Thich Nhat Hanh
The best time to start the practice is now and the best place to start the practice is here.
We shouldn’t wait until tomorrow or until we go somewhere in order to start to practice. Even if there is confusion, fear, and pain in us, that starting point is good. We don’t need to feel better in order to start, we have to start from where we are and how we are.
We know that the path is the path of freedom. We know that we suffer because we don’t have enough freedom. We are not ourselves, because we are being carried away by forces that we cannot control. We are a victim of our afflictions and of our habit energies. That is why the starting point is a determination to get free, and every step and every breath helps you to reclaim that freedom.
Having a lot of suffering does not mean that you cannot succeed in your practice. It is exactly because you have a lot of suffering that you can work for your liberation. Liberation from suffering.
Three Supportive Conditions for Healing
In order for the practice to be successful we need a number of conditions. We need someone who shows us the way, we need the way, and we need someone who can support us along the path. In buddhism we call these three elements the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha. The Buddha is someone who shows us the way, the Dharma is the way, the Sangha is the person or persons who support us in the practice. They are conditions for our success, our liberation.
In order to succeed in becoming more compassionate, understanding and free you need faith, you need trust. We don’t speak of blind faith. Faith here means trust, confidence in the Buddha, the Dharma, and the Sangha.
That confidence, trust and faith should come from our own judgement, our own insight. We have to see the living Dharma transforming and healing with our own eyes, experiencing it directly. It should be effective in helping you and other people to transform and heal, and to have more compassion and understanding. The living Dharma can be seen in those who practice. There are people who are successful in their practice. The Dharma is seen in the way they walk, eat, work, act, handle difficult situations, and smile with freedom, and compassion. Out of that observation or experience, faith, trust and confidence are born.
The Dharma should not be a statement or an idea, it should be something you directly experience in you and around you. Only the Living Dharma can bring you faith, not notions provided to you by other people. That is what we call faith.
If you have confidence in the Dharma, you also have confidence in the Buddha, who has offered the living Dharma to you. If you have that kind of confidence you can take the living Dharma into your daily practice, your daily life. You can walk, breathe, and act with compassion and understanding, and then you will become an instrument for the living Dharma, and you can help other people to touch the living Dharma as you have.
When we come together as a group or a Sangha, with the common aspiration to practice, we produce an energy of collective concentration far greater than our own individual concentration. This energy further helps us to cultivate compassion and understanding. If we practice mindful sitting, walking, speaking, and listening together as a group, then everyone can feel the collective energy and everyone can receive nourishment and healing. This collective energy can lead to collective insight and to a collective awakening.
We need to gather regularly as a Sangha in order to practice together and support each other. When we practice mindfulness together can create a powerful collective, healing energy.
Five Powers or Energies for Healing
You have to practice in such a way that you become like a power plant generating the energies of faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration and insight, which can push you, and many others forward on the path of practice. These energies are a source of power. There is the power plant which is your body, your spirit, your life, which can generate these energies, like electricity. The Five Powers are the foundation of real happiness and they are based on concrete practices.
Faith is a source of energy and if you don’t have the energy of faith you cannot practice, you are without strength, so you have to have faith and that faith is born from the direct experience of the living Dharma.
You might have confusion, fear, anger and so on but that does not prevent you from having faith in the Dharma, in fact you need faith in the Dharma if you have a lot of confusion, and anger, and despair and depression. Because to have faith means that you know it is possible for you to transform the situation, and to get out of a difficult situation. So faith is very important. Faith in What? Faith in the living Dharma and that at this very moment you can take up the living Dharma in order to transform your life.
When faith is manifesting it is called the energy of faith. With the energy of faith, your eyes become very bright, your steps become very determined; you have that energy within you. Your enthusiasm, and your dynamism help others to be more active, to be more diligent on their path.
The second kind of energy the Buddha talked about is the energy of diligence. Without the energy of faith it’s very difficult or you to have the energy of diligence, because you don’t believe in it. You are with out power, you are powerless, you cannot generate any power. So faith engenders diligence and with that diligence you can practice mindfulness. To practice regularly, daily, with the support of your family, friends, and community—this is diligence.
Mindfulness is the most concrete way of dealing with suffering, and with forgetfulness. When we sit, eat a meal, or wash the dishes, we can learn to be mindful. Mindfulness helps you to be yourself once again. You can reclaim your freedom, you can restore your sovereignty as a human being, if you are inhabited by the energy of mindfulness. Whatever you do wherever you are, you are mindful of what is going on within you and around you. Knowing how to understand and care for your body and mind you regain your freedom, you take your destiny into your own hands, that is mindfulness.
Mindfulness is the third kind of power that the Buddha spoke about. You can transform yourself into a power plant that generates the energy of mindfulness day and night for your profit and for the profit of your Sangha and the people around you.
Mindfulness helps to bring about concentration. Whenever there is mindfulness then concentration is already there also. When you are mindful of something you concentrate on that something. When you are mindful of your breath, you are concentrated on your breath. When you are mindful of your steps, you are concentrated on your steps. That is why mindfulness is the mother of concentration. Concentration is carried inside mindfulness.
When you drink your tea, just drink your tea. Enjoy drinking your tea. Please don’t drink your suffering, your despair, your projects. This is very important. Otherwise you can’t nourish yourself. There are things that you have seen but not very clearly. You can use the power of concentration to experience a breakthrough and see deeply the nature of what is there. Perhaps you have some depression, fear, or despair, and you want to look deeply into the nature of your affliction to be able to transform it. To do this you need a lot of concentration.
When you live your life in a concentrated way you can look deeply into the nature of what is there and you get insight. This is the kind of insight that has the capacity to liberate you from your depression and fear. Insight, the fifth power, is a sword that painlessly cuts through all kinds of suffering, including fear, despair, anger, and depression. If you are using your powers of concentration, insight allows you to fully see what you are concentrating on. All of the first four powers lead to this fifth superpower. And with insight comes a tremendous source of happiness.
When you are able to get liberated from your suffering your faith increases, your faith is nourished because you have seen that the Dharma works. If your faith is increased then you diligence is increased. Faith helps diligence to grow, diligence helps mindfulness to grow, which helps concentration to grow which helps insight to grow. They are also all linked to each other and each power helps the others to grow, they interare, they are supporting each other like friends in the same community. Together they grow as a Sangha.
This is the teaching of the Buddha called The Five Powers, five sources of energy that you can generate in your daily life as a practitioner.
The Lotus Sutra says, "All sentient beings have the Buddha nature." With the right conditions, the seed of Buddha nature in us will grow. We could also call that seed the seed of right mindfulness or the seed of insight, wisdom, right diligence or right faith. These are, in fact, one seed. To practice means to help that wonderful seed to manifest. Mindfulness is the seed of the Buddha in us.
Practicing with Depression
Part I: Conditions and Energies for Healing
Part II: Recognising and Caring for Depression
Part III: Understanding the Roots of Depression