On one of the first beautiful days this past spring, I ventured out to an independent book seller near my home (Big Hat Books in Broad Ripple). The selection is small but varied and always interesting. I browsed for about 20 minutes, didn't see anything that I wanted and was about to leave when I noticed a slender rust-colored book laying on its side on an almost bare shelf.
It was Thich Nhat Hanh's "Answers from the Heart". I paged through it for a couple minutes and gladly went up to the register to purchase it.
The cover of the book says that it offers "practical responses to life's burning questions" and it does that and so much more. It's like carrying grace and peace around with you all the time. No matter what you're dealing with that's throwing you off center, you're sure to find some nugget of wisdom, some space of calm within the cover. Even if you don't consider yourself a Buddhist or know much about the philosophy, you can fit this book in to whatever spiritual or religious path you are on. In fact, there is a question that deals with that specific subject.
The question goes: Should Christians who are attracted to Buddhist teachings become Buddhist? In his inimitable way, Hanh lovingly answers that there is no need to leave one's religion of choice to practice the philosophies of Buddhism (i.e mindfulness, concentration, and insight). He suggests ways that a practitioner of any religion can incorporate elements of Buddhist practice to deepen his or her already established faith. It's just that kind of non-judgmental, open, and infinitely loving response that comes to each question.
Here are just four of the many questions in the book:
- How can I get over being so judgmental?
- I had abusive parents and I'm still very angry at them. How can I avoid passing this anger on to my own children?
- My father and I had a difficult relationship. We could not talk or listen to each other, and now he is dead. Is it too late for us to find reconciliation?
- Suppose I work in an industry that produces toxic poisons or that sells a harmful product or that causes conflict between people. How do I reconcile helping others while working in such a field? Should I quit my job?
The questions come from seven categories, separated in to chapters:
1. Daily Life
2. Family. Parenting, and Relationships.
3. Spiritual Practice
4. Engaged Buddhism
5. Sickness and Health, Death and Dying
6. Children's Questions
7. Practices for Daily Mindfulness.
I carry this book with me everywhere. I have given several as gifts, and I bring it up in conversation often. I feel that reading the answers Hanh gives helps me approach issues in my life with more compassion, mindfulness, and a loving spirit.