How To / Cultivate presence, stability, and clarity

We hope you will enjoy this synopsis of a teaching offered by Brother Pháp Dung during an online retreat in October of 2020.

Brother Pháp Dung

Thay’s lifelong work has been aimed at addressing the ills of society. His teachings around presence, stability, and clarity are still poignant today.

First, one of Thay’s fundamental teachings and one of the key teachings of Plum Village is “I have arrived, I am home.” It is directed at the ills of society. It addresses us not being happy with who we are in the present moment. Buddhism can play a wonderful role here because it teaches us to come back, to love, and to care for ourselves. This is what I’ve learned as a monk. I have learned how to take care of myself, my room, my bed, my plates and bowl, the compost, and the recycling. All of this is an act of love. This is what I have learned from Thay. 

I remember one younger brother sharing with me that he had arrived and he was home but it was not enough. He felt like we cannot just be at home;we need to engage. We need to help have systematic change. The pressure of society drives us to run after things. Sometimes we forget our basic practice of caring for ourselves. 

Calligraphy by Thich Nhat Hanh

I would like to introduce a new verb for engagement. Instead of the ‘e’ you put the ‘i’, so ingagement. As a global Sangha, we definitely need to be involved and informed, and we need to engage for social and political change. But we must never forget to ingage and to come back to ourselves. When we want to have social change, we must remember to return and to ask ourselves, what do we have to offer when it changes?

Ingagement is crucial, and what is fundamental to that is our presence. One of the best things that we can offer is our true presence, and that is mindfulness. This is what Thay has been teaching us. Mindfulness is very popular now, and one way of sharing it is through our presence. 

Are we present for ourselves and our family? Are we present with our meals? Are we present with our dishwashing? What things in our life do we take for granted that are a privilege? 

The faucet that turns on and water flows out is a privilege. You don’t have to be from this  background or that background. This is a fundamental environmental, ecological privilege. If we have a safe place, a blanket, and a bed to sleep on, are we present for these things?

Our presence is a gift that we can offer. This is going to be important in these times.

Second is concentration. Another word for that is our stability. Sometimes we might hear the news, and it destabilizes us and all of a sudden we drive differently. The practice is very stable, and it is also a gift we can offer to others. As a community we can engage for social change. We also must become more stable.  Our stability is what we can offer when the change comes.

The third is insight, another way of being careful and clear. Insight allows us to see, more clearly, how things are affecting us in each moment. This is what is possible when we are stable and present. 

This is what Buddhism can offer us, a kind of freedom that is non-cultural, non-political, and non-social. 

Brother Pháp Dung invited the brothers to sing a song. He translated the lyrics: 

Please produce your own clouds and sunshine. Generate for yourself and not just borrow from heaven and earth so that when the sun and moon is no longer there on our front porch, the moonlight shall still be shining, you see the spirit at hand. Please make your own moon … your sunshine.

That means we should empower ourselves with the Dharma and with the practice. When you sit and breathe, you are nourishing your moon, your sunshine. Then you are present with the moon and all that is beautiful within you. 

Of course you have suffering, challenges, and stress. You have what is the human drama around you, but you are also a miracle. You are a miracle that took millions of years to form, and you have the moon and the sunshine inside of you. Sometimes we forget that, but the practice is to be present for those things. Can you be present for the flower in front of you or outside in your garden?

These are the three elements: presence, stability, and clarity. We must nourish them.

This extract was shared as part of an invitation and an ask for help from the Plum Village fundraising team.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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