The Earliest Buddhist Teaching on Living in the Present Moment

Our Appointment With Life: Discourse on Living Happily in the Present Moment is a translation of, and commentary on, the Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone by Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

This sutra – or basic text of Buddhist scripture – is the earliest teaching of the Buddha on how to live fully in the present moment.

The ‘better way to live alone’ does not refer to living in solitude and separated from others, but means, as Thich Nhat Hanh says:

…to have sovereignty of yourself, to have freedom, not to be dragged away by the past, not to be in fear of the future, not being pulled around by the circumstances of the present.

The essence of the sutra is contained in a poem, which Thich Nhat Hanh also says captures the essence of all the Buddha’s teachings. It reads:

Do not pursue the past.
Do not lose yourself in the future.
The past no longer is.
The future has not yet come.
Looking deeply at life as it is
in the very here and now,
the practitioner dwells
in stability
and freedom.

Living in the here and now is a philosophy that has been greatly popularised. Moreover, the benefits of practising mindfulness have been well researched and documented.

The title that Thich Nhat Hanh gave his commentary, Our Appointment With Life, is an apt one. It’s a useful metaphor. We have an appointment with life, it’s here, and it’s now. We are either early or late. Sometimes, we are very early, when we are stuck in the past. And other times we are very late, thinking about the distant future.

We are all like the Mad Hatter from Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, frantically running around and late for a very important date. Reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s book helped me to put my inner Mad Hatter into perspective, to encourage him to stay still and just take everything in for a moment. And by doing so, I could actually be on time for an appointment.

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