what to do?

by Thich Nhat Hanh

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What do you do when it feels like the walls of the cliffs surrounding you are starting to crumble and cave in on you?

What to do when every step you take seems to be leading you further and further into uncertainty and quicksand?

When this feeling of overwhelm starts to creep into your mind’s edges?

When you long for the early summer meadow lying in the grass with lazy white clouds above in the deep blue sky?

And it’s raining, raining, raining…

Can I recognize the dead end I am in as I look outwards?

Letting go sounds so simple but it is so very, very hard when I’m feeling like this.

What is the advice that comes down to us from the ancients and even from our contemporaries? Can I not only listen to that advice but somehow find the inner will and determination to actually practice it? Can I smile with my in-breath and fill my pain with compassion while breathing out?

Does it all look different now?

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counting

Image result for counting stones in the pond

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Thich Nhat Hanh:

Counting is an excellent method for beginners. Breathing in, count “one”. Breathing out, count “two”. Continue up to ten and then start again. If at any time you forget where you are, begin again with “one”. The method of counting helps us refrain from dwelling on troublesome thoughts: instead we concentrate on our breathing and the number. When we have developed some control over our thinking, counting may become burdensome, and we can abandon it and just follow the breath itself. This is called “Following”.

Well-known commentaries (on the Sutra on Full Awareness of Breathing), … teach that while we breathe, we should be aware of our nostrils, the place where the air enters and leaves the body. Just as when we cut a log we keep our eyes on the place where the saw touches the log (rather than looking at the teeth of the saw), we pay attention to the nostrils, and not to the air as it enters the body. … If the practitioner focuses his mind at the tip of his nose and is aware of the first moment of contact of air at its place of entry into the body … gradually his rough, uneven breathing will become gentle and subtle, and then all discrimination will disappear.

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I will add that “Counting” is not only useful for beginners, but also when I am sitting in the waiting room at the dentist’s or standing in line at the grocery store. I also find that touching the tip of my index finger to the tip of my thumb on “One” and then the middle finger on “Two” and so on to the little finger on each hand, gives me a count of eight and helps me keep my focus, for example when walking.

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full awareness of the body

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I am, once again, finding great satisfaction and pleasure in this practice of the full awareness of breathing. Below are two short excerpts from the Buddha’s discourse.

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“O bhikkhus, the full awareness of breathing, if developed and practiced continuously, will be rewarding and bring great advantages. It will lead to success in practicing the Four Establishments of Mindfulness. If the method of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness is developed and practiced continuously, it will lead to success in the practice of the Seven Factors of Awakening. The Seven Factors of Awakening, if developed and practiced continuously, will give rise to understanding and liberation of the mind.

“What is the way to develop and practice continuously the method of Full Awareness of Breathing so that the practice will be rewarding and offer great benefit?

“It is like this, bhikkhus: the practitioner goes into the forest or to the foot of a tree, or to any deserted place, sits stably in the lotus position, holding his or her body quite straight, and practices like this:

‘Breathing in, I know I am breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing out.’

1. ‘Breathing in a long breath, I know I am breathing in a long breath. Breathing out a long breath, I know I am breathing out a long breath.

2. ‘Breathing in a short breath, I know I am breathing in a short breath. Breathing out a short breath, I know I am breathing out a short breath.

3. ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I am aware of my whole body.’ He or she practices like this.

4. ‘Breathing in, I calm my whole body. Breathing out, I calm my whole body.’ He or she practices like this.

“In what way does one develop and continuously practice the Full Awareness of Breathing, in order to succeed in the practice of the Four Establishments of Mindfulness?

“When the practitioner breathes in or out a long or a short breath, aware of his breath or his whole body, or aware that he is making his whole body calm and at peace, he abides peacefully in the observation of the body in the body, persevering, fully awake, clearly understanding his state, gone beyond all attachment and aversion to this life. These exercises of breathing with Full Awareness belong to the First Establishment of Mindfulness, the body.

from Thich Nhat Hanh’s commentary:

“I wish to say something about the expressions ‘observing the body in the body,’ observing the feelings in the feelings’, and ‘observing the objects of mind in the objects of mind.’ The key to ‘observation meditation’ is that the subject of the observation and the object of the observation not be regarded as two separate things. A scientist might try to separate him or herself from the object he or she is observing and measuring, but students of meditation have to remove the boundary between subject and object. When we observe something, we are that thing. Nonduality is the key word. ‘Observing the body in the body’ means that in the process of observing we do not stand outside of our own body like an independent observer, but we identify with the object being observed.

“This is the only path that can lead us to the penetration and direct experience of reality. In ‘observation meditation,’ the subject and object of meditation are one entity also.

“In order to succeed in the work of observation we must go beyond both attachment and aversion.”

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Related image

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guided meditations – Thich Nhat Hanh

 

SoundCloud Playlist

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In these intense and sometimes turbulent times these meditations are giving me a source of calm and centeredness. Sometimes I listen to the first 30 minutes of Track 2, which is just the bell at intervals. Regularly I listen to Track 3, which is the basic Mindfulness of Breathing meditation, spoken by  Sister Jina van Hengel, Plum Village Monastery. Continue reading

on the Full Awareness of Breathing

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Plum Village Bell Meditation

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Dear Friends, These are my favorite meditations at present. They are lead by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, zen master, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. These meditations are based on the Buddha’s

Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing

Thich Nhat Hanh lived for many years in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France. These meditations were recorded there. (Below are Dropbox links to the MP3’s – HERE is the complete SoundCloud playlist.) Continue reading

shelter from the storm

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These are very simple practices that have been passed down through the centuries because they are so effective.

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Thich Nhat Hanh:

 

Suppose there is a storm raging – you don’t mind, because your house is solid. You close all the doors and windows, and although the wind is blowing fiercely outside, and there is rain and thunder, you still feel safe within your home. The island of self is like that. You have to practice, to learn, in order to allow that shelter, that island within yourself to appear for your use. During your daily life, learn to dwell in that safe island of mindfulness within you. Then you will be protected from provocations, you will be protected from anger, and from despair. There are many elements around you that are ready to invade you, to attack you and to deprive you of your peace and stability. So you have to organize in order to protect yourself, and to build up the practice of dwelling in that island of self is the practice recommended by the Buddha.

Continue reading

the island of self

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In his last days the Buddha spoke of atadipa (the island of self). This is the refuge that each of us has when the energy of mindfulness is active in us.

Thich Nhat Hanh:

The Buddha said that every one of us has an island within, an island of peace and
stability within, and we should practice so that we can profit from the existence of
that island within ourselves. When he was eighty, the Buddha knew that he was
going to pass away in a few months, and he knew that his disciples were going to
miss him. During the last six months, around the city of Vaisali, he used to talk to the
monks and the nuns about taking refuge within yourself. The expression is atadipa.
Ata means self, dipa means island. When you go back to that island, you experience
peace and stability. The Buddha is there, the Dharma is there, and the Sangha is
there.

Continue reading

perfect poise

Thich Nhat Hanh mudra

Thich Nhat Hanh mudra

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Anandamayi:

This world is itself but an embodiment of want; hence the heartache due to the absence of fulfilment must needs endure.

This is why it is said that there are two kinds of current in human life:

one pertaining to the world in which want follows upon want,

the other of one’s true being.

It is the very nature of the former that it can never end in fulfilment; on the contrary, the sense of want is perpetually re-stimulated.

On the other hand, the latter aims to bring to completion the activities of man’s true
being, to establish man in his divine nature.

Thus, if he endeavours to fulfil himself by entering the current of his true being, this current will eventually lead him to the perfect poise of his own true being.

source: Richard Lennoy, Anandamayi, Her Life and Wisdom CHAPTER 6

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thusness

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My Comment:

Some of you may enjoy what has been passed down to us by the ancients, in this case the discourse of the Buddha to a senior monk, Subhuti. Here is a passage from Thich Nhat Hanh’s “Zen Keys” in which he explains the meaning of a certain part of the ancient text Vairacchedika-prainaparamita, also known as The Diamond Sutra. Since our consciousness is the content of our consciousness, by allowing new content into our awareness we change our consciousness. Enjoy!

Thich Nhat Hanh in “Zen Keys”:

 

There is no discrimination in reality in itself. But “reality” in the world of concepts is full of discriminations: subject/object, I/Not-I, etc. This is not truly reality but an erroneous image of reality. The origin of this erroneous image is called discrimination or imagination(vikalpa) in the Vijanavada school.

This flower, for example, which is near the window, is a true flower in its non-discriminated reality. Because we discriminate it is no longer revealed. In its place stands an erroneous image of it. The word “empty” which at first signified the absence of permanent identity, now acquires another meaning: the image created by the concept does not represent any reality, it is imaginary.

The A Which Is Not A Is Truly A

In the Vajracchedika-prajnaparamita we find many expressions given in the form, “The A which is not A is truly A.” Let us take several examples: “Living beings, I say that they are not living beings, this is why they are truly living beings.” “The Buddhist doctrine, I say is not the doctrine of Buddhism, this is why it is truly the Buddhist doctrine.”

What does that signify? It is quite simple. Reality is only reality when it is not grasped conceptually. ‘What we construct through our concepts is not reality. It can also be said, “This flower, which is not a concept, is truly a flower.” Here again is found the rejection of the principle of permanent identity, and a tendency to see things by means of the go-between of conceptualization. The practitioner of the Way must enter into direct contact with reality, without allowing concepts to separate him from this reality. Reality cannot be conceived, nor can it be described in words. Reality is reality; it is thus. This is the significance of the word thusness (tathata).

source: Thich Nhat Hahn, Zen Keys, PDF file p.58

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