Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on November 27, 1997 in Plum Village, France.
© Thich Nhat Hanh
[Three sounds of the bell]
Today is the 27th of November 1997, today we begin the winter retreat of 1997-98. Later on we will chant the sutra and the bodhisattvas names. The theme of this retreat is the practice of the lotus with a thousand petals. In our retreat, we will use this chanting book, and each of us needs to have one book. All the sutras in this sutra book are translated into english, only a few sutras have not been translated, and Sister Chan Duc will translate them later.
Many people think that Cong phu, it means the two practices, one in the morning and one in the evening. When you understand the practice in that way, it has a very narrow meaning. So our practice doesn't mean just the chanting sutras, our practice is also sitting, it means sitting meditation, but also walking meditation, eating in silence, and working in mindfulness. Also, we have other practices, for example breathing, lying down, touching the earth, beginning anew - therefore the practice is not just only to sit in meditation in the morning and in the evening. But our practice is also the practice in the morning, in the afternoon,and in the evening, it is all day long. Cong phu, the practice, is the training in everyday life, it also means our level of practice. For example, when somebody says something very bad to you and you just smile, that means you have an excellent practice. If you receive very very bad news and you are very quiet and follow your breathing, than somebody can say, "You have an excellent practice". So Cong phu, the practice, also means the result, the level of your practice.
The second meaning of Cong phu means the time for your practice in order to attain this level. For example, somebody asked the Zen Master Trieu Chau "What is the nature of the great being or mahasattva? What are the signs which can show us that he or she is a great being?" And the Zen-master Trieu Chau replied: I don't have any practice to attain the free great being. Like I don't practice anything, I don't have to practice for a long time, but I attain freedom." So, it is the one with freedom, it doesn't mean attachment. So, Trieu Chau replied, "I don't have any practice, but I can become a free being". And now is the meaning of the level, to explain the level, the second meaning of the Cong phu. So, then another person explained it like this: This mind, this heart, never has an idea of giving up. So my heart never thinks about giving up. My heart and my mind never never think to give up even once... however, my practice is not completely pure. Sometimes, I have thoughts which are not completely free. So this person replied, that to explain the word Cong phu, its not about the level of the practice. So in the sutra, I gave to Sister Doan Nghiem. I also used the word Cong phu practice, in that sutra it says Cong phu, the practice, opens as a lotus with a thousand petals. And that is the theme of the retreat this year.
Cong phu is the practice in our daily life. If we practice then we can get some enlightenment. If we train, then we will be successful, we can get some results.
Because if we practice walking, lying down, sitting, eating, drinking, breathing, and working. up to some level, we can become like a lotus flower, and this lotus is not blooming with only one or two petals, but with a thousand petals. So if your lotus continues to bloom, it blooms with not just one thousand petals, but with millions and millions of petals, even when you don't want it to bloom more than a million petals, it continues to bloom. It means, that if one person continues to practice diligently, that person can make a lotus flower bloom with a million petals, not just at this moment, but everywhere, not in one moment, but the lotus can bloom in the same time everywhere. If you look deeply, you can see that your practice can make some lotuses bloom. Five or ten lotuses - when you look deeply, you can see that some lotuses have already bloomed. But when your practice is very deep, your lotuses continue to bloom, even if you want to stop, you can't, your lotuses continue to bloom, that is the meaning of the one sentence in the gatha I gave to Sister Doan Nghiem.
In this gatha, the first sentence means "The garden of wisdom........ The true seed of enlightenment , of awakening is planted in the garden of understanding. This term is used by King Tran Thai Tong. Each of us has the seed of awakening. If we know how to use the seed - to plant it in the garden of understanding, then one day you will bloom. It means that we do not practice for the next life, but we need to practice in order to nourish our wisdom and understanding. In our daily life, in each action we need to look deeply, we look deeply in order to strengthen our understanding, and develop our wisdom. If you work very hard every day to cultivate your merit, that is not according to the meaning of, "the seed planted in the garden of wisdom".
We need to do both - to develop our merit but also to nourish our wisdom. We have a gatha for riding a bicycle:-"Sitting straight on the bicycle to keep my balance, merit and wisdom are practiced together". On one side, we practice to develop our merit, on the other side we practice to develop our wisdom. So we practice equally these two. So the true seed of awakening should be planted in the garden of wisdom - it means that you practice deeply, looking deeply, not just working very hard all day. And the second sentence [doan nghiém thuyen cap ben thong dong]: My boat will arrive to freedom - where you want to go to is freedom. The freedom is freedom from attachment, from anger, from suffering, and from pain. The only free person is the happy person. Master Trieu Chau once said the same thing. He said:"I haven't practiced anything, but I become a free person". Freedom is the highest fruit of the practice. Each of us has a different level of freedom. Your freedom means the space in which you live, and when other people look at us, they can realize how much freedom we have. They just look at us, they don't need to be very intelligent. But normal people, when they look at us they can see how much freedom we have, how free we are from our attachment, our afflictions... Freedom is the best fruit of the practice, is the best fruit of the Cong phu. So our boat comes to freedom, that is a very beautiful image. It does not come to a place of fame... but it comes to a place of freedom. At this place we have a chance to see the Buddha and Bodhisattvas.
The third sentence is: "Our practice remains like a lotus with a thousand petals". In each of us we have a very deep desire, we want to go back to our home. What is our home? Home is our enlightenment, where we don't feel isolated - isolated from our ancestors, isolated from the rest of the world. The Zen-Master Tran Thai Tong also said about this home: "This home is the place which we really want to go back to", it's the place where we feel free, the place where we don't have a tendency to run away.. The home is a place like that, the place where we feel free, the place where we feel satisfied, and we don't want to run after anything else. So home is the place where we find freedom and enlightenment, and once we get that, we don't need to do anything. Everything you do in your daily life, like sweeping the floor, cooking, helping other people, helping hungry children – in all these things you work freely, you don't have to worry, you don't have to fight, that is freedom. Freedom means you do everything, but you do it freely.
So freedom is that you don't have to do anything, but you do a lot of things freely. And if you practice according to this gatha, that is a great success. It is only four sentences and you know the way of your life - it means that every day you need to plant the seed of awakening in the garden of understanding, that means to plant the seed of looking deeply. It doesn't take a long time and one day you will find freedom. The practice can make your lotus bloom with a thousand petals and at that time, you know that you can go back to your home, and everything you do brings you happiness. Everything you do doesn't make you worry, doesn't make you tired, but will make your happiness greater and greater. So cong phu is the practice in your daily life, and we need to understand our practice clearly, we need to understand how to train, how to practice, because your daily practice will determine what kind of fruit you get in the future.
In these three months of the winter retreat, we will get support from each other to practice and we will take care of each other. Because our practice is not an individual practice, we practice with other people, we take care of other people. So we will follow the practice which we had during the trip in the United States, so that you will get the support of each other. So today or tomorrow you should know who is your second body. According to this method, we practice with other people, we practice with our sangha... The sangha is also our body - we call it the sangha body. Sangha bodies also have eyes, noses and ears, therefore our sangha body can hear, can understand. So besides our body, we also have a sangha body. And everybody, our brothers and sisters, and our younger brothers and sisters, are a part of this sangha body.
According to this method, each of us in the sangha needs to have a second body to take care of. The second body doesn't need to be younger, the second body can be older. So each of us needs to take care of a second body. For example, in a sangha of one hundred members, the first person takes care of the second, and the person called the second one is the second body. So when you go to sitting meditation, you come to invite your second body. Or if your second body is sick, you have to know that your second body is sick, and you need to look for a doctor or someone to help your second body. When I ask: "How is your second body?" or "I don't see your second body in the dharma talk", you need to know where your second body is... Because that is your second body, you cannot say "I don't know Thay". In the trip to America, I applied the same method. If my second body is not in the van, then I will not go, because I have to go together with my second body. When each of us takes care of their second body, then the whole sangha is taken care of. When your second body has some happiness, you also share that happiness. If your second body has some difficulties, you need to understand these difficulties. And if you cannot help your second body, you need to ask for help from somebody else. You don't have to be better than your second body, but you need to help your second body. So it's for all Hamlets - Upper Hamlet, Lower Hamlet, New Hamlet and the Maple Forest Hamlet, we all need to organize and follow this method and each of us has a second body to take care of. The number two has another second body, and that is the third person. So then the second member has to take care of the third member.
So how do we choose the second body? So each of us has to be present, and when the abbess or the abbot calls the name of the first, then the first person has to call the name of number two and then the number two will call the name of number three. So all people will become the second body of somebody else. We can do that practice today or tomorrow. So when the first person is called, the first person calls their second body, that is number two. Then number two will call their second body, that is number three. In that way, everybody is called. So when you go to eat, you also call your second body, and when you go to sitting meditation or walking meditation, you also know where is your second body. Because you are responsible for your second body, you have to know where your second body is. So if you can help your second body, then you help everybody else, this is the practice. For those of us who already had a face-to-face-ceremony, we have already choosen our second body. But the people who stay for two weeks, for one month, they also need to find a second body and they need to be the second body of somebody else. If you practice like this you will find that it has a miraculous result. You are responsible for everything that happens to your second body. When you take care of your second body, the third person, the fourth, the fifth also is being taken cared of. So in that way, you are taking care of everybody else. Because when you take care of your second body, then you are also taking care of the second body of that second body.
One day, Ananda came to a retreat centre. In that centre, there was only one monk, this monk was very sick, he had diarrhoea. When the Buddha and Ananda came to his room, they noticed that there was a very bad smell. The Buddha told Ananda, "Go, and get a bucket of water and a rag" and the Buddha cleaned and washed the monk who was very sick at that time, while Ananda cleaned his room. The Buddha and Ananda cleaned the room for three hours, and after these three hours, the room was very clean. Ananda took his rope and exchanged it for the monks robe, he then took the rope of the sick monk and cleaned and washed and dried it outside. After that they sat outside and saw all the monks coming home. When the other monks saw the Buddha and Ananda, they were very happy. The Buddha talked to them: "Dear monks. We are all monks and we are away from our families, our blood sisters and brothers and our parents do not take care of us. So if we don't take care of each other, then who will take care of us? If you want to take care, if you want to be the attendant of the Buddha, then you have to remember, you have to take care of your brothers. So when you are taking care of your brothers, that means you are taking care of me, you'll be my attendant. So when you take care of the Buddha, it means you are taking care of your brothers. The Buddha asked the sick monk "Did nobody take care of you?" and the sick monk answered "I have been sick for a long time and I don't want anybody to take care of me, I can take care of myself. " And the Buddha said "No. You should not do it that way. When you are sick, you need to be cared for by your brothers and your sisters". So in one of the sutras, the Buddha has taught us clearly, that when you become a monk or a nun, you are away from your family, therefore your family cannot take care of you, so we need to take care of each other. And the Buddha's teachings are very clear about this. So in the monastery, the daily life is organized in such a way that each of us can take care of other people and take care of ourselves. Because when you take care of your brothers and sisters, you also take care of your teacher and the Buddha.
The party who went to North America, left on the 22nd of August, 1997, when they arrived to the airport, each monk and nun received a letter. In this letter were the instructions which were given to the nuns and monks. They have seven points. The first point is: Wherever you are - in the airport, on the escalator, in the washroom, wherever you walk, you walk mindfully, peacefully, you practice walking meditation. During these three months, everywhere you go, you should walk mindfully. And when you go to the washroom, to the dining room, when you go anywhere, you need to follow your breathing and you walk freely, solidly.
That is the first point, and the second point is: Do not talk while you walk. If you need to answer or if you need to ask a question, you have to stop. Because when you walk, just walk. When you walk, you combine your steps with your breathing. When you talk, you cannot combine your breathing with your steps, therefore your walking meditation is not solid, is not deep. Therefore: When you walk, just walk. If you want to say anything, you have to stop, if you want to answer, you have to stop. Then after your answer, you continue to walk. When it is necessary, you need to remind your partner that walking is only walking. When you walk you cannot talk. That is the practice we did for three months in North America. In this retreat, we will do the same thing.
The third point is as follows: at the different retreat centers, we practiced mindful manners. Exactly the same way as we practice in Plum village. If lay people do not understand, then we need to explain to the lay people and also invite them to practice mindful manners. So the monks and nuns need to tell the lay people how to practice mindful manners. For example, if a monk sits alone with a girl, then he violates the precepts. So we will not do the same thing, but we will also explain why we do not sit with a girl of the opposite sex in one place. Mindful manners will protect our lives, and if lay people do not understand, we need to explain to them.
The fourth point: During all activities, for example sitting mediation or eating meditation, you have to know where your second body is. So in this retreat you have to do the same thing. For all of the activities of the community, walking meditation, working meditation etc., we need to know where our second body is. Because the second body is your body. And we will all practice like that, seriously in all Hamlets.
The fifth point: We have to be responsible for the manners and mindfulness of the second body. If the manners and the mindfulness of the second body are not very high, you are responsible. If you cannot do that, if you need help, you can ask help from Thay or from other brothers or sisters. If your second body's manners and mindfulness are not very good, you have to remind him or her. If you feel that you cannot do that, then you should ask brothers or sisters to help you. We need to practice this point seriously in this winter retreat. This practice is not just only for people who stay for three months, but for all of us, whether we stay only two months or one week, we need to practice and we need to choose the second body.
The sixth point is: We have to remember that the happiness of the sangha is most important. There is not so many work, and our work is not the most important thing, but our harmony is the most important thing.
The seventh point: We know that to be with the sangha and to bring happiness to many thousands of people is our greatest happiness. We need to understand that every step we make is a step in the pure land, this is the last point. Because to be in a trip like this, is a great chance, if you don't feel happy, then you loose a great opportunity. We may not have a chance to do it again. Therefore each step is a happy step, is a solid step, is a free step. So these point we need to practice in this winter retreat. When we have a chance to be together here in Plum village, to practice together happily, freely. Therefore there is no reason that you cannot make happy, free steps. I have also translated the seven points into English:
Instructions to members of the Sangha going to America:
1. No matter where you happen to be, (airport, stairs, toilet, etc.) always walk in mindfulness, with solidity and freedom, never hurry.
2. Do not talk while walking. If you need to answer a question, stop walking. Tell the other person you must practice mindfulness while walking, and invite him/her to practice the same.
3. At the Oceanside monastery, the Kim Son monastery and at retreat sites, practice mindful manners just like in Plum Village, specially manners relating to people of the opposite sex. If the layperson does not understand, expalin to him/her and invite him/her to practice.
4. Wherever you go, and in whatever activities you participate (sitting meditation, lunch, walking mediation, etc.) be sure that your second body is there. Do not lose that body.
5. Take responsibility about the quality of mindfulness and mindful manners of your second body and help that body to restore it. If you are not able to help, please ask Thay and brother and sisters in the Sangha to help you.
6. Be aware that the happiness of the Sangha is our priority. Do not let the work shatter our harmony and happiness.
7. Be aware that it is a great opportunity to be with the Sangha in this trip, learning to bring relief to tens of thousands of people. Enjoy every minute of the trip! Each step you take should be a step taken in the Pure Land, in the Avatamsaka realm.
Love and trust,
Our parties trip to America was very successful. Because in the retreat, when we were in contact with the practitioners, many people said that they were very happy to see our monks and nuns practicing mindfulness. Of course some monks and nuns are not perfect and some of us have difficulties, but these difficulties cannot destroy our happiness and our harmony. Therefore, in North America, people were very happy to see a harmonious sangha with very mindful manners. During the trip, about 25000 people came to practice with the party. During the talks, the mindfulness days, and the retreats, at least 25000 people attended, and the quality of those retreats were very high because of the presence of so many nuns and monks. Because when you look around, in front of you, behind, left or right, there were always nuns and monks. And when they saw so many monks and nuns, their trust in the practice and the teachings was much stronger. Many people wrote that they felt very happy when they saw the monks and nuns at the retreat. Not just the Vietnamese people, but also many American people expressed the same feelings, that they felt very happy to see monks and nuns around them. They said that they can see a future. In past retreats, when people practiced with Thay they worried, that when Thay passes away, that there would be no people who practice to continue his way. But this time, when they saw the nuns and monks with Thay, they felt very confident that when Thay passes away, the nuns and monks will continue his teaching.
One day at Omega Institute, it was a very beautiful autumn day with colourful leaves, we were very happy to walk in the forest beside trees with all their leaves of different colours. I came to a maple tree and looked deeply at the leaves. When I looked deeply at the leaves, I realized that nothing is perfect, no leaf is perfect. Some have little holes, and some have one or two holes. But when I look at the tree, the maple tree is so beautiful, because each leaf has its own position, its own integrity. Each leaf has its own special position, there are small leaves, big leaves, and the tree is beautiful because of the harmony of all leaves. And the ones on the top, they were not proud that they are the top ones, and the leaves at the bottom, they were not very sad that they were at the bottom. But all the leaves are happy. Because all the leaves were very happy with their own position. Therefore the whole tree forms a miracle, and that is the harmony of the tree. So then I called the whole sangha and I said "We don't need to be perfect, but when we live together in harmony, then our sangha is beautiful and we don't need to feel bad about ourself." Our harmony is our practice. Harmony is the practice of the sangha. And the most important practice in the three months is the practice of having harmony. If we have harmony, we have happiness, then we can give confidence to many people. We don't need to be perfect. I myself am not perfect and you too, you don't need to be perfect. But in your own position, if you can express your harmony in the sangha, this is your beauty. The sangha of the Buddha is called the sangha of six harmonies. When you make a decision, you have to ask: "Do we have harmony?" First we ask "has the community assembled in sufficient number", and then the second question is: "Do we have a harmony in our community?" If the answer is no, then all the decisions are not valid. So if you want to build a sangha, then you have to remember that harmony is the basic ingredient to build a sangha.
In the winter retreat, we need to practice in such a way that there is harmony in our sangha. Each of us is the younger brother of the big brothers, or the younger sister of the big sister, or the big sister of a younger sister; each of us have their own position. And we are happy in that position exactly the same way as the Maple leaves. The Maple leaves have their own position and when they are in their own position, they make the harmony of the whole tree, and when we look at the tree, the tree is so beautiful. So in this winter retreat, we practice seven points, as we practiced during the trip to America, and we will apply the method of the second body to practice.
Sister Giai Nghiem said that when half of the sangha had gone to America, and only half of the sangha were at home, in the first two days she felt a little bit lonely. But on the third day, everybody in the sangha came together and helped each other and she felt that the heart started to beat again and was very warm. The retreat of 21 days in Plum village was a very happy retreat because everybody came together and our friendship was very close, everybody bloomed as a flower in the practice of coming together. I felt like there was another heart beating again. So at home our sangha was very happy. When I heard that I was very happy, because I knew that although we have some problems , some difficulties, but when we need to, we can come together. We can accept each other and we can work together so that we have a happy sangha and we can help each other. I was very pleased and very happy about this. And I have a great confidence.
In this retreat, we should emphasise on working, while there are so many things to do, cleaning, cooking, typing, writing a letter of Plum village, using computers. There are so many things, but when we work we work in the practice and we work in happiness, in solidity and in freedom. I hope that the whole sangha will pay great attention to this point. So when we work, we work happily, solidly. When we do anything like washing, cooking or cleaning, or cleaning the toilet or arranging cushions, we need to practice seriously and don't let our habit energy carry us away. Each of us has this habit energy, everytime we want to do something we want to finish it and that is a very bad habit. When we want to finish our work, then we are not happy while we do our work, we don't have a lot happiness when we do the work, so we can work slowly but every moment, when we do the work, we are happy.
When we walk to the place where we want to do something, we have to be careful. Do not let the work carry us away. Because every step you make is a practice, if our step is not a happy, stolid step, than it cannot count as step. So every step is a solid step, free step, happy step, and if the step is not a free step, a happy step, a solid step, then you waste your step and you waste your time. The same applies to your breathing, if your breath is not a happy breath, is not a free breath, then you waste your breath. Yesterday I needed to weed the path to my house. Everytime I weed, I am very happy, very solid and I know every action I make. Therefore during the time I do the weeding, every moment is a happy moment. The same thing applies to washing bowls. If you need to wash sixty bowls, when you wash the first bowl, you feel happy, you feel solid, you feel free. Then if you have happiness, solidity and freedom, then you have the bowl, you have that moment. You don't lose that moment. And then if you need to wash sixty bowls, then you wash all of them in freedom, in solidity and in happiness. I hope that when you wash sixty bowls, you do wash sixty bowls, don't wash only three or four in happiness, in freedom and in solidity.
I do the same thing and I teach you to do the same thing. We have the habit energy to think that we work efficiently, we work fast, we work very well. But we need to rethink this. We need to practice so that we work in happiness, in freedom, and in solidity. So that everything you do, even cleaning, washing or cooking, every step you make is in happiness, in solidity and in freedom - otherwise you waste everything. So outside everybody does the same thing: they waste their time. So when you come to the temple, you come to Plum village, you work the same way. So everything you do is as important as walking meditation, sitting meditation and if you do it that way, you can see that in only a few days, you can make great progress. So if any of us have the habit energy of working hard, we have to practice in order to invoke happiness, freedom and solidity.
And the last thing I want to tell you is about the movement of the body. Everyday we need to sweat, we need to jog, we need to work in the garden, otherwise we don't have enough exercise. So we have to jog in such a way that you feel hot and sweat - and I will do the same thing too. Although I am more than seventy years old, I have to do the same thing. All the monks and nuns have to do the same thing. Otherwise you are not my student. So when you work in the garden and you sweat, you don't have to run. But if not, you have to jog every day so that you can sweat at least once a day. That's the thing I need to tell you, all monks and nuns have to do that. Outside, many people don't have a space to run, so they have to run at one place. So we have such a beautiful place around us, why don't we jog every day.
For the next talk, everybody needs to have one copy of this book, and if you cannot read in Vietnamese, we have copies in English or in French. For the French copies, Thay Doji, Sister Chan Khong, Elzabeth, need to translate to take care of french copies. Sister Chan Duc will help us with all the documents in English. And the monks and nuns in America also listen to these talks here, although a little bit later. This retreat I teach for the whole country, that includes the people in Vietnam too, therefore we need to take care of the sound system and also of the recording system. If words are written on the board, we need to record them clearly, so that the people who watch the video can read the words. Sometimes the people cannot read the words on the board, if they watch the video. In this retreat, we will have at least two english talks at christmas time and one french talk, the rest will be in vietnamese.
At the Kim Son Center, there was a retreat for young monks and nuns. Although it was only five days, it was a very compact retreat. If any of us can write down the practice of that retreat to send home, it will be appreciated. We also need to write the newsletter of Plum village and Vietnamese Buddhism, because those documents are needed. Many people want to know about vietnamese buddhism, so we need to take care of that, too. After the talk we will wear the Sangati Robe and we will chant the Bodhisattvas names.
[Three sounds of the bell]