Thursday, June 29, 2006


Every time you have a strong emotion, like anger or despair, it is as though you are exposed to a storm.

Look at the tree outside the window. She is trying her best to stand in the storm. When you look at the top of the tree, you see that several small branches and leaves are swaying back and forward very violently in the wind, and you have the feeling that they could be broken at any time.

We feel very much the same when we are exposed to the storm of emotions.

We feel that we may die because the emotion is so strong—the fear, the despair, the anger, the unhappiness—but if you look down a little, you see that the trunk of the tree is firmly rooted in the soil, and then you have another impression. You know that the tree is going to stand in the storm.

We are like trees also. On this level we are very vulnerable. So during the storms of emotion, if you dwell on this level, the level of the brain, the level of the heart, you might be broken, you might feel that you are not going to be able to stand it, you are going to die.

But bring your attention, down, down, to the navel, a little bit below the navel, and pay attention to the rising and falling of your stomach, practicing mindful breathing. When you breathe in your stomach will rise, and when you breathe out, your stomach will fall.

To stop all the thinking, to just focus all your attention on the rise and fall of your stomach, and to dwell there at the root of your tree, and not to float up here at the level of the heart or the brain, is a very important practice.

If you can do that for ten minutes, or fifteen minutes, the emotion will go away and you survive the storm. And if you can survive the storm once, you have confidence. The next time that depression comes, when a strong emotion comes, you will do the same. And that confidence is very important in you.

* * * * *

We should know that we are more, much more than our emotions.

An emotion is something that comes, stays for some time, and goes. Things are impermanent. Nothing can be permanent.

Your emotion is not going to stay there forever. You know that you are more than your emotions.

Why do you have to die because of one emotion? But so many young people, when they are overwhelmed by their emotions, have the feeling that they cannot stand it, and the only way to stop the suffering is to go and kill themselves. That is why the number of young people who commit suicide in our times is so high: they don’t know how to handle their emotions.

It’s not very difficult – to be aware that the emotion is just an emotion. It is born, it stays for some time, and it will go away. Why do you have to die because of it? You are much more than your emotions.

* * * * *

To die, what does it mean?

In our minds it means that you are someone, and then suddenly you become no one. You are something, suddenly you become nothing—that is our idea of death.

But if we observe things deeply, we see nothing like that in reality. There is nothing that can be reduced to nothing, or to nothingness.

Can you reduce a cloud into nothingness? No, you can only help the cloud to become rain. You can help the rain to become snow. But you cannot make a cloud into nothingness.

A sheet of paper—can you reduce it into nothingness? No. You may burn it, and it is transformed in many ways. Part of it will become a cloud, the smoke rising. Part of it will become the heat, penetrating into the cosmos. Part of it will become ash, that can be reborn as a flower or a blade of grass, sometime later.

So everything is on their way, on their journey of manifestation of being.

You are also like that. If you don’t manifest yourself in this form, then you manifest yourself in another form.

Please don’t be afraid of being nothing. Nothingness is just an idea. Non-being is just an idea.

The Buddha said not only is non-being an idea, but being is also an idea. Reality transcends both being and non-being.

* * * * *

It’s like when you look into space, into the air.

You don’t see any color, you don’t hear any sound, you don’t see anything, but if you have a radio or a television set, you will capture radio or television programs, and sights and sounds will manifest themselves. So the radio or the television set is just one more condition enabling you to see the signals manifest.

Signals are reaching us all the time, signals from satellites, and because we lack one condition, we believe that they do not exist, but they do exist.

So our notion of being is also a notion. And our notion of non-being is another notion. Reality transcends both being and non-being. That is the teaching of the Buddha in so many, many discourses.

* * * * *

The typical sentence is like this: when conditions are sufficient, your body manifests, and you say that the body "is". And when conditions are not longer sufficient, and your body does not manifest itself, then you say that there is no body. Your idea of "there is" and "there is not" are just ideas.

Your true nature is free from these two ideas: being and non-being. That is why, within the teachings of the Buddha, to be or not to be, that is not the question.

The Buddha helps us to practice stopping, concentrating, calming, in order to be able to direct our looking deeply into the heart of things, to discover the true nature of reality, the nature of no birth, no death, no being, no non-being, no coming, no going.

Extract from: The Island of Self; The Three Dharma Seals, by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Memory's Like That

I studied British colonial history in India. An account written by a British historian is very different than one written by an Indian historian.

Is one of them lying? No, they’re probably honorable scholars, both of them, but they each see and remember in different ways. Memory’s like that.

So when you explore memory, just observe that memories come and go; and when they’re gone consciousness is what remains.

Consciousness is now. This the path, here and now, the way it is.

Use what is happening now as the path rather than going along with the idea that you are somebody from the past who needs to practice to get rid of all your defilements in order to become enlightened in the future. That is just a self you create and believe in.

* * * * *

Try taking a guilty memory and deliberately sustaining it. Think of some terrible thing you’ve done in the past, then determine to keep it in your consciousness for five minutes.

By trying to keep thinking about it, you will find how difficult it is to sustain.

But when that same memory arises and you resist it or wallow in it or believe in it, then it can hang around the whole day. A whole lifetime can be filled with guilt and remorse.

Every time you’re
aware of what
you’re thinking,
you’re getting to
be an expert.

* * * * *

At first it may seem like emotions and desires are much stronger, that it’s impossible to simply be aware.

You may have only a few brief moments of awareness and then back into the raging storm.

It may seem hopeless, but it’s not. The more you test it out, investigate and trust this awareness, then more stable it becomes.

The seemingly invincible power of the emotional qualities, obsessions, and habits will lose that sense of being the stronger force.

You will find that your real strength is in awareness, not in controlling the ocean and waves and cyclones and tsunamis and all the rest that you can’t possible ever control anyway.

It’s only in trusting in this one point—here and now—that you realize liberation.

Extract from: Attending to the Here and Now, by Venerable Ajahn Sumedho

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Why Is There A Name?

Take people, for instance.

In reality people don't have any names, we are simply born naked into the world. If we have names, they arise only through convention.

I've contemplated this and seen that if you don't know the truth of this convention it can be really harmful. It's simply something we use for convenience. Without it we couldn't communicate, there would be nothing to say, no language.

I've seen the Westerners when they sit in meditation together in the West. When they get up after sitting, men and women together, sometimes they go and touch each other on the head!

When I saw this I thought, "Ehh, if we cling to convention it gives rise to defilements right there."

If we can let go of convention, give up our opinions, we are at peace.

* * * * *

However, they are a characteristic of our world.

Take Mr. Boonmah, for instance; he used to be just one of the crowd but now he's been appointed the District Commissioner.

It's just a convention but it's a convention we should respect. It's part of the world of people.

If you think, "Oh, before we were friends, we used to work at the tailor's together," and then you go and pat him on the head in public, he'll get angry. It's not right, he'll resent it.

So we should follow the conventions in order to avoid giving rise to resentment.

It's useful to understand convention, living in the world is just about this.

Know the right time and place, know the person.

* * * * *

Why is it wrong to go against conventions?

It's wrong because of people!

You should be clever, knowing both convention and Liberations. Know the right time for each.

If we know how to use rules and conventions comfortably then we are skilled. But if we try to behave according to the higher level of reality in the wrong situation, this is wrong.

Where is it wrong?

It's wrong with people's defilements, nothing else! People all have defilements.

In one situation we behave one way, in another situation we must behave in another way. We should know the ins and outs because we live within conventions.

Problems occur because people cling to them.

If we suppose something to be, then it is. It's there because we suppose it to be there.

But if you look closely, in the absolute sense these things don't really exist.

Extract from: Convention and Liberation, by Venerable Ajahn Chah

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Stop Running

I remember one day when I was sitting on the bus in India, with a friend, visiting untouchable communities.

That friend of mine was sitting on my right on the bus. We went to many states in India to offer days of mindfulness and public lectures and retreats.

The landscape was beautiful, with palm trees, temples, buffaloes, rice fields, and I was enjoying what I saw from my window.

When I looked at him, I saw that he looked very tense, and was not enjoying it as I did. He was struggling.

I said, "My dear friend, there is nothing for your to worry about now. I know that your concern is to make my trip pleasant, and to make me happy, but you know, I am happy right now, so enjoy yourself. Sit back, smile. The landscape is very beautiful."

He was very tense. He said, "Okay," and he sat back.

But just two minutes later, when I looked back at him, he was as tense as before. He was still struggling, struggling and struggling. He was not capable of letting go of the struggle, that struggle that has been going on for many thousands of years. He was not capable of dwelling in the present moment and touching life deeply in that moment, which was my practice, and still is my practice.

He was an untouchable himself. Now he has a family, a beautiful apartment to live in, a good job, and he does not look like an untouchable, but he is still one, because he still carries all the energies, the suffering of all his ancestors in the past many thousands of years. They struggle during the day, they struggle during the night, even in dreams, and they are not capable of letting go and relaxing.

Our ancestors might have been luckier than his, but why do many of us behave very much like him?

We do not allow ourselves to be relaxed, to be in the here and the now.

Why do we always try to run and run, even when we are having our breakfast, even while having our lunch, while walking, while sitting?

There is something pushing us, pulling us, all the time. We are not capable of being free, in order to touch life deeply in this very moment. Your depression, your illness, is an outcome of that kind of behavior, because you have never allowed yourself to be free.

You make yourself busy all of your life, you believe that happiness and peace is not possible in the here and the now, that it may be possible in the future. That is why you take all of your energies in order to run there, hoping that someday in the future you will have some happiness or some peace.

The Buddha addressed this issue very clearly. He said, "Don’t get caught in the past, because the past is gone. Don’t get upset about the future, because the future is not yet here. There is only one moment for you to be alive, and that is the present moment. Go back to the present moment and live this moment deeply, and you’ll be free."

* * * * *

A young man from America came here for the summer retreat about ten years ago. He enjoyed his three weeks of practice in the Upper Hamlet, he enjoyed walking and sitting and breathing and cooking, and so on.

One day we organized a ceremony called the Thanksgiving Ceremony. Because we also have our own way of celebrating thanks giving – to our parents who brought us to life, to our teachers who show us the way to live happily in the present moment, to our friends who support us in difficult moments, and to all living beings in the animal, vegetable and mineral realms. That day we practiced being aware of their existence, and lived in such a way as to be grateful for their support.

That young man was asked by his fellow Americans to go to Ste. Foy la Grande to do some shopping, because each national group had to cook something very special from their country, in order to place it on the collective altar of ancestors.

When he was in the market shopping, suddenly a kind of energy came up, and he suddenly became restless, and hurrying. He lost his peace and his beauty.

During the three weeks in the Upper Hamlet he never behaved like that, because he was among his Sangha, and everyone was practicing walking and sitting and doing things in a relaxed way, learning how to live in the present moment.

Now he was alone in the market, and suddenly he felt himself rushing, feeling restless, and trying to do things quickly in order to go home to the Upper Hamlet. But because he had already been practicing for three full weeks, he was able to recognize what was going on within himself.

He had a kind of insight: he saw that that was the habit energy of his mother, because she was always like that, rushing, hurrying, agitated, restless.

At the moment when he got this insight, he went back to his in-breath and his out-breath, and he said, "Hello, Mommy!" and that feeling of restlessness and hurrying just disappeared.

He knew that he was not surrounded by brothers and sisters of his Sangha, and that alone in Ste. Foy la Grande he had to use his mindful breathing as his Sangha. From that moment on he continued the practice of mindful breathing, and he stayed stable and joyful and peaceful the whole time he was shopping. When he came back here he told us the story.

So that negative habit energy that pushes us may have been cultivated by us during the past many years, but it may also have been transmitted to us by our mother, or our father, or our ancestors. And that is our heritage.

Extract from: Transforming Negative Habit Energies, by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Which Day Is A Lucky Day?

Throughout his life, Luang Pu never accepted the idea of lucky hours or lucky days.

Even when he was simply asked, "What would be a good day to ordain?" or "to disrobe?" or "Which days are lucky or unlucky?" he never went along with the idea. He'd usually say, "All days are good."

If people asked him to determine an auspicious time, he would have them go find out for themselves, or else he would say, "Any time that's convenient is a good time."

He would conclude by saying,

"Everything comes from our behavior. Good times, bad times, lucky times, unlucky times, merit, sin: All these things come from human behavior."

Extract from: Gifts He Left Behind, by Venerable Ajaan Dune Atulo

Friday, June 02, 2006

He Does, But He Doesn't

In 1979, Luang Pu went to Chantaburi to rest and to visit with Ajaan Somchai.

On that occasion, a senior monk from Bangkok — Phra Dhammavaralankan of Wat Buppharam, the ecclesiastical head of the southern region of the country — was also there, practicing meditation in his old age, being only one year younger than Luang Pu.

When he learned that Luang Pu was a meditation monk, he became interested and engaged Luang Pu in a long conversation on the results of meditation. He mentioned his responsibilities, saying that he had wasted a lot of his life engaged in study and administration work well into his old age.

He discussed different points of meditation practice with Luang Pu, finally asking him, "Do you still have any anger?"

Luang Pu immediately answered,

"I do, but I don't pick it up."

* * * * *

"When a person has shaved his hair and beard and put on the ochre robe, that's the symbol of his state as a monk. But it counts only on the external level.

Only when he has shaved off the mental tangle — all lower preoccupations — from his heart can you call him a monk on the internal level.

"When a head has been shaved, little creeping insects like lice can't take up residence there.

In the same way, when a mind has gained release from its preoccupations and is freed from fabrication, suffering can't take up residence at all.

When this becomes your normal state, you can be called a genuine monk."

Extract from: Gifts He Left Behind, by Venerable Ajaan Dune Atulo