The Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore

On September 11th, 2014 Thay completed a profound and beautiful new English translation of the Heart Sutra, one of the most important sutras in Mahayana Buddhism.

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The Insight That Brings Us to the Other Shore

Avalokiteshvara
while practicing deeply with
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore,
suddenly discovered that
all of the five Skandhas are equally empty,
and with this realisation
he overcame all Ill-being.

“Listen Shariputra,
this Body itself is Emptiness
and Emptiness itself is this Body.
This Body is not other than Emptiness
and Emptiness is not other than this Body.
The same is true of Feelings,
Perceptions, Mental Formations,
and Consciousness.

“Listen Sariputra,
all phenomena bear the mark of Emptiness;
their true nature is the nature of
no Birth no Death,
no Being no Non-being,
no Defilement no Immaculacy,
no Increasing no Decreasing.

“That is why in Emptiness,
Body, Feelings, Perceptions,
Mental Formations and Consciousness
are not separate self entities.

The Eighteen Realms of Phenomena
which are the six Sense Organs,
the six Sense Objects,
and the six Consciousnesses
are also not separate self entities.

The Twelve Links of Interdependent Arising
and their Extinction
are also not separate self entities.
Ill-being, the Causes of Ill-being,
the End of Ill-being, the Path,
insight and attainment,
are also not separate self entities.

Whoever can see this
no longer needs anything to attain.

Bodhisattvas who practice
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
see no more obstacles in their mind,
and because there
are no more obstacles in their mind,
they can overcome all fear,
destroy all wrong perceptions
and realize Perfect Nirvana.

“All Buddhas in the past, present and future
by practicing
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
are all capable of attaining
Authentic and Perfect Enlightenment.

“Therefore Sariputra,
it should be known that
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore
is a Great Mantra,
the most illuminating mantra,
the highest mantra,
a mantra beyond compare,
the True Wisdom that has the power
to put an end to all kinds of suffering.
Therefore let us proclaim
a mantra to praise
the Insight that Brings Us to the Other Shore.

Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!
Gate, Gate, Paragate, Parasamgate, Bodhi Svaha!”

This new English translation is based on the new Vietnamese translation that Thay made three weeks ago at the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany.

Thay’s full explanation of why he made this new translation.

“The problem begins with the line: ‘Listen Shariputra, because in emptiness, there is no form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness’. How funny! It was previously stated that emptiness is form, and form is emptiness, but now you say the opposite: there is only emptiness, there is no body. This line of the sutra can lead to many damaging misunderstandings. It removes all phenomena from the category ‘being’ and places them into the category of ‘non-being’ (no form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations or consciousness…). Yet the true nature of all phenomena is the nature of no being nor non-being, no birth and no death. The view of ‘being’ is one extreme view and the view of ‘non-being’ is another extreme view..

The Buddha has taught in the Kātyāyana sutra that most people in the world are caught either in the view of being and non-being. Therefore, the sentence ‘in emptiness there is no form, feelings…’ is obviously still caught in the view of non-being. That is why this sentence does not correspond to the Ultimate Truth. Emptiness of self only means the emptiness of self, not the non-being of self, just as a balloon that is empty inside does not mean that the balloon does not exist. The same is true with the emptiness of dharma: it only means the emptiness of all phenomena and not the non-existence of phenomena. It is like a flower that is made only of non-flower elements. The flower is empty of a separate existence, but that doesn’t mean that the flower is not there.

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Right Diligence

Excerpt from a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, June 11, 2009.

I prefer the term right diligence rather than right effort. Making efforts can make you tired, but when you are diligent, you don’t need to be tired.

I don’t want intensive practice, I want regular practice, diligent practice. There are those of us who practice very intensively for a few weeks and then after that abandon the practice. But there are those of us who practice regularly, not intensive but continuously, that will bring good results. That is why I prefer the word diligence.

Why do you continue to do it? Because I like it. That is a good answer. Because I enjoy doing that. That applies to the practice. If you don’t enjoy the practice you have to make an effort, you get tired, and finally you abandon the practice.

You continue to do it because you like it. It is not because you have to do it. Why did you practice sitting meditation. The best answer is: because I like it. Why do you practice walking meditation? Because I like it. . . .

That is true diligence, right diligence. We know that right diligence brings well-being. The practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, smiling, bring well-being, happiness.

The Buddha after his enlightenment continued to practice. So practicing is not to become a Buddha. The Buddha is already a Buddha, why does he have to practice? Because he likes it. He likes breathing like that, he likes walking like that, he likes sitting like that, he likes eating like that, because it brings him well being, not because he wants to become a buddha.

So when you ask the Buddha: Dear Buddha, why do you continue to practice sitting meditation, walking meditation, because you are already a Buddha. Because I like it, not because I want to become a Buddha. So that is the best answer: Because I like it.

But there are those of us who do not practice right diligence. They are very diligent, but their diligence is wrong diligence. Wrong diligence can bring ill-being. They are caught in their work. They become workaholic. They don’t have time to take care of themselves. They don’t have time to take care of their beloved ones. They are sucked into the work. They are caught in their work. They cannot leave their computer.

[Someone like that is] always reading the Wall Street Journal instead of looking at his children. At breakfast, instead of looking and smiling at his children, he holds the Wall Street Journal and hides himself from his family. He is totally caught and sucked into his work. He is very diligent. He wants success as a businessman. He always thinks of the value of his stocks. He goes up and down with his stocks. He is very diligent, but that is not right diligence.

He is working so hard. He is making a lot of effort. He is very diligent in his work. But there is no happiness.

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Nourishing Happiness

Excerpt from “Chanting from the Heart” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Sitting here in this moment, protected by the Sangha,
my happiness is clear and alive.
What a great fortune to have been born a human,
to encounter the Dharma,
to be in harmony of others,
and to water the Mind of Love
in this beautiful garden of practice.
[bell]

The energies of the Sangha and mindfulness trainings
are protecting and helping me not make mistakes
or be swept along in darkness by unwholesome seeds.
With kind spiritual friends, I am on the path of goodness,
illuminated by the light of the Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

Although seeds of suffering are still in me
in the form of afflictions and habit energies,
mindfulness is also there, helping me touch
what is most wonderful within and around me.

I can still enjoy mindfulness of the six senses:
my eyes look peacefully upon the clear blue sky,
my ears listen with wonder to the songs of birds,
my nose smells the rich scent of sandalwood,
my tongue tastes the nectar of the Dharma,
my posture is upright, stable and relaxed,
and my mind is one with my body.

If there were not a World-Honored One,
if there were not the wonderful Dharma,
if there were not a harmonious Sangha,
I would not be so fortunate
to enjoy this Dharma happiness today.

My resources for practice are my own peace and joy.
I vow to cultivate and nourish them with daily mindfulness.
For my ancestors, family, future generations,
and the whole of humanity, I vow to practice well.

In my society I know that there are countless people suffering,
drowned in sensual pleasure, jealousy, and hatred.
I am determined to take care of my own mental formations,
to learn the art of deep listening and using loving speech
in order to encourage communication and understanding
and to be able to accept and love.

Practicing the actions of a bodhisattva,
I vow to look with eyes of love and a heart of understanding.
I vow to listen with a clear mind and ears of compassion,
bringing peace and joy unto the lives of others,
to lighten and alleviate the suffering of living beings.

I am aware that ignorance and wrong perceptions
can turn this world into a fiery hell.I vow to walk always upon the path of transformation,
producing understanding and loving kindness.
I will be able to cultivate a garden of awakening.

Although there are birth, sickness, old age, and death,
now I have a path of practice, I have nothing more to fear.
It is a great happiness to be alive in the Sangha
with the practice of mindfulness trainings and concentration,
to live every moment in stability and freedom
to take part in the work of relieving others’ suffering,
the career of Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.

In each precious moment, I am filled with deep gratitude.
I bow before the World-Honored One.
Please bear witness to my wholehearted gratitude,
embracing all beings with arms of great compassion.
[bell, bell]

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Our True Heritage

The Cosmos is filled with precious gems.
I want to offer a handful of them to you this morning.
Each moment you are alive is a gem,
shining through and containing earth and sky,
water and clouds.

It needs you to breathe gently
for the miracles to be displayed.
Suddenly you hear the birds singing,
the pines chanting,
see the flower blooming,
the blue sky,
the white clouds,
the smile and the marvelous look
of you beloved.

You, the richest person on Earth,
who have been going around begging for a living,
stop being the destitute child.
Come back and claim your heritage.
We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the stream of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.

— Thich Nhat Hanh

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Buddhism in a Nutshell

From Thich Nhat Hanh’s 4 Brahma Vihara posted on “Buddhism in a Nutshell

Thich Nhat Hanh’s 4 Brahma Vihara

LOVE (Sanskrit: MAITRI; Pali: METTA)

The first aspect of true love is maitri, the intention and capacity to offer joy and happiness. To develop that capacity, we have to practise looking and listening deeply so that we know what to do and what not to do to make others happy. If you offer your beloved something she does not need, that is not maitri. You have to see her real situation or what you offer might bring her unhappiness.

In Southeast Asia many people are extremely fond of a large, thorny fruit called durian. You could even say they are addicted to it. Its smell is extremely strong, and when some people finish eating the fruit, they put the skin under their bed so they can continue to smell it. To me, the smell of durian is horrible. One day when I was practising chanting in my temple in Vietnam, there was a durian on the altar that had been offered to the Buddha. I was trying to recite the Lotus Sutra, using a wooden drum and a large bowl-shaped bell for accompaniment, but I could not concentrate at all. I finally carried the bell to the altar and turned it upside down to imprison the durian, so I could chant the sutra. After I finished, I bowed to the Buddha and liberated the durian. If you were to say to me ‘Thay, I love you so much I would like you to eat some of this durian,’ I would suffer. You love me, you want me to be happy, but you force me to eat durian. That is an example of love without understanding. Your intention is good, but you don’t have correct understanding.

Without understanding, your love is not true love. You musk look deeply in order to see and understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the one you love. We all need love. Love brings us joy and well-being. It is as natural as the air. We are loved by the air; we need fresh air to be happy and well. We are loved by trees. We need trees to be healthy. In order to be loved, we have to love, which means we have to understand. For our love to continue, we have to take the appropriate action or non-action to protect the air, the trees, and our beloved.

Maitri can be translated as ‘love’ or ‘loving kindness.’ Some Buddhist teachers prefer ‘loving kindness,’ as they find the word ‘love’ too dangerous. But I prefer the word ‘love.’ Words sometimes get sick and we have to heal them. We have been using the word ‘love’ to mean appetite or desire, as in ‘I love hamburgers.’ We have to use language more carefully. ‘Love is a beautiful word; we have to restore its meaning. The word ‘maitri’ has roots in the word ‘mitra’ which means friend. In Buddhism, the primary meaning of love is friendship.

We all have the seeds of love in us. We can develop this wonderful source of energy, nurturing the unconditional love that does not expect anything in return. When we understand someone deeply, even someone who has done us harm, we cannot resist loving him or her. Shakyamuni Buddha declared that the Buddha of the next eon will be named ‘Maitrya, the Buddha of Love.’

COMPASSION (KARUNA)

The second aspect of true love is karuna, the intention and capacity to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Karuna is usually translated as ‘compassion,’ but that is not exactly correct. ‘Compassion’ is composed of com (‘together with’) and passion (‘to suffer’). But we do not need to suffer to remove suffering from another person. Doctors, for instance, can relieve their patients’ suffering without experiencing the same disease themselves. If we suffer too much, we may be crushed and unable to help. Still, until we find a better word, let us use ‘compassion’ to translate karuna.

To develop compassion in ourselves, we need to practise mindful breathing, deep listening, and deep looking. The Lotus Sutra describes Avalokiteshavara as the bodhisattva who practices ‘looking with eyes of compassion and listening deeply to the cries of the world.’ Compassion contains deep concern. You know the other person is suffering, so you sit close to her. You look and listen deeply to her to be able to touch her pain. You are in deep communication, deep communion with her, and that alone brings some relief.

One compassionate word, action, or thought can reduce another person’s suffering and bring him joy. One word can give him comfort and confidence, destroy doubt, help someone avoid a mistake, reconcile a conflict, or open the door to liberation. One action can save a person’s life or help him take advantage of a rare opportunity. One thought can do the same, because thoughts always lead to words and actions. With compassion in our heart, every thought, word, and deed can bring about a miracle.

When I was a novice, I could not understand why, if the world is filled with suffering, the Buddha has such a beautiful smile. Why isn’t he disturbed by all the suffering? Later I discovered that the Buddha has enough understanding, calm, and strength; that is why the suffering does not overwhelm him. He is able to smile to suffering because he knows to take care of it and to help transform it. We need to be aware of the suffering, but retain our clarity, calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation. The ocean of tears cannot drown us if karuna is there. That is why the Buddha’s smile is possible.

JOY (MUDITA)

The third element of true love is mudita, joy. True love always brings joy to ourselves and to the one we love. If our love does not bring joy to both of us, it is not true love.

Commentators explain that happiness relates to both body and mind, whereas joy relates primarily to mind. This example is often given: Someone traveling in the desert sees a stream of cool water and experiences joy. On drinking the water, he experiences happiness. Ditthadhamma sukhavihara means ‘dwelling happily in the present moment.’ We don’t rush to the future; we know that everything is here in the present moment. Many small things can bring us tremendous joy, such as the awareness that we have eyes in good condition. We just have to open our eyes and we can see the blue sky, the violet flowers, the children, the trees, and so many other kinds of forms and colours. Dwelling in mindfulness, we can touch these wondrous and refreshing things, and our mind of joy arises naturally. Joy contains happiness and happiness contains joy.

Some commentators have said that mudita means ‘sympathetic joy’ or ‘altruistic joy’, the happiness we feel when others are happy. But that is too limited. It discriminates between self and others. A deeper definition of mudita is a joy that is filled with peace and contentment. We rejoice when we see others happy, but we rejoice in our own well-being as well. How can we feel joy for another person when we do not feel joy for ourselves? Joy is for everyone.

EQUANIMITY (Sanskrit: UPEKSHA, Pali: UPEKKHA)

The fourth element of true love is upekkha, which means equanimity, nonattachment, nondiscrimination, evenmindedness, or letting go. Upe means ‘over’, and ksh means ‘to look’. You climb the mountain to be able to look over the whole situation, not bound by one side or the other. If your love has attachment, discrimination, prejudice, or clinging in it, it is not true love. People who do not understand Buddhism sometimes think upeksha means indifference, but true equanimity is neither cold nor indifferent. If you have more than one child, they are all your children. Upeksha does not mean that you don’t love. You love in a way that all your children receive your love, without discrimination.

Upeksha has the mark called samatajnana, ‘the wisdom of equality,’ the ability to see everyone as equal, not discriminating between ourselves and others. In a conflict, even though we are deeply concerned, we remain impartial, able to love and to understand both sides. We shed all discrimination and prejudice, and remove all boundaries between ourselves and others. As long as we see ourselves as the one who loves and the other as the one who is loved, as long as we value ourselves more than others or see ourselves as different from others, we do not have true equanimity. We have to put ourselves ‘into the other person’s skin’ and become one with him if we want to understand and truly love him. When that happens, there is no ‘self’ and no ‘other.’

Without upeksha, your love may become possessive. A summer breeze can be very refreshing; but if we try to put it in a tin can so we can have it entirely for ourselves, the breeze will die. Our beloved is the same. He is like a cloud, a breeze, a flower. If you imprison him in a tin can, he will die. Yet many people do just that. They rob their loved one of his liberty, until he can no longer be himself. They live to satisfy themselves and use their loved one to help them fulfill that. That is not loving; it is destroying. You say you love him, but if you do not understand his aspirations, his needs, his difficulties, he is in a prison called love. True love allows you to preserve your freedom and the freedom of our beloved. That is upeksha.

For true love to be true love, it must contain compassion, joy and equanimity. For compassion to be true compassion, it has to have love, joy, and equanimity in it. True joy has to contain love, compassion, and equanimity. And true equanimity has to have love, compassion and joy in it. This is the interbeing nature of the Four Immeasurable Mind. When the Buddha told the Brahman man to practise the Four Immeasurable Minds, he was offering all of us a very important teaching. But we must look deeply and practise them for ourselves to bring these four aspects of love into our own lives and into the lives of those we love.

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Metta means Loving Kindness

Excerpt from “Happiness” by Thich Nhat Hanh

This is a love meditation adapted from the Visuddhimagga (The Path of Purification) by Buddhaghosa, a fifth-century C.E. systematization of the Buddha’s teachings.

May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
May I be safe and free of injury.
May I be free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

May I learn to look at myself with eyes of understanding and love.
May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.

May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
May I be free of attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.

Begin practicing this love meditation on yourself (“I”).  Until you are able to love and take care of yourself, you cannot be of much help to others. After that, practice on others (May he/she/they be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.) — first on some you like like, then on someone neutral to you, then on someone you love, and finally on someone the mere thought of whom makes you suffer.

The willingness to love is not yet love. We look deeply, with all our being, in order to understand. We don’t just repeat the words, or imitate others, or strive after some ideal. The practice of love meditation is not auto-suggestion. We don’t just say, “I love myself. I love all beings.” We look deeply at our body, our feelings, our perceptions, our mental formations, and our consciousness, and in just a few weeks, our aspiration to love will become a deep intention. Love will enter our thoughts, our words, and our actions, and we will notice that we have become peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit, safe and free from injury, and free from anger, afflictions, fear, and anxiety.

By practicing mindful living, we are able to deal with all the unwholesome, negative states of mind that dwell in us and rob us of our peace an happiness. Our love is translated into effective action.

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Nothing is Born, Nothing Dies

Excerpt from “No Death, No Fear” by Thich Nhat Hanh

A French scientist, whose name is Lavosier, declared, “Rien ne se cree, rien ne se perd.” “Nothing is born, nothing dies.” Although he did not practice as a Buddhist but as a scientist, he found the same truth the Buddha discovered.

Our true nature is the nature of no birth and no death. Only when we touch our true nature can we transcend the fear of non-being, the fear of annihilation.

The Buddha said that when conditions are sufficient something manifests and we say it exists. When one or two conditions fail and the thing does not manifest in the same way, we then say it does not exist. According to the Buddha, to qualify something as existing or not existing is wrong. In reality, there is no such thing as totally existing or totally not existing.

We can see this very easily with television and radio. We may be in a room that has no television or radio. And while we are in that room, we may think that television programs and radio programs do not exist in that room. But all of us know that the space in the room is full of signals. The signals of these programs are filling the air everywhere. We need only one more condition, a radio or television set, and may forms, colors and sounds will appear.

It would have been wrong to say that the signals do not exist because we did not have a radio or television to receive and manifest them. They only seemed not to exist because the causes and conditions were not enough to make the television program manifest. So at that moment, in that room, they do not exist. Just because we do not perceive something, it is not correct to say it doesn’t exist. It is only our notion of being and non-being that makes us think something exists or doesn’t exist. Notions of being and non-being cannot be applied to reality.

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