Mindfulness, Concentration, Insight

Suggestions from Thich Nhat Hanh
Compiled by Jack Lawlor


Our practice is based on the insight that mindfulness is the energy of the buddha that is within us.  To be mindful means to be here, fully present, with body and mind united and not in a state of dispersion….

It is a protecting agent, because mindfulness is the energy of concentration and insight.

Taking hold of your breath is itself mindfulness.

In such moments, existence is a miraculous and mysterious reality… all is a miracle.

Sitting in meditation is nourishment for your spirit and nourishment for body as well.

Whenever your mind becomes scattered, use your breath as the means to take control of your mind again.

Be ever mindful you breathe in and mindful you breathe out.

Breathing in a long breath, you know, I am breathing in a long breath.

Breathing out a long breath, you know I am breathing out  a long breath.

Breathing in a short breath, you know I am breathing in a short breath.

Breathing out a short breath, you know I am breathing out a short breath.

Experiencing the whole body, I shall breathe in,

— thus you train yourself.

The feeling that any task is a nuisance will soon disappear if it is done in mindfulness.   Take the example of the Zen masters.  No matter what task or motion they undertake,

They do it slowly and evenly, without the reluctance.

Mindfulness of feeling in the feeling is mindfulness of feeling directly and certainly not contemplation of some image of felling which one creates to give feeling some objective, separate existence of itself outside of oneself.

Experience the whole body, I breathe out,

— thus you train yourself.

Calming the body,  I shall breathe in,

— thus you train yourself,

Calming the whole body, I shall breathe out,

— thus you train yourself.


Concentration power is the strength which comes from practicing mindfulness.

For the first six months, try only to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner calmness and serene joy.

You will  shake off  anxiety, enjoy total rest, and quiet your mind.

It is concentration which can help one obtain the great awakening…

When the lamp of awareness is lit, our whole being lights up,

And each passing thought and emotion is also lit up. Self confidence is reestablished, the shadows of illusion no longer overwhelm us, and our concentration develops to its fullest.

The power of mindfulness and concentration is the spiritual force behind all of the great men and women in human history.

The aim of Zen Buddhism is a clear vision of reality, seeing things as they are, that is acquired by the power of concentration.  This clear vision is enlightenment…

Hardest of all is to practice the way at home, second in the crowd, and third in the pagoda.


Insight is attained through the practices of stopping and looking deeply.

The path from the observation your mind to seeing into your own nature won’t be to rough.  Once you are able to quiet your mind, once your feelings and thoughts no longer disturb you, at that point your mind will be able to dwell in mind.  Your mind will take hold of mind in a direct and wondrous way which no longer differentiates between subject and object…. Drinking a cup of tea becomes a direct and wondrous experience in which the distinction between subject and object no longer exists.

The buddha clearly guided us in the practice of looking deeply.  Look in such a way, he taught, that you can touch the nature of impermanence of what you observe.  It is not through saying “this is impermanent” that you touch the root of impermanence.   You may use your intellect and say, “I know this flower is impermanent”, but that may be superficial. You have to touch the nature of impermanence in a deep way in order to beyond the notion of impermanence and its root.

If we learn to really touch the nature of impermanence, we also touch the nature of Interbeing and Nirvana.  All of us have had the experience of reading something and fooling ourselves that we have understood it.  But upon rereading or referring back to it, we find that we have not really absorbed or understood it. The same is true with looking deeply.  We make think it is easy to see that this flower is impermanent… But that hardly  changes our minds, because we are only on the surface and have not looked deeply into it. If we delved deeply, we would see the nature of non-self; we would see the nature of Interbeing; we would touch the nature of no birth, no death.  

If you look at these objects of reality — impermanence, nonself, Interbeing, emptiness, no birth and no death — not as objects of desire, then you get the liberation you deserve.

Sometimes you may use thinking,  and sometimes you may just embrace the object of your observation; there are many ways.

But the purpose is to witness the reality, to look deeply, and become one with it.  This is the core of the practice called deep looking, vipashyana, insight practice.  In order to do so successfully, you must cultivate your concentration and mindfulness, which are the strengths that allow you to go deeply into the nature of things.”

The self is no different from the assembly of the five aggregates.  The assembly of the five aggregates plays, as well, a crucial role in the formation, creation and destruction of all things in the universe.

In our lives represent a multitude of phenomenon, just as we ourselves are present in many different phenomenon.

We are life, and life is limitless.

Perhaps one can say that we are only alive when we live the life of the world, and so live the sufferings and joys of others.  The suffering of others is our own suffering, and the happiness of others is own happiness.

The impermanent character of the universe, the successes and failures of life can no longer manipulate us.  Having seen the reality of interdependence and entered deeply into its reality, nothing can oppress you any longer.  Your are liberated.

Meditation on interdependence is to be practiced constantly, not only while sitting but as an integral part of our involvement in all ordinary tasks.  We must be able to see the person in front of us is ourself and that we are that person.

We must be able to see the process of inter-origination and interdependence of all events, both those which are happening and those which will happen.

The enlightened man or woman sees each thing not as a separate entity but as a complete manifestation of reality.

If concepts do not represent reality, then conceptual knowledge can be considered erroneous.  Whenever he was asked a metaphysical question, he [the buddha] remained silent.

The Zen student must strive to be free of attachments to knowledge and be open so that truth may enter.

When we realize true mind, living reality is revealed in its completeness; it is the enlightened life of Zen. The world built of concepts is different from living reality.  The world in which birth and death, good and bad, and being and non being are opposed exists only for those who do not live an awakened life  the vicissitudes of life no longer dominate the consciousness of an awakened person because she has already entered the world of reality and does not discriminate between birth and death, good and bad, being and non-being.

When we are talking about reality in itself, the distinction between the subject and the object of knowledge dissolves…

Do not wait for another person to transmit awakening.

Words cannot describe true mind, concepts cannot describe true mind. The way to speak of true mind is through skillful means.

Sitting meditation is not to think, reflect or lose ourselves in concepts or discriminations.  It is also not to remain immobile, like a stone or the trunk of a tree.

The world of Zen is the world of pure experience without concepts…. This is the reason the Ts’ao t’ung sect says, “sitting meditation, even without a subject of meditation, is enough.’

The world of direct experience of Zen is, therefore, that of life and of awareness, and not of inert matter.

Life is not a representation of life.  Reality in itself transcends all descriptions and ideas.  The world of Zen is the world of Tathata itself.’

Further Reading

Right Mindfulness – Chapter 11 (p. 64-77)