Transforming Our Suffering

In this 65-minute dharma talk from the New Hamlet of Plum Village, Thay teaches a message on transforming our suffering. The date is Sunday, November 26, 2006 and the sangha is in the Winter Retreat.

Dhyana is the Sanskrit word for meditation. In meditation, we have stillness. We have relaxation. We have mindfulness, concentration, insight, joy, and happiness. These virtues can be cultivated. How can we do this? The practice of “leaving behind.” This is the first act of meditation. Joy and happiness is born from this practice.

Many young people have this aspiration to “leave behind” and want to become a monastic. They have experience joy and happiness. But after two or three years, the joy and happiness are not deep enough to reach down into our blocks of suffering. We have this stillness for a period of time but then the block of suffering will emerge. What is the nature of our suffering? Hidden in the depths of our unconscious. If we can’t move into the deeper practice, we begin to blame and point to problems, we then sometimes see monastics leave the community. We have to go home to ourselves and try to recognize our suffering and embrace it. Thay illustrates this teaching through bitter melon. Our natural tendency is to run away of suffering and we don’t know the hidden goodness of suffering. Suffering can heal us.

We in the Plum Village tradition belong to the School of Linji. We have to use our intelligence, our insight in order to transform our suffering.

In Buddhism we have the notion of the three worlds. Desire. Craving. Form. We may leave behind the world of desire but still have mental discourse. We practice stillness. It is made of two elements: vitaka and vijara. Thought and reflective thinking.

Thay returns to talking of a monastic who leaves the community and then may wish to return, and this is a problem for all practicing communities. We have to be willing to go deeper, to learn how to preserve our happiness, and transform the pain, anxiety, and deep suffering that is still there in the depth of our consciousness. When suffering is emerging, adapt another attitude. Don’t try to run away from it. This is Thay’s recommendation. Stay where you are and welcome it.

How do we work with suffering rooted from injustice? How do we work with suffering rooted from our parents?

Bodhicitta. Mind of enlightenment. Beginners mind. Inspired by the desire to practice in order to transform your suffering and help many people who suffer around you. The mind of love. As practitioners, we should maintain this beginners mind because it is a powerful source of energy.

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The Breathing Room

This talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, March 27, 2014. The talk on this day is in English.

14:44 The Breathing Room
22:54 Inviting the Bell
33:10 Conditions of Happiness
43:30 Mindfulness of Suffering

Thich Nhat Hanh begins with a recollection of a retreat for children. During walking meditation, we proposed they use “yes, yes” and “thanks, thanks” for each of their steps. We can say yes and feel thankful. There are so many things we can say yes to. We can appreciate these things – our body, our eyes, etc. With our eyes we can see the blue sky and the mountains. The practice is breathing in, I am aware of my eyes and am grateful they are in good condition. We do the same with other parts of our body. Like our heart. With this awareness, we can take better care of our body and allow it to be restored. In the “Sutra on the Contemplations of the Body” the Buddha taught us how to look at all the parts of the body. We use mindfulness to project light onto every part of our body. This can bring us happiness, love, and compassion. Thay provides more instruction on this practice.

If you are a leader of a corporation, you may wish to incorporate and offer a session of total relaxation. This is not a loss of time. The same can be done by a school teacher for the students. Parents too, if they know the practice, can offer a session for the family. In a civilized society this can be very good. We can also create a tiny meditation hall in the home; a space where the bell can be located and we can practice in a safe space. Every time you feel restless or confused or irritated, we can walk to that place – the breathing room – and stop all the thinking and calm our body and mind. Thay recalls a story of how to open/close the door when he was a young novice that he then relayed to Thomas Merton.

In our small breathing room, we should also have a bell. This is a territory of mindfulness. There are four lines to learn when inviting the bell after we breath in and out three times before Inviting the Bell. Thay teaches us how to invite the bell and why mindful breathing is so important.

There are many conditions of happiness. In Buddhism, we have many versus to help us practice mindfulness. For example, for when turning on the water faucet. Are you aware of your conditions of happiness? Teaching continues on how this related to the breathing room and why it’s important for the family. This is the art of happiness.

This is part of the 7th & 8th mindfulness exercises in the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Mindful Breathing. We should not run away from our suffering. We can learn from our suffering. This ties right into the Four Noble Truths. We can learn to listen to our suffering without fear without running away through consumption. With mindfulness we have the energy to take care of our suffering.

The practice of looking and listening deeply. Meditation is the time to look and listen to understand our suffering. This brings about understanding and compassion. If you know how to suffer, you suffer much less. You cannot take happiness out of suffering and cannot take suffering out of happiness.

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Many Pairs of Opposites

January 3, 2013. 110-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 seventeenth dharma talk of the retreat with the theme Are You The Soulmate of the Buddha? The talk is given in English and we begin with a chant.

There ia a sutra on the contemplation of the body and the body is a big subject of meditation. There is much suffering and misery in this world and some people want to get out of this world. Is there a way to get out of the world of suffering and misery by looking into your body? We can see the four elements – water, air, earth, and heat – in our body. There are six sense organs that can produce the six consciousnesses. When you look into the body deeply, you can see it is a community. Can you see all our ancestors by looking into the body? Is there a self? If we heal ourselves, we can heal our ancestors. We don’t just practice for ourselves, we practice for all our ancestors. Our body is a treasure and we should take care of our body. There is a Buddha in the body. How do we practice? The dharma and the sangha. We organize a “resistance” to keep our practice alive.

At about 30-minutes into the recording, we continue with the subject matter for the Winter Retreat. Pairs of opposites. We hear a teaching on the concepts of birth and death, being and non-being, ultimate and conventional truth, sameness and otherness. Interbeing and the path leading us to the ultimate truth. Everything is a formation, a conditioned dharma. Samsara and nirvana. You may wish to review the video, Thay wrote on the board quite a bit for this segment of the talk.

There is a way a path to this wisdom of adaptation.

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How does it feel when you’re dead? Question and Answer Session

July 18, 2012. 88-minute recording given at Upper Hamlet, Plum Village by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is the ninth dharma talk of the Summer Opening and this is a session of questions and answers.

Children

  1. How does it feel when you are dead?
  2. Sometimes I feel nobody loves us and I’m all alone.
  3. A game the children are playing has something about killing. Is this okay? Help me understand.

Teens and Adults

  1. People seem afraid of silence. Is it because they are afraid of being with themselves?
  2. I experience extreme energies and sometimes feel as a victim with the energy.
  3. Husband is in a deep depression and then one of our daughters was seriously injured. He feels it’s unjust and he is suffering. How can I help him transform suffering he doesn’t see in himself?
  4. Difficulties with meditation. What happens during meditation and how can I improve?
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Bringing the Practice to Life

July 12, 2012. 84-minute recording given at Upper Hamlet, Plum Village by Thich Nhat Hanh. This is the fifth dharma talk of the Summer Opening. We begin with chanting and the talk was originally given in French. This is an English translation.

With many questions about anger in yesterday’s questions and answers session, Thay offers a lovely 25-minute lesson for the children (and everyone of course!) on helping our friends who may have anger.

What can we tell our friends about meditation? Meditation is looking deeply with our eyes, mind, and your heart. Meditation is looking. We can see things other people can’t hear. Meditation is listening. Concentration. A person who meditates can see the cloud in the flower. There is much more there in the flower. To see the flower deeply you have to recognize the non-flower elements.

The same can be said about people. We all have non-human elements such as anger. We all have the seed of anger. What can we do to help those who suffer from anger and violence? If we practice meditation, we can see the seeds of compassion and kindness in that person. What can we do to water those seeds in him? We can water the seeds of kindness. We can practice selective watering of the good seeds. We can sign a peace and happiness treaty with our friends and our loved ones in order to support each other.

After the children leave, Thay reminds us that we need a spiritual dimension to deal with difficulties in our daily life. We need practices to deal with the difficulties. In the Buddhist tradition, we have a spiritual body in addition to our physical body. We are offered a teaching on dharmakaya (dharma body) and buddhakaya (Buddha body). If our dharma body is solid, we can deal with our difficulties. There is also a sangha body (sanghakaya). We should build and participate in a sangha to maintain our practice. Create a living sangha where we can generate mindfulness. We can use our time and energy to build sangha. To be a refuge.

We can use the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing to cultivate our Buddha body. Sixteen exercises. We learn the first eight exercises.

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Psyche and Soma Are Not Separate

December 8, 2011. 103-minute dharma talk from Lower Hamlet of Plum Village, France. This is the fifth talk offered in the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat. The talk is given in Vietnamese with English translation provided by Sr. Chan Khong.

The happiness of the dharma. When listening to a dharma talk, walking, eating, cleaning the toilet, or sitting meditation, this is dharma happiness. When you put the practice into your daily activities, then you can have happiness. We just need to look a little deeper with concentration. Today we can learn about eating mindfully. A piece of bread contains the body of the cosmos. We also learn how to sit correctly.

At 38-minutes we switch to sutra study. The Paramartha Gathas of Asanga from the Yogacarabhumi Sastra. He shares in particular about the 12 Links of Interdependent Origination as a new theory of knowledge, or epistemology. When we look at them deeply we see there is no subjective observer; we are participants in what we observe. Without this insight we fall into the wrong perception that body and mind are separate.

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The Buddha is the Sitting Itself

August 23, 2011. 122-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh from YMCA of the Rockies in Estes Park, Colorado. The sangha is on the North American Tour and this is the fourth and final talk of the Body and Mind Are One retreat.

We begin with a short guided meditation.

I invite the Buddha to breathe. I invite the Buddha to sit. I don’t have to breathe. I don’t have to sit.
Buddha is breathing. Buddha is sitting.
I enjoy the breathing. I enjoy the sitting.
Buddha is the breathing. Buddha is the sitting.
I am the breathing. I am the sitting.
There is only the breathing. There is only the sitting.
There is no-one breathing. There is no-one sitting.

We are our action. We are our karma. Everyday we produce speech and our action. There is no thinker outside the thoughts. The act of breaking the bread is Jesus. The quality of the sitting is the Buddha. When there is an in-breath is there, you know the Buddha is there. We don’t need a breather. This has to do with the lack of subject and object in our experience of reality. “In breathing and sitting, there is no breather or sitter. There is just the breathing, there is just the sitting.” “When you say ‘The wind blows’, it is very funny. If it does not blow, how can it be the wind? It is like saying ‘The rain is raining.’ If it is not raining, how can it be rain? The same is true for thinking. The thinker and the thought—they are not separate things; they are one.” We can touch the nature of no-self. Emptiness.

A teaching on deep listening and loving speech is illustrated with stories of people attending retreats and transforming their communication. We also hear examples of Israeli and Palestinians coming together. In a discussion about the Five Mindfulness Trainings, particularly the fifth, Thay introduces and shares about The Sutra on the Son’s Flesh, to point out the nature of nutriment and the Four Kinds of Nutriments. He continues on to discuss the three kinds of concentration: emptiness, signlessness and aimlessness.

The talk is available below. A video version is available: Buddha is the Sitting.

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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.

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Nourishing Happiness

March 3, 2011. 72-minute Dharma Talk in French given by Thich Nhat Hanh at Assembly of Stars, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France. This is the second day of the 5-day French Retreat and the translation is provided by Sr. Pine. The English recording is missing just the first minute or two.

Nourishing happiness and taking care of our suffering with the energies of mindfulness, concentration, and insight. How we respond to suffering is what matters.

Embracing our suffering, looking deeply we see the source (the “food”) of that suffering. Everything needs food. Recognizing the sources of nourishment is the beginning of transformation and healing. Without “food” the suffering will die.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings are an expression of what can protect us.

In eating meditation, there are only two things to be aware of while eating. The food and the loved ones around you. Silence helps a lot. This to is a basis for happiness. The Five Contemplations.

The talk was given in French with English translation and is available below. There is a French recording as well as video version too.

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Teachings on Love

March 2, 2011. 100-minute Dharma Talk in French given by Thich Nhat Hanh at Assembly of Stars, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France. This is the second day of the 5-day French Retreat and the translation is provided by Sr. Pine.

Let’s love each other. In order to be there for each other, there is a practice. We have to stop all the inner talking. Practice breathing in with Mindfulness to bring our mind back the the body. To love is offering your presence.

The second mantra of Plum Village. I know you are there, and I am very happy. When I walk with the sangha, it is exactly the same because the sangha is my love.

Walking meditation together on the hill of the 21st century. Our collective energy can heal and transform us. To walk is to love. The same can be said about sitting meditation. Peace. Concentration. Happiness.

Thay discusses a story from the Little Prince followed by a review of Pebble Meditation that is taught to children.  Four pepples: Flower. Mountain. Still water. Space.

In true love, we should enjoy each other. It has been said, to love is not to look at each other, but to look in the same direction.

Elements of True Love. Maitri. Lovingkindness. Love is first friendship. To produce happiness. Karuna. Compassion. To transform suffering. Mudita. Joy. We offer joy to ourself and the. Upeksha. Equanimity. Absence of boundary. Non- discrimination. Your joy is my joy. These four elements are the Four Immeasurable Minds.

Love begins with myself.

The talk was given in French with English translation and is available below. There is a French recording as well as video version too.

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