Update: We are offering online retreats while Plum Village France remains closed due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Dharma Talks / Insight Through Investigation

Sr Tuệ Nghiêm

When we understand ourselves we can understand other people. But we often look at reality with tinted glasses on, not able to look beyond ideas, perceptions and prejudices. That’s why we need to wake up. (2:34)

The second Factor of Awakening is “investigation of phenomena” (or dharmas). Investigation of dharmas means to look deeply, to search, to be curious. It helps us to understand. So investigation leads to insight. (8:45)

But how do we practice it? When we look into the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing (https://plumvillage.org/sutra/discourse-on-the-full-awareness-of-breathing/) we see that the Buddha taught that every investigation needs to dwell on the breath. We can use the breath to not let our investigation turn into thinking, analyzing or speculating. When you’re mindful you are present for whatever you’re looking at, and when you stay with it long enough you can see very deeply. (17:49)

Another sutra that helps us to look deeply is the Discourse on the Four Foundations of Mindfulness (https://plumvillage.org/sutra/discourse-on-the-four-establishments-of-mindfulness/). It learns us how to be aware of what’s here without being carried away our thinking. (25:27)

And when our thinking quiets down, we can get in touch with our Buddha nature (30:37).

Whatever we put our attention to becomes the object of our mind. So we don’t have to go far start investigation of phenomena, we can start with our own body and feelings (45:39).

We can also entrust a question to our store consciousness as a way of investigating (49:59).

For example investigating the feeling of not being good enough. Having insight to where this comes from will lead to better able to cope with this voice inside (58:48).

This talk was given as part of the winter retreat 2017-2018 in Plum Village France. For an overview of sister Tuệ Nghiêms talks visit her profile on plumvillage.org: https://plumvillage.org/about/dharma-teachers/sr-tue-nghiem/


You can support us by helping to caption & translate this video: https://amara.org/en/videos/g3wTPOUjyXmg/

Dear respected Thay, dear brothers and sisters, dear friends, today is the 26th of November 2017 we are in the Stillwater meditation hall of the Upper Hamlet, Plum village and we'll continue with the theme the seven factors of awakening, of enlightenment. I'm always really fascinated by this theme enlightenment because I I feel that there's more than what I can hear and what I can perceive and what I know and I remember going through times in my life when I had this burning desire to know to understand because I feel there's a curtain that prevent me from seeing what's actually there and this feeling this desire was so strong with my mom passed away I really wanted to know where is she now, which direction is she going into. And I felt if I could just you know draw away the curtain I can't really see and yet it felt really impossible for me to draw that curtain so that I can actually see so then I can really understand and in my life as a practitioner I felt a lot of time that I am wearing tinted glasses to look at reality. I have an idea of reality, I have an idea, a perception of myself and of other people and I can't really you know like really put down that glasses so that I can see reality as it is and I can see other people as who they are and not just ideas and perceptions and prejudices that I have so a burning desire in me to really experience enlightenment. To really have a taste of it because I know once I'm able to experience enlightenment then I can see what my flesh eye cannot see, I can understand what my mind cannot perceive. And so I always talk about enlightenment. I always touch on it every time I give a talk. And one time one of the younger brothers came up to me after my talk about enlightenment and he said: "Sister you were very brave to talk about enlightenment!" and I knew that wasn't a compliment. And I asked "what do you mean?" and he said: "the brothers, well some of the brothers, are very allergic to the word enlightenment". And I thought what's with you brothers I mean maybe that's why you have a lot of difficulties maybe because you don't set high enough goal for your for your practice and that's when I realize that maybe people do have negative idea negative connotation to the world enlightenment and so the theme of the talks this winter is about enlightenment how can we experience enlightenment here and now what practices can we do to become enlightened and so instead of using the word enlightenment I learned to use the word awakening I think it makes more sense to me because it's like we've been sleeping all along for a million years with our eyes closed even when we are awake we live in a dream even when we are awake and then artists under our eyes opened and seen so it's a beautiful image for me the word of wakening really provokes them image of waking up to what's there. And so so let me write down the Seven Factors of Awakening. Last week sr Jina had already talked about mindfulness So the Seven Factors of Awaking, it starts with mindfulness. The second one is investigation of phenomenas, or dharmas. The third one is diligent or energy. The fourth is joy, the fifth is tranquility, sixth is concentration and the seventh equanimity so today I will talk about investigation so as you have already learned that there are the 3 important practices, three essential practices, we call them the three trainings or the three learnings. It's mindfulness concentration and insight. These are three precious gems in our heart. And mindfulness simply means to know what's happening here now. Mindfulness is a light inside ourselves that once it's lit up we can see we can see not just with our eyes but we can see with our mind what's happening in our body what's happening did our mind and also what's happening around us. And like sister Jina said if only you take up this practice the mindfulness practice as she has shared last week it's already enough for you to become enlightened. Because once you are embodied with mindfulness you you radiate with light and that you see you can see so much more and when you are mindful it means that you're there you're present for whatever it is that you're looking at and when you stay with it long enough you see see very deeply and that's mindfulness concentration and insight and that feeling it's coming from a very deep place inside it's like a gut feeling experience and once you have that insight you know this is it it's like aha is that a high experience and it helps you to understand and it liberates you from whatever it is that you still get stuck in or tell you have not understood so that's mindfulness concentration and insight in brief but when you look at the seven factors of awakening we don't really see insight there's concentration there's mindfulness but there's no insight and insight is very important the element that liberates it's not there I can see in your faces that you have the answer already that's because investigation of dharma's which means to look deeply, to search to be curious, helps us to understand. So investigation leads to insight. So in investigation, if we practice it then there's understanding, there's insight. So insight is actually there. But of course if we practice mindfulness you can also find insight to mindfulness. If you practice concentration you can also find insight in concentration. Because this three things. mindfulness concentration and insight, they go together. Each is giving birth to the other they are connected. And so how do we practice investigation? How do we practice looking deeply? This is a question that came up all the time in my practice for myself, but also questions that came up for my younger brothers and sisters about how to practice looking deeply. How to practice the factor of awakening investigation? Is it speculation? Is it analyzing? Is it thinking over and over and over about something? well I'll share this morning how I practice investigation because since understanding is so important for me that it's something that I've dwelled on a lot like I said the biggest suffering for me is not understand not knowing like seeing things through this window and not being able to get out of this window to see the whole picture because when I look at this window this reality it's just a tiny teeny picture of the whole picture a tiny bit like one little jigsaw, jigsaw piece of a jigsaw puzzle and only if I get out of this room outside of this window that I can see the whole picture. So let us look into the sutras to see what the Buddha say about Investigation how to practice investigation to see whether it's really speculation and analysis analyzing us as we learned that you know in school just speculate things using our intellect to analyse things using our intellect so let's begin with the sutra on mindful breathing we all know the practices of the sutra on mindful breathing and it always begins whatever it is that we're looking at whether we're looking at our body or a feeling or a mind or our perception which is really the objects of mind we always begin with breathing so breathing in I'm aware of my breathing my body breathing out I'm aware of my body we start with breathing in I'm aware of my breathing pretty now I'm aware of my breathing and so whether we look into the body or whether we are looking into our feeling or whether we look into impermanence or the idea of non-self we always have to dwell on the breath which means we're to be present which means no thinking you have to stay present for the breathing with our body with our breath when we look deeply into something and it makes so much sense because when we look deeply why are not using a breath while we're not mindful or present what happened is that we can easily get caught up in our thoughts stories we have you know head ideas you have about you know whatever it is that we're looking at and before we know it we're miles away from where we are from the present moment and so we can go in there with the intention good intention of wanting to look deeply into something and the next thing we knew, it's like we're wasting our time thinking about one thing to the next. Does that happen in you? It happens to all of us because we're not really present and so the breath helps us to stay afloat so that we're not submerged in the sea of thinking so that's the first thing that we learn for the future he said the breath is so instrumental and happiness to be able to look deeply into something so let's breathe with the sound of the Bell and just stay pressing with a breath we notice it coming in coming out we notice the beginning of the breath and the end of the breath so the breathing helps us to be really quiet in our mind so that was consumed and then there's another sutra that I really like, and I always, it's like my my daily practice, is the sutra, the discourse on the four foundations of mindfulness which helps me to see one how to practice looking deeply and again this discourse, this sutra, shows us how to practice mindfulness in our body in our feeling in our mind and in the object of mind and what would I really like about this sutra is that so we don't have to do much we don't have to do anything that we simply acknowledge what's there we acknowledge its presence the presence of a feeling or of a mind state such as anger or love and we acknowledge that it's there and if it's not there which is acknowledged oh it's not there anymore my mind there is no hate in my mind there's no love in my mind that's all there there is to it it's a practice of recognition which is there and in what some in other world which is we should be present and be aware of so what habits happening in the body in the mind in the feeling and in whatever it is that looked me looking at there's no there's no judgement to it there's no, you know, association associating this this mental state with stories that we have or with experiences we had in the past simply just real recognition of what's there so what this day is about looking deeply for me is that apart from being really present and mindful of my breath I also need to keep myself really quiet no thinking in Zen no mind they call it no mind it's in mine which means you're thinking stuff in mind and how is that possible you may think how is it possible that there's no thinking I mean we think all the time sometimes we're so drained without thinking and we can't stop it this ceaseless thinking that's when the practice of mindfulness becomes really helpful to quiet down our mind you know being aware of the breath being aware of the body being aware of our steps and that's why when we practice mindfulness we are already practicing looking deeply and I'm reading a book by master Linji our patriarch and you know he used this really radical methods to help us cut off our thinking and to come in touch with our own Buddha nature and I really enjoyed it because for me looking deeply it's about cutting off our thinking some speculation is not about internal intellectual speculation or analyzing it's not about sitting there and think and think and think even if you're just thinking about yourself or impermanence because the more you think the more you become confused the more we think we are only coming in touch with our ideas and perceptions and preconceived ideas and notions and we can't really experience reality as it is we can't really see beyond this curtain and so this comes to mind the practice of stopping arriving and looking deeply stopping and looking deeply these are two aspects of meditation we stop running in our head come back to the present moment and then receive we look deeply and the metaphor that I really like is the metaphor of a pond it's the image of a pond a pond on on a windy day or a rainy day when you look into a pond you see lots of web ripples and waves you see fragments of what's there you actually don't see anything but on my still and clear day like today he looked into a pond and the water is so still and so calm it reflects the blue sky it reflects the white cloud affects the tree in the water it's as if they're like mirror image of one another imagine the pond and also what's out there and and it's a metaphor for the mind because our mind is it's like that whenever we have a lot of thinking and thoughts and ideas in our head the sec out it's full of ripples and waves I can't see much within the dark actually when we are just filled with so much thoughts, ceaseless thoughts. But when we are able to come back to our breath come back to our body come back to our steps the pond of our mind becomes so still and so clear that we see so deeply into it we see causes and conditions why we are the way we are why we feel the way we do why we think the way we think and that scene is not coming from a pure it's coming because our mind is clear and master Linji said you are already a Buddha you don't need to look for the Buddha outside of yourself and sometimes the shouts at you if you come to him with a lot of ideas and thinking to help you cut up while you're thinking in you know come in touch with your own Buddha nature with the baby Buddha inside yourself so I'd like to talk about mice actually this place that we can look for the Buddha inside ourselves since we're talking about you know quiet in our mind in order to see where's that scene coming from Weston do you know where exactly that insight is coming from so we know about the store consciousness right maybe some of you may not heard a bit before so I'm just gonna say briefly about it this is your mind and in the depths of our being there our consciousness our mind there's different layers and our tradition we say about eight layers in our mind so the deepest of these eight layers is called the store consciousness in the store consciousness it stores all kinds of seeds and heats a real potentials potentials that were capable of the whole spectrum of seeds the whole spectrum of potentials from the most positive to the most negative in other word we have the seed of a Buddha inside ourselves the seed of insight in us also but we also have the seed of ignorance which is the seed of not seeing not knowing not understanding and then we always have a see just tomorrow inside ourselves Mara is there in in us too in other word everything that we're looking for everything we have ever experienced can be found right inside ourselves in the depths of our being in the store consciousness it preserves all kinds of seeds it maintains all the seeds in here and then there are the six some there the six organs sense organs there's we have the six sense organs the eyes the ears the nose the tongue the body and the mind These are the six organs, and when these six organs come in touch with its object which is sight sound taste touch smell or objects of mind these two things come together it gives rise to an awareness to a consciousness so there's the eye consciousness the ear-consciousness the nose consciousness tongue consciousness and body consciousness and then the mind consciousness and so whatever it is that we come in in touch with through our senses actually it's a trigger that taps into the seeds in the depths of us store consciousness it's a stimulus the trigger sit inside and the seed manifest as a mental formation as a state of mind that we can actually experience in our body in our mind we can actually sense it view it touch it and so whatever seeds that have been watered in us becomes a significant it becomes significant in other word it it affects the quality of our being and that but we think that the object is coming from outside of ourselves and it goes in and taps into our seeds and then you know like this mental formation manifest it's not like that I mean that's an image to help us to understand how store consciousness really works but the store consciousness it's the subject of knowing but it's it's at the same time the object of knowing these two things go together they manifest together but what we feel or what we experience in what we see are manifesting together so the subject and the object of cognition manifests at the same time it is not something we're taking they are already there in a form of seeds and so when they manifest the manifests as the subject and as the object and and this helps me it helps me to see that I don't really need to go out there and look at things that it investigate on things out there all I need to do is go back to here in order to investigate what's inside of me because what is manifesting in me because what's manifesting in me as actually what's manifesting out there is actually a projection of what's manifesting in me exactly and so for me the object of my investigation is here it's here and that's why when you come to plum village like all our practices it's encouraging you to come back to yourself the bells happiness to come back and mr. Ling Zhi keeps saying come back and recognize that the Buddha is inside you don't need to look for the Buddha outside of you and so it becomes really clear for me that the object of my investigation is myself and it makes so much sense because when I understand myself then I can understand other people when I understand my impermanence the impermanence of my body and mind then I can understand the impermanence of everything there is and what I really like about this is that I don't really have to you know look for I don't have to go out there and to practice that I have everything I need to practice mindfulness to practice looking deeply so go back because you have everything you need to help you to understand reality and and suffering the experience in our life suffering difficulties the challenges we go through they actually really really useful there was to stop and look and in my life has in my practice I noticed that I went through times when I am quite slacking I may be you know appearing you know in the sunglass activity but I'm actually really slacking in a silent because things are so easy to know I feel peaceful if you're calm and I take it for granted it is only the challenges the suffering that I experience that really pushes me to like look look a bit deeper and so actually it's it's good news to have suffering and when you look at it in that way suffering is narrative and it's actually really good they're opportunities we always see suffering when we experience suffering that we see yourself as being a victim and that really weakens us but when we see that suffering and difficulties are opportunities to have a scope a bit deeper in ourselves to understand then they're like really really valuable opportunities that's why suffering is it's a no achieve right it's noble because it helps us to come in touch with reality with who we really are and we're more than just these difficulties with the Buddha we're not just Mara we're the Buddha too and so these opportunities the suffering helps us to come in touch with the Buddha inside ourselves and bring in her a life and I'll share with you about how I prepared the Dharma talk because I always a problem preparing for Dhamma talk I really don't know how to prepare a Dharma talk I noticed my sister's coming up with like a lot of paper and stuff like that and I'm like wow that's great I wish I could do that and I try to think nothing comes to mind that's my problem and so what I did this time was that I know this is a really important topic but you know because you know it's it's enlightenment and so I asked my older sister can you please pretty please give me some questions what is it that you want me to talk about what do you want in you what do you want to know about the investigation give me some questions and then I also told my mentee to give me some questions and I told them a week before and so they gave me all these questions and when I dealt with this question with them I didn't trust this question in my store consciousness I said okay take over I'm not gonna think because I cannot think and so that's I did and then I kept really quiet to know in my daily activity I do my best to be mindful and to be really conscious of what's unfolding inside and then but you know like this idea comes up even when I least expected like what I should say and how I said what not how I should say it because I never know how I should say it whatever comes comes it's coming in touch with everyone that trigger whatever it is that it come out and and I and this is what I do in my daily life is that I have to trust my store consciousness and when we are keeping our self really quiet really mindful to reflect on what's there this is exactly what we're doing we're and Trust in the store consciousness with these issues for it to work for us and it's actually less costly because that's the nature of store consciousness is that it works night and day even when we are asleep maybe when I am asleep you know like these questions it's working in the depths of my store consciousness to prepare the Dharma talk for me it's very costly when we have to think because our brain with only 2% of the whole total total body mass and it consumes 25% of the energy of our whole body but if we are like having this episode of like ceaseless thinking that will stop even when we are completely exhausted even when we have like a terrible headache and we couldn't stop thinking anybody if experienced that before a few of you well that happened to me so I know I've been there and so it drains you and yet you're still in the dark because the more you think the more in the dark you are but if you entrust these issues to your store consciousness like I have interested these questions in their store consciousness store consciousness what would we do its work and they will provide us with the answer and that answer is inside so inside this now coming from our head inside is coming for the depths of our being so trusting in my store consciousness helps me not to be so tired and also dreamed so the practice is not about getting more the practice is about cleaner in clearing away because we already have woven whatever it is that we're looking for we already have inside inside ourselves it's about clearing away these ideas and thoughts and perceptions and thinking that means that this but the space is in room this inside - and for so one in the inevitable question that came from my sisters is how do they give an example or how do I practice looking deeply to walk through my suffering you know I've been up here many times before in the last day was in more than two years you know that before that time is always appear and we have the pleasure to sit in down there and listen you know being up here it's kind of I feel like it's I feel transparent up here because it's beyond me what actually comes out and sometimes my sister said it's a good talk or sometime it's not a very good talk and I said I'm sorry whatever comes out you just have to accept because I can't do anything about it it's my store consciousness I blame it on my store consciousness and but this time I have to admit I'm a bit nervous to come up here how to breathe with that feeling and I heard this voice underneath that feeling of nervousness the voice that I'm not good enough it's a voice familiar I'm not good enough and this voice it's really a very oh oh friend of mine a voice that was there when I was a child and especially when I was a teenager and I had to work a lot with that voice that I'm not good enough I'm not good enough every day - no I'm not intelligent enough I'm not beautiful enough I'm not enough of this and I'm not enough of that and I had to work a lot with with that when I begun when I began my my my life my practice and what I realized was then that voice was actually connected to I don't know if it's connected but it has to do with my dad I never talked about my dad in the community I talked a lot about my mom but never about my dad that's because I don't know what it's like to have a dad that's because my dad passed away we know it's one and a half years old and I grew up filthy feeling there's something wrong with me that I'm not complete but I'm not good enough not good enough and that as a teenager as a child I felt like there's a hole inside here even though my mom was a very loving caring she was never remarried so that she cannot she can really put all her energy and her love for for us and now it's the internal process that was happening inside excessive there's a missing piece of the jigsaw puzzle inside me and it created a lot of suffering for me and in my my practice whenever I experienced suffering it's always coming back to that suffering as a child as a teenager and that voice have always been there and I have to walk along with it and so and so when I knew this is where it was coming from I had promised to accept myself as sure I was and I practiced to see my father in myself to see my dad in myself and I started to notice things in my siblings that are also email he may not be very strong in my mom I know that's my dad so with the practice I was able to fill up that hole in the practice of understanding myself the practice of accepting and loving myself as Who I am but then once in a blue it comes up again you know his voice it comes up again but the practice of looking deeply had helped me now to recognize it immediately once it comes up so that it doesn't have the charge and the power to overwhelm me as it had you know as a teenager and so whatever it is that we have to work with whatever voice it is that's keep telling us about ourselves it's actually a wrong perception of myself if we look deeper into ourselves we see that we're more than just this voice and that actually helped to fill up that hole in our soul it makes us feel complete so whatever it is that you're experiencing to be the object of your investigation and that's why we need to start and so investigation really as a factor self listening to ourselves listening to this voice inside and I realized that we don't do this very often when we are when we have like a quiet time quite place with ourselves we see that there's so much thoughts thinking and ideas but if we can just listen to those thoughts and ideas you know like it's very soft voice inside it's like there's just like a chattering box in the back of our head you can actually understand ourselves a lot and a lot and a lot and it could be really healing to be able to understand to be able to listen to love ways it helps us to understand ourselves and why we are the way we are why is the further way we do what we when we get triggered the way we do so awakening or enlightenment it's not something something beyond us and they're not just ideas either you know whatever ideas that that brother had about enlightenment it's not about that either it's about our daily experience of living mindfully and of being still enough inside ourselves that we could see deeply into ourselves and we're coming a bit closer to the reality of who really are that we can come a bit closer to the reality of who that person really is and what it is that were looking at so enlightenment is possible and it's simple to do it simple to experiencing and it starts at is breath mindful breath mindful steps there's this you know some people say that Thai only teaches breathing in and breathing out but if you can really practice breathing in breathing out deeply you can experience enlightenment awakening right here right now so thank you for, thank you for embarking on this journey with all us here in Plum Village, a journey to wake up, to become enlightened and that with every step you make and every breath we take we experience enlightenment thank you for listening

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