Why is This Man Smiling?

His Holiness the Dalai Lama
Thich Nhat Hanh, Buddhist Monk and Writer

I’ve been reading the book Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh, my favorite Buddhist writer.

Thich Nhat Hanh writes mostly about the Buddhist concept of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is being awake in present time.  It’s not thinking about the future or the past.  It’s being entirely awake in the present. What it amounts to is not going through life asleep.  Buddhism provides mental exercises for bringing one’s mind into present time with the idea that if one practices mindfulness enough, one will get to the point where his mind will always be in the present.  When that happens, one is at peace with himself and the world and can bring those things to others.

One exercise for bringing one’s mind into the present is just to sit and relax and concentrate on one’s breathing.  Listen to your breaths, in and out and think only of your breath.

Another exercise is mindful walking, which I try to practice when I’m walking to the grocery store–a walk that I don’t look forward to because it’s far from my house.  When walking, concentrate on your steps.  Think about each step.  One leg and then the next.  Think only of the moment.  Look at the beautiful trees around you.  If you bring yourself into present time, you will automatically start to appreciate the beautiful trees and flowers and all the beauty that surrounds us.  Also, it works the other way around.  If you concentrate on the beauty around you, it will help bring you into present time.  If I practice mindful walking, I’m at the grocery store before I know it, and I’m not tired. It seems I got there in a minutes, when it was really a long walk.

Happiness is being awake to life.  It’s living in the here and now, not in the future, and not being obsessed by the past.

The Significance of Smiling

A person can only smile when they are in present time. If a mind is wandering to the past or the future, there can’t be a smile on one’s face. If you notice people absorbed in the past, they look spaced out and usually sad. Also the act of smiling itself brings the mind into the present. You can’t smile without being in the present moment.

If you’ve ever seen the Dalai Lama, you’ve probably noticed that he always looks as though he’s smiling behind whatever he’s talking about.  Even if he is talking about the world’s atrocities, or how his people got thrown out of Tibet by the Chinese.  That is because he is living entirely in present time.

You may say “How can I smile when something bad just happened to me?”  That’s because there are different levels of existence.  The unhappy incident is only a passing incident.  It’s not your overall existence which is on a higher level.  You can deal with the bad when you realize this.  If you are alive only in the present, you are fully awake to life.  That is what being a strong person is.  When you are strong enough to live mostly in present time, then you will be strong enough to deal with all the problems that will befall you.

You may say that there are people who smile all the time who are insane. Like the photo of that man in Arizona who just killed 6 people and has a frozen smile on his face. That smile is not the same kind of smile as the Dalai Lama’s. As I mentioned above, there are two different levels of existence, the deep one and the transitory, surface one. The smile on the insane man is only a surface smile, it is not the deep one as the Dalai Lama has, and what is the right one to have. The surface only smile often looks more like a smirk. Most people know if a person’s smile is sincere or if he is just acting. When a person’s smile is an act, you get a bad feeling from that person and you don’t like them very much. People who are living in another world of their own invention, a world that they have invented for themselves that is totally removed from the reality of the outside world, and who smile all the time, are psychotic. When a man’s smile is based on something other than objective reality, he actually looks insane. He’s someone you feel like getting away from asap.

Check out:  How to do Mindfulness Meditation

This is a little poem from Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh that it helps to memorize and concentrate on when meditating:
Breathing in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.

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