In breath – Am I present?


December 12, 2010. 115-minute dharma talk given Thich Nhat Hanh in Stillwater Mediation Hall at Upper Hamlet in Plum Village. The talk was given in Vietnamese with English translation (French and original Vietnamese audio are available as well as video version). The monastery is in the 2010-2011 Winter Rains Retreat.

Mindfulness is one of the fifty-one mental formations of our mind; five of these mental formations are known as universal:

  • Touch – by our mind and the five sense organs.
  • Volition – attention. In Sanskrit it is manascara.
  • Feeling – after you have attention, sometimes you then have a feeling
  • Perception – a notion or construct about something
  • Action, will to act

What do we pay attention to? What is helpful for us to pay attention to? For example, in the Plum Village center we arrange things to pay attention to what is very useful to you – the bell tower, monastics walking or working relaxingly, arranging of flowers, architecture, statues, etc. We should try to organize our life and environment so that it is helpful and can inspire you to practice.

Other mental formations only come when you invite them. For example, Mindfulness. You want to do walking meditation, sitting meditation, etc.  Mindfulness is the core of the practice. When you are not present, you are in forgetfulness. Mindfulness means you are present. How? Bring your mind back to your body and then you can see things around you. In breath. Out breath. Breath is a tool for Mindfulness.

For example, when walking, we can invent sentences that match your number of steps that remind you to be present.

In breath – Am I present?
Out breath – Yes I am present.
In breath – Are you sure?
Out breath – Yes I am sure.

Am I solid? Am I stable? Means you are not being pulled to the past or to the future, but being present. Am I joyful? Am I free? Do you experience and touch joy, happiness, etc.  By being present, walking can nourish and heal. When you do this, you don’t try to concentrate but it is there anyway by bringing your mind back to the body.

The talk continues by looking at what are know as particular mental formations. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight are “particular” mental formations because we must call them. By creating new habits and new neuropathways through mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

Please write to Thay of your practice, report to him.
About 68-minutes into the talk, we shift into a sutra commentary. It is another part of Dhammapada and also about nirvana – the safest place, a place where you are more peaceful and wonderfully stable. It was translated at beginning of third century to Chinese and there are thirteen chapters in the Chinese dhammapada which don’t exist in the Pali text. Maybe they took from the sanskrit. Today we look at Chapter 28 (?????) of Dhammapada called Place of Peace and Wonder and we compare with the one we just learned (Enjoy the Ultimate). Every poem/stanza is five words, which is different from previous chapters.

Finally, at the beginning of this talk, Thay shared that the conditions became ripe during the recent Southeast Asia Tour to open a new Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism in Hong Kong. Should open in a few months  with 30 monastics. All our centers will partner with universities that have a Buddhist branch to offer them teachings on applied Buddhism to help make their programs more complete. The applied Buddhism offered is really something concrete.


By Chan Niem Hy

Dharma Teacher.

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