Infinite Potential).  God owns nothing.  All things are at one with God.

When you wash your face, you know that the water is God.  "Piety" is the recognition that everything is linked to the presence of God in every moment.

Actually piety is related to the practice of religion.  One whose life is centered around religion is often times referred to as pious.  Being pious has little to do with being mindful.

The word mindful applies here but it is not a word that is familiar to Christians.

The Passover Seder, for example, is a ritual meal to celebrate the freedom of the Israelites from bondage in Egypt and their journey home.  During the meal, certain vegetables and herbs, salt, and other condiments help us touch what happened in the past -- what was our suffering and what was our hope.  This is a practice of mindfulness.

The ritual preparation of the meal and the partaking of the meal is meant to connect one with the presence of God.  Mindfulness is connected to a specific event.  However, to be fully awake, totally mindful means to view every thing one is experiencing as a manifestation of the oneness of the Infinite Potential (God).

D. The bread we eat is the whole Cosmos 100700

Christianity is a kind of continuation of Judaism, as is Islam.  All the branches belong to the same tree.

From Zoroasterism, came Judaism and Jesus and Paul founded Christianity out of the teachings of Judaism.  Mohammed then founded Islam from Judaism but also recognized some of the teachings of Christianity.  And from Islam has come the Bahai  Faith founded by Baha'U'llah in the mid 1800's about the same time Joseph Smith established Mormonism out of Christianity.

And in the East, from Hinduism came Buddhism and Taoism which later combined to become Zen.

There are two great religious trees in the World; one east, one west.

In Christianity, when we celebrate the Eucharist, sharing the bread and the wine as the body of God (actually of Christ) we do it in the same spirit of piety, of mindfulness, aware that we are alive, enjoying dwelling in the present moment.

Actually Christianity does not relate well to living in the present moment.  In fact, Christians tend to live more in the future.  They are more focused on manifesting the future than they are living in the present because living in the present is perceived as being passive.  Christians have a strong work ethic and a mandate to create the future and so living in the present as the Buddhist do, is really strange to the Christian mind.

The message of Jesus during the Seder that has become known as the Last Supper was clear.  His disciples had been following him.  They had had the chance to look into his eyes and see him in person, but it seems they had not yet come into real contact with the marvelous reality of his being.

I think that the twelve disciples as opposed to the rank and file disciples came as close as anyone could to knowing Jesus.  But I doubt if more that a few of the twelve actually connected with Jesus.  Probably Peter and John came the closest to actually knowing Jesus but even Peter denied him in the end.

So when Jesus broke the bread and poured the wine, he said, This is my body.  This is my blood.  Drink it, eat it, and you will have eternal life.  It was a drastic way to awaken his disciples from forgetfulness.

The bread and the wine were probably meant to connect the disciples to Jesus and since it was done at the Passover Seder it connected Jesus to God.  So by partaking of the bread and the wine, the disciples were to be ever mindful of the presence of God.

When we look around, we see many people in whom the Holy Spirit does not appear to dwell.

The Holy Spirit dwells in each human being because within each human being is a soul which has manifested from God.  Human beings are at one with the Holy Spirit and at one with God.  The problem is that human beings become confused in the manifestations of this reality such that they forget their oneness with God; they  lose their mindfulness of the all inclusive nature of God.  They become confused in believing that this earthly reality is the true reality when in fact the immortal infinite oneness of God is the only true reality.

They look dead, as though they were dragging around a corpse, their own body.

It is not possible to judge a person by how they look.  Some people who have terminal diseases look like they are dragging around a corpse even though they are very much mindful of their oneness with the God.

The practice of the Eucharist is to help resurrect these people so they can touch the Kingdom of Life.

Actually in Christianity, once people accept Jesus Christ as their savior, they are assumed to be saved or what I think Brother Hanh would call resurrected.  And for these people the Eucharist is both a reminder of their redemption and also on another level a ritual to bind the Christian community together.  Since lay religionist do not live in a monetary and have regular meals with their fellow religionists, the Eucharist becomes a sort of symbolic meal to remind the members of their oneness in Christ.

In the church, the Eucharist is received at every mass.

This is true in some churches but not generally true in the Protestant churches.

Representatives of the church read from the biblical passage about the Last Supper of Jesus with his twelve disciples, and a special kind of bread called the Host is shared.

Literally the bread is sometimes unleavened in remembrance of the unleavened bread of the Israelites at the time of the original Passover.  Metaphorically the bread is referred to as the Host.

Everyone partakes as a way to receive the life of Christ into his or her own body.

This is true.  And this is to help people become more mindful of their new life in Christ.

When a priest performs the Eucharist rite, his role is to bring life to the community.

Yes in a sense.  But a more important aspect is the binding of the members of the community to each other and to the church so that they feel a part of the community and do not go off and join another church or faith and thereby weaken the particular community of members by withdrawing their support both in time and money.

The miracle happens not because he says the words correctly, but because we eat and drink in mindfulness.

I do not think this is a miracle as much as a reminder of the Christian belief in the miracle of Jesus's resurrection from the dead.  But there is no question that it makes ones mindful of that miracle and thus mindful of one's belief in God.

Holy Communion is a strong bell of mindfulness.

It can be.

We drink and eat all the time, but we usually ingest only our ideas, projects, worries and anxiety.  We do not really eat our bread or drink our beverage.

Yes in the sense that we are not really present and mindful of eating when we eat.  If we think about our ideas, projects, worries and anxieties when we eat, then that is what we are mindful of and not the food that we are actually ingesting.  Yet the food nourishes our bodies regardless of what we are mindful of as we eat.  In modern society, we many times perform several functions at the same time.  We drive and listen to the news on the radio for example.  Outside the monastery, life is complex and one seldom has the ability to do just one thing at a time.  It is much easier to be mindful of something if that something is all one is doing at the moment.

If we allow ourselves to touch our bread deeply, we become reborn, because our bread is life itself.

I think if we focus on eating our meal at the exclusion of all else, then we do become mindful of our relationship with the All There Is, with God.  Christians are reborn when they accept Christ as their savior.  Reborn is a Christian word of art and it is a one time event.  So when one is mindful of partaking of the Eucharist there is a remembrance of that rebirth as opposed to an additional rebirth.

Eating it deeply, we touch the sun, the clouds, the earth, and everything in the cosmos.  We touch life, and we touch the Kingdom of God.  When I asked Cardinal Jean Danielou if the Eucharist can be described in this way, he said yes.

If one is totally present when one partakes of the Eucharist and if one has been taught the symbolic nature of the Eucharist, then I think one does become mindful of one's connection with God and therefore mindful of All That Is.  But in truth the Eucharist is most often presented on a more basic level, that of reminding Christians of their redemption in Christ and how Christ died for their sins.  There is a great deal of deeply embedded symbology in the Eucharist.  And much of this symbology is meant to emphasize to Christians that their religion is the only true religion because only Christ, not Buddha, not Mohammed returned to life after being crucified.

I think the being mindful of eating in general is a way to daily connect with the oneness of all things and the source of all things as God (Infinite Potential) but when one begins to talk about the Eucharist ,one gets off into the core of Christian elitism and away from the oneness of all religionists and into the exclusiveness of Christianity.

If Brother Hanh intended by his book to show the common denominators of all religions, he erred when he brought the Eucharist into the discussion because the Eucharist is one of the most divisive rituals in comparing religions.  It goes to the core of Christian elitism.

E. The Body of Reality   100800

It is ironic that when mass is said today, many congregants are not called to mindfulness at all.

As I have stated above, this is true.

They have heard the words so many times that they just feel a little distracted.  

Yes, but this repetition binds Christians together.  And the more times one has communion the less likely one is to leave the Christian community to find God in another faith.  The nature of the Eucharist in not to promote mindfulness but to promote community.

This is exactly what Jesus was trying to overcome when he said, This is my body.  This is my blood.  

Yes, Jesus was trying to use the symbology of the bread and wine to emphasize his oneness with his disciples.  And the metaphor was powerful because it has survived for over two thousand years.

When we are truly there, dwelling deeply in the present moment, we can see that the bread and the wine are really the body and blood of Christ and the priest's words are truly the words of the Lord.

This is true.

The body of Christ is the body of God, the body of ultimate reality, the ground of all existence.

The body of Christ is a manifestation of God, who is the ultimate reality, the Infinite Potential from which all things manifest and back into which all things disintegrate.

We do not have to look anywhere else for it.  It resides deep in our own being.

We do not have to look for God because we are a manifestation of God and at one with God.  God does not reside in our being, God is our being.

The Eucharistic rite encourages us to be fully aware so that we can touch the body of reality in us.  Bread and wine are not symbols.  They contain the reality, just as we do.

The Eucharist is symbolic and as such the bread and wine are also symbols.  On the level of the Infinite Potential, all things are at one with each other and on that level we are the bread and the wine and the bread and the wine is us.  All things manifest from the oneness of the Infinite Potential (God) and all things eventually disintegrate back into this oneness.

F.  Everything is fresh and new  100800

When Buddhist and Christians come together, we should share a meal in mindfulness as a deep practice of communion.  

A communion of religionist and a communion of human beings.

When we pick up a piece of bread, we can do it with mindfulness, with Spirit.

Spirit being the oneness of all things.

The bread, the Host, becomes the object of our deep love and concentration.

Host is a term of art used in conjunction with the Eucharist.  For Christians there is the Eucharist and there is eating and drinking.  And in some churches one cannot partake of the Eucharist unless one is a Christian.  So when Brother Hanh tries to tie eating  a common meal with the Eucharist the comparison does not really work.  Some Christians would object to taking the Eucharist with Buddhists.

If our concentration is not strong enough, we can try saying its name silently, "Bread", in the way we would call the name of our beloved.  When we do this, the bread will reveal itself to us in its totality, and we can put it in our mouth and chew with real awareness, not chewing anything else, such as our thoughts, our fears, or even our aspirations.

This is true with anything we do.  If we are painting the room we can become mindful of how the paint adheres to the wall and consider what is happening on a microscopic level.  And we can further consider the atomic level and then the spiritual level.  In that level of awareness, of mindfulness, we become mindful of our oneness with God (The Infinite Potential).

This is Holy Communion, to live in faith.

One can be mindful at communion as well as becoming mindful in painting a room or walking down a country lane.

Holy Communion however is a reminder of one's faith in Jesus Christ as the savior of mankind and the personal savior of those who accept him as their savior.  Holy Communion is not a metaphor which unites but one that divides religionist.

Holy Communion reminds Christians of their unique and special relationship with God and does not remind them of their oneness with all religionists or all of humanity.

Further, to live in faith is not to live mindfully.  Faith is a word that means a belief in God to take care of one's needs.  Mindfulness is a word that means remembering one's connection with God.  Faith is associated with expectation and mindfulness is associated with generic oneness of all things; and all things manifest from God.

When we practice this way, every meal is the Last Supper.

Yes, as we become mindful as we partake of the Eucharist, we can also become mindful as we partake of any meal.  But a common meal is not a metaphor for Christianity, Jesus as savior, Jesus as God as is the Eucharist.  Being mindful at a common meal reminds us that we are at one with all human beings.  Being mindful while partaking of the Eucharist reminds us that we are Christians and as Christians we are saved and special in the sight of God.

In fact, we could call it the First Supper, because everything will be new and fresh.

Things for Christians become new and fresh only once when they are reborn in Christ.  After that, the Eucharist is a reminder of that rebirth.  

When we eat together in this way, the food and the community of co-practitioners are the objects of our mindfulness.  

Yes.  But a meal among co-practitioners is an exclusive thing.  The ultimate meal would be a meal among human beings who were mindful of their oneness with the Infinite Potential without bringing their religion to the common experience.

It is through the food and one another that the ultimate becomes present.

Yes it can be if one leaves one's religion, one's race, one's nationality, one's sex at the door.  If anyone of these is carried to the meal, the experience is less than the ultimate communal meal.

To eat a piece of bread or a bowl or rice mindfully and see that every morsel is a gift of the whole universe is to live deeply.  


We do not need to distract ourselves from the food, even by listening to the scriptures or the lives of bodhisattvas or saints.  When mindfulness is present, the Buddha and the Holy Spirit are already there.

In the sense that Buddha and the Holy Spirit are two different metaphors for one ultimate reality, one God, the Infinite Potential, this is true.

Go To Chapter Four

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