21 Day Retreats Plum Village Retreats

Time is Only Made of Non-Time Elements


June 4, 2012. 185-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from Upper Hamlet in Plum Village during the 21-Day Retreat with the theme The Science of the Buddha. The talk is given in English and this is the third dharma talk (of 15).

We begin with 10-minutes of chanting followed by the main dharma talk by Thay. After some mindful movements, we continue (at 2:10 into recording) with University of Virginia Astrophysicist Professor Trinh Xuan Thuan interviewing Thay.

Topics of the Talk

Obstacles of Buddhist Practice 

  • Knowledge
  • Afflictions

Four Foundations of Mindfulness

  1. Body
  2. Feelings
  3. Mind (51 mental formations)
  4. Objects of Mind (‘nature’ for the scientist)

From the objects of mind we have “double grasping” and the “perceived and perceiver” – entanglement.

Two Realities

  • Ultimate
  • Historical

A=A?B (science)

A?A=A (Buddhism)


Question 1: Buddhism says that one has to get rid of all previous knowledge, to have a clear mind. I think in science one has to know things that were done before, but keep a clear and open mind. Does Thay agree with this?

Question 2: You said something about inanimate matter has intelligence. I’m not sure this is the current scientific view now. Even if you claim that an electron has consciousness, then I say that we have to say there are varying degrees of consciousness. I would say that an electron is very different from a human being. An electron has mass, its electric charge, and its spin, that’s it. Once you’ve seen an electron, you’ve seen them all. Also, a flower. Chimpanzees have some human notion, so close to us in genes. I think there are different degrees of consciousness, and we cannot put everything on the same level. What is your response to that?

Question 3: What is the concept of time in Buddhism? We have the impression that time passes, from the past to the present to the future. In science we learn that past, present and future are always there, and time is not the same for everyone, depending on the movement of the observer. Although there is a psychological time that seems to be there. That is the physical conception of time. So what is the Buddhist concept of time?

Question 4: I like Buddhism not only because I was raised in it, but because it is very logical. It has the spirit of experimentation that a scientist would accept. The mind is the instrument. Objective and subjective reality, that’s something true. As a scientist I realize that an observer is very important as part of what he sees. If you say that there is no objective reality independent of the mind, do you think, for example, that if you do not look at the moon, the moon does not exist? Do you really believe that an alternate universe without consciousness would not exist, if no one could be conscious of it?

Plum Village Retreats

Mother Earth Accepts All


December 11, 2011. 87-minute dharma talk from Upper Hamlet of Plum Village, France. This is the sixth talk offered in the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat. The talk is given in Vietnamese with English translation provided by Sr. Chan Khong.

We learn of mother. The buddha is the son of his mother, his foster mother, the mother earth. We learn of the story Suddana in Avatamsaka Sutra where each of us can birth a Buddha. We can meet the mother of the Buddha. She is the mother of all the Buddhas in the present and in the past. She is one with the planet earth. Mother earth is so large and can accept everything without discrimination.

The autumn leaves are still on the ground here at Plum Village. They are in transformation, but some still remain on the tree. The leaves live a short life, but they enjoy being whereas humans have lot of worries, anxiety, etc. it is the price of being human. To be a pine tree is beautiful. Maybe next life we can be a tree or a bird.

We always have a need for a place to return. Every part of us will return to the earth. As Buddhists we need to see things in a non-duality way and that we are one with the planet earth. The planet is the mother of every being. The nature of reality is no coming, no going; no birth, no death. If we look deeply, we can see everything continues. The earth is alive.

At 49-minutes into the talk, we continue learning the sutra beginning with Gatha 14. Sub-atomic science still cannot grasp the nature reality. In Buddhism, we have the concept of non-attainment. You cannot grasp the true nature. We cannot grasp in time and space. In quantum science, they try to grasp the nature of every particle. They see forces/fields such as gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear. But science rarely speak of our mind and the force of karma. For example, the destruction of the Twin Towers was a force of the mind – hatred. The mind can also be positive with just as much power. In this Gatha, there are these fields we cannot grasp even if they have manifested.

14. It is not inside, nor is it outside. It is not something between inside and outside. Before (samskaras) conditioned things have arisen it is not possible to grasp them (in terms of time and space).

15. Moreover after conditioned things have arisen it is not possible to grasp them. The future does not have any sign (by which we can grasp it). The past can be an object of our discriminating mind (imagined).

16. We are able to discriminate the things we have been in touch with, we can also discriminate the things we have not yet been in touch with. Although there is no beginning of samskaras, the discriminating mind can still use the concept of beginning.

17-18. The physical body is like foam. Feelings are like bubbles on the surface of the water. The perceptions are like a magic city. The mental formations are like the stem of a banana tree. The consciousness is like a magic show. That is what the Buddha has taught.