Thich Nhat Hanh, a respected Zen master, has the answer to the question "what is mindfulness" in this video on awakening the heart.
What is Mindfulness? Mindfulness is the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life.
To be mindful is to be truly alive, present and at one with those around you and with what you are doing.
~ Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today, poet, and peace and human rights activist, Thich Nhat Hanh (called Thây by his students) has led an extraordinary life. Born in central Vietnam in 1926 he joined the monkshood at the age of sixteen. The Vietnam War confronted the monasteries with the question of whether to adhere to the contemplative life and remain meditating in the monasteries, or to help the villagers suffering under bombings and other devastation of the war. Nhat Hanh was one of those who chose to do both, helping to found the “engaged Buddhism” movement. His life has since been dedicated to the work of inner transformation for the benefit of individuals and society.
Dear friends in Buddhism, we speak of a kind of body called Dharma body. Every one of us, as human, we need a spiritual dimension. Without a spiritual dimension, it’s difficult for us to confront, to solve the difficulties that present themselves in our daily life. You have your physical body, but you should have your Dharma body. Your Dharma body is your spiritual practice.
In the Buddhist tradition, if we have a good practice, we are no longer afraid, because we know how to deal with the difficulties that present themselves every day. A good Buddhist practice should be able to handle a feeling of pain, a feeling of despair. A good practitioner should be able to handle a strong emotion, like fear, anger, and hate. A good practitioner should be able to generate a feeling of joy and happiness whenever she wants. A good practitioner should be able to use the practice of deep listening, compassionate listening, and gentle speech in order to restore communication and reconcile. All these things are recommended by the Buddha.
Dharma body is our practice—our body of practice. And if we have a solid Dharma body, a solid practice, and then wherever you are, you are no longer afraid. You can meet situation with calm and peace, and confidence. When it comes to a tenure retreat, 5 days or 7 days, that’s what we want to learn. We want to have a practice, so that you can handle the difficulties in our life. And during that time, we practice together with the ___, and it will change our understanding and experiences with the members of the community of practice.
The expression Dharma ___, Dharma body, later on has a different meaning. In ___ Buddhism, it means “the wonders of life.” In Buddhism, we do not speak about God and the Kingdom of God, but we do speak about the Dharma ___, and the blue sky, the beautiful river, the mountains, the flowers—all expressions of the Dharma ___. And many Zen masters have written poetry about the beauty, about the wonders of life as an expression of the Dharma ___.
When you contemplate on a flower, like the one in front of us, if we have enough mindfulness and concentration, you can get in touch deeply with the flower, and we can recognize that the flower belongs to the realm of the Dharma ___. In the Christian tradition, you can say that the flower belongs to the Kingdom of God. It is a wonder. With the Buddhist practice, you get the initiative of mindfulness and concentration that allowed us to get in touch deeply with the flower, that wonder of life that is there. And as you know that it belongs to the Kingdom of God, you know that you are capable of touching the Kingdom of God in here and now. You are able to touch the pure land of the Buddha in here and now. With the practice of mindfulness and concentration, the Kingdom of God or the pure land of the Buddha is valuable here and now.
There’s a French writer whose name is ___. He said that God is happiness. Many of us used to describe God in terms of love, but others would like to describe God as happiness. This is the original, beautiful way of talking about God. If we are—and he also said that God is available 24 hours a day. It means happiness is possible at any time if you know how to get in touch with it. If you know how to get in touch with God and the Kingdom of God. The same thing with the Dharma ___. With mindfulness and concentration, you can be in touch with the wonders of life as expressed in the violet bamboo trees, or the yellow chrysanthemums.
If God is available 24 hours a day, and then his Kingdom should be available 24 hours a day also. And how do we get in touch with the Kingdom in the light of the Buddhist practice? That’s not difficult. If you breathe in mindfully, and be aware of your in-breath, you bring your mind home to your body. And when your mind is with your body, you are truly there in here and now. And being established here in and now, you can get in touch with that flower—that chrysanthemum. That beautiful full moon, which belongs to the pure land of the Buddha, which belongs to the Kingdom of God.
In our daily life, very often, our body is there, but our mind is elsewhere. We are caught in the sorrow, in the regret, consuming the past, or you’re caught in the fear, in the uncertainty concerning the feature, we are caught in our projects, of fear, our anger. Our mind is not there with our body. We are not truly there.
The practice of mindful breathing recommended by the Buddha help us bring our mind home to our body. And when our mind is with our body, we are back in here and now. Fully present. Fully alive. And we can get in touch in the wonders of life that are available in here and now.
The Buddha said that the past has already gone, and the future is not yet there. There’s only one moment where you can be truly alive, and that is the present moment. And the present moment has all the wonders of life in it. So the basic practice recommended by the Buddha is to go home to the present moment. And that can be done just by one in-breath, or one step made in mindfulness. The practice of mindful breathing, the practice of mindful work in, which are not too difficult. And they allowed us to go here and now in order to live deeply every moment given to us to live.
When we breathe in mindfully, breathe out mindfully, when we walk mindfully on every step, we generate the energy of mindfulness.