A Beginners Mind for a Beautiful Future

The Sangha is gathered together at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi during the 2011 US Teaching Tour with the theme Cultivating the Mind of Love. This 115-minute dharma talk is from October 2, 2011 and both the audio and video are available with this post. This is the last day of Magnolia retreat and may be a little difficult if listeners have not heard the talks from the previous days (video playlist).

The beginners mind. It is a source of energy. A willingness to practice. And to serve others. We are not afraid of obstacles in order to realize our dream and our intention. Siddhartha had this beginners mind, and we can too. The mind of love is the beginners kind. During this retreat has allowed this to arise in our heart. Do we know how to continue this mind?

In Buddhism, there are two kinds of truth: conventional and ultimate. Thay explains how it is similar to what we see in science. We can learn to understand the true nature of reality. When we come to the ultimate truth, we can leave behind our notions of birth and death, suffering and happiness, being and non-being, etc. How can we do this? We cannot be an observer, we must try to be a participant. The Buddha’s insight received under the bodhi tree was to be relieved of all fear. This cannot be learned from notions and concepts.

We learn of Right View, another element of the noble path. Thay tells a story of Katyayana, a student of the Buddha, asking about Right View. A teaching of no-birth, being and non-being, as illustrated by a cloud. Right View is being able to transcend all these notions: being and non-being, birth and death, left and right, above and below, subject and object, etc. All pairs of opposites. We cannot remove one without the other.

Story of a grain of salt wanting to know how salty is the ocean to illustrate the subject of cognition and object of cognition. Being a participant to truly understand.

Talking to a flame to illustrate this teaching of being and non-being.

Thay writes these pairs of opposites on the board: birth and death, being and nonbeing, coming and going, sameness and otherness. All these must be transcended to see the true face of reality.

A teaching on interbeing and four more notions – self, man, living beings, and life span. Thay explains each as outiined in the Diamond Sutra. This Sutra teaches us that humans are only made of non-human elements. This is one of the oldest teachings in deep ecology. The Buddha too is comprised of non-Buddha elements. This is why bowing to the Buddha is not worshiping, but is a meditation.

We have been talking of Right View and dualism. We turn now to three other elements of the noble eightfold path that arise from Right View. Right Thinking can help us remove all discrimination. It is thinking that can produce understanding and compassion. It can heal the world. From these two we can then practice Right Speech. To restore and reconcile. This element includes our ability for deep listening. And then we turn to Right Action. Anything we can do with our body to protect and save. These three are all forms of action, starting with our thoughts. Thinking is already action. And we produce each of these every day. The philosopher Jean-Paul Sartre said that man is the sum of his action. In Sanskrit, this is called karma. Everything we produce will continue us; it does not disappear. We are the author, and that is our continuation. If we can keep our beginners mind alive, surely we will have a beautiful future.

The other elements of the path, briefly outlined in this talk, are Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration. This path can be seen very concretely in the Five Mindfulness Trainings. We also briefly learn of the Three Doors of Liberation — emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness — in light of the retreat’s teaching.

We talk concludes with a couple of songs led by Sr. Chan Không.

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The World We Are

Thank you for patience in our posting a dharma talk from our teacher. Today we are happy to offer a talk for the new year. This 63-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh is from December 31, 2008 at Plum Village, Lower Hamlet, Dharma Nectar Temple. The theme of the talk is about interbeing and the world we are.

It’s the last day of the year. Can you believe it? Where does it go? And from what direction does the next year come? Questions are interesting and important. And in the teaching of the Buddha, we learn of no-coming and no-going.

Thay shares a story of his walking meditation from Still Sitting Hut to the temple at Son Ha, down the hill. Life is everywhere. Seeing also how the oak leaves become the soil. There is a lot of happiness in seeing and observing these things. Why? Because then Thay is not afraid of dying! Life is everywhere, inside and all around us.

Teaching on giving – there is the giver, the gift, and the receiver. Illustrated by the corn seed. And that of our parents. Is there a distinction between the giver, gift, and receiver? The emptiness in giving. Another illustration, the left and the right. Everything is inside everything else.

How do we love? And healing and forgiveness? Every thought is considered action. You can heal the world by right thinking. Your thought can be the giver of life. Our right thinking is already action toward healing and forgiveness. We the also have right speech – also a healing action. Be the giver of life. We can profit right away.

Right action can be also be seen in a triple aspect – thinking, speaking, and acting. This is our continuation, our karma. This is retribution – two aspects of retribution are taught.

We never die. Whether we like it or not. But we can continue beautifully. You are your environment. The oak leaf becoming the soil teaches us this – the oak leaf becomes the soil.

The World We Have, recently published by Parallax Press, might have a better title as “The World We Are.”

As you walk around, look at everything as yourself.

In the closing minutes of the talk, Thay speaks to a handout of personal commitments that we can make to better support the environment in the coming year. A version of this handout is available on the Earth Holder website under Personal Commitments.

Happy New Year!

If you are able to support this project financially, please visit our account on Patreon where you can make a donation for as little as $1 per dharma talk.

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Insight of No-Self

July 26, 2013. 90-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from New Hamlet of Plum Village during the 2013 Summer Opening. This is the twelfth talk of the summer.

The bell of mindfulness. In a short talk for children, this is something Thay wants us to bring home with us when you leave Plum Village. This can help to bring peace to the family. He then tells the story of Henry who was a math teacher in Toronto, Canada. How to be a bell master – Thay provides concise instructions for inviting the bell.

The main talk begins at 31-minutes. Karma, retribution, reincarnation teachings have been around a very long time. Before the Buddha. But this is not at the heart of Buddhist teaching. It is the insight of no-self. Teaching on the actor. Impermanence. Sameness and otherness.

To illustrate, we hear the story of a serial killer at the time of the Buddha who then joined the sangha. Transformation.

The self is only made of non-self elements. We don’t need to be dogmatic and caught by words – er can say “self” too. If you are not open then you are not Buddhist. Buddhism too is only made of non-Buddhist elements.

Non-self is Interbeing.

Right thinking is the element that goes along with this teaching. It has a lot of understanding and compassion. We continue with an explanation in several other aspects of the noble eightfold path.

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Five Fingers Living in Harmony

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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Domains of Mindfulness Practice

June 16, 2013. 112-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbrol, Germany. The talk is given in English with consecutive translation into German. This is the final dharma talk of the German Retreat on the theme Are You Sure?

We start with the three kinds of energies — mindfulness, concentration, insight — and they can produced anytime while doing any activity. We can see things more deeply and remove wrong perceptions. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. Concentration is the same.

Four Foundations of Mindfulness – the four domains or objects of mindfulness. The first domain is body. The second domain are the feelings. The mind is the third object. The final domain is objects of mind – in Buddhist psychology there are 51 mental formations. What is object of mind? The Five Skandhas (also known as the five aggregates). We discuss store consciousness and mind consciousness.

Science and Buddhism. Conventional truth and ultimate truth. Transmitter and receiver. What is emptiness? Birth and death. Being and non-being. These are just notions and can lead to wrong views.

Right View, part of the noble eightfold path, is the insight that is free from all wrong views. Right Thinking is the kind of thinking that is also free of notions of birth and death, being and non-being.

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What is Right Thinking

June 12, 2013. 102-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbrol, Germany. The talk is given in English with consecutive translation into German. This is the first dharma talk of the German Retreat on the theme Are You Sure?

Following two chants by the monastics, the talk begins at 12-minutes into the recording. 

We begin immediately with the concept of dualist thinking and Right Thinking. How do we see the interconnection between things? For example, between happiness and suffering or all the elements of a lotus flower. The lotus is made of non-lotus elements. A good gardener knows how to make good use of the mud just as a good mindfulness practitioner knows how to make good use of her suffering. The goodness of suffering. When you understand suffering then understanding and compassion arises – the foundation of happiness.

From the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, we have exercises handed down by the Buddha to help our practice with suffering.

  • Generate a feeling of joy
  • Generate a feeling of happiness 
  • Recognize painful feelings 
  • Calm down the painful feeling 

Mindfulness is an energy that helps us know what is going on in our body and our feelings. How do we bring relief to our painful feelings and emotions?

Three kinds of energies we should try to generate: mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

Four elements of True Love and being present for those we love. Taking care of our suffering and our live we can learn to take care of the world.

In the last 10-minutes, we get walking meditation instructions.

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A Seed of Corn

June 20, 2012. 70-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from New 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 fourteenth dharma talk (of 15). No chanting, but began with some mindful movements.

True Happiness comes from understanding and compassion. I am capable of understanding. The seeds of Buddhahood are there. Right Thinking is the kind of thinking that can produce compassion. One in-breath can create compassion and we can create new habits.

The Four Attainments are the fruits of our practice.

  1. Dwell peacefully where you are. Froglessness.
  2. I have arrived.
  3. No birth

Does the soul exist?

Thay reads from The Paramartha Gathas of Asanga Gathas on the Absolute Truth, verse 44, on Birth. Death. Nirvana.

Living beings is the name of a continuous stream and all phenomena as theobject of perception are only signs. Therefore there is no real change of birthinto death and death into birth and no person who realizes nirvana.

Being a seed of corn.

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Appease the Suffering

December 28, 2011. 105-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from New Hamlet, Plum Village. The sangha is in the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat and this is talk was given in French with English translation provided by Sister Pine.

Thay teaches on the Noble Eightfold Path, and how concrete practices can help us to cultivate this path. “Thought can make us suffer; we need to be able to stop our thinking in order to be capable of happiness. If we look at the sun but cannot get deeply in touch with it in the present moment, we only see suffering, we cannot see all the conditions of happiness that are already present. If you can see all thoughts just as notions, you can penetrate the reality of no-birth and no-death.”

Right View And it’s relationship to Concentration and the practice of Mindfulness. Right Thinking is characterized by non-discrimination. We also learn of the three practices of concentration (Three Doors of Liberation) present in all Buddhist traditions: emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness. He also teaches on the nature of karma (body, speech, and mind) – Right Action and Right Livelihood. Finally, the four practices of Right Diligence.

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What You Know Could Be An Obstacle

November 24, 2011. 95-minute dharma talk with Thich Nhat Hanh from the Full Moon Meditation Hall in New Hamlet, Plum Village, France. This is the first dharma talk for the 2011-2012 Winter Retreat. The talk was given in Vietnamese and translated into English by Sr. Chan Khong [Vietnamese version].

Thich Nhat Hanh begins by talking about the importance of putting into practice what we learn when we study about Buddhism. Listen. Look Deeply. Put into Action. This is how we achieve the gate of liberation. We can also learn to think skillfully. Right Thinking and wisdom can arrive. The main teaching of Thay is to have arrived in the present moment. To be home. And yet, there are those who have heard this thousands of times but they have not reached a place of deep wisdom. It is not just an accumulation of knowledge.

“When we share the Dharma it should come from a place of happiness. Some people, including monastics, can give very good Dharma talks on ‘I have arrived, I am home,’ but they are not truly happy.”

We don’t need to use what we know when listening to a dharma talk. This leads to comparing. You just receive it. The Buddha said some students receive enlightenment just like that. Right away. Not the fruit of your knowledge. What you know, could be an obstacle. It is only intellectual.

He then begins study of the Paramartha Gathas, from the Yogacarabhumi Sastra of Asanga. Asanga is a very profound teacher who began in Theravada, but then followed Mahayahana Buddhism. This Gatha speaks about the Absolute Truth. It’s been translated three times from the Sanskrit. We have the Chinese texts as well as a Vietnamese translation by Thay. English is being produced for this teaching. [Note: When texts become available, they will be posted]

The first verse:

There is absolutely no subject, no agent and no one who enjoys the fruit of action. No dharma has any effect. Nonetheless, the passing on of one effect to another does take place.

Thay shares about physics in the light of this teaching: “What is the electron made of? All things are composite. There are many things that come together to make everything. When we look skillfully we see only action: we don’t see any owner, actor or inheritor.”

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