From a Dharma Talk given
by Thich Nhat Hanh
on May 3, 1998 in Plum Village

How to live deeply in the present moment

There is a seed transmitted by the Buddha, that we try to grow here in Plum Village: The teaching on how to live deeply in the present moment, to establish ourselves in the here and the now, to live deeply every moment of our daily life in order to touch the depth of life in every moment drsta dharma sukha vihari, 'living happily in the present moment'. There are many Buddhist centers where we practice in order to arrive at a state of being that may only be possible in the future, or we wish to be reborn in the Pure Land of the Buddha after so many years of practice. But the practice in Plum Village is different. We know that the pure land is in the here and the now. Enlightenment, understanding and awakening, all of that should be found in the present moment, and therefore we have to go back to the present moment in order to touch them. If you know how to do that then you can have peace and stability and compassion right away in this moment. Every step you make can bring you stability and freedom and joy. And you can practice so that during the time that you have lunch, peace and stability and joy can be possible also. The teaching of dwelling firmly in the present moment is a kind of seed transmitted by the Buddha, and in Plum Village we try to make it sprout for the happiness, for the joy of so many people.

The teaching of the Buddha is based on the Four Noble Truths and in Chinese it is translated as the Four Holy Truths. And the First Holy Truth is suffering, pain, dukkha. The first truth is that suffering is. The question may be why suffering is described as a holy truth. What is so holy about suffering? Can we see the element of holiness in suffering? Why do we call suffering a holy truth, when people suffer everywhere? It is because in the teachings of the Buddha, it is by looking deeply into the nature of our suffering that we can find a way out. If you throw away suffering, if you try to run away from your suffering, then you will never have a chance to see the way out of suffering. Stay with your suffering, hold it, and look deeply into it: that is the only way to transform the suffering, to get out of suffering. And that is why suffering is a holy truth. If you allow yourself to be drowned in the ocean of suffering, if you allow suffering to overwhelm you, then suffering will not be holy anymore. Suffering is holy when you know how to handle it. How to embrace it, how to look deeply into it. And the practice is about looking deeply into the nature of our suffering, not trying to run away from it. The moment when you stop running, the moment when you have the courage to look into the nature of your suffering, holiness is there. The moment when mindfulness becomes an energy in yourself, the moment when you use the energy of mindfulness to look into the heart of suffering, the element of holiness is there. Holiness is not something that only the Pope and the Dalai Lama have, holiness is there every time we generate the energy of mindfulness in order to look, and to touch life.

Mindfulness brings about understanding, compassion, and forgiveness, we know that. That is why mindfulness is holy in its nature. When you use the energy of mindfulness to look into suffering, you make the element of holiness real. One day a young man asked Mother Theresa, "Are you a holy person?" and Mother Theresa said,"Yes, and so are you too." And that is true, we all have the seed of holiness within us, and if only we know how to touch the seed of holiness, holiness will become an energy. And to me, mindfulness is one very important seed of holiness. The moment when you begin to walk mindfully, the element of holiness is in you. When you walk mindfully with every step you get more solidity, you get more peace, you get more freedom, and holiness is with you. In the Catholic mass the priest always says, "God be with you," and the audience responds, "And with you too." Here is not a statement, here is not a wish, here is a practice. The moment when you go back to your breath and you breathe mindfully, holiness is there, because mindfulness is the substance of holiness. God is there, the Holy Spirit is there at the same time. And when you sit mindfully, enjoying your breathing, I am sure that the element of holiness is there, protecting you, making life possible at that moment. And when you walk mindfully, the element of holiness is there, protecting you, making you more stable, and more open. And holiness is our practice.

We have to keep the element of holiness alive in every moment of our daily life, for our sake and for the sake of the people around us. The Buddha was a human being, like all of us. Because he practiced mindfulness, concentration and insight, the element of holiness was in him. And in Buddhism we speak of a race called "the race of holy beings".

(Thay writes Chinese characters for "holy truth" and "race of holy beings.")

This is the word for holy truth. It is interesting to see the Chinese mentality. "Holy" is made of an ear, a mouth, and a king. When you become the king of your mouth and your ear, you are holy. When you speak mindfully, when you listen mindfully, you master the art of speaking and listening, you are holy person. This is the ear, this is the mouth, and this is the king. You should be the king of your mouth and your ear, and you will not cause a lot of suffering to other people. This is "Holy Truth", and the race of saints. If you belong to a sangha, a community that practices mindfulness, you belong to the race of the holy people, the Buddha, the bodhisattvas, the patriarchs, the disciples and the disciples of their disciples. They are always devoted to the practice of mindfulness, of concentration and insight, therefore they perpetuate the race of the saints, the holy people. And we have the duty to keep that race continued.

We should not have any kind of complex. Every time we are animated we are inhabited by the energy of mindfulness, the element of holiness is in us. The energy of mindfulness, can be described as the energy of the Holy Spirit, because when you are animated by the Holy Spirit you are alive, you are compassionate, you have the power to understand, to forgive. And the same thing is true with the energy of mindfulness: when you are mindful you are attentive, you are concentrated, and therefore you have the capacity of seeing things deeply, of understanding, of accepting, of forgiving, of loving. Our practice is to be holy in every moment of our daily lives. When I see you walking mindfully, or doing things mindfully, I am inspired by your being, and I begin to be mindful myself. That is why it's very important that when our friends come to Plum Village they see everyone walking mindfully, doing things mindfully, and breathing mindfully, or cooking mindfully. By being mindful you are capable of living deeply each moment of your daily life. You get the protection, you are able to forgive, to understand and to accept and to be compassionate towards the people around you. The sunshine embraces all vegetation and it helps the vegetation to grow and to become green. The energy of mindfulness is like that also. If we allow the energy of mindfulness to be within ourselves, every minute, every second of our daily life will be deep, and peace and stability and freedom can be there for us and for the people who live around us.

(bell)

Enlightenment, compassion and understanding should not be abstract ideas -- they should become reality in our daily lives. When you pay attention to your inbreath and outbreath, that is already a form of enlightenment. Breathing in, I know I am breathing in, breathing out I know I am breathing out, and I enjoy my breathing. That is already the beginning of enlightenment. There are so many people who breathe in and breathe out and yet they don't know that they are breathing in and out. When you breathe in, you know that you are breathing in and you feel that you are alive. And to know that you are alive is a wonderful thing to practice, because so many people live and yet they are not aware that they are alive. To be alive, and to know that you are alive, is the greatest of all miracles. When you sit, breathe in and become aware of the fact that you are still alive. There will some day be a moment when you are about to die, and no matter what you try you will not be able to stand up and sit and enjoy your breathing in and out, and enjoy your mindful walking anymore. And no matter what your friends try to do they will not be able to help you to stand up and make steps like you do during walking meditation. So during the time you sit, or you walk, become aware of the fact that you are alive. To be still alive, and breathing in and out and making steps on this planet is a wonderful thing, and that is already an enlightenment; that enlightenment brings a lot of joy and peace to you.

When you are mindful, you are fully present. When you are fully present, life is available to you. When you drink a glass of water mindfully, you are there, one hundred percent of yourself. And since you are there one hundred percent of yourself, the glass of water is also there one hundred percent of itself, and the encounter between you and the water is very deep. The fact that you drink the glass of water in mindfulness is a holy thing in itself. There are many ways of drinking your water, but there is only way that can make life possible, that can make yourself and the water holy, and that is to drink it mindfully, and you know that you can do it. Every time you lift up a glass of water and drink it, drink it in mindfulness, that is your practice.

And when you have your lunch, spend one hour or forty-five minutes eating in such a way that every moment of your lunch becomes a holy moment. You are totally yourself, you are totally present, so the lunch is present, and the community with whom you share the meal is also a holy community. During that time all of us are protected by the energy of mindfulness. We generate the energy of mindfulness that will protect us, that will make life deep, and anyone who comes and touches the Sangha in that moment, will touch holiness, and they will have a chance to go back to themselves, also generating the energy of mindfulness. So remember what Mother Theresa said to the young man, when he asked her, "Are you a holy person?" and she smiled without complex and she said, "Yes, I am, and you are too." Everyone can be a holy person when they are mindful, when they are truly present and living deeply every moment of their daily life.

The energy of mindfulness carries within itself the energy of concentration. This is easy to understand. When you look at something mindfully, when you drink some water mindfully, you are concentrated on what you see and what you drink, and therefore mindfulness is pregnant with concentration. And if you live concentrated in every minute of your daily life, then insight will come, because when you are concentrated you begin to see things more deeply. The true nature of reality will reveal itself to you, and when you can see things deeply like that, you will no longer make mistakes. You will no longer be a victim of ignorance. Understanding things as they are, free from craving, you will become an instrument of the dharma for the world. Everyone you touch, everything you touch will become holy, just because there is the element of holiness within yourself. Everything, everyone you touch can be healed, can be transformed. It is reported that anyone who was touched by Jesus Christ was healed of his or her illness. We can believe it, because in the person of Jesus Christ there was the energy of the Holy Spirit, and when you are motivated, when you are inhabited by the Holy Spirit, you have the power of being there, of looking deeply, of forgiving, of being compassionate, and all these elements have the power of healing. Everyone of us is like that also. If we allow the energy of mindfulness to be born in us, if we know how to live each moment of our daily life mindfully, then the elements of concentration, insight, liberation, compassion will be in us, and everyone we touch will be healed, everything we touch will recover its beauty and sanity. So our practice is crucial, and the Buddha has instructed us on how to practice mindfulness, concentration and insight.