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|Cultivating the Mind of Love
Review:Thich Nhat Hanh is clearly a beautiful soul. He is a peace activist, a Buddhist teacher, ordained monk and a gifted poet and writer. And while he seems as though he might be removed from the challenges of post-modern life in the west, his books have demonstrated to me that he is incredibly well attuned to contemporary life.I also find his books to be very mind-bending—they force me to turn my ideas about self, existence and spirit upside down. I might wake up feeling like a separate person but after reading one of his books, I feel deeply interconnected with all other life forms and my sense of self begins to melt and dissolve.But the real reason why I keep coming back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s books is his heart-centered approach—he encourages readers to love and to open our hearts to each other.
It is for this reason that Cultivating the Mind of Love is my favorite Thich Nhat Hanh book. It tells the story of how he fell in love with a Buddhist nun in his twenties. He was relatively newly ordained at the time. He was not expecting to fall in love. And yet he did. And when it happened he was instantly swept away by the force of his love.
The story of how he handled this unusual situation inspired my deep respect for Thich Nhat Hanh. So few spiritual leaders are willing to talk openly about the real challenges of the human heart. What are possible spiritual responses to these very real, and very poignant, human experiences? What should we do when we crave the touch or affection of another human being?
Thich Nhat Hanh and his beloved had both chosen a spiritual life in which they eschewed sex and matrimony. But their love was strong enough to force them to reconsider their vows. Eventually, both monk and nun separated and returned to their respective spiritual communities. But it was clear that Thich Nhat Hanh was changed by the experience. He learned that spiritual life doesn’t diminish our humanity—instead, it offers us new choices for dealing with our bodies, hearts and minds.
I love this book. I recommend it to many distinct readers. I know that Buddhist practitioners who are seeking relationship will enjoy this book. Perhaps this would be a good coming-of-age read for teenagers.
I also recommend it to clergy from every faith tradition (with the hope that they too will speak about their real life experiences with such openness and wisdom).