A New Teaching on the Twelve Nidanas

November 29, 2012. 115-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 seventh dharma talk of the retreat with the theme  Are You The Soulmate of the Buddha? We begin with chanting.

The Buddha has spoken about Mother Earth as patience and equanimity. The two great virtues of the planet earth. Our society is very sick and many of us need healing. Our body and mind have lots of poisons. We don’t know how to consume. But Mother Earth has the capacity to heal herself and can help us if we know how to take refuge in her.  She is not in a hurry. When we walk, we can be aware that the earth is holding our steps. Mother Earth is also inside of us. Walking meditation is one of the ways to heal and allow the earth to be in us and around us. We are the earth. Allow it to happen by itself; we don’t make the breathing in/out happen. We just enjoy the in/out breath. Mother Earth is a great bodhisattva.The healing begins when you are not trying anything. The practice of non-practice.

Thay summarizes the November 25 talk into English due to challenges with the translation in that talk.

There is a dimension of reality called the historical dimension. In the historical dimension we see things as separate – father is outside of the son. This is classical science as applied by Newton. But now we have  another kind of science that goes deeper; it has discovered a new kind of truth. This is represented by quantum physics. It seems to contradict the truth found in historical dimension. In meditation there are also two kinds of truth: the conventional truth and the ultimate truth. There is path that can lead us from historical to ultimate. The Buddha taught, “This is because that is.” This is the teaching of “genesis” in Buddhism. In Plum Village we use a sheet of paper to illustrate this teaching. So simple. Everything can be looked at in this way. It is the best practice of meditation because it can connect us with the ultimate truth.The Buddha used the notions of historical dimension to lead us to the ultimate. This was skillful means to helps us to release notions and concepts. The teaching of co-arising / inter-arising.

In the ultimate dimension, we use words like Emptiness. This is the equivalent to God. It is the ultimate. It is the absence of notions and concepts. The teaching of interbeing – nothing by itself can be alone. Helps you to be connected to emptiness. This is because that is. Rebirth is possible without a self. Karma is possible without a self. Retribution is possible without a self. Many Buddhists still believe you need a “self” but this is a deluded belief. This is because of influences from pre-Buddhist teachings. Even for many people in the west, the first thing they think of in Buddhism is reincarnation. This is not the “cream” of Buddhism. The deep teaching is interbeing. No-self.  The wisdom of adaptation. To connect with emptiness. The teachings of the twelve links seem more at explain samsara rather than the ultimate truth.

Twelve Nidanas

  1. Avidya (delusion)
  2. Sanskara (impulses, actions, dispositions)
  3. Vijñana (consciousness)
  4. Namarapa (body and mind)
  5. Sadayatana (six sense organs and object)
  6. Sparsa (contact)
  7. Vedana (feelings)
  8. Trsna (craving, attachment)
  9. Upadana (grasping)
  10. Bhava (existence)
  11. Jati (birth)
  12. Jara-marana (old age and death)

This is the classical way of presenting the Nidanas. The first two links belong to the past. The next eight links belong to this life – the present. Then after this body disintegrates, the last two are the future. As a young student, Thay learned the three times past, present, and the future are represented in these twelve links. Thay also learned there are two layers of cause and effect within these twelve links. The teaching of three times and two layers of cause and effect. As a student, I just believed my teacher. But as Thay continued to learn and to practice, he learned this teaching will not help us touch the ultimate dimension. It can only be used on the level of conventional truth. We have to look at this teaching differently.

Thay provides a re-teaching of the twelve links to see them in the ultimate truth.

delusion <–> formations -> birth/death -> being/non-being -> samsara

wisdom <–> formations -> no-birth/no-death -> no-being/no non-being -> nirvana 

This is because that is. 

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20121129 from Plum Village Online Monastery on Vimeo.

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Your Mother’s Hand, the Nectar of Love

June 6, 2012. 114-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from Upper Hamlet in Plum Village during the 21-Day Retreat with the theme The Science of the Buddha. The talk is given in English and this is the fourth dharma talk (of 15).

We begin with chanting followed by the main talk about 10-minutes into the recording.

Topics of the Talk

  • Harmonizing body, breath, and mind.
  • Sangha
  • Subject | Object
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Mother Earth Accepts All

December 11, 2011. 87-minute dharma talk from Upper Hamlet of Plum Village, France. This is the sixth talk offered in the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat. The talk is given in Vietnamese with English translation provided by Sr. Chan Khong.

We learn of mother. The buddha is the son of his mother, his foster mother, the mother earth. We learn of the story Suddana in Avatamsaka Sutra where each of us can birth a Buddha. We can meet the mother of the Buddha. She is the mother of all the Buddhas in the present and in the past. She is one with the planet earth. Mother earth is so large and can accept everything without discrimination.

The autumn leaves are still on the ground here at Plum Village. They are in transformation, but some still remain on the tree. The leaves live a short life, but they enjoy being whereas humans have lot of worries, anxiety, etc. it is the price of being human. To be a pine tree is beautiful. Maybe next life we can be a tree or a bird.

We always have a need for a place to return. Every part of us will return to the earth. As Buddhists we need to see things in a non-duality way and that we are one with the planet earth. The planet is the mother of every being. The nature of reality is no coming, no going; no birth, no death. If we look deeply, we can see everything continues. The earth is alive.

At 49-minutes into the talk, we continue learning the sutra beginning with Gatha 14. Sub-atomic science still cannot grasp the nature reality. In Buddhism, we have the concept of non-attainment. You cannot grasp the true nature. We cannot grasp in time and space. In quantum science, they try to grasp the nature of every particle. They see forces/fields such as gravity, electromagnetism, and nuclear. But science rarely speak of our mind and the force of karma. For example, the destruction of the Twin Towers was a force of the mind – hatred. The mind can also be positive with just as much power. In this Gatha, there are these fields we cannot grasp even if they have manifested.

14. It is not inside, nor is it outside. It is not something between inside and outside. Before (samskaras) conditioned things have arisen it is not possible to grasp them (in terms of time and space).

15. Moreover after conditioned things have arisen it is not possible to grasp them. The future does not have any sign (by which we can grasp it). The past can be an object of our discriminating mind (imagined).

16. We are able to discriminate the things we have been in touch with, we can also discriminate the things we have not yet been in touch with. Although there is no beginning of samskaras, the discriminating mind can still use the concept of beginning.

17-18. The physical body is like foam. Feelings are like bubbles on the surface of the water. The perceptions are like a magic city. The mental formations are like the stem of a banana tree. The consciousness is like a magic show. That is what the Buddha has taught.

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To Express Our Love For The Earth

November 27, 2011. 100-minute dharma talk from Lower Hamlet of Plum Village, France. This is the second talk offered in the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat. The talk is given in Vietnamese with English translation provided by Sr. Chan Khong.

Thay shares hows to practice when entering the meditation hall for sitting meditation: quietly, stopping our thinking, and at peace. “We want to express our love for the Earth, so we have to walk mindfully, with gratitude.” Entering the meditation hall and settling. Calmly. Mindfully. Paying attention to your breathing and your sitting position. This brings peace to your body and to your mind. Every breath. Every step. We can use the breathing sutra. We can see our mental and body formations. The entire cosmos is inside of you and inside the earth. What is bodhisattva? Enlightened being. An being who has awakening, peace, understanding, love.

At about 38-minutes, Thay continues sharing on the Paramartha Gathas from the Yogacarabhumi Sastra of Asanga. “Yoga means coming together appropriately.” He teaches how subject and object cannot be separated. “Don’t think there is a subject outside of the object. That is wrong thinking. They manifest together, like left and right. Without the left there is no right, and vice versa.”

“Self (?) has various meanings: 1) owner, 2) actor, 3) inheritor. We should understand correctly: There is rain, but there is nothing that rains. There is blowing, but nothing blowing. There is feeling, but there is no one feeling.”

We can let go of conventional designation. Father and son are born at the same time. Subject and object. We have this idea this is my home, my child, my bank account. But there is no owner. There is feeling, but no feeler. There is action, but no actor. There is thinking, but no thinking. The self has an ego that gives you the idea of a separate self. We are not our feeling. This is a construction of our mind. Your presence is your function.

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