Life at Every Breath

This is a 53-minute dharma talk with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh from Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism” retreat. This is the first talk on May 5, 2008.

We begin with some instruction on sitting and breathing. It is important to repeat the essentials. When we sit, we should enjoy our sitting. Like the Buddha, do you know how to sit on the lotus flower? Sitting for the sake of sitting. Releasing tension in our body through sitting and breathing. Thay teaches us how to reduce the tension and we practice together.

Smiling is one method. Smiling is like yoga of the mouth. We can let the body lead, instead of the mind, and so we begin with a smile and the joy may come later. With our breathing, we can bring our body and mind together. We can know we are alive and we can smile to life.

There is the practice of bringing our parents into our breathing and sitting. Why and how. Breathing in and breathing out is quite wonderful. And it is enough to cultivate wisdom. So, enjoy the sitting. And enjoy the breathing.

During this retreat, while you sit or while you walk, practice these sentences. Every breath is life. Life at every breath. And while we walk, life at every step. Then you may try too, breathing in, I am aware of my heart. Thay teaches how and why we can practice this awareness of our heart.

Life is already full of suffering, why would you suffer when practice meditation. Learning to breathe and to enjoy. Life is present in the here and the now. Drinking tea is also a method for being present. Life at every breath.

Slow walking is a practice you may try, even on your own, to bring full awareness to life at every step. All the wonders of life. Every moment is a moment of practice. Walk like a Buddha. Walk like a free person. A miracle at every step. A miracle at every breath. Enlightenment.

Every step is healing. Every breath is healing. We can heal ourselves and the earth. You are free. Freedom from afflictions. Walk as a free person. We have an appointment with life, in the present moment. With our in breath and our breath.

The first meaning of Engaged Buddhism is being present in the here and the now. Regardless of what we are doing. In every moment. Dwelling happily in the present moment. This is the teaching of the Buddha.

Thich Nhat Hanh in Hue
Source: touching-peace-photography.com
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Exercises on Mindful Breathing

The monastic community is practicing during the Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery with the lay community. This 83-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Sunday, January 18, 2004 at the beginning of the third week. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

It takes about 5-minutes to work through some technical difficulties before the dharma talk begins. During that time Thay reflects on a few small things like the freshness of the air in Deer Park and the upcoming Year of the Monkey. The monkey is in the mind. Our practice is not to force the monkey to stop, but to become aware of the movement of the mind. We don’t try to suppress our mind. 

Last time we spoke about how to become fully present and fully alive. The practice is so easy that it would be a pity if you don’t do it. The power and energy of mindfulness is available because we all have the seed of mindfulness in our consciousness. If we keep the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight then we are good continuations of the Buddha. But we also live in forgetfulness and we can transform this with the flower of mindfulness. Garbage and flowers. We are like organic gardeners that can produce the flowers of peace and happiness. Our happiness arises from elements of affliction and we don’t need to be afraid of the garbage. We don’t need to run away from our pain and sorrow. 

Mindful Breathing Exercises

The Buddha offered very simple and effective methods of practice. We can master these methods and we can no longer be afraid of sickness, fear, despair, or even death. In the Sutra on Mindful Breathing, the first exercise is simply breathing in and out. Simple identification and awareness. Thay offers several methods on how to follow our in breath and out breath. When mindfulness is there, then concentration is there too. Concentration is born from mindfulness. This first exercise proposed by the Buddha is so easy and so simple. It is for our enjoyment. It is a gift. And when we practice mindfulness, we are a Buddha. 

The second exercise is long and short. Following our breath all the way through. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. But the practice is not to try and make the breath longer or shorter. Don’t try to force your breath. Your breath is what it is. Simple, mere recognition. Just turn on the light of mindfulness and become aware of it. It is like the sunshine and the flower. Mindfulness is the sunshine and the energy will recognize and embrace the flower, our breath. The photons of the sunshine penetrate right into the flower and it opens. Our in-breath and out-breath are like a flower. In our practice of meditation, there are three elements: body, mind, and breath. They are interconnected with each other. These can become one, and all of them inherit from the energy of mindfulness and concentration brought about by mindful breathing. The second exercise suggests we enjoy our in-breath and out-breath all the way through from the beginning to the end. To follow your breath. 

The third exercise is awareness of the whole body. Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I am aware of my body. This is a practice of going home to your body and being present. We can reconcile with our body. Awareness is already enlightenment. We receive a short teaching on “formations.” The formation of our physical body. We are fully aware that our body fully is. To recognize our body as a formation. This practice can help to heal our body. Awareness and practicing with a smile. It’s yoga of the mouth. How do we practice this even if our mind and body are not aligned? We can smile to release all the tensions and relax the body. If you are a doctor or a therapist, you may want to explore more with the Sutra on Mindful Breathing. 

Thay offers very specific methods to practice mediation using these exercises. Everyone can succeed with these exercises.

Awareness of feelings is the fifth exercise. Breathing in, I feel joy. I am aware of the feeling called joy. Breathing out, I feel joy. This too is a formation, but they are a mental formation. The sixth is similar but we are calling forth our feeling of happiness. Joy and happiness are there for our nourishment and healing. We start with these seeds of joy and happiness before moving to those feelings that cause us to suffer. But these exercises are not simply auto-suggestion, but happiness and joy can be born if we know how to touch the seed. The first way to bring joy is to leave behind; to let go. Maybe something we believe to be crucial to our happiness. 

If you appreciate this teaching, please consider making a donation to support the ongoing efforts of the online monastery. Please make a note with your donation that it was because of this talk.

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Remove the Dressing

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. Both the audio and video are available in this post.

In this 42-minute introduction, Thich Nhat Hanh begins with a teaching on Mindfulness, breathing, and the energy of mindfulness. It can be generated by our practice. And it is always mindfulness of something. We receive a teaching on breathing, sitting, and walking. How to arrive.

Sangha body. We are all a cell in the sangha body. And we can breathe together as one Sangha body. With just 3-seconds of breathing, we can make ourselves available to life and life is available to us. That is the miracle of mindfulness. We release the past and release the future.

Do we have the time to get in touch with the miracle of mindfulness? When we bring our mind and body together, we have a chance to touch this miracle through the practice of mindfulness of breathing and mindfulness of walking.

The cells in our body have the capacity to generate energy. And we can listen as one sangha body. And we can become a real and true sangha in that moment. And with this we can gain insight. Thay teaches how the practice of walking allow us to touch the wonders of life in the here and now.

I have arrived.
I am home.

Every in breath and every out breath allow us to remain in the here and the now. And we are supported by many other practitioners.

As with walking, sitting meditation is the same. We can enjoy in a relaxing manner. It can be a delight! We have our Sangha and our breathing. We don’t need to suffer.

I have arrived.
I am home.

This is not a declaration!

During this retreat, we will learn to practice and be the living Buddha, the living Dharma, and the living Sangha.

At 23:45 into the recording, Thay invites Sister Pine and Br. Phap Dung to offer a few words on how to enjoy our practice more – how can we enjoy our life?

One of the practices is called Noble Silence — what does this mean? How do we practice with noble silence? Another practice we offer and teach is Working Meditation — an opportunity and a training to come back to our body and our breathing. In a retreat, we can slow down and enjoy our capacity to stop, be present, and perhaps gain insight. Br. Phap Dung shares a story of eating salad without the dressing. We can remove the dressing in our lives. Cultivate the ability to generate your own bell of mindfulness.

In our tradition, the practice and the non-practice are interweaved. It’s hard to tell where the meditation begins. Try to pay attention to the non-practice. The non-effort.

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Conscious Breathing is Nourishing

The sangha is practicing in the Lower Hamlet, Plum Village during the Spring Retreat. We begin this March 19, 2006 dharma talk with 18-minutes of chanting by the monks and nuns followed by a dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh.

We need to be nourished by joy and happiness in our daily life. Breathing in, I feel the joy. Breathing out, I am nourished by happiness. The practice is to know how to generate joy and happiness. How is this possible? We have the sangha and the Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Joy is born from the awareness that happiness is possible. Whether you practice alone or you practice with a sangha, you should be aware of the positive elements around us. But with a sangha, it is easier and we have the energy of the sangha. With a sangha, we can practice the Five Mindfulness Trainings much better.

What is the difference between joy and happiness?

Thay shares a story of a meeting with a San Francisco Chronicle journalist. With each journalist, Thay always invites them to practice mindfulness before the interview so they can write a good article that can help many people by watering the seeds of joy. To write with compassion. Every article can be a practice.

Practitioners of meditation should get the right nourishment every day – joy and happiness. They are there already. How do we water these seeds? Walking meditation is one method.

Mindful consumption and the Four Kinds of the Nutriments (from the sutra, “The Son’s Flesh“). Collective decisions in a sangha can help protect us from unmindful consumption because we practice together. No effort. It’s wonderful. Compassion can protects us. And compassion is born from understanding. Understanding is born when you can listen and look deeply. And by consuming understanding and compassion, we can live a more healthy and happy life. And know how to nourish this understanding and compassion.

If you appreciate this teaching, please consider making a donation to support the ongoing efforts of the online monastery. Please make a note with your donation that it was because of this talk.

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Enjoy Each Mindful Breath

Thich Nhat Hanh - Key West - 1997The date is November 2, 1997 and the sangha is holding a mindfulness retreat in Key West, Florida with the theme of Buddhist psychology. This is the first talk (100-minutes) where Thay introduces the attendees to the basic practices of mindfulness. It’s a wonderful teaching covering breathing, sitting, walking, and silence.

We begin with a basic introduction, along with instructions, to the practice. How can we practice mindful breathing? Why is mindful breathing important? Breathe, you are alive. How do we practice sitting meditation? When we sit, don’t struggle. Breathing and sitting can both be very enjoyable. Sitting is not to become someone else but to be aware that you are alive. This is enlightenment.

Do we know how to allow our body to rest? Do we know how to trust our bodies in order to rest?

To worry too much has become a habit for us? We have learned to worry too much. This energy of worry has become to strong and preventing the healing of our body and spirit. We also have a habit of rushing and restlessness. Buddhist meditation can help us deal with these habits of running and worry.

It is possible to live happily in the present moment. The boat of mindfulness can help us not to sink into the river of suffering. The energy of mindfulness that we can generate within us that we cultivate through meditation.

In addition to our meditation practice, we also have a sangha. What is the sangha? The sangha is another component of the boat that supports you to not sink into the river of suffering. Our brothers and sisters are a source of support. Sitting together. Eating together. Walking together. Breathing together.

The practice of mindfulness is, first of all, the practice of going back to the here and now. Our habit energies are obstacles to our going back to the here and now. The address of happiness, peace, and stability is the here and now.

Instructions for walking mediation. I have arrived. I have arrived. I am home. I am home.

Instructions for eating meditation and eating together in community. This too is an opportunity for being aware of our breathing and it is a moment of practice. A moment of joy. There is no waiting.

Listening to a dharma talk. This is an opportunity for the most precious seeds to grow in us. We don’t need to use our intellect. Allow the dharma rain to fall on your consciousness.

A short teaching on the historical and ultimate dimensions followed by Thay leading everyone with a song – “I Have Arrived, I am Home.”

The last topic is on the practice of purification of speech. How do we practice with silence during the first four days of the retreat. In the retreat, we will use a notebook to write down the things that we want to say – we can observe the habit energy in us. We can also use the notebook to communicate with others if it’s absolutely necessary. Learning to observe your feelings and ideas during this period of silence. Do you know how to observe and look deeply at your feelings? We can train ourselves to recognize and embrace our feelings.

The conditions of our lives don’t have to make us suffer and we can transform the situation.

If you appreciate this teaching, please consider making a donation to support the ongoing efforts of the online monastery. Please make a note with your donation that it was because of this talk.

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Sitting with Our Father and Mother

9534940088_e2381e04ac_oBefore the sixth dharma talk of the 21-Day Retreat: The Path of the Buddha at Plum Village in June 2009, Thich Nhat Hanh offered this guided meditation. It is a 10-minute meditation, so please find a place to sit and be fully present for the entire meditation.

Breathing in, I invite the Buddha to breathe with my lungs.
Breathing out, I invited the Buddha to sit with my back.

Buddha is breathing, Buddha is sitting.
I enjoy breathing, I enjoy sitting.

I know that the quality of the breathing, in the Buddha breath, is excellent.
I know the quality of his sitting is excellent.
I enjoy breathing. I enjoy sitting.

I am aware that my father is fully present in every cell of my body.
I invite my father to breathe in with me. Breathe out with me.
I would like to invite my father in me to sit with my back – this is my back, but it is also his back.
Father and son. Father and daughter. Breathing together.

Breathing in, I feel so light. Breathing out, I feel so free.
Daddy, do you feel as light as I do? Do you feel as free as I do?

I know that my mother is fully present in every cell of my body.
I invite my mother to breathe with my lungs, to sit with my back.
This is my back, but it is also hers.
Mother and son breathing in together. Mother and daughter breathing in together.
Mother and son breathing out together. Mother and daughter breathing out together.

Breathing in, I feel so light.
Mother, do you feel as light as I do?

Breathing out, I feel so free.
Mother, do you feel as free as I do?

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Four Energies and Mindful Educators

Thich Nhat Hanh along with the monks and nuns of Plum Village are on their first tour of Spain this month. An Educators Retreat at the University of Barcelona and this is the first talk providing an orientation to the practice taught by Thay. The date of the recording is May 9, 2014. The audio and the video are both available below.

We begin with an introduction to the practice of breathing and the role it plays in mindfulness practice.There is an energy of mindfulness that is born during the time we are breathing. Life is available in the present moment because the past is already gone the future has not yet come. To go home to the present moment is easy…breath in mindfully. We can get in touch with our body when we are breathing mindfully. Our body is the first wonder of life. Maybe when we get in touch with our body, we may notice tension in our body. If we notice this tension while breathing, we can release this tension while breathing out. If we learn to do this well, then we can learn to transmit this to our students. There is another energy of the practice called concentration. This energy is born from the energy of mindfulness. It let’s us focus. (Editor’s Note: short skip in the recording here) The third energy is insight. Insight arises from concentration and mindfulness. The French novelist Camus spoke of this through the story of the prisoner. Breathing in, I know I am alive. This is already an insight and it is a true miracle. Mindfulness allows us to live deeply each moment we are alive and has the power to liberate us.

Conditions of happiness. Can we see all the conditions of happiness right here in this moment? We can begin with mindfulness of our eyes. A good practitioner of mindfulness should be able to create a feeling of joy and a feeling of happiness at any moment. The practice of walking is another method to discover a moment of happiness. I have arrived.

True happiness is made of mindfulness, concentration and insight. And this will bring compassion, love, and joy.  This is the art of living. With this practice, you can also handle a painful feeling or emotion. Many of us consume in order to not encounter our suffering. We are afraid of our own suffering. Mindfulness can help you know how to suffer. How do we do this? We can use mindfulness to not be overwhelmed by the pain inside. We can recognize and embrace the pain. Once we learn this practice, we can do the same for our students and help our students to suffer less as well.

Understanding will always bring about compassion. Compassion is the fourth kind of energy and has the power to heal and transform anger. Once we know our own suffering transformed, how can we help another person to suffer less.

Thay draws a circle representing the school teacher. How do we work with difficult aspects in our school environments. We can start with our loved ones, then our colleagues, and finally our students. The first thing to do is going home to ourselves through the practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking. We can do this with the support of co-practitioners.

Instruction on walking meditation, mindful eating, and listening to the bell.

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The Way Out Is In

This talk from the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Sunday, March 30, 2014. The talk on this day is in English.

0:00 Present Moment
14:05 The Feelings
29:04 The Body
37:20 Mindfulness of Compassion (Listening)
1:12:45 Story of Suicide and Transformation

When you breath in, you bring your mind home to your body. A lot of time, your mind is not with your body. But when they are together, you are truly in the here and the now for your transformation and healing. It is wonderful be present and your breath becomes the object of your mind and you can become a free person. You can cultivate freedom. You don’t need to be influenced by your fear and anger. We can make good decisions. The bell of mindfulness can call you back to the present moment. Walking can also bring us to the present moment. Every step. This is the basic practice to touch the wonders of life. At Plum Village, we should learn to breathe and to walk in the present moment.

In the last talk, we learned the 7th and 8th exercises of mindful breathing. The 7th is being aware of the pain within myself. When we have a painful feeling, we know it! Do we know how to handle it or do we cover up the feelings with consumption? We can be stronger with the energy of mindfulness. The energy of mindfulness sees thee energy of pain. And the 8th exercise is to calm down the painful feeling. Holding the child of suffering – embracing tenderly.

What is exercises five and six? Five is to generate a feeling a joy. And the sixth is to generate happiness. We can always bring about a feeling of joy and happiness whenever we want. How? The oneness of body and mind. The sixth exercise is the art of happiness where the seventh and eighth are the art of suffering.

The first four exercises are about the body and the next four are about the feelings. The third is the awareness of body. When you go home to your body, you may notice pain and stress in your body. This makes you suffer. The fourth is to release the tension in your body. Calming your body. This takes care of our body. We them review the first two exercises. One week at Plum Village is enough time to learn the art.

Last time we also spoke about listening. When we have the energy of mindfulness and concentration we can look deeply into the nature of our own suffering. Understanding our own suffering lets us understand the suffering of our parents and our ancestors. We need mindfulness and concentration so we are not overwhelmed by the suffering of ourselves and others. This is the practice. Understanding brings about compassion. Everyone should learn to cultivate compassion. The practice of deep listening and loving speech can always restore communication and bring about reconciliation. What is loving speech? We practice mindfulness of compassion. Thay shares the story of being the Israelis and Palestinians together at Plum Village.

Thay then shares a story of a woman in America who wanted to commit suicide and how she was able to transform her suffering.

The way out, is in.

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The Breathing Room

This talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, March 27, 2014. The talk on this day is in English.

14:44 The Breathing Room
22:54 Inviting the Bell
33:10 Conditions of Happiness
43:30 Mindfulness of Suffering

Thich Nhat Hanh begins with a recollection of a retreat for children. During walking meditation, we proposed they use “yes, yes” and “thanks, thanks” for each of their steps. We can say yes and feel thankful. There are so many things we can say yes to. We can appreciate these things – our body, our eyes, etc. With our eyes we can see the blue sky and the mountains. The practice is breathing in, I am aware of my eyes and am grateful they are in good condition. We do the same with other parts of our body. Like our heart. With this awareness, we can take better care of our body and allow it to be restored. In the “Sutra on the Contemplations of the Body” the Buddha taught us how to look at all the parts of the body. We use mindfulness to project light onto every part of our body. This can bring us happiness, love, and compassion. Thay provides more instruction on this practice.

If you are a leader of a corporation, you may wish to incorporate and offer a session of total relaxation. This is not a loss of time. The same can be done by a school teacher for the students. Parents too, if they know the practice, can offer a session for the family. In a civilized society this can be very good. We can also create a tiny meditation hall in the home; a space where the bell can be located and we can practice in a safe space. Every time you feel restless or confused or irritated, we can walk to that place – the breathing room – and stop all the thinking and calm our body and mind. Thay recalls a story of how to open/close the door when he was a young novice that he then relayed to Thomas Merton.

In our small breathing room, we should also have a bell. This is a territory of mindfulness. There are four lines to learn when inviting the bell after we breath in and out three times before Inviting the Bell. Thay teaches us how to invite the bell and why mindful breathing is so important.

There are many conditions of happiness. In Buddhism, we have many versus to help us practice mindfulness. For example, for when turning on the water faucet. Are you aware of your conditions of happiness? Teaching continues on how this related to the breathing room and why it’s important for the family. This is the art of happiness.

This is part of the 7th & 8th mindfulness exercises in the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Mindful Breathing. We should not run away from our suffering. We can learn from our suffering. This ties right into the Four Noble Truths. We can learn to listen to our suffering without fear without running away through consumption. With mindfulness we have the energy to take care of our suffering.

The practice of looking and listening deeply. Meditation is the time to look and listen to understand our suffering. This brings about understanding and compassion. If you know how to suffer, you suffer much less. You cannot take happiness out of suffering and cannot take suffering out of happiness.

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The Voice of the Buddha

This talk from the New Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, March 20, 2014. The talk on this day is in English. In this talk we learn about taking refuge and exercises 5-8 from the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. Thay also teaches on inviting the bell (18-min) and the four qualities of happiness (13-min) – these two topics could be listened to independently from the other parts of the talk. Both the audio download and the video stream are available below. The time stamps listed here are for audio download.

0:00 Chanting
9:30 Inviting the Bell
27:02 Taking Refuge
37:27 Four Qualities of Happiness using Pebble Meditation
50:46 Practical Refuge
1:04:15 Mindful Breathing Exercises 5-8

When we hear the bell, we practice together listening to the bell. We invite the bell to sound. Before we invite, we breathe in and out to prepare three times. There is a verse to learn to be qualified as a bell master. We calm our body and calm our feelings. The sound of the bell is the voice of the Buddha inside calling us to come home to ourselves. If you are a bell master then please be generous. When we come home to ourselves, we can discover the island of self. The Buddha recommended, don’t rely on anyone or anything, rely on the island within. Every time we hear the bell, we can practice going home to the island within. We are protected. This is the practice of taking refuge. There is also the practice of deep listening. Every cell of your body can recognize and get in touch with your ancestors within. They can join you in listening to the bell. With this, peace can penetrator every cell. We can feel calm and light. Many people have a bell of mindfulness on their computer. It allows us to stop and breath in and out three times to arrive home in ourselves.

Last time we spoke of the mental formation called restlessness. The practice of mindful breathing and walking help us to calm down our feelings. In the Christian tradition, they call this resting in God. This is taking refuge. Taking refuge is an art. If you know how, you can have peace right away. The Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha are something solid. Very much the same idea as the Trinity for Christians. But resting does not mean doing nothing. Many people are looking for someone for refuge but many have chosen someone who is not stable. Rely on the island of yourself. Cultivate stability and solidity and also look for that in the other person. Learn how to breath and walk.

We have the practice of pebble meditation to cultivate the four qualities of happiness. The first is freshness – fresh as a flower. The second is stability – solid as a mountain. The third is peace/tranquility – still water. And the fourth is freedom – space. These qualities bring a happy person. The more you can let go, the freer you become.

I take refuge in the Buddha. What does that mean? Do we have an dea of the Buddha? Taking refuge in your in breath and out breath – this is much more concrete than an idea. With our breathing, we gain mindfulness, concentration, and insight. Buddha is mindfulness – this is taking refuge. This is the island within yourself. You can also take refuge in your steps. While making that step, you generate concentration and insight. I take refuge in my in breath. I take refuge in my steps. This is not abstract and it is our Buddhanature. Nirvana. No birth and no death. We are nirvana in the here and the now.

Review of the first four exercises of mindful breathing. We continue with the next set of exercises. The fifth and sixth exercises are to generate a feeling of joy and happiness. This is the art of happiness. The seventh is to recognize a painful feeling. We should not run away from a painful feeling or emotion. We don’t need to be afraid because we can also generate an energy of mindfulness. And the eighth is to calm our painful feeling or emotion.

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