Excerpt from dharma talk “Going to the Shore of Non-Suffering” given by Thich Nhat Hanh on August 13, 1997 in Plum Village, France.
Paramita means perfection, the perfection of the crossing over to the other shore. We have seen that a paramita is not so difficult to practice; even children can do it. Paramita means from this shore of suffering we cross over to the other shore, the shore of well-being. From the shore of anger, we cross to the shore of non-anger. From the shore of jealousy, we cross over to the shore of non-jealousy. If you know how to do it, you can cross over to the other shore very quickly. It is a matter of training, it is a matter of practice, and you can do that with the help of another person or many other persons. It’s nice to cross the stream of suffering together, hand in hand. So every time you want to cross, if you feel that alone it would be a little bit too difficult, you ask someone to hold your hand and you cross together the stream of suffering with him or with her.
If you feel you are caught in anger and that anger is a kind of fire burning you, you don’t want that; you don’t want to stay on this shore suffering from anger—you want to get relief, you want to cross to the other shore. You have to do something. Row your boat to go to the other side. Whether that is walking meditation, mindful breathing, or anything that you have learned here from Plum Village, it can be a boat helping you to cross over to the other shore. Next time when you feel that you don’t like it on this shore, you have to make a determination to cross to the other shore. You may like to say to a person that you love that you don’t want to stay here on this shore, you want to cross over to the other shore, and you may like to ask the other person to help you to cross. There are many things we can do together. Sitting and listening to the bell—we can do together, as two brothers, two sisters, as mother and child, or father and child. We can sit down and practice together.
Every time there is one of us who is not happy, we have to help him, to help her, to go to the other shore. We have to support him, support her. We shall not say, “That is your problem,” no. There is no such thing as your problem; it is a problem for everyone. If one person suffers, then everyone around has to suffer too. If a father tells his son or his daughter, “That is your problem,” that means the father has not got the insight. There is no such thing as your problem, because you are my son, you are my daughter, and if you have a problem, that is our problem, not yours only. Because if happiness if not an individual matter, suffering also is not an individual matter. You have to help and support each other to cross the river of suffering. So next time when you feel unhappy, you cry, you don’t want to be unhappy, then you may like to ask your father, your mother, your brothers, and your sisters to help. “Please help. I don’t want to stay on this shore. I want to cross over.” Then they come and they will help you. He, she will help you.
You should know the practice. We should know how to practice walking meditation, to practice sitting and breathing in and out with our attention focused on our belly. We can invite the bell, to listen together. Every time you feel unhappy or angry, always you can practice listening to the bell. I guarantee that after having practiced three sounds of the bell, you will feel much better.
All the six paramitas have the power to carry us over to the other shore so that we will not suffer anymore. After some time, training yourself, you’ll arrive at the state of being when you can cross the stream of suffering very easily and very quickly. You have to master the practice, and you are no longer afraid. It is like knowing how to make tofu. If you know that there is no longer any tofu in the house, you are not afraid. A few hours and then you have tofu again. You know how to garden, to practice organic gardening. You know that there are heaps of garbage in your garden. You are not afraid because you know how to transform the garbage back into compost, and you are not afraid at all. While transforming the garbage into the compost, you can be very joyful. Therefore, we are no longer afraid of the garbage in us, the afflictions, the suffering in us. We know how to handle them, how to transform them; therefore, crossing to the other shore is a joy. You don’t have to suffer even while crossing. You don’t think that only when you arrive at the other shore you stop suffering, no. Crossing is already a pleasure.
Life is a continuation of transformation; it’s just like gardening. You cannot expect that your garden will only produce flowers—your garden does produce garbage. That is the meaning of life. Those who suffer don’t know the art of transformation—that is why they suffer, because of the garbage in them—they don’t know how to transform. But you, you know the art of transformation; that is why you can embrace even your suffering, and you are able to transform. You never get back to the state of being overwhelmed, not knowing what to do with your suffering. If you train yourself in the six paramitas, one day you will feel that you are no longer afraid of any suffering. It’s like doing the dishes. Of course, every day you have to use dishes, you have to eat, and therefore you produce dirty dishes. But for us, making dishes clean is very easy. We have detergent, we have water, we have soap, we have the time, we know how to breathe in, breathe out, how to sing while doing the dishes. So doing the dishes is no longer a problem. It can be very joyful. So you don’t suffer a setback any more, just because you know the way, you know the paramitas, you have the boats to cross over to the shore.