Zen Buddhist Questions and Answers by Thich Nhat Hanh

Space and Freedom

Thich Nath Hanh, I Have Arrived
Thich Nath Hanh,
I Have Arrived Poster

Q:Can you please elaborate on what is space inside of us? Why is this good? I feel lonely sometimes. This feels like emptiness or space inside, but it does not feel good.

A: Space here does not mean loneliness. Space here means freedom because you are not busy inside--you don't have a lot of worries, fears, projects, things to think about. That is space. Space here is the basic condition for you to enjoy life. If you are preoccupied with so many things, you don't have that condition.

One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty or forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer was very unhappy. He asked the Buddha and the monks whether they had seen his cows passing by. The Buddha said they had not seen any cows passing by.

The farmer said, "Monks, I'm so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I don't know why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten up everything. I suffer so much I think I am going to kill myself.

The Buddha said, "My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction."

So the farmer thanked him and ran away, and the Buddha turned to his monks and said, "My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don't have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy.

"That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing (laughter). You release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows.But now you realize that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows."

We have to ask what is really essential to our happiness. We believe that things are essential to our happiness, but we have to look again. Many of us have cows, many cows that prevent us from being happy. That is why we have to learn to release our cows. Also there are many cows inside, so many preoccupations! Many things to worry about, to be angry about, and there's no space at all inside.

How can you be happy in such a state of being? That is why to release the cows around us and to let go of these preoccupations inside is a very essential condition for happiness. That is the space we are talking about when we practice. I am space; within and out. I feel free. Freedom is the real foundation of happiness. Sometimes if you don't know how to love, love will deprive you of your freedom and deprive the person you love of her freedom. That is why space is so essential in relationship.

There is a beautiful poem praising the Buddha: "The Buddha is like the full moon/traveling in the vast sky of emptiness." Because of that freedom, the happiness of the Buddha cannot be measured by our mind.