Dharma Talks

From “Be Free Where You Are,” a transcription (Parallax Press 2002) of a talk given in a prison by Thich Nhat Hanh, who served as Chair of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation during the war and was nominated by Dr. MLK for the Nobel Peace Prize:

Dear Friends, I wrote the following poem during the war in Vietnam after the town of Ben Tre was bombed by the United States Air Force. Ben Tre is the hometown of my colleague, Sister Chan Khong. The US forces destroyed the entire town because there were five or six guerrillas there. Later on, one officer declared that he had to bomb and destroy Ben Tre to save it from Communism. This poem is about anger.

I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep my loneliness warm –
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
in anger.

I was very angry. It was not just my anger, but the anger of a whole nation. Anger is a kind of energy that makes us and the people around us suffer. As a monk, when I get angry, I practice caring for my anger. I don’t allow it to cause suffering or to destroy me. If you take care of your anger and are able to find relief, you will be able to live happily with much joy.

So Forumosa has medicinal value! I wonder if I can get a new computer on my jianbao?

Thich Nhat Hanh continued. . .

To take care of my anger I bring attention to my breathing and look deeply inside myself. Right away I notice an energy there called anger. Then I recognize that I need another kind of energy to take care of this anger, and I invite that energy to come up to do that job. This second energy is called mindfulness. Every one of us has the seed of mindfulness within us. If we know how to touch that seed, we can begin to generate the energy of mindfulness, and with that energy, we can take good care of the energy of anger.

Mindfulness is a kind of energy that helps us to be aware of what is going on. Everyone is capable of being mindful. Those of us who practice daily have a greater capacity for being mindful than those who do not. Those who do not practice still have the seed of mindfulness, but its energy is very weak. By practicing just three days, the energy of mindfulness will already increase.

There can be mindfulness in anything you do. While you are drinking a cup of water, if you know that you are drinking water in that moment and you are not thinking of anything else, you are drinking mindfully. If you focus your whole being, body and mind, on the water, there is mindfulness and concentration, and the act of drinking may be described as mindful drinking. You drink not only with your mouth, but with your body and your consciousness too. Everyone is capable of drinking his or her water mindfully. This is the way I was trained as a novice.

TNH continued. . .

According to the Buddha, my teacher, life is only available in the here and now. The past is already gone, and the future is yet to come. There is only one moment for me to live – the present moment. So the first thing I do is go back to the present moment. By doing so, I touch life deeply. My in-breath is life, my out-breath is life. Each step I take is life. The air I breathe is life. I can touch the blue sky and the vegetation. I can hear the sound of the birds and the sound of another human being. If we can return to the here and now, we will be able to touch the many wonders of life that are available.

Many of us think that happiness is not possible in the present moment. Most of us believe that there are a few more conditions that need to be met before we can be happy. That is why we are sucked into the future and are not capable of being present in the here and now. That is why we step over many of the wonders of life. If we keep running away into the future, we cannot be in touch with the many wonders of life – we cannot be in the present moment where there is healing, transformation and joy.

This is my favourite poem by Thich Nhat Hanh.


Promise me,
promise me this day
when the sun is just overhead
even as they strike you down
with a mountain of hate and violence,
remember, brother,
man is not our enemy.

Just your pity,
just your hate
invincible, limitless,
hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.
And one day, when you face this
beast alone, your courage intact,
your eyes kind,
out of your smile
will bloom a flower
and those who love you
will behold you
across 10,000 worlds of birth and dying.

Alone again
I’ll go on with bent head
but knowing the immortality of love.
And on the long, rough road
both sun and moon will shine,
lighting my way.

ooops, please delete me

Thanks Wix, I like that poem. I also like this one that he wrote shortly after 9/11, before giving a public talk in NY.

by Thich Nhat Hanh

I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the
clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side, and
I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering imploding
upon myself and collapsing to the ground.
May I rest in peace.

I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane
not knowing where we are going
or that I am riding on fuel tanks
that will be instruments of death, and
I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing
that in just a moment my future will be obliterated.
May I rest in peace.

I am a pigeon in the plaza between the two towers
eating crumbs from someone’s breakfast
when fire rains down on me from the skies, and
I am a bed of flowers admired daily by thousands of
tourists now buried under five stories of rubble.
May I rest in peace.

I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke and
debris on a mission of mercy only to have it collapse around me, and I am a rescue worker risking my life to save lives who is very aware that I may not make it out alive.
May I rest in peace.

I am a survivor who has fled down the stairs and out of
the building to safety who knows that nothing will ever be the same in my soul again,and I am a doctor in a hospital treating patients burned from head to toe who knows that these horrible images will remain in my mind forever.
May I know peace.

I am a tourist in Times Square looking up at the giant
TV screens thinking I’m seeing a disaster movie as I watch the Twin Towers crash to the ground, and I am a New York woman sending e-mails to friends and
family letting them know that I am safe.
May I know peace.

I am a piece of paper that was on someone’s desk this
morning and now I’m debris scattered by the wind across lower Manhattan, and I am a stone in the graveyard at Trinity Church covered with soot from the buildings that once stood proudly above me, death meeting death.
May I rest in peace.

I am a dog sniffing in the rubble for signs of life, doing my best to be of service, and I am a blood donor waiting in line to make a simple but very needed contribution for the victims.
May I know peace.

I am a resident in an apartment in downtown New York
who has been forced to evacuate my home, and
I am a resident in an apartment uptown who has walked 100 blocks home in a stream of other refugees.
May I know peace.

I am a family member who has just learned that someone I love has died, and I am a pastor who must comfort someone who has suffered a heartbreaking loss.
May I know peace.

I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to stand behind any military action it takes to wipe terrorists off the face of the earth, and I am a loyal American who feels violated and worries that people who look and sound like me are all going to be blamed for this tragedy.
May I know peace.

I am a frightened city dweller who wonders whether I’ll ever feel safe in a skyscraper again, and I am a pilot
who wonders whether there will ever be a way to make the skies truly safe.
May I know peace.

I am the owner of a small store with five employees
that has been put out of business by this tragedy, and
I am an executive in a multinational corporation
who is concerned about the cost of doing business in a
terrorized world.
May I know peace.

I am a visitor to New York City who purchases postcards of the World Trade Center Twin Towers that are no more, and I am a television reporter trying to put into words the terrible things I have seen.
May I know peace.

I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will never come home, and I am a boy in a faraway country
rejoicing in the streets of my village because someone
has hurt the hated Americans.
May I know peace.

I am a general talking into the microphones about how we must stop the terrorist cowards who have perpetrated this heinous crime, and I am an intelligence officer trying to discern how such a thing could have happened on American soil, and I am a city official trying to find ways to alleviate the suffering of my people.
May I know peace.

I am a terrorist whose hatred for America knows no limit
and I am willing to die to prove it, and I am a terrorist sympathizer standing with all the enemies of American capitalism and imperialism, and I am a master strategist for a terrorist group who planned this abomination. My heart is not yet capable of openness, tolerance, and
May I know peace.

I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set,
fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible
events, and I am a person of faith struggling to forgive the unforgivable, praying for the consolation of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon the merciful beneficence of God/Yahweh/Allah/Spirit/Higher Power.
May I know peace.

I am a child of God who believes that we are all children of God and we are all part of each other.
May we all know peace

Amen, So Mote it Be, And so it is.

More TNH. . .

The practice is to get in touch with elements inside ourselves that are wonderful, that refresh and heal us. Without mindfulness in our daily life, we tend to allow in many elements that are harmful to our bodies and our consciousnesses. The Buddha said that nothing can survive without food. Our joy cannot survive without food; neither can our sorrow or our despair.

If we have despair, it is because we have fed our despair the kind of food it thrives on. If we are depressed, the Buddha advises that we look deeply into the nature of our depression to identify the source of food that we use to nourish it. Once the source of the nutrients has been identified, cut it off. The depression will fade away.

Without mindfulness in our daily lives, we feed our anger and despair by looking at or listening to things around us that are highly toxic. We consume many toxins each day; what we see on television or read in magazines can nourish our anger and despair. But if we breathe in and out mindfully and realize that these are not the kinds of things we want to consume, then we will stop consuming them. To live mindfully means to stop ingesting these kinds of poisons. Instead, choose to be in touch with what is wonderful, refreshing and healing within yourself and around you.

Note: I originally posted a response to MT’s original post here. However, I have moved that post to the Open forum and placed it in the American Policy thread. I did so because I didn’t want to take this thread off topic.

More TNH . . .

Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.

If we are not happy, if we are not peaceful, we cannot share peace and happiness with others, even those we love, those who live under the same roof. If we are happy, if we are peaceful, we can smile and blossom like a flower, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace. Do we need to make a special effort to enjoy the beauty of the blue sky? Do we have to practice to be able to enjoy it? No, we just enjoy it. Each second, each minute of our lives can be like this. Wherever we are, any time, we have the capacity to enjoy the sunshine, the presence of each other, even the sensation of our breathing. We don’t need to go to China to enjoy the blue sky. We don’t have to travel into the future to enjoy our breathing. We can be in touch with these things right now. It would be a pity if we are only aware of suffering.

We are so busy we hardly have time to look at the people we love, even in our own household, and to look at ourselves. Society is organized in such a way that even when we have some leisure time, we don’t know how to use it to get back in touch with ourselves. We have millions of ways to lose this precious time–we turn on the TV or pick up the telephone, or start the car and go somewhere. We are not used to being with ourselves, and we act like we don’t like ourselves and are trying to escape from ourselves.

Meditation is to be aware of what is going on–in our bodies, in our feelings, in our minds, and in the world. Each day 40,000 children die from hunger. The superpowers now have more than 50,000 nuclear warheads, enough to destroy our planet many times. Yet the sunrise is beautiful, and the rose that bloomed this morning along the wall is a miracle. Life is both dreadful and wonderful. To practice mediation is to be in touch with both aspects. Please do not think we must be solemn in order to meditate. In fact, to meditate well, we have to smile a lot.

What did the Zen monk say to the hotdog vendor?

Make me one with everything.

Excerpt from “Being Peace” by Thich Nhat Hanh:

In Plum Village in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact.

We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean; only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia. There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we received a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.

Who is responsible?

When you first learn something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I saw that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, I am now the pirate. There is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I cannot condemn myself so easily. In my meditation, I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in 25 years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we might become sea pirates in 25 years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.