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Plum Village Retreats

Making Peace with Ourselves

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The date is November 25, 2001 at Plum Village, Upper Hamlet. This is the first talk of the 3-month winter retreat. The talk is offered in English.

00:00 Connecting with Green Mountain Dharma Center and Deer Park Monastery
09:10 Chanting
34:12 Going Home to Ourselves
41:08 Drinking our Tea
43:22 Mindfulness of our Body
46:04 Body
52:50 Feelings
56:26 Perceptions
1:01:38 Mental Formations
1:05:14 Consciousness
1:06:01 Reclaiming Our Sovereignty
1:14:01 The Sangha
1:17:58 The Energy of Mindfulness
1:24:55 Healing from Within
1:29:04 Looking Deeply
1:37:53 Building a Sangha

What is the 3-month retreat? How do we practice together? Our practice is to build brotherhood. How do we know if we are succeeding in our practice? To practice to be happy together. It is a kind of daily food. Through our sitting mediation, walking meditation, eating in mindfulness. These help build our sisterhood and brotherhood. This is done by building peace within ourselves so it can manifest around us. 

The Energy of Mindfulness

Buddhist meditation has a universal value. The energy of mindfulness help us to there, to be fully present in every moment of our daily life. To be there for us. Our body, our feelings, our perceptions – they are all there, but are we taking care of them? Our practice is to go home to ourselves and tend to our feelings, perceptions, and our body. Our tendency is to run away from ourselves. 

Drinking our tea. Are we fully present to drink our tea? Or are you drinking like a machine? Mindfulness of drinking. Everyone can do that. If we are not careful, we may follow our habit. Mindfulness is the energy to be there for what is going on. Through breathing, walking, eating, etc. 

Mindfulness is the kind of energy that helps you to be fully there. This is the first action for peace. Have you abandoned yourself? Mindfulness can help you come back to yourself. We start with our body. Your breath is part of your body. When you breathe in, bring your mind back. Mindful breathing. This is the best way to begin making peace. It is the door in which you can come back to yourself. We can restore ours sovereignty in the territory of ourselves. 

The Five elements (Skandhas) 

The first element is form – your physical body. Our physical body is like a river; it is always flowing. The first thing a practitioner should do is make peace with our body. Learn how to calm and renew your body. Learn the art of deep and total relaxation. Give our body a chance to rest and restore itself. It is an action of peace. In the Harvard medical school, they have studied the role of meditation in healing the body. Breathing in, I calm my body. Breathing out, I smile to my body.

The second element of your person is feeling. The painful feelings, pleasant feelings, neutral feelings. All kinds of feelings. Like the body, there is a river of feelings. They are born, remain, and affect other aspects of our person. Are you taking care of your feelings? Your emotions? Our tendency is to run away. Breathing in, I am aware of my feeling. Breathing out, I calm my feeling. They are like a suffering baby and they have been left alone. We need to take care of this territory of feelings. 

The third portion of our territory is perception. We perceive realities, we have an image of ourselves. That is a perception. We have an image of the other person, or other group of people. This is a perception. And very often they are wrong. And because of our wrong perceptions, we suffer very deeply. There are a lot of contradictions. 

In the Buddhist tradition, the physical body is called a formation. Formation is a technical term that means anything that manifests based on conditions. For example, a flower. Our body is formation. Our feelings are also a kind of formation, but we call it a mental formation. The fourth element is mental formations. According to Buddhist psychology, we have defined 51 mental formations. And mindfulness is one of the mental formations; we should develop our mindfulness. 

The fifth domain is called consciousness. Consciousness contains all the kind of seeds that can manifest into mental formations. It is like the soil keeping all the seeds and when the rain falls then mental formations manifest. 

Reclaiming Our Sovereignty

The territory of our person is very large. And if we don’t know how to bring peace into our territory, then we cannot help our brother or sister to do the same. To restore peace, it is the act of peace. And it is a collective effort. We are the king/queen that rules our territory, but we have not been very good at taking care of our territory. We have lost our sovereignty. We have to go home and rely upon our sangha to help us restore and reclaim our sovereignty. We have our in-breath and out-breath to support us in this endeavor. And when the quality of your breathing has improved, you can step into your body and channel the peace and harmony with your breathing. That is the practice. 

Our society is organized in such a way that we’re encouraged to do the opposite of taking caring of ourselves. Television, magazines, etc. help us to run away from ourselves. When you don’t have anything to do, we often look for something to do. We are afraid of coming home to ourselves because we may encounter the war within ourselves. We have been running away. The buddhist practice helps us return to our kingdom without fear. With the energy of mindfulness of our sangha. We need the sangha. It is very difficult to do alone. The sangha can help us embrace our body, our feelings, our perceptions. The Buddha offers many concrete methods to restore peace and well-being. 

The Energy of Mindfulness

The energy of mindfulness has several functions. The first function is to be there for yourself. To help us produce our true presence. Through mindful breathing and mindful walking. This is the basic practice of Plum Village. The second function is to recognize what is there. What is there is your body, your feeling, etc. 

And the third function of mindful is to embrace. Not fighting. Just embracing. The fruit of the practice depends on the strength of your mindfulness. If you practice well, then it will be enough to embrace your pain. This can bring about relief and calming. We can create an environment that is favorable for this practice. 

Healing is not really coming from outside. It can come from the inside. It is inherent in our body and consciousness. Just like an animal is injured retreats to take care of the body. If we worry too much, then we make the situation worse. We need to rest. We can believe in the capacity of our body. This can also apply to our consciousness too. Every wound can be healed. Through tenderly embracing our pain in the body and in our feelings. 

The next function of mindfulness is to look deeply. Look deeply into what? Our feelings, our perceptions. To identify the roots of our pain and our suffering. Our ill-being. Looking deeply into the nature of our anger, our pain, then we can see the kind of food we are using to feed them. This is related to consumption. And practicing mindful consumption is the way out. Nothing can survive without food. To know what to consume and what not to consume. Looking deeply requires concentration. Which then gives you insight to know what to do. 

Practical Example: a feeling of despair. 

Building a Sangha

Thay shares of coming to the West and feeling all alone. I had to come to call for a cessation of war in Vietnam. And so he began to build a sangha to feel supported and not be alone. Building sangha is the most important task. Without a sangha, we cannot have refuge. Even if you are a teacher or a Buddha, you still need sangha. A group of people can change the course of history. 

Peace and well-being always begins with yourself. Learn the methods from the sangha. Have faith in the practice. And you can feel peace and well-being. Coming together for three months is our opportunity to build brotherhood and sisterhood. 

The next Buddha is Mr. Love. And will take the form of the sangha. The Five Skandhas working in harmony, that is a sangha. 

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Questions and Answers Retreats

Misunderstanding and Fear

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We continue our series of posts with questions and answers. In this eleventh post, we hear a question on the theme of spiritual leaders being killed.

  1. Jesus, Martin Luther King and Gandhi were all killed and I know that you were exiled from Vietnam. Why do bad things happen to spiritual people? 

The session takes place on August 16, 2007 during the Stonehill College retreat during the U.S. Tour. The retreat theme is Mindfulness, Fearlessness, and Togetherness.

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English/Vietnamese Plum Village Retreats

A Sense of Contact

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November 28, 2013. 140-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from New Hamlet of Plum Village. This is the fourth talk of the 2013-2014 Winter Retreat. We begin with two chants from the monastics. The talk was given in Vietnamese and this is an English translation by Sr. Tue Nghiem.

Today we continue studying the Five Universal Mental Formations – they happen in a split of a second. It is everywhere, anytime. This is why they are universal. The first is contact – we spend most of the teaching on this mental formation. It’s a vibration in our sense organs. It’s a modification of the organ when it comes together with the object and consciousness and prepares for the arrival of feeling. This is the traditional definition. Contact is the base for feeling or impression. How can consciousness occur without organs?

The second universal is attention. There is appropriate and inappropriate attention. This is followed by feeling, perception. What is the function of perception? What are the options in terms of volition? Grasp, chase after, run away, fight, or to punish. The example in traditional texts is the magnet. What is appropriate attention? How does this relate to contact?

We can bring in mindfulness – this is one of the five particular mental formations. Mindfulness is the third of the five particular. Stephen Levine defined it as memory; to recall a past experience. Mindfulness is not forgetting. Definitions of mindfulness.

Where there is mindfulness, we can recognize the five universals and not go down the path of suffering. How do we react when we have a feeling or a perception? We can interfere, by pausing and creating a new pathway, with mindfulness and this is a very important practice.

A teaching on the eight consciousnesses, in particular mind and manas and how they are different than the first five sense consciousnesses.

Seeds. Characteristics of a seed. We cannot separate the cause and the effect. There are two, but they are really one. Subject and object cannot be separated.

 

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English/French Plum Village Retreats

Five Fingers Living in Harmony

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July 12, 2013. 100-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from New Hamlet of Plum Village during the 2013 Summer Opening. This is the fourth talk of the summer and this is an English translation from the French. The recording begins with four chants followed by a talk for the children (at 16-minutes) and then the main talk begins (at 28-minutes).

You should plant this question in our heart. A question is a seed. It’s a lesson from when Thay was a boy. In my hand are five fingers and each finger has it’s name. They live in harmony. How are they a able to do that?

We continue from a few day ago (July 9) when we learned about the Sutra on the Full Awareness if Breathing.  The last time we covered the first eight exercises. First we review briefly with mind and store consciousness and the role of seeds. The practitioner had to be present I recognize the mental formation.

  • Recognize each mental formation
  • Beautify/Gladden the mind

Watering the good seeds, especially in our relationships. Maybe sign a peace and happiness treaty. How do we work with our mental formations to have a happy and healthy life?

First, we try not to water the seeds of suffering.  Second, if a seed if suffering exists then we can invite a wholesome seed to manifest. Third, when a good seed is manifesting, we try to maintain the positive energy. Fourth, we try to keep the good seeds alive. This is the practice if right diligence. The art of happiness.

The first aspect of the noble eightfold path is right view. The insight of interbeing acquired through meditation. This is followed by right thinking. Free of all notions. No discrimination. The third is right speech. With these we can practice loving speech and deep listening.  The Five Mindfulness Trainings are an expression of the Noble Eightfold Path.

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English/French Plum Village Retreats

Offering Beauty and Freshness

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July 9, 2013. 103-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Upper Hamlet of Plum Village during the 2013 Summer Opening. This is the second talk of the summer and this is an English translation from the French. The recording begins with two chants followed by a talk for the children (ends at 12-minutes) and then the main talk begins (begins at 33:40-minutes).

What does it mean to say I love you? What is the most precious gift? We can offer beauty and freshness. Meditation can help; the meditation on flower/fresh. How do we cultivate stability?

Peace in the body. Peace in the feelings. Peace in the perceptions. This is possible. Joy and happiness too. The practitioner should know how to generate these. What does it mean to cultivate? We need energy, and the first is mindfulness. The next energy, and linked to mindfulness, is concentration. And if these two are strong enough, we can bring about insight. There are 16-exercises of mindful breathing that can help is cultivate these three energies.

  • Recognizing breath is the first exercise.
  • Following breath is the second exercise. 
  • The third is recognizing your body. 
  • Calming the body is the fourth. 

With the next set of exercises we move from body to the realm of feelings.

  • Generating joy
  • Generating happiness 
  • Recognizing a painful feeling
  • Calm the painful feeling

Discussion and explanation of habit energy.

We now move to the realm of perceptions. The five universal mental formations: contact, attention, feeling, perception, volition. What are mental formations? Mind and store consciousness along with the manifestation of seeds. Buddhist psychology. Along with five universals are the five particulars: intention, determination, mindfulness, concentration, insight.

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Plum Village Retreats

A Story of Anathapindika

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January 20, 2013. 91-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Lower Hamlet at Plum Village. The sangha is in the 90-day Rains Retreat (Winter Retreat). This is the twenty-second 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.

We begin with Thay’s experience being interviewed by a journalist from The Guardian. The topic is about taking care of the environment and the role of business people. We also learn about happiness and how to write something for the reader to support this intention of happiness. To help the business person to breathe and discover happiness. Maybe we can even have the business leader to lead total relaxation. You can read the article here.

In the time of the Buddha, a number of businessmen came to see the Buddha. One is Anathapindika. The Buddha started to give teachings specifically for the lay practitioner compared to the teachings he gave to the monastics.

Back to the line of Zorro. The line at the top is the historical dimension and the bottom line is the ultimate dimension. We travel from historical to ultimate. You can reach the ultimate dimension in this life. We can see the Four Noble Truths, quantum physics.

Subject and object of perceptions. What is in your mind may be different from person to person. Each person has a different consciousness about what we see and what we experience.

More on the friendship of Anathapindika and Shariputra. Sutra on the White Clad Disciple. We can teach lay people. How to be happy in the present moment and be the holy disciple.

Another sutra we discuss is one the guide for those who are dying. It’s about Sariputra helping Anathapindika to die happily.

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Plum Village Retreats

Letting Go and Nirvana

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January 19, 2012. 91-minute dharma talk from Upper 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 Khong. This is the last talk on the Paramartha Gathas we have been studying this winter retreat.

Breathing in, I smile to life. We are present to life. And closely related: I am of the nature to die. I cannot escape death. Many people also fear growing old. I am of the nature of growing old. I cannot escape old age. I am of the nature to be sick. I cannot escape sickness. We can look deeply at sickness, old age, and death. We should also let go of all our titles, money, degrees, family, etc. Then when it’s time to die, you can go easily. The fruit of my thinking, speaking, and action is what will continue. Birth and death. Past. Present. Future. Nirvana is in life. In affliction.

We complete the sutra study (@ 52-minutes) with the last few gathas.

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Deer Park Monastery Retreats

When You Breathe You Can Already Celebrate Life

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September 11, 2011. 120-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 final dharma talk for the Together We Are One retreat.

We begin with a guided meditation looking deeply at ourselves and our ancestors.
We need to cultivate love and compassion. Love and compassion are an essential element of happiness. Maitri has the power to bring happiness. We must understand our suffering, we cannot understand the suffering if others. We must begin with ourselves.

In true live there is no individual suffering; you can’t say it’s not my problem. Understanding is the foundation of love and mindfulness and concentration are the two elements that can bring about understanding.

The roots of terrorism ate wrong views, wrong perceptions. We use loving speech and compassionate listening to help get rid of wrong views. This too is the practice of true love. The path proposed by the Buddha is a noble eightfold path. It has Mindfulness, concentration, and insight. We can travel to the shore of liberation and non-fear. Paramita.

Right view is an element of the noble eightfold path. The Five Mindfulness Trainings are a very concrete method to have right view. Thay talks about being and non-being as it relates to out way of thinking. Right thinking is another part of the path. To continue the explanation, Thay tells a story of a cloud. The nature of a cloud is no-birth, no-death. Our cloud has not come from non-being. A cloud can never die. Being and non-being are just notions. When conditions are sufficient, I manifest myself. My nature is non-local. Right view can liberate us from fear, despair, anger.

In the mind of discrimination, we always want to choose only happiness. We want to ban the suffering and only have happiness. But happiness and suffering inter-are. It is the understanding of the suffering that compassion/happiness can arrive. We do not discriminate against suffering. Birth is now. Death is now. We can touch that fact. Being and non-being are notions and cannot be applied to reality.

Right speech, the next in the path, means speech without discrimination. Next we look at Right Action. What we do with our body should reflect our right view. No discrimination. The same can be said about Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.
Finally, Thay talks about karma.

In addition to the audio, a video version is available.

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English/French Plum Village Retreats

I Know You Suffer

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July 27, 2011. 93-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh, translated from the French by Sr. Pine, from Upper Hamlet, Plum Village, France. The sangha is in the annual Summer Opening Retreat

Thay teaches four mantras that can help us resolve difficult situations with our loved ones: 1) I am here for you; 2) I know you are there, and I am happy; 3) I know you suffer, and I want you to know that I am here for you; 4) I suffer, please help.

Thay also teaches the story of Mr. Truong and Nam Xuong, who lose their love, and her life, due to actions based on a wrong perception. “In our society we have a fear of suffering, but to understand the suffering in ourselves and in the other person is very important. When we are able to understand the suffering inside, we suffer less. And we can see more easily the suffering in the other person; we can understand them.” To go deeper into how we nourish the seeds of anger inside,

Thay explains the teaching on the Four Nutriments: 1) edible food, 2) sense impressions, 3) volition, 4) consciousness.

The talk was given in French and the English translation is available below. There is a video version available too.