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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Happiness is Made of these Moments

This 74-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Sunday, February 1, 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.

In the process of renewing Buddhism, many people disagreed with me. Today, Thay offers some words on renewing Christianity. The teaching of living deeply in the present moment is also very clear in the gospel. We should take care of today. Living happily in the present moment is possible. Our basic practice during this Rainy Season Retreat is this: living happily in the present moment. If the Buddha is there, the pure land is there too. If God is there, then the kingdom of God is there too. This practice is not difficult. Mindfulness will help us be in the present moment. Thay proposed that theologians and Christian teachers offer us the teaching and practice to help us live in the present moment. The same is said to Buddhist teachers. Walking and contemplating in the pure land or the Kingdom of God. Then we no longer have to run after fame, power, wealth, and sex. 

Thich Nhat Hanh smiling during his teaching.

The teaching should be embodied by the teacher. The life of the teacher can then be authentic. If you are Dharma Teacher, you have to embody the teaching of living happily in the present moment. If you want others to be able to stop suffering and to live happily. Every moment of our daily life can be seen as a miracle. Thay offers a few examples of how we embody the practice. 

If you are beginner, a new practitioner, there are brothers and sisters who are more experienced. And these more experienced practitioners can show how we can live in the present moment. Mindfulness and concentration bring about happiness, solidity, understanding, and compassion. And this will nourish us and the other people around us. We can help those around us. Thay offers some examples of how this is practiced. Practicing is helping the sangha. 

There are those who have received the Five Trainings, and yet sometimes there are those who have not  received the trainings who may be more solid in their practice. We can learn from these students because their present in the sangha is a blessing too. It makes the sangha more beautiful and a better refuge. It’s not because of have received the Five Trainings that makes us more important. Anyone can be the teacher. Our teacher is a little bit everywhere. Signlessness. Not caught by the form. The same is true for the Order of Interbeing member – those without the brown jacket may be better practitioners than us. When we wear the brown jacket, we have to be more careful and embody the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Our real value, as members of the Order of Interbeing, is how we practice these trainings. In order to do this, we have to be solid in our daily practice and see our teacher in others. As members of the Order, we have a duty of setting up a sangha. We have to do the work of sangha building. The sangha is protecting and supporting us. So, whether you have received the Five Trainings or not, whether you have received the Fourteen Trainings or not, whether you have received the Ten Novice Precepts – we need a sangha. 

Daily Practice worksheet – there is a column for each day. And in the evening before you go to sleep, we can evaluate our practice. We start with waking up – when you woke up, did you practice? Were you aware and present with waking up. In the teaching, we continue through the other parts of the day where we can enjoy and practice in each moment – putting on your shoes, folding your blanket, opening and closing the door, etc. There are also verses (Gathas) of practices. 

During this retreat, we have been learning about how to take care of our body and our feelings through the Exercises on Mindful Breathing proposed by the Buddha. We are learning how to handle our feelings, whether they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We have learned how to produce a feeling  of joy and a feeling of happiness. In the Buddhist teachings, we learn there are 51 categories of mental formations. This is where we turn now in the dharma talk. There are positive ones – confidence, compassion, diligence, joy, etc. There are also negative ones – anger, despair, jealously, etc. And mindfulness is one of the fifty-one. These all exist in our consciousness and are of an organic nature — they can change and transform. 

How do we cultivate 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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Practicing in the Present Moment

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 95-minute event took place outdoors at San Dieguito County Park, Solana Beach in the afternoon of Saturday, January 31, 2004. Because the event is outdoors, there is some wind noise on the microphone from time to time. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

00:00:00 Slideshow of Alms Round (music)

00:01:51 Chanting

00:10:15 Introductory Words from Thay on Asking Questions

  • Are we supposed to spend all our time in the here and now?
  • How to help someone get rid of the anger?
  • How do we practice to do the right thing, even when it is difficult?
  • How do we practice when someone we love dies? 
  • Can there ever be a positive benefit to anger?
  • How do we keep a balance with the practice and personal fulfillment, especially in professional efforts?
  • How do I forgive myself? 
  • Sometimes I have difficulty in believing in myself; how do I believe in myself?
  • My son wants to marry a Catholic and I want him to be in front of our ancestors first; what can I do?
  • What do you think of humans living in this place and time; the wrong frequency?

00:19:25 Dharma Talk in Response to the Questions

The past is already gone, and the future is not yet here. There is only the present moment. Being in the present moment doesn’t mean you can’t learn from the past nor that you can’t make plans for the future. We can be grounded in the present moment and not get lost in the past or the future. The past can even be the object of your practice in the present moment. 

Suppose you have anger at your grandmother, in the past, and she is no longer alive today. But if you practice deeply you can see she is still alive inside of you – in every cell of your body. Nothing is lost. We can practice to heal our suffering and out anger. 

Understanding and compassion are the answer to our anger. Where does anger come from? It arises from the things we consume. We can practice mindful consumption to protect ourselves and our families from anger. This is the first thing to do when practicing when anger. The second second part is to work on transforming the anger that is already present inside of us. The fifth mindfulness training can help us practice with consumption. 

It is important to not suppress our anger; this can be very dangerous. We use the energy of mindfulness to recognize and embrace our anger. This is much safer. Then we can learn to use loving speech to better express our feelings. Thay shares how to go about skillfully responding to another person with whom we are angry. Some think the energy of anger is a powerful tool, but this can be dangerous. 

00:58:19 You might think your practice of meditation might contradict your eagerness to succeed in your career. How to practice and succeed in your business? These can come together perfectly. Business leaders suffer like any other person. And if they suffer less, they can succeed more in their business. Career does not need to be an obstacle for your practice. There are ways to practice in order to have time for your families, your practice, and your business and career. Thay shares a story of offering a retreat for members of congress and some methods for practicing mindfulness in the work environment — mindful walking and mindful breathing. Taking care of yourself is taking care of your career. Mindfulness brings about understanding and compassion. Happiness is possible only when we have good communication, mutual understanding. Employees should be taken care of in the same way we take care of our families. 

Practicing with our grief. Our true nature is the nature of no-birth and no-death. Illustrated by a cloud in the sky. 

The last story of the dharma talk is one of a Vietnam veteran who attended a retreat in the 90s and shared about having killed some children during the war. The transformation of the veteran can also be the transformation of our society. 

01:31:50 Sangha Practicing Walking Meditation (music)

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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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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 are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk.

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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 are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk.

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Questions and Answers with Educators

This is the third day of the Educators Retreat at the University of Barcelona. Thich Nhat Hanh, along with the monks and nuns of Plum Village, are on their first tour of Spain this month. In this session, Thay responds to questions from those attending the retreat. The date of the recording is May 11, 2014. The audio and video links are available below. The timestamps included here are for the AUDIO recording only.

  1. How do we bring this practice into our daily life? (2:32)
  2. How can mindfulness help transform the toxic seeds in our subconscious? (9:45)
  3. How can we find a new path for young people in society today? (17:20)
  4. Could you explain a little more about mindfulness of suffering. (26:53)
  5. How do I forgive myself for pain that I have caused and how do I forgive others? (40:30)
  6. How do I plant the seed of mindfulness in my 34 year old? Is this to young? (54:18)
  7. How can we help children to look deeply at the root cause of their suffering? Anger. Anguish. Fear. (1:07:02)
  8. How can men today become softer? (1:13:44)
  9. With limited time, how can I help people who are suffering? They don’t want to hear to embrace suffering. (1:24:18)
  10. How can a young sangha with little experience protect itself? (1:35:44)

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