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 Popularity of Mindfulness

The second dharma talk of the Understanding Is Love Retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbrol, Germany. The talk is given in English with consecutive translation into Dutch. In this talk on August 21, 2014, Thay teaches on the noble eightfold path, the five mindfulness trainings, and applying mindfulness in the world. Both the audio and the video are available below.

Topics

  • Living in Plum Village and living in brotherhood and sisterhood. What is life like at Plum Village?
  • Story of a Bell and Thay’s Dream
  • Turning of the Wheel of the Dharma – the Buddha’s first dharma talk. The noble eightfold path.
  • The popularity of mindfulness in the world today. Is it an instrument to make more money and to kill better?
  • The Five Mindfulness Trainings
  • Applied Buddhism in schools; our experience in France.
  • Learning how to understand, communicate, and reconcile

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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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Mother Earth Has All the Seeds

The sangha held a monastic ordination ceremony on this day and so Thich Nhat Hanh spent some time talking about being a monastic. The second part of his talk is fantastic and touches deeply on his revolutionary nature and how Buddhism must be progressive and change. We conclude the talk with the winter retreat by learning more about the characteristics of the seeds.

Originally given in Vietnamese, available from Lang Mai, the talk from Upper Hamlet, Plum Village is dated Sunday, December 8, 2013 and is the seventh talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. English translation, available below, is by Sr. Tue Nghiem.

00:00-06:40 Chanting
06:40-13:45 New Monastics Introduced
13:45-34:30 Being a Monastic
34:30-54:28 Renewing Buddhism
54:28-1:06 Poetry and Walking
1:06-1:41 Sutra Study

Thay introduces the verses for the new year. New year, new me. Joy within, joy all around.

Being a Monastic
Purpose of the new monastic family. A new life. When we become a monastic, we let go of everything. The accomplishments and difficulties belong to the sangha. There is no individual future. We must take care of the entire family. How is this different from lay dharma teacher? The needs are great and we need more monastics and dharma teachers. Importance of organizing and leading retreats. We are a practical community; not theoretical. We also have the Five-Year Program as a dharma door for young people.

Renewing Buddhism
Buddhism is an art and must be progressive otherwise it stands still. We can modify the teachings so it’s applicable to society. New sutras, training,  precepts. New findings and new research. If we don’t renew then Buddhism stands still and we don’t honor the ancestors. It must be appropriate for the people and era otherwise it is not true Buddhism. See how the Five Trainings or Ten Novice Precepts of Plum Village are very different from traditional and much better. We must have courage to renew. Can we reduce the number of monastic precepts? A new Buddhism.

Poetry and Walking
Thay shares a poem he uses for walking meditation down and back from Son Ha.  Nourishing the sangha with mindful breathing and mindful walking. Can we be a cell of the sangha and if the Buddha?

Sutra Study
Review of the first ten characteristics of the seeds. Are the seeds innate? We need to sow and water the seeds. To cultivate the seeds. If we don’t have happiness then we need to plant it so it’s possible. Mother Earth contains all the seeds and we must protect the environment. The insight of manifestation only is non-duality. No double grasping. Subject and object are not different.

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Every Step for my Mother and Father

June 12, 2011. 105-minute Dharma Talk in Vietnamese, with translation provided by Sr. Chan Khong, given by Thich Nhat Hanh at New Hamlet, Plum Village, France. This is the first talk after being in Germany and Southeast Asia.

Thay reads a letter from a young monastic aspirant requesting a 5-year ordination because the parents will not give permission for a lifetime; they need the daughter to care for them as they age. She sees the freshness of a novice life. A monastic life. Each day is precious. Singing together with nature.

Our daily practice is to find happiness in all we do each day. How do we understand our parents? How are we their continuation? Do we really know our parents? I vow to live happily for you mother, for you father. We only see part of our parents, our partner, our children but we can discover more every day. The same is true with ourselves.

Sangha body and dharma body. The jewel of the sangha. The quality – brotherhood, sisterhood, joy, peace – where does it come from? The first fruit of the practice is “I have arrived, I am home.”

What is work? What is it’s relationship to the practice? Do we work to much? We need to look deeply in our sangha. What are our talents and how best to apply?

Happiness can be found in everything we do.

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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