© Thich Nhat Hanh
My dear friends, today is the seventeenth of July, 1998. We are in the New Hamlet, and the talk will be in French.
Happiness is something collective. Happiness cannot be individual. That is something I have learned in Buddhism. In a relationship, for example in the relationship between father and son, or mother and daughter, we will see that if the son is not happy, then it will be impossible for the father to be happy. The same is true of a mother and son, or mother and daughter. If the child is not happy, the mother will not be really happy. Therefore, for the other to be happy, it is necessary that you yourself are happy. And for you to be happy, you need to make the other happy. If father suffers very much, it is impossible for the child to enjoy life, to be happy. Therefore we have to do everything we can to help father suffer less. That will make you happy—it’s for your own well being.
In Buddhism there is a kind of wisdom called the "mind of non-discrimination,". It is described as the "wisdom of non-discrimination, " and if we can cultivate this wisdom in ourselves, we can bring a great deal of happiness to ourselves and to the other person, the person whom we love, and even the person whom we do not love.
Look at my hand, my right hand. This hand is a wonderful thing. It can write poems. When you look at my hand, you do not see poems, you do not see poetry, but you know that this hand has the capacity of writing poems, this hand can do calligraphy, and hundreds of poems have been written by this right hand. And when we look at the left hand, we ask ourselves, "Is the left hand capable of writing poems, too?" Actually, my left hand has never written a poem, but it does not feel a complex about this, because in it there is this mind called the mind of non-discrimination. It sees that it is one with the right hand, and the right hand does not think, "I am the right hand. I do everything. You, left hand, you are good for nothing." The right hand doesn’t have ideas like that—never, ever! In the right hand there is that mind of non-discrimination. As far as the right hand is concerned, there is no difference. There is perfect unity between right and left hand. The right and the left are just one. Therefore there is no jealousy, there is no pride, there is no discrimination. That is why the left hand is happy: it is because the left hand is not the object of discrimination on the part of the right hand. And each time that something happens to the left hand, the right hand knows what’s happening to the left hand, and the right hand will do something straight away to relieve the suffering of the left hand.
Once I was hanging up a painting on the wall. I was holding a hammer in my right hand. I don’t know why, but instead of banging on the nail, I banged on my finger, and my hand suffered and the nail fell down. Straight away my right hand put down the hammer and took care of the thumb of my left hand, and it did everything it could to relieve the suffering of my left hand. This action of the right hand can be described as based in the the mind of non-discrimination. The right hand looks after the left hand without thinking in a discriminatory way, "I am the right hand. I am taking care of the left hand. There is no thought such as that. There is no sort of discrimination like that. Therefore the right hand acts in a non-discriminatory way. There are moments when the right hand cooperates with the left hand to do something, like playing on the piano; both hands work together in order to produce the music, and there is a perfect harmony between the two hands. Therefore, if you look deeply into your body, into your mind, you will see that the mind of non-discrimination, the spirit of non-discrimination is already there in your own person. And if you use this spirit in your relationships with others, then happiness is possible.
Young people are accustomed to saying, "I have my own life to live. My life is something different. You have your life to live, you, who are my parents. We are young, and we have our lives to live. Therefore, please leave us our freedom to live our lives." That is what young people of our time say. But when you look deeply into the reality of things, you see that you are not separate; we are not separated. Children and parents are just one reality. And if the parents suffer, the children suffer. If the children suffer, the parents suffer. Therefore, we have to look deeply, we have to see clearly that we are just one reality. Therefore, we have to work together, and we have to understand each other. We have to practice non-discrimination.
When you take a shower you have an opportunity to look deeply at your physical body. This body has been transmitted to you by your parents. In Buddhism we talk about the "emptiness of transmission." What is the emptiness of transmission? It means that in transmission there are always three elements: the person who transmits, the object which is transmitted, and the person who receives the transmission. When you are under your shower, look at your body and say, ‘This is something transmitted to me by my parents. My body is the object of a transmission." And ask yourself, "Is there a difference between the parents who transmitted this body and the body that has been transmitted?" And the answer is that the one who transmits and the thing that is transmitted are only one thing, because your parents have transmitted this body, but they have transmitted themselves to you in this body. When you practice looking deeply, you see that the object of transmission is the person who has made the transmission. Your father has transmitted himself, and your mother has transmitted herself. The totality of their selves has been transmitted to you.
When you ask the second question, "Who is the person who receives the transmission?" it is you who has received the object of transmission--this body. Are you separate, or are you the same thing as the object of transmission? The answer is that you are the same thing as the object of transmission. Therefore, when you look at your body, when you look at your mind, you see that you are only a continuation of your parents and your ancestors. You do not have a self which is separate. You are not a separate entity. That is the teaching of the Buddha: there isn’t a separate self, there is a non-self. You are called a "non-self" because you do not have a separate self. If you touch yourself deeply, you touch your parents in you, and you touch all your ancestors in you at the same time, therefore there is only one current of life. And that is the reality that you have seen as you touch yourself deeply.
When a young person says, "This body is mine, and I can do whatever I like with it," such a declaration does not come from reality. It is a wrong perception, because this body is not you, this body belongs to your ancestors, to your parents, to your grandparents; this body belongs also to your children, your grandchildren who are not yet there, but who are ready, available in your body. That is called deep insight, which will come about when you know how to look deeply and touch your being deeply. Therefore, when you look in that way, the spirit of non-discrimination will manifest, and you will see clearly that happiness is something collective, and that you cannot go looking for your own individual happiness anymore. The search for individual happiness is naïve, it is unrealistic. Therefore, we should sit down together, practice looking deeply together, discover the reality together, and we will see that it is necessary to work together so that happiness will be possible.
I have here a little bag with pebbles inside: one, two, three, four, five, and six. These pebbles are for sitting meditation. Young people can make themselves a little bag, and collect six pebbles like this for practicing sitting meditation. I’m going to tell you how to do pebble meditation. When you have found six pebbles like this, wash them with soap, dry them, and you can bring them into the meditation hall and sit down near the Buddha. Show the Buddha your six pebbles. This gives me a very pleasant feeling, holding the pebble in my hand.
I have a friend living in Germany, and who has a very expensive car. Once I was sitting in his car, and he was driving to the place where we were going to have a five-day retreat. On the journey he was talking on the telephone with somebody else, and I realized that it was very dangerous to talk on the telephone while driving. He stopped near a forest, and we practiced walking meditation in the forest. I saw a pinecone, and I put it in the car, on the dashboard for him to look at. And I said to my friend, "Every time you see this pine-cone, you see me, and then you won’t talk." And so he stopped talking on the telephone when he drove after that. But one day, when he had a telephone call which he considered to be very important, he wanted to talk a lot, and he opened the little box and he put the pine-cone in the box before talking on the telephone…because when he saw the pine-cone he couldn’t talk. He felt uncomfortable talking when he saw me in the pinecone. When I came back into the car, I saw no pinecone. I said, "Where is the pinecone? Why isn’t it here anymore?" and he said, "Only yesterday, I really needed to talk on the telephone, and that is why I hid your pinecone." So, I didn’t have much luck!
The pinecone is like the presence of a teacher, the presence of a friend, the presence of Buddha, the presence of a Sangha, a community of practice. It is there to protect you, and it helps you to protect yourself. This pebble is like a pinecone, and I want all of you to have a pebble like this in your pocket, always. Every time you feel anger coming up in you, every time you feel the absence of peace in you, the absence of solidity and joy in you, you can always put your hand in your pocket and take the pebble in your hand, and begin to breathe: "Breathing in, I calm my body; breathing out I smile," at least three times. If you find yourself in a situation where you have no peace, if anger is coming up in you, if you’re irritated, you can say things which you will regret later; you can do things which you will regret later. Therefore, you need protection, and this pebble is Buddha, this pebble is the Sangha, this pebble is the Dharma. That is why, having found your pebble, go to the Buddha, sit near the Buddha, and show him the pebble: "Dear Buddha, this is my pebble. I’m going to practice with this pebble. I promise you, dear Buddha, that every time I am angry, every time I am irritated, every time I have no peace, every time I cry, I’m going to touch this pebble, and take it in my hand. I’m going to breathe deeply in order to bring back peace, in order to transform the anger in me. I’m only going to breathe deeply--breathing in I will calm, breathing out I will smile--until the anger goes away."
It is very dangerous to do something when you are angry. It’s very dangerous to say something when you are angry, because you are in danger of doing a lot of harm, of doing destructive things in your relationship with someone like your father, your mother, your brother, your sister. Therefore, in the practice of protecting yourself against your anger, against destruction, your pebble is like the pinecone. Let me repeat: the pebble is the Buddha, the pebble is the Dharma, and the pebble is the Sangha. The Sangha means a community of brothers and sisters who practice right mindfulness, who practice peace, who practice joy. I take the Buddha with me, I take the Dharma with me, and I take the Sangha with me in my pocket. Look, this pebble looks like something outside of you. You picked it up in the open, but if you practice well, the pebble will become something very dear to you, and this pebble can enter deeply into your heart. And this pebble, which symbolizes Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, will be something very closely linked to you, and will always dwell in your heart with its energy of protection.
In our family, it can happen there will be a difficult situation, that there will be irritation, lack of understanding, lack of love, anger, confusion; and the atmosphere in the family will not be pleasant. We will feel that we cannot breathe because of that atmosphere, and we need to restore well being and peace in our family. If you have this pebble in your pocket, you will know what you can do to restore peace. Quarrels, arguments, make everything poisonous. You know that is true. That is why we have to learn how to act in order to restore peace in ourselves, and once we have restored peace in ourselves we can restore peace in others. A little pebble helps a lot. Each time you find yourself in a difficult situation, you can go back to your pebble, touch your pebble, come back to your breathing, practice breathing deeply: "Breathing in, I feel calm, breathing out I smile." I know it is difficult to smile in moments like this, but with a little bit of practice you will be able to do it. Then you should touch the wisdom that is in you. The Buddha said that there is wisdom in you. Suffering comes from confusion, from ignorance, but if you can touch wisdom in yourself, confusion will be transformed, and ignorance will disappear. If you touch wisdom in yourself, the anger, the confusion, the pain will disappear quite quickly.
I want to talk today about the wisdom of non-discrimination. Holding the pebble in your hand, you breathe in deeply. "Buddha, I see that I am the left hand, and I know that the other person is the right hand. I see that we are just one reality." The other person may be your brother, your sister, may be your child, your father, your mother, and when you touch this little stone, you touch the wisdom within yourself, the wisdom of non-discrimination. Both of you are part of the same reality. If there is suffering in this part of reality, there is suffering in all other parts of this same reality. Therefore, you do not want to create suffering in yourself or in the other person. If you can hold the pebble firmly in your hand and breathe deeply, it will give you a lot of confidence and respect in yourself, and the other person will also have confidence and respect in you. And that is something you can realize within the family.
Today the young people will have a discussion about this practice with the pebble. I am confident that if you understand how to practice, you will be able to use this practice in your daily life in order to restore peace and happiness in yourself and in your family. Yesterday evening we had a discussion on the nature of mindfulness. Mindfulness is above all the ability to be there, body and mind united. Mindfulness is the practice of being present, of being completely here, now and in this place. The most precious present that you can give to your beloved is your presence. And in order to be truly present yourself, all you need to do is to know when you are breathing in and know when you are breathing out. "Breathing in, here I am; breathing out, I smile." If you do this three times, you will be really there, and this presence of yours is a very precious present that you can give to any of your loved ones.
There are adults who are absent during a great deal of their daily lives. Physically, they seem to be there, but they are not really there—they are absorbed in the past, in the future, and in their plans. That is why their physical bodies are there, but their minds are not there. The practice of mindfulness aims at bringing the mind back to the body, and we know that you only need to breathe deeply one time to bring your body and your mind back together. When you are really there, you look at the person you love, and you say this: " Dear one, I am here. I am really here for you." And that is the greatest present you can give to the one you love. When you love someone you have to be there. And to be there, you know it is enough to breathe deeply, mindfully. Try with your mommy—breathe in deeply: "Breathing in, I am here; breathing out, I smile." And having breathed in and out three times like this, you go to your mother, or your father, and you say, "Mommy, I’m really here for you." And with your smile, your presence, you will make your mother happy right away. You will make your daddy happy right away.
This is a kind of mantra. A mantra means a magic formula which can change the situation in which you are living. Therefore, if you are really concentrated, if you are really mindful, you open your mouth and you recite the mantra (and the mantra can be recited in your own language, you don’t have to recite the mantra in Sanskrit or Pali): "Mommy, I am really there for you." You present yourself to your mother as a flower, as a mountain, as calm water, and that will be a great gift for your mother or your father. And the other mantra is as easy to practice as this. When you are there, really there, body and mind united, something else will also be there, and that is life, and the beauty of nature, and the person you love. If you are there, really there, you will recognize that life is there, that the one you love is there. Looking at the other person, smiling at the other person, you can recite the second mantra: "Darling, I know you are there and it makes me very happy."
To be loved is to be recognized as being alive. If you want to recognize the presence of the other, you need to be there. You are there, and you can recognize the presence of the person you love. I have transmitted two mantras to you, which you can practice straight away. The first one is, "Darling, I am really there for you." And you know that this is not just a proclamation, it is something you are practicing. If you are not really there, it is not a real mantra. You must be really there, solid, present, body and mind united, and only then can you practice the mantra: "Darling, I am really here for you." Or, "Mommy, I am really here for you." Or, "Daddy, I am really here for you." "Darling, I am really here for you." I want you to write this mantra on a piece of paper and hang it up on your wall in order to be able to practice it. The second mantra is, "Darling, I know you are there, and it makes me very happy." These are mantras which can be practiced by very young people, and by less young people, and by old people.
I have taught Japanese and Chinese children these two mantras, and they wrote these mantras in the Japanese and Chinese characters, and they looked very beautiful. If you are French, you should write these mantras in French, and if you are German, you should write them in German. Today, you can have a Dharma discussion about the first pebble, the practice of protection, and you can also discuss the two mantras which I have transmitted to you. When you hear the little bell, stand up if you are children, bow to the Sangha and go quietly out.
When we practice walking meditation we are walking without needing to arrive anywhere, walking just to walk, each step you take brings you back to life, because in Buddhism we say that life can only be found in the present moment. The past has already gone, the future has not yet come, there is only one moment to live, and that is the present moment. Therefore, you have an appointment with life. If you miss the present moment, you miss your appointment with life. Therefore, when you practice walking meditation, with each step you arrive in the present moment, and that is the address of our true home: life.
If someone asks you, "What is the Buddha’s address, what is the bodhisattvas’ address?" we say that the Buddha’s address is the here and the now. If you want to meet Buddhas, great beings, bodhisattvas, that is the address where you will meet them. Each brings you to the here and the now, so that you can be in touch with life as it really is. Everything you are looking for is to be found in the here and the now, because the here and now is the only place where life is available. Therefore, walking meditation is something very enjoyable to do. You can practice according to this formula: "I have arrived, I am home."
There is a three-meter distance between me and the white board, but each time I take a step, I feel I have already arrived. "I have arrived. I am home." We have been running all our lives. We have been running after happiness, thinking that happiness and well being are at the other end of the road. So we have been rushing towards it, not knowing that life, happiness, all that, is available in the present moment. When you breathe in, you can take two or three steps, and you say to yourself silently, "I have arrived, arrived." This is not something that we say, but it is something that we do. You really do arrive, because your true address, your true home, is life in the here and in the now. "I have arrived." The practice of arriving: you breathe in and you say, "Arrived, arrived," and thus you will have stopped, because Buddhist meditation above all is the practice of stopping. We have been running our whole lives, and now we learn how to stop.
There is energy in us always pushing us to run somewhere. It is called vashana, habit energy. Now, you want to get back your sovereignty over yourself, you no longer want to be a victim of this habit energy, you want to be master of yourself, you want it to be you that is walking, not some habit energy that is pushing you to walk, to run. Your sovereignty over yourself: "I have arrived, I have arrived." At all costs, you must stop running. You must learn how to arrive straight away. Without stopping, nothing in the practice can be realized.
Buddhist meditation is made of two parts; the first element is stopping, which is written like this in Chinese (Thay writes on board). It means, "Stop!" If you are in China you will see this sign all over the place on the road. The drivers have to stop when they see this sign, or when they see a red light. You can draw this stop sign, and hang it up in your living room, and you can stand in front of it and practice breathing: "I stop, I stop." You will find a lot of enjoyment when you can stop. Why do you stop? It is because only with stopping will you be able to be in touch with real life. The blue sky, the luxurious vegetation of summer, the beautiful face of your child. All this is available only in the present, in the here and the now. You have to return to the present moment to be able to be in touch with these things, all that is beautiful, all that is wonderful, all that is refreshing and healing, all this can be found only in the present moment. So to be able to realize this transformation which you want so much, this healing which you want so much, you have to be in the present moment in order to touch directly and deeply life which is there.
Obviously there are negative things in life, but positive things are also present in life. We practice selective touching. There is a garden, and there are trees in the garden. Some of the trees are dying, but there are other trees which are still very strong, and beautiful, and vigorous. You should not say that it’s all spoiled. There are trees which are dead or dying, but there are trees which are wonderful and beautiful too. That is the same in life—there is suffering, there is pain, and when you return to the present moment, try to touch the positive side of life. There are wonderful things there, all around us; there are wonderful things there, within us. Your eyes are something wonderful. "Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes," is to be practiced in meditation. When you breathe in you are aware that your eyes are really there, and when you smile and breathe out, you say, "My eyes are still in good condition, and that is why I can smile. To have good eyes is something wonderful. You open your eyes and you see that you are in touch with all kinds of forms, all kind of color, a paradise of forms and colors is available to you because of your eyes. You only have to open your eyes to be able to enter this paradise of colors and forms.
Those of us who have lost our sight, who can no longer see, who dwell in darkness, who have lost that paradise, their most ardent desire is to be able to see things as they could before. They want a doctor, a healer who can restore their ability to see, and if someone could help them to get back their sight, they would be in paradise again. But paradise is available to us--we have eyes in good condition; but we do not have the time, we do not have the capacity to enjoy this paradise of colors and forms. When we practice mindfulness of our eyes, "Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes, I am aware that I have eyes in good condition; I breathe out and I smile to my eyes." When we do that, happiness is something possible. We know that we only have to open our eyes to enter into the paradise of forms and colors, and that paradise is only available here and now.
Your eyes make up a wonder within you, and in you there are wonderful things like that. They must be touched, they are to be recognized. You are a garden, a beautiful garden. Maybe some trees in that garden are dying or they are in a bad condition, but there are trees which are still very beautiful, still very strong in you. "Breathing in, I am aware of my heart; breathing out, I smile to my heart." That is another exercise, to embrace your heart with mindfulness. When you breathe in, you generate the energy of mindfulness, and with that energy of mindfulness, you embrace your heart. "My heart, I know you are there. I am here for you, and I am smiling to you." This is the first mantra. "I breathe in, I know you are there, and I am happy because you are there." This mantra can be used for your eyes, and it can be used for your heart.
To love is not to love another only. To love is to take care of yourself. Love yourself. If you are not capable of loving yourself, it will be very difficult to love someone else. Therefore, come back to yourself, embrace yourself with the energy of mindfulness. Begin with your eyes, with your heart. "Breathing in, I know you are there, my heart. Breathing out, I am smiling to you with gratitude, because you function normally, my heart." That is something wonderful. There are people among us whose hearts do not function normally. They are subject to heart attacks, and their most ardent desire is to have a normal heart. Now we return to our hearts, we touch them as something wonderful, like a beautiful tree in our garden, and this will give us a lot of pleasure.
We know that our hearts work day and night in order to keep us well. We sleep, but our hearts do not sleep. Our hearts are always working, without stopping, and they have been working for years and years—twenty, thirty, fifty years. Our hearts have done their best to keep us well. As far as we are concerned, we are not aware of our hearts working in difficult conditions, and without mindfulness we have done things which have made difficulties for our hearts. We have stayed up too late at night, we have eaten and drunk things which are not good for our hearts, and we have done things which are not very kind to our hearts. Every time we have lit up a cigarette, we have done something unfriendly towards our hearts. That is why, if you smoke, please smoke in mindfulness, and very soon you will stop smoking. Touch your heart and practice the first and the second mantra. "My heart, I know you are there, and I am very happy." Practicing that mantra will help you stop smoking very quickly, because you know how to send love to your heart. If you drink alcohol, you can continue to drink, but drink mindfully.
Be aware of the existence of your eyes, your heart, your liver, and you will feel love for yourself, and very soon you will stop drinking, you will stop smoking, because now love reigns. Love has become the basic energy in you, and you act based on love. "Breathing in, I am aware of my eyes; breathing out, I smile to my eyes. Breathing in I am aware of my heart; breathing out, I smile to my heart." This is a love meditation. "Breathing in, I am aware of my liver; breathing out, I smile to my liver." Maybe my liver has sent me messages many times, SOS messages come from my heart. But I haven’t taken any notice of these SOS messages, I have continued to live in such a way that my liver has no future. Touch your liver not only with your hand, but also with your mindfulness, and you will hear from your liver: "I am suffering." And then you will know what to do, and what you should not do. And there will be healing and transformation for your liver.
Mindfulness is the energy which puts us in touch with reality. First of all, it puts us in touch with the positive things. We recognize the existence of trees which are still strong, which are still beautiful, solid, which are in us and which are around us. Being in touch with positive things is our practice, and the energy which puts us in touch with things which are healing is mindfulness. Look at the blue sky, look at the vegetation; it’s so luxuriant in the summer. Look at the beautiful face of a child; these are wonderful things, healing things, refreshing things. And you should practice what I have described as "selective touching," to be in touch with things which are positive, and above all, to give you more strength before you embrace the negative things in order to transform them. If you are not strong enough, you should not begin by embracing the negative things. You should embrace the positive things first of all. Just as before surgery the doctor has to find out if the body of the patient is strong enough to undergo the operation. If not, we have to do something to make the body more resistant, stronger, before the surgery.
If you are a therapist, and somebody comes to see you, remember this. Should we get in touch with the negative side, or should we not rather create an atmosphere in which the patient and the therapist can practice being in touch with positive things, with the aim of strengthening the patient? If you are a therapist, why not invite your patient, your client, to do walking meditation with you, in order to be able to touch positive things? Why always begin with the negative things, what isn’t going right in you? There is another approach. The therapist is above all an architect, who can create an atmosphere or a space where we feel secure, where we can be in touch with refreshing things, healing things. That therapist needs to create this atmosphere. If you are a therapist, please think about this. It’s so necessary to make a kind of Pure Land where all the elements can bring healing.
What is the Pure Land? A Pure Land is a place, a country, a space which nourishes us, protects us, and helps us to heal. That is why I have said that the therapist above all has to be an architect who can create an atmosphere, and when you come into this atmosphere you feel you can breathe, you can be in touch with positive things. Even if you do nothing, if you do not practice at all, the atmosphere will help you, make you feel better straight away. A meditation center, for example, is made by a community of practice to welcome people who need such an atmosphere for their well being and for their transformation and healing. So we need trees, birds, children, things which manifest the joy of life, love, well being, around us. That is why the therapist needs above all to be an architect in order to create such an atmosphere. If you haven’t created this atmosphere, think about doing it, because you cannot be a good therapist if you don’t have such an atmosphere. I know this very well, because when you do not have a Sangha, you cannot be a good teacher. The Sangha is the atmosphere, the energy, the presence which helps us to feel secure, in peace. Buddha knew this very well—he made a Sangha to be with him. Wherever he went, he made a Sangha.
The Buddha had a very close friend, whose name was King Pasenadi, who was the king of Kosala. The king was the same age as the Buddha; they were born in the same year, and they died in the same year. And the last time that the King Pasenadi met the Buddha, he said this: "Lord Buddha, when I see your Sangha, when I see the monks around you, I have so much faith in you. Because the Sangha - made of monks and nuns - is practicing the way, and this Sangha radiates the practice. During sitting meditation and walking meditation the practice of love and compassion radiates all around the monks and nuns, so that there is an atmosphere of security and joy." Pasenadi said, "When I see the Sangha around you, I have a lot more trust in you." When he looked at the Buddha, he already felt trust in the Buddha; but when he looked at the Sangha he had even more trust in the Buddha, because the Sangha was a creation of the Buddha, and this creation was absolutely necessary to be able to offer solidity to all those who came to practice.
So if you are a teacher of the Dharma, if you wish to offer the Dharma, the practice to those around you, think of making a Sangha, a community of practice. With this community of practice you will create the atmosphere which is necessary for transformation and healing of all those who come to you. If you are a therapist, you should do the same thing. There must be the atmosphere, there must be the Sangha where a smile is possible, where well being is possible. If you don’t do this, you will not be a very strong therapist. You need the atmosphere, the space where people feel secure, where people can touch love, understanding and compassion. That is why I said above all the therapist needs to be an architect.
I mean that the therapist is also a restaurateur, someone who offers food which is good for the body and the mind. The therapist has to choose the food well, because if we become sick it’s because we do not eat in mindfulness—we eat just anything. We bring into our physical bodies and into our mental bodies so many poisons. To know how to eat is to know how to live. Not to know how to eat is to die. It depends on the way you eat and the way you cook. We must offer healthy food. When you are seated at the table, breathe deeply, look deeply at what is on the table; practice mindfulness in order to recognize what is good for your body or your person, and what is not good for you, and make the decision only to eat what is going to nourish you properly, and do not make a war in your body and your mind by what you eat. The Buddha has made this point many, many times. He suggested that we should practice mindfulness of eating. The first kind of eating he spoke about is the edible food, the food we take through our mouths. We have to eat in such a way that compassion is maintained while we eat. We have to eat with understanding and compassion.
The Buddha told a story about a young couple crossing the desert with their little boy. They carried with them supplies of food and water, and they thought that it would be enough to cross the desert, but in the middle of the desert they realized that the food they had brought with them was not enough. They realized that all three of them would die in the desert, and therefore they made a terrible decision: they decided to kill the child, in order to eat the flesh of the child and to survive, and get out of the desert. Each day, they ate a little of the flesh. The rest they left on their shoulders as they walked, so that it would dry in the sun, and they could keep it. Finally, they managed to get out of the desert. When the Buddha told the Monks this story, he asked them, "My dear friends, did the couple feel happy when they were eating their child’s flesh?" and the monks said, "No, of course not. How could they feel happy when eating their child’s flesh?"
The Buddha said, "Eat in such a way that you are able to maintain compassion; do not eat your child’s flesh." This is very deep teaching. Each time we see food on the table, we should breathe deeply in order to see what kind of food we are going to eat, because there are foods which will create war in us when we have eaten them,. This body, which has been transmitted to us by our ancestors, is something we need to take care of, we should not destroy it with the food we take. If we do not eat mindfully, if we destroy our bodies when we eat, then we are eating the flesh of our ancestors, our parents, and our children. Your children are there in you, even if you are still very young, your children are already there in you, and the future generations are there in you. They are waiting for the right moment to manifest, but they are there in you. So eat in such a way that happiness can be there in you. When you eat meat, when you drink alcohol, you can continue to do these things, but do them with mindfulness. Mindfulness shows us that there are so many people dying every day because of hunger. UNESCO has said that 40,000 children die every day of malnutrition. Imagine, 40,000 children every day!
A huge quantity of cereal grains is used to make alcohol and to raise animals for meat, so when we eat these things it is just as if we are eating the flesh of our own child. We have to eat with discrimination, with mindfulness, in order to be able to see clearly, and to keep compassion alive in us. A person without compassion cannot be happy--it is something I have learned during my life. If you do not have compassion, happiness will be impossible. Without the energy called compassion, we are cut off from the world, we cannot be in touch with other living beings in the world. So eat in such a way that compassion is possible. Look at nature, look at the living beings, and let us learn how to cultivate our land, and make food in such a way, and eat food in such a way, that life around us is still possible, as well as within us. This kind of food is called edible food.
Secondly, there is the food called "sense impressions." This food comes through our eyes, our ears, our nose, our body and our mind. When you cross the city or the town, images hit you, sounds hit you, and this is called the food of sense impression: sight, smell, touch, and thought. When you look at television you are consuming. When you read a book, you are consuming. And among the things you consume, there are poisons and toxins. You should be aware, and be able to identify poisons and toxins in what you consume, by your eyes, by your ears, and by your nose. And each time you expose yourself to images, sounds, smells, thoughts which destroy you, you are …We are always consuming by means of our six senses.
Remember how one time you talked to someone for an hour, and the conversation was so poisonous, that after talking you felt completely paralyzed? You were filled with the despair and violence expressed in that conversation, and during that hour when you listened to that person, you consumed many poisons. It was not a good consumption. In our daily lives, besides edible food, we take a lot of sense impression food, and we expose ourselves to all kinds of toxins. We read an article in the newspaper, we look at a film, and that is consuming. If you are subject to depression, if you are subject to despair, if you no longer want to live, that is because you have consumed without mindfulness. You’ve consumed just anything that comes your way. We can talk about these products as products of culture. Our children also consume violence, fear, and despair every day when they watch television. The Buddha has warned us against this: he has told us to take care of our six senses, look with mindfulness, listen with mindfulness, consume sense impressions through eyes and ears with mindfulness, and do not allow the toxins to come to you. You should look deeply to be able to recognize and to decide whether to should ingest this or not.
I have told you that the first element of Buddhist meditation is to stop, and now I am going to talk about the other element, which is called "looking deeply." When you have practiced stopping, you are really there, and you can look at the food, you can look at everything you consume with your ears, your eyes, your body, with your mind, because thoughts and ideas are also products which we consume. Looking deeply is something we can do when we stop. If we continue to run, how can we look deeply? We have to stop first of all, and then we can start looking, looking into what is facing us, what is before us, and we are talking now about the things which we consume. We allow our children to poison themselves every day with cultural products, and we ourselves consume without mindfulness. If we are depressed, if we are in despair, it is because of something we have consumed.
The Buddha said, "Look at the nature of what happens to you, and if you can identify the source of nourishment which has brought that about, then you are already liberated." And the Buddha is talking about food. It’s because you have consumed this or that, that you are suffering now, from depression, despair, and pain, and that does not come on its own, just like that, it comes from your consumption without mindfulness. To practice mindfulness is to be able to distinguish what is good for your organism, whether it is your physical organism or your mental organism, from what is bad for you. And this is something we practice on our own, with our family and with our Sangha. Looking deeply we have to say, "This is not good for me," or "This is not good for us." And that is why I said that the therapist is also a restaurateur, a cook, who should only offer healthy food to his customers. When you come to Plum Village, we are cooks at your service. We are determined to offer you only healthy food: walking meditation so that you can stop and touch the positive things in life, sitting meditation so you can cultivate more solidity, silence so that you have more time to look deeply into what is happening. Practitioners who live with us, who have a certain amount of joy, compassion and solidity, are supporting you in your practice. These are all foods that we need to help us.
A therapist needs to be a cook, a restaurateur, who can restore your mental and physical health. That is why the Buddha taught us that before eating we have to practice the Five Contemplations: "This food is the gift of the earth and the sky. It is the gift of the whole universe. I am determined to live in a way that makes me worthy of receiving this food." What does that mean, "to be worthy?" To be worthy of the food means to eat it in mindfulness, you know what you are eating. Eat, and be aware of what you are eating; that is to practice mindfulness while you are eating, and it makes you worthy to receive the food. And if you eat in mindfulness, you know exactly what you can swallow, and exactly what you should not swallow.
What is mindfulness? It is Buddha in you, it is the energy which makes you present in the moment, which helps you to see things as they really are, and that is why you will not wander into confusion, into wrongdoing towards yourself and towards others. For we who practice Buddhism, mindfulness is the Buddha himself. Each one of us has a seed of mindfulness in us, and each day we practice will help this seed of mindfulness to develop.
All of us are able to be aware of everything which is happening. When you drink a glass of water, you can always drink that in mindfulness. "I drink and I am aware that I am drinking water." When you walk, you can walk in mindfulness. You all have that capacity. The only thing is, do you want to do it, or not? It is sure that you have the capacity to be aware of everything that happens. You can breathe mindfully, you can walk mindfully, you can sit mindfully, and this will give you the energy called mindfulness, which will help you see clearly the way things are, and thanks to that, we will be able to know what we should consume, and what we should not consume.
Deep looking here means that we are practicing the heart of Buddhist meditation: we stop and we look deeply. In Sanskrit we say shamatha for stopping, and vipashyana for looking deeply. When we stop, we begin to feel calm and concentrated, we become that calm water, and when that water is calm, it can reflect the full moon. To learn to stop, to practice stopping, is to make possible calm and concentration. And when calm and concentration are there, you can direct your deep looking to what is there in the present moment, to be able to understand the nature of that thing, and that is called vipashyana. Vipashyana is not just the work of monks and nuns, it is everyone’s work, because everyone needs to stop and everyone needs to look deeply at what is within them and around them.
"I have arrived, arrived; I am home, home." Walk, but you have already stopped. You practice stopping as you sit, you practice stopping as you walk, and when you have a meal, you also stop. The way you stop is by being really there, really with the food, really with the community of brothers and sisters, and you do not wander back into the past or into the future. Every day you practice stopping. You do not allow yourself to be carried away by habit energy. You are determined to stop, because stopping gives us calm and concentration, and allows us to be in deep touch with the world, with life which is available in the present moment. Thus we live each moment of our lives deeply, so stopping is a very important practice. When you look at the monks and nuns around you, you will see that they practice this--they walk, but they are stopping--and each step like that can provide us with a little more solidity and freedom. This is not political freedom that we are talking about, this is freedom from habit energy. We can be carried away by our anger, by our habits, and we can be imprisoned by the past or the future. But now we free ourselves from all of this, and we practice sovereignty. Each step we take, we take with the will of a free person, and walking like that we get back our sovereignty, we become someone free. Be a free person when you are walking, be a free person when you are sitting. Liberate yourself from all of these negative energies, from all of these ties. Let us practice stopping in every moment of our lives. And when you have succeeded in the practice of stopping, the practice of looking deeply will be very easy for you to do.
"I have arrived; I am home." Only two words, "arrived" and "home," and you can practice all day long like that. Or a few moments later you can continue with another exercise: "In the here, in the now; here…here…now…now…" Let me repeat: this is not a declaration or a proclamation; it is a practice. Practice in such a way that the words shine out of you, and if you do this, then this land becomes the Pure Land, it becomes the Kingdom of God under your feet. Whether this is hell or the Pure Land depends entirely on the way you walk, on your legs, on your feet. If you want to dwell in the present moment, you can transform this piece of land into a Pure Land or the Kingdom of God. That is something very refreshing, very nourishing. The Kingdom of God, the Pure Land is available. If you have the energy of mindfulness, you can stay there, you can live there. "I have arrived, I have arrived…" and my true address, the Zip Code, is here and now. And after that you practice: "I am solid, I am solid; I am free, I am free."
"I have arrived, I am home, in the here, in the now." Here and now is the address of the Pure land, or the Kingdom of God. "I am solid, I am free." When you walk like that you cultivate solidity in you; there is a mountain in you. Without solidity you cannot be happy, you cannot be a support for someone else. You have to be solid for yourself and for the people you love. Therefore, cultivate the solidity of a mountain, and when you walk like that, you are holding yourself…Solidity is something true, and you are free. You are free of what? The past, the future, free of anguish, despair, the afflictions, the fear, the anger; and you can be yourself, truly yourself. "In the Pure Land I dwell."
I have arrived, I am home;
In the here, in the now.
I am solid, I am free;
In the Pure Land, I dwell.
And before that you can practice "I take refuge in myself." The Buddha recommended that we should return to ourselves. There is an island in which we feel safe. This teaching was given by the Buddha when he was eighty years old and he was about to pass away. He gathered his monks and nuns together, and he said, "My friends, there is an island, a very safe place in you, and every time you come back to that island in yourself you will feel peace and joy. The Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha are there in that island. It is called the island of self. Ata means self and dipa means island in Pali. There is an island in you, and every time you do not feel peaceful, you do not feel well, go back to this island in yourself, practice mindful breathing, and you will have peace and solidity. Therefore, "I take refuge in myself" means that I practice the Buddha’s teachings in order to return to the island in myself. You can also see "I dwell in the Pure Land." I don’t want to be in hell, I want to be in the Kingdom of God, in the Pure Land. That is why I adorn myself with mindfulness, and I walk with joy, with solidity and with freedom. We can choose between hell and the Pure Land; and if you do not wish to remain in hell, you can choose the Pure Land--and it isn’t far away, it’s not difficult. Our vehicle for getting there is our breathing. With that vehicle, and with our legs in walking meditation, we can very quickly enter the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land. Those who live amongst us are accustomed to practicing mindful breathing and walking meditation. It is not difficult for them to leave hell to re-enter the Kingdom of God or the Pure Land. To leave hell and to enter Paradise, it is enough to use your legs and your lungs with mindfulness.
We are going to sing together:
Je suis chez moi, je suis arrivee,
Il n’y a qu’ici et maintenant
Bien solide, vraiment libre,
Je prends refuge en moi-meme.
Je suis chez moi, je suis arrivee,
Il n’y a qu’ici et maintenant
Bien solide, vraiment libre,
Dans la realite ultime, je m’etablis.
I have given you the practice, and now it is up to you to play your part in doing it.
(End of talk)
Dear Friends,These dharma talk transcriptions are of teachings given by the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village or in various retreats around the world. The teachings traverse all areas of concern to practitioners, from dealing with difficult emotions, to realizing the interbeing nature of ourselves and all things, and many more.
This project operates from 'Dana', generosity, so these talks are available for everyone. You may forward and redistribute them via email, and you may also print them and distribute them to members of your Sangha. The purpose of this is to make Thay's teachings available to as many people who would like to receive them as possible. The only thing we ask is that you please circulate them as they are, please do not distribute or reproduce them in altered form or edit them in any way.
If you would like to support the transcribing of these Dharma talks or you would like to contribute to the works of the Unified Buddhist Church, please click Giving to Unified Buddhist Church.
For information about the Transcription Project and for archives of Dharma Talks, please visit our web site http://www.plumvillage.org/