What are the hallmarks of an authentic Plum Village practice? Our elders share with us the four Dharma seals of Plum Village, through which we can find and walk a path that helps us to live without fear, in freedom.
In this post, we share extracts from a series of five talks given during the June 2022 retreat, Now We Have a Path, We Have Nothing to Fear that delved deeply into the foundations of our Plum Village practice and the essence of community building.
The Four Plum Village Dharma Seals
Sister Chân Đức introduces the four Dharma seals of Plum village which are:
“I have arrived, I am at home” “Go as a river” “The times* and the truths** inter-are”. “Ripening, moment-by-moment” * the three times are the past, present and future ** the truths are the four Noble truths and also conventional and ultimate truth
These four Dharma seals will help us walk a path to live a life of freedom, and without fear. We can learn to see such a path clearly in every moment, and develop a confidence that is unshakeable. Each Dharma seal is explained in detail in the following talks. Our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh also reminded us if we practice the first two Dharma seals well, we will realize the essence of the third and fourth Seals as well.
How do we tell if a practice or teaching is true to the Plum Village practice? Sister Chân Đức introduces the four Dharma seals that are found within the Plum Village tradition.
Brother Pháp Hữu talks about arriving in our body and mind in order to recognize, embrace and accept what is going on inside and around us. This is the essence of the Buddha’s teaching. As we experience the practice firsthand, we develop confidence in our own ability to arrive in the present moment and touch the wonders of life as well as the quality of freedom that is always there.
Brother Pháp Hữu shares about “I have arrived, I am home”, as a way to live our lives deeply in each moment and to know what is truly going on within. He also shares a story about how Thay questioned him about his practice with “I have arrived, I am home”, and asks the audience “What is the quality of my tea drinking today?”
“Go as a River”
How can we “go as a river” in a way that brings happiness and helps realize our dream to serve? Sister Định Nghiêm tells us that a drop of water may evaporate or lose its way, but if that drop of water can become part of the river, it will reach the ocean. We may fear that by becoming one with the river we will lose our individuality and beauty. Yet when we look at the sangha around us, we see that together, we are stronger, more able to find healing and joy, to relieve the suffering around us and be of service to the world.
Sr Định Nghiêm shares how our teacher had the aspiration to renew Buddhism amidst war and confusion and his great joy when he discovered the Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing after being a monk for 36 years.
To be able to flow well as a river, we need to work on our attachment to views, relying on collective insight and to put community needs above our personal interests. Now, due to the hard work put in by Thay and all his early disciples, we are able to enjoy all the favourable conditions available for practice and simply join in the big sangha river.
“The times and the truths inter-are”
Elder brother Pháp Ứng offers a heartfelt talk rich with poetry, music, and a video to share with us about the third Dharma Seal of Plum Village: the “times” (past, present, and future) and the “truths” (conventional and ultimate; and the Four Noble Truths) inter-are. He shares that it is possible to realize this truth through the practice of the first two Plum Village Dharma Seals, “I have arrived, I am home”, and “Go as a river”.
In this clip Brother Pháp Ứng teaches the “Dharma Zorro” of Plum Village, where the two truths (relative and absolute truth) are brought together. He speaks of ways to touch the absolute truth through arriving home in the present moment. We can also see ourselves as continuations of ancestors and descendants with no beginning and end.
In the first talk of the retreat, Sister Chân Đức explained how the Four Noble Truths inter-are. Our elder sister shares how suffering and awakening are always present at the same time.
“Ripening in every moment”
Sister Lăng Nghiêm invites us to train ourselves to recognize the present moment as a ripening of all our past actions, including the experiences we received from our ancestors.
The Fourth Seal of Plum Village, Ripening at every moment, has four aspects
1. Ripening at different times
2. Ripening of different conditions
3. Ripening in different forms
4. Ripening in different places
As an example of the Dharma ripening after many years, Sister Lăng Nghiêm shares some stories about Thay describing himself as a “pot of tea” and how he prepared the monastic community and practitioners worldwide to understand that “a cloud never dies” at his passing in January 2022.
How does our activism ripen? Can we see the different forms of ripening that our actions take? What does activism have to do with a freezer full of vegan “meats”? Sister Lăng Nghiêm explains in our final clip: