Is Nothing Something? BY THICH NHAT HANH

Thich Nhat Hanh answers children’s questions.

Children have a special place in the Plum Village tradition of Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh. There are special practices, vows, and programs designed especially for children and teens, and Thich Nhat Hanh often fashions the first part of his dharma talks with them in mind. He regularly takes questions from children, and by and large adults can identify with what they ask. Children may be smaller and younger and they may have a funny way with words, but their questions reveal that they, like adults, are grappling with the human condition. What follows are real questions from children and Thich Nhat Hanh’s insightful answers from a new illustrated book, Is Nothing Something? “I always try to give an answer that offers the best of myself,” Thich Nhat Hanh says. “I am much older than the children who asked these questions, but when we sit and breathe together, it seems that we are the same.” —Andrea Miller

What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is energy. This energy helps us enjoy what is happening right now. Mindful energy can bring us a lot of joy. It helps us suffer less and learn from our suffering. A good way to get some mindful energy is to close your eyes and breathe easily. Just pay attention to your breath. If you can enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, you are creating mindful energy.

What should you do if someone feels bad and you want to comfort that person and make him or her feel better?

One of the simplest and most loving things you can do for someone who feels bad is just to be with them and breathe with them. You can say, “I am here for you.” You are offering your presence, which is the most wonderful gift you can offer another person.

What do you do when you’re scared?

Usually, when we’re afraid, we try to run away from whatever scares us. When I am scared, I breathe deeply and calm myself. I try to stop my thinking and just breathe. This always helps me. Every time I have an upset stomach, I fill a hot water bottle and I put it on my stomach. In five minutes, I feel much better. My mindful breathing is like a hot water bottle for my mind. Every time I apply mindful breathing to my fear, I get relief.

Is nothing something?

Yes. Nothing is something. You have an idea in your head of nothing. You have an idea in your head of something. Both are things that can create either suffering or happiness.

Why do I sometimes feel lonely and that no one loves me?

Sometimes the people around you are distracted and may forget to express their love. But if you feel like no one loves you, you can always look outside at the natural world. Do you see a tree out there? That tree loves you. It offers its beauty and freshness to you and gives you oxygen so you can breathe. The Earth loves you, offering you fresh water and delicious fruit for you to eat. The world expresses its love in many ways, not just with words.

How can I love someone who likes different things than me?

To love is to discover. If you keep on loving another person, you will keep discovering wonderful things about that person. You can enjoy the differences because it would be boring if everyone were the same. Even if the other person has a quality that doesn’t seem lovable, you can practice loving that person anyway, just as they are, and not how you wish they were.

How can I remain calm when I see so many bad things in the world?

Whenever I see violence or cruelty, it still makes me angry. We all get angry sometimes. But we can learn to take care of our anger. If we look closely, we can notice that people who are cruel have a lot of suffering inside. When we see this, we can be compassionate, and help the situation by creating peace, even if what is happening around us is not very peaceful. We can use our breath and our mindfulness to transform the energy of anger into the energy of compassion. When we have the energy of compassion, we can do a lot of things to help people suffer less.

From Is Nothing Something? by Thich Nhat Hanh, (c) 2014 by Unified Buddhist Church. Reprinted by arrangement with Parallax Press, Berkeley, California.

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