Volume XII:1 January - June 2022
Book Review
Mindfulness: Walking with Jesus and Buddha
Annabel Laity

This slim volume is a treasure for anyone who yearns to be more fully alive in heart, mind. and body. Annabel Laity is the first Western disciple of the revered Vietnamese Zen monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. She lives in Plum Village, the thriving community he established in France. He is renowned for his writings on mindfulness, so she has large shoes to fill in writing on this subject. She brings a special flavour to her understanding and application of mindfulness practice in that her background is Christian, and she makes it clear that Christian spirituality still shapes some of her Buddhist thinking. Buddhism is where her life commitment lies, but the teachings of Jesus have coloured and enriched her life in an ineradicable way.

As a Roman Catholic nun, I was a little on the defensive on seeing the title of the book, which places Jesus alongside Buddha. I found myself thinking, ‘Jesus is God made manifest, so he cannot be referred to as equivalent to Buddha’. However, on reading Annabel’s book, I gained a broader insight into Buddhism and was able to let go of my preconceptions and glimpse something of the vast, profound truths to which both faiths lay claim.

At heart this is not a book ‘about’ Buddhism, nor about comparing Jesus and Buddha: it is a remarkable account of mindfulness, how it can be practised and what it implies for human lives. I am a person who needs to be woken up; all too often I am aware of being far off in my thoughts, living in illusion.

In the past, when I’ve tried to apply myself to mindfulness—for instance while eating breakfast—I fail to remain in the present moment with all its sensations even for a whole minute! I was therefore, deeply in need of this practical and engaging guide to becoming mindful throughout my days.

Annabel applies her wisdom to a wide spectrum of our daily experience, with succinct chapters on walking mindfully, breathing mindfully, and being in the present moment. She also treats of mindfulness in relation to eternity, celebration, death, gratitude, prayer, and much more. She calls mindfulness a way to happiness; with this book I think that connection becomes clear. What shines out in the treasure that is mindfulness is the sheer human simplicity of it, based upon our breathing and awareness of the nature of our thoughts.

I recommend this book to all those who experiences themselves as bound up in ego-centred thoughts and emotions that keep them at a distance from the simple awareness of being alive.

In her chapter on God, there is a paragraph which I found especially powerful and startling when I read it in the context of my Christian faith. In the following statement of the Buddha, which she cites, I have substituted the word ‘God’ for the word ‘emptiness’:

The nature of God is not different from the nature of all phenomena because all phenomena come from God. God does not belong to the plain of being and non-being, does not lie in the framework of wrong perceptions, is not marked by birth or death and transcends all views. Why? God cannot be found in space, does not have a form and cannot be conceived of. God has not been born and cannot be grasped by the intellect. Because God cannot be grasped, God embraces all phenomena and dwells only in non-discursive, nondiscriminative wisdom  (from Taisho 104; p. 146).

Mindfulness: Walking with Jesus and Buddha provides a way for Christians, Buddhists, and anyone yearning for real spiritual freedom to practice being more fully awake and alive, day by day, moment by moment. I am grateful to have discovered this book.

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