Do you feel you have found a path that helps you to live with freedom, and without fear? How can we learn to see such a path clearly in every moment, and develop a confidence in it that is unshakeable?
In this retreat we celebrate 40 Years of Plum Village, with the theme “Now We Have a Path: We Have Nothing More to Fear”. In this first talk of the retreat, respected elder Sister Chan Duc tells us that faith in our path is a kind of power, if this faith is not only belief but a deep confidence born from our experience and understanding of the path. She offers us eight English words which our teacher Thay (zen master Thich Nhat Hanh) used to sum up the Plum Village path of practice. These words are the first two of the Four Plum Village “Dharma Seals”, or marks of authenticity, and if we practice them well, we will realize the essence of the third and fourth Seals as well.
In 2004, Thay offered this summary of the Plum Village practice: “Arrived, at home. Go as a river: sangha-body”. To practice “I have arrived, I am at home” means to dwell happily in the present moment. The practices of mindful breathing, walking, eating, and working can all support us as we learn to arrive in every moment, in any place or circumstance: even when we suffer, if we can stay “at home” with that suffering, we still have freedom. To “go as a river” means to learn in live in harmony with our spiritual community. It requires training to be able to live as a cell in the “sangha body”, nourishing and being nourished by that body. Sr Chan Duc tells us that the life’s work of Thay and the Buddha has been to build sangha, because they know it is only through the sangha that they are able to continue far and beautifully into the future. When difficulty arises, we stick with our sangha. We learn to embrace that difficulty and to look deeply together in order to transform it and to continue flowing as one river.
Practicing these first two Plum Village Dharma Seals, we are also able to realize the third and the fourth. The third Seal is that “the times and truths inter-are”. Because the past, present, and future inter-are, we can live in the present in a way that shines light on the past and future yet are not caught in or burdened by either. We can live with freedom in the world of “conventional truth” by being in touch with the “ultimate truth”, the Middle Way that goes beyond concepts and extreme views. When we see clearly the nature our suffering (the first Noble Truth), we can also see that in this very moment it already contains not only its roots but also the path that leads to liberation from it (the second, third, and fourth Noble Truths).
The fourth Dharma Seal is “Ripening, moment-by-moment”. This means that we do not have to wait until we die for our karma, our actions of body, speech, and mind, to ripen; and that this ripening does not require a permanent and separate self. Our body and consciousness are in continual transformation, arising in every moment due to innumerable causes and conditions. These causes and conditions include our actions of body, speech, and mind. By learning to direct these actions along the path of understanding and love, we can overcome fear and learn to live in happiness, safety, and freedom.