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Silence
A Dharma talk given by Sister Jina
on September 1, 2002
in the Upper Hamlet in Plum Village

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I use body awareness a lot to come to inner silence. I find it important, everyday, to do some learning or studying, some reflecting and then practice. The time for reflecting is very precious for me. The time for learning is when we hear teachings, or hear the sutras or read a book. And then we have some time to reflect, to see where we are in our practice and what steps we are going to take in our practice and then we put it into practice. In the sutra, “Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone” it says that not to be carried away by how our bodies, feelings, mental formations etcetera will be in the future. When we have read that sutra in the morning I take some time during the day to note when I let myself be carried away by thoughts about the future and I do catch myself for instance writing scenarios. I am thinking about having to tell somebody something, which is going to happen in the future, and in my head I write a whole scenario. I write my role of what I am going to say and then my sister’s role of what she will answer and then what I will say. I have it all written down. But my experience is that this scenario is never going to be realized, it is just something that I do in my mind. If I get caught in it then when I meet the sister I experience our whole meeting through the veil of this scenario and I react on my scenario and I don’t really act in an appropriate way to what is happening. When I find myself writing scenarios I practice dismissing the scenario. I say this is a scenario and it may not happen at all. My experience says that it is not going to happen like this so why do I believe in this scenario. So I can drop it and go and see my sister and see more clearly what is actually happening between the two of us. Hearing what my sister says and hearing what I am saying makes our encounter more fruitful. When I find myself trying to rewrite history wanting it to be different, something has happened and I am going over it over and over again wishing that I had not said or done this or he or she had not said or done that I find that it does not help. When I notice I am doing that I practice dismissing and letting go of that habit energy and I try to look at what happened in order to get some understanding, in order to learn something from it. I take a teaching by Thay or a sutra to help me look. At times I take the “Discourse on Love” that speaks of loving and protecting all beings like a mother loves and protects her only child and I see in some situations I have not had that kind of mind at all. Or I take the “Sutra on Reflecting and Measuring.” Someone has told me something and I have answered back, not listened and just accepted it, so I can what my contribution is to the situation and I determine to do better. Of course this doesn’t happen straightaway, it takes some time.

When I was in Japan there was a clear example of that. At the temple that I practiced in Japan we were only six or seven people. The practice leader was also the work coordinator because work is practice. My brother who was the practice leader had the habit of telling me what to do, which I experienced as being bossed around. He would come at any time of the day and he would say, "Jina san the toilets are dirty go and clean them," or "The meditation hall is dirty go and clean it," and I would always react in the same way. I would say, "Why do I have to do that? You always ask me to go and do these things." And his answer would always be, "Because it is dirty and it needs to be cleaned."

One day after chanting something in the chant made me reflect on my habit energy. I was sitting in my room and remembering the previous day when this type of incident had happened and I looked at why I would do that. I saw that my brother had a good heart and was very committed to the practice and to our living together and he wanted to keep things neat and tidy. In fact, for me it was the same I like to keep things neat and tidy. So we both want the same thing, but why did I always react like that? Inside of me was a little ego, or a big ego. I imaged what if my master came and said, "Jina san the bathroom is dirty would you mind cleaning it." I would bow and say, "Yes master," and I would fly so happily because the master had asked me to do something. But the fact was that the bathroom was dirty and it needed to be cleaned all the same. So I realized that something in me would like to be asked by a special person in a special way and then I would very happily do it. So I decided next time and any other time when my brother asked me to do something I would just bow and say, "Yes brother," and I would smile an go do it.

A few days later I was in the Buddha hall and my brother came up to me and said, "Jina san, the bathroom has not yet been cleaned, go and do it." And I said, "Why do I have to go do it. You always ask me to do things." And then he answered, "Okay, alright you don't need to do it." And that brought me back to my resolution and I said, "No brother, you know I always react like that. It is just a habit. But you also know that usually I go and do it. So never mind my reaction I will go and do it." And he said, "Okay." From that day on it became a joke between the two of us and my brother would come and say, "Jina san, go and clean." And I would bow and say, "Yes, brother." And sometimes he would ask me in a friendly way and at other times he was grumpy. I would think sometimes I am grumpy too and I would just smile and go and clean.

We make a resolution about our habit energies or how we contribute to a situation and then we decide what we would like to change, what steps we will take and how we will practice. For me it is important to do that everyday. I take time to do that.

Thay once advised us to write out own sutras, so I did. I wrote a sutra about practices that would help me to listen and would help me to live in harmony with my community. Listening requires a silence, an outer silence and an inner silence to be able to hear what is being said and also what is not being said. Deep listening is an expression of inner silence. I use the practice of listening in order to cultivate inner silence. I read my sutra everyday. I usually do it in my hut. I go and light incense and I sit down. I face my little altar and I read my sutra aloud, slowly. I allow every sentence to sink in to water the seeds of awareness of the practice in me. It really helps me in my daily practice when occasions arise where I need to practice what I have decided to practice. A sentence out of my sutra spontaneously comes up and it helps me to practice. There are also times where it doesn't come up and I notice afterwards and I take some time during the day to read my sutra again or if I know it by heart I will go and sit somewhere quietly and mentally go over it again. It really helps me. I find great joy in practicing and progress in the practice motivates me to continue. I would like to read my sutra to you. It is my sutra right now. When I feel I have realized enough of my sutra then I add other things. I take another aspect of the practice that I would like to strengthen. On top I have written,"Listen" because I would like to practice listening better.

The training in the art of listening begins in silence, develops in attentiveness and is perfected in communication.

This is something I read somewhere and it makes sense to me. It gives me good guideline for practicing listening in daily life.

I will practice refraining from saying something that lies on the tip of my tongue.

Just by reading this everyday I become aware of what lies on the tip of my tongue and I realize that often I am not aware of what was there on the tip of my tongue and I say it out before I realize what I am going to say. Keeping something on the tip of my tongue I really have the opportunity to taste what it is like. It is not always sweet. It gives me some insight into my mind, my mental formations and the strength of the seeds in my store consciousness.

I shall listen to other's points of view before stating my own.

This ties into what lies on the tip of my tongue. This practice is very important when we want to come to consensus in a community or in a meeting. I have written this here because sometimes when I am tired in a meeting I just state my point of view and then I think that is enough, let's just finish the meeting and I don't really create much space for other people to state their point of view. That is not very beneficial. I have found that when I wait for others to give their input I don't need to give my input or I do it in a different way that is more beneficial for a meeting. That is one point I am practicing with right now.

I will practice not speaking about a third person.

In a community it is easy to speak about a third person and it can cause a lot of disharmony and suffering. We can speak about a third person on occasion in the light of how can we help that person in the practice. I am not certainly not perfect at any of these points that is why they are still here in my sutra, but I am becoming more and more aware of when I speak about a third person and how. When we are discussing the practice of a third person I become aware of any internal formations I may have regarding that person or the practice of that person. I can take care of my internal formation and try not to let it interfere with the input I give on the practice of that person.

If met with anger I shall respond with loving-kindness.

The Buddha said that the antidote to anger is loving-kindness. I try to keep love alive in my heart. We all know that meeting anger with anger is not beneficial but we know that we pulled into it anyway. Reading this everyday helps me to remember to look with loving-kindness at myself and at the other.

If met with un or non-cooperation I shall respond with compassion.

For those of us who live in the community or at home in a family we know that there are times when things need to be taken care of and at times we are met with un-cooperation or non-cooperation of other members of the community. I am practicing responding to this with compassion. I try to put myself in the skin of the other to try to understand where the non-cooperation comes from. I try to discern when and how to encourage and when and how to release or let go.

The sound of the bell allows me to enjoy the whole length of my in-breathe and the whole length of my out-breathe.

I know this is our practice but I find it necessary to be reminded of that everyday. Being aware of the whole length of my in-breathe and out-breathe allows me to be aware of what is happening inside of me. There are times when I just find myself waiting. The bell is invited and I stop but I am just waiting for the bell to stop so I can continue with whatever I was doing. Reading this reminds me that it is nice to take the opportunity to enjoy the whole length of my in-breathe and the whole length of my out-breathe. When I find myself waiting it is usually when everyone starts moving around that I realize I have just been waiting. I think I missed the opportunity but I can do it here. I can take a few moments to enjoy my in-breathe and out-breathe.

Every step brings me peace and joy.

We know this and we practice this in theory at least I practice it in theory. But I want to practice it in reality so reading it everyday helps me to do so.

Then I close with some words by Saint Benedict which helps me to put things in the right perspective.

In the end it is not about what we have achieved but what we have become.

I would like to realize my full potential and reading my sutra every day helps me to go in that direction. This practice of learning, reflecting and putting into practice and my sutra all help me to go in the direction of inner silence. It is an inner silence that I can practice throughout the day. Periods of outer silence can help us to cultivate this inner silence.

In the winter of 1998-1999 in the Lower Hamlet we had one day of the week where we could observe noble silence. We were allowed to put on a little badge that said, "noble silence." It was mostly retreatants who used the opportunity to do so. I like to do this very much but I need the reassurance of the community that it is okay. I feel an obligation to always be approachable and ready to respond to the needs of the community. A period of noble silence might help me to do so better. An inner silence means nothing else than dwelling in the present moment.

I guess the Buddha wouldn't have anything against that. Thank you very much for listening.

Sister Gina is the abbess of the Lower Hamlet at Plum Village in France.

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