Sutra on Measuring & Reflecting
© Thich Nhat Hanh
Today is the 2nd of April 1998 and we are in the New Hamlet. We are studying the Sutra on Shining Light, which is found in the chanting book on Wednesday evening. Friends, one should infer oneís own state by considering the state of others in the following way. A person who has wrong desires and is controlled by wrong desires, I do not find it easy to like. If I had wrong desires and were controlled by these wrong desires, others would not find me easy to like. My friends, a monk who knows this decides, "May I not have wrong desires and not be controlled by these wrong desires". That is also true in other cases such as exalting myself and despising others, being angry, and being mastered by my anger. This is the method which Master Mahamoggallana suggests to his friends in the practice.
We see in our Sangha somebody who is attached, who is caught in sensual desire. The Sangha sees clearly that that person is attached and is not free. Whenever people come and try and talk about that personís weak points, that person is angry. Nobody wants to shine light on that person. When we see someone like that, that person is difficult for us to deal with. We should shine light on that person. If we want to be easy to deal with, if we want the Sangha to approach us, teach us, shine light on us, we have to give up being caught up in wrong desire, in attachment. This is what Mahamoggallana talks about as one of nineteen cases which make it difficult to approach someone.
One thing not mentioned in the sutra, is the seeds of these weaknesses. We all have these weaknesses in us.
Another person may have a weakness that manifests very obviously in them. In us that seed may be quite weak, but itís still there. If we donít practice mindfulness, if we allow that seed to be watered, it will grow and we will be caught in difficulties like the other person we look at in our Sangha. We may say that that person is caught, is embracing wrong desires, is attached, and we think that we are not attached. Maybe people look at us and they see that we are not attached, see that we are not caught in wrong desires, but it doesnít mean to say the seed of attachment isnít in us. We are just lucky. The seed of wrong desire and attachment in us hasnít been watered and it hasnít manifested, but if we are not mindful that seed can be watered and we will become isolated in our Sangha like this person.
This is the second part that is not mentioned in the sutra. We should practice a little further and say, "No, I donít have wrong desire at the moment. I am not embracing wrong desire at the moment. I am not attached, but the seed of attachment and wrong desire is still in me, in the depths of consciousness, so I should practice with all my might so that that seed is not watered. I am fortunate; I am luckier than the other person, that that seed is still small. And I give an aspiration to feel compassion for the other person who is caught in wrong desire. I am ready to do anything I can to help that person." We compare ourselves with another person, saying "That person has been isolated because that person is caught in wrong desire, and I donít want to be caught in wrong desire because I donít want to be isolated." Then we have to go to the second layer of practice. That person has a sense of attachment and wrong desire. I also have the seed of attachment, and although fortunately in me that seed is very small, I donít feel that I am completely secure. I donít despise the other person. I try to find a way to help that person. I donít continue in the attitude of avoiding that person but I try to help that person to open up, to develop, so they are free from their attachment. This is the second layer of practice which is not mentioned in the sutra.
We can go through all these nineteen factors in this way. Maybe we see somebody else in the Sangha who only knows how to praise themselves and is always prepared to criticize others. Am I like that? We are looking at ourselvesósomebody who is severe, and is not capable of opening their lips in order to praise someone else. If weíre like that, we should recognize weíre like that. Do I just want to be praised, and I have I not got the capacity to receive constructive criticism from my friends? Am I someone, who for all these years, has not been able to open myself to praise somebody? If we see that we are like that we should be ashamed and we should straight away practice in order to get out of that habit. Maybe nobody has told us this yet because we havenít the capacity to receive constructive criticism.
So this is the practice of shining light. We look at somebody in the Sangha and ask ourselves if we are like that person. Maybe we are a twin of that person. We are exactly like that person. When we look at that person we see ourselves, and when we see ourselves we have to practice straight away to change the situation. We have a weakness and we know we have that weakness. Whenever we see that we have a weakness, we accept that we have that weakness. That is awakening; that is enlightenment. Our success in the practice is due to these moments of enlightenment. "I have that weakness and I accept that I have that weakness."
For example, we ask ourselves, "Am I someone who just likes to be praised? Am I someone who is totally afraid of hearing the truth about myself?" We ask ourselves that question because in the Sangha there are people like that, and am I one of those people? In the Sangha there is someone who is not able to open their lips to praise someone in front of another. Am I like that? That is a question; that is an observation that we have to make, to recognize the seeds in us. We have the seeds, but is it a great important seed or is it a small seed? That depends on the conditions and causes which have made it small or great. If that seed is an important seed in us, we should recognize that we have it, and that it is already well-developed in us, and that we have to practice with that seed.
Other people, although they like to be praised, have the capacity to receive constructive criticism from others. They donít praise others a lot, but from time to time they have the capacity to talk about the positive elements in their friends. They also know that when they see unwholesome things in others, they have that unwholesome thing in themselves. If we donít practice, the unwholesome seedóof praising ourselves, of criticizing others, of being unable to receive constructive criticismówill grow in us, and we will have it in the future. This is how to practice looking in the mirror.
Next we look deeply into getting angry and being mastered by anger. In the Sangha there are people who easily get angry and easily get carried away by their anger. We all see that person and everybody feels sorry for that person. Everybody avoids that person, because when they get angry we receive the anger from them. So we look into the mirror of that person to see, "Do I have that quality; am I someone who easily gets angry? Am I easily carried away by my anger?" If so then we have to really practice to get out of that situation.
Now we come to the fourth situation of someone who bears a grudge; their anger lasts for a long time. Maybe their ears and their face donít go red when theyíre angry; they donít say heavy things, but they are not able to let go of their anger, and the anger goes on from day to day, from month to month. Other people get angry and are mastered by anger, but after twenty-four hours they have forgotten their anger. There are people like that in our Sangha, and they come and say they are sorry to the other. Such a person is easier to bear than the one whose anger carries on from month to month, from year to year, a person who pollutes our mind with their anger, darkens our mind with their anger. We should ask ourselves, "Am I someone whose anger continues for a long time?" We should look at ourselves in the mirror of the person who gets angry for a long time. Do we bear our grudges for a long time, or have we the capacity to let go?
In the book of the Flowers in the Garden of Meditation, there are histories of different masters. One master says if a monk gets angry he should not keep his anger over more than one night. In Vietnam children say "angry, sad, or annoyed for five minutes." We have the right to be angry or sad, but five minutes is enough. The master of the Flowers in the Garden of Meditation gives us the right to be angry all night, but the next morning our anger should have finished. In the Upper Hamlet, the New Hamlet, you know how to say this in Chinese, you can write it up if you like for people to see. Sometimes we bear a grudge, keep our resentment, and that resentment manifests in our actions and our words, because we donít know how to transform it. It may manifest in a very subtle way, in the way we speak. There are people who speak in a very grumpy way, their words are unkind and bitter, but donít know that theyíre doing it. Only if they heard a recording of themselves, would they think that they were speaking in a grumpy way. We may think that weíre speaking just like everybody else, but in fact weíre speaking in a reprimanding, angry way. The element of anger is in our speech without us knowing it. In the Sutra on Looking in the Mirror we practice with that. We can read it every week so we can look into the mirror at ourselves. If we are just thinking when we chant, "Does it sound good or not?" we donít get to the meaning of the sutra. We donít look into the mirror of ourselves. Actually when we read the sutra, we should be looking into the mirror of ourselves. If we canít do that while weíre chanting, we should read the sutra on our own. These are a few examples of looking into the mirror. Now we go on.
My friends, this is how bhikkhus should reflect on themselves. Do I have wrong desires, and am I in the control of wrong desires? What the sutra means by "inference", is looking carefully, looking deeply. It is the original title of this sutra. It also means the resources, the provisions we take with us on the journey. In one of the meditation schools in China they use this word provisions. It means you are thinking about the thing you cannot think about. How can you think about what is unthinkable? To conceive the inconceivable; how can you conceive something that is inconceivable? If while inferring from the other, looking at the other, the bhikkhu thinks, "I do have wrong desires and I am controlled by wrong desires", he should try to abandon... We have the seeds of all the nineteen, but maybe we are caught in four or five of them. If we see we are caught in one of these nineteen situations, we have to reflect in order to be enlightened. We are caught in one, two, three, or four of these, but if we are caught only in one of them then thatís better than being caught in many.
But if he sees; "I am not controlled by wrong desire," then he feels joyful and he knows that he has to practice day and night, training in what is beneficial. This means that Moggallana has seen the second layer of the practice. We see we are not caught in that at the moment but we know we have to practice more so that in the future we will continue not be caught in these things. We have to transform the seed even though it is very small in us.
I do not have wrong desires and I am not controlled by wrong desires. Then he can joyfully let go and he trains in what is beneficial. He knows he has to practice diligently to increase in the beneficial so the seed doesnít have an opportunity to manifest. We have to practice diligently just like that. We are making a ditch and we are making a wall, but we are still not sure if the ditch is deep enough and the wall is high enough to keep people out; therefore we have to keep digging more and more and building higher and higher. This is also true of other cases like praising oneself and despising others, being angry, or being controlled by anger.
My friends, if while reflecting a bhikkhu sees that he has not yet given up these unbeneficial qualities, he makes an effort to give them up. If we see we have one of these nineteen, we have to get down to the practice. If when reflecting he sees he has given up all these unbeneficial qualities, then he is joyful but knows he has to practice diligently day and night in these beneficial qualities. If we see we are caught in these things we have to practice, but if we see we are not caught we also have to practice. We are not isolated; we are not suffering because of attachment. We donít have the fault of praising no-one but ourselves, we donít get angry, we donít speak in anger. We know we donít do these things now but we know that in the future we may be caught in these things, so we practice to be sure.
So this section is talking about the Four Right Efforts. If things that are unwholesome have not arisen, donít allow them to arise. If unwholesome things have already arisen, act in such a way that you can transform them. If wholesome things have not yet arisen, work so that they can arise; and if wholesome things have already arisen, help them to stay with you. This is what is meant by diligence, the Four Right Efforts. Although he doesnít use those words here, what Mogallana is talking about is the Four Right Efforts. He gives the image of someone looking in a mirror and thatís why we give the sutra the name, The Sutra on Looking in the Mirror. Itís like when a young man or woman who is fond of adorning himself contemplates his face in a clear mirror or a bowl of limpid water. If he sees dirt or a blemish there he tries to clean that dirt or blemish. If he sees no dirt or blemish, he thinks to himself, it is good, my face is clean. So my friends, if a bhikkhu reflects and sees that all these unwholesome qualities have not yet been given up then he makes an effort to give them all up. If he sees that he has given them all up he lets go with joy and day and night trains to nourish the beneficial qualities. The Venerable Maha Mogallana had spoken. The venerable bhikkhus were delighted with his words.
According to this sutra our daily practice is a practice of looking in the mirror. We all like to be beautiful, so we have to look in the mirror. But this is not a mirror we buy in the supermarket, this mirror is the mirror of mindfulness.
The Chant On Joyfully Sharing The Merit:
Now we are going to read The Chant On Joyfully Sharing The Merit.
The word tui here means following in accordance with, participating in, identifying with joy. When we see something beautiful, good, or happy in another, we see that person has understanding, love, happiness, and our heart follows that, supports that, and is in agreement with that. Our friend for example is able to smile and that smile brightens up their face. We feel happy because our friend is able to smile. Our friend is praised by our teacher; our friend is praised by other brothers and sisters; our friend practices diligently and transforms. We feel happy. We support that practice in our friend and our joy follows that personís joy. Whatever positive thing happens around us, we are happy about it and if we are able to be joyful because of other peopleís happiness, then our happiness will increase a hundred times. Itís a very easy method of practice. I say itís very easy, maybe Iím not right. Itís a practice which can bring us a lot of happinessóthatís what I want to say. We donít have to do a lot because these little happinesses happen around us every day. If we know how to follow along, how to rejoice in these little merits of other people, we will have a lot of happiness. If we donít know how to do that, we will be a jealous person. Jealousy is a hell. Attachment is hell and jealousy is a second hell. So why do we choose these two things? Why donít we choose the paradise of rejoicing in the merit of others? So among our brothers and sisters if somebody is able to realize something in the practice, then we should rejoice. Then their happiness becomes our happiness too. The person whose merit we rejoice in may not even be as happy as we are; we may be happier than they are. But if we cannot make small realizations how can we make great realizations?
Say that one of our friends has been in the hell of sorrow for these past months and today she is able to smile. That is paradise, the opening of the door of paradise. Why donít we celebrate that? Why donít we celebrate our friendís transformation? Then we will be able to protect our friend. Now you have been able to get out of these days of darkness, and I am so happy for you. And our brother is learning Chinese and is praised by the teacher. Even though my Chinese is not praised by the teacher, when I hear that my friendís Chinese is praised I feel very happy. My brotherís success becomes my happiness, and that gives me energy, the energy of sharing the merit. All these happinesses, all these successes, of myself and of those around me, I bring and I transfer. I direct to a very beautiful goal called transferring the merits. Each step, each smile, every Chinese character I am able to learn, every affliction I am able to transform, all these things are merit. We should not offer up the merit of these things to something which is not worthy of it being offered to. We should find the most wonderful thing to offer up the merit to, and not offer it to small goals. We have to find the goal of our merit. There is a lot of merit, and the merit that we produce every day, that our brothers and sisters produce every day... what are we to offer it up to, transfer it to? It must be something worthy. This is the teaching of this chant.
Say we do sitting meditation very diligently; we chant the sutra very diligently and we want everybody to know that weíre doing this. We want to be praised for doing this. This is the wrong kind of transferring the merit. If we practice only because we want to be praised, what a waste, because to practice diligently is to give great joy, a wonderful joy for us. Actually meditation and chanting are already a great joy and we donít need to be praised for it, because that practice itself gives us joy. If we do these practices just to be praised, then we direct merit to being praised only. When we do this, we havenít anything left to offer up to the highest aim of our life. If we say something very deep and beautiful and no one else knows about it, we can offer that up. If we feel arrogant about this, saying "Arenít I worthy of being praised," then all the merit of the high thing we said is just directed towards our pride. That joy which results is very small. Itís not worthy of offering the merit to.
For example, we give a good Dharma talk. We feel very well that weíve given that Dharma talk because weíve encouraged so many people to transform. We are happy for the Dharma. We are happy for the Buddha. We are happy for the transformation of people. If we expect when we give a good Dharma talk that people will say, "Oh teacher, you gave a wonderful talk, Iíve never heard such a wonderful talk as that." The joy that comes is a very small joy; it just belongs to the field of the superiority complex, like when merit is offered up only for our fame or our profit. Offering merit up to the Buddha, the Dharma, and the transformation of many people is immeasurable merit. When merit is offered up to the highest goal, then it is immeasurable merit. When we are wiping the bowls, when we are cleaning the floor, then we do that with joy because we love the Sangha. We want the Sangha to have an opportunity to rest. That is why we are giving extra time to do the cleaning up ourselves, so that when people come they will see a clean kitchen. When we clean the kitchen like that we have a lot of happiness. If we work just because we are being forced to work, itís not the same. But now we are working because we want to work, not because somebodyís forcing us to, so we feel very well. If we are just doing it because we want to be praised, and people come and say, "Oh, arenít you wonderful? Everybodyís gone to bed and youíre doing it all on your own," if we just do it for that then thereís no merit.
A man hears that the temple is about to build a new Dharma Hall. He puts on a beautiful robe, goes in his car to the temple, and offers a hundred thousand gold pieces to build the new Dharma Hall. The man says to the abbot, "Here are a hundred thousand gold pieces I offer for the Dharma Hall." And the abbot just bows and receives it and continues to talk to the other monks. Then he sees that he is not being highly respected for his great gift. Heís waiting for special treatment; he wants to be welcomed in special ways, and when he sees heís just being treated like anybody else, heís not happy. He sits but he wonít listen to what the teacher is talking about to the other monks. He just sits there and says, "Look, thereís the money I gave you," and an hour later he says, "Look, look. Thereís a hundred thousand gold pieces I have given you." Then he says, "A hundred thousand gold pieces is an awful lot. A hundred gold pieces is a lot." At last the abbot says, "Oh, do you want me to thank you? Really you should be the person thanking me, because if you give money you have a lot of merit. That merit will be greatly diminished if you just give money to be thanked."
When Bodhidharma came from India to China, the emperor talked just like that. He said, "Master I have constructed so many temples; I have cast so many statues in bronze; I have cast so many bells. Do I have a lot of merit?" And Bodhidharma said, "No merit at all, because the only reason you did these things was to offer up the merit to your own pride." We have to offer up the merit to the highest, the most beautiful things, not the small things like the words of praise. [Bell] This chant on sharing the merit has four parts. The first part is repentance, the second is offering up the merit, the third is making a deep aspiration and the fourth is the conclusion. Now weíre going to read the first part, on repentance. All you All you blessed Ones who dwell in the world, show your compassion to us. We could think that the Buddha has gone, has passed away, but when we read this we should see the presence of all Buddhas with us right here. World-Honored One, please show your compassion to us. Iím someone who needs your compassion. We have to see that. We have to see we have weaknesses; we have made mistakes; we have suffering. We really need the energy of compassion. "I need the compassion of my brothers. I need the compassion of my sisters. I need the compassion of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas." Because in this very life and in many past lives from beginningless time we have made mistakes which have caused suffering to ourselves and to others. We accept the truth that we have brought about suffering. First of all we have made ourselves suffer, and after that we have made others suffer, and all these sufferings, all these mistakes, come from our ignorance.
In this very life and in many past lives from beginningless time we have made mistakes. Our wrong perceptions have caused suffering to ourselves and to others. We have done wrong ourselves or bidden others to do wrong, or we have given our consent to wrongdoing. These mistakes may have been made by ourselves, or we may have asked someone elseóa friend, a brother, a sister, a childóto do these things. We have pushed them. And if we push someone to do something wrong by words or by ideas or by our physical actions, then we bear the result as much as if we had done the thing ourselves. We have influenced that other person, so we have participated in the wrongdoing of the other person even though we havenít done it ourselves. Even if we havenít pushed someone else to do it, when weíve seen someone else do it, if we havenít reacted against it or done anything about it, then we are also a participator. On a train there is someone who is beating someone else and we just allow that person to go on doing it. We just sit there and do nothing about it. This is the wrongdoing of not intervening. Not intervening is also wrongdoing. If we see someone being killed and we donít do anything, we are also doing something wrong. We are giving our consent in a way. We canít say that itís not our business, because we are not a stone; we are not an animal; we are a human being with a mind. We cannot allow things to happen like this, and so this is called the wrongdoing of not intervening or of giving our consent.
These are all our responsibility; we are always responsible in these cases for killing, stealing, sexual misconduct, deception, and other harmful misactions. The five infractions of the Five Mindfulness Trainings are among the ten deeds which are called unwholesome. As far as our body is concerned, there are three unwholesome actions. As far as our speech is concerned, there are four unwholesome actions. And as far as our mind is concerned there are three unwholesome actions. These are called the ten unwholesome actions. The three unwholesome actions of the body are killing, stealing, and sexual misconduct. The four which belong to speech are lying, exaggerating, speaking cruel language, and speaking with two tongues. The three to do with the mind are greed, anger and ignorance, also called craving, hatred and ignorance. If we do these ten things they are called the ten wrong actions, or the ten unwholesome actions. And if we donít do these things then it is called acting in ten wholesome ways. There is a sutra called The Way of the Ten Wholesome Actions Sutra. The Five Mindfulness Trainings contain the ten wholesome actions. When we analyze the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings we see that they also are the practice of the ten wholesome actions. And actually the Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings come from the ten wholesome actions.
Whether we hide unwholesome actions or they are known to others, they have brought us to the hell realms. Sometimes we do something wrong and we hide it from others, and sometimes we do wrong things and we donít hide it from others. Either of these kind of wrong actions will take us along the dark paths of the lower realms. We are led by these wrong actions along dark paths to dark destinations, to the hell realms, the hungry ghost realms, and the animal realms. These greatest dark paths cause us to be born in uncivilized places, faraway frontier places where there is no civilization, no freedom, no law. The light of freedom, democracy, and morality has not entered these far away places. The call of human rights is not heard there. When we are born in these places we do not have the opportunity to be human in its fullest sense: we cannot go to school; we cannot be in touch with morality; we cannot be in touch with the practice and be directed in the practice. These are called the uncivilized places.
We may live a life with no civilization, or we may have impaired sense organs. Maybe we are blind; we are deaf; we are dumb so we cannot chant the sutras, or we are insane so we cannot really hear what is being taught. One of our five senses is impaired because we have done things in the past which were unwholesome, so we donít have the opportunity to realize our full human potential. We see there are young people who are born in dark areas with no democracy, no love, no education, no social justice. They canít go to school, canít be educated in how to love, and they become bandits. That is the karma of those young people. It is also the collective karma, our karma and their karma, that has brought about living conditions of great difficulty like that. We sit here in conditions which are very favorable to the practice. We are able to be in touch with Buddha, Dharma, and Sangha, with democracy, with civilization. But there are childrenóhundreds, thousands, millions of children who have been born in situations of no freedom, no democracy, no opportunity to learn how to read and write. Father is drunk; Mother is not educated and does not know how to bring up children; everyone in the village is evil. Therefore the person cannot grow to realize their full human potential. These are the kind of unfortunate conditions we can be born in. That is not just the karma of the young children but it is also our karma, also our doing. We practice today so that we will be able to help children like this. We can be compassionate. Now there are millions of children like thisówe have to practice in such a way that we can intervene and save these children from the hell in which they are living.
These obstacles of wrongdoing I am determined with one-pointed concentration to repent today. Nobody can claim to be pure. No one has the right to say, "I have not done these wrong things." We have all contributed to the making of hells. We cannot say we are not responsible. If there are children living in hells like this, I know that I have lived in an irresponsible way and I have not contributed to dismantling hells that are existing, whether in Africa or in Asia or in the great cities in the west such as Los Angeles and New York. These hells are present in Manila, in Saigon, in Bangkok. There are hells all over. We can call them "frontier regions," where people grow up but they canít realize their full potential as human beings. So now I join my palms and say, "I know I am responsible for some of this and I repent of it, I vow to live responsibly so that in the future I can help these children. I need your compassion, the compassion of my teachers, of my brothers, of my sisters, of the Buddha. I have woken up and I have seen that my responsibility is great."
The second part of the chant on sharing merit, after repentance, is the offering up of merit. In the past we have done wrong things which have brought about suffering, but in the past we have also done things to bring about merit. That is what is wonderful about this chant. Blessed Ones, be our witness. Think compassionately of us. We are surrendering ourselves before all the Buddhas. We are being embraced by the energy of love, compassion and understanding. We are in the embrace of the Buddhas and the bodhisattvas, who open their arms with compassion and understanding and embrace us as the practitioner who is surrendering before them. We surrender ourselves before you and make this aspiration: If in numberless past lives or in this very life we have practiced giving, even if only a handful of food or a simple coat; if we have ever spoken kindly, even if only a few words; if we have ever looked with the eyes of compassion, even if only for a moment... Now we return to the past, return to the future, to see that in the past and the future we have not only done things which are wrong but we have also done positive things. Yesterday for example we saved an ant that was about to be trod on. That is the action of a bodhisattva. Yesterday we knew how to look on our sister or brother with the eyes of compassion. The day before yesterday we gave away some of our clothes to someone who was cold. That is the action of a bodhisattva.
Now we return to be in touch with actions of bodhisattvas which we ourselves have done. That is what is good about this chant. If in numberless past lives or in this very life we have practiced giving... We must have practiced giving, even though it is not very great giving like the great bodhisattvasí giving. Have we ever given somebody who was hungry something to eat, even if only a handful of food? Yes, we must have done, in the present life and in the past life. We have brought a grain of rice for a bird. From time to time we give fish and birds rice or bread just for fun, we just want to enjoy seeing them come up to us. That isnít really generosity, thatís just called having fun. Itís generosity when we see that the bird is hungry in the winter and we make a little house for it to live in and we give it food to eat. That is generosity. Instead of buying fish to steam or fry and eat, we buy fish and turtles to release in the river. In the past monks used to do that. They went to the market, bought turtles and fish, got in the boat, rowed them out to the middle of the lake, set them free, and then chanted the refuges for them. My disciples did that to increase the lifespan of their teachers. They did this for snails. If you buy live snails, then the snail wonít have to be boiled and then put on a skewer. He can go back to his life. People do that because they love their teacher. They hope that will bring long life to their teacher.
I think that Western people should learn this practice. On the birthday of your mother or your father or someone you love, instead of killing a chicken, save a life. Buy birds or fish and let them go. But be careful, because sometimes you let the fish and the birds go and they die, because they are only able to live in certain environments. If we free them in environments they canít live in... We have to use our intelligence. We should only buy birds and fish that we know will be able to live when we release them . That will bring joy to those we love and also to the fish and birds. So I want the Western people to learn this. Whenever you have a birthday or anniversary to celebrate, instead of eating meat and drinking wine, drink apple juice, buy fish and let them go, and offer up the merit for life. So that the heart of compassion in you can increase.
My Christian friends should practice like that. At Christmas we should not kill the turkey. Instead we should eat vegetarian and release the turkey. How many turkeys are killed at Christmas? When the turkey thinks about Christmas the turkey is very afraid. I think that Jesus Christ did not want us to kill so many turkeys every year. I heard it said the American government sent five hundred thousand turkeys to the American soldiers fighting in Vietnam at Christmas. I think we should find a better way to celebrate the birth of Christ. Iím sure it will make Jesus Christ very joyful if we can find a better way to celebrate. Instead of killing birds we can give them back their freedom. Iím sure when I say this that Jesus Christ is content with these words. Our celebrations, our birthdays, the birth of our mother, our father, our brother... We should practice generosity on these days. We should practice offering joy. How can we offer joy to life? Western people are very intelligent. If they want to, they can organize things very well to bring about joy on these days. I am confident that if Western people are in touch with the compassion of the Buddha, they will practice very well. If I have spoken kindly, even if only a few words today, this is a bit. If youíre mean you canít open your mouth to say something kind, but if weíre not mean, our mind becomes very light because of the words we speak. We can become a bodhisattva. In the past I have done that and in the present I can do that too. So why donít I continue? Itís a wonderful method of practice; it doesnít make us feel guilty but it gives us confidence that we have done that, (sharing the merit) and we still have the capacity to do it. If I have ever looked with the eyes of compassion, even if only for a moment...
Eyes which are condemning or damning are frightening eyes. We may have used these kind of eyes. But now we have mindfulness; we have Thay in our eyes; we have our ancestral teachers in our eyes, so we can look with love on life. With eyes of love we look on life. Itís a wonderful phrase. So why donít we every day use our eyes of love, looking at our brothers and our sisters, smiling, practicing this? We donít have to go anywhere to practice this. We can practice it right here. If I had known how to look with eyes of love. If I have been able to comfort somebody or console them, even if only a couple of times... Yes, we have been able to comfort and console in the past. Sometimes we are imprisoned in our own suffering and we do not have the opportunity, we do not have the energy to do that. That is a great pity. But when we are able to comfort and console, we help the other person and we bring happiness to ourselves. If Iíve ever listened carefully to the wonderful teachings, even if it was only one Dharma talk. In the past I have heard Dharma talks and now I am listening to the Dharma, this is an opportunity to open my heart, to allow the rain of the Dharma to water the wholesome seeds in me. We have gone to listen to the teachings. This is immeasurable merit.
If I have ever offered a meal to monks and nuns, even if only once... [Bell] Giving a meal to those who practice, what does that give? If you give a good person something to eat, the merit is much more than giving ten evil people something to eat. It doesnít mean we shouldnít give something to eat to people who are not good, but this is a matter of investing. By giving enough to eat to somebody who is good, to somebody who has done many beneficial things for living beings, then we are not only showing love to them but to all the people they help. The idea in the East is that monks and nuns are people who are practicing for us. We are caught in worldly matters and cannot practice properly, so we give food to the monks and nuns so they can practice for us. That is the idea in the East. The matter of giving food, robes, and shelter to monks and nuns has gone very deep into Asian culture. Itís a practice to bring the good, the beautiful, and the true into this world. If monks and nuns are not practicing properly, then itís a wrong investment. A monk or a nun has to practice; otherwise theyíre not a monk or a nun. If weíve ever offered a meal to monks or nuns; if weíve ever saved lives, even if only that of ants or worms; if we have recited sutras, even if only one or two lines... All these things are actions which brought together will make us an Awakened One in the future. These little things we donít think are important may in fact be the causes and conditions that we can become awakened by. You are present here with the Sangha, donít think that this is something of no import. Donít think that being here to hear me teach is something of no import, this is something which comes about because of seeds we have sown in the past. Those seeds we have sown in the past have brought us here to this Dharma talk.
As students of the Buddha, we know that everything is caused and conditioned. Buddhists in Vietnam believe a lot in causes and conditions, if a monk is going by taxi the taxi driver will only take half fare. He thinks that by doing this now, in the future he will have the opportunity, the causes and conditions, for listening to the Dharma. When I went to Taipei I went to a shop and wanted to buy four or five books. The monk who was with me was taking out the money to pay but the bookseller wanted to give me the books free. I didnít want to take them but the other monk said, "Look, this bookseller wants to have the opportunity to be your student in the future. Thatís why heís giving you the books now, so you should accept them out of compassion for him."
Later I was leading a retreat for six hundred monks and nuns in the Potala Temple. We went to meet the nuns on the mountain and when they saw me coming they were so happy because they had been to the retreat with me before and they liked me very much. They made me a bowl of noodles for my breakfast and put three spoonfuls of oil in it instead of one so that I could eat it. They knelt down before me, and everyone of them offered me a little envelope with one or two piasters in itó worth nothing, maybe 10 or 20 centimes in French money. One nun after the other came and knelt before me. They wanted nothing more than for me to lay my hand on their head, because they thought then in the future they would be born as my disciples. That is what is meant by sowing the causes and conditions. So with all my mindfulness I placed my hand on the head of each nun and I breathed in, and I calmed myself and I breathed out, and I smiled. There were many, many nuns, and when it was time for me to leave to give a Dharma talk there were still nuns left I hadnít laid my hand on. So I said, "if you want to plant the causes and conditions please do walking meditation with me."
So thatís the Eastern way of looking at things. Even the smallest thing which we dedicate in the direction of the good and the beautifulóthat is a cause and condition of things in the future. If someone whose mind is spaced or agitated goes into the stupa or the temple and says Namo Buddhaya, then in the future they will have the opportunity to meet the Dharma and transform, to become a Buddha or a bodhisattva. You just have to say it one time. So if your mind is agitated, dispersed, you go into the stupa, and say Namo Buddhaya, then youíve already laid down the conditions for being a future bodhisattva or Buddha. Even the smallest action has the capacity to sow the seeds which will make us a Buddha or a bodhisattva in the future. Itís a wonderful confidence we have in Buddhism. If we have ever supported others on the path; if weíve ever been a monk or a nun, even if only for one life or one day; if we have observed the precepts, even if not perfectly; if we have knelt down and received the Five Mindfulness Trainings, that is already enough. All these things are wholesome roots which we have put down. Wholesome roots are kusalamula. We all have these wholesome roots and such actions as these make the wholesome roots increase in our heart. Gathering wholesome roots together, respectfully we offer them to the Buddhas like a fragrant wreath of flowers. We all have this fragrant wreath of flowers because there have been small actions we have done in the past. Small thoughts and words have planted seeds in the past and now there are causes and conditions which we may gather together and make into a wreath of flowers to offer to the Buddhas. Donít say we have nothing to offer to the Buddha, we can offer sweet rice or bananas, but the most precious offering we can give is the wholesome roots we have made in the past. All this merit, the wholesome roots which we have put down, today we gather all this merit together and respectfully offer it to the Buddhas like a fragrant wreath of flowers. We offer it all to contribute to the fruit of highest awakening. We do not offer this merit up to our fame, our position in society, but up to the fruit of awakening which is called anuttara samyak bodhi 'the highest awakening'.
Now we read the third part of the chant, for making aspirations. We want to make our aspiration greater, our intention, our volition, greater. Opening our heart wide we turn to the perfect highest awakening. The thing I want most of all is the highest awakening. To be head of practice, to be abbot, to be a dharma teacher; these are things not worthy of my highest aspiration. The thing I want most of all is the bodhicitta, the highest awakening. Only the bodhicitta is worthy of my highest aspiration. We are resolved to attain understanding, to realize deep love and compassion. I donít want everyday things, everyday fame, everyday profit. I want something very great. We are resolved to transform our own suffering, to practice diligently, to transform the suffering of all species. All the merits of body, speech, and mind, I want to direct to be part of the happiness of all people and all species. Apart from the bodhicitta, apart from the thirst for great understanding, apart from the vow to love deeply, I have no more desires. This is my greatest commitment. I donít want to build temples; I donít want to be an abbot; I donít want to have a high position in society. What I want is the highest awakening. My intention, my highest desire, is to be able to understand and to love and to relieve the suffering of those around me. All the other things, they are not the goal of my aspiration. This is the food of intention of a practitioner, the third kind of food.
There are people who want to live in order to get revenge. But we want to live in order to relieve the suffering of beings. Weíll read again these lines, these lines of aspiration, our highest aspiration, this great understanding. Opening our heart wide, we turn to the perfect highest awakening. We are resolved to attain understanding, to realize deep love and compassion, to practice diligently, transforming our own suffering and that of all species. All the merits of body, speech, and mind I want to direct to be part of the happiness of all people and all species. That is my deepest desire. Apart from the bodhicitta, apart from the thirst for great understanding, apart from the vow to love deeply, I have no more desires. I touch the earth; I bow down; I say that I donít have any little desires. I reveal everything in me for the Buddha to see. All Buddhas in the ten directions and in the three times have offered up their merit like this. We have learned the ten vows, the aspirations of Samantabhadra. We know how Samantabhadra offered up merit, and all Buddhas have done that too. We also go on the path of these Buddhas and Bodhisattvas, and so we offer up the merit too. Today we wish to offer up our merit also. Iím just taking the steps after the Buddha. We repent of all our faults, and offer up all the merit to the ocean of immeasurable merit and to the towering mountain of highest understanding. Our highest aim is great understanding, so we offer up all our merit to this great understanding, Maha Prajna. The ocean of immeasurable merit is at the same time the towering mountain of highest understanding because all of the good things we have done in the past we offer up to that highest understanding. The Buddhas and the Patriarchal Teachers are the light that shows the way. We see clearly our path. That path has been traversed by the Buddha, by the Patriarchal Teachers, and they light the way of that path for us. In this solemn moment, with all my lifeís force, I come back to myself to take refuge in the Three Jewels. If I am successful with my life in this lifespan, I will be successful with my next lifespan.
On Sunday we will study the Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone and then the Sutra on the Prajna Paramita. We have this in English; you should read it. We have it in Chinese too; weíve been studying it in Chinese. You should read this before I talk about it on Sunday.
[End of Dharma 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.
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