Love in Action

2008-05-09 | Love in Action

This is a 78-minute dharma talk from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Hanoi during the “Engaged Buddhism in the 21st Century” retreat. This is the fifth talk on May 9, 2008 and the talk is offered in English.

Teaching and Social Work

In 1964, Thay was teaching at Colombia University and my friends in Vietnam asked me to return home. In Saigon there was a school (School of Youth for Social Service) to teach engaged Buddhism and serve the communities in Vietnamese countryside. An expression of Love in Action. They did not want sponsorship from the government and didn’t want to be involved in the war. Inspired by compassion. Nonviolence and rural development. It started with 300 workers and expanded to 10,000 workers — these were volunteers. Thay shares some of the work they did during this time and where they learned to do this work. Some of these social workers died in service and there is a memorial at the Dharma Cloud Temple (Chua Phâp Van) in Ho Chi Minh City. Thay talks of the spiritual dimension to this social work.

This is where the Order of Interbeing arose and Thay talks of the first members and the first ordination.

In 1966, That was invited by Cornell University to teach a series of lectures. The purpose was also to help Thay get out of Vietnam and to speak out about the war in Vietnam. This was sponsored by the Fellowship of Reconciliation. After this, Thay was not allowed to return to Vietnam. At this time was intensifying and a young OI member immolated of herself – her name was Nhat Chi Mai. Also several members of the school were murdered.

Nhat Chi Mai Memorial

The School for Social Service setup pilot villages. One village was bombed multiple times after re-building. To help with farming, health, and economics. They also setup refugee camps to assist with resettlement of thousands of people. This too is Engaged Buddhism. And we must also maintain our spiritual development. Thay remained in France and raised money to help fund the work of the school and bring awareness of the real war in Vietnam.

After we setup Plum Village (1982) in France, they offered retreats for veterans, health professionals, business people, members of war-torn nations, congresspeople, school teachers, and young people. Buddhism is for all walks of society. We also reach into serving those who are imprisoned.

Releasing the tension. Holding the emotion. Heal yourself. Heal your family. This too is Engaged Buddhism. Engaged Buddhism is our business in every minute and every hour. It can even be practiced in a normal fashion, without appearing religious.

Thich Nhat Hanh

Manifestation-Only Buddhism

The first practice of Right Diligence is: the negative seeds, let them sleep. Don’t water them. They become weaker and weaker. This is an art. It is the practice of Right Diligence. It is continued practice.

Today we introduce the concept of manas. Sometimes this consciousness is called ‘the lover.’ It is born from a number of unwholesome seeds. For example, feelings of superiority, inferiority, and equality. We learn of subject, object, and emptiness. Thanks to emptiness everything is possible. But manas ignores this. Manas believes you have a self. It doesn’t see Interbeing. Manas is always seeking pleasure. It is always trying to run away from suffering and ignores the goodness of suffering. No mud. No lotus. Interbeing. We need the Wisdom of Nondiscrimination (gained through meditation).

Linked with Right Thinking and Mindful Consumption.

Changing the Peg

The second practice of Right Diligence is when a negative seed does arise, we help return the mental formation to our store consciousness. How? Thay provides an example. Change the peg. Mindful breathing and invite another mental formation to arise. Coming to a retreat is a good way to water a lot of positive seeds. Create a positive environment. We can do this at home too. Listen to a dharma talk, practice chanting, mindful breathing, etc.

Even with depression. Yes, it is more difficult but it is possible. The Buddha said, nothing can survive without food. By the way we live. Cut off those things that are the cause. Inquire about the mental formations.

A Wholesome Life

The third practice is to give the positive seeds a chance. Help them to manifest. Do something to touch them and to water them. They may be covered up with many layers of fear, worry, etc. This is compassionate.

And the fourth is to allow any wholesome mental formation that is present, keep it as long as possible. Why replace them? Let them stay.

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Happiness is Made of these Moments

This 74-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Sunday, February 1, 2004. The monastic and lay community are practicing together during the 2004 Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

In the process of renewing Buddhism, many people disagreed with me. Today, Thay offers some words on renewing Christianity. The teaching of living deeply in the present moment is also very clear in the gospel. We should take care of today. Living happily in the present moment is possible. Our basic practice during this Rainy Season Retreat is this: living happily in the present moment. If the Buddha is there, the pure land is there too. If God is there, then the kingdom of God is there too. This practice is not difficult. Mindfulness will help us be in the present moment. Thay proposed that theologians and Christian teachers offer us the teaching and practice to help us live in the present moment. The same is said to Buddhist teachers. Walking and contemplating in the pure land or the Kingdom of God. Then we no longer have to run after fame, power, wealth, and sex. 

Thich Nhat Hanh smiling during his teaching.

The teaching should be embodied by the teacher. The life of the teacher can then be authentic. If you are Dharma Teacher, you have to embody the teaching of living happily in the present moment. If you want others to be able to stop suffering and to live happily. Every moment of our daily life can be seen as a miracle. Thay offers a few examples of how we embody the practice. 

If you are beginner, a new practitioner, there are brothers and sisters who are more experienced. And these more experienced practitioners can show how we can live in the present moment. Mindfulness and concentration bring about happiness, solidity, understanding, and compassion. And this will nourish us and the other people around us. We can help those around us. Thay offers some examples of how this is practiced. Practicing is helping the sangha. 

There are those who have received the Five Trainings, and yet sometimes there are those who have not  received the trainings who may be more solid in their practice. We can learn from these students because their present in the sangha is a blessing too. It makes the sangha more beautiful and a better refuge. It’s not because of have received the Five Trainings that makes us more important. Anyone can be the teacher. Our teacher is a little bit everywhere. Signlessness. Not caught by the form. The same is true for the Order of Interbeing member – those without the brown jacket may be better practitioners than us. When we wear the brown jacket, we have to be more careful and embody the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. Our real value, as members of the Order of Interbeing, is how we practice these trainings. In order to do this, we have to be solid in our daily practice and see our teacher in others. As members of the Order, we have a duty of setting up a sangha. We have to do the work of sangha building. The sangha is protecting and supporting us. So, whether you have received the Five Trainings or not, whether you have received the Fourteen Trainings or not, whether you have received the Ten Novice Precepts – we need a sangha. 

Daily Practice worksheet – there is a column for each day. And in the evening before you go to sleep, we can evaluate our practice. We start with waking up – when you woke up, did you practice? Were you aware and present with waking up. In the teaching, we continue through the other parts of the day where we can enjoy and practice in each moment – putting on your shoes, folding your blanket, opening and closing the door, etc. There are also verses (Gathas) of practices. 

During this retreat, we have been learning about how to take care of our body and our feelings through the Exercises on Mindful Breathing proposed by the Buddha. We are learning how to handle our feelings, whether they are pleasant, unpleasant or neutral. We have learned how to produce a feeling  of joy and a feeling of happiness. In the Buddhist teachings, we learn there are 51 categories of mental formations. This is where we turn now in the dharma talk. There are positive ones – confidence, compassion, diligence, joy, etc. There are also negative ones – anger, despair, jealously, etc. And mindfulness is one of the fifty-one. These all exist in our consciousness and are of an organic nature — they can change and transform. 

How do we cultivate understanding and compassion? 

If you appreciate this teaching, please consider making a donation to support the ongoing efforts of the online monastery. Please make a note with your donation that it was because of this talk.

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Long Hand of the Fourfold Sangha

June 11, 2010. 108-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh in Great Compassion Temple, European Institute of Applied Buddhism. The talk was given Vietnamese, though you can clearly hear Thay’s voice, and is translated into English by Sister Chân Duc (Annabel).

The talk has four parts.

  1. Enjoying Every Moment
  2. The Order of Interbeing
  3. Engaged Buddhism
  4. The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings

The last line of dhamapada, from the Chinese, is an inspiration for the early part of this talk. On my head, there begins to have white hair. My youth has been stolen. It seems like they have come to tell me that I should become a monk as soon as possible. We need to learn to stroll – to enjoy our stroll. We shouldn’t waste our opportunity of being a human. We should enjoy every moment. Taste every moment. How can this be done? Train with a sangha. Don’t wait till your hair is gray

Each member of the Order of Interbeing has to be a pillar. An inspiration. The brown color. The brown jacket symbolizes humility. We should manifest that spirit. The spirit of power of silence. The Vietnamese name is Tiep Hien. The word Tiep has many meanings. To receive is the first. To continue is second. To be in touch with (life, suffering) is third. The first thing we must do is to receive. The way Thay walks. Talks. This is his way of transmitting. The word Hien. First, it means the thing that is present. Now. The dharma  door of plum Village is the present moment. Second, it means realization. Realizing the practice. Third, manifestation. We could also add another meaning. Make it appropriate to the time and place. Actualization. With all these meanings, it can’t so easily translate into English. Therefore, we have Order of Interbeing and we must study to understand its meaning.

Engaged Buddhism means Buddhism that enters the world. Engaged Buddhism has been in our Vietnamese tradition for hundreds of years. Closely related to Engaged Buddhism is Applied Buddhism. Applied is a secular term, but it allows us to do more than simply study Buddhism but rather to actually apply the teachings to transform our suffering. There are many schools that teach Buddhism, but few that teach applied Buddhism. The Order of Interbeing members are the long hand of the fourfold sangha that stretches out to society. The lay order members are needed to do this. Build sangha.

Thay calls for a council, an assembly of Order members, to revise the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings. This is our challenge. With the recent revision of the Five Mindfulness Trainings, they now contain all the good parts of the Fourteen, but the Fourteen are now missing new elements found in the five. A committee has already begun the work, but it needs to be expanded.

I hope you enjoy the talk as much as I did listening and making a few notes.

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