The Buddha’s first nutriment is edible food. What people eat or drink can lead to mental or physical suffering. Thich Nhat Hanh believes that this suffering results from not eating mindfully and that people must learn to eat in ways that preserve the health and well-being of their bodies and their spirits.
“We must be able to distinguish what is helpful and what is harmful. We need to practice Right View when we shop, cook, and eat,” he explains.
Thich Nhat Hanh also recommends that everyone look deeply at the way food is grown. The goal should be to let the earth continue to be a source of life for all people, both current and future generations. Individuals should strive to eat in ways that preserve the collective well-being and minimize suffering of all species.
Sense Impressions Buddha’s Second Nutriments. Most people are constantly being bombarded by sensory stimuli. Their six sense organs – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind – receive continuous input from the world around them, and this input becomes food for a person’s consciousness. The onslaught of advertisement, the long hours in front of televisions, the overload of information from newspapers and magazines, all provide food for people’s consciousness, feeding their craving, fear, anger, and violence.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, “We are exposed to so many forms, colors, sounds, smells, tastes, objects of touch, and ideas that are toxic and rob our body and consciousness of their well-being.” Despair, fear, and depression may all be a result of ingesting too many toxins through sense impressions. Instead, individuals should be mindful of what their senses ingest so they can make choices that leave them feeling peaceful and light, rather than anxious and sad.
The Buddha’s third nutriment is intention, which Thich Nhat Hanh also refers to as volition, or will. Everyone has a desire to obtain what they want, to be happy, and it is intention that directs them toward their goals. But those goals can take many forms, and often they focus only on material ends, such as possessions, wealth, fame, position, or revenge.
However, as Thich Nhat Hanh points out, more often than not, these goals become obstacles to one’s happiness. “We need to cultivate the wish to be free of these things so we can enjoy the wonders of life that are always available – the blue sky, the trees, our beautiful children.”
Thich Nhat Hanh suggests that if individuals are willing to participate in mindful sitting and walking and looking, for three or six months, they will experience a deep vision of reality.
This vision will help to free them from their impulses and bring them real happiness. For this reason, the Buddha advised people to look deeply into the nature of their intention to determine whether it pushed them in the direction of suffering or onto the path of happiness.
Consciousness as the Fourth Nutriment
The fourth nutriment is consciousness, which is sown by the seeds of an individual’s past actions, his or her family, and society as a whole. Each day, people feed their consciousness through their words, thoughts, and actions. They can feed it with greed, ignorance, hatred, and pride, or they can nourish it by practicing the Four Immeasurable Minds – love, compassion, joy, and equanimity.
Whatever they consume, people are constantly feeding their consciousness, and what they consume becomes the substance of their lives. For this reason, they must be careful which nutriments they ingest. “Every time we ingest toxins into our consciousness, it is like stabbing ourselves with three hundred sharp knives. We suffer, and our suffering spills out to those around us.”
The Buddhist Path to Happiness
Thich Nhat Hanh believes that people should look deeply into the nature of their suffering to examine the types of nutriments they have fed it. They should question how they have been living their lives to determine what has contributed to their suffering.
Only by identifying the toxins that feed their bodies, the stimuli they expose to their senses, the intention by which they act, and the way they nourish their consciousness can they identify the sources of their unhappiness and begin a journey free from suffering on the path to happiness.
Excerpt from Suite 101 member R.H. Sheldon @ http://suite101.com/a/buddhas-four-nutriments-a100368