Transcriptions of Dharma Talks Part 13

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A: Manas is a kind of perception characterized by misunderstanding, by ignorance and therefore based on manas in order to act, to speak and to think you make a lot of mistakes and that is why the bodhisattva in the process of her practice learns to act, to think and to speak on the basis of wisdom, the wisdom of non discrimination, the wisdom that reveals that there is no separated self. So it is perfectly possible for anyone to continue acting and helping and serving without manas, because without manas you have something much better, that is the wisdom of non discrimination (Sanskrit) and that is to replace manas. That does not mean that you have to throw manas away in order to have non discriminative wisdom because it is manas that will be transformed into the wisdom of non discrimination. When you have a cup of water that is not drinkable and you throw it away and then you have no water at all you have to seek ways to transform that water into something that you can drink. That what it means by transformation so if you are in a desert and if you are dying of thirst and then if you have a gla.s.s of muddy water you should not throw it away, you have to keep it and transform it into drinkable water. So manas within yourself, there is wisdom in it, so the fact is not throwing away something but to transform it.

The other day Jacques also presented a question in a written form, he said, because I was drawing that circle representing alaya serving as the cause for all defiled Dharma, this is effect and this is the base for this manifestation, but when we look deeply into this manifestation we can also see the base in it and that is why I propose to wipe away the outer circle because the outer circle can be seen already in the inner circle. So his question is, if this is defiled Dharmas and then where can we get the purity of the Tathagatha, the ground of enlightenment? so this half moon should be retained in order to provide us with our opportunity for enlightenment and purification and so on. So he did not feel comfortable when I wiped this out. This is a very typical kind of question, very typical kind of thinking based on dualism, because when you think of something as defiled, as negative, you immediately want to throw it away. And that is a strong tendency in many people and now we must learn how to think in a non dualistic way, it is defiled, it is negative, but you have to keep it and transform it because out of it there is nothing else. It is like the gla.s.s of muddy water, if you throw it out you don't have water, you have to transform.

So all the defiled Dharmas, all the negative things contain within themselves the positive ground, the ground of enlightenment. That is why it was so clear that in the beginning you recognize as e but a little later you recognize that c is in e. And if c is in e already, why do you have to keep c outside the e, so the practice is how to learn to think, to speak, and to see things in non-dual terms. Because the other day Thay already talked about the top soil and that if we looked deeply into the top soil we sees the green leaves and if we look deeply into the green leaves we can see the top soil in it. Because without the top soil there would be no green leaves and if there are no green leaves there is no top soil, so they contain each other - that is inter containing, interbeing, that is an art of being, an art of talking and we have to get used to it. Ca va, Jacques, cest clair? Another question? OK.

Q: Dear Thay, because the alaya is everywhere and there is non duality, and in the leaf you can see the soil. I can recognize an enlightened being, I can maybe see him, he is part of me somehow, how come he cannot enlighten me. Everything has to come from me and how come there is no interaction possible on this if I am part of everything and everything is part of me. How come?

A: When you look deeply you will be able to remove the notion of inside and outside and the discrimination between you and him, you and her will be removed because the inside contains the outside and etc. I would like to bring you a very concrete example. You are a member of the Sangha living in the Sangha. You are a monastic or a lay person living in the Sangha. You may have the impression that your Sangha does not support you enough. The Sangha does not care about you, and you believe that until the Sangha comes and supports you and takes care of you, you will not be able to make progress in the practice. Sometime a monastic will think like that. Sometime a lay person will think like that. She or he will wait for an act, an att.i.tude from the Sangha, from the Teacher in order for her/him to do all right. Right? But at the same time that person knows that the Sangha is within him/her, and if that person knows how to take care of the Sangha, and the Teacher in him/her she will be doing all right, there is no inside or outside and discrimination and blaming will cease to exist.

We have been in Plum Village some twenty years and every time I practice walking meditation I always pay attention to the trees that we have planted. Many of the pine trees have been planted on the first or second year of Plum Village and I use to stop and look at the cedar and the pine tree and smile to them. I tend to look at them as pract.i.tioners, a monk, a nun or a lay person and I say: this novice is sixteen years old and is doing very well and I touch the branch of the pine and I smile at the pine. I noticed that when you are planted as a small tree it is very easy for you. Taking roots in the soil is much easier than if you are planted as a big tree. You know, in the Upper Hamlet there were five or six pines that belonged to the category called umbrella pine and we took them home one day, quite big, about three meters. And it was more difficult to take care than when you plant small pines. I remember we had difficulties the first year, the second and the third year because there was a lot of wind in the Upper Hamlet, and we did not try to help the pines to stand firm against the wind. That is why every winter the pine would go like this and then the soil is very wet, very soft and the wind is capable of making the pine incline like this. So when the rain stopped we used the tractor to pull it back to the upright position. And during two or three years we did like that, and that is why this pine was not doing very well in the first three years.

That is why when we planted the three big cedars we tried our best, and asked a professional to help us pin it down with three very solid sticks. That is why after the second year we could take out the sticks and the cedars became very strong.

It is the same thing with a pract.i.tioner, if you allow yourself to be blown by the wind. If your practice is off and on you stay for a few months and then you leave, and then you come back for a few months and you leave, it is like allowing the wind to upset you, to make you lose your stability, your solidity. And the condition of non-interruption is not here for you to grow as a good pract.i.tioner. You may have the impression that the teacher does not support you that the sangha does not support you. The tree may think that the soil is not kind to it, but the soil is always there supporting all the trees, with a non-discriminative att.i.tude. The soil provides the tree with the basic conditions, opening herself up to receive the tree, embrace the tree. But if the tree does not try to get rooted as soon as possible, then the soil cannot do anything. So to cultivate solidity, to cultivate breathing, to cultivate taking refuge in the sangha is your practice. If you go back and take advantage of the soil in you, take advantage of the sangha in you then the rooting will take place, and if the rooting takes place you'll be a very beautiful tree.

If you do not allow yourself to be rooted in the Sangha, if you don't allow the Sangha to be rooted in you your practice will not bring you anywhere at all. So even if you do not practice a lot of walking meditation, or sitting meditation, or chanting, even if you don't learn a lot of scriptures. But you just spend your time with your brothers and sisters in an intelligent way so that your sisters and brothers are rooted in you and you are rooted in your sisters and brothers you are doing it right. And one week, two weeks is enough to let you know that you have made progress, so we should not say that spending time with your brothers and sisters is a waste of time, no. Your time is to do that, your time is to do that, to get rooted in the Sangha and to allow the Sangha to be rooted in yourself, this is very important. That was the practice of the Buddha, that was the practice of the monks and the nuns at the time of the Buddha. So if your practice does not give you that kind of rooting you should know that practice is not very helpful. Even drinking tea together, or was.h.i.+ng the dishes together, or working in the garden together. All these things can be considered to be right practice because they help you to be rooted, it helps the Sangha to be rooted in you. And with the insight of interbeing, it means the insight of non discrimination, you see that the outside is the inside and the inside is the outside. You can think that the soil is always trying to help, the sun is always trying to help, but if the tree does not try its best to root in the soil and profit from the suns.h.i.+ne, the suns.h.i.+ne cannot do anything, the soil cannot do anything. I hope my answer was helpful to you. Happy Rooting! That is our wis.h.!.+ Commenta se traduit em francais? Enracinement heureux!

Q: Dear Thay, from your teaching I learned that the alaya, the ground of everything, is not an immobile thing, it is a kind of floating stream. When I pa.s.s away what will be the interplay between my manovijnana(store consciousness), my manas, and my citta(mind consciousness)? Thank you.

A: Can you wait? (laughter) Q: Yes, I can wait! (laughter) A: I think it is very important to know that you are pa.s.sing away right this moment. Life and death are taking place right now, right here and life and death as you see it are only complementary things, things that make each other possible because dying makes the living possible. It is very important to learn to look deeply so that you may see that in this very moment you are dying and you are being reborn. It is very important. And this is by practicing every day and this will bring you another way of looking. In the Tibetan tradition, you know, when the Teacher pa.s.ses away you have to wait for a few years and you go look for a little boy, may be a little girl and to recognize your Teachers continuation in that little boy or little girl. And in the Tibetan tradition you may practice some kind of testing to know if that little boy is a reincarnation of your teacher or not. So you bring a number of things that have been used by your Teacher in his lifetime and then you bring together other things and you allow the little boy to pick up one of the things and if he picks up the right things you are sure that he is a continuation of your former Teacher. I like that very much, it is very poetic, very charming practice and idea.

But I always tell my students that they don't need to wait until I pa.s.s away in order to look for that little boy or little girl, they have to do it now because I have already been reborn, in this very moment, not only as a little boy but as many little boys, not as a little girl, but as many little girls at the same time. I myself recognize them, not all of them, but some of them. And there are continuations that I have not actually seen with my eyes but I know they are there. So I see the fact that I am dying every moment and I am being reborn every moment and I feel good about it because I don't see myself as being limited in this body. Not only in this body, not only in the body that will appear after I pa.s.s away, but in many bodies at this very time. Again about the rooting: when I have a disciple practicing well I see myself rooting in him/her and I see him rooting in me. And when the disciple is rooted in me he has a lot, he is in touch with all generations of ancestors, he feels that he is very solid, he has a background that is so solid, many, many generations of teachers are in him as supporters.

So my disciples have lots of advantages when they take root in me. And I get a lot also when I am rooted in him/her because when I see that I am rooted in him/her I feel that I have the future, whole future for me. I feel young, I feel very young, I feel that I am just born, I am being born every moment so the insight of non discrimination, the insight of non interruption is there and that makes me not afraid of death. For I know it cannot do anything to us, death cannot disrupt anything, because even right now the continuation has taken place in many, many forms. And if you look at the Buddha you see that the Buddha is there today in every one of us. The Buddha has a life called the life of wisdom. The mindfulness of the Buddha is his body and his wisdom is his life. If we touch ourselves deeply we see that the body and the life of the Buddha continue today and tomorrow. We can touch the Buddha right here and right now. And later on when you learn more about alayavijnana, you see that alayavijnana it is not only an individual thing it is a collective thing as well. And you will have another notion of alaya that will be closer to reality; that is why I said, can you wait? Further on you will see the teaching on alayavijnana.

Q: Speaking of pa.s.sing away, my father pa.s.sed away two weeks ago today, and he died with a lot of anger towards my mother. They are divorced. I think he had a lot of anger in general, my mother just happened to be a particular focus. Looking deeply through the practice I see that I am my father and so I have my fathers anger. And so it is my task to transform that anger for him, for myself, for my wife, for all of us, I wonder if you can offer some words of encouragement. Thank you.

A: You have enough wisdom to start the practice. It is very important to see that your father is always there within yourself and every step you make is for your father, and for his father, and the father of his father also. Every breath taken in mindfulness, every step taken in mindfulness, every smile you can produce is for all of them, so that transformation can take place in every moment. I also practice like that. The time when I practice lying down in a most comfortable way, not doing anything at all, completely at rest, I say: Daddy, let us stay in this position, let us breath and enjoy it. We don't have much to do. You can see your father responding to you in yourself and he has a chance now to stop, to relax, and not to do too much like he used to do. Sometimes I say: Mummy, let us sit still and not worry about anything, we have a chance. Sometimes I practice with my Teacher, I practice with the Buddha. It is wonderful to be aware that everyone is practicing with you because you contain a mult.i.tude. You are large, you contain mult.i.tudes. When I make steps like this you can visualize that all generations of my ancestors are taking steps with me. The amount of freedom I enjoy and the amount of stopping I enjoy is being shared by all of them. It is wonderful! Transformation and healing is possible every moment. It is very nice to practice for your father, for your mother, and for their father for their mother also. That is why to me it is a great happiness to be able to encounter the Dharma, and when you encounter the Sangha you have an opportunity to encounter the Dharma and the Dharma can change everything. And when you are changed, when you are transformed you become an instrument for change and transformation for many living beings. If you have that kind of desire, if you are motivated by that desire to help, to change you are already a bodhisattva, the energy of the Buddha. You are so alive because you are inhabited by the kind of motivation, that kind of desire. And being with the Sangha, allow yourself to be transported by the Sangha, allowing the Sangha to be rooted in you is a very important practice. Every one of us needs that practice, Thay needs that practice, he needs to be rooted deeply in the Sangha, and he needs the Sangha to be deeply rooted in him, because his happiness has been made of it and will be made of it.

This morning I was practicing walking meditation in the Hermitage and I thought that it was so wonderful that as an animal we have had the opportunity to stand upright on our feet and liberate completely our hands. When we were still chimpanzees we had to walk with our hands. At that time we were able already to use our hands, we could use a stone in order to crush the nut we wanted to eat, we were able to use a stick in order to get the things that are a little bit further, but chimps they had to use their arms a lot in order to walk. But three million and one half years ago we were able to stand up and completely liberate our arms. We did not use our arms for walking any more, and beginning at that time we began to evolve. With our two arms two hands totally free we can do so many things and our fingers grew and we got a lot of capacity with our two hands. The skillfulness of our hands has helped our brain to develop in a very, very quick way. It took only three million and five hundred thousand years in order for our brain to be three times bigger. Three and one half million years seems to be long but in terms of evolution it is nothing.

At the time we stood up, h.o.m.o-erectus, that is the name, and as our brain began to develop we continued to get knowledge, we became h.o.m.o-sapiens and since our brain has doubled and trebled, it needs a lot more oxygen, a lot more sugar. We know that the brain takes up at least 1/5 of the nutrition from our eating because we spend a lot of energy for our brain. Oxygen, glucose and other things. With the presence of the Buddha, and the people who know how to cultivate mindfulness, we become a kind of species called h.o.m.o-conscious.

We are capable of walking like this and being aware of every step we make. The chimps did not know how to do it, they walk because they want to get something to eat over there. They could never be aware of the step they make. Now I am capable of being in the here and the now and focusing one hundred per cent of my attention to the fact of walking like this, I become free, it is wonderful. And suddenly the Kingdom of G.o.d, suddenly the Buddha Land, is available to me because I am conscious. Economically speaking, a step made like this is not very productive, but spiritually speaking it is very rewarding and brings you a lot of happiness. And in terms of evolution this is a wonderful manifestation. It is not that in the chimps there is no alayavijnana, but that in that manifestation conditions are not sufficient for that kind of delight, that kind of penetration, that kind of enlightenment to be expressed. It is already there, but it needs more conditions, so the fact that we are able to stand up and free our hands, the fact that our brains have trebled, the fact that there is a Teacher to tell us how to breathe in and breathe out mindfully and touch the ground with mindfulness. It is wonderful, we belong to a race, the third one, and if we continue to walk like that, the process of evolution will continue.

You know, the way we manage our fingers has made a great impact on our intelligence, on the development of our mind. In Buddhism we see that there are many positions of the hand called mudras. When the Buddha gave a Dharma talk he used this mudra: the first truth, the second truth, the third truth and by using his hands like this his ideas become clearer, his insight deeper. So our hand is an extension of our brain. It is our hands that have nourished our brain, have helped our brain to develop and they inter are. Our intelligence helped our hands to adapt. Look at the baby learning how to grasp things. By using our hands we know that our hands are an extension of our brains, and if we have an instrument like a stick or a stone, the stick and the stone become an extension of our mind. Now we have the computer. The computer is an extension of our hand and of our mind too. That is evolution.

The same thing will happen to our feet, because our feet were used only to help us move from one place to another. But now we have another function for our feet, not just getting there but just walking for the sake of walking only. This function is very important, touching the Kingdom of G.o.d, touching Nirvana, touching the Buddha Land, you need your feet in order to do that. If you use your feet like that, you know that in your former times when you were a chimp you didn't do it. So it is wonderful just to walk and to focus your mindfulness on the fact that you are using your feet to touch the realm of enlightenment. The Kingdom of G.o.d, the Pure Land can bring you a lot of happiness, a lot of pleasure and the wonderful thing is that you can do it today. You can touch the Kingdom of G.o.d today, you can touch the Buddha Land today, you can touch the depths of yourself today just moving your feet. Those kind of feet are biologically possible, those kind of feet are spiritually possible, because the Buddha feet have been transmitted to you. You now know how to walk mindfully and enjoy every step you make. Do use your Buddha feet otherwise you would not be very different from a chimpanzee.

Living in the Spirit of Non-self

Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 16, 1999 in Plum Village, France.

Thich Nhat Hanh Dear Friends, today is the 16th December, 99 and we are in the New Hamlet. We know how important it is to practice taking Refuge in the Sangha. In order to have a Sangha we should learn how to build one and the best way to build one is to learn to live in harmony with the Sangha in the spirit of non self. So building a Sangha also means living with the Sangha. If you are lucky to be born in a family where everyone considers themselves as pract.i.tioners, Buddhist pract.i.tioners, you may like to transform your family into a small Sangha, practicing with Buddhist terminology and so on. But if you do not have the fortune of being born in a family where everyone accepts the way of life of Buddhism, then you may like to build a Sangha also, but not with Buddhist terminology, rituals and so on. It is possible to convince everyone to adapt to art of mindful living. To me, all Buddhist terms can be translated into non-Buddhist terms. We have been very successful in doing so. When you study the Five Mindfulness Trainings you don't see the words Buddha, Dharma, Sangha in it and the Five Mindfulness Trainings are in plain, secular language.

When you say, I take Refuge in the Buddha, it sounds Buddhist. But if you say, I have confidence in my capacity of being mindful, of being awake. I trust in my capacity of being there, in the here and the now. I trust my capacity of being understanding and compa.s.sionate. That is the equivalent of, 'I take Refuge in the Buddha', I trust Buddahood in me, I trust my capacity of waking up, of being able to live in the here and the now. So it is entirely possible for you to use non-Buddhist language in order to express the insight and the practice of Buddhism. So even if your son, your daughter, does not like Buddhism you can still offer them the art of mindful living. That can bring a lot of happiness to you and to your family, transforming your family into a Sangha. You don't call it a Sangha, just a family, where everyone knows how to live in such a way that communication is possible, joy and peace become possible.

The people in the Lower Hamlet or in the New Hamlet may have noticed the way the monastics, the nuns, here take care of the subas who came from Vietnam. Some of you may think that they give too much care to the subas but that is their practice in the tradition. We take care of our senior teachers in such a way because that is not only taking care of them but taking care of ourselves. And when you take care of your teacher that way, your senior teachers that way, you have an opportunity to express your love and appreciation and yet you get a lot. Maybe the people who are being taken care of don't get as much as you do because by doing so you show your compa.s.sion, your appreciation, your love, your care and it is you who profits the most from your act. And so happiness is not an individual matter. You make the other person happy and then happiness will return to you, like this, right away.

Suppose you go home and take care of your mother the way the nuns here take care of the superior nuns. Not as a duty, but as something you like to do. You know you are a continuation of your mother and you would like to take care of your mother inside of you and around you. Just take care like that, and that is not a loss of time; that is not losing your time, your time is to do that. Expressing love in concrete terms, and then you see that you are the person who is happy because you have the insight that your mother is you. You are just the continuation of your mother and making your mother happy it means making yourself happy. So I don't think that nuns in the New Hamlet are thinking that is a duty they have to do because the subas have come from Vietnam and they have to treat them with utmost care. That is just their tradition, the practice, and when you practice like that you are happy. And why don't we do that with our father, our mother, senior members of our family. If we take care of them like that, they will see that you are them and they are you, non-discrimination, and suddenly your family becomes a Sangha because we have to remember always that happiness is not an individual thing.

And that we can see in many things, as we observe in our body there are so many cells! The cells in our body operate not on the base of duty but they just enjoy operating like that. The lungs are doing their best in order to renew the blood. With the intake of oxygen they do not say, "You the blood, you need me in order to be red again, to be oxygenated again, and you have to be thankful to me." Lungs never think like that! It is their pleasure to breathe in and breathe out and offer oxygen to the blood cells. And the blood cells, they go back to the other cells and they release the oxygen and they release their nutriments, and they don't say, "Well we traveled a lot in the body in order to bring you oxygen and you should be grateful to me! I have done too much, now it is time for me to retire." The blood cells don't think like that, they just enjoy doing that. There is no discrimination at all in our body and we see that the insight of non-self, the insight of interbeing can be seen just by observing how the cells in our body operate. If you are a scientist observing the way the human body operates, you can see very well that everything is operating on the insight of non-self, non-discrimination and that every cell of your body has the wisdom of non-discrimination.

When you observe a beehive, you see the same thing. You don't see a chief, a boss directing things. You be number one and you do this for me, and you be number two and you have to go in that direction and get that pollen for me. There is no chief at all, there is no director. The queen bee is not a director, she is not the king, she is not really the queen, her duty is just to offer the eggs for the next generation of bees, she is not really a directress. And yet in the beehive every bee behaves perfectly and they don't have to tell each other how they do it. The way they live their daily lives, the way they live, the way they act is their message, and they continue to communicate by the way they are and the way they do things. Sometimes a bee will go back to the beehive and begin to dance. That is their own way of expressing to the other bees, indicating the direction where they can get more pollen - the dance of the bees.

Also, if you observe the termites, you see that they are wonderful. They always work as a team, they don't have a director either and the queen of the termites also has only one duty; to produce eggs for the next generation of termites. They are very talented workers. They even create air conditioners in the place where they live. They are organized perfectly and there is a lot of intelligence, a lot of wisdom in the way the bees and the termites organize their community. No-one gives any orders at all and communications go very well.

Termites do communicate with each other and bees also communicate very well with each other. Scientists notice that there are chemicals that radiate from each individual termite as means of communications. Not only chemicals, but the way termites move around and perform an act is considered to be a means of communication. And all other termites, all other bees are open to receive this kind of information and they just act, responding in a perfect way. No one needs to tell the other one you should behave like this or like that. There's harmony that you can see among the termites and among the bees, and scientists who observe them marvel at the way they operate. And now there's a science called neuroscience, they study the brain and the neuroscientists have discovered very much the same thing. There is no self, there is no chief, there is no director operating in the brain, there is only individual brain cells called neurons. When scientists look deeply into the way neurons act, they see that neurons communicate with each other very well. The individual neuron is linked to all other neurons in the brain so that communication can happen all the time and neurons are responding to each other in a very harmonious way and they don't need a director, they don't need a boss telling them what to do.

So, if you want to build a good Sangha, an ideal Sangha we just observe our body, we just observe the termites, we just observe the bees, we just observe the neurons and we know the best way to do it.

One of the attendants of the senior nuns reported to Thay that one day there were a team of two attendants and one sister is five or six years older than the other. The young attendant just looked at her big sisters and observed her and suddenly she knew what to do and what not to do because maybe there is more than one thing to do at the same time in order to make the senior nuns happy. So just observing, allow yourself to be in the place, to be penetrated by the information and then you naturally know what to do in order to complete the other's actions. And you don't need the other to tell you what to do, you just know what needs to be done at this moment and then the two attendants without any communication act together as a team. No one giving orders to the other, and the situation becomes perfect. No words needed, no order needed, just be there and become one with the whole situation and you know what to do and what not to do for harmony to reign. It is very interesting. There is no thinking needed, no pre-arrangement needed, no preparation needed, you just allow yourself to be there, to be mindful of the situation and then naturally you know what to do and what not to do to make the senior nuns happy and to make you happy also. It is like a piece of music, like a symphony, without a conductor.

The human brain is the most sophisticated thing that we can observe. There are so many neurons in it, billions of them, and yet harmony reigns in the brain. Suppose you are a New Yorker and you live with ten million other New Yorkers and you want to have a connection with all the other New Yorkers. Suppose you provide yourself with ten million strings and you tie one string onto yourself and one string to another New Yorker, and you do like that ten million times in order for you to be connected to all other New Yorkers. And each New Yorker will do the same thing like you. Each New Yorker will have ten million strings in order to be connected with other New Yorkers. Let us suppose that New York is ten times bigger, that is the situation of the brain, one neuron is in communication with all the other neurons. The neurons have impulses in them, they want to express, they want to communicate, they want to do something. And in every individual cell of the brain there is a kind of impulse, they fire electric impulses from themselves and all the other cells of the brain receive them. The neuroscientists have measured that the speed of these electrical impulses fired by each neuron is 400 km an hour and in one fraction of one second they fire again. Communication is permanent and all the other neurons receive the information permanently. In one second there are several times when electrical impulses are fired from one neuron to another or other neurons and that is why communication is always going on.

In a Sangha, if we want the communication to continue we should open ourselves. We should learn the art of communication. We communicate by the way we walk, the way we wish dishes, the way we look at our brother or sister. We can communicate in many ways, we don't have to use chemicals, like the termites, because our thought, our body and our speech they are energies, they are equivalent to chemicals because chemicals they are energy anyway. So every thought we have in our minds can be expressed in our way of looking, in our way of acting, so we communicate always. If the communication does not reach you it is because you are blocked somehow. Your practice is to unblock yourself for the communication of the members of the Sangha to reach you.

The scientists have tried many ways to understand the way the brain would operate. Suppose they play music, they play Beethoven and then they observe how the cells in the brain respond to the rhythm and to the music. Every note. They observe that zones in the brain suddenly light up and on the other side, another area of the brain lights up and there is a continuation of oscillation, back and forth like that. They operate exactly like a symphony and without any conductor. And one moment of music, one note, comes together like this. And you don't see anything, there is nothing organized that you can see. So it becomes very organized, expressing like that and suddenly it is completely unglued, dissolves, you don't see anything and the next moment it comes up like this and total harmony will be seen again.

One of the four conditions we have learned, the previous moment of consciousness has opened the way for the next moment of consciousness and the base is always there in order to hold everything. It is perfectly organized in harmony and suddenly there is nothing, everything is disorganized and yet the next moment it will be reorganized in a perfect way again, and in the meantime alaya vijnana is holding all the seeds. If the first moment of consciousness has not happened, how could the second moment of consciousness take this? One moment of manifestation, one moment of emanation, today they like the word emanation, they don't use the word manifestation, emanation is the same thing: everything is an emanation of alaya vijnana, store consciousness.

So there must be a base, the root consciousness from which elements will come together in a very, very natural way, without any conductor, any self, expressing like that and then dissolving like that as if there were no organization at all. And again, it comes up, manifested again and scientists see very clearly that there is no self in the brain, no conductor, and they witness to the fact, to the insight of no self in the brain, there is no self. And scientists today say, what we can do to help you, my Buddhists friends, is to put a stamp on the teaching of non-self because science has proven that there is no self. We cannot do more than that, they said.

That is true because so many of them have witnessed to the insight, to the truth of no self. Our scientists, neuroscientists and even psychologists and sociologists they have all discovered the truth of non self. They can write, they can speak, they can testify to the truth of non self but they are still unable to live up to the truth of non self. So after having got out of their lab they go home and continue to live as their self, and they behave with their families and with their friends as if they had not see the truth of non self.

That is happening in the last years of the twentieth century. It is happening right now that scientists have discovered the truth of non self, of interbeing, of the nature of interconnectedness. They can testify to that truth, but they are not able to live that truth yet because they have not found ways in order to implement that insight into their daily life.

Many of is in the Buddhist Inst.i.tute we do the same: we come to the cla.s.sroom, we listen to our teacher about non self and interconnectedness. We believe, we have faith, in that teaching and yet when we go back to our brothers and sisters we don't apply very much the insight of non self. We get angry, we still get jealous and so on. We are not capable of behaving like the bees or the termites or the neurons or the cells in the body and our practice is to rely on the Sangha in order to be able to do so. Sangha building relies on us and in order to be a good Sangha builder we should see the truth of non self. We should see the truth of interbeing and we should come together to find ways in order to implement the insight of non self and impermanence in our way of doing things in the Sangha. And that is what we have been trying to do, that makes us different from the scientists.

We are not satisfied with the insight of non self, we want to live the insight of non self, that is why when we organize a retreat, we organize in such a way that everyone of us behaves like a bee. We don't need a director, we don't want to be ordered about. If we don't want to be ordered about, the only alternative is to open ourselves to see what is really going on, so that we would know what to do and what not to do in order for the organization to be perfect. So, when you organize a retreat for your friends, suppose you want to organize a retreat for business people. That is an opportunity for you to come together and learn the way to operate like a community of bees, a community of termites, a community of cells, a community of neurons, because in truth, reality functions like that, on the base of non self, on the base of interbeing.

In our century, the century which is ending, is characterized by individualism. We no longer believe in the family. The family structure has been shut down because we follow the cult of the individual. We want only to do things that make us feel good, only to satisfy our private desire. We don't care about the family, we don't care about the church, we don't care about society, we follow just the order of the self.

They tell us that we have to go Vietnam and fight the Communists. They tell us that according to the domino theory if you cannot stop communism in Vietnam then communism will take over the world. But going to Vietnam and dying in the jungle in Vietnam is not something we feel good about. So we resist the war, we resist going to Vietnam. At Christmas time, instead of talking in terms of love, going home to our families and people and laughing like Santa Claus, ho, ho, ho. We say, we won't go; ho, ho, ho, we won't go, we won't go to Vietnam, because going to Vietnam and dying - that does not feel good. So the young people come together and resist. They have come together to resist not because they are compa.s.sionate, they care about the life of the Vietnamese, but because going to the jungle in Vietnam and dying there does not feel good. Therefore they rally people to resist the war and resist the war not for the sake of compa.s.sion but because the war doesn't belong to us. The war is yours, your generation wants this war, we the young people do not want this war because we don't feel good about this war.

So the peace movement was not based on a humanitarian idea, but just resisting the old generation and the ideas of the old generation. The peace movement was based on the cult of the self, that is why it was not a real peace movement. That is what happened during the sixties. If you have gone through that period, please sit down and look back. Resistance to the war was rather an egoistic act and not really a compa.s.sionate one. That is why there was so much anger, so much hatred in the peace movement. When I was there calling for stopping the bombing, many people said, "We don't want to stop the bombing, we want America to be defeated", because they were so angry. The defeat of America was their aim, but as a person who represented millions of people who died under the bombs I only wanted to see something very concrete, right away for people to stop the suffering right away, the cessation of the bombing, now, right away. And the peace movement said, no, we don't want a cessation of the bombing, we want only American withdrawal, we want only a defeat of America and they were not able to understand. Because stopping the bombing first and then arranging for other things would be more realistic.

I was working with people trying to stop the war in Vietnam, and I had a lot of contact with people in the peace movement. And the young people in the sixties, many of them operated on the base of self, not on the base of compa.s.sion, of understanding.

If it feels good, do it, that was the motto of the young generation. And also in context of the war they would say, make love, not war, remember? Because, make love, it feels good, make war, it doesn't feel good. And that is why our century, at least the second half of our century was characterized by the cult of the self: the small self, the atomized self. We only care about ourselves, care about the fame and the wealth and consumption by the self. Individualism has reached its highest point in the second half of the twentieth century. Now the young people have grown up, they got married, they have jobs and many have important positions in the Government. The scandals they produce which make us suffer also come from that tradition, that habit energy of serving the self.

Let us look deeply into the situation of Mr. Clinton and his family. Clinton was a youngster during the sixties, he also went to the streets manifesting against the war; intelligent, active. Unlike John F. Kennedy, he is operating on another base. John F. Kennedy was still very Catholic. What happened during the reign of Mr. Clinton? The scandal that went on, and on, and on, to the point that we had the desire to vomit, was the result of such a situation. Look on Mr. Clinton, look on the situation of his family, look at his spiritual background. We can discover a lot concerning the situation of the young generation that came out of the second half of the twentieth century.

Now people no longer believe in their church, in their spiritual tradition, people don't have a family that is solid, they don't believe in the family any more. When you don't believe in the family you cannot build a family. You don't have happiness in the family, you feel that happiness is possible only when you seek for fame and power and wealth. The happiness lies in the capacity of consuming. It is very clear and many people in the third world begin to imitate the West. In China, in Vietnam, in other countries, people have abandoned their spiritual tradition. They don't believe in Buddhism any more. They are looking for consumption. They want to buy the most sophisticated audio-video equipment, they want to consume portable telephones, faxes, color television and so on. And that is the meaning of their lives, to consume, to satisfy private desires. Private desires, in Vietnamese.

This is the situation we are in when the twentieth century is ending, the cult of the self. Individualism that has created a lot of suffering. Drugs, alcohol, aids, destruction of the family structure, no spiritual life, mental illness; all these characterize the second half of our century. We have a few weeks in order to do the work of self examination, the examination of our century.

We are to embark on a new century very soon, in two weeks. We should use our time to practice looking deeply. What our elders have done, how they have lived their lives and how we live our lives now, what we have done. Looking deeply. Every day give yourself one hour, two hours, doing sitting or walking, in order to look back at yourself and at our situation. We want to begin anew, we want a different kind of direction for the twenty first century, we don't want to continue this. Because this would be the continuation of our destruction and the destruction of other species. We want to take another direction.

We don't want to follow the direction of individualism, we don't want to continue in the direction of the cult of the self. We want to live in harmony, in the spirit of non self, in the spirit of interbeing. We don't want to follow the cult of self any more. The Sangha is our direction. Sangha building is the most n.o.ble task that we do, and Sangha would be the refuge for all of us in the next century. In order for the Sangha to be built we have to unblock ourselves, in order for information to come to us. Like the bees, they are capable of receiving information from other bees. Like the cells in our bodies, they are capable of knowing what to do and what not to do in order for harmony in the body to reign.

We want to behave like cells in our brain. They are in permanent communication with one another, they don't need a conductor, they don't need a director, they don't need a self. The insight is there and even science has testified to the value of the insight. What remains to do is to come together and try our best to live that insight. And the Buddha has offered so many ways to implement that insight into our daily life for us to suffer less, for us not to make the other person next to us suffer. And that is the very basic task of Sangha building.

The message I sent out on the 4th, called New Century Message, contains some of the things I have just shared with you. I would like each of you to have one copy to use as an instrument for the practice of looking deeply, looking back at ourselves, at our situation, at our century in order to know what direction we must take beginning with the twenty first century.

The Vietnamese version has been sent to Vietnam on the 4th of December. We don't have the text in French yet but Thay Doji will do it soon. I have four sets in English and I think I will give one for each hamlet. This is an instrument for us to practice deep looking and there will be a lot of friends coming for Christmas and for New Year. I think we have to offer each of them one copy. The moment when they arrive we should invite them to read the message and to reflect on it. Everyone should have one hour or two at least every day in order to do the work of looking deeply, and that is the practice of beginning anew. We have to look deeply in order to know what stop. What we should not do any more, what we should not continue any more, in order to open up a new area for us and for our children.

Looking deeply is our job, the only thing that is worthwhile to do while being in Plum Village is to practice looking deeply. On the 31st of December Thay will give a Dharma talk at five o'clock in the afternoon, and the message will be something like the message in this Dharma talk, with more details and with an invitation for us to reflect upon.

Any of you has been a citizen of Woodstock nation? Any of you were in Woodstock?

Go as a Sangha

Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 19, 1999 in Plum Village, France Thich Nhat Hanh Today is December 19, 1999 and we are in the Upper Hamlet for our Dharma talk. I always think of the year 2000 as a bell of mindfulness, I have been using it as a bell of mindfulness to become aware that time pa.s.ses very quickly. And we should be there in such a way that can make a future possible for our children and their children, because during the twentieth century we have made a mess and individualism has prevailed. The insight of interbeing, the insight of interconnectedness is so important for us. We have to learn that happiness cannot be possible as an individual matter. So seeking for happiness for your individual self is something impossible, and that is why we have to learn to live as Sangha. Not only humans have to live as a Sangha, but they have to learn to live with other species as a Sangha. We have to accept animals, vegetables and minerals as partners, as members of our Sangha and this way of life, this insight is very clear in the Buddhist teaching. So the most meaningful thing for us to do today, tomorrow and after tomorrow is to prepare ourselves to live as a Sangha.

It means we have to get out of the prison of our self and this is a practice. How to get out of the prison of self. We have been so long in that prison of self, we have suffered so much, we have caused a lot of suffering to other people and other species, and that is why to get out of that kind of prison is our practice.

For many years I have been saying that the next Buddha that will come to us will take the form of a Sangha and not an individual. That is not a fantasy on my part, but the insight I have got through my life, through my experience. The next Buddha may take the form of a Sangha and everyone else will be a cell of the Buddhakaya, the Buddha body, and it is possible for us to prepare ourselves to be that cell in the body of the Buddha.

I always think of the twenty first century as a beautiful hill. It may be a great joy to climb the hill together as a Sangha and with the Sangha we can go very far. No matter how old you are, how young you are, you are climbing with the Sangha. The Buddhist sangha has been here two thousand five hundred years and they will continue. Let us be part of that Sangha. Let us use that Sangha in order to form a larger Sangha.

The 21st century may be a very pleasant century for us. You may enjoy deeply the coming century if you know how to embark upon it with faith, with joy, and with insight. I am convinced that with the insight of interbeing, with the capacity of living as a Sangha, the climb will be very beautiful, very pleasant.

You are now at the foot of the hill and in just eleven days we will begin the climb. And we shall be climbing the hill of the century with our ancestors who are in us and with our children: blood ancestors and spiritual ancestors, blood children and spiritual children, hand in hand we will climb the century hill with joy. The only thing to remember is to do it as a Sangha, not as individuals any more. Climbing like that we need some freedom, some liberation: freedom of the self, liberation of the self, and the joy will be collective joy, it will be nouris.h.i.+ng us.

Looking into the individual you see the collective and looking into the collective you see the individual and we know that with that insight we will be free. Happiness will not be possible without the happiness of those around us, including animals, vegetables and minerals. On the last day of the year, on the last day of the century we will be celebrating our togetherness according to a schedule offered to us by the brothers of the Upper Hamlet. We will have in the morning two hours of solitary meditation. In the morning we will gather and receive instructions as to how to practice two hours of solitary meditation.

Each of us can go somewhere and really work on it. With our suffering, our despair we can open up a new door for the future. We are determined to begin anew and we make a commitment with ourselves and with our ancestors and our children that we will do it differently next year, next century. We will not allow individualism to prevail and to destroy. We will learn how to see the happiness of the Sangha as our own happiness and we will learn how to live as a cell in a body, as a bee in a beehive. Responsible, open, because when we are open we receive the information from other members of the Sangha, and we know what to do and what not to do in order for the Sangha to be happy.

The Sangha's will is the Buddha's will. The Sangha's will is G.o.d's will, and that is why we have to be open and to receive information. Sometime they don't use words but the way they think, the way they feel, the way they look, the way they act is very clear, and gives very clear messages. So, if we just keep open and then we receive the information. And we know perfectly what to do and what not to do in order to be a good member of the Sangha.

You know that the bees communicate, they communicate with their dance. The termites also, they use chemicals in order to communicate. Our thoughts, our words and our acts are made of energy that is a kind of chemicals. The way we are in a community is the way we communicate and if you are mindful enough, if you are open enough you receive the communication from the other members of the Sangha.

We know that in our brain the neurons they always fire their electrical impulses in order to keep the communication alive and continuous between themselves, they don't need a boss to tell them what to do. The neurons are capable of being there, open and in permanent communication. That is why they respond to other neurons, they collaborate with other neurons in such a wonderful way! We should learn from them.

When we play music we notice that the music and the rhythm create a kind of reaction in our brain. We know that oscillation patterns take place in various areas of the brain and there is a symphony taking place, a kind of orchestra coming together musically, without any director. If you remember the text, you see that the first moment of consciousness takes place in a fraction of a second ksana (Sanskrit) is the shortest unit of time. It is a moment of consciousness and that moment of consciousness is not the product of one neuron, it is a product of all the neurons together. It is like the flame, one ksana (Sanskrit), and if the second moment of consciousness takes place, it is thanks to the presence of the moment of consciousness that has just died. And the two moments of consciousness succeeding each other have a base, because without that base it cannot happen.

Look at the candle. We see the flame, we see the wax, we see the conditions like the oxygen and the flame cannot be there without a base. Because the base is always there that is why the flame can continue. Looking deeply into the flame you can see the base. The base is alaya vijnana, the root consciousness. But the root consciousness, alaya vijnana is not something that is apart from a moment of consciousness because looking deeply into the moment of consciousness which lasts only a fraction of a second we can see alaya vijnana, we can see the base. It is like looking at the flame we can see everything else, like the wax and so on.

Living in the community we are aware that every one of us has a base, the notion of base in Buddhism is very important. Ashraya (Sanskrit) means the base. Touching ourselves deeply, looking deeply into ourselves we can touch the base. And being able to touch our base we are able to realize the nature of interconnectedness within us and (with) the rest. It means our brothers and sisters, our brother tree, our sister rock, all our brothers and sisters. Looking into a rock we see the base, looking into a tree we see the base, looking into our brother we see the base. It is like looking into every Dharma we can see alaya vijnana, it is the same. And with that insight in us there is no longer any separation if we know how to respond and to react in a way that harmony will be possible in the Sangha, and in the larger Sangha because our Sangha has humans, animals, minerals and vegetables.

So the insight of no self, the insight of interbeing, the insight of interconnectedness if we can keep them alive, if we know how to cultivate that insight and keep it alive daily we will be free from the prison of self. We will be able to see the happiness of the Sangha as our own, this is very important. And that is why in two hours of solitary meditation we should do our best in order to work it out, to make that determination not to continue the ancient of way of life. We have to make a solemn promise to us and to our base and to everyone that we will be different, we will learn to live as a Sangha. The family is a Sangha. The society is a Sangha. The Earth is a Sangha.

Two hours of solitary retreat on the 31st is a gift, whether you are here or you are in another place you are welcome to take at least two hours for your meditation. Look back at yourself, look back at the world and see how much suffering we have created. And we see the roots of the suffering, of isolation, of sorrow, of fear. We see our wrong perceptions, we know that in the past we were victims of our wrong perceptions. We believed so much in our perceptions. And practicing looking deeply we see how wrong we were in our perceptions. And we promise that we will not do like that again, we rely on the Sangha to have a better perception of reality because the Sangha eyes are always brighter, clearer than the eyes of an individual. This is exactly what we say when we declare, I take refuge in the Sangha. I take refuge in the Sangha, means I don't rely on my perceptions alone. I don't want to rely on my individual perceptions alone. I want to be ready to see, to look at things with the Sangha eyes. Using the Sangha eyes is a wonderful practice and that is our practice.

So during the two solitary hours we should take up that kind of resolution. We will promise that we will see with the Sangha eyes, look with the Sangha eyes, and feel with the Sangha heart. That will bring a lot of happiness and harmony into the Sangha, the small Sangha and the larger Sangha. In fact, the five skandhas, the five elements within us are also a Sangha. They find themselves in conflict very often.

So, the two hours of solitary retreat in Plum Village on the 31st is a gift. We will receive some instructions in how to do it and then we will spend two hours alone. Whether we go to the garden, we sit in the meditation hall, work it out and make a promise to yourself. You may like to have it written down in a piece of paper, a promise to yourself, a promise to your ancestors, a promise to your teacher, your promise to your brothers and sisters, your children. That is the most meaningful thing to do on the last day of the century, the last day of the year.

When the new century comes, when the New Year comes we will have finished our walking meditation and we'll come to this hall and we offer our prayer and our promises to our ancestors and our children. We have a special prayer for the new century, the New Year. In English, in German, in French and in Vietnamese and each of us will have a copy of that prayer, of that promise but you have your own promise you will make as an outcome of your two hours of solitary retreat. You may like to bring it along and after the collective prayers and promises you may like to read it for yourself, to your ancestors and to your children. The promise is made to our ancestors, to our brothers and sisters and also to our children, whether they are blood children or spiritual children, we have to make that promise. That promise will be made after those two hours of solitary meditation.

At some time we have lunch, a simple lunch, because the two hours of solitary retreat may happen during that time also, before lunch, after lunch, at least two hours. And then in the afternoon you may like to continue until the bell calls you for collective mindful work to prepare for the ceremony. At five o'clock in the afternoon will be the last Dharma talk of the year, last Dharma talk of the last century of the 21st century. And that Dharma talk will be relayed simultaneously to Germany and North America. We have the Dharma talk right here and our brothers and sisters in Germany and in America will have it through the telephone.

The Dharma talk will begin at 5pm and end at about 6:30pm and after that we may prepare ourselves for the practice of Touching the Earth. Touching the Earth is a further practice in order to connect with our ancestors, to connect with the land, to connect with other species and to connect with our children and their children, because our children and their children are already there in us. We have to be responsible to our children and their children. After the Dharma talk we'll take some time before we have dinner, and then instead of Dharma discussion we will do a Touching the Earth. Because I think Touching the Earth will be a deeper practice, Touching the Earth is to connect with our ancestors, with our brothers and sisters in the blood family, in the spiritual family, and also to connect with our children and their children who are already there within us. Touching the Earth we should finish before 10:30pm because at 11pm sharp there will be a bell to gather around the linden tree to receive instructions as to how to do the walking meditation, because we will be climbing the new century together as a Sangha. This is a very special walking meditation. You really want to walk as a Sangha and not as individuals any more.

Have a seen a centipede? A little creature that has lots of.... Yeah! we walk like that! Thousands of feet! There will be a lot of us on that day! To walk in such a way that you can go as a Sangha. If it does not rain the walk will be very pleasant, if it rains we will walk anyway, we have to be equipped with an umbrella. On our path there will be kerosene lamps so that we can walk with ease. It must be a very deep kind of walking, walking as a Sangha. We have to walk in such a way that individuals will dissolve, for the Sangha to walk.

What is the English word for a centipede? Centipede? And we begin to walk at 11:30 or so, or earlier. We'll start from the linden tree and we really begin. The new century has not come yet at that time but we have half an hour in order to reach the other end of the road. When the New Year comes there will be bells, a little bit from everywhere, also from this meditation hall and you will know that the new century has arrived. We'll pause for one minute, to breathe, to be aware that the new century, the new millennium has arrived. Smile to it, and we begin to climb the new century together, with peace, with joy, as a Sangha. This is a very deep practice and joyful practice also. When you come up to the hill there will be a chariot with candles or lamps, and our children will come together and push the chariot which has the number 2000 on it. We will go directly from there to the meditation hall and our path will be lit with kerosene lamps, the brothers don't trust the electricity very much so they want to equip the path with kerosene lamps, hundreds of them.

So, the walk should be very joyful, silent, but powerful and joyful with the children leading. And when we come to the meditation hall we will arrive before the altar of our ancestors, blood and spiritual ancestors, we will light some incense and offer our prayers. Our prayer is to be connected with our ancestors, Sangha, children, and grandchildren. We should select members of the Sangha who can read the promises/prayers out loud in several languages. And each of us will receive a copy of that promise because we vow to live in such a way that the Sangha's happiness becomes our happiness. That is the only way to dissolve suffering and loneliness and to build a happy life for us and for our children in the next century.

After offering incense and flowers and fresh water to our ancestors and to the earth and to our children, then we practice touching the earth four times and it will be time for hugging meditation. And you may have your promise written on a piece of paper and you may like to come forth to the altar and you read it silently. You don't need to go to the altar in order to read it, you can do it anywhere, in the open air and you just read it to the sky and earth, and the ancestors will hear it. Your brothers and sisters and your children will hear it, and that is how we will live the moments of transition between the old year and the New Year.

Bell At the beginning of this winter retreat

Transcriptions of Dharma Talks Part 13

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