Why the Buddha Kept Meditating

Excerpt from “No Mud, No Lotus: The Art of Transforming Suffering” by Thich Nhat Hanh.

When I was a young monk, I wondered why the Buddha kept practicing mindfulness and meditation even after he had already become a Buddha. Now I find the answer is plain enough to see. Happiness is impermanent, like everything else. In order for happiness to be extended and renewed, you have to learn how to feed your happiness. Nothing can survive without food, including happiness; your happiness can die if you don’t know how to nourish it. If you cut a flower but you don’t put it in some water, the flower will wilt in a few hours.

Even if happiness is already manifesting, we have to continue to nourish it. This is sometimes called conditioning, and it’s very important. We can condition our bodies and minds to happiness with the five practices of letting go, inviting positive seeds, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

  1. LETTING GO

The first method of creating joy and happiness is to cast off, to leave behind. There is a kind of joy that comes from letting go. Many of us are bound to so many things. We believe these things are necessary for our survival, our security, and our happiness. But many of these things—or more precisely, our beliefs about their utter necessity—are really obstacles for our joy and happiness.

If you come to look deeply into your fearful attachment, you will realize that it is in fact the very obstacle to your joy and happiness. You have the capacity to let it go. Letting go takes a lot of courage sometimes. But once you let go, happiness comes very quickly. You won’t have to go around searching for it.

  1. INVITING POSITIVE SEEDS

We each have many kinds of “seeds” lying deep in our consciousness. Those we water are the ones that sprout, come up into our awareness, and manifest outwardly.

One way of taking care of our suffering is to invite a seed of the opposite nature to come up. As nothing exists without its opposite, if you have a seed of arrogance, you have also a seed of compassion. Every one of us has a seed of compassion. If you practice mindfulness of compassion every day, the seed of compassion in you will become strong. You need only concentrate on it and it will come up as a powerful zone of energy.

Naturally, when compassion comes up, arrogance goes down. You don’t have to fight it or push it down. We can selectively water the good seeds and refrain from watering the negative seeds. This doesn’t mean we ignore our suffering; it just means that we allow the positive seeds that are naturally there to get attention and nourishment.

  1. MINDFULNESS-BASED JOY

Mindfulness helps us not only to get in touch with suffering, so that we can embrace and transform it, but also to touch the wonders of life, including our own body. Then breathing in becomes a delight, and breathing out can also be a delight. You truly come to enjoy your breathing.

Mindfulness is an energy you can generate all day long through your practice. You can wash your dishes in mindfulness. You can cook your dinner in mindfulness. You can mop the floor in mindfulness. And with mindfulness you can touch the many conditions of happiness and joy that are already available. You are a real artist. You know how to create joy and happiness any time you want. This is the joy and the happiness born from mindfulness.

  1. CONCENTRATION

Concentration is born from mindfulness. Concentration has the power to break through, to burn away the afflictions that make you suffer and to allow joy and happiness to come in.

To stay in the present moment takes concentration. Worries and anxiety about the future are always there, ready to take us away. We can see them, acknowledge them, and use our concentration to return to the present moment.

When we have concentration, we have a lot of energy. We don’t get carried away by visions of past suffering or fears about the future. We dwell stably in the present moment so we can get in touch with the wonders of life, and generate joy and happiness.

  1. INSIGHT

With mindfulness, we recognize the tension in our body, and we want very much to release it, but sometimes we can’t. What we need is some insight.

Insight is seeing what is there. It is the clarity that can liberate us from afflictions such as jealousy or anger, and allow true happiness to come. Every one of us has insight, though we don’t always make use of it to increase our happiness.

We may know, for example, that something (a craving, or a grudge) is an obstacle for our happiness, that it brings us anxiety and fear. We know this thing is not worth the sleep we’re losing over it. But still we go on spending our time and energy obsessing about it. We’re like a fish who has been caught once before and knows there’s a hook inside the bait; if the fish makes use of that insight, he won’t bite, because he knows he’ll get caught by the hook.

Often, we just bite onto our craving or grudge, and let the hook take us. We get caught and attached to these situations that are not worthy of our concern. If mindfulness and concentration are there, then insight will be there and we can make use of it to swim away, free.

 

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The Soul, Like the Moon

Taken from PARABOLA, Volume 30, No. 3, Fall 2005: “Body and Soul.”

The soul, like the moon,
is new, and always new again.

And I have seen the ocean
continuously creating.

Since I scoured my mind
and my body, I too, Lalla
am new, each moment new.

My teacher told me one thing,
Live in the soul.

When that was so,
I began to go naked,
and dance.

—Lal Ded, 14th century, Kashmir. Translated by Coleman Barks from “Naked Songs,” published by MayPop Books, 1992.

 

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If we open our eyes, we will see.

Excerpt from “Fragrant Palm Leaves” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Subject and object of consciousness cannot exist apart from each other.  Without an object, the subject cannot be aware of anything.  Mountains and rivers, earth and sun, all lie within the heart of consciousness.  When that realization arises, time and space dissolve.  Cause and effect, birth and death, all vanish.  Though we dwell a hundred thousand light years from a star, we can cross that distance in a flash.  The saints of the past can return to the present in a microsecond, their presence as vivid as a bright flame.

You are there, because I am here.  We inter-are.  If we do not exist, nothing exists.  Subject and object, host and guest, are a part of each other.  I knew that when morning came, I would not find anything new or unusual about the visual world.  The blue sky in the west and the pink horizon in the east exist only in my consciousness.  Blue does not have a separate life, nor does pink.  They are only blue and pink in my consciousness.

It is the the same with birth and death, same and different, coming and going.  These are all images in our consciousness.  If you look into my eyes, you will see yourself.  If you are radiant, my eyes will be radiant.  If you are miraculous, my consciousness will be miraculous.  If you are distant and remote, I will be distant and remote.  Look into my eyes and you will know if your universe is bright or dark, infinite or finite, mortal or immortal.

Let us welcome impermanence and non-self.  There is no need to seek a Pure Land somewhere else.  We only need to lift our heads and see the moon and stars.  The essential quality is awareness.  If we open our eyes, we will see.

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The Radical Power of Humility

Excerpt from The Radical Power of Humility –by Nipun Mehta, Jul 07, 2015

The question is no longer if we can afford our humility, but rather can we really afford our own arrogance?

Without humility, our overblown sense of entitlement disconnects us. It increases narcissism and reduces empathy. That may be good for the economy but certainly not for societal well-being. A couple of months ago I was in Bhutan with the folks who implemented Gross National Happiness, and from them I learned about some remarkable research at the University of Michigan. It turns out that ever since 1980, our empathy levels have been gradually dropping, but in 2000, they suddenly plummeted 40 percent. Forty! Not surprisingly, a Gallup report just released last week reported that the US has dropped from 12th position to number 23 on the global well-being index. It’s a strange paradox, we are at the same time, more self-centered than ever, and less happy and healthy for it.

With humility, though, we can give birth to a whole new story.

Humility is seen as a sign of weakness, in today’s culture, when, in reality, it is the gateway for an unparalleled and profound strength.

We see examples of this across all wisdom traditions. In Sikhism, Guru Arjan Dev, the fifth of their ten gurus, offered this credo to all the warriors: “Humility is my mace; becoming the dust of everybody’s feet is my sword. No evil can withstand that.” Jesus Christ washed the feet of his disciples, the 12 apostles, and then adds, “Know ye what I have? I have given you an example.” At another point, he explicitly states, “Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. For whoever exalts himself will be humbled, and whoever humbles himself will be exalted.” In Jainism, as you all know, there is the powerful practice of Micchami Dukkadam on the last day of the holy Paryushan period, where Jains actively seek and offer forgiveness: “If I have caused you offense in any way, knowingly or unknowingly, in thought, word or deed, then I seek your forgiveness.” Every year, on this day, I receive many such emails from Jain friends. Simply being on the receiving end is such a humbling feeling, that I can only imagine what it means to be on the other end.

The first doorway is the power of many.

In the absence of humility, we forget the shoulders that we stand on, and foolishly begin to take singular credit for what we’re doing. I remember my mom telling me a parable from the Mahabharata. A dog is traveling on Krishna’s chariot, and lo and behold, when the dog wagged its tail to the right, the chariot turned to the right. And when he wagged it left, the chariot turned to the left. It was an example of correlation, not causation, and it would have been nothing short of ludicrous for the dog to actually believe it was controlling the chariot with its tail. Yet, that is precisely how our arrogance deceives us. We forget that behind each one of us lies an invisible stream of conditions that supports our every move.

The second doorway that humility opens is the power of one.

Last year, I had the pleasure of spending some time with Francois Pienaar, a rugby legend who was very close to Nelson Mandela — and famously played by Matt Damon in the movie Invictus. As he shared many personal encounters with Mandela, the thing that struck me was how practically every story spoke to Mandela’s humility.

One of the most pivotal moments in Francois’s life came when he visited Mandela’s jail cell on Robben Island. Holding his arms out, he said, “This is what how much space he lived in, for 27 straight years. I grew up thinking he was a terrorist. All Afrikaners did. And yet he come out of jail with an open heart that can hold everyone.” Indeed, Mandela’s first words, after being released from jail: “I stand here before you not as a prophet, but a humble servant.” Humble. Servant.

The third, and subtlest, doorway of humility is the power of zero.

I recently met a 96 year old Sufi saint named Dada Vaswani. He has a great many followers around the world, is highly respected by monks and nuns from various traditions, and radiates a profound sense of peace. I was deeply grateful to meet him. But his first words to me were, “I’m so grateful to have met you.” It wasn’t just a pleasantry, he really meant it. And it wasn’t because he thought I was special — he just knew that everyone is special. Because everyone is connected to everything, and the whole show is sacred.

To probe into this idea of being an instrument, of being zero, I asked him about Bodhisattvas. Similar to Jinas in Jainism, Buddhists define Bodhisattvas as beings who forsake their own liberation for the sake of others. He paused for moment, locked eyes with mine and recited a poem by Shantideva. One deliberate word after another.

May I be a guard for those who need protection,
A guide for those on the path,
A boat, a raft, a bridge for those who wish to cross the flood.
May I be a lamp in the darkness,
A resting place for the weary,
A healing medicine for all who are sick,
A vase of plenty, a tree of miracles;
And for the boundless multitudes of living beings,
May I bring sustenance and awakening,
Enduring like the earth and sky
Until all beings are freed from sorrow,
And all are awakened.

When our gifts to the world are draped in such humility and reverence, an unspeakable thunder roars behind those rain drops. And this is precisely what Jainism invites us to do. Bow to all life, Ahimsa; bow to others points of view, Anekantvad; bow to our inter-connection, Aparigraha.

When we bow to all that is, we reframe our understanding of success and accomplishment. We discover that everyone is good at something. That anyone can find greatness in giving, and that each is connected to all. We know then that our job is simply to be like the sparrow, and do our little bit to hold up the sky. Like my young friend who broke a piece of bread and offered up that bite, may we always strive to serve one another in small ways. And to hold a piece of each others’ prayers.

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Transform Our Fears First

Excerpt from Mindfulness and Meditation  post To Make Reconciliation Possible by Thich Nhat Hanh

 All of us have heard about the event in Newtown. A young man went to a school and killed a lot of children and teachers. After the event, Obama tried to make the kind of law that limits the right to buy guns. That can be helpful, but will not by itself resolve the underlying issue, which is the violence and anger in the people. Can Congress make some kind of law that can help remove the fear, anger, and violence in the younger generation?

I think people buy guns not because they genuinely like guns per se, but because they’re afraid and they want to protect themselves. So the main, driving issue is not nuclear weapons or guns, it’s fear. When the United States and South Korea put forth a condition for peace negotiations that says, “We will negotiate only on the condition that you stop testing nuclear weapons,” something is not right with that kind of policy. If Iran or North Korea are trying to make nuclear weapons, it’s not because they really like doing it, but because they have a lot of fear. To begin negotiations may help a little bit to reduce that fear. But I don’t think it’s helpful to put forth that condition.

In a relationship, if reconciliation seems to be difficult, it’s not because the two people aren’t willing to reconcile; it’s because the amount of anger, fear, and suspicion in each person is already too big. You can’t say that the other person doesn’t want to reconcile. She wants to reconcile, but it’s because she still has a lot of anger, fear, and suspicion that you haven’t been able to reconcile with her. According to our experience of practice, if you want to help someone reduce their fear, anger, and suspicion, you first have to practice in order to reduce the amount of fear, anger, and suspicion in yourself.

In Busan, South Korea, I gave a talk called “Peace Is Possible” to a crowd of eleven thousand people. The monks who helped organize the public talk asked me to announce a prayer ceremony that would happen in the month of September. They planned to have something like fifty thousand people attending this ceremony of prayer for the sake of reconciliation between the North and the South. I told the crowd that to pray is not enough. You have to practice, you have to organize a session of practice that might last a month or so in order to help remove the amount of fear, anger, and suspicion on both sides. That huge energy of fear, anger, and suspicion exists not only in the North, but also in the South. You should convene the kind of retreat to which wise people are invited to come and practice compassionate listening. You should allow people to come and express their suffering, their fear, their anger, their suspicion. We should look deeply into the block of suffering that we have in the South. Because of that amount of anger, fear, and suspicion, we have said things and done things that have given the North the impression that we want to be aggressive and take over the North.

The North has a huge fear of being destroyed, and they have the desire to survive. If the South can practice listening to her own suffering, fear, anger, and suspicion, then the South can transform that and heal, and will be in a position to help the North to do the same. Otherwise, everything you try to do to help the North will be misunderstood.

Suppose you want to send the North a large shipment of grain and other foods, saying that the North needs a lot of food for the poor people to survive. You are motivated by the good intention to help the population of the North not to die of hunger. But the North may see it as an attempt to discredit them, as saying that the North isn’t capable of feeding its own population. Anything you do or say can be distorted and create more anger, fear, and suspicion. Our political leaders haven’t been trained in the art of helping to remove fear, anger, and suspicion.

That is why we have to call for help from those of us who are spiritual, who are compassionate, who know how to listen, and who know how to transform fear, anger, and suspicion in ourselves.

When fear and anger become a collective energy, it’s so dangerous, and a war can break out at any time.

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Generosity is Letting Go

Excerpt from OnBeing blog post: THE REAL POWER OF GENEROSITY by Sharon Salzberg

When we think about generosity, most of us probably don’t think immediately of a powerful force, an inner resource, a real tool for changing how we relate to ourselves , to others and to our world.

Instead, we may think of it similarly to how we think of kindness or compassion — qualities that are gentle, tender, potentially self-effacing — and, as a big misconception, more aligned with weakness than strength. Largely this is because, culturally, we think of generosity purely in terms of the act of giving something up for someone else. This dynamic, by definition, implies at least some degree of self-sacrifice.

Generosity is more than just “giving up.” Generosity generates its power from the gesture of letting go. Being able to give to others shows us our ability to let go of attachments that otherwise can limit our beliefs and our experiences. It might be in our nature to think, “That object is mine for X, Y or Z reason.” But that thought can simply dissolve. This doesn’t just happen passively; we choose to let it through the cultivation of generosity. It is in that choice to dissolve that we carry ourselves to a state of greater freedom.

Our attachments might want to put a cap on our generosity and say, “I will give this much and no more,” or “I will give this article or object if I am appreciated enough for this act of giving.” But it is through the practice of generosity that we learn to see through the attachments, and create space for ourselves.

This doesn’t mean generosity eradicates all attachment automatically or immediately. When we practice the act of simply observing our attachments through acts of generosity, they loosen. They become less opaque, less solid. In that place, we can find greater spaciousness in our minds and tap into a greater sense of inner happiness.

From there, we can continue a deep investigation, cultivating further strength and flexibility to look at everything in our experience this way.  In other words, generosity can make us happier!

The idea that we benefit from being generous may seem like a strange thing to think about. Does that knowledge somehow taint our generous actions, making them corrupted and selfish? No. I think it’s OK to practice generosity knowing that it is beneficial to ourselves as well as to the recipient. It’s not selfishness, it’s an honest recognition that love and generosity creates an exchange of positive energy, and fuels further love and generosity.

I’m asked this all the time by meditation students who want to create better lives for themselves as well as others, but who feel a little squeamish when thinking about bolstering their own happiness through giving. I commonly respond with, “Seeing how the universe operates, having a sense of conditionality and cause and effect, that generosity brings happiness to the giver, isn’t selfish — it’s science!”

Our tendency is to look at other people around us and see them as “other,” that they are fundamentally disconnected from us. It’s self-protective but also keeps us at arms length from others and ourselves. Thinking of the world in this dualistic way causes us to feel a tighter grip on our habitual thoughts that tend to inform the way we act and define ourselves.

The most common problem happens when we act generously along with feeling a strong expectation for our offering to be received by another in a particular way: I want to give you that present because it will make you like me, or, I will bring my coworker a coffee so that she will say something nice about me to our boss. By contrast, a nourishing generosity emerges when we give without the need for our offering to be received in a certain way, perhaps wishing to be recognized or validated, but not needing it. When generosity lets go of these kinds of expectations, it is a movement toward freedom. That is how and why generosity can be a force, a resource, a tool.

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Three Earth Touchings

I
Touching the Earth, I connect with ancestors and descendants of of my spiritual, heart, and blood families.

( Bell)

(All touch the earth)
(Read slowly, with a pause after each paragraph to allow for reflection)

My spiritual ancestors include the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, the noble Sangha of Buddha’s disciples.

They include Jesus and Mary Immaculate; the Jewish prophets and the Hasidic masters; Mohammed and the Sufi masters, the incarnations of Brahma, Vishnu, and Shiva, and the many other wise and courageous women and men who have shown us the way.

My spiritual ancestors include my own spiritual teachers still alive or already passed away. They are present in me because they have transmitted to me seeds of peace, wisdom, love, and happiness. They have woken up in me my resource of understanding and compassion.

When I look at my spiritual ancestors, I see those who are perfect in the practice of the mindfulness trainings, understanding, and compassion, and those who are still imperfect. I accept them all because I see within myself shortcomings and weaknesses. Aware that my practice of the mindfulness trainings is not always perfect, and that I am not always as understanding and compassionate as I would like to be, I open my heart and accept all my spiritual descendants and all those whose lives I touch in my daily life. Some practice the mindfulness trainings, understanding, and compassion in a way which invites confidence and respect, but there are also those who come across many difficulties and are constantly subject to ups and downs in their practice and in their lives.

In the same way, I accept all my ancestors on my mother’s side and my father’s side of the family. I accept all their good qualities and their virtuous actions, and I also accept all their weaknesses. I open my heart and accept all my relatives, my descendants, and my friends and acquaintances, with their good qualities, their talents, and also their weaknesses.

My ancestors my descendants, my friends and my loved ones, are all part of me. I am them and they are me. I do not have a separate self. All exist as part of a wonderful stream of life which is constantly moving.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
(Bell)
(All stand up)

II
Touching the Earth, I connect with all people and all species that are alive at this moment in this world with me.

(Bell)
(All touch the earth)

I am one with the wonderful pattern of life that radiates out in all directions. I see the close connection between myself and others, how we share happiness and suffering.

I am one with those who were born disabled or who have become disabled because of war, accident, or illness. I am one with those who are caught in a situation of war or oppression. I am one with those who find no happiness in family life, who have no roots and no peace of mind, who are hungry for understanding and love, and who are looking for something beautiful, wholesome, and true to embrace and to believe in.

I am someone at the point of death who is very afraid and does not know what is going to happen. I am a child who lives in a place where there is miserable poverty and disease, whose legs and arms are like sticks and who has no future. I am also the manufacturer of bombs that are sold to poor countries. I am the frog swimming in the pond and I am also the snake who needs the body of the frog to nourish its own body. I am the caterpillar or the ant that the bird is looking for to eat, but I am also the bird that is looking for the caterpillar or the ant. I am the forest that is being cut down. I am the rivers and the air that are being polluted, and I am also the person who cuts down the forest and pollutes the rivers and the air. I see myself in all species, and I see all species in me.

I am one with the great beings who have realized the truth of no-birth and no-death and are able to look at the forms of birth and death, happiness and suffering with calm eyes. I am one with those people, who can be found a little bit everywhere, who have sufficient peace of mind, understanding and love to be able to touch what is wonderful, nourishing and healing, and who also have the capacity to embrace the world with a heart of love and arms of caring action.

I am someone who has enough peace, joy and freedom to offer fearlessness and joy to living beings around me. I see that I am not lonely and cut off. The love and the happiness of great beings on this planet help me not to sink in despair. They help me to live my life in a meaningful way with true peace and happiness. I see them all in me and I see myself in all of them.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
(Bell)
(All stand up)

III
Touching the Earth, I let go of my idea that I am this body and my life span is limited.

( Bell)
(All touch the earth)

I see that this body, made up of the four elements, is not really me and I am not limited by this body. I am part of a stream of life of spiritual, heart, and blood ancestors that for thousands of years has been flowing into the present and flows on for thousands of years into the future.

I am one with my ancestors. I am one with my descendants. I am life manifested in numberless different forms. I am one with all people and all species, whether they are peaceful and fearless, or suffering and afraid. At this very moment, I am present everywhere on this planet. I am also present in the past and in the future.

The disintegration of this body does not touch me, just as when the plum blossom falls it does not mean the end of the plum tree. I see myself as a wave on the surface of the ocean. My nature is the ocean water. I see myself in all the other waves and see all the other waves in me. The appearance and disappearance of the form of the wave does not affect the ocean. My Dharma body and wisdom life are not subject to birth and death.

I see the presence of myself before my body manifested and after my body has disintegrated. Even in this moment, I see how I exist elsewhere than in this body. Seventy or eighty years is not my life span. My life span, like the life span of a leaf or of a Buddha, is limitless. I have gone beyond the idea that I am a body that is separated in space and time from all other forms of life.

(Pause for 5 to 10 breaths)
( Bell)
(All stand up)

(Bell — standing bow to conclude the Touchings of the Earth.)

(Invite everyone to return to their places and form a circle for the discussion.)

 

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