Transcription of Thây's second Dharma talk
on July 26th 2001 welcoming the Palestinian-Israeli group.
There are four foundations for mindfulness. That means that
there are four kinds of objects of the practice of mindfulness. We know that the
first object of mindfulness is our own body. The second domain of mindfulness
is mindfulness of feelings. The third domain is the domain of mental formations
- of mind. Mind here is mental formations. And we already know that formation
is a technical term, meaning everything that manifests based on conditions. The
table is a formation, the flower is a formation. But here we do not speak about
physical formations; we speak about mental formations, like anger, hatred, love,
compassion, jealousy, tolerance - all are mental formations. In my tradition we
speak of fifty-one categories of mental formations.
There are positive and wholesome mental formations, like right mindfulness, compassion
and non-violence. And there are unwholesome mental formations, like anger, hatred,
confusion, etc. And there are also neutral mental formations. There are fifty-one
mental formations, and as a novice, I had to memorize all of them. Every time
one of them manifests, I should be able to recognize it and call it by its true
name. Like when you study pharmacy, you have to recognize the smell and sight
of herbs in order to be able to recognize them and call them by their names. Here
it is the same.
The fourth realm of mindfulness is the realm of objects of mind - the objects
of these fifty-one mental formations, because each mental formation should have
an object. If there is no object there is no subject, because consciousness is
always consciousness of something. When you say "mindfulness," you have
to say "mindfulness of what?" Mindfulness of breathing? Mindfulness
of walking? Mindfulness of anger? You have to be mindful of something. If that
something is not there, there is no mindfulness possible. So, when we say "mind,"
we say subject of cognition, subject of mindfulness, subject of hate, of love,
of jealousy. There must be an object to every mental formation. To love means
to love what? To love whom? To hate means to hate what? To hate whom?
Among the mental formations there is one called "perception." It belongs
to a group of five mental formations called "universal mental formations,"
because they are always there, everywhere, all the time. We have a river of perceptions
in us; we continuously perceive this or that. We perceive ourselves, we perceive
the world. And the perception also has its object of perception; you perceive
means to perceive something. I perceive a mountain, I perceive the blue sky, I
perceive a tree. If there is a subject of perception there should be an object
of perception and this is exactly the fourth realm.
The mountain that you see there, first of all, should be seen as the object of
your perception. In the Buddhist literature, the word "Dharma," especially
when written with a capital "D," means the teaching, the law, the principle.
When it is written with a small "d," it may mean just the objects of
mind. That is why the fourth realm of mindfulness can be called "the realm
of dharma." So, a lotus is dharma, a table is dharma, because they are objects
of the mind. We learn to see all of them as objects of our mind first, and not
jump to the conclusion that they can exist separately from our mind. It is not
an objective reality. In fact, we have projected a lot of our feelings and perceptions
onto it, and we think that most of what we see, if not all, is a creation of our
own mind. The mountains, the sky, the ocean - all should be seen first of all
as objects of our mind. All dharma are objects of our mind. So, what we believe
to be inanimate things are not so inanimate, because they are objects of your
perception. In the perception there is the perceiver and the thing perceived.
These two things cannot exist separately.
First of all, we practice mindfulness of the body, and then we move to our feelings,
to our mind, to the objects of our mind. We find out that the body is also an
object of our mind. The feelings are both mind and objects of mind, because to
feel means to feel something. To perceive is to perceive something. That is the
"ABC" of Buddhist psychology. You have to train yourself to see objects
of mind as being part of the mind. Mind should be seen as having two parts: the
subject and the object, the perceiver and the object of perception - the perceived.
We are in the process of learning how to go back to our body and to reconcile
with it, to be one with it. We need mindfulness of breathing as a vehicle, an
instrument, to do this. We should be able to express our love and appreciation
to our body. We should be able to help our body to relax, to be free, to heal.
That is why the teaching of the Buddha on mindful breathing can be very helpful
in the realm of healing. You can heal yourself and you can help heal other people
through the practice of mindful breathing, in order to release your body and your
mind from the grips of the past, the future, your worries and so on.
When you come to a negotiation table with the hope of making peace, you need those
kinds of tools. This morning we spoke about policemen who are full of fear and
violence. They cannot play the role of peacekeeper well. We need to tell our government
how to provide them with the practice of being peace, before they go out and help
maintain peace and order. Peace and order should be something we offer rather
than impose. And inside the politician, the judge, the policeman, there should
be some peace, some non-fear, non-violence, in order for them to play their roles
well. That is why it is my belief, my conviction, that in teachers' colleges we
have to provide our students, our trainees, with the practice of being peace,
the practice of non-violence, dealing with body, feelings and perceptions. If
a teacher has that in him or herself, then many school children will profit. But
if the teacher is filled with violence and fear, then we cannot entrust our children
to them. It is like television. We cannot just use it as a babysitter, because
in television there is not enough peace. There is so much violence and craving
and so on. If we want to improve the quality of life in the twenty-first century,
we have to think about this. We should not wait for our government or our parliament
to take action. We have to urge them, to provide them, support them, with insight
I propose that non-violence be taught in teachers' colleges. Peace should be taught
as a practice, so that later on, a graduate from a teachers' college will know
how to handle schoolboys and girls. If teachers cannot handle the violence and
pain in themselves, how can they help children to do so? Parents have to organize
themselves, in an association of parents, and provide themselves with opportunities
to learn being peace, being non-violent. They should learn how to handle themselves
with non-violence and peace, in order to be able to handle our children with wisdom
and non-violence. And, of course, in congress people also have to practice, as
well as in government and political parties, because all political parties declare
that they are for peace. None of these political parties say that they are for
war, no one dares to do so. But there is a lot of war, division and hatred in
political parties, that create division, hatred and struggle for power. When we
see a political party like that we do not have much trust. Therefore, peace and
non-violence should be practiced in political parties. If you are the leader of
a political party, please think about it. Even if your party is a Green party,
you have to think about it. Green parties should have a lot of peace and understanding
and non-violence within.
When I was in India in 1997 I had the chance to speak to Mr. Narayanan, who was
the president of the National Assembly. We spoke about peace and non-violence
in the life of the parliament, and I spoke to him about deep listening and loving
speech, the two kinds of practices that can be used in the life of the congress.
When you speak you should try not to shout, not to condemn, not to punish, not
to judge, but just try to express your insight and experiences, your proposals,
in such a way that people can accept. If there is a lot of bitterness, judgment
and condemnation in your speech, other members of congress will not be open to
receive your ideas. When you are elected by your people to be in the congress,
you are expected to share your wisdom, experiences and proposals with others.
But if you do not know how to use loving speech, how can you do so? We have voted
for you, but you have not responded to our expectations. As voters we have the
right and the duty to tell the people we voted for that we expect them to use
loving speech and to be able to listen calmly and with compassion, because if
you are not calm and you do not have enough compassion, you cannot be open to
receive ideas. There may be a lot of wisdom in what they say, but they say it
in such an aggressive way that you are irritated and none of it can be taken in.
It looks like a conversation between deaf people. It is very much the same case
when you want to make a point and you make it with anger, shouting at the other
members of congress, and the others stand up and shout back, and then only arguments
follow, and not an exchange of truth and wisdom. Sometimes you get so angry that
you no longer behave like a representative of the people. I heard that a congressman
once threw a chair at another congressman in anger.
I proposed to Mr. Narayanan that in the beginning of each session, a few lines
about the practice of mindfulness should be read: "Dear colleagues, the people
who have elected us expect that we practice mindful, compassionate listening to
each other. They also expect us to use calm and peaceful language to express ourselves.
Let us do our best in order to serve the people." Something like that. It
takes maybe one or two minutes, but it is a real reminder for people. We voters
can propose something like that. We want that. Every time a person gets too angry,
only shouting, yelling and condemning, then the atmosphere in the congress becomes
very heated, very difficult. The chairperson should have the right, the duty,
to invite the mindfulness bell for everyone to stop and breathe in and out, to
smile, for two minutes. That is the practice of peace. That is not only Buddhism,
that is for everyone. Everyone can practice breathing in and out and calming him
or herself. That is the third exercise proposed by the Buddha - "Breathing
in, I calm my body, breathing out, I smile." The fifth exercise is "Breathing
in, I calm my feelings, breathing out, I smile to my feelings." The speaker
has to stop because he is not in the best position to deliver his speech. The
kind of language he is using cannot bring wisdom and experience.
I proposed things like that. Mr. Narayanan was very interested in what I proposed.
He said, "Thây, next time you should come and address our parliament,
because in India we care very much about the spiritual dimension of our life.
If only you could come and talk to us about that, it would improve the quality
of the debate in the congress." About ten days later, during a retreat that
we offered in Madras, a friend brought us a newspaper in which there was a report
that the chairman of the congress had set up a committee to take care of ethical
aspects of the congress. Representatives of political parties and the former Prime
Minister were in that committee. Mr. Narayanan is no longer the chairman of the
congress because he has become the president of India. I don't know if the new
chairman of congress would like to welcome me for the speech.
We have friends who come from Israel. They can represent the feelings of the Palestinians
and the Israelis. They are here to practice with us. They have suffered a lot,
and they have seen that the peace process has so many obstacles to it. And I propose
that our friends not speak to each other right away but first get into the practice
of mindful breathing, and get used to the practice of mindful walking, in order
to calm their bodies and feelings first.
Maybe later in the century at peace conferences people should do the same. The
first and second days, they just practice together mindful eating, mindful breathing
and mindful walking, to calm themselves down first before inaugurating the peace
talks. They can inaugurate the peace talks with meditation sessions. If you are
a politician, please think about it, because there is good will on the part of
many politicians, but so far they have not been able to bring peace. We need a
new approach. We have to be peace first, before we do peace. Being peace is the
ground of doing peace.
You have the right to tell us everything in your heart; all the suffering that
you have undergone, the suffering of your children, your brothers, your sisters,
your nation. You have to tell us all your fear, frustration and despair. But you
should do it peacefully, using the practice of loving speech, not condemning,
not punishing, not blaming - just tell us your suffering.
For our part, we will practice deep listening with compassion. We will not interrupt
you. We promise that we will listen very carefully, very deeply. Maybe during
your speech there are wrong perceptions, wrong things that you say, but we will
keep listening. We know that later on we might find a chance to help you to understand
the situation better, and you will be able to correct some of your wrong perceptions.
But not now - now is the time to listen. We only listen, even if there is some
bitterness and judgement and condemnation in your speech. You have suffered, so
we understand why your speech is not completely non-violent. But if you are the
one who is speaking, you have to do your best. When irritation, anger or despair
come up, you say, "I cannot do it now, please allow me another chance,"
and you stop. You can do walking meditation, or other things to restore yourself,
and wait for the moment when you are calm enough to continue. This is also what
we should do in the life of a couple - husband and wife, partner and partner,
father and son, mother and daughter. If the situation has become difficult, we
have to sit down with each other and practice deep listening and loving speech.
But if we feel that we are not ready, we do not have to hurry. We have to go back
to the practice of being peace.
There have been many years of negotiations. One, two, three or four weeks of practice,
of calming body and feelings, is not a lot. Why don't we organize sessions like
that? Why don't the big powers come together and organize the kind of setting
where both warring parties can come and just practice peace first? And deep listening
and speaking. We are not in a hurry to reach a conclusion. We have to reach peace
first, and deep understanding - mutual understanding. If I understand enough of
your suffering and your fear, then I can better understand your proposals and
actions, and what is possible for you to accept. So, a clear mind, the capacity
for understanding deeply, the capacity for understanding the suffering of the
other person, and feeling compassion, should be there. You care for your people,
but you care also for the other side, because the other side has also suffered
If needed, many people can join us in the practice of listening to your suffering
and despair. We know that listening like that is the deep practice of a Bodhisattva.
Listening like that can help you feel better, and you have to join us in also
listening to the other side, because the other side has suffered too.
Whether it is a couple, two ethnic groups, or two nations, the practice is the
same. We begin with the practice of being peace. Imagine both sides of the war
practicing walking meditation together peacefully. When I was in Davos, Switzerland,
I proposed to all the political and business leaders to join me in the practice
of walking meditation. It was very difficult because the conference was heavily
guarded by the police. It was very difficult to organize a session of walking
meditation like we do in Plum Village.
The practice of peace leads to deep vision, deep understanding. And only with
deep understanding can we know where to go and where not to go. Globalization
or not? Cloning or not cloning? Genetically modified food or not? All these things
need lucidity, calmness and peace. So, big conferences like that should begin
with the practice of calming, of being peace. Our century should be a century
that is equipped with a spiritual dimension, if we want to get out of our present
situation. The spiritual dimension should be there in the realms of politics,
business, science, the family setting, in schools, in society - in every sector
of social life.
We should not be in too much of a hurry to sit down and talk. We should practice
mindful breathing, calming our mind, our feelings, our body. Together with the
Sangha we should arrive at some kind of peace, and then we can sit down and begin
to listen to the other person. We want to set up an example of this practice.
And if our Israeli and Palestinian friends who are here succeed in that, we can
report to the whole community that peace needs the practice of peace and not just
intellect and strategies. Of course, we can speak about strategies for peace,
but strategies are not everything. Compassion and deep understanding are the base.
There is a small book on the practice of mindful breathing, available in many
languages [Breathe! You Are Alive, Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing; Parallax
Press]. It is very important to be able to put into practice the teaching of the
Buddha in order to calm our body and our feelings and to restore peace within
ourselves. Being peace is the very ground of doing peace.
It is my desire that during the time you spend here in Plum Village you make use
of your time with intelligence. Use your time to practice mindful breathing, mindful
walking. Do not speak when you walk, do not walk when you speak. Invest one hundred
percent of yourself into walking. When you walk just walk and enjoy every step
you make. Walk as if you are walking in the Kingdom of God, and one day you will
realize that you are walking in the Kingdom of God. When you speak, invest one
hundred percent of yourself in speaking. Use loving speech to convey your feelings.
Do not speak if the subject of your conversation is not useful. Say something
only when it is really important, because our speech can inspire a lot of joy,
confidence and happiness. That is called "right speech," one of the
eight components of the Noble Path.
Transcription of a question, posed by a participant of the Israeli-Palestinian
group, and Thây's answer, during a Q&A session on July 30th 2001, during
the summer retreat in Plum Village.
Q. Dear Thây, when tangled inside the barbed wire of an ethnic conflict,
after having examined injustice on both sides, with the desire for an individual
to effect change on a systematic level, to effect change in a system of government
which is perpetuating oppression, I'd like to understand the function of neutrality.
I'd like to understand the purpose of non-judgement.
A. The teaching of the Buddha is based on the fact that there is suffering. If
suffering was not there we wouldn't need the teachings or the practice. We practice
because we suffer, but we have to learn a way of practicing - to see the way is
very important. If we allow suffering, anger, and despair to overwhelm us, then
we won't have enough lucidity to see the path. The first thing we have to do is
to have the calmness and the serenity to be able to see the path. This can be
done on an individual as well as on a collective level. And it can be done inside
or outside of the affected territory, because if we know how to identify friends,
and to ask for their help, there will be friends everywhere who will support us.
There are many opportunities for this.
The basic thing is to have enough peace and calmness within, in order to see the
path; to see what should and should not be done. You may be eager to do something,
but without lucidity you will do the wrong thing, even if your intentions are
good. That is what we practiced during the war in Vietnam, when we helped to rescue
the boat people, and people who were caught in zones of war. You have to be calm
in order to know exactly what to do. When a boat crosses the ocean and is caught
in a storm, most of the people panic, and as a result of that panic, the boat
overturns and all of the people die. But if there is one person who is calm and
who has enough spiritual authority to keep the others calm, then there is a chance
for survival. This is why peace activists must first be that calm and lucid person.
This is most fundamental. Taking action is not the only thing we can do. Being
calm and lucid is very important.
This is not easy in a situation of war or conflict - I know. That is why we have
to practice, and if we know that there are other people who practice as well,
inside and outside of the affected territory, we will have more strength. That
is why a Sangha is very important; building a Sangha is crucial to the solution
of the problem.
To be aware that we suffer, and to be aware that the other side also suffers,
is very important, because we usually forget that the other side is also suffering
. We only think of the other side as the cause, the source of our suffering and
misery. Many people believe that, and it is our duty to remind them that they
are not the only ones who suffer. We can cause a lot of other people to suffer
out of our own suffering. Recognizing the presence of suffering is the First Noble
Truth. Recognizing the cause and nature of the suffering is the Second Noble Truth.
When we look deeply into the cause of suffering, we can see anger and despair,
not just policies. Policies are not the enemy, but rather the anger, hatred and
despair that are behind the policies. A political leader can at the same time
be a spiritual leader; he or she should have the spiritual leader inside him or
We all have at least three people inside of us: the fighter, the monk and the
artist. The artist is very important. The artist can bring freshness, a meaning
to life, joy. The spiritual leader can bring lucidity, calm, and deep vision.
And the fighter brings a determination to go ahead. We have to mobilize all three
of these people inside of us, and never let one of them die or become too weak.
If you are a social activist, a peace activist, a political leader, or a community
leader, you have to know how to cultivate these three people within yourself,
so you can be balanced and steady for your people.
There were times when it looked like the war in Vietnam would never end. Despair
was prevalent, especially among young people. I remember they would come and ask:
"Thây, do you think that the war will end one day?" It didn't
look like it was going to end at all; it dragged on forever and ever. It was very
difficult for me to give an answer, but after breathing in and out I said: "Dear
people, you know everything is impermanent, so is war."
The answer to that question is not important. What is important, is whether or
not we practice in our daily lives so that compassion is cultivated, so that we
can be calm and lucid. If this is kept alive, then there is hope. The worst enemy
is despair. Keep hoping. Our practice of calming and looking deeply nourishes
our hope. And with that calmness, that looking deeply, and that openness, we can
grow, in numbers and in quality. There will be many people with us, inside and
outside of the country, because there are so many people who are ready to be something
and to do something for the cause of peace. We should not feel alone. The temptation
to despair and to use violence is always there. But if the monk and the artist
are alive in us, then the fighter will know exactly in which direction to go.
I remember that in Vietnam we had a lot of gatherings of young people. There was
a movement for peace and reconciliation caught between the warring parties. We
were brutalized, mistreated, and suppressed by both warring parties. If you align
yourself with one warring party, you will at least be protected by that party.
But you cannot do that if you are working for the cause of reconciliation and
peace. That is why it is very difficult to conduct a non-violent movement for
peace and reconciliation.
Each time we met, we began with quiet sitting and chanting, so that we were sure
that we were still there, alive, with each other. Only after that, did we begin
to discuss what could be done. This advice is from my own experience. In the situation
in Vietnam it was very difficult to get in touch with the outside world, because
of censorship. It is not the same for you. There are many people outside of your
country who are ready to help and support you, if there is a path that can respond
to the real needs of the people.
It is very meaningful that a number of Israeli and Palestinian friends have come
together in Plum Village. We are learning how to sit with each other, how to breathe
with each other, and how to talk to each other. Next time, we can organize something
more substantial, and we can invite other people to come and witness and support
us. It is possible for us to convey our peace, our hope, and our path, to the
larger public, because if we are doing the right thing, then someone will help
us to show the right path to the world.
You may like to think about the next event, maybe in Plum Village, where many
people can attend, and where we can allow representatives of the press to come
and learn from us, and to convey our feelings of peace and our hope to the world.
One day, a number of countries could host such an event, like in Plum Village,
so the highest representatives of people from all parties can come and practice
sitting together, breathing together, and they can bring another dimension to
peace activism - the spiritual dimension.
A transcription of Thây's words to the Israeli-Palestinian group on August
6th, 2001 (preceding a Q&A session) just before the group left Plum Village.
My dear friends, for peace in the Middle East I think that each one of us can
do something to support our friends in their attempt to restore peace in that
part of the world, because they need the support from people outside of Israel.
You have the e-mail address of the group. The project is called "Peace begins
Our friends are thinking of organizing weekly practice for local groups, and then
every month a national event, practicing according to the style of Plum Village:
"peace begins with me first."
If you want to know more about the progress and the activities of the group, you
may use their e-mail address.
It would be nice if our friends from the Middle East can produce a newsletter
in English, so that the friends outside of the Middle East can get some information
about the peace activities and practice. So that outside here we can know what
we can do to help. The report of the group from today can be in that newsletter
for other people to read. You can send it to other groups that are also involved
in peace activities in the Middle East.
In Plum Village we should have a copy of today's report, to publish in our newsletter
"The Mindfulness Bell," in English, German, Vietnamese, French.
It is also suggested that groups of Palestinians and Israelis come to Plum Village
to practice. They may come as separate groups - Palestinians only or Israelis
only - and from time to time they come together. And if their practice brings
good results, brings more understanding, more peace, that could be shared with
larger groups in the area and outside of the area also.