No Goal

Excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh “The Doors of Liberation” published in May 2004 issue of Shambhala Sun 

The third door of liberation is aimlessness. Aimlessness means you don’t put anything in front of you as the object of your pursuit. What you are looking for is not outside of you; it is already here. You already are what you want to become.

Concentrating on aimlessness releases your longing and craving for something in the future and elsewhere. You may be running all your life instead of living it. You may
be running after happiness, love, romance, success, or enlightenment.

Concentrating on aimlessness consists of removing the object of your pursuit, your goal. If you are running after nirvana, you should know that nirvana is already there in yourself
and in everything. If you are running after the Buddha, be aware that the Buddha is already in you. If you are seeking happiness, be aware that happiness is available in the here and now.

This insight helps you stop running. Only when you stop running can you get the fulfillment and happiness you have been looking for.

A wave doesn’t have to go and look for water. It is water right in the here and now. A cedar tree doesn’t have any desire to be a pine or a cypress or even a bird. It’s a wonderful
manifestation of the cosmos just as it is.

You are the manifestation of the cosmos. You are wonderful just like that.

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Beyond Environment

“Not to cut the tree, not to pollute the water, that is not enough. I think all activists have to adopt a spiritual practice in order to help them suffer less, to nourish the happiness in them, and to handle the suffering in them so that they will be effective in trying to help the world, the people. With anger and frustration, you cannot do much, you might make the situation worse…The healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth…”

“Our century should be a century of spirituality, whether we can survive or not depends on it.”

–Interview talk By Thich Nhat Hanh in December of 2011 at Plum Village

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No Subject, No Object

Excerpt from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh

In the Sutra of Mindfulness, Buddha always uses the phrasing “mindfulness of feeling in
feeling, mindfulness of mind in mind.” Some have said that the Buddha used this phrasing
in order to put emphasis on such words as feeling and mind, but I don’t think they have
fully grasped the Buddha’s intention.

Mindfulness of feeling in feeling is mindfulness of feeling directly while experiencing feeling, and certainly not contemplation of some image of feeling which one creates to give feeling some objective, separate existence of its own outside of oneself. Descriptive words make it sound like a riddle or paradox or tongue twister: mindfulness of feeling in feeling is the mind experiencing mindfulness of the mind in the mind. The objectivity of an outside observer to examine something is the method of science, but it is not the method of meditation.

When I mentioned the guard at the emperor’s gate, perhaps you imagined a front corridor with two doors, one entrance and one exit, with your mind as the guard. Whatever
feeling or thought enters, you are aware of its entrance, and when it leaves, you are aware of its exit. But the image has a shortcoming: it suggests that those who enter and exit the corridor are different from the guard. In fact our thoughts and feelings are us. They are a part of ourselves. There is a temptation to look upon them, or at least some of them, as an enemy force which is trying to disturb the concentration and understanding of your mind.

But, in fact, when we are angry, we ourselves are anger. When we are happy, we ourselves are happiness. When we have certain thoughts, we are those thoughts. We are both the guard and the visitor at the same time. We are both the mind and the observer of the mind. Therefore, chasing away or dwelling on any thought isn’t the important
thing. The important thing is to be aware of the thought. This observation is not an objectification of the mind: it does not establish distinction between subject and object.

Mind does not grab on to mind; mind does not push mind away. Mind can only observe itself. This observation isn’t an observation of some object outside and independent of the observer. Thus the image of the guard and the visitor fails to illustrate adequately the mindful observation of mind.

The mind is like a monkey swinging from branch to branch through a forest, says the Sutra. In order not to lose sight of the monkey by some sudden movement, we must watch the monkey constantly and even to be one with it. Mind contemplating mind is like an object and its shadow-the object cannot shake the shadow off. The two are one. Wherever the mind goes, it still lies in the harness of the mind. The Sutra sometimes uses the expression “Bind the monkey” to refer to taking hold of the mind. But the monkey image is only a means of expression.

Once the mind is directly and continually aware of itself, it is no longer like a monkey. There are not two minds, one which swings from branch to branch and another which follows after to bind it with a piece of rope. The person who practices meditation
usually hopes to see into his or her own nature in order to obtain awakening. But if you are
just beginning, don’t wait to “see into your own nature.” Better yet, don’t wait for anything.
Especially don’t wait to see the Buddha or any version of “ultimate reality” while you’re sitting.

In the first six months, try only to build up your power of concentration, to create an inner
calmness and serene joy. You will shake off anxiety, enjoy total rest, and quiet your mind. You will be refreshed and gain a broader, clearer view of things, and deepen and strengthen the love in yourself. And you will be able to respond more helpfully to all around you.

Sitting in meditation is nourishment for your spirit and nourishment for your body, as
well. Through sitting, our bodies obtain harmony, feel lighter, and are more at peace. The
path from the observation of your mind to seeing into your own nature won’t be too rough. Once you are able to quiet your mind, once your feelings and thoughts no longer disturb you, at that point your mind will begin to dwell in mind. Your mind will take hold of mind in a direct and wondrous way which no longer differentiates between subject and object.

Drinking a cup of tea, the seeming distinction between the one who drinks and the tea being drunk evaporates. Drinking a cup of tea becomes a direct and wondrous experience in which the distinction between subject and object no longer exists.

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Half-smile Exercises in Mindfulness

Excerpt from “The Miracle of Mindfulness” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Half-smile when you first wake up in the morning
Hang a branch, any other sign, or even the word “smile” on the ceiling or wall so that you  see it right away when you open your eyes. This sign will serve as your reminder. Use these
seconds before you get out of bed to take hold of your breath. Inhale and exhale three breaths gently while maintaining the half smile. Follow your breaths.

Half-smile during your free moments
Anywhere you find yourself sitting or standing, half-smile. Look at a child, a leaf, a painting on the wall, anything which is relatively still, and smile. Inhale and exhale quietly three times. Maintain the half smile and consider the spot of your attention as your own true nature. Half-smile while listening to music. Listen to a piece of music for two or three
minutes. Pay attention to the words, music, rhythm, and sentiments. Smile while watching
your inhalations and exhalations.

Half-smile when irritated
When you realize you’re irritated, half-smile at once. Inhale and exhale quietly, maintaining the half smile for three breaths.

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Compassionate Activism

Excerpt from Buddhistdoor Global (BDG) post on 12-29-2017

Sister Chan Khong, the eldest monastic member of the Plum Village community established by the influential Zen Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh and one of his closest collaborators and students, has written an open letter to Myanmar’s de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi, appealing for compassionate action and an urgent review of the decision by the authorities to detain two Reuters journalists. The reporters, both Myanmar nationals, were covering the humanitarian crisis in the country’s northern Rakhine State, in which an estimated 655,000 Rohingya Muslims have fled an aggressive military crackdown.

Journalists Wa Lone, 31, and Kyaw Soe Oo, 27, were detained on 12 December after meeting police officers offering information, and have been charged with violating the country’s Official Secrets Act, which carries a prison sentence of up to 14 years. Myanmar’s Ministry of Information has said the two men “illegally acquired information with the intention to share it with foreign media.” (Reuters) On Wednesday, the pair were remanded in custody for a further 14 days as the investigation continues. Reuters has called for their release, insisting that the pair were only doing their jobs.

In a heartfelt message, Sister Chan Khong implored State Counselor Suu Kyi and President U Htin Kyaw to reconsider the detention of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo from the perspective of the Buddhist teachings and to act out of compassion, emphasizing the innately flawed nature of human perception:

The Buddha taught that whenever we see something, and whenever we hear something, we have the impression that we can see the object of our perceptions truly and accurately; we are sure that our perceptions are 100% correct. But, according to the teachings of the Buddha, human perceptions are, in fact, only partially correct. Perceptions may be correct in some respects, yet incomplete or incorrect in other respects(Plum Village)

Citing Buddhist parables and her own experiences during the Vietnam War as examples of how an incomplete view of reality warps one’s perceptions, Sister Chan Khong gently urged Myanmar’s leaders to consider that the authorities may have a inaccurate perspective of the two journalists:

Dear Bodhisattva Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, dear Honorable President of Myanmar U Htin Kyaw. I beg you to reconsider your perceptions of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. I do not seek to judge or condemn you. As a humble nun, spiritual daughter of Thich Nhat Hanh, I invite you to return to your breathing, touching the serenity that is there as you breathe in, and the clarity that is there as you breathe out. . . .

Please do not misperceive me; I am not condemning you or your decisions. Perhaps in one or two days you will be glad that you did not misjudge such beloved beautiful sons of Myanmar as Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo. We know that you love all the peoples of Myanmar, but that the complex situation prevents you from acting as the Buddha in you might wish. I write this letter not to judge you but to touch the Peaceful Buddha, the Great Compassionate Bodhisattva in you, so that loving kindness can blossom in you and you can overcome the obstacles that have been blocking you. (Plum Village)

Complete letter available on Plum Village website:

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Writing Love Letters

Excerpt from “EHS Ideas Book” by Earth Holder Sangha

“We know how to write strong letters of protest, but we must also learn to write love letters to our President and Representatives, demonstrating the kind of understanding and using the kind of language they will appreciate. To love is to understand. We cannot express love to someone unless we understand him or her. If we do not understand our President or Congressperson we cannot write him or her a love letter.”

–Love In Action, Thich Nhat Hanh, 1993.

The Plum Village Tradition was founded during the Vietnam war. In that time of great suffering, our teacher offered visions of peace to both sides of the conflict through many writings. The emphasis was always on unity, and interbeing. “Man is not our enemy”. In
Love in Action, Thay wrote, “Every action for peace requires someone to exhibit the courage to challenge the violence and inspire love. People are happy to read a good letter in which we share our insights and our understanding. When they receive that
kind of letter, they feel understood and they will pay attention to your recommendations.”

Should we be writing love letters? Is that not too political?

The Tenth Mindfulness Training reminds us that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, and that we are to be determined not to use the Buddhist community as a political instrument. The Training continues, however, “ As members of a spiritual Community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and Injustice. We should strive to change the situation without taking sides in a conflict”. The Ninth Training also calls us to truthful and loving speech: “We will do our best to speak out about situations of Injustice even when doing so may cause difficulties for us or threaten our safety”.

What are the Skillful Means in writing Love Letters?

There are two main forms of Love Letters that we might write: A) Letters to the Editor (LTEs); and B) Letters to our government officials.

In both cases, the primary skillful means for communicating in the voice of the Plum Village tradition are: understanding, compassion, and equanimity. Most important is that we are at peace within ourselves, even within the face of anger and conflict. It may also be helpful, before beginning to write, to meditate. Of great benefit might be the Metta (loving-kindness) meditation. We offer ourselves peace and ease in the moment, and also offer
loving-kindness and aspirations to those to whom we are writing.

Love Letters to Government Officials

Some Skillful Means for writing include:
 Clarity in the Subject reference for the letter
 Beginning with sincere “flower watering” and gratitude for the
service of the official
 Acknowledging the concern and issue at hand, and
expressing its impacts and implications.
 Speaking to the spiritual practices and principles of our
tradition as they relate to the subject, e.g. Interbeing; Do no
harm; Right Action.
 Reference all sources of statistics and information, for
example. “according to the National Academy of Sciences…”
 Request, rather than demand, specific action from the official
 Close with a Thank You and offer of your support

Letters to the Editor (LTE)

Government officials and policy-makers need the support of the public, particularly on controversial decisions. Letters to the Editor supporting strong ethical and moral reasons for specific decisions are very helpful to policymakers. Many citizens may also need to
hear our voice. All of the skillful means already mentioned also apply to Letters to the Editor but the limitation of space in magazines and articles also demands brevity and a clearer statement of opinion.

Here are some additional tips as offered by Interfaith Power & Light:Tips on How to Write a Good Letter to the Editor

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Nourishing Diligence through Joy and Interest.

Excerpt from “The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching” by Thich Nhat Hanh

Right Diligence (samyak pradhana), or Right Effort, is the kind of energy that helps us realize the Noble Eightfold Path. If we are diligent for possessions, sex, or food, that is wrong diligence. If we work round-the-clock for profit or fame or to run away from our suffering, that is wrong diligence also. From outside, it may appear that we are diligent, but it is not Right Diligence.

The same can be true of our meditation practice. We may appear diligent in our practice, but if it takes us farther from reality or from those we love, it is wrong diligence. When we practice sitting and walking meditation in ways that cause our body and mind to suffer, our effort is not Right Diligence and is not based on Right View. Our practice should be intelligent, based on Right Understanding of the teaching. It is not because we practice hard that we can say that we are practicing Right Diligence.

There was a monk in Tang Dynasty China who was practicing sitting meditation very hard, day and night. He thought he was practicing harder than anyone else, and he was very proud of this. He sat like a rock day and night, but his suffering was not transformed. One day a teacher asked him, ”Why are you sitting so hard?” and the monk replied, “To become a Buddha!”

The teacher picked up a tile and began polishing it, and the monk asked, “Teacher, what are you doing?” His master replied, “I am making a mirror.” The monk asked “How can you make a tile into a mirror?” and his teacher replied, “How can you become a Buddha by sitting?”

The four practices usually associated with Right Diligence are:

(l) preventing unwholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet arisen from
(2) helping the unwholesome seeds that have already arisen to return to our store consciousness,
(3) finding ways to water the wholesome seeds in our store consciousness that have not yet
arisen and asking our friends to do the same, and
(4) nourishing the wholesome seeds that have already arisen so that they will stay present in our mind consciousness and grow stronger.

This is called the Fourfold Right Diligence.

“Unwholesome” means not conducive to liberation or the Path. In our store consciousness there are many seeds that are not beneficial for our transformation, and if those seed are watered, they will grow stronger. When greed, hatred, ignorance, and wrong views arise, if we embrace them with Right Mindfulness, sooner or later they will lose their strength and return to our store consciousness. When wholesome seeds have not yet arisen, we can water them and help them come into our conscious mind. The seeds of happiness, love, loyalty, and reconciliation need watering every day. If we water them, we will feel joyful, and this will encourage them to stay longer. Keeping wholesome mental formations in our mind consciousness is the fourth practice of Right Diligence.

The Fourfold Right Diligence is nourished by joy and interest. If your practice does not bring you joy, you are not practicing correctly.

The Buddha asked the monk Sona, “Is it true that before you became a monk you were a musician? Sona replied that it was so. The Buddha asked, “What happens if the string of  our instrument is too loose?”
“When you pluck it, there will be no sound,” Sona replied.
”What happens when the string is too taut?
” It will break.”
“The practice of the Way is the same,” the Buddha said. “Maintain your health. Be joyful. Do not force yourself to do things you cannot do”.

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