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The Way Out Is In / The Miracle of Mindfulness: Thich Nhat Hanh in Conversation with Krista Tippett (Episode #19)

Thich Nhat Hanh, Br Pháp Hữu, Krista Tippett


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Welcome to episode 19 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh passed away on January 22nd, 2022. As we grieve our dear teacher, we also want to celebrate his enduring legacy with the podcast’s first special edition.

Therefore, we are sharing an edited recording of Thich Nhat Hanh interviewed by Krista Tippett during a USA tour in 2003, at a lakeside Christian conference center in rural Wisconsin.  

The interview is reproduced with kind permission of Krista Tippett and her podcast and radio show On Being.

Peabody Award-winning broadcaster Krista Tippett is a National Humanities Medalist and a New York Times bestselling author. She attended Brown University, then worked as a journalist and diplomat in Cold War Berlin. Subsequently, she lived in Spain and England before receiving a Master of Divinity at Yale University in the mid 1990s.

The episode starts with an introduction by Brother Phap Huu – Thich Nhat Hanh’s former attendant, and the current Abbott of Upper Hamlet, Plum Village. The brother recites one of Thay’s best known poems and pays tribute to his beloved teacher.

In the interview, Thich Nhat Hanh offers gentle wisdom for living in a world of anger and violence, through concepts such as engaged Buddhism, ‘being peace’, and mindfulness.

He shares the story behind his classic book The Miracle of Mindfulness, and discusses the Vietnamese connotations of the word ‘mindfulness’; transforming suffering; and building a community of practice and teaching mindfulness to different groups – from members of the US Congress to Hollywood filmmakers and law enforcement officers.

One segment of the interview focuses on dealing with war and ‘enemies’; the repetitive patterns of war, with a focus on the Vietnam and Iraq wars and the ‘war on terror’ taking place at the time. He further delves into: the root causes of war, anger, forgiveness, and peacekeeping; collective awakening; and viewing the world through the eyes of compassion. 

What is compassion in the wake of a terrorist attack? Does the practice of mindfulness cause forgiveness to become instinctual? And what were Thay’s pressing questions in 2003?

Thay also recites poems in both English and Vietnamese and comments on their meanings and shifting contexts, such as the relevance of his 40-year-old poem ‘Illusion Transformed’ to the realities of 2003. 


Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
https://plumvillage.app/

And Global Optimism:
https://globaloptimism.com/ 

With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
https://thichnhathanhfoundation.org/ 


List of resources 

‘Recommendation’
https://plumvillage.org/articles/recommendation/

‘Alone Again’
https://plumvillage.org/library/songs/alone-again-promise-me/

The Miracle of Mindfulness 
https://plumvillage.org/books/the-miracle-of-mindfulness/

‘Illusion Transformed’
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fq5HHRJ9pIk 

Drops of Emptiness
https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/424577.Drops_of_Emptiness 

‘For Warmth’
https://plumvillage.org/articles/for-warmth-thays-poem-in-my-two-hands-betsy-roses-song/ 

Fragrant Palm Leaves 
https://plumvillage.org/books/fragrant-palm-leaves/

Thich Nhat Hanh address to the US Congress, September 10, 2003
https://plumvillage.org/it/about/thich-nhat-hanh/letters/thich-nhat-hanh-address-to-us-congress-september-10-2003/0/

‘Mindfulness, Suffering and Engaged Buddhism’ (interviews with Thich Nhat Hanh, Cheri Maples, and Larry Ward)
https://plumvillage.org/about/thich-nhat-hanh/interviews-with-thich-nhat-hanh/thich-nhat-hanh-on-mindfulness-suffering-and-engaged-buddhism/ 

The United Nations
https://www.un.org/en/ 

The Vietnam War
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Vietnam_War 

Bến Tre
https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/B%E1%BA%BFn_Tre 


Quotes

“Mindfulness is a part of living. When you are mindful, you are fully alive, you are fully present, you can get in touch with the wonders of life, which can nourish and heal you. And you are stronger, you are more solid, more able to handle the suffering inside and around you. When you are mindful, you can recognize, embrace, and handle the pain, the sorrow in and around you, to bring relief. And if you continue with concentration and insight, you’ll be able to transform the suffering inside and help transform the suffering around you.” 

“Suffering and happiness are both organic, like flowers and garbage. The flower is on her way to become a piece of garbage, and the garbage can be on its way to become a flower. That is why you are not afraid of the garbage, and you know how to handle it so that flowers can be created. And that is all. There’s no attempt to run away from suffering. And you handle suffering in such a way in order to create wellbeing and happiness.”

“Awakening, understanding, compassion, and reconciliation can take place after a few days of practice. People need an opportunity so that the seed of compassion, understanding in them can be watered. And that is why we are not discouraged. If more people join in the work of offering that opportunity, there will be a collective awakening and we shall have enough collective understanding and compassion to help us out of this difficult situation.”

“When you have compassion in your heart, you suffer much less. And you are in the situation to be and to do something to help others to suffer less.”

“Understanding brings compassion; understanding is compassion itself. When you understand the difficulties, the suffering, the despair of another, you don’t hate him or her anymore. And you are motivated by the desire to do something in order to help them transform the suffering inside.”

“You have to remain human in order to be able to understand and to be compassionate. And you have the right to be angry, but you don’t have the right not to practice in order to transform your anger. You have the right to make mistakes, but you don’t have the right to continue making a mistake: you have to learn from your mistakes.”

“Zen is not merely a system of thought. Zen infuses our whole being with the most pressing question we have.”

“I hold my face in my two hands.
No, I am not crying.
I hold my face in my two hands
to keep the loneliness warm—
two hands protecting,
two hands nourishing,
two hands preventing
my soul from leaving me
in anger.” 
– ‘For Warmth’ by Thich Nhat Hanh

00:00:00

Welcome to another episode in our podcast, The Way Out Is In. Dear listeners, I am sitting in Plum Village, Upper Hamlet, and I am sharing with you the news that our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, has passed away on January 22nd in the year 2022. We are in a solemn moment in Plum Village as we are grieving the passing of our teacher. But at the same time, we are celebrating the manifestation of our teacher in every one of us who follows his teaching and put into practice mindfulness, breathing and love. During these moments, as we grieve the passing of our teacher, I haven’t been able to pull myself together to record new episodes, but nevertheless I am still honoring my teacher. And one way is I have been reading some of his poems. And this poem really stands out for me. It teaches about interbeing and deep looking. So I would like to read this poem ‘Recommendation’, as well as to sing it to all of you as a gift to my beloved teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, and to all of you who have been following us and supporting us with a lot of love. Thank you for being there. Recommendation. Promise me, promise me this day, promise me now, while the sun is overhead exactly at the zenith, promise me: Even as they strike you down with a mountain of hatred and violence; even as they step on you and crush you like a worm, even as they dismember and disembowel you, remember brother, remember: man is not our enemy. The only thing worthy of you is compassion invincible, limitless, unconditional. Hatred will never let you face the beast in man. One day, when you face this beast alone with your courage intact, your eyes kind, untroubled (even as no one sees them) out of your smile will bloom a flower. And those who love you will behold you across ten thousand worlds a birth and dying. Alone again, I will go on with bent head, knowing that love has become eternal. On the long, rough road, the sun and the moon will continue to shine.

00:03:24

Alone again, I will go on with bent head, but knowing the immortality of love and on the long rough road both sun and moon will shine. Promise me, promise me this day while the sun is just over head, even as they strike you down with a mountain of hatred and violence, remember, brother, man is not our enemy. Just your pitty, just your love, invincible, limitless. Hatred will never let you face the beast in man. And one day when you face this beast alone, your courage intact, your eyes kind, out of your smile will bloom a flower. And those who love you will behold you across ten thousand worlds of dying, of dying and birth. Alone again, I’ll go on with bent head, but knowing the immortality of love and on the long, rough road, both sun and moon will shine lighting my way.

00:05:58

Thank you, dear friends. Now we want to offer this special episode with collaboration with the ‘On Being’ podcast with Krista Tippett, recorded in 2003. In 2003, I was a young monk and it was my first time on tour with Thay to the USA. And I was present for this interview and I was an attendant making tea for Thay and Krista Tippett. And for all of you who would like to listen to the edited version, ‘On Being’ podcasts will relaunch this episode in memory of our teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. You can find other episodes of the podcast The Way Out Is In on Spotify, Apple Podcasts or any other podcast platform, as well as our very special Plum Village App. And this podcast is only possible through the generous donations through the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. So if you would like to continue to support the work of Plum Village, you can visit the website www.tnhf.org/donate. We hope you enjoy this episode.

00:07:22

I think what intrigued me and I know, since we don’t have lots of time when you’re very tired, is that you actually wrote The Miracle of Mindfulness in those years when you had somewhat withdrawn from that great political and social activism of the 1960s. And so I wondered if mindfulness, that emphasis on mindfulness was really the core of the learning that you took away from those years of such turmoil and activism on your part.

00:07:59

You know that that was the practice that kept us alive, helped us to survive. And The Miracle of Mindfulness was written for our social workers first, in Vietnam, because they were living in a situation where the danger of dying was there every day. So out of compassion, out of a willingness to help them to continue their work, The Miracle of Mindfulness was written as a manual practice. And after that, many friends in the West, they think that it is helpful for them, so we allowed to be translated into English and so.

00:08:54

And I know that the elements of mindfulness, the way you describe it, are in traditional Buddhism, the teachings of the Buddha, but you do seem to have placed a very special kind of emphasis and interpretation on breathing. And also what is the word and what is the Vietnamese word that you’re translating as mindfulness? What are the connotations of that? I wonder.

00:09:18

Chanh niem it means true mindfulness. Chanh niem means your mind fully present in the here and the now.

00:09:28

OK.

00:09:30

And mindfulness is at the heart of Buddhist meditation, because with mindfulness you’ll be concentrated, and mindfulness and concentration help you to see things and to touch things more deeply so that you may understand the true nature of what is there. And that kind of understanding will set you free from your wrong perceptions and from the affliction that comes from your wrong perceptions.

00:10:03

What have you done with this concept, though, that is different? I mean, how did you interpret it or apply it differently that it had such an impact?

00:10:15

Mindfulness is a part of living. When you are mindful you are fully alive, you are fully present. You can get in touch with the wonders of life that can nourish you and heal you, and you are stronger, you are more solid in order to handle the suffering inside of you and around you. When you are mindful, you can recognize, embrace and handle the pain, the sorrow in you and around you to bring relief. And if you continue with concentration and insight, you’ll be able to transform the suffering inside and help transform the suffering around you.

00:11:06

And you know, this word miracle is on the surface is quite intriguing when what you’re describing is so organic. I mean it’s getting in touch with your breath first of all. Does that word or does this phrase ‘the miracle of mindfulness’, does that come out of your Buddhist training? Or was that a phrase that came to you?

00:11:35

It is in my heart when I use it because when you breathe in, your mind comes back to your body, and then you become fully aware that you are alive, that you are a miracle and everything you touch could be a miracle the orange in your hand, the blue sky, the face of a child. Everything becomes a wonder. And, in fact, they are wonders of life that are available in the here and the now. And you need to breathe mindfully in and out in order to be fully present and to get in touch with all these things. And that is a miracle. To breathe in and to know that you are alive. And to be alive is already a miracle, the largest miracle. And to be alive and to be walking on this beautiful planet is a miracle. And then when you are a miracle and if you get in touch with other things, other miracles, life becomes a miracle. And that’s why you can live all the miracles of life every moment. And also the suffering that you encounter are also miracles because you understand the nature of the suffering, you know, the role of suffering, that suffering plays in life. And you are not trying to run away from suffering anymore and you know how to make use of suffering in order to build peace and happiness. It’s like a growing lotus flowers. You cannot grow lotus flowers on marble. You have to grow them on the mud. Without mud, you cannot have a lotus flower. Without suffering, you have no ways to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. So the element suffering helps, plays a role in the cultivation of understanding and compassion. That’s why my definition of the kingdom of God is not a place where suffering is not, where there is no suffering.

00:14:13

The Kingdom of God.

00:14:14

Yeah, because I could not like to go to a place where there is no suffering. I could not like to send my children to a place where there is not suffering because in such a place they have no way to learn how to be understanding and compassionate. And the kingdom of God is a place where there is understanding and compassion, and, therefore, suffering should exist. Like in a place where there are lotus flowers there must be mud.

00:14:48

And that’s quite different from some religious perspectives which would say that the kingdom of God is a place where we’ve transcended suffering or moved beyond it.

00:14:59

Yes.

00:15:00

Yeah.

00:15:00

And it’s also naive to think that there is the right without the left. The bow without the arrow. The good without the evil. And suffering and happiness, they are both organic, like a flower and garbage. If the flower is on her way to become a piece of garbage and the garbage can be on her way to becoming a flower.

00:15:34

Right.

00:15:34

That is why you are not afraid of the garbage. And you know how to handle the garbage so that flowers can be created. And there is no attempt to run away from suffering. And you handle the suffering in such a way in order to create well-being and happiness. I think we have suffered a lot during the twentieth century. We have created a lot of garbage. There was a lot of violence and hatred and separation. And we have not handled… We don’t know how to handle the garbage that we have created. If we had and then we would have a chance to create a new century for peace. That is why now is very important for us to learn how to transform the garbage we have created into flowers.

00:16:37

So I look at the violence that marked the world in the period when you were a young monk. And there was the Cold War, there was a certain kind of violence and hostility. A lot of that has changed, has gone away, a lot of the terrible threats and the sources of the worst fighting. And now in its place, we have new kinds of wars and new kinds of enemies and we’re really interested in, as you look at this period of your lifetime, you know, is there any qualitative difference between the violence that we have now and the violence that we had then? Is there anything like progress happening or is it the same pattern that repeats itself?

00:17:24

Yeah, you are right. It’s the same patterns, the pattern that repeats itself.

00:17:30

And does that make you despair?

00:17:34

No, because I noticed there are people who are capable of understanding that we have enough enlightenment. And if only they come together and offered the light and show us the way, there is a chance for transformation and healing.

00:17:56

And, you know, in a retreat like this, you’ve gathered around you hundreds of people who are offering themselves up as individuals to this kind of training and mindfulness. And there’s, you know, you’re not just talking about peace here, there’s a sense of peace. But then the cynical question would be, can these individuals make a difference? You know, it seems like we live in an age of collective violence, collective terror and collective acts of retribution. So how do you see the effect of this work that you do and even of individuals really cultivating compassion?

00:18:41

Well, peace always begins with yourself as an individual. And as individual you may help building a community of peace. That’s what we tried to do. And when your community of a few hundred people know the practice of peace and brotherhood, then you can become the refuge for many others who come to you and profit from the practice of peace and brotherhood. And then they will join you and the community gets larger and larger all the time. And the practice of peace and brotherhood will be offered to many other people. That is what is going on.

00:19:32

And you experienced that to be?

00:19:34

Yes, because when I came to the West, I was all alone, and I was aware that I had to build a community. And there was no Buddhists at all at that time. So I worked with non-Buddhist people, and I suggest the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, mindful sitting. And slowly it build a community of practice that has international nature. And now we have many hundreds of communities like that in Europe, in America, in Asia. And each community offers the same kind of practice to the people where they live. We even have communities in the Middle East consisting of Israelis and Palestinians.

00:20:29

Right, I know. So that you’ve seen, you’re bringing Israelis and Palestinians together at Plum Village.

00:20:34

Yes.

00:20:38

And it seems to me that there’s been a change in the way you spend your energy, maybe as a way to put it, from this social activism on a grand scale in political activism in your earlier life, and that now it seems to be that you’re focusing on groups of people who are facing challenges of violence. I mean, I see you in this year in the United States, you’re meeting with members of Congress and Hollywood filmmakers and law enforcement officers. I mean, does that represent a new way of your thinking about about what the problems are and how to change them in our world?

00:21:19

You know, we still continue the work we have done in the past, we continue to work to bring relief to refugees, orphans. And people suffer a little bit everywhere because doing so we nourish the awareness that there are suffering people everywhere and that helps us to maintain our compassion and understanding, not being cut off from the world. And then, since we have more friends in the realms of business, politics and health professionals, they help us bring the practice into these realms.

00:22:10

OK. Is your teaching any different if you’re speaking to members of Congress or you’re speaking to Hollywood filmmakers or you’re speaking to law enforcement officers?

00:22:22

The practice would be the same, but you have to understand the difficulty, the suffering, that aspiration of different group of people in order to offer the teaching, the practice in a way that can be understood easily and it is applied easily.

00:22:43

And how do you do that? Is that something you discern when you come together with that group?

00:22:51

We need friends to show us how a certain group of people live their life or what kind of suffering and difficulties they encounter in their life so that we can understand. And after that, only after that, we could offer the appropriate teaching and practice. That is why we continue to learn every day with our practice and sharing,

00:23:19

And it is intriguing that you’re meeting with members of Congress. Some of the things you’ve said about the war on terror… I mean, you use the word forgiveness right away, and I don’t think that was a word that was anywhere in our public discourse in this country. But I also heard you this morning when you’re speaking with the group, talking about the responsibility of everyone for also for policies, global policies. Say some more about that, about how individuals, what role individuals have to play even in something like the war on terror from from your perspective.

00:24:01

We do have to wake up to the fact that violence cannot end violence, that only understanding and compassion can neutralize violence. Because with the practice of loving speech and compassionate listening we can begin to understand people and help people to remove the wrong perception in them, because these wrong perceptions are at the foundation of their anger, their fear, their violence, their hate. And the listen deeply, you might be able to remove the wrong perceptions you have within yourself concerning you and concerning them. So the basic practice in order to remove terrorism and war is the practice of removing wrong conceptions and that cannot be done with the bombs and the guns. And it is very important that our political leaders realize that. And applying the techniques of communication, we’re living in a time when we have very sophisticated means for communication, but communication has become very difficult between individuals and groups of people. A father cannot talk to a son, mother cannot talk to a daughter, and maybe a husband cannot talk to wife, and Israelis cannot talk to Palestinians, and Hindus cannot talk to Muslims. And that is why we have violence. That is why restoring communication is the basic work for peace. And our political and our spiritual leaders have to focus their energy on this matter.

00:26:12

But I think some would say people in positions of power would say that they simply can’t wait for that communication to happen or for that change to take place, that they also have to act now.

00:26:26

If they cannot communicate with themselves, if they cannot communicate with members of their family, if they cannot communicate with people in their own country, they have no understanding that will serve the base for right action, and they will make a lot of mistakes. They have to practice in order to get the kind of right insight that will help him or her to intervene into society. The war of Iraq, for instance, was started with the conviction that there are weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. And many Americans supported that kind of conviction. They believed their government, they believed their president, and now it turns out that such weapons have not been found. This is a very challenging issue concerning the ethics of a whole country. It makes people lose faith in America. And Americans losing faith in their own leadership is very serious. And now America seems to be caught in Iraq, and it seems that the United States of America have to occupy the country for a long time. And every day, there may be American young men and young women die in Iraq. And I think there should be a kind of a awakening in America that is strong enough to change the course of action. I think that the United States of America should invest into the United Nations and help it to become a true body of peacekeeping. There are other countries that are ready to collaborate in order to do such a thing. And then when the United Nations has become a true body of peacekeeping and then America can say something like, ‘Well, we are sorry that we have not found any weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, but we have had somehow to remove an unpopular regime there. Now, we’d like to hand all this whole situation to the United Nations so that we become only one member of the United Nations helping Iraq to rebuild itself.’ That is the kind of thing that America can do in order to get out with the appreciation of the world and to set right again what was not right.

00:29:58

I’m wondering if, you know, by way of bringing this back to you and the practice and how you know the practice, if you would read this poem ‘For Warmth’ and talk about how you think about anger and how one lives with anger. And, you know, I want to say about being with you, it’s clear that you are a very passionate person and that that being mindful doesn’t take away all these emotions, right? These human emotions.

00:30:38

We have to remain human…

00:30:40

Yeah.

00:30:42

in order to be able to understand and to be compassionate. You have the right to be angry, but you don’t have the right not to practice in order to transform your anger. You have the right to make mistakes, but you don’t have the right to continue making mistakes. You have to learn from your mistakes, and that is a sense of the meaning of civilization and progress.

00:31:17

And would you say something about the occasion on which you wrote this poem also?

00:31:26

I wrote this poem after I hear the news that the city of Ben Tre was bombed, and an American army officer declared that he had to destroy the town in order to save the town. It was so very shocking to us. In fact, there were a number of guerrillas who came to the town, and we use anti-aircraft gun to shoot, and, because of that, they bombarded the town and killed so many civilians.

00:32:02

Was it 1965 or something like that?

00:32:06

Yeah, around that time.

00:32:08

OK.

00:32:09

[Speaking Vietnamese] …. ‘I hold my face between my hands. No, I’m not crying. I hold my face between my hands to keep my loneliness warm. Two hands protecting, two hands nourishing, two hands to prevent me, to prevent my soul from leaving me in anger.’ That is the practice of mindfulness called mindfulness of anger. When you notice that anger is coming up in you, you have to practice mindful breathing in order to generate the energy of mindfulness, in order to recognize your anger and embrace it tenderly. So then you can bring relief into you and not to act and to say things that can destroy, that can be destructive. And doing so, you can look deeply into the nature of your anger and know where it has come from. That practice helped us to realize that not only Vietnamese civilians and military were victims of the war, but also American men and women who came to Vietnam to kill and to be killed were also victims of the war. And the deep cause of the war is the kind of policy that was based on wrong perceptions. Because at that time, America was convinced that if Vietnam became a communist country, that could be a threat for America. And United States of America sent half a million of soldiers in Vietnam and invested a lot of energy and money into Vietnam while back in America there was poverty, social injustice and so on. And then the American forces practiced the policy of ‘search and destroy’. They thought that to fight the communists in South Vietnam is not enough, they have to go to Cambodia to search and destroy the communists that are in Cambodia. And they went to North Vietnam and searched for communists and bombarded Vietnam. And there was one time they declared that they had to bombard Vietnam into a Stone Age, to bring it back to the Stone Age. And yet, with that mighty power, America did not succeed in destroying the communists. In fact, that policy created more communists and hatred in Vietnam. I think the same thing may be true now in Iraq. I’m not sure that America has diminished the number of terrorists and make people believe more in America. I think the anti-American feeling is growing there. And America has created more hatred, more terrorists, and we have to wake up to that kind of truth because only a collective awakening can help us out of this situation.

00:36:07

So here’s the question that occurs to me again and again, these root causes are so simple in a way: wrong perception…

00:36:16

Yes.

00:36:17

Poor communication.

00:36:18

Yes.

00:36:18

Anger that may have its place in human life, but then needs to be acted on mindfully, in your language. Why is it so hard for human beings and I think this is as true in a family as it is in global politics to take these simple things seriously, these simple aspects of being human?

00:36:40

I don’t think it is difficult. In the many retreats that we offer in Europe, in America, and in many other countries, awakening, understanding, compassion and reconciliation can take place after a few days of practice. People need an opportunity so that the seed of compassion and understanding in them can be watered. And that is why we are not discouraged. We know that if there are more people joining in the work of offering that opportunity, then there will be a collective awakening and we shall have enough collective understanding and compassion to help us out of this difficult situation.

00:37:40

You know, I look at you and I also see that you view the world through the eyes of compassion, which is another term you use, and that I see the weight of that on you. I mean, that it is also a burden to look at the world straight and to see suffering and to see the sources of suffering wherever you look.

00:38:00

When you have compassion in your heart, you suffer much less, and you are in the situation to be and to do something to help other countries to support this. This is so true. So to practice in such a way that bring compassion to your heart is very important. A person without compassion cannot be a happy person. And compassion is something that is possible only when you have understanding. Understanding brings compassion. Understanding is compassion itself. When you understand the difficulties, the suffering, the despair of the other person, you don’t hate him, you don’t hate her anymore. And you are motivated by the desire to do something in order to help him or her transform the suffering inside.

00:39:00

What would compassion look like towards a terrorist, let’s say?

00:39:05

The terrorists, they are victims of their wrong perceptions. They have wrong perceptions on themselves, and they have wrong perceptions on us. And that does not mean that we do not have wrong perceptions on us and on them. So the practice of communication, peaceful communication, can help them to remove the wrong perceptions on them and on us and the wrong perceptions we have on us and on them. This is the basic practice. This is the principle. And I hope that our political leaders understand this and take action right away to help us. And we, as citizens, we have to voice our concern very strongly because we should support our political leaders because we have helped elect them. We should not leave everything to them. We should live out daily in such a way that we could have the time and energy in order to bring our light, our support to our political leaders. We should not hate our leaders. We should not be angry at our leaders. We should only support them and help them to see right in order to act right.

00:40:35

I want to finish because I know I’ve taken a lot of your time. I want to ask you, this is from Fragrant Palm Leaves, which I know is a journal you wrote in the 1960s, but this is about Zen: ‘Zen is not merely a system of thought. Zen infuses our whole being with the most pressing question we have.’ What are your pressing questions at this point in your life?

00:41:05

Pressing question?

00:41:09

What are the questions you work through in your practice, just personally, I wonder.

00:41:15

I do not have any question right now. My practice is to live in the here and the now. And it is a great happiness for you to be able to live and to do what you like to live and to do. My practice is centered in the present moment. I know that if you know how to handle the present moment right, with our best, and then that is about everything you can do for the future. That is why I’m at peace with myself. I take the time. I invest one hundred percent of my body and my mind into handling the present moment. And with that, I feel at peace with myself and with the world.

00:42:15

Were you always able to do that?

00:42:17

That’s my practice every day, and that is very nourishing. And there are friends who live around me and who practice the same, and they are a great support to me in that respect also.

00:42:33

And I wonder, living that way and practicing that way, does forgiveness become instinctive? Does there come a point where you no longer react with anger but immediately become compassionate and forgiving towards those things which would cause suffering?

00:42:53

When you practice looking at people with the eyes of compassion, that kind of practice will become a good habit. And you are capable of looking at the people in such a way that you can see the suffering, the difficulties. And if you can see, then compassion will naturally flow from your heart. It’s for your sake, and that is for their sake answer. In The Lotus Sutra there is a wonderful, five-word sentence: ‘Looking at living beings with the eyes of compassion.’ And that brings you happiness, that brings relief into the world, and this practice can be done by every one of us.

00:43:52

I wonder if you would read me one more poem before we finish. And I was thinking of Illusion Transformed. And then just tell me what that says, what that means right now in the world.

00:44:18

This poem I wrote about 40 years ago or more. ‘Horizon’s heavy eyelids. Mountains leaning, seeking from earth below. At nightfall, grass and flowers perfume. Sleep. Illusion shifts her veils. Wind lifts up her hands. Red candle shimmer in the silver river of the sky. The hillsides open doorway frames the falling stars that raised the sacred words in fire. Ten thousand lives are spinning, circling. Dreams, illusion. The moment of this night reveals this world’s reality.’ I wrote it in a night after walking meditation outside. It was a night full of stars. And after the walk meditation, I went into my hermitage and stand behind my window and I saw a shooting star. And that was the inspiration that brought about this poem. I would like to read it in Vietnamese.

00:46:06

Yes.

00:46:10

I have put this poem in Vietnamese into music. Maybe I try to sing it to you.

00:46:23

All right.

00:46:24

[Speaking Vietnamese] ….

00:46:54

Thank you. Thank you.


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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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