Public Talk

Cultivating Peace


Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam (2007)In this 2007 dharma talk, we go back to the Vietnam trip (February 21 to May 9) that focused on the Great Requiem Ceremonies across the country. The purpose of this trip was to to heal the last wounds of the war. The date of this recording is May 7, 2007 and it is the last talk of the Vietnam tour.

It is possible to cultivate peace as individuals, as families, and as nations. We need to begin with understanding and love – this is the foundation of peace. Our peace begins with our in-breath as we bring our mind back to our body. The breathing is the bridge connecting our mind and body. Do we know our conditions of happiness to live happily in the present moment? There is also the wisdom of non-discrimination in Buddhism.

Four elements of true love – maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksha. The wisdom of non-discrimination (29:45) – a topic that is very crucial for our own peace and for peace in the world – a very important element of true love.

The Three Kinds of Powers (49:55). We need to discover that the Buddha was a human being. The source of wisdom in Buddhism can help us overcome our despair. Spiritual power can be attained through our daily practice. The first is to cut-off. For example, to cut off from our craving, our anger, our despair. We do this by looking at the nature of suffering. The Buddha did this and you can to. The second power is insight. We cultivate this through our meditation. The third kind of power to cultivate is the power to love, to forgive.

The practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking allows us to be present in the here and now. When you practice like this, each breath and step can bring you to the pure land of the Buddha and touch the wonders of life.

Thay responded to a series of questions from the audience.

  1. How do you practice offering love to someone who does not want that? (55:02)
    Can you teach us how family can practice beginning anew? The practice of deep listening and loving speech. Practicing peace. (58:02)
  2. A question about impermanence. Is nirvana achievable and is it permanent? (1:11:52)
  3. A question about anger. Working with children in the classroom caused me to lose my temper often because I couldn’t control the class. (1:23:52)
  4. How do we help people to live in peace when they live in poor environments. (1:29:27)
  5. What is the difference between “non-discrimination” and “forgiveness” when defining the fourth element of true love (upeksha)? (1:39:07)

At the conclusion of the questions (1:41:42), Thay shares a little bit about the prayer ceremonies that were organized during this tour for those who died in the war and for those who died at sea. There were three ceremonies – one in the south, one in central, and one in the north of Vietnam where we practiced sitting meditation, reciting the sutras, and doing charity work. We transferred the merit of our practice to the dead people. The sharing concludes with an English translation of the readings used during the ceremonies.

Plum Village Retreats

The Story of King Ajatashatru


January 17, 2013. 87-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from New Hamlet at Plum Village. The sangha is in the 90-day Rains Retreat (Winter Retreat). This is the twenty-first dharma talk of the retreat with the theme Are You The Soulmate of the Buddha? The talk is given in Vietnamese and this is a translation provided by Sr. Chan Không.

Thay shares that he has written a document with all the teachings from the winter retreat. At the end of Winter Retreat we can distribute. The focus has been mistakes that have been made about Buddhism.

We hear story of Siddhartha from before he was enlightened. King Bimbisara was impressed with him and wanted him to be the Teacher for the whole nation. Siddhartha said no because he wasn’t enlightened yet. Later, when he was enlightened, he want back to the King at the time when King Bimbisara’s son was trying to take away his power. There was some mental sickness in his son, and later King, Ajatashatru. This is the story we hear that is found in the Samaññaphala Sutta, The Fruit of Contemplative Life Discourse. What is the life of a monastic? What is the freedom of a monastic.

At 43-minutes we continue with sutra study that has been the focus of the winter retreat. What happens when we pass away? Everyone always wants to know and there are lots of theories. Nihilism versus enternalism. The truth must be beyond these mental categories. What is no birth and no death? Impermanence and the middle way. The one who acts and the one who receives are not the same, but not different either. This is the deep looking at impermanence and see the pairs of opposites. We also hear about the time of Lê Dynasty in Vietnam.

Even some scientists have discovered this teaching of no birth and no death. We can transcend these mental categories of placing everything into boxes. When you see that, you can live free and happy in your daily life.

Plum Village Retreats

Arriving Home is Truly Enough


December 16, 2012. 88-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Upper Hamlet at Plum Village. The sangha is in the 90-day Rains Retreat (Winter Retreat). This is the twelfth dharma talk of the retreat with the theme Are You The Soulmate of the Buddha? The talk was originally given in Vietnamese and this English translation is provided by Sister Chan Khong.

Go home and heal yourself. Where is your home? Only there any heal yourself. To some extent, we all have a sickness. We need to totally bring ourselves into the present moment with everything that we are doing. It is a training And we do it together with our community and our ancestors. We can touch the ultimate dimension. Arriving home is truly enough.

At 23-minutes we resume the sutra study and commentary. Dharma seal. The criterion for the teachings of the Buddha. Impermanence. No self. Nirvana. What is the road from relative truth to ultimate truth?

There are a number of Buddhists who are obsessed by the idea that impermanence is suffering. Life is suffering. So many have used “suffering” as the third dharma seal. But we need to remember also that if there is suffering, there must also be happiness. See the Chanda Sutra, #262 that clearly says nirvana is the third dharma seal.

Why is impermanence important? This too is related with the 12 links. Thay highlights a few errors from the sutras and provides a new teaching that better reflects the true teaching.

We also cover Agama #293.

Plum Village Retreats

The Stream of Our Ancestors


January 15, 2012. 94-minute dharma talk from Lower Hamlet of Plum Village, France. The sangha is in the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat. The talk is given in Vietnamese with English translation provided by Sr. Chan KhongIn Plum Village we have a gatha, a short poem of practice, that we can use when walking and breathing. It is an art and it can bring us peace.

The Buddha is breathing.
The Buddha is sitting.

Don’t try to look outside yourself. There is no separate self, there are only the five Skandhas: form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and conciousness. All our suffering is based in this idea of a separate self.

I accept myself and I am a part of the stream of my ancestors. I accept this stream. We can go together, thanks to mindfulness, we can recieve these qualities both good and bad. We don’t judge ourselves harshly. We accept, and we apply this to other people as well.

We continue the sutra study (@ 56-minutes) with gatha 38-41. We are studying the Paramartha Gathas, from the Yogacarabhumi Sastra of Asanga. This is the twelfth talk on this sutra.


The River of Mind


September 8, 2011. 87-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh from the Ocean of Peace Mediation Hall at Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, CA. The sangha is on the North American Tour and this is the second dharma talk for the Together We Are One retreat.

Our father is inside every cell of our body and we can breathe in and out together. Our talk today begins with a guided meditation connecting us to our parents and ancestors.

A story about Italian retreats starts the talk for the children. Thay says there are always a lot of children at Italian retreats and he recalls giving them an assignment. . Thay speaks about how we are the continuation of our parents, using the example of a seed of corn that grows up to become a plant of corn. “When you practice mindful breathing, we can invite our mother inside of us to practice breathing as well. Our father also.”

Thay shares with us the about the practice of looking deeply into the river of the mind, using the exercises from the Mindfulness of Breathing Sutra. At the beginning of this portion, Thay writes down the first 8 exercises on the board (the audio is cut on the first two, but only for a moment). Today we continue with the 9th exercise – this is about recognizing the mental formation that has manifested. There are 51 categories of mental formations in our tradition of practice. There are positive and negative mental formations. Every mental formation is like a drop of water in the river of the mind. The practitioner sits on the bank of the river and watches and observes. Aware of the mental formations. We continue with exercises 9-12.

“As a practitioner we know how to practice selective watering of the seeds in our consciousness.” “Life is impossible without impermanence. Without impermanence a grain of corn can never become a plant of corn, and your little baby can never become a little girl. So impermanence is the nature of things. Your love is also impermanent. If you do not know how to take care of your love, your love will die.

Things are impermanent; because we believe things to be permanent we suffer.” We can use impermanence to get out of anger. “To get out of your anger, you can close your eyes and visualize the other person in 300 years. What will they become? Ash. And you too. It may take only 3-5 seconds for you to touch impermanence. That way you can see that it is not wise to let anger overwhelm you like that.”

Thay finishes the talk with the teaching on the Three Doors of Liberation: 1) emptiness, 2) signlessness, 3) aimlessness.

The talk is available below. A video version is available in two parts: children’s talk and river of mind.

Plum Village Retreats

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.

Day of Mindfulness Plum Village

Recognizing the Fruit of Our Habits


June 16, 2011. 70-minute Dharma Talk in Vietnamese, with translation provided by Sr. Chan Khong, given by Thich Nhat Hanh in Assembly of Stars Meditation Hall, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France.

In this talk we study the Sutra on Keeping a Pure Mind While Doing Alms Round (#236). The sutra demonstrates that the practice is all day long and in all positions. Walking. Sitting. Eating. Etc. The practice today is the same as the time of the Buddha. The sutra also speaks of emptiness samadhi (deep concentration). Recognizing and embracing is the third aspect of the sutra.

Impermanence, Non-self, and Nirvana. The Three Dharma Seals. Some schools call the third as suffering, but Thay feels this is not correct. Emptiness, Signlessness, and Aimlessness. These also are known as dharma seals (Tripitaka) – sometimes called the Three Doors of Liberation.

We then move to another sutra (#293), a sutra about interdependent co-arising conditions, and Thay recognizes this is very difficult. At the end he reminds us to drink some tea.

The talk was given in Vietnamese with English translation and is available below. There is a video version available too. Please note, we are missing just the first minute or two of the recording.


Now is the Time: Both by nature empty


April 21, 2011. 104-minute question and answer session given in English, with consecutive translation into Mandarin, with Thich Nhat Hanh and others. This is the fifth day of a five-day retreat in Taipei, Taiwan.

The Sixteen Exercises of Mindful Breathing (Anapanasati Sutta) – we are encouraged to memorize these exercises. Here we review each of these again. For example, the concentration of impermanence (13th exercise) should not just be an idea.

In addition, there are other meditations (concentrations) that can help us liberate ourselves. Emptiness. Signlessness. Aimlessness.

Mindfulness brings about concentration and we gain wisdom of Right View and we can be liberated.

With signlessness we can see the impermanent nature of all beings.

No birth. No death.
Being and nonbeing.
No coming. No going.
No sameness. No otherness.

The talk was given in English and Mandarin at the same time and is available below for listening or download. You may also view the video.


Understanding Our Mind: Q & A


March 30, 2011. 140-minute session of questions and responses provided in English, with consecutive translation into Thai, with Thich Nhat Hanh on the sixth day of the Understanding Our Mind retreat at Mahachulalongkornrajavidhayalaya Buddhist University (MCU) in Bangkok, Thailand.

Over a period of two hours, participants of the retreat ask Thay questions about the practice. The questions are sincere, heartfelt, and based in life experience. The questions pertain to topics such as: When we die, where does our mind go? Here we practice listening to the sound of the bell, but in our daily life we don’t have anyone to invite the bell, the bell we hear is people who scold us or admire us. How do I practice when people scold me or admire me? How do I deal with the emotions resulting from being treated not as well as my older brother? How do I practice to come back to myself, when I feel that I am lost? What is the role of medication in the treatment of mental illness? What is the difference between neutral feelings and joyful feelings?

The talk was given in English and Thai at the same time and is available below for listening or download. You may also view the video.