Tag Archive | Thich Nhat Hanh

Acceptance

Jizo 2“I want to be more patient, more mindful, less angry, less sad. I’ve been a Buddhist for years but I’ve always struggled to maintain a regular practice, to commit to a Sangha. I want to change, to be a better version of myself. I think this will help.”

Something like these words spilled out of me a few years back when I was on the phone rapidly talking to the senior teacher of the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center, trying to explain why I wanted to take the Five Mindfulness Trainings at the upcoming transmission ceremony. He listened quietly before gently asking me to consider that while taking the trainings would no doubt be of benefit to me, was it possible that I was fine just as I was, that I could even accept myself the way I was? I revolted internally against the idea. I didn’t like myself the way I was. I hated my anger, my fear, my anxiety, my depression. I saw them as shrouds suffocating the qualities I did value – patience, joy, compassion, attentiveness. I wanted to push the negatives away, reject them, punish them even. I desperately wanted to be different than I was.

In the book Being Peace, Thay writes:

If I have a feeling of anger, how would I meditate on that? How would I deal with it, as a Buddhist, or as an intelligent person? I would not look upon anger as something foreign to me that I have to fight, to have surgery in order to remove it. I know that anger is me, and I am anger. Nonduality, not two. I have to deal with my anger with care, with love, with tenderness, with nonviolence. Because anger is me, I have to tend my anger as I would tend a younger brother or sister, with love, with care, because I myself am anger. I am in it, I am it. In Buddhism we do not consider anger, hatred, greed as enemies we have to fight, to destroy, to annihilate. If we annihilate anger, we annihilate ourselves. Dealing with anger in that way would be like transforming yourself into a battlefield, tearing yourself into parts, one part taking the side of Buddha, and one part taking the side of Mara. If you struggle in that way, you do violence to yourself. If you cannot be compassionate to yourself, you will not be able to be compassionate to others. When we get angry, we have to produce awareness: “I am angry. Anger is in me. I am anger.” That is the first thing to do.

Thay frequently speaks about how each of us contains seeds of everything in ourselves – it’s the seeds we water that grow and flower. If we dwell on fear and anger, we water those seeds, strengthening those unhelpful emotions. However, if we try to repress them, we commit violence against ourselves. We must instead acknowledge them, bringing up the loving energy of mindfulness to care for them. We must accept that they are there and that we are them. Continue reading

200 days of practice

CAM02605Time really flew between the end of my first 100 days of practice and yesterday, which marked my 200th day of practice. Looking back, I see that I had a marked dip in practice during the first month of this year, especially when it came to mantra accumulation. Then I realized I was soon to see Anyen Rinpoche again at the March phowa retreat in Denver, and became much more diligent! The retreat inspired me further and the intensity of my practice continued from that point forward.

Due to my poor initial start, I actually recited fewer mantra this 100 days than the prior 100 days. I did keep to my Avalokitesvara sadhana every morning except two in February when I was on a silent mindfulness retreat and didn’t bring the text. That became my motivation to finally commit the English translation of the sadhana to memory. As a result, on this mindfulness retreat just passed, I was able to recite the sadhana every day without needing the text in front of me. It feels very good to have the words inside of me instead of just on the page. Continue reading

Retreating again

IMG_1417Tomorrow I embark on another retreat, this time with the Still Water Mindfulness Practice Center. It’s a three-day silent retreat on the general theme of “Be Still and Heal”. The retreat description says “Through mindful sitting, walking, eating, and living, we will develop our capacity to more fully and compassionately embrace each moment. Sharing silence, we assist each other in letting go of worries and preoccupations, and opening to the sources of joy that are available to us in each moment.”

Just today, I finished a lovely little book by Pico Iyer called The Art of Stillness: Adventures in Going Nowhere. Iyer explores the beauty of traveling within through contemplation and meditation rather than without to exotic destinations. Continue reading

Happy Continuation of Refuge Day

BodhnathIn the Plum Village tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, we do not wish people “Happy Birthday” because at the ultimate level of insight, there is no birth and no death. To be born would be to imply that something (someone) arose from nothing, which is an impossibility. The First Law of Thermodynamics explains this truth just as well as Buddhism: energy can be transformed from one form to another, but cannot be created or destroyed.To say that I did not exist before I was born ignores the truth of interbeing – that I am composed entirely of “non-I” elements. If you try to remove from “me” the sun, the rain, my parents, the food I eat, the agricultural producers who grow that food – if you try to remove any part of the whole cosmos from “me”, “I” would not exist. I am in all and all is in me. Like a river, which can never be stepped in twice because the water is constantly flowing, I am a stream of consciousness and karma, impermanent and constantly subject to change. Continue reading

Love letter to my fear

Jizo 25Hello my fear!
I see you standing there –
come into the light.
Do not be afraid.
I am sorry if I have hurt you
with the many unkind things I have thought and said about you.
You have guarded me so faithfully;
you have walked so many years by my side.
I know that you are weary;
you have been vigilant for so long.

Let me take your hand.
Let us find a place where you can rest.
Here, this tree is lovely.
You can sleep safely under her sheltering arms.

You do not need to need to worry about me any more.
I have a new guardian to walk by my side.
He knows how to listen to the suffering of beings.
He will teach me how to suffer well.
He will show me how to water the seeds of joy and understanding in myself and others.
With diligent and mindful practice, I will grow strong.

I bow in gratitude for your loyal service.
Close your eyes and do not worry any more.
Some day I will be strong enough to be my own guardian.
Then I will return here to sit by your side.
I will teach you all I have learned
and you will never need to be afraid again.

Thank you Thay

IMG_1418I have been so fortunate in this life to have encountered several genuine teachers of the Dharma. Today I am thinking about one of them, Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately called “Thay” by his students. I have been practicing with a mindfulness practice center in Thay’s tradition for the past two years. I want to take a moment to thank Thay for his teachings.

There are three aspects of Thay’s teachings that have been particularly relevant for me. One is acceptance. Thay has tirelessly traveled, taught, and written to share the practice of mindfulness with the world. He does not distinguish between people based on their religion or lack of religion or any other factor. He truly believes that mindfulness can help anyone to relate more peacefully, joyfully, and deeply to the world. While he has written books on Buddhist philosophy, most of his books are written to be accessible by a very wide audience, including people with little or no experience with Buddhism. Nevertheless, the practices he teaches in those books, the path of being truly awake to the present moment, can be followed for a lifetime. Thay’s centers welcome all people, regardless of their root religious traditions or current affiliation. Thank you Thay for teaching me the importance of acceptance. Continue reading

Gatha

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERASometimes I am nearly overcome by the preciousness of life, so beautiful, so fascinating, so fragile. Over and over again I come back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea of the relative dimension – the wave – and the ultimate dimension – water. As a wave, we are each different from each other, each subject to birth and death. As water, we are all of the same essence, infinite as the ceaseless cycle of clouds to rain to river to clouds. “The cloud can never be nothing,” he says. “That is the true nature of the cloud.”

I have composed a little gatha that lately I like to breathe with each morning. Gathas are new to my practice since coming to Thay’s tradition. I have slowly begun to embrace them; they are wonderful bells of mindfulness. Let me offer this one as a lotus for you, a Buddha-to-be.

Breathing in, I am a wave, coming and going.

Breathing out, I am water, ceaselessly flowing.

Breathing in, I am a wave, crashing and striving.

Breathing out, I am water, calmly abiding.

 

Roles

Jizo 5I had the good fortune earlier this month to attend the first day of a FACES Compassion and Wisdom conference here in DC. FACES conferences focus “on the integration of ‘mindfulness’ and ‘compassion’ in the counseling field”. They are largely intended for mental health professionals and therapeutic service providers, though members of the public like myself may also attend. I attended one plenary session with Roshi Joan Halifax called “Inside Compassion” and two presentations/workshops by Kristin Neff on Self-Compassion: “The Proven Power of Kindness” and “Difficult Relationship Interactions”.

The talks I attended concerned compassion for self as well as others. There was a tangible atmosphere of caring in the audience, magnified by the feeling of proven compassion-in-action that radiated from the speakers. Before Roshi Joan began her talk, she asked the audience to identify themselves in terms of their roles, which was expressed here in terms of livelihood. Waves of people stood up to be counted as therapists, counselors, psychiatrists, social workers, physical therapists, and the like. A few proudly shouted out titles that didn’t neatly fit into the category of healing professions, like accountant and home contractor, to be met with good-natured laughter. Continue reading

Commitments

Jizo 15I recently finished two books on the subject of precepts: Thich Nhat Hanh’s For a Future to Be Possible: Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings (revised 1998 edition, Parallax Press, now out of print/revised into The Mindfulness Survival Kit) and Robert Aitken’s The Mind of Clover: Essays in Buddhist Ethics. I’ve been thinking about precepts a lot over the last several weeks and wanted to start my blogging on the subject with a discussion of why I think precepts in general are so valuable. I’ll be using the term “commitment” to encompass the world of precepts, vows, mindfulness trainings, and other less formally transmitted injunctions to moral conduct.

Some people feel that commitments are confining; I find them to be freeing. Commitments focus the mind so that it’s not scattered to distraction. To quote Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche from The Path of Individual Liberation: The Profound Treasury of the Ocean of Dharma, Volume One, “Discipline may seem complicated, but it is actually very simple – it is what binds your life together. Without discipline, life is made up of successive indulgences and confusions based on aggression, passion, and ignorance.” Interestingly, that statement rings true in modern psychological studies relating to a phenomenon called decision fatigue. Continue reading

Renunciation

Jizo 19My catalyst in this life to becoming a Buddhist occurred when I was a teenager visiting Asia with my parents. In Nepal, we encountered Tibetans in exile, who radiated the most amazing peace and joy despite having lost everything in their flight across the Himalayas. I spent my fifteenth birthday with three new friends, an American woman, an Australian man, and a Nepalese man who were all practicing Tibetan Buddhists. They took me on a tour of the awe-inspiring Buddhist sites of Bodhnath and Swayambhunath and gave me an living example of Western converts to Tibetan Buddhism.

For a few years afterwards I corresponded with the American woman, who was in process of ordaining as a nun. She expressed great joy when I took refuge (formally converted to Buddhism), but when I wrote to tell her of my impending engagement to my now-husband, she was the only person who didn’t offer me congratulations. The gist of her reply was that if I got married I would be tying myself down with ever-increasing attachments that would bind me to samsara, this world of suffering. She urged me instead to embrace spiritual practice. Only through devoted practice, preferably as an ordained nun, could I achieve enlightenment quickly and thus benefit not just myself or a few people but all people.

I was eighteen and in love; I didn’t like her response and I didn’t know how to react to it. I stopped writing to her. A couple years later I got married to a wonderful man. I considered myself incredibly lucky (and still do). But I have to admit, she was right. I am thoroughly tied to samsaric existence. The height of my spiritual practice is striving to be a virtuous householder; I am a long way from renunciation. Continue reading