Solidity and Freedom – German Retreat

The first dharma talk of the Nourishing Happiness in our Hearts retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbrol, Germany. The talk is given in English with simultaneous translation into German. The talk was given on August 13, 2014 and both the audio and the video are available below.


  • Story of the corn seed.
  • The realm of Dharma. Everything is a wonder.
  • The kingdom of God and the cosmos.
  • Living happily in the present moment.
  • Three kinds of energy; Mindfulness, insight, and concentration.
  • The art of happiness – being able to generate a feeling of joy and a feeling of happiness.
  • The art of suffering.
  • Interbeing
  • Elements of meditation
  • Freedom and walking meditation.

  • Tsz Fung Tai

    (Below is an incomplete transcript that I attempted to write. Sorry for not having the time to complete the script.)

    About 10 years ago, I gave the children in Italy an exercise of meditation. It was a retreat in a suburb of Rome and there was 75 children. And we had a retreat in a summer camp called ??? (1’50”).

    One day during walking meditation, Thay stopped by the ?? store in the campus and he brought back a corn seed. He did not have the intention of making a popcorn, but he wanted to offer the children an exercise of meditation. And Thay distributed each child a grain of corn. And everything should bring that grain of corn home and plant it in a bud. And they should water the seed of corn every day. And they wait until the seed of corn sprout and bring forth two leaves. And they had to come to talk to the corn stalk. They will begin to ask the corn one question: my dear plant of corn, do you remember the time when you were a tiny seed? And the plant of corn might be surprised. It might say, “me? A little seed? I don’t believe it!” Even the plant of corn doesn’t believe it had been a little seed, but you who have planted the seed, you know very well, that the plant of corn begins by a little seed. So you will try your best to persuade the plant of corn that she had been at one time a seed of corn. You will speak to the plant of corn in Italian, “my dear plant of corn, listen! I received a grain of corn from Thay and I have planted it in a small bud. And I watered the seed every day, until the seed sprouted and bring forth two beautiful leaves, so I know very well you have come from the seed of corn. And then you may be able to persuade the plant of corn that one time it had been a seed of corn.

    We children also begin as a tiny seed. And our father, our mother have together planted a tiny seed together in the womb of our mother. And they will know the seed where we come from is much, much smaller than the seed of corn. You might have forgotten that you have been a seed but the truth is that you began with a tiny, tiny seed. This plant of corn has been planted by a nun in the New helmet of Plum Village. Now it has 4 leaves. And I think the nuns have tried the best to tell the plant of corn that she has begun by being a little seed.

    Now I would like to ask you, not only the children, but grown-up people a question. Has the seed of corn died or not? If it has not died, why don’t we see it anymore? (Because now it has become a plant.) Something that we cannot see, someone that we can no longer see, we cannot say that they have died. Suppose you look up into the sky and you see a cloud, and you think that this cloud is going to die some time because tmr there may be no cloud in the sky anymore. And as you do not see your cloud anymore, you may say that oh my dear little cloud she has already died. But the fact is that the cloud has not died. The cloud may have become the rain or the snow. And when you drink your tea mindfully, you can see your cloud in the tea. So it is clear that the seed of corn has not died. It has become the plant of corn. And if you are a good practitioner of meditation, you can see the grain of corn in her new form. You can see the grain of corn in every cell of the plant corn. And as the grain of corn has yellow color, but now it has green color. So you can say hello my grain of corn, I know you have not died. You are still alive. Dear friends, you have been a 5-year-old child, the 5-year-old child has not died. If you do see him or her anymore, she continues to be in you. And it is very nice that from time to time, you spend a little bit of time talking to the child within you. So the conclusion of this dharma talk is that when you don’t see something anymore, don’t quickly say that something has already died.

    14′ 05″
    Dear friends, in a Buddhist tradition, we do not speak about the kingdom of God, but we speak about the realm of dharma, the realm of phenomena. And ?? in a Mahayana tradition, we see everything as a wonder. A moon is a wonder, the sun is a wonder, and planet earth is a wonder. The tree is wonder, the flower, the river is a wonder. And that is why in a Mahayana tradition, there are so many poets who write poem in order to praise the beauty of the cosmos.

    Personally, I do not believe in a kingdom of god that is somewhere very far from here, or outside of the cosmos. But I don’t think that the kingdom of god is an idea, it is a reality. If you have enough mindfulness and concentration, you can get in touch with the kingdom of god in the here and the now. When we contemplate a willow tree, or a flower, we see that it is a wonder and the wonder belongs to the kingdom of God. Every leaf, every flower, every tree, carries within themselves the kingdom of God. And our own body, it is also a wonder, and it carries within itself the kingdom of god. When we contemplate the cosmos, we see that the cosmos is very beautiful, very elegant. And I think we don’t have to go and search the kingdom of god elsewhere, it is right in the here and the now. Not only the beautiful lotus flower belongs to the kingdom, but also the mud that help nourish the lotus also belongs to the kingdom of god. Our scientists also have a time to contemplate the cosmos, and they agree with each other that the cosmos is so elegant. And we can easily agree with each other that the kingdom of god is available in the here and the now. And we can enjoy the kingdom of god in our daily life. But the fact is that so many of us are too busy, we have no time to enjoy the kingdom of god which is available in the here and the now. While the kingdom is available, we are not available to the kingdom.

    In the gospel there is a story of a farmer who found a treasure in a piece of land. He went home and sell everything in order to buy only a piece of thing. Because that piece of land and that treasure stands for the kingdom of god. The practice of mindfulness, concentration, and insight, help us to recognize the kingdom in the here and the now, and help us to enjoy the kingdom in every moment of our daily life. And if we have the kingdom, and if we enjoy the kingdom, we don’t feel the need of running after objects of our craving anymore, like wealth, fame, power, sensual pleasure.

    I rmb that a year I was in a assembly in Germany, a protestant church and catholic church came together in a church day, and discuss about how to update the teaching and the practice. And Thay was invited in a panel discussion with catholic and protestant leaders. And that day he had the chance to speak about the kingdom of god in the here and the now. And I said that if the church can offer the younger generation the kind of teaching and practice and help us to recognize and enjoy the kingdom of god in the here and the now, and young ppl will not run anymore after objects of their craving that will destroy their body and mind anymore. I rmb that day in the panel there were 6 people, we ??? And seems everyone agree that the kingdom of god is available in the here and the now. And one of them said, near thay I agree it is wonderful to have the kingdom of god in the here and the now, but I still want the kingdom of god in the future. And my answer is that, dear friend, if you have the kingdom now, surely you will have it in the future. And if you don’t have it now, I doubt in the future if you will have it.

    In the Buddha’s teaching, there is the teaching of living happily in the present moment. Thay day a group of business man came and visit the Buddha, and he gave them a teaching, telling them that they don’t need to run into the future to get happiness, they can be happy in the here and now. And the expression from ??? (living happily in the present moment) was repeated times in the discourse. (26’48”)

    We practice mindfulness, concentration, and insight, not because you long to Pureland in the future, or you long to nirvana in the future, but because you want to make the Pureland and Nirvana available to you in the here and the now. So it is not a hope, it is a validation every day with our practice on breathing and walking. When we come to a retreat like this, we hv the opportunity to learn again how to breath and to walk. We learn to breathe in such a way that every in breath can bring us peace and joy. And every in-breaths can put us in touch with the kingdom of god. And it is not something too hard to do. It might be very pleasant to do so. We also learn how to walk again. And walk in such a way that every step can bring our body and mind into peace and relaxation. When there is peace and relaxation, joy can be born easily. There are few kinds of energy we can generate in our daily practice.

    And the first energy is called mindfulness. Every one of us already has some energy of mindfulness, but may be not enough. So the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful eating will increase the amount of mindfulness in us. And that energy of mindfulness always bring the energy of insight. The energy of mindfulness carries within itself the energy of insight. When you breathe in mindfully, brining your mind home to your body, you may discover during the in breath that you have a body, that your body is a wonder. To know that you have a body is already an insight. Many of us do not rmb that we have a body, we do not appreciate our body. When you spend one hour or half in your computer, you forget entirely that you have a body. And your body and your mind are separated from each other. When the mind and the body are not together, you are not truly there in order to live your life. 32’33’ So the practice of mindful breathing can always bring your mind home to your body, so that you become fully present, fully alive. While breathing in, you might have the insight that you are still alive, and you are walking on this beautiful planet. So mindfulness and insight, they go together. While breathing in, and brining your mind home to your body, you may recognize the fact that the kingdom of god is there for you in the here and the now. And you don’t have to practice 10 years in order to have that kind of insight. Maybe 1 or 2 in-breath and out-breath can already bring you that insight that there are so many wonders of life available, the kingdom of god is there, and you are there to enjoy the kingdom of god. That kind of insight you can get today, this morning. That insight is already enlightenment. And enlightenment is not you get 10 years from now, but right now. And we have that insight in us. We have that enlightenment in us. We don’t have to ask someone or the Buddha to give us some enlightenment. Knowing that you are alive, the kingdom of god is available, that you should be able to enjoy the kingdom of god in the here and the now, that is already a big insight. So please do not tell us that you do not have insight, you already have mindfulness and insight in you. And the practice help manifest that mindfulness and insight, so that you can enjoy. Otherwise you waste our lives.

    And you have mindfulness and insight, and in order to nourish you happiness and joy, the third energy is necessary, that is the energy of concentration. Concentration (samadhi), it means to keep that mindfulness and insight alive for a long time. You may hv a flesh of insight, but if you don’t have concentration, you don’t keep it for a long time. So your joy and happiness is very short. Samadhi is Chinese is translated by ??, it means to keep it on the same level, do not allow it to drop. So u hv mindfulness, you hv insight, and with conc, you keep them alive, that is the base of your joy and happiness. And for a good practicioner, every breathe and every step can produce all these 3 kinds of energies. And we these 3 energies, we are able to generate a feeling of joy, a feeling of happiness, whenever we want it. And that is what we can call the art of happiness.

    The art of happiness consists in the capacity to generate a feeling of joy, a feeling of happiness whenever you want. And we the energy of concentration, mindfulness, and insight, you can generate these feelings of joy and happiness.

    Mindfulness helps us to be fully present in the here and the now. And established in the here and the now, we recognize the so many wonders of life that are available. We recognize the many conditions of happiness that are already available in this present moment. And you can say this is a happy moment. The moment is happy or not, it depends on you, not the moment. It is you who make the moment happy. It is not he moment that makes you happy. If you are inhabited by the enrgy of m,c,i, every moment can be a happy moment.

    On the other hand, there is an art we can call it the art of suffering. Because the same kind of energies, MCI and help us take care of the painful feelings and painful emotions in us. We will know how to recognize the pain, sorrow, despair in us, and embrace them, and you will suffering less. That is truly an art. You are not afraid of suffering because you know how to handle, to take care of your suffering. And you know that you have enough MCI, you are capable of taking care the suffering in side of you. And then you can go further, you can make good use of suffering in order to create more happiness. Because suffering is useful also. We can speak of goodness of suffering because if we know how to listen to suffering, understanding and compassion will arise. And understanding and compassion are like beautiful lotus flowers that have grown from the mud of suffering.

    So my definition of the kingdom of god is not a place where there is no suffering. My definition of the kingdom is a place where people know how to make good use of suffering in order to create happiness. It’s like if you how to make good use of the mud, you can grow beautiful lotus flowers. So to me, it is very clear that suffering is a wonder also, that belongs to the kingdom of god. And exactly thanks to the suffering, we are capable of generating understanding, compassion, that can make us suffer less, make us happy. I think the idea that the kingdom of god is a place where there is only happiness, there is no suffering, is quite a naïve idea. Because if suffering is not there, happiness is not there either. If the mud is not there, don’t hope that you have a lotus flower. Like this marker, it has the left and the right. If the left is there, the right must be there also. You cannot keep the left by eliminating the right. If politically you are on the left, don’t try to make the right disappear. Because if the right disappear, you disappear at the same time. And that is the teaching of the Buddha – interbeing… 47′ This sheet of paper has left side and the right side. The left has to lean on right in order to be. The right has to lean of left in order to be. Nothing can be by itself alone. Everything has to inter-be with the other side. So it’s clear that it’s also true with happiness and suffering. So to try to run away suffering in order to look for happiness is something quite childish, quite naïve. It’s by knowing how to handle suffering that you can fabricate happiness. That is something we can train ourselves to do.

    This morning we practiced breathing in I enjoy my in-breath, breathing out I enjoy my outbreathe. That does not mean that we practice something like auto-suggestion?? The problem is that whether we enjoy your in-breathe. Is not because you want to enjoy your in-breathe that you enjoy your in-breathe. Do you have to force yourself to enjoy your in-breathe? If you enjoy your in-breathe because you have enough mindfulness and insight, if every step you make help you to enjoy is because while making these steps you have mindfulness and insight. Without that insight, it is impossible for you to enjoy your in-breathe. You cannot force yourself to enjoy your in-breathe or your step. When you have insight, suddenly the in-breathe and the steps become very pleasant.

    There is a tendency, a habit, to look in every one of us. There is a belief that happiness is not possible in here and now. And we have the tendency to run into the future in order to look for happiness. And that habit energy may have been transmitted to us by our ancestors. And running has become a habit, even in our dream we continue to run and look for something. The practice of mindfulness helps us to stop the running to see that everything you have been looking for is already available. So the first element of Buddhist meditation is to stop, stop the running. If you have the insight, you can stop easily. (53:00) if you have the insight that the kingdom of god is there, all the wonders of life is there, you don’t have to run anymore, you can enjoy in the here and now, only that insight can help you to enjoy your in-breath or your steps. That insight help you to stop running, and bring peace into your body and mind. As far as you continue to run, to search for something, you don’t have peace. Sometimes we feel that there is a lot of tension in our body, we want to release it but we cannot. So in intention to release the tension is not enough. You need to have the insight, to see that it is silly to run. And we you don’t have the insight, you cannot truly stop and release. So those of us who practice walking and breathing, we need that insight in order to really establish in the here and now, and to enjoy the breathes and steps we made. So in walking meditation, every step helps us to stop running. Every step helps us to go home in the here and now, every step help us get in touch with our body which is a wonder. Every step helps us get in touch with the cosmos which is a wonder. And if we walk like that, we really enjoy walking in the kingdom of god. So walking meditation is to enjoy walking in the kingdom of god. You can stop running completely, and every breathe every step help you enjoy the here and now. You walk like a free person, like a Buddha, not bound to the past or future. Without that freedom you cannot truly enjoy your body and the body of the cosmos. Every step like that can heal and nourish you. (57′)

    Nirvana is solidity and freedom