A Beginners Mind for a Beautiful Future

The Sangha is gathered together at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi during the 2011 US Teaching Tour with the theme Cultivating the Mind of Love. This 115-minute dharma talk is from October 2, 2011 and both the audio and video are available with this post. This is the last day of Magnolia retreat and may be a little difficult if listeners have not heard the talks from the previous days (video playlist).

The beginners mind. It is a source of energy. A willingness to practice. And to serve others. We are not afraid of obstacles in order to realize our dream and our intention. Siddhartha had this beginners mind, and we can too. The mind of love is the beginners kind. During this retreat has allowed this to arise in our heart. Do we know how to continue this mind?

In Buddhism, there are two kinds of truth: conventional and ultimate. Thay explains how it is similar to what we see in science. We can learn to understand the true nature of reality. When we come to the ultimate truth, we can leave behind our notions of birth and death, suffering and happiness, being and non-being, etc. How can we do this? We cannot be an observer, we must try to be a participant. The Buddha’s insight received under the bodhi tree was to be relieved of all fear. This cannot be learned from notions and concepts.

We learn of Right View, another element of the noble path. Thay tells a story of Katyayana, a student of the Buddha, asking about Right View. A teaching of no-birth, being and non-being, as illustrated by a cloud. Right View is being able to transcend all these notions: being and non-being, birth and death, left and right, above and below, subject and object, etc. All pairs of opposites. We cannot remove one without the other.

Story of a grain of salt wanting to know how salty is the ocean to illustrate the subject of cognition and object of cognition. Being a participant to truly understand.

Talking to a flame to illustrate this teaching of being and non-being.

Thay writes these pairs of opposites on the board: birth and death, being and nonbeing, coming and going, sameness and otherness. All these must be transcended to see the true face of reality.

A teaching on interbeing and four more notions – self, man, living beings, and life span. Thay explains each as outiined in the Diamond Sutra. This Sutra teaches us that humans are only made of non-human elements. This is one of the oldest teachings in deep ecology. The Buddha too is comprised of non-Buddha elements. This is why bowing to the Buddha is not worshiping, but is a meditation.

We have been talking of Right View and dualism. We turn now to three other elements of the noble eightfold path that arise from Right View. Right Thinking can help us remove all discrimination. It is thinking that can produce understanding and compassion. It can heal the world. From these two we can then practice Right Speech. To restore and reconcile. This element includes our ability for deep listening. And then we turn to Right Action. Anything we can do with our body to protect and save. These three are all forms of action, starting with our thoughts. Thinking is already action. And we produce each of these every day. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that man is the sum of his action. In Sanskrit, this is called karma. Everything we produce will continue us; it does not disappear. We are the author, and that is our continuation. If we can keep our beginners mind alive, surely we will have a beautiful future.

The other elements of the path, briefly outlined in this talk, are Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. This path can be seen very concretely in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We also briefly learn of the Three Doors of Liberation — emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness — in light of the retreat’s teaching.

We talk concludes with a couple of songs led by Sr. Chan Không.

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Transforming Our Suffering

In this 65-minute dharma talk from the New Hamlet of Plum Village, Thay teaches a message on transforming our suffering. The date is Sunday, November 26, 2006 and the sangha is in the Winter Retreat.

Dhyana is the Sanskrit word for meditation. In meditation, we have stillness. We have relaxation. We have mindfulness, concentration, insight, joy, and happiness. These virtues can be cultivated. How can we do this? The practice of “leaving behind.” This is the first act of meditation. Joy and happiness is born from this practice.

Many young people have this aspiration to “leave behind” and want to become a monastic. They have experience joy and happiness. But after two or three years, the joy and happiness are not deep enough to reach down into our blocks of suffering. We have this stillness for a period of time but then the block of suffering will emerge. What is the nature of our suffering? Hidden in the depths of our unconscious. If we can’t move into the deeper practice, we begin to blame and point to problems, we then sometimes see monastics leave the community. We have to go home to ourselves and try to recognize our suffering and embrace it. Thay illustrates this teaching through bitter melon. Our natural tendency is to run away of suffering and we don’t know the hidden goodness of suffering. Suffering can heal us.

We in the Plum Village tradition belong to the School of Linji. We have to use our intelligence, our insight in order to transform our suffering.

In Buddhism we have the notion of the three worlds. Desire. Craving. Form. We may leave behind the world of desire but still have mental discourse. We practice stillness. It is made of two elements: vitaka and vijara. Thought and reflective thinking.

Thay returns to talking of a monastic who leaves the community and then may wish to return, and this is a problem for all practicing communities. We have to be willing to go deeper, to learn how to preserve our happiness, and transform the pain, anxiety, and deep suffering that is still there in the depth of our consciousness. When suffering is emerging, adapt another attitude. Don’t try to run away from it. This is Thay’s recommendation. Stay where you are and welcome it.

How do we work with suffering rooted from injustice? How do we work with suffering rooted from our parents?

Bodhicitta. Mind of enlightenment. Beginners mind. Inspired by the desire to practice in order to transform your suffering and help many people who suffer around you. The mind of love. As practitioners, we should maintain this beginners mind because it is a powerful source of energy.

If you are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk.

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Continuing our Spiritual and Blood Ancestors

In this 53-minute dharma talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village, Thay teaches a message of love. The date is Sunday, November 12, 2006. We begin with two chants from the monastics.

You are a continuation of your father. Intellectually we know this to be true. And yet we feel that we are different. It is because you have a notion of your father – you haven’t looked deeply enough at your father. Who is the father inside of you? Can you practice for your father? Transformation of your father inside of you also helps to transform the father on the outside.

How can you can get in better touch with your father? First, we need to be aware. Thay shares about how he practiced regarding his own father. Creating a conversation with your father can occur anytime, whether they are alive or not.

The same practice can apply to your mother. Begin a conversation with your mother inside of you. And if she is still alive, you can talk with her too. Thay offers specific.

You also have a spiritual teacher inside of you who is also outside of you. How are you carrying your teacher into the future? How is your teacher evolving inside of you? How are you practicing for your teacher? We should not be exactly like our teacher. We should learn and transform for the time. To see the suffering of our time.

The Buddha of our Time. A global ethic. To be able to respond to globalization, the environment, and other present needs.

When you contemplate an orange, you see everything about the orange. The universal aspect of the orange. Harmony. We need a global ethic to look at something like globalization. The global ethic manifests through the Five Mindfulness Trainings. This is the path to take up and they are presenting in a non-sectarian way and it’s nature is universal. You don’t have to be a Buddhist. You can remain yourself but you can create harmony, sisterhood, brotherhood. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are the way out of difficult situations. They may also be inherent in other traditions and people are encouraged to look and discover this too.

We conclude with Thay sharing a short story of the Buddha. Seeing with the eyes of the Buddha. Contemplating the beauty of the world.

1:45 Bell and Chanting
10:30 Continuation of your Father
29:15 Continuation of your Teacher
36:15 The Buddha of our Time
39:20 Global Ethic: Five Mindfulness Trainings
51:30 Returning to our Ancestors

If you are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk.

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Turn Every Cell On

Dear fellow practitioners and friends on the path. In this talk we learn of the joy and the happiness of the practice. The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh offered this 107-minute dharma talk on December 11, 2005 from Upper Hamlet at Plum Village (France) during the annual Winter Retreat. We are reminded of the basic practices of walking and sitting followed by a deeper teaching on the Five Dimensions of Reality.

Touching paradise. When you practice walking, you involve your body with your practice. We can walk in the ultimate dimension. You turn on every cell in your body. Being completely free with the energy of mindfulness. Each step brings healing and nourishment to you. We use the techniques of mindful breathing.

We apply the same techniques to sitting. We turn on all the cells in our body to arrive in a unified state of being. All the cells will sing in unison and we are in a state of concentration. This is the foundation of enlightenment. Thay comments on sleepiness during sitting meditation. We have to make our sitting interesting. There is so much to enjoy. This state of being gives us the capacity to heal.

The Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing offers us exercises to touch all the cells of our body.

Thay offers some reflections on neuroscience and consciousness and how the Buddhist tradition sees things quite different. The elements of the human are: Form, Feelings, Perceptions, Mental formations and Consciousness. The Five Skandhas. Perceiver and the perceived. We train ourselves in seeing the object of our perception. What is the object of our perception? Our consciousness? The Five Dimensions of Reality in Buddhism.

Thay offers a deeper teaching on consciousness and mental formations, including technical terms from Chinese and Sanskrit.

One lesson from this talk is we practice with body and mind together.

If you are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk. We often share the video version of the dharma talk on the Patreon post, and this particular talk includes many notes and diagrams on the white board that are visible on the recording.

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Spiritual Evolution

An 88-minute dharma talk from the New Hamlet, Plum Village on November 27, 2005.

Building on the previous dharma talk on biological evolution, we begin with the topic of sensual pleasures. We know that sensual pleasures are very fleeting and they don’t last. Do we want survival or do we want happiness? Happiness and survival, these two things go together. What is this drive for survival. This drive for sensual pleasure. The Buddha does not speak about survival. The Buddha speaks of a way out of suffering.

The Buddha teaches us to recognize our anger and our fear. Our fear causes us to act in a very destructive way. Is there a way to transform our fear. We are also invited to look at our delusions (confusion). We don’t know where to go. What to do. We can become desperate because of our confusion. We should also look at the nature of our craving. This too pushes us in the direction of wrong action. In the teachings of the Buddha, these are called poisons.

As we look into the world, we can see that confusion and anger are destroying us. This is why we need spiritual evolution. To give survival another way. Another meaning.

Not only can we purify our mind, through the training of meditation, we can also purify and transform our body. We learn a new way of dealing with events that happen in our lives. The practice can create new patterns of behavior and our body can learn to behave differently. We can replace the old patterns of our body and our mind.

Transmission of the practice. We can transmit the practice to our children, our friends. It doesn’t need to be genetic. This is spiritual evolution. If we are going to survive as a species, we need to bring in this dimension of spiritual evolution. It can be realized.

Thay explores different elements of the practice. Listening to a dharma talk. Walking meditation. Listening to the bell.

In the last segment, we learn practices for dealing with anger. We need a spiritual immune system to treat these poisons. When we’ve been able to transform these poisons, then we can help many people.

During the talk, Thay illustrates with the following stories

  • Young man with terminal illness
  • Pirate in Thailand raping refugees
  • A nun who was arrested in Vietnam

If you are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk.

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Being Free from Dogma

This 58-minute dharma talk is the second half of a talk offered on November 17, 2005 at the New Hamlet, Plum Village.

Thay continues a discussion from the earlier dharma talk. When we make a statement in Buddhism, it should help to transform and to present the truth. Buddhism is not a philosophical position. Zen is free from notions, statements. For example,

Space is a conditioned dharma. Space is not a conditioned dharma.
Dharma and the non-dharma.

Does Buddhist fundamentalism exist? Are there those who have gotten dogmatic about the dharma. Buddhism should be free from dogma, but there is some dogmatism in Buddhism too. Why isn’t this a good thing?

The truth of interbeing. At the cellular level and in nature. In heart of reality there is cruelty, violence, and a struggle for survival. In the heart of reality there is also wisdom, compassion, and togetherness. And this is the foundation of reality.

We conclude with a brief teaching on Buddhism and science.

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Relaxing in the Present Moment

The 58-minute dharma talk offered by Thich Nhat Hanh took place at the New Hamlet of Plum Village on November 10, 2005. The audio is linked below and video is available for our donors on Patreon.

Please note, the recording begins with a few minor sound issues, but the dharma talk doesn’t begin until it is resolved by the sound team. We left it in the recording because it adds some character.

When we speak about dwelling in the present moment, we mean living deeply in every moment of our daily life. Do we know how to live in the present moment? It begins with relaxing ourselves and to stop running. To release our worries. Our tensions. Stopping our mental discourse. Do we know how to rest after a long day of work? To relax our mind and body? Mindfulness tells us the conditions for testing are there for us.

Awareness of breathing is exactly what we need to stop our mental discourse. To touch the conditions of happiness that are there. This is not hard work. We can free from our thinking and our body begins to relax, and to heal itself. Simple. We have to stop the mental discourse so we can be free in the present moment.

Walking to be present and aware of the present moment is also possible. We can relax during walking meditation too.

This practice is a practice freedom. 

A teaching on the historical and ultimate dimension as illustrated through drinking our tea, our coffee. Can you drink your tea in the ultimate dimension? Avata?saka S?tra.

In China, there was a time when they tried to bring Zen and the Pure Land together. In Plum Village, we practice Zen using the energy of mindfulness and insight but we also say the Pure and is available in the here and the now. The pure land is now or never. Thay shares a koan from that time that is still practiced today.

Who is the person invoking the name of the Buddha? 

This is the subject of our mediation. Both Zen and Pure Land practice this. Thay teaches on this koan – what is the purpose of this koan? This koan is an invitation. Thay then shares a Chinese story of two philosophers contemplating fish swimming. Are the fish happy?

Ni?m – mindfulness, recollection

We should always ask ourselves with any teaching, what does this teaching have to do with my suffering? It is not intellectual.

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Touching Life – Come Home to Yourself

The 53-minute dharma talk offered by Thich Nhat Hanh took place at the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village on November 3, 2005. The audio is linked below and video will be available for our donors on Patreon.

What does it mean, “I take refuge in the Buddha.” Buddha is the one who is mindful, awake, enlightened. Taking refuge is not believing in a God or deity. We all have a seed of mindfulness, understanding, and love. We can become a person who is fully awake, enlightened, just like the Buddha. Taking refuge is confirming the fact that you can be enlightened. You are a Buddha. This is not a declaration of faith, but a commitment to practice. In every breath we are taking refuge. In every mindful step we are taking refuge.

The way in is also the way out. Our spiritual life should be established in that vision – being truly ourselves. Practicing to bring a spiritual dimension into your life. Through drinking our tea, preparing our breakfast, or brushing our teeth. These are spiritual acts. Not being caught by the future or the past. This is being a Buddha.

Going home to ourselves. How is this act accomplished? Practicing in a community like Plum Village, everyone is supported by the sangha. This is taking refuge in the sangha. We have faith in the community. Helping to build this refuge for others.

Story of when the Buddha was about 80-years old and how he offered the teaching on taking refuge in the island of yourself. Here we can encounter the foundation of ourselves – the island includes the Buddha, dharma, and sangha. This is the practice of Plum Village also.

How do we respond when we are lonely, not feeling like ourselves? Our feelings of fear? Do we know how to practice going home to ourselves? Walking meditation is a method. Can we walk like a Buddha? Enjoying every step. This is a miracle.

The Buddha-nature is within you and through mindfulness, concentration, and insight it is you that is performing a miracle.

It is a practice of enjoyment.

Editor’s Note: If the play button or download link doesn’t work, please try again shortly. We are testing out a new service and there may be caps on the downloads. Thank you for the patience. 

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Stepping into Freedom

From the Assembly of Stars Meditation Hall at Lower Hamlet, Plum Village. This is a day of mindfulness between the close of the 21-Day Retreat and the Summer Opening. The sangha is preparing for an ordination ceremony for monastic novices on July 2 followed by summer opening on July 4. This 80-minute dharma talk is dated June 29, 2014. The focus of the talk is on the monastic life. Both the audio and the video are available below.

Where can we focus our attention when starting to breath mindfully? The tip of the nose versus the abdomen. We stop our thinking and are fully aware. No thinking is a secret of success. We can enjoy being alive in the here and now.

What is the object of our mindfulness when we walk? How can we touch reality? Thay tells the story of a 13th century king in Vietnam who practiced very well as a lay person. How can we practice everyday? Touching the ground of reality with every step and not lose ourselves by daily life.This kind of walking can be very healing.

The triple training is mindfulness, concentration, and insight. These three work together. These are three of the eight elements of the noble path – the Noble Eightfold Path. They also exist in the Five Powers (the other two are faith and diligence). This is the heart of Buddhist practice. The practice of mindfulness can also be seen concretely in the practice of the precepts and that is why we usually use the words “mindfulness” trainings. The precepts are the 5 trainings for the lay students (and the 14 for the Order members), the 10 precepts for novice monastics, 250 precepts for monks, and 380 for nuns (Some may ask why the nuns practice more? Is that not discrimination? The nuns created their own precepts). Each precept guarantees a zone of freedom. The precepts are seeking freedom. But we need to live mindfully. Thay recently wrote a new calligraphy. “Each Precept Guarantees a Zone of Freedom”.

There is joy in practicing and reciting the precepts. The manual we use for training the novices is called “Stepping into Freedom” (and is available from Parallax Press). The practice of the precepts is also the practice of mindfulness and is connected with mindful manners (outlined in the manual). “Be beautiful. Practice the Precepts.” Thay discusses some of the mindful manners for monastics.

The manual has four parts. The first part is a set of verses – the essential of the daily vinaya practice. The second part is the ten novice precepts. The third section is mindful manners – many chapters on this. The fourth part is a beautiful text to remind monastics why they are a monk or a nun. The book was originally in Chinese from more than 400 years ago. It has been updated by Plum Village. In the Christian monastic tradition, they have some of the same precepts.

Thay shares further of the big commitment to become a monastic. It is like a marriage. You are part of a sangha and you can realize your dream of helping people. To practice as a monk or nun is easier than a lay student because you have the support of the sangha.

This is a happy and beautiful moment.

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The Resurrection and The Stranger

Today is Easter Sunday and it is a regular day of mindfulness in Plum Village. This talk is from the Lower Hamlet and is dated Sunday, April 20, 2014. The talk is in English. We begin with two chants from the monastics.

Mindfulness practice of the sequoia tree, the sky. Thay talks about Albert Camus’ book called The Stranger. Here too the prisoner talks about truly seeing the sky. This is awakening. Camus called this a moment of consciousness. Many people are living as if we are dead. The blue sky is a wonder of life. Awakening. Can we wake up?

Mindful breathing. Resurrection. From forgetfulness to mindfulness. The miracle of the resurrection. This is not dogma. When we wake up then we can get in touch with the wonders of life. Joy and happiness are possible. How? Waking up to our suffering. Jesus was aware of his suffering and the role of suffering. In Plum Village, we say this bread is the body of the cosmos. Similar to the breaking bread by Jesus. To wake up is to see no birth and no death. It is not because of birth or death that Jesus exists. The same is with mindfulness.

Birth and death. This is our true nature and highest awakening. And Nirvana is the same. We can go back to ourselves and touch our true nature. If we have time to look deeply, we can see the connection between suffering and happiness. Jesus himself realized the role of suffering. As a practitioner of mindfulness we should know how to handle our suffering. Most of us are afraid of suffering. Through the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight we can be strong enough to touch and embrace our suffering. When we can do it for ourselves, we can help people around us do it as well. Joy and happiness are possible and transcend anxiety and fear. We don’t need to be afraid of suffering.

If you understand the art of suffering, then you understand the art of happiness. If you understand the art of happiness, then you understand the art of suffering.

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