Stepping into Freedom

From the Assembly of Stars Meditation Hall at Lower Hamlet, Plum Village. This is a day of mindfulness between the close of the 21-Day Retreat and the Summer Opening. The sangha is preparing for an ordination ceremony for monastic novices on July 2 followed by summer opening on July 4. This 80-minute dharma talk is dated June 29, 2014. The focus of the talk is on the monastic life. Both the audio and the video are available below.

Where can we focus our attention when starting to breath mindfully? The tip of the nose versus the abdomen. We stop our thinking and are fully aware. No thinking is a secret of success. We can enjoy being alive in the here and now.

What is the object of our mindfulness when we walk? How can we touch reality? Thay tells the story of a 13th century king in Vietnam who practiced very well as a lay person. How can we practice everyday? Touching the ground of reality with every step and not lose ourselves by daily life.This kind of walking can be very healing.

The triple training is mindfulness, concentration, and insight. These three work together. These are three of the eight elements of the noble path – the Noble Eightfold Path. They also exist in the Five Powers (the other two are faith and diligence). This is the heart of Buddhist practice. The practice of mindfulness can also be seen concretely in the practice of the precepts and that is why we usually use the words “mindfulness” trainings. The precepts are the 5 trainings for the lay students (and the 14 for the Order members), the 10 precepts for novice monastics, 250 precepts for monks, and 380 for nuns (Some may ask why the nuns practice more? Is that not discrimination? The nuns created their own precepts). Each precept guarantees a zone of freedom. The precepts are seeking freedom. But we need to live mindfully. Thay recently wrote a new calligraphy. “Each Precept Guarantees a Zone of Freedom”.

There is joy in practicing and reciting the precepts. The manual we use for training the novices is called “Stepping into Freedom” (and is available from Parallax Press). The practice of the precepts is also the practice of mindfulness and is connected with mindful manners (outlined in the manual). “Be beautiful. Practice the Precepts.” Thay discusses some of the mindful manners for monastics.

The manual has four parts. The first part is a set of verses – the essential of the daily vinaya practice. The second part is the ten novice precepts. The third section is mindful manners – many chapters on this. The fourth part is a beautiful text to remind monastics why they are a monk or a nun. The book was originally in Chinese from more than 400 years ago. It has been updated by Plum Village. In the Christian monastic tradition, they have some of the same precepts.

Thay shares further of the big commitment to become a monastic. It is like a marriage. You are part of a sangha and you can realize your dream of helping people. To practice as a monk or nun is easier than a lay student because you have the support of the sangha.

This is a happy and beautiful moment.

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Happiness for Young People

This talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, March 13, 2014 and the sangha has just finished a couple weeks of lazy days following the winter retreat. The talk on this day is in English and begins with a lesson on mindful breathing to release tension and painful emotions followed by a teaching on the Four Kinds of Nutriments. The second half of the talk includes a special ceremony and discussion with the vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong.

1:08 Chanting
8:00 Hearing the Bell
14:26 Mindful Breathing to Relieve Tension and Painful Emotions
21:54 Letter to Death Row
30:00 The Four Kinds of Nutriments
57:29 Ceremony to Confer Honorary Doctorate Degree to Thich Nhat Hanh from the University of Hong Kong
1:17:40 Thay Responds to Degree
1:30:40 Dialogue between Thay and Vice Chancellor on Topic of Today’s Youth

When you hear the bell, you may want to stop you’re thinking. Use your breathing to be aware that you have a body and smile to your body. It is a wonder. Practice mindful breathing we bring our mind home to our body. We are fully alive when we do this exercise. Our body is already a wonder of life.

When you’re mind is not with your body, it is not truly alive. We need an embodied mind. In the Sutra of Mindful Breathing, the Buddha proposed sixteen exercises. The third exercise is breathing in, I am aware of my body. You’re body is your first true home. The next exercise is to release the tension in your body – the fourth exercise.

We can also calm our painful emotions (the seventh exercise). We should not run away from our painful feelings. Many people in society consume min order to avoid thier painful feelings. With these exercises you can generate the energy of mindfulness. The pain is an energy and so is mindfulness. Mindfulness can embrace your pain (the eighth exercise). We can suffer much less.

Yesterday Thay received a letter from a young man in America who is a pen pal of a man on death row. The person in prison is a practicing Buddhist who has found relief from the teachings. They have been reading The Heart of the Buddhist Teachings together. Thay responds to the letter by talking about fear, anger, and despair that people suffer from both within and without. We can practice compassion and then we can be free. There can be freedom in prison.

Today we are going to have a discussion on the topic of youth. All of us need a good environment. Teachers and parents should come together to create a good environment for our young people in order to suffer less. The Buddha said that nothing can survive without food. There are several kinds of food. In the Sutra of the Four Nutriments can be helpful as a background to understand. In this sutra there is a story of a family crossing the desert and they have to make a very difficult decision to kill their child in order to survive. The first kind of nutriment is edible food. We have to eat in such a way to preserve compassion in us and not to eat the flesh of our own sons and daughters. The second kind of nutriment is sensory impressions. This comes from eye, ear, nose, ear, body, and mind. When we watch television, we consume. When we use the internet, we consume. Even conversation can be very toxic. Educators and parents should practice mindful consumption to set an example for our young people to preserve our well being. The third kind of nutriment is intention/volition. This is the deepest desire in us – our deepest desire may be good or it may be destructive. Helping young people to suffer less or to work for the environment or work for peace, these are good intentions. Last year at Google, they asked Thay to talk about intention. What do we want to do with our life? Our deepest desire? Is it to practice to help people to suffer less, then that is a good intention. And the fourth kind of nutriment is consciousness – consciousness as food. There is individual consciousness. We carry with us the suffering of our parents and our ancestors. We should have a teacher or friend to help us come out of the dark corner of the past. Practicing appropriate attention, that is good food. There is also collective consciousness. We can feel the collective energy of mindfulness and compassion in a positive environment. To help young people, we should reflect on the kinds of nutriments we are providing them. Nothing can survive without food.

Thay Phap Luu introduces the conferring of a Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa degree for Thich Nhat Hanh from the University of Hong Kong in advance of the 190th Congregation on March 18, 2014 in Hong Kong. The Vice Chancellor of the University and other professors are present to offer the degree. The honorary degree is a very old and cherished tradition of the University and past degrees have been given to Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Bill Clinton. Following the degree conferring, Thay offers a few words (10-minutes) in response and as a message to those at the University of Hong Kong. We continue with a dialogue between Thay and the Vice Chancellor on the subject of today’s youth.

What can we do more to help our students to provide a better environment?

In our restless world today, there is frustration and unhappiness in graduates not being able to find work and career. What insight can you share to help young people feel more satisfied and content with the future?

Note from the Editor
Thay has offered us a vision of building an online monastery, or online temple, where practitioners may come not just to receive information, but to practice online: to follow their breathing, experience guided meditation, interact with monastics and lay practitioners, etc. This archive of Thay’s talks is a component of this vision.

We are using a new service (Patreon) that allows for you to become an ongoing patron for this archive. Each patron can make a donation, as little as $1 per talk, to be donated automatically on a monthly basis. Payments are made by credit card or PayPal and patrons can be anywhere in the world. When you visit the site, you identify the amount you want to give for each talk, identify a maximum amount per month, and provide your mailing address. If you are in the United States you can have a tax deduction through the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation.

Please visit our Patreon page: Thich Nhat Hanh is Creating Happiness.

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Arriving in Plum Village

July 7, 2012. 87-minute recording given at Lower Hamlet, Plum Village by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is the first dharma talk of the Summer Opening. The sangha is celebrating the 30th Summer Opening. The talk begins with instruction on how to listen to the chant followed by Avalokiteshvara chant.

The main talk begins at 40-minutes into the recording. We hear stories from the Avatamsaka Sutra (Flower Garland Sutra). The mother of the Buddha and how the friends came to see Siddhartta while still in the womb. She had a lot of space inside for everyone. We can cultivate this kind of space too. Story of Sidhartta making at least seven steps at his birth. What does this mean? Walking like a Buddha on planet earth. Freedom, joy, and happiness is available with every step. This portion of the talk is about 45-minutes and a beautiful segment to listen to with others in the Sangha

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The Practice of Plum Village

May 10, 2012. 103-minute recording given at New Hamlet, Plum Village by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is a Day of Mindfulness and the monastics begin with two chants.

The practice of Plum Village is Applied Buddhism. It is characterized by the four dharma seals.

  • I have arrived. I am home.
  • Go as a river.
  • The Interbeing of truth and time.
  • Continuous ripening.

Thay teaches what each of these dharma seals mean and how we can practice with them.

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You Have to Feed your Love Properly

October 10, 2011. 122-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh from Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, NY. The sangha is on the North American Tour and this is the final dharma talk for the Stepping Into Freedom, Savoring Life Retreat.

“Walking on the planet Earth is a wonder. The Zen Master Lin Chi said the miracle is to walk on earth. Like Neil Armstrong on the moon, we should be mindful of each step. Happiness should be possible with each step.”

Time is a product of our mind. This is dualistic thinking, but we can touch eternity and transcend time. We can transcend birth and death, being and non-being. Walking can bring a lot of joy, but also the highest enlightenment. You can bring this practice home and enjoy every moment of daily life.

Before you bow to the Buddha, you have to meditate. You have to communicate with the Buddha. There is a verse we can learn to touch emptiness. A Christian can practice the same way when bowing to Jesus. Thay continues to share about the Three Doors of Liberation (emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness) and the four signs, from the Diamond Sutra, in which we may get caught: the concept of a self, of man, of living beings, and of a lifespan.

You may listen or download the audio from this site or watch the video.

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Making Plans in the Here and Now

July 19, 2011. 120-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh from Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France. The sangha is in the annual Summer Opening Retreat. This is the question and answer session.

Before we begin, Thay offers a teaching on ancestors because today is Ancestors Day. Every home in Vietnam, no matter how poor, keeps an altar for the ancestors. We have two kinds of ancestors: blood and spiritual.

Here are the questions:
1) If we are living in the here and the now, how can we make plans?
2) Why do I have nightmares?
3) How can I help my younger brother to be happy if he annoys me?
4) How to become enlightened?
5) What is freedom, and can you be free even if someone tells you what to do?
6) How can I be kind to myself when I lack confidence?
7) What to do when daughters are treated less equally than sons?
8) We are taught not to judge people and things, but how can we love them without judging?
9) I feel that I attract people who have difficulties. Where is the boundary between being selfish and protecting yourself?
10) I am very confused. I feel caught by impermanence. So when you become a full-time Buddha, you have a state of mind with ultimate freedom and true happiness. But doesn’t that state go against impermanence? When you become a full-time Buddha does the law of impermanence no longer apply to you?
11) I am 50 years old, and I have a 15 year-old son. I would like to become a nun. Can I leave him to take care of himself and come to live peacefully in the temple?

The talk was given in English and is available below. There is a video version available too.

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