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  1. Thích Nhất Hạnh is recognised internationally as one of the most influential figures in the fields of mindfulness, meditation and Zen Buddhism. Having been ordained as a monk in 1949, Nhất Hạnh has since written more than 100 books and has travelled the world, imparting wisdom and sharing his philosophy on life. Over a period of almost 70 years, Nhất Hạnh has built a lasting legacy through his lessons on meditation, self-awareness, understanding, peace, love and non-violent conflict resolution. In this article, we take a closer look at his life, using some of his most famous quotes and most important teachings as reference points. Engaged Buddhism 'Engaged Buddhism' is a term coined by Thích Nhất Hạnh, with its first known usage coming in a book he published in 1967, called Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire. As a philosophy, it was heavily influenced by the Buddhism practised and taught by Master Tai Xu, who was influential in helping to reform Chinese Buddhism. While Tai Xu advocated what he referred to as human-life Buddhism, Nhất Hạnh developed this philosophy further. Essentially, the 'Engaged Buddhism' he teaches focuses on using the insight gained through meditation and dharma teachings to ease economic, social and political suffering within society. “When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all of the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on — not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.” This quote actually originates from an interview with Lion's Roar Magazine and perfectly captures Thích Nhất Hạnh's core belief in 'Engaged Buddhism', which became especially important to him and his spiritual community in the midst of the Vietnam War, during which they aided those that were experiencing the horrors. Nhất Hạnh saw the help they provided as being part of their mindfulness and meditation practice, rather than something separate from it. What this particular quote demonstrates is the belief that meditation can (and should) extend beyond the self, due to the insight and perspective it provides. The Enemies of Man Over the years, Thích Nhất Hạnh has often used his influence and wisdom to stress the importance of recognising the fact that the true 'enemies of man' are ideological, rather than physical. The most famous example of this philosophy being put into words came in the mid 1960s, in a letter written to Martin Luther King. In the letter, Nhất Hạnh wrote that the enemies of monks in Vietnam were not man, but "intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination". He also opined that in the civil rights struggle in the US, Martin Luther King's enemies were not specific human beings, but "intolerance, hatred and discrimination". “When another person makes you suffer, it is because he suffers deeply within himself, and his suffering is spilling over. He does not need punishment; he needs help. That's the message he is sending.” This quote is an interesting extension of the basic 'Enemies of Man' teaching. Once again, it centres on the idea that we should not see those who do wrong as our enemies, or as people in need to punishment or retribution, but instead as people who can be helped, or who are in need of help. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Nhất Hạnh continued to promote the virtues of non-violence, even in retaliation to violent actions. These words help us to understand the deep-rooted beliefs that made this possible for him. Embracing Science Another key teaching that has come to define Thích Nhất Hạnh's philosophy is his view that traditional Zen Buddhist practices can work in conjunction with science. In particular, he has embraced western psychological research and utilised aspects when teaching Buddhist Psychology at Vạn Hanh Buddhist University and Cornell University. It is only through embracing science in this way that ancient wisdom can play a meaningful role in the modern world. This concept is explored in several of Nhất Hạnh's published works, including the 1992 book, The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion and the 2001 book, Understanding Our Mind. “Aware of the suffering created by fanaticism and intolerance, we are determined not to be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist teachings are guiding means to help us learn to look deeply and to develop our understanding and compassion. They are not doctrines to fight, kill, or die for.” Appearing in his 1987 book entitled Being Peace, this quote emphasises the extent to which Thích Nhất Hạnh discourages dogmatic adherence to any particular set of teachings, because such inflexible attitudes inevitably lead to conflict and, ultimately, suffering, rather than happiness, peace and contentment. Instead, one of Nhất Hạnh's most important philosophies is related to the value of being open to new ideas, being willing to challenge existing ones and being adaptable to new research, evidence and technology. There is, after all, wisdom in letting go of bias and recognising that the concept of 'truth' can be fluid, rather than absolute. Love and Infatuation In more recent years, Thích Nhất Hạnh's teachings have placed an emphasis on the concept of love and on defining precisely what it is. In his 2015 book How to Love, he argues that the ideas of 'love' and 'understanding' are inextricably linked. "Understanding is love's other name," he writes. With this as the starting point, Nhất Hạnh is able to de-construct the difference between love and infatuation. Love, he says, is about understanding another person and their suffering. Infatuation, on the other hand, is a distraction from one's own suffering and understanding is replaced with fantasy, illusion and projecting ideas onto someone. “If our parents didn't love and understand each other, how are we to know what love looks like? The most precious inheritance that parents can give their children is their own happiness.” Finally, this quote, which also appears in Thích Nhất Hạnh's 2015 book How to Love, neatly sums up one of the most significant conclusions he draws, which is that love is something which can be seen and learned. "If we have happy parents, we have received the richest inheritance of all," Nhất Hạnh writes. As Maria Popova points out, this is in-keeping with what psychologists know about the role of 'positivity resonance' in learning how to love. Once again, this quote shows how Nhất Hạnh's traditional Zen Buddhist philosophy can operate in perfect harmony with modern scientific research and reasoning. Photo by d nelson - arrival, CC BY 2.0 and Duc (pixiduc), CC BY-SA 2.0 and mettabebe - Thich Nhat Hanh at festival in Da Nang, CC BY-SA 2.0 Written by Guest Author We are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  2. "If we can see it is our agreements that rule our own life, and we don’t like the dream of our life, we need to change the agreements. When we are finally ready to change our agreements, there are four very powerful agreements that will help us to break those agreements that come from fear and deplete our energy.” Do self-help books help? This simple and provocative question is the title of an article by Ad Bergsma in the Journal of Happiness Studies. In this article, Bergsma studies the different types of psychological self-help books and their possible positive effects. When discussing the arguments of opponents of these books, he coins existing terms to describe them: ‘psychobabble’, ‘false hope syndrome’, and the problem of ‘one-size fits all’. Still, there are positive effects to be noted. One of them, according to researcher Steven Starker:  Of what value is an inspirational message to those in need of health, beauty, happiness, success, and creativity? In general, it lifts the spirit, engenders and supports hope, and keeps people striving towards their goals; it also fends off feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, despair and depression. This constitutes its greatest service. An interesting self-help book that I first read some years ago is The Four Agreements, by Mexican author Don Miguel Ruiz. The Four Agreements is, according to its author, a book based on ancient wisdom by the pre-Columbian Toltecs . The historicity of the Toltecs is a matter of scholarly debate. But according to Ruiz, they were a group of scientists and artists, which came together to explore and conserve the spiritual knowledge of the “ancient ones”. When looking closer at the book's content, there are parallels with modern psychology and cognitive therapy, with spiritual and mindfulness teachings, and with general happiness practices that are being researched and supported by modern psychology.  Esoteric psychobabble, valuable ancient wisdom, or borrowed ideas? Whatever the Four Agreements are, they have given me and many others the hope, striving towards goals, and fending off of despair that Starker speaks of. So what are the four agreements exactly? What parallels can be drawn with other ideas and practices? And how can they help to attain more happiness?  In short: Four Agreements In case you want the quick and dirty, the four agreements are:  1. Be impeccable with your word. Speak with integrity. Say only what you mean. Avoid using the word to speak against yourself or to gossip about others. Use the power of your word in the direction of truth and love.  2. Don’t take anything personally. Nothing others do is because of you. What others say and do is a projection of their own reality, their own dream. When you are immune to the opinions and actions of others, you won’t be the victim of needless suffering. This also includes the voices inside your mind.  3. Don’t make assumptions. Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want. Communicate with others as clearly as you can to avoid misunderstandings, sadness, and drama.  4. Always do your best. Your best is going to change from moment to moment; it will be different when you are healthy as opposed to sick. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgement, self-abuse, and regret.  Sounds simple, right? No hocus-pocus or fancy spiritualism. However, when looking at the meat of the book, things get a bit more complicated, but also more interesting.  Toltec wisdom and The Dream of the World The structure of The Four Agreements is like an oreo: the agreements are sandwiched in between spiritual guidance and thoughts. At the beginning of the book, Ruiz starts off with some Toltec mythology, and introducing the concept of “the dream of the world”, that is an important prerequisite to understanding the meaning of the agreements themselves.  Toltec wisdom The Toltec had their own mythology, that stated that a couple of thousands of years ago, a man studied to be a medicine man, and discovered that everything is made of light and that all existence is one living being.  "This is what he discovered: Everything in existence is a manifestation of the one living being we call God. Everything is God. And he concluded that human perception is merely light perceiving light. He also saw that matter is a mirror — everything is a mirror that reflects light and creates images of that light — and the world of illusion, the Dream, is just like smoke which doesn't allow us to see what we really are. […] Once he knew what he really was, he looked around at other humans and the rest of nature, and was amazed at what he saw. He saw himself in everything — in every human, in every animal, in every tree, in the water, in the rain, in the clouds, in the earth.” When reading this passage for the first time, it might strike you as very similar to the Buddhist notion of the illusion of the separate self, known as Anatta. The teaching of the Self and Not-Self is instrumental in the path to happiness, as they are associated with processes of acceptance and letting go.  This is also very familiar to Alan Watts philosophy, and especially The Book: On the Taboo Against Knowing Who You Are. In it, Watts argues very similar concepts of the illusion of the Ego, and the arguable truth that the Universe “peoples”: that we are extensions of the universe, reflecting on itself. Our path to happiness lies in embracing that reality, instead of clinging on to notions of the Ego and the Self that separate us from others and the world at large. A happier outlook on the world is recognising the connectedness we have to the world.  "There is something in our minds that judges everybody and everything, including the weather, the dog, the cat — everything. The inner Judge uses what is in our Book of Law to judge everything we do and don’t do, everything we think and don’t think, and everything we feel and don’t feel. Everything lives under the tyranny of this Judge. […] There is another part of us that receives the judgments, and this part is called the Victim. The Victim carries the blame, the guilt, and the shame. It is the part of us that says, “Poor me, I'm not good enough, I'm not intelligent enough, I'm not attractive enough, I'm not worthy of love, poor me.” The dream of the world Next, Ruiz discusses what he calls the Dream of the World. Recognising that what we perceive as reality is but a dream, how is this dream made? Don Miguel Ruiz argues that truth is replaced in our world by symbols, words, which are only illusions. As children, we believe what adults tell us about the world, and we start to dream with others in the world. Our dream tells us how to act in the world, what to believe and what not, what is acceptable behaviour and what isn't, what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is bad. We accept all of these notions because we make agreements with ourselves and the world. We create an inner Judge, and this Judge constantly judges and punishes us when we don’t live up to our self-created agreements. In this process, we create the Victim, who carries guilt, and gets punished over and over again.  This notion of the Judge and the Victim strongly resembles the ideas that Kristin Neff introduces in her method of Mindful Self Compassion, and especially in her article The Role of Self-Compassion in Development: A Healthier Way to Relate to Oneself . She analyses the way we develop notions of self-judgement, and thereby neglect self-compassion. In our development, we create notions of self-esteem that are detrimental to us, for we cannot live up to our own standards. The answer to this self-judgement is self-compassion, a method to be more kind, more compassionate, towards ourselves.  "We know we are not what we believe we are supposed to be and so we feel false, frustrated, and dishonest. We try to hide ourselves, and we pretend to be what we are not. The result is that we feel unauthentic and wear social masks to keep others from noticing this. We are so afraid that somebody else will notice that we are not what we pretend to be. We judge others according to our image of perfection as well, and naturally, they fall short of our expectations. We dishonour ourselves just to please other people. We even harm our physical bodies just to be accepted by others. […] Therefore we live in a dream of hell, and we search for a way to transform this into a dream of heaven. To escape our dream of hell, we have to break old agreements, that are fear based, and reclaim our freedom and power. The four agreements help us breaking down all our old agreements.” So, this is how all of this relates to the four agreements that Ruiz proposes afterwards. Because we create a divide between ourselves and the world, the Universe, and because we create the Judge/Victim dichotomy within ourself, we live in tension, we feel inauthentic and dishonest. We make toxic agreements with ourselves about ourselves, and about our relationships with others. The four agreements help us to replace these toxic agreements with newer, happier agreements.  The Four Agreements 1. Be impeccable with your word. "Be impeccable with your word. This is the first agreement that you should make if you want to be free if you want to be happy […] Use the word in the correct way. Use the word to share your love. Use white magic, beginning with yourself. Tell yourself how wonderful you are, how great you are. Tell yourself how much you love yourself. Use the word to break all those teeny, tiny agreements that make you suffer.” The first agreement sounds simple. But, it encompasses a couple of different notions. Literally, impeccable means “without sin”. Don Miguel Ruiz invites us to be without sin in our words, as the first way to replace our old agreements with new ones. Both the words we utter to ourselves, and that words that we utter to others. If we love ourselves, we use kind words to ourselves, instead of committing the ’sin’ of going against yourself. We take responsibility for our actions, but we don’t judge or blame ourselves. If we love others, we don’t gossip or talk badly to or about them, but we share our common humanity.  This first agreement has strong connection to both ‘mindset’, as proposed by psychologist Carol Dweck , and with the fundamentals of Neuro-Linguistic Programming [NLP], as can be found in Brian Colbert's writings. The idea of mindset, and especially of ‘growth mindset’, states that we can develop and alter our abilities through dedication and work. NLP engages its practitioners in the power of language and how we use it internally, to impact how we view and experience ourselves and the world.  Call it impeccability with our word, ‘growth mindset’, or NLP. In any case, we can live happier lives if we use our words (for example with these NLP happiness techniques), both internally and to others, for good.  2. Don’t take anything personally. "During the period of our education, or our domestication, we learn to take everything personally. We think we are responsible for everything. Me, me, me, always me! Nothing other people do is because of you. It is because of them.” Ruiz argues that everything that others say or do is because of their dream, not because of us. This goes for both criticism, but [more revolutionary] as well as for positive comments that others make about us. We don’t have to take any of that personally. When we stop taking things personally, we don’t get hurt anymore by others and can keep being impeccable with our word in our communication with them. Furthermore, he argues that we don’t even have to take ourselves, the things we say to ourselves personally.  "If you live without fear, if you love, there is no place for any of those emotions. If you don’t feel any of those emotions, it is logical that you will feel good. When you feel good, everything around you is good. When everything around you is great, everything makes you happy. You love everything that is around you because you love yourself. Because you like the way you are because you are content with you. Because you are happy with your life […] happy with your agreements with life.” The notion of not taking anything personally, and finding communication that is non-confrontational to leave space for the other to live their ‘dream', resonates strongly with the idea of Non-Violent Communication [NVC]. Originally developed by Marshall Rosenberg, NVC focuses on three aspects of communication:  self-empathy (deep and compassionate awareness of one's own experience) empathy (understanding of the heart in which we see the beauty in the other person) honest self-expression (expressing oneself authentically in a way that is likely to inspire compassion in others) NVC proposes that if people can identify their needs, the needs of others, and the feelings that surround these needs, harmony can be achieved.  "When you make it a strong habit not to take anything personally, you avoid many upsets in your life. Your anger, jealousy, and envy will disappear, and even your sadness will simply disappear if you don’t take things personally. […] Just by practising this second agreement you begin to break dozens of teeny, tiny agreements that cause you to suffer. And if you practice the first two agreements, you will break seventy-five percent of the teeny, tiny agreements that keep you trapped in hell.” 3. Don’t make assumptions. "We tend to make assumptions about everything. The problem with making assumptions is that we believe they are the truth. We could swear they are real. We make assumptions about what others are doing or thinking — we take it personally — then we blame them and react by sending emotional poison with our word.” Don Miguel Ruiz argues that most of our suffering stems from our tendency to make assumptions. We find this notion as well in Cognitive Therapy, and especially in the research of Aaron Beck. Beck states that we have cognitive distortions, or thinking patterns, that interfere with how we perceive an event. These distortions can feed negative emotions and communication. One of these distortions is jumping to conclusions, or ‘mind reading', in which we infer other people’s thoughts. The solution to having these distortions, or making assumptions, is to ask questions, and making sure that communication is clear. Even then, don’t assume that you know everything about the situation.  "We also make assumptions about ourselves, and this creates a lot of inner conflicts. “I think I can do this.” You make this assumption, for instance, then you discover you aren't able to do it. You overestimate or underestimate yourself because you haven’t taken the time to ask yourself questions and to answer them. Perhaps you need to gather more facts about a particular situation. Or maybe you need to stop lying to yourself about what you truly want.” As with not taking anything personally, Ruiz also invites us to examine the assumptions we make about ourselves. Only when we are mindful of the things we tell ourselves that are within or not within our capabilities, and when we stop making assumptions about what others mean, can we become happier.  4. Always do your best. “There is just one more agreement, but it’s the one that allows the other three to become deeply ingrained habits. The fourth agreement is about the action of the first three: Always do your best. Under any circumstance, always do your best, no more and no less. […] But keep in mind that your best is never going to be the same from one moment to the next. Everything is alive and changing all the time, so your best will sometimes be high quality, and other times it will not be as good.” The fourth agreement seems very simple to make with ourselves, if we allow ourselves to stop judging, and don’t make assumptions about our capabilities. However, there is another element to this agreement, which according to Ruiz increases our happiness dramatically:  "Doing your best, you are going to live your life intensely. You are going to be productive; you are going to be good to yourself, because you will be giving yourself to your family, to your community, to everything. But it is the action that is going to make you feel intensely happy. When you always do your best, you take action. Doing your best is taking action because you love it, not because you’re expecting a reward.” This action-based happiness, this appreciation for process over outcome, and the appreciation for doing our best, we find in the writings of psychologist and researcher Martin Seligman as well. In his book Flourish: A New Understanding of Happiness and Well-being Seligman denies simplistic notions of happiness and suggests how people can flourish.  Seligman names the key elements to flourish as ‘PERMA'  (P) - positive emotion (E) - your engagement (R) - relationships (M) - meaning (A) - sense of accomplishment To flourish you need to change how you behave in order to improve those key elements. You cannot flourish just by trying to think differently because positive thinking has to be accompanied by coherent behaviours, actions.  Taking this one step further, there are also parallels with the Ten Keys to Happier Living that Action for Happiness synthesised from happiness research.  Their GREAT DREAM constitutes of: Giving – do things for others Relating – connect with people Exercising – taking care of your body Appreciating – awareness of what you do and the world around you Trying Out – doing new things Direction – doing things towards a goal Resilience – bouncing back after something negative Emotion – being positive about what you do Acceptance - that we all have faults and that things go wrong Meaning – being part of something bigger So, when we do our best, both in keeping the four agreements and in the actions we take in the world, we can truly be happy.  Stages to personal freedom "There are three masteries that lead people to become Toltecs.  First is the Mastery of Awareness. This is to be aware of who we really are, with all the possibilities.  The second is the Mastery of Transformation. How to change, how to be free of domestication.  The third is the Mastery of Intent. Intent from the Toltec point of view is that part of life that makes transformation of energy possible; it is the one living being that seamlessly encompasses all energy […]” After discussing the four Agreements, Don Miguel Ruiz outlines the different stages that we go through in our development to become ‘Spiritual Warriors’. He names these stages ‘attentions’.  1. The First Attention is the dream we create when we first use our attention to learn symbols, and we then believe these symbols represent knowledge and reality. Then we reach a stage where we realise that our dream is a lie and we use the attention a second time to try to change our dream and create a new one.  2. This is the Second Dream of Attention or the Dream of the Warriors because we now declare war against all the lies in our knowledge. In this battle, we fight to throw off the belief system that causes us to repeatedly punish ourselves for past “wrongs”- the system that brings up past thoughts and punishes us over and over again.  3. Ruiz describes that the dream of the second attention ends when 'the last judgement’ happens. This is the last time that we judge ourselves or anyone else. It’s the day we accept ourselves just the way we are and everyone else just the way they are. When the day of our last judgement comes, the war in our head is over, and the dream of the third attention begins. We move from the dream of the warriors to the dream of the masters. This is a dream of truth and respect and joy. It is that point where we come back to our real state, our divine self, where we fell a communion of love with everything in existence.  Living with the Four Agreements The agreements seem simple but have a world of inner transformation, spiritual growth, and action-based happiness at its core. When we try to live with the agreements and learn from the world of thoughts and philosophies connected with them, step-by-step we can create more loving, more compassionate, more connected lives.  Ruiz’ message ultimately strongly resonates with the teachings by the Dalai Lama . As Ruiz states at the end of the book:  "The world is very beautiful and very wonderful. Life can be easy when love is your way of life. You can be loving all the time. This is your choice. You may not have a reason to love, but you can love because to love makes you so happy. Love in action only produces happiness. Love will give you inner peace. It will change your perception of everything. […] Maybe we cannot escape from the destiny of the human, but we have a choice: to suffer our destiny or to enjoy our destiny. To suffer, or to love and be happy. To live in hell, or to live in heaven. My choice is to live in heaven. What is yours?”    Modelphoto and Photos: Colourbox.com  Written by Arlo LaibowitzArlo is a filmmaker, artist, lecturer, and intermittent practitioner of metta meditation and morning yoga. When not dreaming about impossible projects and making them happen in the most impractical ways possible, he journals, listens to jazz, or cuddles with his better half.
  3. Jack Kornfield is a writer, teacher and one of the leading proponents of Buddhism in the West. He has been teaching meditation across the globe for over forty years and, throughout this time, his work has played an instrumental part in helping to introduce the useful lessons and concepts of mindfulness to a Western audience.  Jack Kornfield: an introduction Mindfulness – it is a word that we hear more and more frequently in our day to day lives. Perhaps it should come as no surprise: the modern world is one which seems to travel at a break-neck speed. A place where information, entertainment, and work are all present, 24 hours a day; shaping our thoughts, emotions and living environments.  The human mind needs its “down time”, too. We all require moments of rest to reflect on the day's events and to make sense of the world. A few hours' sleep each night is not the same as realising true peace of mind. And that, perhaps, is why mindful living has become such an attractive concept for so many people in recent years.  But where did this concept of “mindfulness” originate? For those who have only recently discovered the mindful approach to everyday life, it is often surprising to learn that mindfulness is not a recent creation at all. In fact, its roots and origins stretch back many centuries into the past.  [su_quote cite="Jack Kornfield"] With mindfulness, we are learning to observe in a new way, with balance and a powerful disidentification. [/su_quote] Perhaps what has been a more recent phenomenon has been the dissemination of mindful thinking across the planet – enabling new adherents to discover this ancient philosophy for the very first time. And, in achieving this, few teachers have been quite as instrumental as Jack Kornfield.  Jack Kornfield: Learning and teaching Jack's path to the mindful existence has been a lifelong journey of learning and sharing his knowledge. His studies have taken him around the world, and he has studied directly under the tutelage of some of the leading minds of Buddhist thought in the twentieth century and the present day.  Jack's story began fairly typically. Born, one of the twins, to Jewish parents in 1945, Jack developed a deep fascination for the cultures of the Far East early on in life. Seeking to broaden his understanding, Jack enrolled at the prestigious Dartmouth College, New Hampshire; graduating in Asian Studies in 1967.  [su_quote cite="Jack Kornfield"] Let go of the battle. Breathe quietly and let it be. Let your body relax and your heart soften. Open to whatever you experience without fighting. [/su_quote] After university, Jack joined the United States Peace Corps and was soon assigned to work with a tropical medicines team in the Mekong River Valley – aiding the Public Health Service of Thailand. Working for some time in the northeastern Isan region of the country, Jack was able to use this time with the Peace Corps to visit many of the world's oldest Buddhist forest monasteries.  It was here that Jack took his first steps on what would become a lifelong journey of learning and understanding Buddhist mindfulness.  Getting to know Thailand, the Forest Tradition Traditional Thai yantra used by the Kammatthana tradition  The Kammaṭṭhāna Forest tradition of northeastern Thailand is a unique process within Buddhist understanding. It is one which emphasises the balance between thought and action; teaching Buddhism as a process of training the mind to improve one's experiences of everyday life. To the adherents of the Kammaṭṭhāna process, thought precedes all existence.  That Jack Kornfield would find himself working in the Isan region of Thailand is therefore incredibly fortuitous. The introduction of mindful thought into the West can be traced back directly to this time, and Jack's chance encounters with the teachers of the forest tradition. Indeed, as we look back it 's hard to contemplate a way that these lessons could have arrived in the West, had Jack not visited the forest monasteries and become inspired by the teachings of Ajahn Chah at this time.  The Venerable Ajahn Chah The venerable Ajahn Chah was instrumental not only in setting Jack Kornfield on his path to mindfulness but also in helping to introduce the thoughts and concepts of Kammaṭṭhāna to the wider world. A thinker who had himself led an incredible life, Ajahn Chah spent much of his adult life walking across Thailand, living only in woodland and caves as he learned the strict methods of the Forest Tradition. Having eventually established a settled monastery of his own in Ubon Ratchathani Province, Ajahn Chah became an influential mentor to a new generation of Buddhist thinkers.  Jack Kornfield would spend much time with the venerable Ajahn Chah during this period and, under his tutelage, learned the fundamental lessons that he would later develop into Buddhist mindfulness. During his time in Asia, Jack would also meet and study with the Venerable Mahasi Sayadaw of Burma, and Dipa Ma from India. Together, these three mentors would provide Jack with a broad understanding of meditation, Buddhist tradition, and the Vipassana movement.  Insight Meditation Society From this point, Jack understood the beneficial effect that these lessons could bring to modern Western societies. On his return to the United States, Jack immediately dedicated his time to establishing a centre for the teaching of Vipassana meditation in the west. In 1975 Jack founded the Insight Meditation Society (IMS) with two of his colleagues: Sharon Salzberg, and Joseph Goldstein.  The first retreat centre opened its doors in Barre, Massachusetts in February 1976. The cultural significance of that first Insight Meditation Society is such that it is widely regarded as being one of the very first organisations to pioneer the study of the Vipassanā tradition in the Western hemisphere.  Writing, education and academic teaching It could be said that, on founding that first Insight Meditation Society centre, Jack discovered his true calling in life – that of a teacher. Through his work with the society, Jack developed his approach to teaching the lessons of Vipassanā.  By 1974, Jack had already become a founding faculty member of the Naropa Buddhist University in Boulder, Colorado. This was just the first of many positions Jack has held as an instructor and tutor in Vipassanā techniques. These lessons have taken Jack to countless countries around the globe, sharing his knowledge and communicating his insightful views in a way that connects with audiences of all backgrounds. Jack Kornfield is today considered one of the pre-eminent teachers of mindful thought: his approach is both scientific and spiritual, and always seeks to ground matters of universal significance into a context of the everyday. He holds a PhD in Clinical Psychology from Saybrook University and has led International Buddhist Teacher meetings with the Dalai Lama.  Today, Jack lives at the Spirit Rock Center in Woodacre, California, which he founded, and where he teaches meditation and mindfulness. A passionate advocate for individual freedoms as well as spiritual well-being, Jack is a keen activist and has pioneered the use of social media and podcasting to share his vision of what a more mindful society can look like.  Jack's books have sold more than one million copies worldwide, and have been translated into twenty languages.  Many guided meditations and mindfulness trainings - for example with Tara Brach are available online.  Model Photo: colourbox.com Photo of Jack Kornfield: Marcy Harbut under CC2.0 License  Written by Guest AuthorWe are happy to publish articles by guest authors that will broaden the perspective and bring new insights. If you are interested in publishing an article here on happiness.org please contact us.
  4. In mindfulness daily, Jack Kornfield and Tara Brach are presenting a 40-day introduction for mindfulness and meditation. You can access the daily lessons via an app or online.  About mindfulness daily The lessons are mostly around 10 minutes and they are either taught by Jack or Tara. An explanation about today's subject is followed by a guided meditation to dig deeper into the subject. It is wrapped up with a daily practice to try throughout the day. Hence I would recommend finding some space to incorporate your mindfulness daily practice during the start of your day.  Once you've completed a lesson you can access the following one the next day. This creates a nice pace and you can't rush trough the course. You are given the time to explore each lesson throughout your day. You can always revisit the lessons you've already done. The lessons are divided into four main topics:  Mindfulness Basics Emotional Intelligence Resilience, Healing and Inner Freedom Mindful Living With the latest update of the mindfulness daily app (and I assume the online program as well) each lesson does now also have a name. This makes it much easier to revisit your most influential lessons when you feel like you need them. With this, you can tailor your sittings to your daily needs once you've finished the course by starting out with a subject you'd like to focus on. Which means the app keeps being your little helper even after having finished the course.  The course has a great structure that guides you through all relevant areas of mindfulness without being boring or too demanding. It's suitable for beginners as a first introduction to mindfulness, but also if you are experienced you will find this course helpful and structured and you are likely to discover new aspects of mindfulness for yourself.  Going through 40 aspects in 40 lessons you'll most likely encounter some that seem to be an easy ride and some that touch you on a deeper level. So this is also a great way to explore where to focus on more in your future practice.  Distributed by Sounds True Mindfulness daily is distributed by Sounds True. Which is an independent multimedia publishing company focusing on spiritual traditions, arts and humanities. It was $38 when I bought it - so each lesson comes down to less that $1. Also because with the app or the online access to mindfulness daily you also get access to the free Sounds True content. Or actually the other way around. The app/ website is from Sounds True and you can access the mindfulness daily content there. Sounds True provides you with a fair share of free bonus material. Even the regular newsletters come with free content. So their marketing is actually a win-win deal, they remind you to spend your money with them and give you something nice for free. Fair enough if you ask me.  Their Sounds True library app is a similar deal. It provides you with easy access to meditations, music, mindfulness daily and whatever else you'll buy there in the future. It also tracks the time you've been meditating with the app, offers a meditation timer with different bells and a journal for your experiences. This keeps me from not deleting the app from my phone and even using it on a daily basis. Well done, Sounds True. Looks like you are keeping a happy customer.  My personal experience with mindfulness daily Due to the briefness of each lesson, it's easily incorporated into your morning routine. At least for me, it was easy to sit down for 10 minutes each morning and I didn't skip or postpone a single day. Most of the time I'd even revisit a lesson in the evening again to wrap up my day.  I started with meditation many years ago, but it wasn't until about two years ago that I developed my personal daily routine. Having a structured program is very helpful for me to keep up a daily practice. Even better if it helps me revisit and expand my knowledge and practice. So the structured daily lessons were up my alley to start with. I also realized how I got a bit slack after the course had finished. But I started using single lessons matching my needs that day as an intro to my daily practice.  Furthermore, I admit being a bit of a Tara Brach fangirl. She has a lot of free content out there that I listen to regularly. Normally it's harder for me to concentrate on a subject if I'm just listening and I prefer reading about it. In her case, it's the other way around. I had some troubles reading her book True Refugee. Listening to her talks on the other hand, is a great experience as the way she explains things really resonates with me. So that's one of the main reasons I chose this course.  If you are unsure about whether or not you like Tara Brach's or Jack Kornfields style just check out the free content they provide. Some of it you can also get on Sounds True - for free.     Model photo: colourbox.com  Written by Tine SteissTine is an artist, meditator, media engineer and student of happiness. If she is not traveling she's working on turning her rooftop terrace into an urban garden paradise. Find out more about her on: Instagram Facebook
  5. Tara Brach: Portrait of a Writer, Pychologist and Teacher With a PhD Clinical Psychology, Tara Brach is an American psychologist and writer, mostly associated with advocating for the role of Eastern spiritual practices in Western contexts. She grew as a Unitarian and lives in Virginia with her husband, a teacher of meditation and yoga. Tara Brach helped found the Insight Meditation Community in Washington DC in 1998. This spiritual community teaches and practices insight or Vipassana as referred to by Buddhists. Her teaching focusses on drawing attention to the mindful attention to the inner life of people as well as developing a full and compassionate engagement with the world.  Meditation and Teaching A spiritual teacher who travels all over America, Tara Brach teaches online, in written form and also in person. She has gone to Europe to discuss her views on meditation and Eastern spirituality in psychology. Her teaching focusses on the application of what are essentially Buddhist teachings to bring about healing at an emotional level. Her first published work dealt with how practices such as mindfulness can be effective in healing trauma. Other written teachings offer similar suggestions, such as how tapping into inner peace and wisdom can help people who are going through psychological difficulties and stressful situations.  Imperfection is not our personal problem - it is a natural part of existing. - Tara Brach, Radical Acceptance In person, Tara Brach is well-versed as a presenter. In addition, she teaches classes, provides workshops and leads silent meditations. Brach is also well-known as a teacher of mindfulness and meditation on the internet. She produces a regular podcast which is downloaded in the region of a million times each month.  Education and Background Tara Brach gained her qualification in psychology from the Fielding Institute. Her dissertation centres on a ground-breaking analysis of the effectiveness of meditation in the healing of certain eating disorders. As an undergraduate, she received a double major in psychology and political science from Clark University.  It was at this time in her life that she began attending yoga classes, something which led to an interested in exploring Eastern approaches regarding inner transformation. After graduation, Brach chose to spend a decade in an ashram where she developed techniques in concentrative meditation. Later, she attended a Buddhist Insight Meditation retreat run by Joseph Goldstein. During this part of her life, Brach trained her mind in unconditional and loving presence. “I knew this was a path of true freedom,” she says.  Brach bases many of her past teachings around the processional development in her life. It is from her direct personal experiences with the role of Eastern spirituality in her own life, as well as her academic understanding of clinical psychology, that has led to her particular vision for blending Buddhist ideas with psychological ones.  Authorship and Written Works Among the many notable works of Tara Brach is her book, Radical Self-Acceptance: A Buddhist Guide to Freeing Yourself from Shame, which appears in several other languages. The book looks into how crippling self-judgements and inner conflicts can lead to futile perfectionism, loneliness and an over-reliance on self-worth based on work. In it, Brach offers interpretations of Buddhist tales and meditations to show how to overcome such judgements by a radical acceptance of one's self.  Another title worth seeking out is True Refuge: Finding Peace and Freedom in Your Own Awakened Heart. It deals with subject matter such as obsessive behaviour, life-changing illness and relationship breakdown. Brach has also produced a free guide to meditation which are available in several languages. This easy-to-read guide provides entry-level advice for establishing a meditative regime. It is dealing with hindrances to meditation and guidance on how to sustain meditation as a practice.  Online Resources for Tara Brach As mentioned, many of Brach's teachings and ideas in psychology are accessible via the internet, much of it without charge. Although she frequently teaches in person, for many people it is the online world which has brought her vision of a blend Western psychology and Eastern spiritual teachings to the fore. Below is a resource for anyone interested in gaining further insights into her life, works and teaching.  You can find several online courses on mindfulness, which she developed with Jack Kornfield, at "Soundtrue". We've already tried "Mindfulness daily" - an app which provides daily lessons and shot meditations.  Podcasts and Audio Brach's audio podcasts, which includes led meditations, can be opened in iTunes for free. Another place to listen to her talks and other audio freely is via her website which includes an integrated audio player. The archive goes back several years, so there is plenty to hear and learn from. Audio versions of her books on CD are also available to purchase from many retailers that specialise in mindfulness and meditation.  Videos Some of Brach's past talks are available on video. They offer many insights into matters such as awakening consciousness, seeking internal and external truths and spiritual empowerment. While addressing from a lectern, Brach's style is engaging and often compelling while never becoming overly technical in either psychological or spiritual terminology. Her website hosts a number of these videos. She also has her own YouTube channel which includes a fascinating free-to-watch playlist named 'Finding True Refuge'.  Written Word Several online retailers sell Brach's books. Some of these sites specialise in mindfulness and Eastern learning. Many them, such a Good Reads, offer reviews by people who have read her books. These reviews assist general readers in getting to know which of her works might be best as a first choice. Depending on their particular requirements.  Talks and Events As a practising psychotherapist and a meditation teacher, some of Brach's talks and training sessions are for professionals only. For example, some of her groundbreaking work in showing how psychotherapists can integrate mindfulness strategies into their clinical work is conducted in academic institutions in the United States only. However, public events are online. Other than Brach's frequent work with Vipassana meditation instruction, occasional retreat teaching sessions are listed on her website. She also maintains regular updates of her Facebook page which details upcoming talks and public events.  Written by Ed GouldEd Gould is a UK-based journalist and freelance writer. He is a practitioner of Reiki.