The Universe is a Single Flower


February 17, 2011. 78-minute Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh in the Assembly of Stars Mediation Hall at Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France. We begin with 8-minutes of chanting. This is the final dharma talk of the Winter Retreat before the Great Ordination Ceremony and the close of the retreat. Here we continue discussing the Sutra of Flowers and Fragrance.

Seeing the Earth in that way he felt a deep compassion for all the people who live on the Earth. They are trying to do something to protect our environment. Only from very far away do you look back and see the fragility of our planet, and you feel compassion.

One astronaut said that when he left the Earth and looked back, then he became a humanitarian, because I feel that I have to take care of the people on that planet. The vision is so important from far away. If you are a schoolteacher, or parents, you try to help your students to get in touch with this.

The universe is elegant. And there is a harmony in it. We see that the Earth is beautiful, that the beings in it are beautiful. In the Avatamsaka Sutra, the Buddha described the universe to be like one single flower. The cosmos is like a bank of flowers. We we see the planet as a beautiful flower, and each of us is also a beautiful flower. No matter what age we are we are very beautiful. That is the insight of the Buddha in the Avatamsaka sutra. The cosmos is a kind of treasure. Each being on the planet is a flower.

We have learned four verses already. We know that the flower is present now. That is the first insight. Flower means beauty. But we also learn that there is a true flower and a fake flower. Flowers are beautiful. Flowers are good.

Untruthful garland of flowers that Mara tried to use to trick us. We have to be careful not to be carried away by despair. There are many flowers that are appealing, that are organized by Mara.

So these are verses about flowers that we should learn. So there are true flowers and false flowers. The fifth verse talks about the impermanence of the flower. We need to know that this flower is impermanent and we should cherish it. We glide like a flower that falls.

We are no longer caught by these little things. Thanks to that because you stand so far away you can see clearer. You can see the little girl from the story Thay mentioned last time. All the children are fighting to go into the exhibition. The little girl had no button to give to enter into the funeral exhibition. So from up high the children feel funny for the little girl. We too, we can see from far away. Everything must start with us. When you have that vision you will see things more simply; it’s easier to let things go. We are all astronauts. One day when we go back to see that person, maybe we will have more love. Sometimes in your word is hidden aggressivity, but you don’t realize that.

We still have a few days before we start our Great Ordination Ceremony of Deep Listening. When we listen deeply to yourself then you can accept yourself and be compassionate to yourself. When you can listen and understand you need to understand our weakness. Often we think that our suffering comes from the other person. We need to look deeply in order to be compassionate to ourselves and to others. Master Lin Chi taught that we have to master our situation. You have to be in control of the situation. Don’t behave passively and pretend that you are a victim of the situation. We stored from many generations before us.

So we have to listen deeply to ourselves. Why do I have to be afraid? Maybe that is a habit that has been transmitted to you through many generations of ancestors. We can use that as an opportunity to learn why we behave like that. Then you have more compassion for yourself. We need you to transform the negative habits. Make a big determination to change right now for yourself. To try touch the flowerness in the other person, and change your negative habits. Your complex, your low self-esteem, makes your flower wither. But you have no ability to resist. That other person could be the last drop of your habit energy that you received from your ancestors.

There are a number of politicians. Normally politicians have to sit there and listen to the suffering of those who vote for them. When those who vote for you have the impression that you are listening to them, even if you cannot do 100% of what they want. There are those who suffer because nobody listens to them. You may be the first person to listen to that person.

During the training in the schools, or therapy, or psychology, do we learn the training to listen with empathy, or do you only speak? We know very well that we listen totally with your true presence. We listen to the suffering of others. You have to have some compassion in yourself before you are able to listen to them.

A number of you have had private consultations with psychotherapists. You need to look to see if these psychotherapists are present or not. If they don’t listen to their own suffering, how can they help you? When we have a retreat for psychotherapists, we have to remember that all the therapists need to be trained to be attentive to their own suffering, in order to help their clients.

You are a big brother or sister in the Sangha. If you want to help your young brother or sister, or a lay friend that comes to Plum Village, you have to listen to your own suffering as well as the suffering of others in your own community. You must see the block of self in us. That can be a big obstacle for you to transform your difficulties. You must see that your suffering comes from this block. That helps you to liberate yourself quite a bit already. And so, when you see like that you know that you can help.

So the tendency to reproach will be gone. We complain that others don’t understand you, they are unfair to you. But do you understand them? Do you see his suffering? We can understand him or her from what point of view? Can you behave in a very compassionate way? Are you a true flower?

Fortunately in our Sangha there are many compassionate flowers, that have the capacity to listen, to understand, to love. Are you one of these rare flowers in the Sangha? That is the way to restore the flowerness in you? Breathing in, I see that I am a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh as a flower. That is very important. We must be an example of a fresh flower, and the helper of other flowers in the Sangha. We need a lot of flowers in the Sangha. We have various people in different councils, different nations. We need to have people who can listen.

The Great Ordination is an opportunity for you to look back to see: have you protected the flower in you? And you have to respect all the fine manners, even very small fine manners. We want to be a good flower in the Sangha. You must have a big vow. If we want to receive the bhikshu precepts and you think you are too weak. My advice is contrary, you must take the precepts, but you need to make a big determination. It is not an honor, it is a kind of instrument to make you better. All this Dharma act is not an honor. Don’t say I will not receive the lamp this time because I’m not worthy. No, it is a good occasion for you to make a determination to keep the fine manners exactly. No one is perfect, no one can keep these precepts 100%. But you want to go in that direction. The freedom here is you are not caught by attachment. Attachment to the past, attachment to the future, craving for fame, money etc. Take care of yourself and you will see liberty differently. When you see someone who holds the precepts there is the capacity to protect.

The talk was given in Vietnamese with English translation and is available below (French and original Vietnamese audio are also available, as well as video version).

By Chan Niem Hy

Dharma Teacher.


  1. thank you may we all be beautiful flowers for each other. many blessings to you, thank you it is only by knowing ones own suffering that we can hold anothers.

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