We Contain the Whole Cosmos

This is a 78-minute dharma talk from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism in the 21st Century” retreat. This is the sixth and final talk on May 11, 2008 and the talk is offered in English.

Thay and Su Co Chan Khong
Photo by Paul Davis

The Dharma is something you need to come and see for yourself. It is experiential. Meditation holds the keys. We can unlock the door of reality. Among them are the Three Doors of Liberation. Emptiness. Signlessness. Aimlessness. These are the keys.

What are these Three Doors of Liberation?

Along with this, we take a deeper look at several pairs of opposites (in the context of signlessness).

  1. birth and death
  2. being and nonbeing
  3. coming and going
  4. sameness and otherness

We can liberated from our fear, our anger, our despair.

The story of the flame is quite humorous and enjoyable.

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Questions and Answers

This is a 117-minute session of questions and answers with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism in the 21st Century” retreat. The date is May 10, 2008 and the questions and answers are offered in English. 

Questions

  1. How would applied Buddhism look to the healthcare professional? (3:25)
  2. How do we deal with guilt? (8:07)
  3. My father cares about no-one and has no interest in life. He also has lots of anger. How can I help him? (17:50)
  4. A question on mindfulness of joy. Can you explain a little more about joy as it relates too attachment to the joy? (23:30)
  5. Experiencing suffering in not being able to conceive a child. (32:30)
  6. A question about medication and depression. In reference to what Thay taught in a previous talk. Sometimes there is also a physiological aspect to depression. Concern that Thay’s teaching may be misunderstood. Can you clarify? (41:24)
  7. Why does life exist? Why are we here? (56:33)
  8. As a young person, how can I use the practice and be able to share with other young people? Is there some more creative language that might speak more to young people? (1:00:00)
  9. How do we forgive someone whom we have never known intimately and have no way of communicating? For the suffering they have caused. (1:08:15)
  10. Having recently traveled in Laos and meeting many people impacted by the war and areas where unexploded ordinance remains. This caused anger and sadness to arise in me. Is this karma? Is this a time when we can be righteously angry? (1:16:03)
  11. There are young people who grow-up in a loving and supportive environment, but when they travel for university or work, they will face really negative pressure. This is a challenge. We should vaccinate our mind. Should we give children challenges so they are better prepared? (1:25:50)
  12. What is your intention with offering the Five Mindfulness Trainings? (1:35:30)
  13. Question about the 5th Mindfulness Training. This training watered by feeling of fear based on my upbringing as a Catholic. (1:45:30)
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Love in Action

2008-05-09 | Love in Action

This is a 78-minute dharma talk from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism in the 21st Century” retreat. This is the fifth talk on May 9, 2008 and the talk is offered in English.

Teaching and Social Work

In 1964, Thay was teaching at Colombia University and my friends in Vietnam asked me to return home. In Saigon there was a school (School of Youth for Social Service) to teach engaged Buddhism and serve the communities in Vietnamese countryside. An expression of Love in Action. They did not want sponsorship from the government and didn’t want to be involved in the war. Inspired by compassion. Nonviolence and rural development. It started with 300 workers and expanded to 10,000 workers — these were volunteers. Thay shares some of the work they did during this time and where they learned to do this work. Some of these social workers died in service and there is a memorial at the Dharma Cloud Temple (Chua Phâp Van) in Ho Chi Minh City. Thay talks of the spiritual dimension to this social work.

This is where the Order of Interbeing arose and Thay talks of the first members and the first ordination.

In 1966, That was invited by Cornell University to teach a series of lectures. The purpose was also to help Thay get out of Vietnam and to speak out about the war in Vietnam. This was sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. After this, Thay was not allowed to return to Vietnam. At this time was intensifying and a young OI member immolated of herself – her name was Nhat Chi Mai. Also several members of the school were murdered.

Nhat Chi Mai Memorial

The School for Social Service setup pilot villages. One village was bombed multiple times after re-building. To help with farming, health, and economics. They also setup refugee camps to assist with resettlement of thousands of people. This too is Engaged Buddhism. And we must also maintain our spiritual development. Thay remained in France and raised money to help fund the work of the school and bring awareness of the real war in Vietnam.

After we setup Plum Village (1982) in France, they offered retreats for veterans, health professionals, business people, members of war-torn nations, congresspeople, school teachers, and young people. Buddhism is for all walks of society. We also reach into serving those who are imprisoned.

Releasing the tension. Holding the emotion. Heal yourself. Heal your family. This too is Engaged Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is our business in every minute and every hour. It can even be practiced in a normal fashion, without appearing religious.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Manifestation-Only Buddhism

The first practice of Right Diligence is: the negative seeds, let them sleep. Don’t water them. They become weaker and weaker. This is an art. It is the practice of Right Diligence. It is continued practice.

Today we introduce the concept of manas. Sometimes this consciousness is called ‘the lover.’ It is born from a number of unwholesome seeds. For example, feelings of superiority, inferiority, and equality. We learn of subject, object, and emptiness. Thanks to emptiness everything is possible. But manas ignores this. Manas believes you have a self. It doesn’t see Interbeing. Manas is always seeking pleasure. It is always trying to run away from suffering and ignores the goodness of suffering. No mud. No lotus. Interbeing. We need the Wisdom of Nondiscrimination (gained through meditation).

Linked with Right Thinking and Mindful Consumption.

Changing the Peg

The second practice of Right Diligence is when a negative seed does arise, we help return the mental formation to our store consciousness. How? Thay provides an example. Change the peg. Mindful breathing and invite another mental formation to arise. Coming to a retreat is a good way to water a lot of positive seeds. Create a positive environment. We can do this at home too. Listen to a dharma talk, practice chanting, mindful breathing, etc.

Even with depression. Yes, it is more difficult but it is possible. The Buddha said, nothing can survive without food. By the way we live. Cut off those things that are the cause. Inquire about the mental formations.

A Wholesome Life

The third practice is to give the positive seeds a chance. Help them to manifest. Do something to touch them and to water them. They may be covered up with many layers of fear, worry, etc. This is compassionate.

And the fourth is to allow any wholesome mental formation that is present, keep it as long as possible. Why replace them? Let them stay.

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Joy and Ease for Enlightenment

This is a 82-minute dharma talk with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh from Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism” retreat. This is the third talk on May 7, 2008 and the talk is offered in English. 

Walking Meditation

How can we enjoy walking? How can we use breathing?

Every step is life. 
Every step is a miracle. 
Every step is healing. 
Every step is freedom. 

We learn how to use this gatha with our walking – whether alone or in a group.

Walking in Hanoi with Thay on May 12, 2008.
Photo by Paul Davis

Seven Factors of Awakening

The Buddha taught of the Seven Factors of Enlightenment. Buddhism is about enlightenment and mindfulness is already enlightenment. Awareness of breathing is already enlightenment.  

We explore mindfulness, joy, and ease. How does this link with the Four Noble Truths? Ill-being and well-being. Relaxation, lightness, and peace. We have methods for reducing stress. This is the path – The Path of Well Being. We have very concrete practices to assist.  For example, the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing. In this talk, we touch on several of the methods for breathing. This is a Noble Path.

You don’t have to be a scholar, you simply need to be a practitioner. We have all experienced ill-being. How can we do this as practitioners? 

Engaged Buddhism in Vietnam

About 39-minutes into the talk, we turn back toward the history of engaged Buddhism. In the 1950s, Thay began writing about religious belief and society. In the mid-60s, we established the Order of Interbeing arising out of war and ideologies.  We can look at the precepts of the Order as a direct response. What is the teaching on views from the Buddha? To be free from views is a basic foundation of Buddhism. In 1965, I wrote the book Lotus in a Sea of Fire. The war in Vietnam was raging. Our enemies are not man, it is hate and violence. We needed more international support to hear us say we don’t want this war. The peace movement in Vietnam was the lotus. The book was released underground in Vietnam. Sister Chân Không was arrested for having the book. In 1964, we also establish the School for Youth and Social Service to focus on education, health, economics, and organization. 

Thay shares of the creation of a new group for today’s youth – now known as Wake Up!  And there are also new courses coming from the Institute of Applied Buddhism. These are building upon these early days in Vietnam. 

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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You are Both Depression and Mindfulness

This is a 96-minute dharma talk with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh from Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism” retreat. This is the second talk on May 6, 2008 and the talk in offered in English. We begin with a teaching on mental formations and the roots of our ill-being before moving toward the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path. 

Samskara. 

A Buddhist technical term. Means formation. Physical, biological, and mental. What is a formation? Recognizing that all formations are impermanent. When we observe a formation, we should be able to see this impermanent nature. 

Mental Formations

In the Plum Village tradition, we talk of 51 mental formations. There are positive formations – compassion, loving kindness, joy, etc. These are wholesome mental formations. As practitioners, can we recognize and help them to manifest? We also have negative mental formations – craving, anger, hate, jealousy, etc. In our practice, we refrain from watering these negative formations. Further, there are also indefinite mental formations – they can be wholesome or unwholesome. 
Practicing meditation is a way to recognize the mental formation. Thay teaches examples of how to do this practice of awareness with mental formations. Mindfulness. In the present moment. 

Bija

These are seeds we all carry. For example, we have a seed of anger. It may not be present as a mental formation right now, but it is a seed in our consciousness. These seeds can become a mental formation. Learning to water the wholesome seeds so they may arise as a mental formation. 

The two layers of consciousness – Store and Mind. The seeds live in store. With the practice, we can water wholesome seeds in store and help them manifest into kind consciousness. Thay teaches this is greater detail along with concrete examples. 

Mindfulness of our mental formations. An example of depression. No fighting between mindfulness and depression. It is simply to recognize. And then to embrace with tenderness. This is the energy of depression. And this is the energy of mindfulness. This is our practice. Supporting through non-duality and non-violence. Both seeds are you. You are both depression and mindfulness. 

Mindfulness, Concentration, Insight

In the Sutra the Four Establishments of Mindfulness, the Buddha teaches to begin with the body. Today we move into the second realm of practice. Aware of the feelings and emotions. And then take good care of them. Mindfulness has the function to recognize, to hold, and bring relief. It also carries the energy of concentration. 

Mindfulness leads to concentration. With concentration, you can take a deep look at your feelings and the. discover the roots of what is. This brings insight – liberation. This only comes if you have strong concentration. This begins with mindfulness. 

Roots of Ill-Being and the Noble Eightfold Path

Coming home to the present moment. To recognize ill-being as it is. The first noble truth. Through looking at ill-being, we can discover the second noble truth. Craving. Hate. Ignorance. Wrong perception. Lack of communication. What is the cause of our ill-being? Do we know how to live like a Buddha? To bring a spiritual dimension to our daily life? What are the methods of removing wrong perceptions? Even in the case of war and terrorism. 

Consumption, developing countries, large populations, meat industry, and learning to reduce our consumption. From the roots of ill-being we can discover the path. By practicing deeply the first and the second noble truths we can discover the fourth noble truth. Using the Five Mindfulness Trainings to guide us. Protecting life and the practice of love. Thay offers a summary of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. 

In the noble eightfold path, the Buddha recommends Right View. This is the insight of interbeing. And once you have this insight, you discover Right Thinking. Right Speech. Right Action.

Engaged Buddhism can be seen in the light of the Four Noble Truths. It responds to suffering. It responds to ill-being. With a noble path. Helping beings in countless ways.

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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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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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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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The World We Are

Thank you for patience in our posting a dharma talk from our teacher. Today we are happy to offer a talk for the new year. This 63-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh is from December 31, 2008 at Plum Village, Lower Hamlet, Dharma Nectar Temple. The theme of the talk is about interbeing and the world we are.

It’s the last day of the year. Can you believe it? Where does it go? And from what direction does the next year come? Questions are interesting and important. And in the teaching of the Buddha, we learn of no-coming and no-going.

Thay shares a story of his walking meditation from Still Sitting Hut to the temple at Son Ha, down the hill. Life is everywhere. Seeing also how the oak leaves become the soil. There is a lot of happiness in seeing and observing these things. Why? Because then Thay is not afraid of dying! Life is everywhere, inside and all around us.

Teaching on giving – there is the giver, the gift, and the receiver. Illustrated by the corn seed. And that of our parents. Is there a distinction between the giver, gift, and receiver? The emptiness in giving. Another illustration, the left and the right. Everything is inside everything else.

How do we love? And healing and forgiveness? Every thought is considered action. You can heal the world by right thinking. Your thought can be the giver of life. Our right thinking is already action toward healing and forgiveness. We the also have right speech – also a healing action. Be the giver of life. We can profit right away.

Right action can be also be seen in a triple aspect – thinking, speaking, and acting. This is our continuation, our karma. This is retribution – two aspects of retribution are taught.

We never die. Whether we like it or not. But we can continue beautifully. You are your environment. The oak leaf becoming the soil teaches us this – the oak leaf becomes the soil.

The World We Have, recently published by Parallax Press, might have a better title as “The World We Are.”

As you walk around, look at everything as yourself.

In the closing minutes of the talk, Thay speaks to a handout of personal commitments that we can make to better support the environment in the coming year. A version of this handout is available on the Earth Holder website under Personal Commitments.

Happy New Year!

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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