SAT CHIT ANAND
- JULY 2006 NEWSLETTER -
THE BREATH OF THE BUDDHA
RETREAT WITH VENERABLE THICH NHAT HANH
AT PLUM VILLAGE MONASTERY, FRANCE, JUNE 2006
Some things are beyond words, like an experience of Nirvana, and like an experience of spending 3 weeks at Plum Village Monastery with Thich Nhat Hanh (THAY). The blessings and richness of the experience cannot be captured and portrayed in black ink on computer paper. THAY says that if you have Buddha eyes that can see interconnectedness, then you can see everything in everything else. You can see sunshine and rain and trees and the earth in a piece of paper, so maybe you will be able to see something of our experience in this newsletter …
Plum Village is a place where concepts become possibilities, and possibilities become realities. Enlightenment becomes more than a concept, it becomes something real and accessible. You can read about saints and enlightened beings. To spend time in the presence of one, and to meet people who are on the Path to becoming enlightened, prospective Buddhas-to-be, makes a profound impact on your mind. It gives you faith and confidence that this state of being is possible, for you can see it with your own eyes, a living example is there for you to witness. You don’t have to do deity visualisation, and construct an image in your mind, you just have to watch THAY and the Buddha has manifested in front of you in human form.
The enlightened reality exists in the here and now, but our capacity to access it is limited, except when we are in very special places, or with very special people, then it is made easier for us to do so. Whenever I go to Plum Village (and this was my third time), I have the experience of entering a kind of miraculous energy field where miracles happen every day. It is an experience of entering the Pure Land that has manifested around THAY, and of living in a Buddha-field. You don’t have to wait until you die to experience the Kingdom of God, you can experience it here on this very earth. Thanks to holy beings like THAY who make it possible here and now.
In the world, the pull of gravity pulls you down. In the ‘normal world’, there is conflict and friction. Everything seems to be a struggle. Just before the Buddha got enlightened, he threw his begging bowl into the river and it floated upstream, against the worldly current. This symbolises the great effort we have to make following the spiritual path, which goes against the ways of the world.
In the ‘other-world’ of Plum Village, the pull of grace lifts you up so you can glimpse what it must be like to live in the Buddha Lands. The environment supports and inspires you. When surrounded by the company of angels wearing brown monastic robes, it is easier to be like one. Effort becomes effortless, and it seems that things happen by themselves, with no ‘doer’. When you let go of your(separate)self, you are aware that you are a part of a miraculous whole. You fit into place in a miraculous way, and the whole functions in total harmony and synchronicity, smoothly, flowingly, peacefully, joyfully.
When we experience this, we call it magic or miracles. It can be a reality. It is a higher reality, and if we are very lucky, we get to live there for a while. It is easier to access this higher dimension of reality in nature, but for me the real miracle was to access it with other people, and there were nearly 1000 people on retreat. When people live and work together in loving-kindness and co-operation, a unified energy field is created. There is unbelievable harmony, because everybody and everything is working together as a whole, instead of competing against each other as separate parts / individuals. The Truth of no-separate-self becomes a lived reality in such places.
EPIGENETICS AND QUANTUM ENERGY FIELDS
“There is a new science called EPIGENETICS, which is about the influence of the environment on genes. The environment can intervene and influence your genes. These are 2 important aspects that determine the value of your life – your genes, and the impact of the environment. You can improve the quality of your genes, and you can improve the quality of your environment.
The environment plays a very important role in our happiness and well-being. A good environment can heal and transform. A good environment nourishes your good seeds and gives them a chance to grow. We must take care of the environment because the inner and the outer are not separate. It is not enough to just take care of yourself. The body of the cosmos is also your body.
When we practice Mindful Breathing, our cells start vibrating together in harmony and unison. Each individual particle acts together with the whole. There is no disharmony, no clashing, no noise. Every particle behaves as the whole and not as a separate self. A quantum field is created, because all our cells join together without discrimination. This quantum field has (w)holistic properties and is very healing.
This is a wonderful way to touch Nirvana / God. You can touch it in one step. You can touch birth and death in the present moment with each step. The cells in our body are dying and being reborn in each moment. Don’t wait until you die – you may be too weak or too ill to practice. You can get out of this world, not by going anywhere else, but by going deeply into your body. The pathway is inside you. The breath is the door to enter the body. You can touch the world of no birth and no death and no suffering.
When we practice being together as one, each person behaves as the whole Sangha. This creates a powerful quantum energy field, which is very healing and transforming. Very powerful energy is produced. Collective energy depends on individual energy, but the individual energy disappears.” [Extracts from my notes of Dharma talks by THICH NHAT HANH]
NIRVANA IS HERE AND NOW
Another miraculous experience was the deep feeling of inner peace and spacious heart and mind. Normally, I am aware that there is background tightness and tension around my heart. At Plum Village there was just space, vast space inside me. It was as if my heart was so open that there were no walls around it to protect it. They dissolved because you didn’t need any walls and protective layers. The safety of a retreat environment and the spiritual refuge it offers, allows you to open and experience the freedom of living with an open heart. Oh, to be like that all the time … that must be permanent Nirvana, the cessation of all suffering, stress, anxiety, worry and fear. In other words, bliss.
THAY confirmed that Nirvana can be experienced every moment of our daily life. During one of the Dharma talks, I was lucky enough to get a front row seat, right in front of THAY, (after getting to the meditation hall before 5am for the talk at 7am). THAY said that each moment you are aware is a moment of enlightenment. Breathing in you can experience Nirvana, your nature of no-birth and no-death. Maybe your experience is still shallow, but that is an experience. He was staring into my eyes, and talking about touching Nirvana, and I was falling into his eyes and touching it …
Now you know why some experiences are hard to describe, but what I have tried to do is make you know that there is a miraculous reality and it can manifest, it can become a reality in the here and now. As THAY says, don’t wait until you die, you have to be very alive to touch the Kingdom of God. Do it now! The more you touch it, the more real it will become. If enough people touch it, we can create the collective energy to manifest heaven on earth. Let us try to remove the separation so that Nirvana can become visible all around us.
LIVING IN THE PURE LAND
“In the teachings of Christianity and Judaism there is the Kingdom of God. In Buddhism we speak about Buddha Land, the Buddha Field. In Plum Village we say that the Kingdom of God is now or never, and this is our practice. In Plum Village the Kingdom of God, the Pure Land of the Buddha, is not just an idea. It is something you can taste, you can touch, you can live in your daily life … Many of us think of the Kingdom of God, the Kingdom of the Buddha, as something that belongs to the future, after this life. In terms of time and space, it is far away. This is not true. The Kingdom of God is right now, right here, and you don’t have to die in order to step into the Kingdom of God. In fact, you have to be very alive in order to step into it. Being alive, is to be mindful, to be concentrated, to be free. That is the kind of passport you need to be allowed into the Kingdom of God: mindfulness, concentration, freedom.” [THICH NHAT HANH: Quote from Mindfulness Bell, Summer 2006]
SUTRA ON MINDFUL BREATHING
We haven’t reached the Kingdom yet, so we have to practice living like angels or bodhisattvas. This is what we do on retreat: we receive teachings and we practice them. THAY transmitted exercises taught by the Buddha for the PRACTICE OF MINDFUL BREATHING, so we can learn to breathe like a Buddha. The Buddha practiced Mindful Breathing before and after becoming enlightened. The SUTRA ON MINDFUL BREATHING (Anapanasati Sutta) is a seed that was planted 2500 years ago by the Buddha. It is still producing flowers and fruits today. THAY taught the relationship between Mindful Breathing and the FOUR FOUNDATIONS OF MINDFULNESS: body, feelings, mind, and objects of mind (Satipatthana Sutta). These Practices bring about the SEVEN FACTORS OF LIBERATION: mindfulness, investigation, energy, joy, tranquillity, concentration, and equanimity. The Seven Factors of Liberation bring about Knowledge and Emancipation.
The World-Honored One told the Bhiksus:
“Dear friends, let us enjoy the practice of Mindful Breathing. If a Bhiksu knows how to skilfully practice Mindful Breathing, and does so consistently, he will find his body and mind peaceful; he will acquire positive investigations and reflections; his mind will be calm and pure; and he will have perceptions leading to Wisdom and be able to bring his practice to completion.” [SUTRA ON MINDFUL BREATHING translated by THICH NHAT HANH]
COMPLETE PATH TO LIBERATION
THAY teaches Mindful Breathing. This is all THAY teaches, but it is enough, it is all that is needed. THAY’s teaching is a complete Path to Liberation. Mindful Breathing can bring calmness, it can transform suffering, and it can help you touch Buddha nature within. If taught properly, one practice includes all, because the Dharma is of the nature of interbeing. All dharmas inter-are: one dharma contains the others, so if you practice one, you practice all. MINDFULNESS (smirti) + CONCENTRATION (samadhi) + INSIGHT (prajna) go together = the TRIPLE TRAINING. All practices interpenetrate each other and rely upon each other. ‘One practice opens the door for the other practices’ says THAY, and they gradually help bring each other to completion.
“Ananda! All practices are linked to each other, all practices rely on each other and all practices interpenetrate one another … one practice serves as the support for another practice, and they gradually help bring each other to completion.” [The BUDDHA: SUTRA ON MINDFUL BREATHING]
THAY brings the teachings from the theoretical to the applied level. He is one of the most skilful Buddhist teachers in the world, with the capacity to explain profound philosophy in simple ways that we can understand. His approach is non-sectarian and includes all major Buddhist traditions, and also embraces the true teachings of Christianity. THAY is like a beautiful tree that gives shelter to all the birds of heaven.
His teachings and meditation techniques are rooted in original Buddhist Sutras from the THERAVADA tradition. The branches of the tree spread to include the Bodhisattva ideal of the MAHAYANA tradition and the importance of Engaged Buddhism, so that we can be of service and benefit to the world. The interpretation of the Chittamatra (Mind Only) School of Buddhism is the philosophical basis of concepts such as non-duality, and emptiness of self and phenomena.
THAY’s tradition is often referred to as MAHAYANA ZEN. THAY is a Vietnamese Zen Master (Vietnamese Zen has a different style to Japanese and Korean Zen). The ZEN tradition is expressed in the way we practice and apply the teachings to our daily life, with very strong emphasis on bringing mindfulness to everything we do.
The flowers of the tree allow us to touch Nirvana, our Ultimate nature, right now. ZEN is similar to the VAJRAYANA tradition in that our true nature is already enlightened and is accessible to us in the present moment. We don’t have to wait for countless great eons to become it. The mind can be free even though there are still seeds of afflictions in our Store Consciousness.
“Some of you can touch the Kingdom of God, Nirvana, but you cannot stay there for very long. Mindful Breathing keeps you there. You just need to learn and practice this art. You don’t have to first transform, and get rid of all your suffering – because then you will have to wait a long time. You can touch the Pure Land right now.” [THICH NHAT HANH]
PRACTICE OF MINDFUL BREATHING
“Skilfully, he practices breathing in, fully aware of his in-breath.
Skilfully, he practices breathing out, fully aware of his out-breath.”
[The BUDDHA: SUTRA ON MINDFUL BREATHING]
Mindful Breathing brings joy, happiness and nourishment. Mindful Breathing is very healing - it has the power to sooth, calm and relieve. Pain, sorrow, anger, fear, depression and despair can all be transformed by the practice of Mindful Breathing. Mindful Breathing strengthens us and frees the mind. Through practice, you can sustain this state of mind. Through practice, you generate the energy of mindfulness so that it can grow powerful and strong. Then you can develop what is good and beautiful and transform what is not.
True happiness cannot exist without relaxation and peace. Mindful Breathing releases tension in the body and mind, it releases tension in emotions, it stops thinking so we can feel lighter and more peaceful. We can use our way of breathing, walking and sitting to cultivate peace. Enlightenment is described as something tangible, in terms of peace, lightness and joy. Every time we feel peace, lightness and joy, we are touching Enlightenment, because these qualities are Factors of Enlightenment.
Mindful Breathing is a non-sectarian, non-religious practice that can be practiced by everyone. You don’t have to be a Buddhist. By practicing Mindful Breathing, we can heal ourselves, and we can heal the world. We can touch the Ultimate dimension, the Buddha Land, the Kingdom of God, Nirvana.
This article is dedicated to my most beloved Master Teacher, with love and gratitude. May his teachings (transmitted through his many transformation bodies) continue to bring immeasurable blessings to countless beings of all religions, cultures and walks of life.
J SAT CHIT ANAND namaste to you Buddha-to-be!
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