Exercises on Mindful Breathing

The monastic community is practicing during the Rainy Season Retreat from January 4 to March 14 at Deer Park Monastery with the lay community. This 83-minute dharma talk in the Ocean of Peace Meditation Hall takes place on Sunday, January 18, 2004 at the beginning of the third week. Both audio and video versions are available with this post.

It takes about 5-minutes to work through some technical difficulties before the dharma talk begins. During that time Thay reflects on a few small things like the freshness of the air in Deer Park and the upcoming Year of the Monkey. The monkey is in the mind. Our practice is not to force the monkey to stop, but to become aware of the movement of the mind. We don’t try to suppress our mind. 

Last time we spoke about how to become fully present and fully alive. The practice is so easy that it would be a pity if you don’t do it. The power and energy of mindfulness is available because we all have the seed of mindfulness in our consciousness. If we keep the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight then we are good continuations of the Buddha. But we also live in forgetfulness and we can transform this with the flower of mindfulness. Garbage and flowers. We are like organic gardeners that can produce the flowers of peace and happiness. Our happiness arises from elements of affliction and we don’t need to be afraid of the garbage. We don’t need to run away from our pain and sorrow. 

Mindful Breathing Exercises

The Buddha offered very simple and effective methods of practice. We can master these methods and we can no longer be afraid of sickness, fear, despair, or even death. In the Sutra on Mindful Breathing, the first exercise is simply breathing in and out. Simple identification and awareness. Thay offers several methods on how to follow our in breath and out breath. When mindfulness is there, then concentration is there too. Concentration is born from mindfulness. This first exercise proposed by the Buddha is so easy and so simple. It is for our enjoyment. It is a gift. And when we practice mindfulness, we are a Buddha. 

The second exercise is long and short. Following our breath all the way through. Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. But the practice is not to try and make the breath longer or shorter. Don’t try to force your breath. Your breath is what it is. Simple, mere recognition. Just turn on the light of mindfulness and become aware of it. It is like the sunshine and the flower. Mindfulness is the sunshine and the energy will recognize and embrace the flower, our breath. The photons of the sunshine penetrate right into the flower and it opens. Our in-breath and out-breath are like a flower. In our practice of meditation, there are three elements: body, mind, and breath. They are interconnected with each other. These can become one, and all of them inherit from the energy of mindfulness and concentration brought about by mindful breathing. The second exercise suggests we enjoy our in-breath and out-breath all the way through from the beginning to the end. To follow your breath. 

The third exercise is awareness of the whole body. Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I am aware of my body. This is a practice of going home to your body and being present. We can reconcile with our body. Awareness is already enlightenment. We receive a short teaching on “formations.” The formation of our physical body. We are fully aware that our body fully is. To recognize our body as a formation. This practice can help to heal our body. Awareness and practicing with a smile. It’s yoga of the mouth. How do we practice this even if our mind and body are not aligned? We can smile to release all the tensions and relax the body. If you are a doctor or a therapist, you may want to explore more with the Sutra on Mindful Breathing. 

Thay offers very specific methods to practice mediation using these exercises. Everyone can succeed with these exercises.

Awareness of feelings is the fifth exercise. Breathing in, I feel joy. I am aware of the feeling called joy. Breathing out, I feel joy. This too is a formation, but they are a mental formation. The sixth is similar but we are calling forth our feeling of happiness. Joy and happiness are there for our nourishment and healing. We start with these seeds of joy and happiness before moving to those feelings that cause us to suffer. But these exercises are not simply auto-suggestion, but happiness and joy can be born if we know how to touch the seed. The first way to bring joy is to leave behind; to let go. Maybe something we believe to be crucial to our happiness. 

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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Happiness is Possible Now

This talk from the Lower Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Sunday, March 16, 2014. The talk on this day is in English and begins with Thay reflecting on the statement “How do you do?” followed by a teaching on the first four exercises of mindful breathing and the practices of total relaxation and walking meditation.

0:00 How do you do?
10:15 Restlessness
17:08 Third Exercise of Mindful Breathing
23:10 Fourth Exercise of Mindful Breathing
27:40 First Exercise of Mindful Breathing
35:15 Second Exercise of Mindful Breathing
37:00 Total Relaxation
47:10 Walking Mediation

How do you do? What does this mean? How do you feel in your body, your feelings, and your perceptions. The human is made of five elements. The body. Are you tired? Are you stressed? The feelings. Do you have pleasant or unpleasant feelings? The perceptions. How do you see the world? Most of our perceptions are incorrect. Then we have mental formations. Anger, fear, despair, jealously, hope, etc. The final element is consciousness. Your mind. Are you light or overloaded? This is what I mean when asked how do you do? Not just business – this is only just a small part. To practice Buddhism and mindfulness is to take care of our five elements so that we’ll being can become a reality. You can bring joy and peace. When anger is manifesting, so you know how to handle your anger? The Buddha taught us to handle our anger. The Buddha taught two things: How to bring peace and happiness. And secondly, how to handle the suffering when it comes up.

Today, Thay will talk about one mental formation called restlessness. We don’t feel peace and don’t know what to do. Restlessness is the lack of peace. How do new deal with this mental formation? If parents and teachers know how to handle restlessness they can help our children. How do we learn? First, we start with our body. In Plum Village we have many ways to work with the body. For example, total relaxation. In the Sutra of Mindful Breathing the Buddha proposed sixteen exercises. These are concrete.

The third exercise is “breathing in, I am aware of my body.” You do not think of anything else. When the mind is not with the body you are not totally alive. This is called the oneness of body and mind. Your body is a wonder of life. Happiness can be found in your body. Aware of body.

The Buddha then proposed the fourth exercise, “breathing in, I release the tension in my body.” This is very important for us today to help us suffer less. When you heat the bell, you can stop your thing and breath in mindfully and bring your mind back to your body. Release the tension in body.

The first exercise of mindful breathing is very simple and powerful. Breathing in, I know am breathing out. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out. Awareness of breath. Very simple. We can touch the fact that you are alive and this is the greatest of all miracles. It is wonderful. This can make you a free person and can make good decisions.

The second exercise is following your in breath all the way through. We become very concentrated on your breath. Our concentration becomes deeper. We stop our thinking and we enjoy. When we sit in the lotus position, we can allow ourselves to release the tension and this is one of the methods to work with restlessness. We have many practices to help us work with our breathing. Gathas and songs to release the tensions and enjoy our body.

The practice of lying down and total relaxation of body is practical and relevant. In the Sutra of the Contemplations of the Body we learn how to identify different parts of the body. We can all learn and practice total relaxation.

Another method to release the tension is walking meditation. The present moment. Happiness is possible now. We don’t need to go into the future to find happiness. Walking meditation is a training to help us stop running. Life is only available in the here and the now. It is the practice of stopping. Stop the running and enjoy every step. How do we practice walking meditation?

Editor’s Note: The video is included below for you but the time stamps listed above apply to the audio recording only.

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Happiness for Young People

This talk from the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village is dated Thursday, March 13, 2014 and the sangha has just finished a couple weeks of lazy days following the winter retreat. The talk on this day is in English and begins with a lesson on mindful breathing to release tension and painful emotions followed by a teaching on the Four Kinds of Nutriments. The second half of the talk includes a special ceremony and discussion with the vice chancellor of the University of Hong Kong.

1:08 Chanting
8:00 Hearing the Bell
14:26 Mindful Breathing to Relieve Tension and Painful Emotions
21:54 Letter to Death Row
30:00 The Four Kinds of Nutriments
57:29 Ceremony to Confer Honorary Doctorate Degree to Thich Nhat Hanh from the University of Hong Kong
1:17:40 Thay Responds to Degree
1:30:40 Dialogue between Thay and Vice Chancellor on Topic of Today’s Youth

When you hear the bell, you may want to stop you’re thinking. Use your breathing to be aware that you have a body and smile to your body. It is a wonder. Practice mindful breathing we bring our mind home to our body. We are fully alive when we do this exercise. Our body is already a wonder of life.

When you’re mind is not with your body, it is not truly alive. We need an embodied mind. In the Sutra of Mindful Breathing, the Buddha proposed sixteen exercises. The third exercise is breathing in, I am aware of my body. You’re body is your first true home. The next exercise is to release the tension in your body – the fourth exercise.

We can also calm our painful emotions (the seventh exercise). We should not run away from our painful feelings. Many people in society consume min order to avoid thier painful feelings. With these exercises you can generate the energy of mindfulness. The pain is an energy and so is mindfulness. Mindfulness can embrace your pain (the eighth exercise). We can suffer much less.

Yesterday Thay received a letter from a young man in America who is a pen pal of a man on death row. The person in prison is a practicing Buddhist who has found relief from the teachings. They have been reading The Heart of the Buddhist Teachings together. Thay responds to the letter by talking about fear, anger, and despair that people suffer from both within and without. We can practice compassion and then we can be free. There can be freedom in prison.

Today we are going to have a discussion on the topic of youth. All of us need a good environment. Teachers and parents should come together to create a good environment for our young people in order to suffer less. The Buddha said that nothing can survive without food. There are several kinds of food. In the Sutra of the Four Nutriments can be helpful as a background to understand. In this sutra there is a story of a family crossing the desert and they have to make a very difficult decision to kill their child in order to survive. The first kind of nutriment is edible food. We have to eat in such a way to preserve compassion in us and not to eat the flesh of our own sons and daughters. The second kind of nutriment is sensory impressions. This comes from eye, ear, nose, ear, body, and mind. When we watch television, we consume. When we use the internet, we consume. Even conversation can be very toxic. Educators and parents should practice mindful consumption to set an example for our young people to preserve our well being. The third kind of nutriment is intention/volition. This is the deepest desire in us – our deepest desire may be good or it may be destructive. Helping young people to suffer less or to work for the environment or work for peace, these are good intentions. Last year at Google, they asked Thay to talk about intention. What do we want to do with our life? Our deepest desire? Is it to practice to help people to suffer less, then that is a good intention. And the fourth kind of nutriment is consciousness – consciousness as food. There is individual consciousness. We carry with us the suffering of our parents and our ancestors. We should have a teacher or friend to help us come out of the dark corner of the past. Practicing appropriate attention, that is good food. There is also collective consciousness. We can feel the collective energy of mindfulness and compassion in a positive environment. To help young people, we should reflect on the kinds of nutriments we are providing them. Nothing can survive without food.

Thay Phap Luu introduces the conferring of a Doctor of Social Sciences honoris causa degree for Thich Nhat Hanh from the University of Hong Kong in advance of the 190th Congregation on March 18, 2014 in Hong Kong. The Vice Chancellor of the University and other professors are present to offer the degree. The honorary degree is a very old and cherished tradition of the University and past degrees have been given to Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Bill Clinton. Following the degree conferring, Thay offers a few words (10-minutes) in response and as a message to those at the University of Hong Kong. We continue with a dialogue between Thay and the Vice Chancellor on the subject of today’s youth.

What can we do more to help our students to provide a better environment?

In our restless world today, there is frustration and unhappiness in graduates not being able to find work and career. What insight can you share to help young people feel more satisfied and content with the future?

Note from the Editor
Thay has offered us a vision of building an online monastery, or online temple, where practitioners may come not just to receive information, but to practice online: to follow their breathing, experience guided meditation, interact with monastics and lay practitioners, etc. This archive of Thay’s talks is a component of this vision.

We are using a new service (Patreon) that allows for you to become an ongoing patron for this archive. Each patron can make a donation, as little as $1 per talk, to be donated automatically on a monthly basis. Payments are made by credit card or PayPal and patrons can be anywhere in the world. When you visit the site, you identify the amount you want to give for each talk, identify a maximum amount per month, and provide your mailing address. If you are in the United States you can have a tax deduction through the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation.

Please visit our Patreon page: Thich Nhat Hanh is Creating Happiness.

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Can There be Peace without War?

October 16, 2013. 111-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, California during the 2013 Nourishing Great Togetherness teaching tour. This is the fourth and final dharma talk for the 6-day retreat with the theme Finding Our True Home.

A lesson for the children for when they return to school and how to deal with aggression without being angry or violent. If we do that, then we win. After about 10-minutes we continue with just the adults.

We begin with a few unanswered questions from the previous session of questions and answers: I can be mindful of my breath when I sitting or walking but how do I keep mindful of my breath when speaking? Political discourse is deeply toxic and intolerant; how do we consume without the negativity? How can we still be engaged? Please talk to us about grief.  What can you share with teachers and youth so they can walk away and take care of their fears and stress? Can there be peace without war?

The topic of our talk today is birth and death. These two happen at the same time; even a scientist can see this through the continuous birth and death of the cells of our body. Where there is death, there is birth. In our tradition, we speak of two kinds of truth: conventional truth and ultimate truth.

The Five Mindfulness Trainings represent the path of transformation and healing. A path of happiness. The Noble Path has eight elements. The first is Right View. It is the insight that transcends all discrimination. If you think war and peace as two deprecate entities, that is not right view. There is Interbeing. There are four pairs of opposites that can represent all kinds of opposites.

  • Birth and death
  • Being and nonbeing
  • Coming and going
  • Sameness and otherness

Right view transcends all these opposites. From there, you can practice Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness, and Right Concentration.

We continue now with the exercises of mindful breathing where we left off in a prior dharma talk. With the ninth through twelfth exercise, we come to the realm of the mind. The last four (13-16) are about the objects of mind with impermanence, non-craving, nirvana, and letting go.

We resume the teaching on the four pairs of opposites fooled by the Three Doors of Liberation. Emptiness. Signlessness. Aimlessness.

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Beginning Our Practice of Mindfulness

August 26, 2013. 87-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York during the 2013 Nourishing Great Togetherness teaching tour. This is the first dharma talk for the 6-day retreat with the theme Transformation and Healing – The Art of Suffering. We begin with two chants from the monastics.

Topics

  • Why do we want to practice breathing-in and breathing-out? We don’t have to suffer and we can produce the energy of joy.
  • First exercise of mindful breathing
  • Walking in the kingdom is an end in itself
  • Three Energies: Mindfulness, Concentration, Insight
  • Second exercise of mindful breathing
  • Third exercise of mindfulbreathing – aware of body
  • Fourth exercise of mindful breathing – relax body
  • Fifth exercise of mindful breathing – producing joy
  • Sixth exercise of mindful breathing – producing happiness
  • Seventh exercise of mindful breathing – aware of painful feeling
  • Eighth exercise of mindful breathing – embrace painful feeling
  • Store and mind consciousness with mental formations
  • Teaching of The Second Arrow
  • Five Universal Mental Formatioms (Contact, Attention , Feeling , Perception, Volition)
  • Five Particular Mental Formations (intention, resolution, mindfulness, concentration, and insight)

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Using our Breath brings Mindfulness

June 9, 2013. 100-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 Dutch. This is the fifth dharma talk of the Dutch Retreat on the theme Understanding Our Emotions.

We do not need to call ourselves a Buddhist to practice Buddhism. We can use practice verses, little poems, to help us with our practice. Thay shares a number of these verses for us to memorize.

Mindfulness is an energy that lets us do at least two things. The first is to be there – to be truly here in the present moment. The second is to be aware of what is going on – such as your in breath. We can use mindfulness to take care of the body. In the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing, the Buddha gave a set of exercises on mindfulness of the body.

  • Aware of my breath
  • Follow your in breath all the way to the end
  • To beware of your body
  • Release the tension in the body

These are simple exercises and anyone can practice. After we take care of our body, we can move on to our feelings.

  • Generate a feeling of joy
  • Generate a feeling of happiness
  • Awareness of the painful feeling
  • Calm the painful emotions

After the body and the feelings, we move to taking care of the mind. In particular, working with mental formations. What is a mental formation? Thay also shares a little about the Shining Light Ceremony and how we can use this with our practice.

  • gladdening the mind
  • aware of mental formations
  • concentrating the mind
  • liberating your mind

The last four exercises of the sutra have to do with the objects of mind. We conclude with teachings on birth and death, being and non-being.

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Public Talk in Bangkok

April 9, 2013. 116-minute dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh from Paragon in Bangkok, Thailand. The sangha is on the spring Asian Tour and this talk is given in English with consecutive translation into Thai.

We begin with an introduction to listening to the chant by Thich Nhat Hanh. How do we have the capacity to listen that can lead to understanding? How can we get in touch with the suffering of the other person? We hear the monastics chant the name of Avalokiteshvara at 18-minutes.

The main talk begins at 38-minutes. When we hear the bell, we stop thinking and allow our body to relax.

The theme for the talk is how to suffer less, how to create happiness in our daily lives. What is happiness? Do we have time to love and take care of our beloved ones? Do I have the capacity to love? What can we offer those who we love? To love is to be there.

Using the Sutra on the Full Awarness of Mindful Breathing to cultivate love.

Walking to arrive in the present. How should we walk? What other daily activities can we do with mindfulness? Can you see the many conditions of happiness?

Editor’s Note: the very end of the talk is cutoff in the recording. We apologize for this error. 

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The Science of Happiness

June 3, 2012. 103-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from Lower 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 second dharma talk (of 15).

Topics

  • Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing – exercises 5-8
  • Four Noble Truths and Noble Eightfold Path
  • Three Concentrations

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The Degree of Freedom

June 2, 2012. 82-minute dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh from Lower 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 first dharma talk (of 15).

Topics

  • Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing – the first four exercises
  • Walking Meditation – arriving in the here and now

Our teacher and the sangha feels very relaxed. In no hurry. We have 3-weeks to practice and learn.

0:00 The Practice of Listening to the Chant
21:30 Namo’valokiteshvaraya Chanting by the Monks and Nuns of Plum Village
43:30 Main Talk

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Nottingham Retreat: Final Talk

April 10, 2012. 97-minute recording given at The University of Nottingham by Thich Nhat Hanh. The sangha is on the UK and Ireland Tour and this is final dharma talk for the Cultivating Happiness Family Retreat.

In this talk we review the 16-exercises from the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing followed by the teaching on the Three Doors of Liberation: emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness.

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Nottingham Retreat: Final Talk from Plum Village Online Monastery on Vimeo.

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