Social Change at the Base | Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, 2004.03.27

Social Change at the Base | Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh, 2004.03.27


Good morning dear friends. Today is the 27th of March, the year 2004, here at the Deer Park Monastery for our Colours of Compassion Retreat. When Nelson Mandela came to France for his first visit the Press asked him what it is that he would like to do the most. And Nelson Mandela said, what he would like to do the most is to sit down and do nothing. He said that since the time he was released from prison he had been so busy! He’s had to meet so many people, to do so many things, he didn’t even have the time to breathe, to sit down. So his deepest desire is to sit down and do nothing. To sit down and do nothing is sitting meditation. And those of us who practice daily sitting, we are much more lucky than Nelson Mandela. To sit down and do nothing seems to be easy. Seems to be enjoyable. But I’m not sure if he was given the chance to sit down and do nothing if he could do it. I doubt. He had never learned how to sit and do nothing. This is difficult. Not so easy. Because when you sit things begin to come up. And you have to know how to take care of them. Therefore for sitting meditation you need some guidance. Sitting meditation can be wonderful. We can get in touch with the wonderful aspects of life. We can get in touch with the wonders of life within and around us. For our nourishment and healing we just sit there and enjoy. And many things are enjoyable like our in-breath and our out-breath. You breathe in, you enjoy your in-breath. You breathe out, you enjoy your out-breath. You focus your attention on your eyes, and you find your eyes are still in excellent condition. Breathing in, I’m aware of my eyes. Breathing out, I smile to my eyes. My eyes are still in good condition. I only need to open them in order to get in touch with paradise of forms and colours. So my eyes are a wonder of life. And if I continue I touch many wonders of life in my body and in my consciousness. All are miracles, all are wonders of life. My heart. Breathing in, I’m aware of my heart. Breathing out, I smile to my heart. My heart is a wonder. My heart is there to maintain my well-being. My heart works non-stop, day and night in order to assure that I continue to be well. I have the chance to go to sleep, to rest, and my heart continues. Many people don’t have a heart like mine. And their deepest concern is to have a normal heart. So that they won’t have things like stroke. And when I breathe in and I embrace my heart with my mindfulness I find out how wonderful to have a heart that functions well. That is one basic condition for my well-being, for my peace. And I realize by embracing my heart that I may not have been very kind to my heart. I smoke, I drink, I give my heart a difficult time. Many difficult times. And that is enlightenment, that is awakening. And I decide to take good care of my heart. I stop smoking. I stop drinking. And so on. And this is the practice of love directed to my heart. And when I know how to deal with my body in such a way, I am kind to my body. I take good care of my body. And there is well-being and peace in my body. I learn how to eat, what to eat, how to drink, what to drink, in order not to bring toxins and poisons into my body. And that is the practice of mindfulness of consumption, of eating. Breathing in and out, I can also get in touch with the pain and sorrow in me, and around me. And with mindfulness I can handle them well, and help to transform them. So mindfulness has two functions: to handle the positive, refreshing and healing things so that I can get the nourishment and healing. I have to get in touch with the Pure Land of the Buddha, the Kingdom of God, my true home. And mindfulness helps me to do so. We have learned that the Kingdom is available in the here and the now. The Pure Land also, with all the wonders of life inside and outside. So part of our practice is to get in touch. And then part of our practice is when we get in touch with the negative things like anger, and fear, and pain, and sorrow, inside and around, mindfulness helps us to recognize them. To embrace them. And not to let them overwhelm us. And transform us into a victim. Not only the Kingdom, the Paradise, is available. But Hell is available, in the here and the now also. That is why mindfulness practice helps us get in touch with both. Get in touch with the Kingdom in order to be nourished. And get in touch with Hell, in order to protect us and transform. And the Four Noble Truths that we talk about are about that. The first Noble Truth is Ill-being. That is Hell. Hell in the here and the now. We cannot say, “No Hell does not exist.” It exists! It is there, very solid. The third truth is Well-being. It is there! You cannot say that well-being is not there. You have to get in touch. Well-being is there but we do not recognize it. We don’t know how to get in touch and to profit from it. You cannot say that the blue sky is not there. You know very well that the blue sky is there. But do you profit from it? You know that the mountains are there. Beautiful, majestic. You cannot say that they are not there, as wonders. But maybe you are blocked by your suffering and you cannot get in touch. I used to talk about my toothache. When you get a toothache, you suffer. Especially during the night because no dentist is open at that time. So you have to continue to suffer. And in the morning they will open and you have a chance. And during the time you suffer you get a kind of enlightenment: that not having a toothache is wonderful! [laughter] But there are many days when we do not have a toothache but we do not enjoy our non-toothache! Our non-toothache is well-being. But you don’t know how to recognize it and enjoy it until you have a toothache. That is why you cannot say that well-being is not there. It is there! But you are not used to getting in touch and to profit from it. The Kingdom of God is there, available. But you are not available to the Kingdom. The Pure Land of the Buddha is there, but you are not available to the Pure Land. This is a pity! That is why the practice of mindfulness helps you to go home to the present moment and get in touch with the third Noble Truth. The third Noble Truth is not a hope in the future. It is a reality that is in the here and the now. Those of us who practice Pure Land Buddhism deeply we know that the Pure Land is not in the West and in the distant future after we die. No. Those of us who practice Pure Land, whether we are Chinese, or Vietnamese, or Korean, or Japanese, we know that the deepest teaching of Pure Land is: that the Pure Land is in our heart, in the here and the now. And if we have mindfulness we can touch the Pure Land right now and right here. “Pure Land in my heart.” That sounds very familiar. “Pure Land in the here and the now.” This is very familiar. Hien Phap means “here and now”, “things that are happening in the here and now can be touched.” And in modern Chinese it is written– it is pronounced as: “dang xia jing tu”. The Pure Land in the here, in the present moment. In the Christian tradition we can find the same teaching: that the Kingdom of God is at hand. It is available. Whether you are Baptist, or Methodist, you can practice the same kind of practice. The Kingdom of God is available. And because you don’t get in touch that is why you are running after the things you consider to be happiness: namely fame, wealth, power, sex, and so on. So whether you are a teacher in the jōdoshū tradition, in the Pure Land tradition, or in the Baptist tradition, or in the Zen tradition, you can offer your people nothing less than the Kingdom of God. Nothing less than the Pure Land of the Buddha. And you have to embody that teaching, that practice. You have to live in the Kingdom of God, as a pastor, as a priest, as a monk, as a minister. You have to embody the practice of living happily in the here and the now. So that your teaching will be true teaching. And when the people come to practice with you they are able to taste the taste of the Kingdom. They will abandon their attempt to run after the objects of their craving, namely power, sex, fame, and wealth. And this is the basic practice. When we confirm that the Kingdom is available, that well-being is possible, we confirm also the existence of the practice that can make the Kingdom available. That will make well-being available, right here, right now! And that is what we call the Noble Path. Noble Path. The Eightfold Path revealing the Kingdom of God so that we can get in touch. And if the teaching is good, the practice is good, you get it right away! If you are a good practitioner one in-breath is enough for you to go into the Kingdom. You only make one step and that is enough. But sometimes there is a habit energy pushing you out of the Kingdom. You want to run. And that is the habit energy that has been transmitted by former generations. But you resist. You say, “No! I don’t want to get out of the Kingdom. I want to stay in the Kingdom.” Therefore you use your mindfulness and protect yourself, and continue to touch the Kingdom with every breath, with every step. Last year we offered a retreat for members of the Congress on Capitol Hill. And members of the Congress they learned how to practice mindful breathing, mindful walking. Before the winter retreat here we got a letter telling us that there are members of the Congress who are now practicing walking meditation on Capitol Hill. They reported that they’re so busy! They have to meet with so many people! And it’s difficult to keep the practice but the easiest practice they can still keep is the practice of walking, mindful walking. And that congressman said that from his office to where he has to go he always practices mindful walking. No thinking at all. And he survived by that practice. No thinking, just breathing and walking. That is why we have to stick to the Kingdom, to the practice, to the Kingdom, in order to protect ourselves. We have to get in touch with the Kingdom. And the path helps us the path offers us the Kingdom, and offers other people the Kingdom. And that is why it is called the Noble Path. You are noble not because of your race but by your way of living. And the Buddha said that very clearly: If you practice Right Thinking, your thinking is noble. If you practice Right View, your views are noble. If you practice Right Speech, your speech is noble. If you practice Right Action, your action is noble. And I can call you, Your Nobleness. Your Holiness! Your Nobleness. [laughter] Because the element of nobility is there! Everytime you produce a thought that has the element of understanding and compassion in it, that thought is noble. Everytime we say something and if it carries compassion and understanding, that speech is noble. You don’t have to try to convince that you are noble. You just demonstrate that you are noble. In three aspects: thinking, speech and action. And nobody can deny that you are really noble, a noble person. And this what the Buddha said: you are noble because of your way of life, and not because of your blood. And the word “Noble Path” is very clear. And when you practice the opposite, you follow an Ignoble Path. Wrong View, Wrong Thinking, Wrong Speech, Wrong Action. That opens the Hell, opens the door of Hell for you and for other people. This morning we spoke of Wrong Perceptions. Wrong Perceptions that bring about hate, anger, fear, discrimination. Wrong Perceptions are in the realm of thinking. Our consciousness is like a television set with many channels. If you want the channel “Hell” you push on the button of the Ignoble Path and you have Hell right away. And if you want “Well-Being” you push on the button of the Noble Path. Our store consciousness preserves within herself all kinds of seeds. The Sanskrit term is “bija”. There are wholesome seeds and there are unwholesome seeds. According to Mahayana Buddhism there are 51 varieties of seeds that can bring about 51 mental formations. And we have learned that the seed of anger when touched, will manifest as a mental formation called Anger. When the seed of mindfulness is touched it manifests itself as a mental formation called Mindfulness. Mindfulness of Anger. And we learn that if the seed of anger is too potent it can manifest itself up very easily, very quickly. The seed of violence, the seed of despair, the seed of fear. And that is why the practice of mindfulness is to prevent these seeds to grow everyday. Everyone has a seed of anger, despair, fear, hate. And if we allow that seed to be watered, they will become strong. We will suffer, and we’ll make the people around us suffer. That is why this morning we talked about a Peace Treaty signed by a couple. Each one promises that he or she will not water the negative seeds in him and in the other person. This is a very beautiful practice. Of peace, of happiness, called the practice of selective watering. We have seen that the practice does not need a long time. Half an hour practice can already change the situation. You practice watering the good seeds in you, you practice watering the good seeds in her, or in him. And fifteen minutes, twenty minutes after, you and the other person feel much better. And if you know how to do it everyday the situation will change. You have to sign a treaty of practice, and if possible you sign it in the presence of many friends in the Sangha. The Peace Treaty is signed in Plum Village by many couples. And between father and son, mother and daughter also, in the presence of Sangha. And after signing, they practice and they report to us. It’s a very effective practice. According to that practice not only will you refrain from watering the negative seeds but you make the commitment to water the good seeds in the other person and in you. And the other person will make the same commitment to refrain from watering your negative seeds. But try to water everyday the good seeds in you. You practice like gardeners for each other. The person you love is your garden. You have to take good care of your garden. And if the garden yields flowers and fruits you are the one to enjoy. The Buddha and his senior disciples like Shariputra like to talk about the Second Noble Truth in terms of consumption. Consumption The Buddha spoke about four kinds of foods, four kinds of nutriments. The first kind of nutriment is called edible foods. You take it in by the way of the mouth. And the Buddha urged us to consume only items that bring about lightness, healing, nourishment into our body and into our mind. And the second kind of food is called sensory impressions. This kind of nutriment comes through the way of the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind. You consume by reading articles. When you read an article you consume. And that article may contain a lot of toxins like craving, violence, fear, discrimination, hate. When you watch television, you consume. The TV programme may be full of poisons. When you drive through the city, you consume. Because what you see in terms of advertisements, what you hear about in terms of advertisement are also items of consumption. You don’t want to consume but they force you to consume. Driving through the city you have to see these kinds of publicity. And that is why mindfulness helps us to protect ourselves by the practice of mindful consumption and that is the object of the Fifth Mindfulness Training. Our young people watch television several hours a day, maybe two, maybe three or more. Because their parents are so busy. And while watching television, they allow the seed of craving, of violence in themselves to be watered. They keep growing and growing, and this is very dangerous. Even conversations may be highly toxic. What the other person says may be full of hate, or despair, and after one hour of listening to him or to her you feel paralyzed! So much toxins what she said! And that’s why don’t listen too much to that kind of conversation. And if you’re a psychotherapist it’s not wise you spend all day listening to the suffering of the people. Because you have seeds of suffering in you and if you continue to listen to them the seed of suffering in you will be watered again and again. And someday you’ll get sick. And you go to another therapist. [laughter] And that is why the practice of a therapist is to devote enough time to get in touch with paradise. There must be hours for him or her to practice walking, sitting, getting in touch with the wonders of life for their nourishment and solidity, so that the therapist will have enough strength to do the work of listening to suffering. And you have to know your limit. If your capacity is to receive six persons a day, don’t try to do more than six persons. You will burn out. Your suffering will increase to the point that you cannot, you will not be able to continue. That is why as a therapist you have to practice like this– get in touch with the Third Noble Truth. Get in touch with the refreshing and healing elements to nourish yourself. Using mindfulness to look deeply into the source of Well-Being, and practice mindful consumption so that the negative seeds in you will not be watered. We have six doors to guard. We have to post an inspector, a soldier in front of each door. The door of eyes, the door of the ears, the door of the nose, the door of the tongue, and the door of the body, and the door of the mind. And do not allow the enemies to penetrate into your citadel. That is the practice of mindful consumption. You select the film, you select the article, you select the music, you select the kind of conversation that will not bring toxins and poisons into yourself. This is the practice of self protection, and the protection of your family, of your community. It’s very urgent! Step number one. The Fifth Mindfulness Training. The basic practice for you and for your community. If you don’t then they will grow very big and they tend to push the door of mind consciousness to come up. Usually we say that store consciousness is like the basement and mind consciousness is like the living room. And anything you don’t like you put in the basement. You want to keep the living room beautiful. But the blocks of suffering in you don’t want to stay in the cave, in the basement. If they have become so strong they just push the door and settle here without your invitation. Especially during the night when you have no means to control they push the door and go into mind consciousness. And during the day also the violence, the craving, the hate, the anger, are pushing hard. Because you have allowed them to grow everyday by the way of unmindful consumption. And that is why you try to resist! You try to close the door very firm. You set up a kind of embargo here. You don’t allow them, you repress them. And how do you repress? You try to fill up mind consciousness with other items. And you do that by consumption. You don’t feel well. You feel that it’s coming up. So you play the music to keep the mind busy. You pick up the telephone and talk. You take the car and drive out. You turn on the television. You do everything in order to keep the living room occupied so that these blocks of pain have no chance to come up. That is the policy that many of us adopt. And the market outside provide us with many items so that we can bring into the living room andf fill it up always twenty four hours a day in order for– you’re afraid thay they will come up. And you know something? The thing you consume, like the television, like a novel, they may also contain a lot of toxins like craving and hate and violence. And while you are consuming like that these poisons fall down into store consciousness. And make these blocks of suffering grow. Because they are the fruit of unmindful consumption in the past. And now unmindful consumption in the present moment continue to make them grow stronger. And this is a very, very dangerous situation. And that is why the first step is to stop these kinds of unmindful consumption, preventing these seeds that are already born not to grow anymore. The first step: mindful consumption. And you have to discuss the strategy for mindful consumption with your beloved one, with members of your family. You have to meet in emergency like the cabinet of a government to meet in emergency to discuss a strategy for self protection, protection of the family, of the couple. Mindful consumption is the object of the Fifth Mindfulness Training. Second step is to practice touching the positive. You don’t touch the negative, instead you try to touch the positive. Look at the blue sky. Breathing in, I’m aware of the blue sky. Breathing out, I smile to the blue sky. And you touch the blue sky, and the blue sky touches you. Breathing in, I’m aware of the mountains. Breathing out, I see the mountains are wonderful. You touch the beautiful mountains, the blue mountains touch you. There are so many things that are beautiful. Refreshing and healing, get in touch. The Kingdom is available, get in touch with the Kingdom. Listen to a Dharma talk. A Dharma talk can water many good seeds in us. When you attend a 7-day retreat everyday you hear a Dharma talk. A Dharma talk is a kind of rain that falls into the soil of your store consciousness and come and water the beautiful seeds that you have in it. And sometimes during a Dharma talk you feel that a good seed in you sprout! And become a flower of freshness, of joy. So in a retreat the rain of the Dharma always helps you touch the wonderful seeds in you. And then practice mindfulness of breathing, of walking so that the seed of mindfulness grows, the seed of joy grows. And allow these (negative seeds) to have a chance to sleep. Don’t give them the chance. Don’t consume like you did in the past. And if someone comes and is about to touch them (the negative seeds), say, “Please, no!” “Don’t touch these seeds in me.” [laughter] And when the seed of mindfulness and joy in you are strong enough, when these seeds of mindfulness and joy are solid enough you take the third step: you remove the embargo. And allow them to come up, one by one. Because if you allow them, if you repress them too long by the way of unmindful consumption you create a situation of bad circulation of your mind, of your psyche. They want to come up and yet you repress them. And that is why you create blockage, a situation of bad circulation. And that is the strategy of the majority. We are afraid of them coming up that is why we occupy the mind with items of consumption. Television, novels, music, food and drugs. Because we know that we are not able to handle them, we use these kinds of things. We try everything in order to repress. And it is like the blood in our body. When the blood in our body does not circulate many symptoms of illness will manifest. There are many painful spots in our body. We get headache, the pain on our shoulders, we have all kinds of sickness because the blood does not circulate. The same is true with the blood of the mind. When you block your mind and not allow these mental formations to come up you create a situation of bad circulation and slowly symptoms of mental illness will appear. And when you go to the doctor they don’t find any cause (of sickness) in your body and yet you suffer in your body. And that is why it’s dangerous to practice this kind of suppression by the practice of consuming. That is why the third step should be taken. We allow our anger, our fear to come up. Usually we are afraid of doing so. Our strategy is to run away from our suffering. We have no courage to come home to our selves and confront the suffering. The Buddha advices us to go home and take care of our suffering. If you know how to practice the second step you have enough of this energy of mindfulness in order to do the work of recognition and embracing. In sitting meditation you may allow your anger to come up. And you have mindfulness in order to recognize, embrace, and look deeply. Breathing in, I know anger has manifested in me. Breathing out, I embrace my anger with all tenderness. Breathing in, I know that anger is still in me. Breathing out, I am taking good care of my anger. Like a big sister holding the younger sister. Like a mother holding a baby. Even if you have not seen, you have not practiced deeply enough in order to see the nature of your anger and transform it, your anger will lose some of its strength. After having taken a bath of consciousness, of mindfulness. That’s exactly what you do– you allow your anger, or your fear, or your despair, to take a bath of mindfulness. And after that, after five, ten, fifteen minutes, they will come back down to store consciousness a little bit weaker, just a little bit weaker because of the bath of mindfulness. But you have to offer the bath of mindfulness. You have to know how to practice mindful breathing, mindful smiling, mindful walking, to continue generating the energy of mindfulness in order to embrace whatever comes up. Your fear, your anger, your despair. And after some time, having been embraced, they go down here to their home. And if you can do it once you are no longer afraid of their coming up. And you say, “Next time when they come up, I will do exactly like that. I’ll practice mindful breathing, mindful walking, to have enough of this energy of mindfulness and I’ll embrace it like I have done before.” And they will go down and a little bit weaker. My dear friends, if you don’t believe that you are strong enough your mindfulness is strong enough to recognize and embrace your pain, then ask a brother or a sister in the practice to come and sit close to you. Holding her hand, asking her to help you with her energy of mindfulness, and together both of you will recognize the pain in you and embrace the pain in you for three, five, ten, fifteen minutes if needed. You need a co-practitioner when you are weak. She will lend you her energy of mindfulness. And if you have several brothers and sisters in the community you are no longer afraid. Because the boat of the Sangha will keep you from sinking into the river of suffering. Collective mindfulness is strong enough to hold your pain and your sorrow. That is why taking refuge in the Sangha is very important! Especially when you are a beginner and your mindfulness is not strong enough to recognize and embrace your suffering and give your anger, your despair a chance to take a bath in that energy of mindfulness. That is the energy of the Buddha. And after you have been able to do it once you have the confidence. You are not afraid. So you open the door and then blocks of suffering will come up and be taken care of, and go down like this. And you restore good circulation. And symptoms of mental illness will go away. And this can be practiced as a group, as a community. That is why it’s very important that you set up a group of practitioners in your area. And you master the techniques of mindful breathing, mindful walking, sitting, and you learn how to touch the Pure Land, the Kingdom of God, everyday. The practice should be joyful. The practice should deal not only with the suffering but with the happiness. And you know that happiness, the Kingdom, the Pure Land, is available in the here and the now. The practice should be balanced. Suffering is not enough. [laughter] [sound of the bell] The Fifth Mindfulness Training shows us the practice of mindful consumption of edible foods, and the practice of mindful consumption of sensory impressions. Last week we had a retreat for Hollywood entertainers. And we told them that we need them to help us with the practice. They should try to provide us with films that water the good seeds in us. And it would be very helpful if they refrained from making the films that water the seed of anger, and violence and fear in us. They listened very very deeply. Because they have the good seed of wisdom in them. And this week I’m going to meet with a group of producers of film in Hollywood. Please pray for me. [laughter and clapping] I told them that there is already a Statue of Liberty in the East Coast. But in the name of Liberty, we have produced so many items of consumption that are very destructive. And that is why I propose that a Statue of Responsibility be built in the West Coast. And one person in the retreat stood up and said, “Well Thay, I will do it!” He’s a sculptor. So during that retreat I did my best to water the seed of compassion and understanding, responsibility, in these people. And let us continue to help them. The third source of nutriment that the Buddha talked about is called volition. The deepest kind of desire that we have in our selves. Because the life of a person is motivated by that desire. If you don’t have any desire you cannot continue to live. The desire may be very wholesome, or very unwholesome. Siddhartha Gautama who became a Buddha he was motivated by a very strong desire: to transform himself and to help the world. He was supposed to become a king, a politician. But as he observed, he saw that his father was very helpless. Having the power of a king in his hand but he was helpless. There’s a lot of corruption, lots of difficulties, misery in the country and with that political power he could not do much. Because there are afflictions, fear, hate, violence, anger in them so politicians are very limited in their power to act. So Siddhartha did not care about becoming a king and having a lot of power. That’s why he left the palace seeking for a path of transformation and healing. And that desire was so strong in him that he was able to undergo many hardships and finally he succeeded in becoming an enlightened person with a lot of understanding and compassion. And he did not feel tired at all during the 45 years of teaching, practicing and helping people. And he helped everyone. Kings, ministers, rich businessmen, and scavengers, slaves, he helped everyone! And he accepted all kinds of people in his noble Sangha. In his Sangha there’s no caste. There’s no race. There’s only a race of enlightenment. The noble Sangha. You are the noble Sangha of the Buddha. You are the beloved Sangha of the Buddha. No discrimination. And if you practice mindfulness, concentration, and insight you bring the element of nobility into your daily life. That is why the Sangha is called a noble Sangha. If your deepest desire is to have a lot of fame, a lot of sex, a lot of consumption, that desire can bring you a lot of suffering. That is why we have to look deeply into our deepest desire to find out whether it is wholesome or unwholesome. If you are motivated by a desire to transform yourself, and to help your people, your community to transform, to bring joy and hope into their life, to live in the spirit, in the wisdom of non-discrimination, capable of protecting themselves from complexes and suffering so that your community will be a powerful instrument for social change, then you have the best kind of volition. That gives you an infinite source of energy. You become very alive, very dynamic in your daily life. And you make your community into a dynamic community because your community also has the deepest desire for social change. Social change, social justice, equality can be obtained with the transformation of our consciousness, of our collective consciousness. Because consciousness is at the base. If we are not capable of changing our selves our way of thinking, our way of perceiving, if we are not free from wrong perceptions, then any kind of action no matter how direct they are, will not bring the kind of result we want. Actions like sit-in, teach-in, pray-in, wait-in, will be meaningful only when they are born from our freedom, our compassion, our understanding. If you have the wisdom of non-discrimination, if you have the energy of understanding and compassion then these kinds of actions can bring about the result very quickly. Social change is only the outcome of the change of our consciousness. Then this is why this practice should be done right away! In our family, in our community. In your community of Pure Land practice, organize to do it. To practice it in your family, in a community. In your church, Baptist or not, you practice the same. The same kind of practice. Getting in touch with the Kingdom, everyday, several times a day. Learning how to handle the suffering individual and collective, for transformation and healing. These are the basic practice. And if you succeed in transforming your self, your community, and then social change will come about very easily. And many people looking at you, looking at your way of life, see that you embody the practice of non-discrimination, of compassion. They could join you. And you’ll have a lot of allies. Even if they do not belong to the same kind of culture. And this is the points that we have to discuss in our dharma discussions. One day a leader of a Native American community came to me. We met in Vermont and he invited me to join him in speaking to Europeans and others, speaking about the plight, the suffering of Native Americans. To draw the people’s attention in the world to that suffering. I invited him to sit down and to have a cup of tea with me, and very slowly, I tried to tell him: that the first step is not that. The first step is that he go home to his community and help his community to practice. This kind of basic things. Like the Five Mindfulness Trainings, creating brotherhood, sisterhood, awakening, to free our selves from wrong perceptions, from wrong discrimination, from discrimination. Because discrimination does not only exist in them. Discrimination does exist in each of us. We have both Hell and Paradise in us. They also have Hell and Paradise. So if we are capable of touching paradise and transforming hell in us, we will be able to help them touch the paradise in them and transform hell in them. They are no longer our enemies. They are the people we want to help. But we have to help our selves first. It’s not a problem of protesting. Because we can see them as victims of their wrong perceptions, of their own ignorance, and fear, and violence. And that is why to me it’s very, very crucial, it’s very urgent to go home to our selves and to our community and begin the real practice. The practice of mindful consumption– so that we can heal our body, we can heal our consciousness, our mind. This kind of practice, of mindful consumption, not to use alcohol, not to use drugs, not to use items of consumption like television programmes, books, that can bring toxins in us, is at the base at the foundation of our practice. And at the time when our young people no longer use drugs, and consume these toxic items, we become a living Dharma talk. We can come and help those still in prison because of the fact that they consumed drugs, committed violence, because they had violence in them but they did not know how to handle violence in them that is why they got into prison. We have to try ways to come and help them. In my tradition, in the ancient times, Buddhist temples worked in farming: agricultural Zen. “No work, no food.” So we farmed our land and supported our community. And we went to the government and we asked them to hand over to us a number of prisoners. We made the commitment to teach these prisoners. We accept them to our community. We would give the work for them, farming to do, and they learned the practice of the Five Mindfulness Trainings. And the government, the authorities, believed in the Buddhist tradition because we had succeeded many times to transform, to teach our prisoners. And finally we helped these prisoners to get married, to have a plot of land, to build a house, and to start their life. In the past we had been able to do things like that. I think in our time we can do things that are similar. The young men and women who have so much violence and fear in themselves, and also their seed of craving is big, they don’t know how to handle these seeds. They committed crimes. They have done wrong things. They got into prisons, and they should be helped. We should have a programme to help them to transform. We could talk to the government, to the correction institutions, that there are better ways to help a young person to transform than to put him in prison. We can organize communities of mindful living. We can guarantee for these people. We can help them transform and become good citizens of the society. This is in the scope of our practice. The practice of mindful living, practices of transformation and healing. This practice described by the Buddha is not only to help the individual. In fact the Buddha urged us to practice this as a community. And when the community embodies the spirit of the Dharma, then the community can have an impact on society and produce social change. And it looks like each monk, each lay person in his beloved Sangha, becomes a kind of social worker. Social worker in the broadest sense, broader meaning. When you can help a person to see his path and to get motivated by the desire to transform and to do good, you are a social worker. When you organize a dharma discussion or a day of mindfulness and help people to touch the Dharma, to taste the joy of the practice of peace, well you are doing social work. So the spiritual and the social realms they are not separated. Whatever you can do in the spiritual realm will benefit deeply the social realm and so on. There is the fourth nutriment called consciousness. Consciousness as food. The Buddha said that everything comes from consciousness. And when consciousness is taken care of, when wrong perceptions have been removed, consciousness becomes wisdom. And our way of thinking, our way of feeling, determines everything. One person may have a feeling like fear, like anger, and if that person is an artist or a writer, he can share his fear and anger with other people. And together they create a collective feeling of fear, of anger. And when fear has become collective, and anger has become collective, it is extremely dangerous. The September 11th event created a lot of fear and anger at the same time. Not many people helped us to understand our fear, our anger. To embrace them and look deeply into the nature of our fear or our anger. And our government has acted on the foundation of that collective fear and anger. It is very dangerous. The war on terrorism has forced us to look for the worst in people. In the Buddhist tradition, the Buddha reminds us that everyone has Buddha nature. Everyone has the Kingdom of peace inside. And there is a bodhisattva who goes around and tells people, “I do not underestimate you. You are a Buddha, to become.” And that is his message: everyone has Buddha nature. But the war on terrorism is seeking the opposite. Every passenger on a plane could be a terrorist. If you have travelled in the last few years you know. They are not looking for your Buddha nature! [laughter] They are looking at you as a potential terrorist. And when a culture goes like that, it goes wrong. Yet not many people, not many of us wake up to that reality. A writer –if you got an insight of interbeing and the wisdom of non-discrimination, you know the noble way, the noble path of realizing peace and touching joy, you can write a novel or a story that can influence people and will create a collective feeling of brotherhood, of awakening. And you can provide people with a kind of consciousness food that is healthy. Because you as a writer, as a filmmaker, as a teacher, as a parent, you can change consciousness! You can create a collective consciousness that goes in the right direction. Consciousness that contain elements of understanding and compassion and non-discrimination. If you live in a society where everyone believe the same thing, you’ll believe the same thing. You go to an art exhibition. And you feel you do not understand any painting. [giggles] They don’t look beautiful to you. But everyone says, “Oh how beautiful! How beautiful!” And you see the price, very high! [laughter] And you are forced to believe they are beautiful! [laughter] And that beauty is a fabrication of collective consciousness. And you know the stock market, the value of stock market is purely an invention of the mind. It has no ground of reality! And that is why it’s very important that you associate not with the foolish one! With the people who have so much fear and discrimination. You have to seek for a community, for a neighbourhood where people are thinking in terms of compassion and understanding. And allow your children to live in that environment. Who care about the fourth kind of nutriment: consciousness. And therefore your community should be organized in such a way that sane, healthy kind of food will be provided. Not only edible food, sensory impression food, wholesome desire, but also healthy collective consciousness. And that discourse of the Buddha about the four kinds of nutriments is very, very important. It should be studied and put into the practice because mindful consumption seems to be the only way out. And should be the object of study of all departments of nutrition. We need the time to come together. To go deeply into these matters. There is a way out! We should be able to have the time to build our Sangha. Sangha is the only safe place for us and for our children. And in the context of Sangha we sit down and practice looking deeply into our situation. And Sangha is the place where we can generate the energy of mindfulness, concentration. We can get the best kind of insight that can be the torch lighting our path. The path of transformation and healing that will lead to social change. If you want, if you think we can do it, then we’ll have to organize a longer retreat. This retreat is an opportunity for us to come together and to realize how important this kind of practice is. You know, in 1956 Doctor Ambedkar organized a ceremony of transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings in Nagpur, India. He was an untouchable. He had been, and his ancestors had been victims of discrimination for a long time, millions of years. And he found in Buddhism a path of non-discrimination. He saw, he realized that the Buddha is a friend. Simply because the teaching of the Buddha is the teaching of non-discrimination. Whether you are noble or not depends on your action, your way of life, and not your caste. So he organized an ordination ceremony for people to receive the Three Refuges and the Five Trainings. And there were half a million people who took the Three Refuges at the same time in that morning in Nagpur. I had been able to go there and help the untouchable Buddhists in India. They want to invite me again for a day of mindfulness. There may be 300,000 people attending the day of mindfulness. They have taken up the Buddhist practice as a refuge because they feel more comfortable in a teaching that is all-embracing. But the political will although is strong, although the political will for change is strong, the practice is not real and strong enough. Most of the people embrace Buddhism because they believe that Buddhism can offer a chance for social change, for social justice. And the act of taking the Three Refuges and Five Precepts is an act of –has a lot of political meaning in it. But to me, it is the practice, the basic practice that will bring about real emancipation! Political action is not enough. Social action is not enough. There should be the real practice! The solid practice. And I urge you my friends to go home and begin right away! The basic, solid practice of transformation and healing in our family, and in our community. Political social change will be possible, will be much easier when we have that foundation of practice. [sound of the bell] Subtitles by the Amara.org community

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7 Comments

  1. Thank you for posting! I read some of these ideas in Thay’s books, but hearing him explains it in video is pure joy and helps deepen the understanding.

  2. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you Venerable Thay, this talk is so deep, exactly at the base of what we need to understand in order to get to heal our society. I try to do my best, working in the part that is my responsibility and much more that I can with my little understanding, but I am happy because I know that I'm improving step by step.

  3. the paths of enlighten are rooted in being right /not wrong but right/wrong types of existence which are not rooted. A good nature is

  4. Hello dear PV Online Sangha,
    Thank you for sharing this beautiful talk by Thay. I had just finished writing the English subtitles for it, and enjoyed the practice of listening+typing on the Amara platform. The subtitles are now available on the video. May Thay's words be of service to all! <3

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