Category Archives: Retreats

The Embodied Mind

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Sunday, February 9, 2014 and is the twenty fourth (and final) talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. This is an English translation, available below, by Sr. Tue Nghiem.  Following this talk the monastery will have lazy days followed by a monastic retreat. We will not have new talks again until early March.

0:00 Guided Meditation by Thay
10:58 Remembering Thay Phap Y
18:45 Exercises of Mindful Breathing
1:05:50 Study on 30-Verses

A story of our older monastic Brother Phap Y who has recently died. Though he had been sick a long time, he died very quickly on February 6 and we are very happy. He came to Plum Village as a novice from the Tibetan tradition and has since been a trusted and loved dharma teacher. We are reminded that this body is not me and I am not limited by this body. I am life without boundaries. And I continue in the river. In Plum Village we see Thay Phap Y as an older brother who has lived with our sangha for 20-years and he was 75-years old when he died.

We practice to have peace in our body. We recognize that we have a body. Breathing in I know I have a body. At that moment the body has a mind. The embodied mind. When the mind and the body are one then we truly have life. If we continue, we can release the tension in our body. Breathing in I release all the tensions in my body. I  These are the third and the fourth exercises from the sutra on the full awareness of breathing. Breathing in, I know I breath in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. This is the first exercise. It is to recognize the breath only. Breathing in, I follow my in breath all the way to the end. This is the second exercise. Following the breath. No thinking. Just breathing. We stop the mental discourse. These exercises bring us a lot of freedom. A practice of reconciliation between body and mind. When we have peace, then we can generate joy. It can also bring peace to our feelings. A practitioner is someone who knows how to practice this art. Can we generate peace, joy, and happiness in each step? We learn to cultivate good habit energies while we are here at Plum Village. When we have these energies, then we can nourish the people we love with these energies too. We can generate happiness right here and right now. With these four exercises we generate mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

Happiness is connected to suffering. We can make use of the suffering to make happiness. This connection between happiness and suffering is of an organic nature. Managing our suffering is also an art just as generating happiness is an art. If you know how to suffer, then you suffer less. The fifth and sixth exercises are generating joy and generating happiness.  In the present moment, we can recognize the conditions of happiness. The three energies of mindfulness, concentration, and insight can be very powerful.

The seventh exercise is recognizing our suffering. Maybe our suffering had roots in the body or roots in our perception. When suffering surfaces, the practitioner should be present to recognize. Simple recognition. How do we recognize our pain? The second aspect is to embrace the suffering/pain. We embrace it with mindfulness. The third aspect is to calm the suffering. This is the eighth exercise.

Anybody can do these practices. You don’t need to be Buddhist. We can transmit these exercises to parents and two children. We should share these exercises with teachers so that it can be included in our schools to help our young children.

Returning to the study of the 30 verses for the remainder of the talk.

The Joy of the Dharma

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, February 6, 2014 and is the twenty third talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. This is an English translation, available below, by Sr. Tue Nghiem. In this teaching we have a great review of basic practices that bring joy and peace followed by a teaching on 3 verses from the 30-verses of Vasubandhu text.

0:00 Chanting
7:18 Vitality
27:50 The Three Energies
41:30 Walking Meditation
55:00 Eating Meditation
1:06:33 Thirty Verses Study

There is a mental formation called vitality.  Life. In Theravada tradition there are two types of life. The name and the form (material aspect). Even with the fetus, there is already the form and the vitality of the fetus is intermingled with the vitality of the mother. They are not two separate things. The child and mother are one. We can see vitality even in an inanimate object, such as a grain of rice. Quantum physics see this now in the subatomic particles. In the grain of corn there is vitality and in the speck of dust. There are no borders between animate and inanimate objects. We learn this in the Diamond Sutra.

We have to live our life deeply. Matter and energy – their nature is no birth and no death. We use our breathing to bring peace to our breath. We can become light like a cloud and let go of all our anxiety. We train to breathe like this.

We can generate the energy of mindfulness. Concentration is one-pointed mind. At that moment, we are truly present. A free person. These are mindfulness and concentration. We can generate this with our breathing.  In this case the breathing is the object of our mindfulness. Then, with these two we generate the third energy – insight. This is a training. We are here at Plum Village to learn how to do this because it had the capacity to heal and to nourish. To feel the joy of breathing in and breathing out. The joy of the dharma. The joy of the practice is our daily food. We are consuming food that nourishes and heals us. We have to live deeply in our breathing to generate peace and joy. Then we let go of anxiety and tension.

Walking with peace and joy. What is slow walking meditation? How and why do we practice walking? Legendary steps.

While we sit, we need to calm our breathing. We allow our body to rest, sitting upright, to harmonize the body. This too can generate joy and happiness.

The same can be done with eating. While we wait together, we can immediately begin generating joy and happiness. And we can practice this at home. In a meal, we pay attention to two things: to each morsel of food and our friends who are sitting around us. Mindfulness of food and mindfulness of sangha. This food is the gift of the whole universe. Learning how to stop our mental discourse.

We are learning verse #5-7 from the 30 Verses we’ve been studying this week. These three verses talk about manas. We begin with manifestation. Store consciousness was the first manifestor and the second is manas. Manas relies on the store consciousness to manifest. It grasps onto store consciousness and relies on it and returns to it. Manas has a distorted perception.

Inferiority, superiority, and equality complexes. Manas also goes along with the four kinds of afflictions. And the five universal mental formations.

It is also undetermined – neither wholesome or unwholesome. The five views of manas. Wisdom of discrimination.

Tale of Kieu

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, January 30, 2014 and is the twenty second talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. We are on the eve on Tet, the Vietnamese New Year. This is an English translation, available below, by Sr. Tue Nghiem.

The time is 3:00pm on Vietnamese New Year’s Eve (Tet) and it is an occasion to connect with our ancestors. Without our roots then we cannot survive. In Asian culture we try to connect with the other realms. The world of nine sources. In Vietnam we have a tradition of worshiping our ancestors. Every family has an altar in their home. Every day people offer a stick of incense to their ancestors to help connect to their heritage. It only takes a minute and it is a sacred and scientific act. Connect with our roots. It is good mental health. It is a way to express our love and loyalty. Thay shares a little about the Rose Ceremony. Here in Plum Village, as we study Buddhist teachings, we can see these two realms are one. It is a stream. Scientists are also on this path. Matter and energy are not two deprecate things. There are no boundaries between heaven and earth.

At 25-minutes into the talk, Thay shares about Tale of Kieu Oracle reading, a Plum Village Tet tradition. We learn the story and background of this classical Vietnamese poem.

What is the Fabric of Reality?

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Sunday, January 26, 2014 and is the twenty first talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem. The first 45-minutes of the talk focus on connecting our body and mind through our practice of returning. The second half returns to the sutra study and the characteristics of seeds.

Every time we have difficulties with another person, what can we do? Why do we have these difficulties? Why can we not communicate? Do we blame the other person or are we able to see that both sides have difficulties? We have to look at ourselves. The most basic difficulty is that we can’t communicate or understand ourselves. It’s so easy to just run away from ourselves through reading novels, watching television, go on the internet, etc. But, there may be loneliness, grief, sadness, anger, and emptiness that we cannot bear. We are not at peace with ourselves. Therefore, we cannot easily communicate with the other person because we cannot communicate with ourselves. We can’t blame the other person or ourselves but we try to understand ourselves. This is a courageous act. We can use a friend, a co-practitioner, a sangha to support us to come back to ourselves and recognize our suffering and despair. Our breathing can help us bring our mind back to our body. This is the practice of returning. The method and practice are really simple. With concentration we can cultivate an inner strength. The third exercise from the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing is bringing our full attention to our body and let go of the tension in our body. Mindfulness of the body. Breathing can be the object of our mind to help us return to our body. How is our breathing? We can use the gatha “In. Out. Deep. Slow.” This is the practice of peace.

When Thay taught at university, another professor asked Thay what do we do to sit in meditation? The most basic practice is to harmonize our breathing. When we sit down, the first thing we do is calm down and harmonize the breathing. The second is to harmonize the body with our posture. These two go together – the breathing and the body. This may take a few minutes and then we can go deeper into contemplation. Being aware that we have body and our breathing, this is life.

We can see the miracle if our energy and practice is strong. The Mother Earth is present in our body. We carry in our body the presence of all our ancestors. They continue to live in us. If we are peaceful and joyful then our ancestors are also peaceful and joyful. And so this gatha of practice can be a very deep practice. This is awakening and can come today and can come continuously.

Freedom of in breath and out breath. If the breathing is peaceful then our body is peaceful. We calm our breathing, our body, and then our feelings.

What is that that prevents you from having joy? What is it’s true name? How do we let it entangle us? Plum Village practice is very simple. The energy of mindfulness let us see miracles in every moment. Mindful breathing and mindful steps. To calm down. We can have help
From fellow practitioners.

The characteristics of seeds is Momentary impermance.

Moons and stars are the objects of our consciousness. Everything has a mark or sign. It can be either collective or individual. All these phenomenon are from seeds. There are three kinds of conciousmess in manifestation-only teaching. Store consciousness, Manas, and Perception of Reality along with five sense consciousness plus mind. Store consciousness maintains three things: seeds, our body, and our environment. And the seeds manifests as signs or marks.

What is the fabric of reality?

The fourth characteristic of seeds. And this teaching is a different from the traditional interpretation. The seeds in the store consciousness are neither also door unwholesome because store consciousness is undetermined and unobstructed. Therefore, the characteristic of the seed is undetermined.

The fifth characteristic of seeds is that they wait for conditions to manifest. Interdependent co-arising. And the sixth is neither being nor non-being. In manifestation-only teaching, these are true mental categories and cannot be applied to reality. And that subject and object cannot operate independently.

No sameness, no otherness.
No coming, no going.

Stars, Moon and Consciousness

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, January 23, 2014 and is the twentieth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem. A great teaching today that includes a story of Mara and the Buddha followed by the tradition of earth cake making in Vietnam. The second half returns to our sutra study on subject/object and store consciousness.

0:00-9:30 Chanting
9:30-46:18 Mara and the Buddha
46:18-1:02:05 Tet and Earth Cakes
1:03:00-1:18:38 Subject and Object
1:18:38-1:28:40 Christian Theology and Ultimate Reality
1:28:40-end Characteristics of Seeds

After the Buddha became enlightened, he continued to practice. Sitting. Walking. Solo retreats. Why did he continue to practice after he became enlightened? If we don’t continue to nourish, then we can lose our happiness. Everything is impermanent. It’s called conditioning.

There is a priest in New York, Father Daniel Berrigan. Thay has been friends with him since 1965 and they have enjoyed practicing together many times. We here a story of their friendship, walking meditation, and dualistic thinking.

We learn a story of Buddha and Mara to illustrate our dualistic thinking. The story is then linked to a practice during the lunar new year. We need to remind ourselves to practice to turn this place into the territory of the Buddha. Today, in Vietnam, people put up a pole with a piece of the sangati robe to remind themselves to practice happiness.

Today we have a Flower market and a ceremony for putting up the pole. The beauties of Mother Earth invite us to come back to ourselves and the flowers are an expression of this beauty. A few words on earth cake tradition in Vietnam – what do the earth cakes represent? The lunar new year is an occasion to be in touch with our ancestors and be grateful. After lunch today, we will make earth cakes together. This is how we begin to celebrate Tet.

We return to the sutra study of the 30-verses. Stars and moon are an object of consciousness. They are in store consciousness. In the world of the oyster, they have no-eye consciousness and no-ear consciousness. The things that we see, the oyster cannot see. So, sense organs are one condition to give birth to consciousness. The object gives rise to consciousness. And these are manifested from seeds. And store consciousness holds all the seeds. The sense organ and the object rely on each other to create consciousness. Object and subject. They are divided into two parts but this isn’t exactly correct. We cannot take one out of the other. This is called Interbeing.

Some say there is a world that is objective whether we look at it or not. There is also consciousness and it is also there. This is a dualistic view and called double-grasping. The stars and moon are not independent of our consciousness. Just like the left and right. This is the most important teaching of manifestation-only teaching. When we look at the object we have to see the subject and vice-versa.

We are learning store consciousness. Store consciousness cannot be described with ideas of wholesome/unwholesome, being/nonbeing, pure/impure, etc. And the seeds that store consciousness hold are the same. How does this apply in Christian theology?

Right View and Right Thinking. Transcends the idea of being and non-being. Our Five Skandhas also have this nature. So, when we look at the characteristics of the seeds, we have to see they have the same nature as store.

Two kinds of impermance.

Perception and Reality

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Sunday, January 19, 2014 and is the nineteenth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem. We begin with a teaching on the art of happiness and the art of suffering and how the body and mind work together. The second half of the talk returns to our sutra study by looking at perception and reality.

0:00-9:07 Chanting
9:28-29:36 Art of Generating Happiness
29:36-37:54 Art of Suffering
37:55- 50:25 Mindfulness of Body
50:25-1:07:11 Direct Perception
1:07:11-1:20:25 Representative Perception – Manas
1:20:25-1:32:52 Mind consciousness in Dispersion
1:32:52-end Reality as Form

If we know how to use our time, we can learn a lot in only a week at Plum Village and when we return home we can continue our practice. Mindfulness helps us generate peace, joy, and happiness. This can realized in every breath and step. We can use mindfulness, concentration, and insight. Mindfulness is happening in our body, feeling, and perception. It helps us know what is happening right now. We all have mindfulness energy. A second meaning for mindfulness is to remember, to recall. Our experiences of the past. With our mindfulness we can have insight. Do we know how to make use of our insight? Concentration is focusing on something. We can dwell stably in the present moment. An experienced practitioner who can generate joy, peace, and happiness in every step and every breath. While we are here at Plum Village we can practice so that we can also do it when we return home. This is the art of generating happiness.

How are we not caught by things worthy of pursuit? Our attachments prevent us from being happy. We can be happy when we let go. Mindfulness can also help us manage our suffering, our painful feelings and emotions. In doing so, we can suffer less. This is the art of suffering. We can use our suffering to generate our happiness. Love and understanding bloom from the mud of our suffering. In only one week we can generate and learn this practice.

First, there is mindfulness of the body. When we breath-in, we bring our mind back to the body. This is the first fruit of the practice. We have some exercises to become more aware of our body. How do we practice with mindfulness of our body.

The other day we began to learn the three objects and we continue here. Direct perception – things in themselves. Suchness. Reality as it is is a direct and correct and right perception. Subject and object of perception that always go together. What does science and Buddhism have to say about this? True direct perception sees the unity of subject and object. This includes consciousness of a object. Our practice is to break through ideas and the more we can do this then the more we can be happy. We can take away the discrimination of things.

Store conciousness has this true and right perception but manas does not. Manas is the desire to live coming from sttore conciousness but considers the body as a self. It is obstructed. This is an erroneous direct perception. The object of manas is only a representation of reality.

Mind consciousness in dispersion. When in this condition, there is no mindfulness and can be easily be influenced by manas to look for pleasure and avoid suffering. If we have mind conciousness, then we can see the Four Kinds of Nutriments. We have to know to inhibit and shine light manas so the amount of “mud” is in moderation so we can grow the lotus. We need some amount of mud.

Direct perception. Erroneous perception. Wrong perception.

In the 30-verses, we see the three natures. The tendency of conciousness to cut reality into pieces. Interdependent co-determination. Memory and mere image.

What is Emptiness?

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from Plum Village is dated Thursday, January 16, 2014 and is the eighteenth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem.  In this talk we learn about emptiness along with the continued theme of the winter retreat on consciousness, perception, and manas.

0:00-19:56 What is Emptiness?
19:56-30:40 Science and Consciousness
30:40-42:30 Suffering and Happiness
42:32-56:58 Mode of Perception
56:58-1:13:50 Manas
1:13:50-1:25:10 Subject and Object of Consciousness

Today we chanted the heart sutra. The most important word in this chant is emptiness; sometimes mistaken for nothingness. Emptiness is Sunyata in Sanskrit. Being as the opposite of non-being. Emptiness has no opposite. Right View is one of the elements of the noble eightfold path. The highest view of right view is to transcend the idea of being and non-being. These are two extremes and just notions that don’t describe reality. Right view helps us conserve a lot of energy. A practitioners we should practice slowly to transcend these notions. And this is called emptiness.

Form is emptiness and emptiness is form. Matter and energy. Cloud is snow but it is also rain and water. The sun is matter but it is also energy. Matter is energy and energy is matter. Science is getting closer to the nature of phenomenon. String theory. Everything has manifested from seeds. Manifestation only. There is also the law of thermodynamics.

Store consciousness is all the seeds. When they manifest, they are a formation. We can use the eyes of a scientist. Research of phenomenon. All phenomenon have the nature of no birth and no death. Consciousness and the object of consciousness cannot be separated. There still exists some duality in science between consciousness and phenomena. In manifestation-only teaching we are learning to erase that boundary. The two rely on one another to manifest. They are waiting for each other to manifest as a pair of opposites. Co-arising.

In the original teachings of the Buddha, they used very simple terms to explain. This is because that is. The conclusion is we should not wish for happiness without suffering but that suffering can be transformed. This is the art of suffering. If we know how to suffer then we suffer much less. In this winter retreat we shouldn’t think there is a realm where there is only happiness – there is no place like that. If we want happiness then we must also have suffering. Reciprocal by way of mutuality. Reciprocity. When we learn the Four Noble Truths, we have to see under  this light. The second noble truth talks of the path that leads to ill-being. It is because we live unmindfully. The presence of the second truth brings along the presence of all four which in turn brings along the noble eightfold path.

When we learn of alaya consciousness, we know that it holds all the seeds and energies and it can manifest the wondrous universe. Store consciousness can reach reality as it is. Things in themselves. This is a mode of perception and it is the nature of phenomena. A manifestation of the seeds from store consciousness. Direct and true perception of ultimate reality. All objects of store consciousness and store consciousness itself. Some examples drawn from Christianity and God are explained. The nature of all phenomena is no birth and no death. Neither pure nor impure. A direct and true perception of reality.

Manas cannot come in touch with reality as it is; it only grasps to part of store consciousness. In the sutras, there is an insight view of the body. Manas sees this body as itself. In the body, there is the five skandhas (form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness). In store consciousness, these are a wonder. But according to manas, the five skandhas are me – they are attachment. Where alaya is the beloved and manas is the lover. Store consciousness is the root consciousness and manas grabs ahold of alaya and says “this is me.” Manas represents the mud and is part of life.

Store consciousness holds all the seeds. It holds concentration and the five universal mental formations. The subject and object of consciousness. The foundations of seeds.

The Body and the Environment

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from Lower Hamlet, Plum Village is dated Sunday, January 12, 2014 and is the seventeenth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem. Our talk today continues looking at the morning chant and evening chant in addition to a deeper look at store consciousness, the body, and manas.

0:00-8:04 Two Chants from Monastics
8:04-28:40 Walking and Breathing
28:40-1:06:46 Store Consciousness
1:06:46-1:27:25 The Body and the Environment
1:27:25-end Manas and Freud

Continuing on the morning chant verse from the last dharma talk.  The dharma body is our practice. The second line of the verse is sitting still my mind is at peace and I smile. The mind is the second action of karma and the smile is part of our speech. These three karma – body, mind, speech – must calm down. The night is divided into five parts – the fifth part is the early morning and the door of the dharma has opened. In the evening verse, the first part of the night has arrived. In the morning we can penetrate the three vehicles and embrace the two kinds of truth. We vow to go through the day being awake and not as sleepwalkers. Thay teaches on how the text of Chinese, Vietnamese, and English vary.

Walking and breathing. If we can walk with peace and joy, it doesn’t matter how we walk. If we can do it at Plum Village then we can do it anywhere. Walk as a free person. If there is no freedom there is no happiness. Not carried away by the past or future. Every step can condition us to peace, joy, and happiness. We can use our breathing to bring our mind back to our body. This is the energy of concentration. Freedom only takes a few seconds. The Cyprus in the yard. The dharma body is the miracle of the universe.

In manifestation only teachings, the store conciousness contains all the wonders of life. The object of mind. There are three objects of mind. Things as they are themselves. Store conciousness has a direct perception – no speculation and analysis. If it does this then it has mental construction. Being and non-being. Goodness and evil. Store consciousness is neither and has a direct perception and can touch the ultimate reality. It has access to the objects in themselves.

Seeds, Body and Environment. Manas. Subject and object. Store consciousness is the first to come and the lass to leave. Store consciousness controls and collaborates with the nervous system to create balance in the body.

Manas is undetermined, but it is covered up. It belongs to the subconscious. Perception, feeling, mental formation, consciousness. Manas thinks these things are itself but it is not. It doesn’t see the environment comes from the store consciousness too. That is it’s weakness. Manas seeks to avoid suffering, seeks pleasure, it does not know seeking pleasure is suffering, and does not to see the goodness of suffering. Finally, it does not know the law of moderation. Freud called manas the id.

Without manas, the five skandhas are the dharma body. A wonder. According to Freud, apart from id there is the ego. This is the self. This becomes something that is tangible. The ego inhibits id from manifesting. The super-ego looks for ways to free the id by using wholesome means.  More discussion and comparison of Freud psychology and manifestation-only teaching.

The Dharma Body

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from Upper Hamlet, Plum Village is dated Thursday, January 9, 2014 and is the sixteenth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem.  Today we learn about the dharma body and the practices of letting go, concentration, and insight.

0:00-10:00 Two Chants from Monastics
10:18-20:40 What is Dharma Body?
20:40-34:40 Nourishing our Dharma Body
34:40-56:25 Joy and Happiness – Letting Go
56:25-1:06:36 Joy and Happiness – Concentration
1:06:36-1:19:25 Joy and Happiness – Insight
1:19:25-1:22:30 Walking Meditation

The dharma body is bringing morning light – this is part of the morning chant offered each day. What is this “dharma body” that shines brilliantly in the morning light? It is the teaching body. There are two kinds: the living dharma and the dharma that is written or recorded. Whenever we breathe peacefully, walk in meditation then this is the living dharma. Another meaning is our own practice – each one of us has a physical body and if we are a disciple of the Buddha then we also have a dharma body. The practice body. As students of the Buddha, we have the capacity to generate joy and happiness. So, in the morning when we go to meditation we want to allow our dharma body to shine brilliantly. The morning is a good time to study and our practice strong and solid.

Everyday we have to nourish our personal living dharma body. In the winter, the trees grow very slowly and in spring they grow very fast. Like the trees, we have to allow our dharma body to grow even in the winter time. When we walk, breathe, eat, and work then our dharma body is growing. If we don’t nourish it then it weakens. What are the conditions for the dharma body to grow? We have to be active in making it grow. For example, what is our reflex when we hear the sound of the bell. Create conditioning and reinforcement to allow our dharma body to be strong. This can also help us when we are away from the sangha even when nobody is around us – operant conditioning. The wonders of the universe is the second type of dharma body. The clouds, autumn leaves, a rose, the birds, etc. They are all giving talks on impermanence, four noble truths, non-self, and eightfold path. We may see the written dharma and then our personal dharma body then we may be able to see these wonders of the universe.

How do we generate joy, happiness, and peace? If we have a sangha then it can make it easier to generate these conditions. We can then offer this practice to our families, to our work, and the larger society. This practice can help us to manage our suffering – feelings of suffering and strong emotions. When we come to Plum Village we can learn these things in just one day by doing our practice. Each step. Each breath. If we cannot generate these three elements then we don’t have a dharma body yet. The first step is the practice of letting go and gives birth to joy and happiness. What is this letting go? What are the things that we can let go? What is preventing us from being happy and joyful? Perhaps they are ideas and notions of happiness. This is the main obstacle to our happiness. Practice is bringing a piece of paper out and writing down all our ideas of happiness.

In the sutras it also states that concentration also gives rise to joy, happiness, and peace. This is the art of meditation. In Zen tradition, they say that concentration is food – the joy of meditation. We nourish this every day and not by power, fame, position, or sex. While we sit, while we walk, while we chant … it is not to “get” to happiness but it doing these activities in themselves. If you have mindfulness, then you can have joy and happiness throughout the day. It’s up to you. Our friends in the practice can help remind us.

Letting go gives rise to happiness. Mindfulness and concentration also gives rise to happiness. Then we have insight. Everyone can have insight. Do we know how to make use of our insight? Do we know how to make use of our suffering? The Art of Suffering.

The Value of Being Together

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from Upper Hamlet, Plum Village is dated Sunday, January 5, 2014 and is the fifteenth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem. After a brief sharing on the value of being together, the majority of the talk looks deeply at liberation, brotherhood and sisterhood, and happiness as illustrated through the Five Contemplations read before a meal. The last 35-minutes of the talk return to our winter retreat theme on alaya consciousness.

0:00-10:30 Monastics Chanting
10:54-19:55 The Value of Being Together
19:55-49:15 The Five Contemplations
49:05-1:03:25 Collective Energy of the Sangha
1:02:15-1:38:56 Alaya Consciousness

Where is the year 2013 now? Every day we created action in our thinking and our speech. Karma. In the coming year we will harvest the fruit of last year. We should practice this year with the flavor of right thinking to plant good seeds. Will our speech carry the language of love and compassion. We should only use loving speech. Harvest the fruit of right speech. Our bodily action should also have loving action to sow good action. In Plum Village, we have the opportunity to sit together, eat together, and be less busy than we have in our regular culture. Eating together as a family is important but we don’t take the time. How can organize the family to sit together? Can we treasure the presence of one another?

In Plum Village we use the Five Contemplations before a meal to remind ourselves of our freedom, our busylessness. Leisure for watching the moon. In Buddhism, we have the word liberation so we are not be entangled. Entangled by what? When we’re tied up by our busyness, anger, jealousy, fear, complexes, anxiety then we are not free. Thay shares the story of the king in Vietnam who handed over his throne so he could be a monk and discover freedom. Freedom is looking for practices and teachings that can help untangle ourselves. But the king continued as a spiritual teacher to his son. Engaged action. Liberation is a very important dharma. We need to recognize the knots that bind us so we can untie them. Do we have the capacity to be happy? If we cannot, it is because we have ties that bind us. What ties are entangling us? How do we practice for freedom?  How can we nourish brotherhood and sisterhood, the second aspect of the contemplation? Creating a career of helping other people. The third component of our contemplation is happiness. In Plum Village we eat as slow as we can so we can enjoy our freedom. We can listen to the taste in our mouth.  If we don’t have these things then we don’t have something to offer another person.

Before we chant, the monastic reads that we should breath as one body. We make our body and mind calm. When we do this as a community then we can really see our brotherhood and sisterhood. We create a collective energy of peace. We nourish one another as a community with our mindfulness, concentration, and insight. We go as a river in harmony and our suffering is being embraced by the sangha. We have to take refuge in the sangha and it’s collective energy of practice. We have other reminders and opportunities for practice such as the chant before sitting meditation. We also sing before walking in order to remind ourselves of our practice of walking.

There is something from the non-beginning. In alaya (store) consciousness there is a reality with no beginning. This is the foundation of all things. The cosmos. Alaya creates life. It’s nature is unobstructed and equivalent to the ultimate dimension of a suchness. It is not covered by notions of beginning/ending, good/evil, pure/impure, etc.

In the teachings we learn our manifestation is both our body and the environment. We have an influence on the environment and the environment influences us. Alaya is a foundation of everything. Neuroscience says something similar and have discovered a little part of alaya and it’s called background consciousness. When our mind works with our five sense organs they become the five sense consciousnesses. When mind consciousness works by itself, this too has a name. Working alone or separately. While we sleep and have dreams, this is mind consciousness in dreams.

Note from the Editor
Thay has offered us a vision of building an online monastery, or online temple, where practitioners may come not just to receive information, but to practice online: to follow their breathing, experience guided meditation, interact with monastics and lay practitioners, etc. This archive of Thay’s talks is a component of this vision.

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