Practicing in a Stressful Environment

This 71-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Sunday, February 8, 2004. The monastic and lay community are practicing together during the 2004 Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

Thay has received many letters from those participating in the retreat. Some contain joy and some contain their difficulties. We begin with a review of some of these letters and picks three questions. 

If nothing is created and nothing dies, where is the beginning? What are the elements that form the beginning?

Continuing the teaching on the sixteen exercises of mindful breathing in the recent weeks. The last four are about perceptions, and this question is about our perceptions. A contemplation on the nature of reality. The objects of our perception, and look deeply, in order to touch the ultimate dimension. 

I often feel I have no reason to continue to live. If there is no birth, no death then I feel ready to live. 

This question too has to do with the ultimate dimension. This too is a good object of meditation. We can inquire about our body and our mind. We can water the seeds of love and understanding. This question is very important. 

For 15-years I have been working as a medical doctor with two other doctors in a health center. We provide care for immigrants, refugees and people who are destitute. The more patients who come, the more it costs the health center because the government only pays for a few per year. This leads to many long days, house calls, and financial challenges. Personally, I am tired and stressed out. 

We can have compassion and willingness to help, but this can lead to burnout. We cannot continue like this. Thay shares a story of the congressman who practices walking meditation in the capitol. 

How do we respond? The first thing is to look at how do we organize our day. We have to know how to preserve ourselves in order to continue. We do this with our practice – eating, walking, etc. Do we allow time for this? Can we incorporate into our daily life? The next step is to call upon others to help. We don’t need to do this alone. We could learn how to setup a Sangha to nourish our practice – an island and refuge for us. 

Thich Nhat Hanh

Last time we spoke about how to take care of our feelings. The four exercises in the realm of feelings are about knowing how to bring the feeling of joy and happiness. 

Five Kinds of Energy or the Five Powers 

  1. Faith (or confidence/trust) 
  2. Diligence
  3. Mindfulness
  4. Concentration
  5. Insight 

We begin to learn about store consciousness and the seeds contained therein. Followed by our mind consciousness and selective watering. Appropriate attention. Positive and negative seeds. 

Let us use the five power to create the source of happiness. And we can add “letting go” as the sixth power. 

Now we come to the 7th exercise – recognition of the mental formation. That feeling or emotion has its base in store consciousness as a seed (bija). The first function of mindfulness is to be aware, to recognize. It is a practice of love. 

  1. Recognize
  2. Embrace
  3. Relief
  4. Transformation 

In the seventh exercise, we are only doing the first step above. 

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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Practice Means Enjoyment

The monastic and lay community are practicing together during the 2004 Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery. This 76-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Wednesday, January 28, 2004. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

Today we have a session of questions and answers from the retreat attendees. 

  1. A question of a dream and a sacred story. Practice means enjoyment. This is a question from an author of children’s books. 
  2. How do we practice to remain in the pure land? How do we cultivate our merits? This was a question from Sister Dang Nghiem asking about remaining in the community as a monastic. What can we offer as monastics? Thay teaches on three kinds of offering – money, dharma, and non-fear – and the four kinds of pleasures. 
  3. A question about sangha-building, conflict, and not escaping into our lives. Where does individual practice intersect with sangha practice? Can there be harmony in the sangha when there isn’t harmony in the sangha? Thay shares briefly on the seven steps of reconciliation and how the lay students can use the vinaya to build lay sangha. A mindfulness practice center is inside. 
  4. A question about negativity. As a person who works with children and adults with very severe disabilities.  They often have very negative things to say based on their life experiences. As I write a book about their experience, do I share of these negative aspects?
  5. A question about action – my role and contribution in the world to reduce suffering, particularly in social justice action.

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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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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Surrender Yourself to the Present Moment

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 55-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Wednesday, January 14, 2004 during the second week. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

We begin with a reminder of the gatha we learned in the prior dharma talk. The gatha can be used when we are practicing sitting mediation, standing, walking, and lying down – the four positions of the body. We can listen to the music of our breathing in and breathing out. 

The Practice of Stopping

This is practice of stopping. This does just mean stopping the mind, but it also applies to our body. Because our body also has a habit of running; a feeling of restlessness in the body. And the body contains the mind along with the mind containing the body. Helping the body to stop is also helping the mind to stop. And this is why meditation includes the body. The Buddhist term for stopping is samatha.  We also need some insight, vipasyana, in order to truly stop. These are like two wings of a bird.

The first insight is to stop running. Being in a retreat environment is a good opportunity to learn how to stop. With our practice of walking, each step is a healer. We can totally surrender ourself to the present moment. To the power of healing that is inherent in our body. In the Plum Village tradition, we offer the practice of total and deep relaxation. We use the techniques of mindful breathing to allow our body to rest. We embrace our body with tenderness. This is a practice of love. Darling, I am home. Thay takes us through some parts of meditation on the body. We also learn some of the exercises found in the Sutra on Contemplation of the Body in the Body. This practice can be very pleasant and healing. 

Stopping means to be fully present. In the here and the now. And when you are fully present in the here and now, then you are present to being fully alive. And vipasyana is what helps us to see this. Another function of samatha is to recognize: to recognize what is happening in the present moment. When we are able to recognize, then the “blue sky” is always there. We come to Deer Park so that we can learn to practice stopping. 

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 and Walking in the Here and Now

In early 2004, Thich Nhat Hanh and two hundred monastics came to Southern California to spend several months at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California. The monastic community is practicing during the Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 with the lay community. This 80-minute dharma talk takes place on Sunday, January 11, 2004 at the beginning of the second week. We are in the recently opened Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

We begin with an overview of how to begin the day in the monastery — the bell, walking meditation, sitting meditation, and chanting. How much time should we allow for these activities? Do we need to wait to begin meditation? When you hear the bell announcing sitting meditation, you begin right away with your walking. What is our practice when we are walking? What is our practice when we arrive at the mediation hall? Thay shares and outlines the Plum Village practice.

What can the dharma teacher do to contribute to the practice? The dharma teachers have a responsibility to be present for the orientation. To help support those who have newly arrived. The dharma teachers can help assure that people practice in the practice center (so we don’t become a “non-practice” practice center!).

A reporter recently asked Thay, what happens after we die? The question is kind of a trap. What happens in the present moment? The answer to both these questions is the same. And if we can answer the second question, then there is no need to answer the previous question. What is our practice to be fully present in the here and now — to become a free person. And with our practice, we can then free our ancestors.

What is the role of the sangha in helping with your practice of sitting meditation? Practicing with the wonders of life in the practice center with the support of the sangha. Thay reflects on the meaning of the kingdom of God. Transforming our homes, sanghas, and practice centers into a pure land. A place of refuge where we can experience brotherhood and sisterhood. To enjoy deeply every moment of our daily life.

The practice of walking, sitting, and chanting is for the care of the present moment. It is not for the future. There is no way to happiness, happiness is the way. There is no way to enlightenment, enlightenment is the way. We don’t sit for anything and do not expect anything. Just be present in the here and now. That is good enough. Don’t be caught by the idea of the Buddha that is outside of you — you are already a Buddha.

Living and working in harmony with nature, plants and animals, at Deer Park Monastery. Even though we are many hundreds, we can walk in the pure land in harmony with nature. How do we practice walking meditation?

I have arrived.
I am home.
I am solid.
I am free.
In the ultimate I dwell.

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True Love and the Four Noble Truths

October 14, 2013. 80-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California during the 2013 Nourishing Great Togetherness teaching tour. This is the third dharma talk for the 6-day retreat with the theme Finding Our True Home.

The Four Noble Truths. The first is ill being. What is so noble about ill being? We can find a way out through the source of ill being. From the source, you can see the making of ill being. This is the second noble truth. When you see the path that leads to ill being then you can see the path out of ill being. It is a path of joy and happiness. The path of well being. Therefore, according the teaching of interbeing we have both ill being and well being.

  1. Ill being
  2. The Making of ill being (ignoble path)
  3. Well being
  4. Path of well being (noble path)

Right View. A deep insight. What exactly is Right View? It is when we are not caught by the notion of ill being and well being. Interbeing. If we look at the Diamond Sutra, we are urged to transcend the four notion. The first notion is self – in order to do so, we have to see that self is only made of non-self elements.

The Four Elements of True Love. Loving Kindness. Equanimity – Non-discrimination. Joy. Compassion. How do we offer our true presence to our beloved ones? To love means to be there. Thay shares the practice of Pebble Meditation and how it relates to true love as well as the Five Mantras we can use in our relationships.

  1. Darling, I am here for you.
  2. Darling, I know you are there and it makes me happy.
  3. Darling, I know you suffer and I am here for you.
  4. Darling, I am suffering and I need your help.
  5. Darling, this is a happy moment.

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The Noblest Aspiration is to Help People Suffer Less

October 13, 2013. 105-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California during the 2013 Nourishing Great Togetherness teaching tour. This is the second dharma talk for the 6-day retreat with the theme Finding Our True Home. We begin with two chants from the monastics.

Brief overview of the Four Kinds of Nutriments from yesterday’s talk followed by further explanation on volition followed by consciousness.

What is the ultimate concern with our lives? It is important to sit with our partner, our loved ones, to discover what this might be. How can we help each other realize our dream?

Suffering is the first awareness…the first noble truth. Many don’t know how to handle the pain in ourselves. We have the tendency to run away from ourselves and seek forgetfulness. In doing so, we become alienated from those around us. If we can’t take care of ourselves, we cannot take care of our loved ones. Further teaching on how this might apply to a corporate leader. Maybe a new kind of volition can be born. We are losing ourselves in consumptions and the corporation is helping people run away from themselves when they could take it as their aim to help people come home to themselves.

Plum Village operates without any personal telephone, personal bank account and yet happiness is possible with simple living. We don’t have to consume a lot if we have enough brotherhood, sisterhood, and mutual understanding and compassion. A corporation, like Plum Village, can become a happy community. The business leader should come home to herself – that is the first step. When you take care of yourself, then you can take care of others.

Deep and compassionate listening. First, we have to listen to ourselves and take care of the wounded child inside. Then we can take care of our family. Loving speech – the object of the fourth mindfulness training – can become natural if we learn how to use this type of speech. We can experience the miracle of reconciliation. Going back to ourselves, recognizing our suffering, and when we are lighter we can more easily understand the suffering in the other person, and then it is very easy to use loving speech. We provide this type of teaching at our Institute of Applied Buddhism in Europe and Hong Kong.

The role of a sangha in applying these teachings. We need a sangha is very important. We can transform our corporation into a sangha as well. The employees may not only be working to get a good salary. The volition of the leader can be shared with all the members of the corporation. The noblest aspiration is to help people to suffer less. As a good corporate leader, you have to listen to the many thousands of people in your corporation. You can start small and train a small group who can learn the art of deep listening and loving speech.

The political leader can do the same. Story of talking with Martin Luther King. We use the word sangha, but he used beloved community. It is the same concept. Without a sangha, the Buddha could not do too much. The same is true with a corporate leader, a school teacher, or a political leader. Civilization is going in the wrong direction because we are running away from ourselves, our families, our society, and our planet. We can help humanity to come home to themselves and move in the right direction.

The fourth kind of nutriment is consciousness – individual and collection consciousness. In Buddhism we talk about store consciousness and mind consciousness – the two parts. The seeds of our store consciousness that become a mental formation in our mind consciousness. For example, the seed of compassion. The art of suffering and the transformation of suffering. The practice of selective watering – determine to only water the good seeds in yourself. We practice not to give a negative seed a chance to manifest – don’t water the negative seed. If they do manifest, we try to help them return to store consciousness as quickly as possible. Our practice is one of non-violence – we don’t try to fight or suppress the feeling, but we recognize and embrace the negative seed with mindfulness.  The second method is to invite the opposite mental formation to come up (aka, changing the CD). Third, we water only the good seeds in ourselves and each other. The fourth method is when a good seed is present, we try to keep it there for as long as possible. Transformation at the base with Right Diligence.

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Our Ultimate Concern

October 12, 2013. 100-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California during the 2013 Nourishing Great Togetherness teaching tour. This is the first dharma talk for the 6-day retreat with the theme Finding Our True Home. We begin with two chants from the monastics.

This morning we heard the Sutra on Knowing a Better Way to Live Alone. What does this mean? Is this a practice of solitude? To live alone means not to have a second person in you. Maybe an object of desire or craving. To live alone is to be completely satisfied with the here and now. There is no need to run anymore. This is the practice of aimlessness.

I have arrived. Enlightenment. Happiness. Joy. They are all right here and right now. Walking meditation. What prevents us from arriving? Recognizing habit energy and why is this important. We all have habit energy that push is to do or say something. We can name it and not have to push it away using our mindfulness. We can create a new habit of mindfulness.

Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something – the object of our mindfulness. As we are mindful, concentration is born. Where there is mindfulness there is the beginning of concentration. And with these two energies, we can have insight.

We touch our true home in every moment. Touching the present moment. We can use walking meditation to learn more about touching the present moment.

The Buddha taught about four kinds of food (Nutriments) and that nothing can survive without food. Edible food is the first. We eat I’m a way to retain compassion in our heart. We can practice mindful eating to reduce the suffering in the world. The second kind is sense impressions. It’s what we “eat” with our eyes, ears, nose, and mind. We have to careful what we consume in ourselves and in our society. The third is volition – the will to act. Our deepest kind of desire and can give us a lot of energy. More of an ultimate concern for our life, something meaningful. What is our volition? This can be a good nutriment or a negative nutriment. This is a topic Thay will offer to Google and other corporate leaders next week.

Mindful Breathing. The first exercise of mindful breathing is awareness of our breathing, and the second is following our breathing. This brings concentration. The third is being aware of my body and the fourth we calm our body. With the fifth and sixth we get to the domain of feelings – joy and happiness. What are the conditions of happiness. The seventh is recognizing our suffering and the eighth is calming our suffering.

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Breathing and Interbeing

September 18, 2011. 115-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh from the Ocean of Peace Mediation Hall at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA. The sangha is on the North American Tour and this is the second dharma talk for the Vietnamese “Opening the Heart” retreat. The talk was originally given in Vietnamese and this is the English translation provided by Sr. Dang Nghiem (except the first few minutes).

We begin with a guided meditation and see our father as 5-yr old child. We cannot take the father out of the son. Today, we continue learning about the breath by using the Sutra on Full Awareness of Breathing. Thay walks us through the first eight exercises; the first two being about right mindfulness. The fifth and sixth are about joy and happiness. We get there by letting go. Let go of our ideas. We can also look for conditions of happiness. concentration can also bring. Then insight.

The talk ends with a few stories on Interbeing nature of our families, true love, and understanding.

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When You Breathe You Can Already Celebrate Life

September 11, 2011. 120-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh from the Ocean of Peace Mediation Hall at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA. The sangha is on the North American Tour and this is the final dharma talk for the Together We Are One retreat.

We begin with a guided meditation looking deeply at ourselves and our ancestors.
We need to cultivate love and compassion. Love and compassion are an essential element of happiness. Maitri has the power to bring happiness. We must understand our suffering, we cannot understand the suffering if others. We must begin with ourselves.

In true live there is no individual suffering; you can’t say it’s not my problem. Understanding is the foundation of love and mindfulness and concentration are the two elements that can bring about understanding.

The roots of terrorism ate wrong views, wrong perceptions. We use loving speech and compassionate listening to help get rid of wrong views. This too is the practice of true love. The path proposed by the Buddha is a noble eightfold path. It has Mindfulness, concentration, and insight. We can travel to the shore of liberation and non-fear. Paramita.

Right view is an element of the noble eightfold path. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are a very concrete method to have right view. Thay talks about being and non-being as it relates to out way of thinking. Right thinking is another part of the path. To continue the explanation, Thay tells a story of a cloud. The nature of a cloud is no-birth, no-death. Our cloud has not come from non-being. A cloud can never die. Being and non-being are just notions. When conditions are sufficient, I manifest myself. My nature is non-local. Right view can liberate us from fear, despair, anger.

In the mind of discrimination, we always want to choose only happiness. We want to ban the suffering and only have happiness. But happiness and suffering inter-are. It is the understanding of the suffering that compassion/happiness can arrive. We do not discriminate against suffering. Birth is now. Death is now. We can touch that fact. Being and non-being are notions and cannot be applied to reality.

Right speech, the next in the path, means speech without discrimination. Next we look at Right Action. What we do with our body should reflect our right view. No discrimination. The same can be said about Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
Finally, Thay talks about karma.

In addition to the audio, a video version is available.

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