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Plum Village Retreats

Making Peace with Ourselves

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The date is November 25, 2001 at Plum Village, Upper Hamlet. This is the first talk of the 3-month winter retreat. The talk is offered in English.

00:00 Connecting with Green Mountain Dharma Center and Deer Park Monastery
09:10 Chanting
34:12 Going Home to Ourselves
41:08 Drinking our Tea
43:22 Mindfulness of our Body
46:04 Body
52:50 Feelings
56:26 Perceptions
1:01:38 Mental Formations
1:05:14 Consciousness
1:06:01 Reclaiming Our Sovereignty
1:14:01 The Sangha
1:17:58 The Energy of Mindfulness
1:24:55 Healing from Within
1:29:04 Looking Deeply
1:37:53 Building a Sangha

What is the 3-month retreat? How do we practice together? Our practice is to build brotherhood. How do we know if we are succeeding in our practice? To practice to be happy together. It is a kind of daily food. Through our sitting mediation, walking meditation, eating in mindfulness. These help build our sisterhood and brotherhood. This is done by building peace within ourselves so it can manifest around us. 

The Energy of Mindfulness

Buddhist meditation has a universal value. The energy of mindfulness help us to there, to be fully present in every moment of our daily life. To be there for us. Our body, our feelings, our perceptions – they are all there, but are we taking care of them? Our practice is to go home to ourselves and tend to our feelings, perceptions, and our body. Our tendency is to run away from ourselves. 

Drinking our tea. Are we fully present to drink our tea? Or are you drinking like a machine? Mindfulness of drinking. Everyone can do that. If we are not careful, we may follow our habit. Mindfulness is the energy to be there for what is going on. Through breathing, walking, eating, etc. 

Mindfulness is the kind of energy that helps you to be fully there. This is the first action for peace. Have you abandoned yourself? Mindfulness can help you come back to yourself. We start with our body. Your breath is part of your body. When you breathe in, bring your mind back. Mindful breathing. This is the best way to begin making peace. It is the door in which you can come back to yourself. We can restore ours sovereignty in the territory of ourselves. 

The Five elements (Skandhas) 

The first element is form – your physical body. Our physical body is like a river; it is always flowing. The first thing a practitioner should do is make peace with our body. Learn how to calm and renew your body. Learn the art of deep and total relaxation. Give our body a chance to rest and restore itself. It is an action of peace. In the Harvard medical school, they have studied the role of meditation in healing the body. Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.

The second element of your person is feeling. The painful feelings, pleasant feelings, neutral feelings. All kinds of feelings. Like the body, there is a river of feelings. They are born, remain, and affect other aspects of our person. Are you taking care of your feelings? Your emotions? Our tendency is to run away. Breathing in, I am aware of my feeling. Breathing out, I calm my feeling. They are like a suffering baby and they have been left alone. We need to take care of this territory of feelings. 

The third portion of our territory is perception. We perceive realities, we have an image of ourselves. That is a perception. We have an image of the other person, or other group of people. This is a perception. And very often they are wrong. And because of our wrong perceptions, we suffer very deeply. There are a lot of contradictions. 

In the Buddhist tradition, the physical body is called a formation. Formation is a technical term that means anything that manifests based on conditions. For example, a flower. Our body is formation. Our feelings are also a kind of formation, but we call it a mental formation. The fourth element is mental formations. According to Buddhist psychology, we have defined 51 mental formations. And mindfulness is one of the mental formations; we should develop our mindfulness. 

The fifth domain is called consciousness. Consciousness contains all the kind of seeds that can manifest into mental formations. It is like the soil keeping all the seeds and when the rain falls then mental formations manifest. 

Reclaiming Our Sovereignty

The territory of our person is very large. And if we don’t know how to bring peace into our territory, then we cannot help our brother or sister to do the same. To restore peace, it is the act of peace. And it is a collective effort. We are the king/queen that rules our territory, but we have not been very good at taking care of our territory. We have lost our sovereignty. We have to go home and rely upon our sangha to help us restore and reclaim our sovereignty. We have our in-breath and out-breath to support us in this endeavor. And when the quality of your breathing has improved, you can step into your body and channel the peace and harmony with your breathing. That is the practice. 

Our society is organized in such a way that we’re encouraged to do the opposite of taking caring of ourselves. Television, magazines, etc. help us to run away from ourselves. When you don’t have anything to do, we often look for something to do. We are afraid of coming home to ourselves because we may encounter the war within ourselves. We have been running away. The buddhist practice helps us return to our kingdom without fear. With the energy of mindfulness of our sangha. We need the sangha. It is very difficult to do alone. The sangha can help us embrace our body, our feelings, our perceptions. The Buddha offers many concrete methods to restore peace and well-being. 

The Energy of Mindfulness

The energy of mindfulness has several functions. The first function is to be there for yourself. To help us produce our true presence. Through mindful breathing and mindful walking. This is the basic practice of Plum Village. The second function is to recognize what is there. What is there is your body, your feeling, etc. 

And the third function of mindful is to embrace. Not fighting. Just embracing. The fruit of the practice depends on the strength of your mindfulness. If you practice well, then it will be enough to embrace your pain. This can bring about relief and calming. We can create an environment that is favorable for this practice. 

Healing is not really coming from outside. It can come from the inside. It is inherent in our body and consciousness. Just like an animal is injured retreats to take care of the body. If we worry too much, then we make the situation worse. We need to rest. We can believe in the capacity of our body. This can also apply to our consciousness too. Every wound can be healed. Through tenderly embracing our pain in the body and in our feelings. 

The next function of mindfulness is to look deeply. Look deeply into what? Our feelings, our perceptions. To identify the roots of our pain and our suffering. Our ill-being. Looking deeply into the nature of our anger, our pain, then we can see the kind of food we are using to feed them. This is related to consumption. And practicing mindful consumption is the way out. Nothing can survive without food. To know what to consume and what not to consume. Looking deeply requires concentration. Which then gives you insight to know what to do. 

Practical Example: a feeling of despair. 

Building a Sangha

Thay shares of coming to the West and feeling all alone. I had to come to call for a cessation of war in Vietnam. And so he began to build a sangha to feel supported and not be alone. Building sangha is the most important task. Without a sangha, we cannot have refuge. Even if you are a teacher or a Buddha, you still need sangha. A group of people can change the course of history. 

Peace and well-being always begins with yourself. Learn the methods from the sangha. Have faith in the practice. And you can feel peace and well-being. Coming together for three months is our opportunity to build brotherhood and sisterhood. 

The next Buddha is Mr. Love. And will take the form of the sangha. The Five Skandhas working in harmony, that is a sangha.