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.

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Because I Like It!

With Thay’s gentle and compassionate humor, we discover the teaching of Right Diligence. This is the eighth talk during the 21-Day Retreat with the theme Path of the Buddha. The date is June 11, 2009 and we are at the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village.

The Four Noble Truths are an exact science – there is right view and wrong view. For the Fourth Noble Truth, the Path and well being, we have Right View. For the Second, ill being, we have Wrong View. They are opposites. Thay reviews Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, and Right Livelihood in the context of well being and ill being.

In this talk we continue with a teaching on Right Diligence. What is the difference between diligence and effort? Intensive versus regularity. Why is diligence better (easier) than effort? How does Right Diligence bring well being? What is Wrong Diligence and why does it bring ill being? Practical tips for practice are offered.

The story of Frederick, a businessman, and his wife Claudia and their son Phillip. The story concludes with a wonderful teaching on walking and carrying peace in every step.

True Diligence

Consciousness Diagram
Source: The Mindfulness Bell, Summer 2008

True Diligence is often described in four steps.

First, the unbeneficial seeds are in us. Be skillful to not let these seeds arise in us. Thay teaches on consciousness – store and mental consciousness. We can practice to lullaby these seeds of suffering to sleep.

Second, if by chance that seed of suffering has manifested then we need to do something to let it go back to store consciousness. Don’t allow it to stay too long. Not suppressing but helping it to go back. This is appropriate attention.

Third, we invite the beneficial seeds to come up. Like a good friend who you have not seen in a long time. Send an invitation to dissipate the darkness. Joy and happiness are always possible and give them a chance to manifest. How? One method is a sangha.

Fourth, when those beneficial seeds are present then we try to keep them present as long as possible. Help them to be strong. Again, what is a method for practicing this step?

Generosity

We continue the talk with a teaching on the second mindfulness training and how we consider the revision. The second mindfulness training is about generosity. How does it relate to right diligence? What is practicing generosity? Stealing?

Is it possible to have no more desire? Are you aware of your conditions of happiness? The talk concludes with a short teaching on the Sutra of the White Clad Disciple.

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The Arrow of Desire

February 10, 2011. 92-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from the Dharma Cloud Temple, Upper Hamlet, Plum Village. We begin with 17-minutes of chanting and singing.

Sources of happiness. Freshness of the morning air. Water from the tap. Mindfulness is the water and air for the mind. With mindfulness you can look deeper and you can be happier. From there we gain insight from our awareness of breathing. And this insight can help you to undo knots inside you. We can face our fear. We have non-fear.

The perfect non-fear helps us to overcome the fear totally. There are many links that bind us: fear, irritation, anger, doubt, arrogance, desire, etc. Non-fear means we are free of these bonds. Call each one it’s true name.

The next monastic ordination family. There are eight aspirants at Upper Hamlet. They will be called Violet Bamboo family. We must practice like a bamboo; nothing inside. Empty all the knots and wounds inside. We must remove the arrow of craving and be empty like bamboo.

Sutra reference. Verses 33-36 of The Most Peaceful Dwelling Sutra.

33. If you want to completely liberate yourself from fear and end all internal formations and doubts, You must know that if you haven’t pulled out the arrow of desire, then you haven’t understood yet that this body is suffering.

34. Among the highest things that people call the most divine Nirvana is the highest. You must cut off all ideas and attachments and do not be deceived by words.

35. Knowing how to refrain or not to refrain that is the highest practice of letting go. If in our heart there are thoughts of practice the shell will be cracked.

36. Of all offerings, that of the Dharma is the most precious. Of all kinds of happiness, that happiness based on the Dharma is the greatest. Of all strengths, patience is the most powerful because it can put an end to attachment and bring the happiness of Nirvana.

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

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Ten Days

January 30, 2011. 85-minute Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh, from Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France. We begin with 7-minutes of chanting. Thay reads some Vietnamese Poetry and a love story that takes place during the Lunar New Year.

Breathing in, I dwell on my unborn
Breathing out, no birth and death

Speaks of dualistic views and uses God as the basis for the analysis. Learning to touch the unborn. This is it. Sudden enlightenment.

Today we learn two more particular mental formations. The first is about deep desire, expectation of waiting for something. Feeling very empty. Lack of something. It’s why we check our email. Thay uses a story from a 1995 (Vietnamese) short story to make the point. The title is Ten Days. Ten days of expectation. It’s quite a funny story about young love and waiting.

Drops of Emptiness.

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

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