Still water reflects the moon,
both full and empty,
from judgment and attachment.
My heart sees freedom and sings.
Still water reflects the moon,
both full and empty,
from judgment and attachment.
My heart sees freedom and sings.
Some Suggestions for Order of Interbeing Members
By Sister Annabel
Many, many people want to learn about the practice of mindfulness which Thich Nhat Hanh teaches and writes about. They want to practice it and bring it into their lives. Therefore they want authentic Dharma teachers who can be their good friends guiding them on the path and showing them ways to practice. How are we to find and train these teachers? What qualifications should they have? When someone asked Thay what qualifications someone should have to be a Dharma teacher, he replied that a Dharma teacher should be a happy person.
In the monastic tradition, it is only five years after receiving the full ordination that someone can be regarded as a Dharma teacher. Of course if we are really to succeed in transmitting the Dharma doors we have to have that kind of happiness which is based in solidity and freedom. Our solidity comes from total immersion in the practice, twenty-four hours a day. The practice is not something which can be switched on and off. It is not possible to succeed if we only practice when a formal retreat is organized for outsiders and on the days when there is no retreat we fall into forgetfulness, running after things which cannot bring us real happiness and allowing our body and mind to consume toxins. We have to practice very day, three hundred and sixty days per annum. It is suggested that when we have received the Fourteen Mindfulness trainings of the Order of Interbeing, we practice sixty days of mindfulness every year, but teaching the Dharma is something we do by practicing mindfulness everyday. We teach by the way we walk, we eat and we conduct ourself from moment to moment.
A monastery can be organized in such a way as to make practicing twenty-four hours a day possible. There are always brothers and sisters close by us to remind us when we forget. There is the daily schedule, the fine manners and the clock, the bell, the telephone. After five years of training like this we can have the solidity to teach the Dharma. Once we receive the transmission we obviously must continue the training day in and day out for as long as we live. Once we cease to train we cease to teach because we teach with our body and our person more than we teach with our words. It looks strange if our daily life is not in accord with our words. Our friends and our students only expect two things of us: our solidity and our freedom. Those are the only things that we want to transmit and the only things which are worth transmitting.
For a lay Dharma teacher in the Order of Interbeing it is the same; the training is lifelong and takes place twenty-four hours a day. It is best if a lay Dharma teacher can live year-round in a lay or monastic practice center which is organized as a real mindfulness community or Sangha body where people do not live separate lives as private individuals. Failing this, we have our root center to return to for as many months of the year as we are able. When we are ordained as a member of the Order of Interbeing, there is the root center from which we are ordained. It is like our family home and we are always refreshed and happy when we can return there. You may consider Plum Village to be your root practice center or Deer Park Monastery or Green Mountain Dharma Center. We always need that root to return to and inspire us with renewal in our practice. When we become a Dharma teacher or we establish a local Sangha, our local Sangha also becomes a root for the people who are introduced to the practice there. It would be a pity if we could not return to our root practice center of ordination in order to keep the link between our local Sangha and our root practice center alive. Lay Dharma teachers are encouraged to come back to Plum Village, Green Mountain Dharma Center and Deer Park whenever they can and scholarships will be available for such periods of practice and retreat. Those who have been nominated as Dharma teachers in training also have the same access to their root practice center.
For lay centers of practice there is already the Interzein Center in Germany and the Clear View Practice Center in Santa Barbara, U.S.A. A lay village as part of Plum Village in France is also under serious consideration. These centers are also roots for many people and their founders also have their roots to return to.
Please refer to the guest master or guest mistress of your root center for details of how it is possible to stay there for extended periods of time.
Sister Annabel, True Virtue, is the abbess of Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont.
Monks’ Experiences of the Ancient Stone People Lodge Ceremony
Immediately after the Colors of Compassion retreat, on the ﬁrst of April, ﬁfteen monks participated in an ancient ceremony of the Indigenous Peoples of this land—a Stone People Lodge ceremony. It was a historic event, in that we had the opportunity to experience ﬁrsthand the joining of Buddhist and Native spiritual traditions, from Vietnamese and Lakota lineages. Plus, it was a sacred meeting of representatives from several cultures: Vietnamese, French, English, Spanish, Swiss, Portuguese, Swedish, Filipino, African American, Canadian, American, Chinese, and Lakota. Truly, a United Nations meeting of the heart, a meeting of spirit.
Built on Kumeyaay land on the Viejas Reservation (east of San Diego), the lodge is a simple structure made from willow saplings. The Inipi (from the Lakota language) / Stone People Lodge ceremony is a means for purifying and renewing our mind, body, and spirit. This sacred Indigenous spiritual practice allows us to shed manifestations of ego as we sit inside the lodge—the womb of our Earth Mother, Maka Tizi—and pray for all beings. The prayer “Mitakuye Oyasin”—To All Relations/We Are All Related—encompasses this understanding of inter-being, inter-dependence and inter-connectedness with all life. Through all the preparations––covering the lodge, selecting the stones, building the ﬁre, making the prayer bundle offerings––every step, every action is part of the prayer of the ceremony.
The experience in the Stone People Lodge is an immersion into another realm of reality, into a realm beyond time and space, where our prayers for health, peace, and the planet have a particular potency. This ceremony feels as ancient as the red hot Stone People who are sitting with us in the center of the lodge. Sitting in the lodge, touching the Earth, we begin anew with our Earth Mother and with all our sisters and brothers of the Earth. The lodge ceremony reafﬁrms and strengthens our connection to the sacred hoop of life, to the Sacred Mystery, to all our ancestors, and to the ancestors of this land, Turtle Island (the American continents).
Once inside the lodge, embraced by the steam—the breath of Earth Mother—and enveloped in the sacred black light, we dissolve into the black light and the stillness, as ego, distinctions, deﬁnitions, discriminations, and thoughts fade. A shift from the visible to the invisible takes place. The sacredness all around us and within us, inter-connectedness, nondiscrimination, and non-separation are experienced very directly.
It was a great honor to facilitate this lodge ceremony for our brother monks. It was an amazing and deep experience which affected each of us profoundly, and sent ripples into the world and into the cosmos. In the days following the ceremony, the participants wrote about their experiences. With deep respect and gratitude we offer some of these writings to you.
Mitakuye Oyasin / To All Relations / We Are All Related,
—Chan Tue Nang, Joseph Lam Medicine Robe
Hello to grandmother earth
Hello to the stone people, my ancestors
Hello to father sun
Hello to the ﬁre, my ancestor
Hello to the air that I breathe
Hello to the steam and water I drink
All of you are my relations
I bow to you
We are one
Sitting in the beginning
Looking at the black light
I am in the womb of the earth
Mother’s breath penetrating into me
Spirit radiating out into the cosmos
—Chan Phap Ngo
Stone People Lodge
Four hours cooking in a willow branch hut. Too small to stand, sitting close, no room to move, next to each other, sixteen brothers, in a circle, around the red hot stone people, embraced by the steam, breath of the earth, grandmother earth, mother’s love in this womb. Together in the heat, in love, in water, with brotherhood and grandfather spirit, in blackness—there we sat to renew, to purify, rebirthing, allowing ourselves to burn, to die, but not to sleep, not to dream.
Touching the Earth, we sat on the ground—a circle of brothers, a circle of life, a cycle of ages—heritage passed down to keep us in touch with all our relations—Mitakuye Oyasin. Offering our prayers for peace, for transformation, for healing. In preparation we gathered wood and placed so mindfully the stones one by one—one to the west, one to the north, then east, then south, in line with the colors black, red, yellow, white on poles on this ceremonial site, this land within a land within a land. An expanse of ﬂat land, with bare black burned trees, a circle of mountains made our horizon, and blue for above, green for below.
Lighting the ﬁre, a line of energy now alive between the ﬁre, altar and into the door through which we crouched to go inside a blacked out space—the willow branch lodge. In preparation we generated mindfulness, brotherhood, and more and more concentration. Aware, sensing, in touch with each other. Strings of prayer bundles for all beings in the entire cosmos and one for our own family and close ones. Circumambulating the lodge and the ﬁre with my string of seven prayer bundles, I brought to mind all those who have made me, shaped me, nurtured me, neglected me, hurt me, loved and supported me, taught and guided me—with my breath I brought them into my body and those ancestors I do not know and children of cousins and children not yet born—I took them all with me into this so small space.
And so this lodge becomes a house with many mansions containing past, present, and future. We all shared deeply of our aspirations and fear and suffering—we gave thanks for this ceremony and expressed regret for past wrongs of peoples to peoples. I shared of being in touch with the suffering of my father and his brothers when one of them took his own life, and of a brother or sister who was lost before birth. We chanted in the intense heat and in the blackness. I saw a nothingness to my personality and life—what did my fear mean in that black?—and yet a sense of trust was also there.
In gratitude, Mitakuye Oyasin
—Chan Phap Lai
Black Light Night
It was a night in which the sun disappeared and, then, reappeared in the blazing wood people who transmitted their red hot energy into the stone people so that the earth men could be puriﬁed.
It was a night in which mother earth embraced all her sons, collecting them into the half sphere lodge, all her sons from all around the globe.
It was a night in which brothers huddled together, bundled their prayers for all beings in the universe as well their own individual blood families, sharing their aspirations and gratitude.
It was a night in which brothers from all over mother earth gathered to chant and send energy of the Native American and Buddhist bodhisattvas to all beings.
It was a night in which the Lakota Shaman guided his young bald headed brothers, plus one not so young, through their anxiety, uncertainty, unknowing—in the Black Light Heat—to a deeper realization and consciousness of their oneness, their interbeing with each other and all beings.
It was a night that ended with the brothers being soaked with the blessings of the cosmos, sopping wet and dripping gratitude.
—Chan Phap De
A hut made of willow branches,
like a mother’s belly
directed to each planet,
in the center, a hole in the ground.
An altar, made of soil and stones, the moon.
The sun of ﬁre embraced by a half-circle,
a wall protecting from the winds.
Simple blankets cover us up,
the brothers sitting in the hut are listening
to the ﬁre, the air, the steam.
In the belly of our Mother Earth,
listening to the Mystery.
in gratitude for that love
that surrounds us,
for this opening and the little more abandoning,
I thank you for teaching me the conﬁdence
of being in the here and in the now,
enriched by love and at the same time even more poor.
I thank you for being more conscious too.
On the path of celebration
in gratitude for our teacher Thay.
Discovering the Eye who sees
simple joy of being together.
Time has disappeared.
The rain is blessing the earth.
The stars are joining us.
Fire, master ﬁre, Thay ﬁre,
who shows us how to love,
how to respect the right distance,
The red stones in the center of the earth
ﬁlled with the light of the stars.
The clear water perfumed with sage,
the steam which envelopes us and penetrates us.
A chant from the Buddhist tradition,
A chant from the Native Indian tradition,
one breath, one heart.
A deeper and more subtle release.
Joy of being here and now,
in the Mother’s arms, in the Father’s arms.
Mystery of an invisible Presence,
Free hands offered,
each cell offered as ﬂowers.
In gratitude —Chan Phap Tap
The hot air brought me close to my fear, my panic of losing it totally.
Let me meet with courage the most difﬁcult state of mind, so I can live freely, without shadows of doubt and fear.
May we all be free from our mind shadows.
May we come out to the light and stand freely there.
May compassion embrace the whole of our minds and hearts.
—Chan Phap Son
Stone Presence Lodge
There is a grace to stone that weathers centuries.
Infused with the heat of joy ﬁre
we offer this stone to the womb of the willow.
Imbued with the tumult of sky
we offer this grace to the womb of our body.
The moon at the zenith, waxing our limbs
we offer what is to the womb of the awakened.
In time unborn we rest here
Enfolded by vapors
The sweat runs unchecked off the bulk of our baggage
To ﬂay bare the unspoken
To fuel this still yearning
To release the stuck remnants of past altercations
For the call of the eagle,
The caress of the soil,
For the presence of stone heat enlodged in our membranes.
For the space where all going and coming is done for
and rest poised in vision subdues all desire.
For the current which guides us from known to unknowing
and blesses the soil it carries with laughter.
For the clan of the spirit that moves us as one mind
and perfumes our abode with fragrance of silence.
Let the oceans bring rain.
Let the charred stems bear branches
to bear witness to rumor, this ﬁne simple offer.
Let this kinship of blood, sweat and steam forge a vision
of the exotic here, of unprecedented now
Casting down what with measure would ream the unbroken
And take him to the view we of old have forecasted.
Let the holy ﬁnd ground
In the temple of the wishless.
—Chan Phap Luu
New Year’s Eve Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh
31 December 2005, Lower Hamlet, Plum Village
Good afternoon, dear Sangha. In the teachings of Christianity and Judaism there is the Kingdom of God. In Buddhism we speak about Buddha Land, the Buddha Field. You might like to call it the Kingdom of the Buddha. In Plum Village we say that the Kingdom of God is now or never, and this is our practice.
In Plum Village the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha, is not just an idea. It’s something you can taste, you can touch, you can live in your daily life. It is possible to recognize the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Buddha, when it is there.
In the Buddhist tradition the Buddha Land or the Pure Land is a practice center where the Buddha and the great bodhisattvas are teachers and all of us are practitioners.
What Is the Purpose of Practicing?
To practice is to bring about more understanding and compassion. Happiness would not be possible without understanding and compassion.
My definition of the Kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding, there is compassion, and where all of us can learn to be more understanding and more compassionate. On this we agree.
But there is something else that we should agree about also—whether there is suffering in the Kingdom of God, in the Pure Land of the Buddha.
If we take the time to look deeply, we see that understanding and compassion arise from suffering. Understanding is the understanding of suffering, and compassion is the kind of energy that can transform suffering. If suffering is not there, we have no means to cultivate our understanding and our compassion. This is something quite simple to see.
If you come to Plum Village in the summertime, you see many lotus flowers. Without the mud the lotus flowers cannot grow. You cannot separate lotus flowers from the mud. It is the same with understanding and love. These are two kinds of flowers that grow on the ground of suffering.
I would not like to send my children to a place where there is no suffering, because I know that in such a place my children will have no chance to develop their compassion and understanding. I don’t know whether my friends who come from the background of Christianity or Judaism can accept this—that in the Kingdom of God there is suffering—but in Buddhist teaching it is clear that suffering and happiness inter-are. Where there is no suffering there is no happiness either. We know from our own experiences that it is impossible to cultivate more understanding and compassion if suffering isn’t there. It is with the mud that we can make flowers. It is with the suffering that we can make compassion and understanding.
A Logical Proposition
I can accept, and many friends of mine can accept, that there is suffering in the Pure Land, in the Buddha Field, because we need suffering in order to cultivate our understanding and compassion, which is very essential for the Pure Land, for the Kingdom of God. We learn from suffering. If we are capable of cultivating understanding, that’s because of suffering. If you are able to cultivate compassion, that is because of the existence of suffering.
I think it is very important to re-examine our notion of the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha, and no longer think that it is a place where there is absolutely no suffering. Logically, it is impossible.
Many of us think of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Buddha, as something that belongs to the future, after this life. In terms of time and space, the Kingdom of God is far away.
I remember about forty years ago when I first went to the United States to speak about the war in Vietnam. I was invited by many groups, and I remember speaking in a church in the vicinity of Philadelphia where the majority of practitioners were black people. I said that the Kingdom of God is right now, right here, and you don’t have to die in order to step into the Kingdom of God. In fact, you have to be very alive in order to step into it. For me being alive is to be mindful, to be concentrated, to be free. That is the kind of passport you need to be allowed into the Kingdom of God: mindfulness, concentration, freedom.
If you belong to the population of the Kingdom of God, you are a practitioner because you are producing understanding and love in your daily life. That makes the Kingdom of God continue to be the Kingdom of God. If the population of the Kingdom does not practice understanding and love, they lose the Kingdom in two seconds because the essence of the Kingdom is understanding and love.
It’s very easy to visualize the Kingdom of the Buddha as a practice center where there are dharma teachers teaching us, helping us to cultivate understanding and compassion. Everyone enjoys the practice, because as they produce more understanding and compassion, they suffer less. They are capable of transforming suffering into compassion, into understanding, into happiness. The practice in Plum Village is to experience the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha, in our daily life.
Helping the Kingdom to Manifest
Of course, you can say that the Kingdom is now, it is here, but that’s not enough. We have to help the Kingdom to manifest. Without mindfulness, concentration, and a little bit of freedom we cannot do so.
The Kingdom of God is situated in our cerebral cortex, in our mind.
Most of us have a computer, a Microsoft PC or Apple Macintosh, and many of us just use our computer to do some work like word-processing or checking the stock market. But the average PC or Macintosh can do much more than that. We use only about ten percent of that capacity. If we know how to make use of the other capacities of the computer, we can do a lot of things.
The same is true with our cerebral cortex, with our mind and our spirit. If you know how to use the powerful energy of understanding and compassion, you can process many difficult problems of daily life. There is a very powerful computer within, and we should learn how to use that computer properly for us to be able to deal with the daily situations that make us suffer.
The Buddha proposed that we practice according to the Noble Eightfold Path. If we follow his instructions to practice right view, right thinking, right speech, and right action, we’ll be able to explore the vast territory of our mind and allow these wonderful powers to come and rescue us. In fact, we limit ourselves in a very small circle. Our thinking is very narrow, and that is why we suffer much more than a Buddha or a bodhisattva.
The Power of Right Thinking
We think all the time, and many of our thoughts are not very positive; they make us into a victim of negative thinking. When you say, “I’m good for nothing,” that is the kind of thought that has the power to make you suffer. “I can never finish that. I cannot meditate. I cannot forgive. I am in despair. I will never succeed in doing that.” Or, “He wants to destroy me. I am not loved by anyone.” This kind of thinking is not what the Buddha called right thinking.
In us there is the capacity of understanding and of loving. Because we are not accustomed to touching the ground of understanding and compassion, we cannot produce wonderful thoughts in the line of right thinking.
Suppose your friend, or your brother or sister does not understand you. Suppose you think that your teacher does not love you. When you entertain that kind of thought, you suffer. That thought may not correspond at all to reality. You continue to ruminate upon that thought and other thoughts of the same kind, and very soon you fall into a state of depression because you are not practicing right thinking.
“My brother must have said something about me to my teacher. That is why this morning he did not look at me.” Your thinking may be totally wrong, and you have to be aware of the fact that your thought is just a thought. It is not the reality.
If you think, “My teacher doesn’t understand me, but I am capable of helping him to understand me,” that is a positive thought. You are no longer a victim.
The Buddha proposed the practice of right thinking. During sitting meditation or during the time of working, thoughts like that might arise, but you don’t allow yourself to be the victim of negative thoughts. You just allow them to come and you recognize them. This is a thought, and this thought is just a thought; it’s not reality. Later on you might write it down on a piece of paper, and you have a look at it. When you are capable of recognizing your thought, you are no longer a victim of it. You are yourself, even if these thoughts are negative.
The Territories of the Mind
A thought does not arise from nothing. There is a ground from which it arises. In our mind there is fear, anger, worry, misunderstanding. And a thought might arise from these territories.
But in our mind there is also the vast territory of compassion, of understanding. You might get in touch with the Kingdom of the Buddha, the Kingdom of God, in your mind. Then these territories will give rise to many wonderful thoughts in the line of right thinking.
When you recognize a thought, you may like to smile to it and ask the question, on what ground has this thought been produced? You don’t have to work hard. You just smile to your thought, and you now recognize that the thought has arisen from the territory of wrong perception, fear, anger, or jealousy. When you are able to produce a thought that goes in the direction of understanding and love, in the direction of right thinking, that thought will have an immediate effect on your physical and mental health. And at the same time it has an effect on the health of the world.
When you produce a negative thought that has arisen from your fear, anger, or pessimism, such as, “I’m not worth anything, I cannot do anything, my life is a failure,” that kind of thought will have a very bad effect on your mental and physical health. The practice offered by the Buddha is not to suppress this negative thought, but to be aware. “This is a negative thought. I allow it to be recognized.” When you are able to recognize that thought you reach a degree of freedom because you are no longer a victim of that thought.
But if you are not a practitioner, you continue to ruminate about the negative situation and that will make you fall into a state of depression.
To recognize the presence of a thought or feeling is very important. That is the basic practice of a practitioner of meditation. You do not try to suppress the feelings and the thoughts. You allow your feelings and your thoughts to manifest. But you have to be there in order to recognize their presence. In so doing, you are cultivating your freedom.
In our daily life we may allow these thoughts and feelings to appear, and we are not capable of recognizing their presence. Because of that we become the victim of these thoughts and feelings and emotions. We get lost in the realm of feelings and thoughts and perceptions because we are not truly present. The practice is to stay present in the here and the now and to witness what is going on, to examine it, to be aware. That is the practice of freedom.
Being on Automatic Pilot
We are accustomed to allowing our mind to chase after the pleasant and to avoid the unpleasant. Our thoughts follow this habit pattern: running, following, searching for the pleasant; and trying to run away, to avoid the unpleasant. Because of that we lose all our freedom. We do not know that we are running after something and trying to avoid something. We are carried away by our thoughts, our feelings, our perceptions.
Imagine an airplane on automatic pilot. The plane can reach its destination, can do the things that it has been asked to do, with no need for any human being on the plane. Very often we behave like that. We are on automatic pilot. We are not present to witness what is happening. The practice that is proposed by the Buddha is to be there, to stay present, to be truly alive. You know the value of each thought, of each feeling, of all your perceptions. You know that there are territories you have not discovered within yourself. You don’t allow yourself to be carried away. You want to be yourself. You don’t want to be on automatic pilot.
Every time a thought, feeling, or emotion arises, you want to be there to control the situation. You don’t want to be carried away. You smile to your thinking, to your feelings, to your emotions. You don’t want to react right away because the habit energy in you pushes you to respond right away to the feelings, to the emotions, to the thought that just arose. This is extremely important.
You tell yourself: “Well, this is a thought, this is a feeling, this is an emotion. I know they are in me, but I am not just that thought, that feeling, that emotion. I’m much more than that. I have a treasure of understanding, compassion, love, wisdom in me, and I want these elements to come forward to help me to sort out this situation, to help me to be on the right path.”
You give yourself the time to breathe in and out. You don’t hurry to react or take action. And while you are breathing in and out you give the wonderful positive elements within yourself a chance to intervene.
There is a computer within us, and this computer has a lot of power. If you know how to make use of this power you can transform the situation. You can bring a lot of light, joy, and compassion into the situation. By not allowing yourself to be carried away, you give yourself an alternative perspective from which you can see things more clearly. You are not in a hurry to react, to jump to a conclusion. You just become aware of the situation, what is manifesting in you and around you. The practice of mindful breathing and mindful walking gives you space, which allows the positive elements to intervene. You allow the Buddha, the Kingdom of God, in you to have a chance.
Within us there is a territory of depression, a territory of hell, and our negative thinking and emotions spin out from these territories. But we know that in us there is also the territory of the Kingdom of God, of the Buddha Land. There is the powerful seed of compassion and wisdom in us. If we give them a chance, they can come and rescue us.
The Way Out of Depression
We have the power to recognize our thoughts, our feelings, our emotions, our perceptions. We don’t have to suppress them. But we want to have the time and space to look at them and recognize them as they are. This is the basic practice. To do that we have to stay present in the here and the now. Very often our body is there, but our mind is elsewhere. Our children do not feel that we are truly present.
Very often we are not home. We are lost in our thinking, our worries, our projects, our anxiety, our fear. We are completely lost. We are not there to be aware of what is going on. The practice offered to us by the Buddha is not to be on automatic pilot, but the practice of conscious, mindful living.
If you are depressed or if you are afraid that you will fall back into depression, this is the way out. If you can stay present, if you can identify the kind of feelings and thoughts that are responsible for your depression, you can be free. You know that this kind of thinking, this kind of feeling will cause a relapse, and that awareness is the beginning of the healing, of your freedom. You are not afraid. If you are truly present, you can allow the difficult materials to come for you to recognize them. And you can do something to invite the wonderful materials to come and to stay with you, to help you to process the materials that you need to process.
The Kingdom of God is not an idea. It is a reality. Every time we are mindful, every time we are concentrated, we can get in touch with the Kingdom of God for our transformation and healing. Of course, hell is there in the present moment, but the Kingdom of God is also there in the present moment, and we have to choose between the two.
A few days ago I said that many people who are born in France have not had a chance to see all the beauties of France as a country. But many of us who come from other countries, we have the chance to enjoy the beauty of France. The fact is that the territory of wisdom and compassion, the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of Buddha, is available. But we are too concerned with our narrow territory of success and failure, with our daily life and our anger, worries, despair. So we have not had a chance to unlock the door of the Kingdom of God.
The Key to the Door of Happiness
In order to unlock the door of happiness, the door of the Kingdom, the door of compassion and love, we need a key. That key, according to the teaching of the Buddha, is the triple training on mindfulness, concentration, and insight. The Kingdom of God is a place where we can cultivate insight and compassion.
When you grow corn, you have corn to eat. When you grow wheat, you have wheat to eat. When you grow understanding and compassion, you have compassion and understanding, the ground of your own peace and freedom and happiness. And in order to grow understanding and compassion, we have to be there. Understanding our suffering, anger, and depression is very important. Being aware of suffering and understanding our suffering is the door into the domain of happiness. Unless you understand the nature of suffering, the cause of suffering, you see no path leading to the transformation of suffering into happiness.
The Buddha spoke about the Four Noble Truths. The first one is to be aware of ill-being. By looking deeply into the nature of ill-being, you find the second Noble Truth: the lack of understanding, the lack of compassion.
There is a path leading to suffering: the ignoble path of wrong view, wrong thinking, wrong speech, wrong action. There is a path that leads to happiness, the cessation of suffering: the path of right thinking, right view, right speech and right action. We are capable of stopping, of leaving the path of suffering and beginning to take up the path of happiness. All of us are capable of producing right thinking.
A New Year’s Resolution
Suppose you look at a brother or a sister and you just had the thought that maybe this brother or sister has said something to Thay, which is why Thay does not look at you this morning. You know that this kind of thinking brings suffering because it is wrong thinking. But if you are aware that this kind of thinking can lead to anger, despair, and hate, you are free. You tell yourself: “I have to produce another thought that is worthy of a practitioner. Thay might have a wrong perception of me, but because he is my teacher I need to help him.”
The truth may be that the teacher has not misunderstood you, but in case he does misunderstand you, you don’t mind because he is your teacher. You can help him to correct his misperception. And with that you have peace, you have love. That kind of thinking brings you happiness. You are not a victim of your thinking.
If you learn to look at people and think like that, you will suffer less right away. You look at your partner, your son, your daughter, your father, with eyes of compassion and understanding. Even if you see a shortcoming in that person, even if that person has said something or has done something that makes you suffer, you’ll say that he or she is a victim of wrong perceptions and you need to help him or her. That kind of thinking will free you from your suffering. You know that with the practice of deep listening and loving speech, you can help him or her to correct the wrong perception.
At the beginning of the talk I said that right thinking—thinking in the direction of understanding and compassion—has a good effect on your physical and mental health and a good effect on the health of the world. All of us are capable of producing right thinking.
Maybe the resolution that you would like to make today on the last day of the year 2005 is: “I decide that next year, starting tomorrow, I will learn to produce positive thoughts and practice right thinking. I want my thinking to go in the direction of understanding and compassion. Even if the person in front of me is not happy, is acting and speaking from the ground of suffering, I am still capable of producing thoughts in the line of right thinking.”
And when you make such a resolution you are making it on the ground of right view, because right view is the foundation of right thinking.
What Is Right View?
Right view is that everyone has suffering. And if people do not know how to handle their suffering, they will say things or do things that make people around them suffer. As a practitioner, however, you don’t have to suffer, even if the action or speech of another person is negative. If you are capable of touching compassion and right view in yourself, you won’t suffer. You say: “Well, I have to help him. I don’t want to punish him, I want to help him.” That is right thinking. And right thinking makes you feel much, much better. It has a positive effect on your health and the health of the world.
So I make the vow, “I have decided that tomorrow, the beginning of the year 2006, I will do my best to practice right thinking.” Right thinking consolidates your right view. Right speech also helps you consolidate right view.
What is right view? When you are fully present in the here and the now, and observe your thoughts, feelings, and emotions, you recognize that they are thoughts, feelings, and emotions; they are not reality. You are not sucked into it. You retain your freedom, and that is very important. Even if a negative thought arises, you are fully present in the here and the now. If you remember that your thought is just a thought, this will allow your wisdom, your compassion to come into action to help you. This will keep you free.
The Buddha is someone made of mindfulness, concentration, and insight. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight bring you freedom. The practice of mindfulness helps you to live your life. Mindfulness allows us to recognize the negative things and to touch the positive things, and we can open the door of the Kingdom of God in us. It is possible for us to touch the wonders of the Kingdom of God all day. The key to the Kingdom is to stay present in the here and the now, and to allow ourselves the time to get in touch deeply with what is going on and not to react right away the way we did in the past.
Tasting the Wonders of Life
There are very concrete things that we like to do that might bring us a lot of happiness and freedom. Whenever I walk, I walk in such a way that each step can bring me freedom. I don’t lose myself in walking. I don’t lose myself in the past or in the future or in my projects while walking. While walking, I want to taste the wonders of life, the wonders of the Kingdom of God. There are those of us who are capable of walking like that.
While breathing, whether in a sitting position or standing position, we may breathe in such a way that we recognize that we are alive, we are present. We can get in touch with the wonders of life.
While eating, we know that we are fully present. It is us who do the work of eating and not the machine. We are not on automatic pilot. We are on conscious living. We are on mindful living.
The greatest success, the most meaningful kind of success is freedom. We have to fight for our freedom. It’s not by going somewhere, or in the future, that we have freedom; it is right here and now. The way to begin is to stay present, to stay alive, to be yourself in every moment.
When you brush your teeth, for instance, you may choose to brush your teeth in such a way that freedom, joy, and happiness are possible. You can be in the Kingdom of God brushing your teeth, or you can be in hell brushing your teeth. It depends on how you live your life.
Freedom is the ground of happiness, and the way of freedom is the way of mindfulness. The practice of mindfulness as it is presented in Plum Village is to learn how to live mindfully each moment of our daily life. That kind of training should be continued if you don’t want to fall into the abyss of suffering and depression.
Because we have a Sangha that is practicing mindful living, we are supported by the Sangha. The Sangha that is practicing mindfulness, concentration, and freedom carries within itself the presence of the Buddha and the presence of the Pure Land of the Buddha, the Kingdom of God.
As we gather together on this New Year’s Eve, we become aware that the Sangha is always there for us. We can take refuge in the Sangha. Taking refuge in the Sangha means taking refuge in the Buddha, in the Dharma. It means to live always in the Pure Land of Buddha, in the Kingdom of God.
Transcribed by Greg Sever.
Edited by Janelle Combelic and Sister Annabel, True Virtue.
To request permission to reprint this article, either online or in print, contact the Mindfulness Bell at email@example.com.
On May 7, 2006, Brother Karl Schmied, True Dharma Eye, a senior OI member and Dharma teacher from Germany, passed away. Karl was a very active Sangha builder and also did a lot of work for the Hungry Children’s Program in Vietnam. Some of you may have met him recently when on tour with Thây inVietnam. With Karl and Helga Riedl, he started Intersein Zentrum (Haus Maitreya), a residential practice and retreat center in the tradition of Plum Village. He also founded “Intersein,” the German magazine for the Sangha. On Sunday, May 14th, after returning to Plum Village, Thây spoke quite a bit about Karl in what was a tribute to this OI member. Here is an excerpt from this Dharma talk (listen to the whole talk at www.deerparkmonastery.org).
Last week during the teaching tour in Holland and Belgium, I learned that Karl Schmied, a Dharma teacher of Plum Village, passed away in his home in Fischbachau, in southern Germany. We decided that a number of brother and sister monastics would go from Plum Village and take care of the funeral. In Plum Village we are very grateful to that delegation who went to Germany to take care of the funeral of Karl Schmied.
This is an excerpt from what Sister Bi Nghiem, a member of the delegation, wrote Thây:
“On Wednesday we brought some white flowers and came to Karl’s house around 9 a.m. He was lying in his meditation room in front of the altar surrounded by Buddha statues in the windows. Several big photos of Thây were around him, as well as candles, burning incense, and flowers. We put a photocopy of Thây’s fax, “no coming, no going,” directly beside him.
Usually the dead are dressed in formal wear—a black suit and white shirt. But Karl was dressed in his Order of Interbeing jacket with brown pants and a yellow turtleneck sweater, just like when he used to come to Plum Village. But his clothes were the only thing that were the way he used to be. Not only had Karl lost much weight but he had gone through a great transformation. His face showed a quality I hardly can describe. He showed a great inner freedom that comes from letting go. I felt a deep spiritual quality in him which I had never seen in him before, like a monk, is the only way I can describe it, like a real monk. I have seen dead people before but never anything like this. It was obviously the result of his life-long practice, of his trust in the Dharma, of his service to the poor in Vietnam. While I was sitting there, I felt it help me overcome my own fear of dying.”
Karl Schmied began his studies with Lama Govinda and he became a Dharma teacher in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition. He was a successful businessman and his first contact with Plum Village was in a retreat that Thây offered in Germany. Our publisher in Germany wanted him to come and see Thây but he refused. “I have seen many monks before and don’t need to see one more.” “But this monk is different, you should come to see him.” So he came to the retreat. That began a new chapter of his life. He began to practice according to the Plum Village teaching, became a Dharma teacher of Plum Village, a very happy Dharma teacher. He also went to Vietnam and taught, gave Dharma talks on mindfulness and how to practice. He helped the poor, the hungry children in Vietnam at a time when Thây and Sister Chan Khong could not go to Vietnam and do these things.
I remember one day after he had completed one retreat in Germany, he said good-bye and went to the south for a meeting for his business. I asked him whether he could release that meeting in order to come to our second retreat. He said, “That meeting is very important in my business.” So we went to the second retreat without him. The next morning at the sitting meditation session I looked down and saw him sitting. He told me afterward that while he was driving south at one point he was able to release that cow and make a u-turn and go back to the second retreat.
He had suffered from cancer for about eight years and this morning when I read Sister Bi Nghiem’s letter I saw that that cancer was a gift for him. Because with that cancer he started to practice more deeply, more wholeheartedly. That’s why he got the freedom that was expressed so clearly in Sister Bi Nghiem’s observation. About a month ago Sister Chan Khong and I went to Germany because we learned he was dying. We spent three days and three nights with him, and he was very happy during that time. We practiced together and he was able to accompany us to the airport when we went back to France.
When you know that you don’t have a lot of time to live, you know that you should use that time to practice deeply for your release, for your freedom. You don’t think of any other things. You don’t think of money, power, fame, or sex anymore. You are free. That is why Thây said that the cancer is a gift. You get freedom.
Sister Bi Nghiem wrote that while she was sitting there looking at his dead body she overcame her fear of dying. Because if you can die like that it is wonderful, you are free. Freedom is the greatest gift and freedom is the fruit of the practice. Without freedom you cannot die happily, you cannot live happily. And the way True Dharma Eyes, Karl’s Dharma name, the way he lived during the last few months before he died gave us a lot of confidence in the Dharma, in the practice. If you have the true practice usually you get the freedom that he got. There’s no doubt about it.
About 30 years ago a practitioner coming from the United Kingdom asked me, “Dear Thây, when do you think we are ready to be a teacher? When do you know you can be a good teacher?” And Thây said, when you are happy; because if you are not happy you cannot be a teacher. When you are happy, you are nourished by happiness and you nourish the people around you with happiness. This is real happiness. Many of us think of happiness in terms of power, fame, money, success, sex, because we have desire in us and happiness is the satisfaction of this desire. Many of us have been running after these objects of desire and we continue to suffer deeply by doing so.
In the teaching of the Buddha there is the expression “joy and happiness.” The practice should bring us joy and happiness. How to be joyful, how to be happy—the kind of joy and happiness that nourishes us and nourishes the world—that is the true question. In Plum Village we remind each other that life is available. With the true practice we can get in touch with the wonders of life in us and around us, so that we can be nourished, so that we can be healed, so that we can help nourish other people around us.
Thich Nhat Hanh
May 14, 2006
By T. Ambrose Desmond
On August 28, 2010, surrounded by family and friends on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean, Annie Millar and I were married. It was an extremely moving experience for us, and a deep teaching.
Upon becoming engaged, we had decided to wait a full year before getting married. We knew that organizing a wedding is often experienced as stressful and harried, and we wanted to give ourselves plenty of time to go slowly and enjoy the process. For the first few months, we didn’t think much about logistics at all, but just enjoyed the solidity of our decision. It was also a time of contemplating what marriage meant to each of us, and asking our friends and family to share their stories of getting married.
During this time of reflection, each of us came into contact with some of the cultural habit energies about marriage within us. While our processes with these energies were different, the main theme for each of us was the tension between commitment and freedom. How can one promise to do or be something in the future and still remain free and open to impermanence?
Ultimately, we decided to make our ceremony about the present rather than the future. We held a circle and asked our friends and family to offer their Sangha wisdom about caring for a relationship. People shared poems, songs and reflections on love, creating a beautiful collective energy. Then, instead of exchanging vows or promises, Annie and I committed to the practices that we had found to be the most supportive so far in our relationship.
Annie’s practices are:
I will practice using our experiences of both joy and pain to grow in my love for myself and for you.
I will practice sharing myself with you, especially when it’s hard, and trusting the love, safety, and power for transformation in our relationship.
I will practice loving you unconditionally, appreciating the beauty in every aspect of you.
I will practice letting you know what I want and feel, and listening to what you want and feel, knowing that both of these are a gift to myself and to you.
I will practice knowing and loving myself so that I can most fully love you.
My practices are:
I will practice letting go of my ideas of who you are in order to see your reality in every moment.
I will practice to recognize and transform the energies of fear and criticism in me in order to protect our connection. Instead, I will focus on what we both feel and need.
I will practice caring for our relationship so that it can thrive. I will try to recognize when our relationship needs more attention and make it a priority.
I will practice giving you all of the freedom and space you need so you can be happy. I will let go of demands and expectations and trust that the life within you is perfect.
I will practice trusting that you love me and want to make my life more wonderful. I will share my whole self with you.
We plan to continue reciting these practices together in order to begin anew and strengthen our connection.
T. Ambrose Desmond, True Mountain of Joy, joined the Order of Interbeing in Estes Park in He works as a therapist in private practice and directs a program for emotionally disturbed children in Oakland, CA.