Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Book Review : Old Path White Clouds

Title : Old Path White Clouds
Author : Thich Nhat Hanh
Publisher : Hind Pocket Books
ISBN : 81-216-0675-6

Thick Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddist monk and an accomplished author who has penned - Being Peace, Under the Banyan Tree, The Path of Emancipation and 85 other books. In 'Old Path White Clouds' , he presents the life and teachings of Gautam Buddha spanning over 80 years.

The story is divided into small chapters and are presented in a very simple language.  Through this book, readers get a glimpse of Buddha's thoughts, how he followed his inner calling to embark on a journey of self realization and what all he experimented with to attain the blissful state. During the course of his search, he first tried the path of self deprivation but later realized that -"The body is not just an instrument, it is the temple of the spirit, the raft by which we cross the other shore." He stopped practicing and advocating self-mortification.
"He realized that body and mind formed one reality which could not be separated. The peace and comfort of the body were directly related to the peace and comfort of the mind. To abuse the body was to abuse the mind. "
After attaining enlightenment, he dedicated his life to leading many individuals to the same path of peace and devotion.

He taught the world the significance of mindful awareness and living in the moment by being a role model who practiced every ounce of what he preached. "Your mind should  not be chasing after thoughts of yesterday or tomorrow, but should dwell fully in the present moment. Living in mindful awareness is living in the moment, your mind and body dwelling in the very here and now. Living each day mindfully is the very basis of spiritual practice."

It is interesting to read how Buddha compiled the Noble Eightfold enlightenment path, and how throughout his life, he tried to share his peaceful state with so many others who came in contact with him. One very important aspect, though very small, caught my attention - he was very effective in teaching every individual in the language that the person understood the best, for instance, Svasti was a buffalo boy and he was taught using the terms that he was most conversant with while to a Sitar player he used the strings of the sitar as an example while showing him the divine path. There is a lot that a reader can take from the book. This is the first biography of Buddha that I read which took me through some very significant moments of Buddha's life.

However, I cannot skip mentioning that this book does falter at many points - it is repetitive and many parts are redundant which only increase the volume of the book without enriching the readers in any way. The book could have been more precise to be more effective. Some of the chapters give an impression as if they are compiled bits and pieces from here and there. As I understand, a biography should be more tight with no scope of redundancy because it is primarily a sincere presentation of facts. Also, the narrative keeps vacillating from Svasti the buffalo boy to Buddha himself, which makes it a little disruptive sometimes.

Thich was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 by none other than Martin Luther King Jr. He is the founder of Van Hanh Buddist University in Saigon, and has taught at Columbia University and the Sorbonne.

Must quote a few lines from the book -
"Bhikkhus, when you have seen deeply and have attained the Way, the beautiful may still appear beautiful and the ugly may still appear ugly, but because you have attained liberation, you are not bound by either. When a liberated person looks at beauty, he can see that it is composed of many non-beautiful elements. Such a person understands the impermanent and empty nature of all things, including beauty and ugliness. Thus he is neither mesmerized by beauty nor repulsed by ugliness."

Bhikkhu must cleanse his body and mind of desires, attachments, anger and aversions.

Love is possible only when there is understanding. And only with love can there be acceptance."

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