the power of insight – part 4

If Hindus and Muslims in India use their wisdom of nondiscrimination, there will be peace. If Istraelis and Palestinians realize their wisdom of nondiscrimination, there will be no war. If Americans and Iraqis see that they are brothers and sisters, two hands of the same body, they will not continue to kill each other. We all need to cultivate this kind of wisdom. With this insight, we can undo our own fear, suffering, separation, and loneliness, and we can help others to do the same.

Insight comes from understanding. There may be elements of understanding in us already, but if we don’t have time to be mindful and concentrate, insight won’t manifest in us. We need to create the kind of environment where mindfulness and concentration become easy. It’s like preparing the soil so that the flower we plant can sprout. Insight is the kind of understanding you obtain after you’ve been mindful. If you allow yourself to get lost in regrets about the past and worries about the future, it is difficult for insight to grow, and it will be more difficult to know what right action to take in the present.

It is because of ignorance that we suffer. When we begin to touch insight, we are deeply in touch with reality and there is no longer any fear. There is compassion. There is acceptance. There is tolerance. This  is why we talk about insight as a kind of superpower. If you take the time to look at reality using the insights of impermanence and nonself, you will have a break-through that will liberate you from your suffering and your difficulties. All of the first four powers lead to this fifth superpower. And with insight comes a tremendous source of happiness.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’


The power of insight – part 3

In Buddhism there is a kind of wisdom called the wisdom of nondiscrimination. Nondiscrimination is one element of true love. I am right-handed, so I do most things with my right hand: brushing my teeth, inviting the bell to sound, writing calligraphy. I have written all my poems with my right hand. But my right hand is never proud of itself. It never says, ‘Left hand, you are good for nothing! I have to do everything by myself.’ And my left hand does not have an inferiority complex. It never suffers, it’s wonderful. My right and left hands are always at peace with each other. They collaborate in a perfect way. This is the wisdom of no-self that is alive in us.

One day I was hammering a nail in the wall to hang a picture. I was not very skillful, and instead of hitting the nail, I hit my finger. Immediately, my right hand put down the hammer and took care of my left hand. My right hand never said, ‘Left hand, you know, I’m taking good care of you. You should remember that.’ And my left hand did not say, ‘Right hand, you have made me suffer. I want justice, give me that hammer!’ My left hand never thinks like that. So the wisdom of nondiscrimination is there in us. And if we make use of it, there will be peace in our family, in our community.

Insight comes from understanding. There may be elements of understanding in us already, but if we don’t have time to be mindful and concentrate, insight won’t manifest in us…

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘ The art of power’

The power of insight – part 2

… Without insight, we think of power as something we gain for ourselves and ourselves alone. But another insight we can cultivate is the insight of nonself. Nonself doesn’t mean that don’t exist, it means you are not a completely separate entity. A lot of our suffering is born from the discrimination between self and others and our notion of a separate self. Suppose you are a parent. Looking into your child, you will see that your son, your daughter is your continuation. Just as a corn plant is the continuation of a kernel of corn, the child is a continuation of the parent. The father is there in every cell of the son. The father and son are not exactly one person, but they are not exactly two different people either. If the father can see this, he touches his nature of nonself. If the son suffers, the father suffers, and vice versa. So getting angry at your son is getting angry ay yourself. This is very clear. When you are able to touch your nature of no-self, when you no longer see a distinction between you and your daughter or son, your anger will vanish. When you are in a power struggle, if you know how to meditate on nonself, you will know what to do. You can stop your own suffering and the suffering of the other people in the struggle. You know that his anger is your anger, his suffering is your suffering, and his happiness is your happiness.

When my left arm hurts because of rheumatism, I try to take care of it; I massage it and do everything to bring relief to my left arm. I do not get angry at my left arm. When I have a student who is difficult, I try to practice like this. I do not get angry at her. I try to take care of her like I take care of my own arm, because getting angry at my student is getting angry at myself and will not help the situation. But we can act with this kind of wisdom only after we achieve the insight of nonself.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’

The power of insight – Part 1

Insight, the fifth power, is a sword that painlessly cuts through all kinds of suffering, including fear, despair, anger and discrimination. If you are using your powers of concentration, insight allows you to fully see what you are concentrating on. Concentration on impermanence and nonself leads to the insight of impermanence and nonself.

Impermanence is not an idea, not a notion, but an insight. Many of us try desperately to hold on to some notion of stability or permance. We become anxious when we hear the teaching of impermanence. But impermanence is not just negative; Impermanence can be very positive. Everything is impermanent, including injustice, poverty, pollution and global warming. In our lives, there is misunderstanding; there is violence; there is conflict; there is despair; but these things are also impermanent, and because they are impermanent they can be transformed if we have insight into how to live in the present moment.

However, sometimes we forget about impermanence. Although intellectually we realize that everything is impermanent, we forget that one day our loved ones will get sick and die. We don’t remember that we ourselves   have to die some day. We have the tendency to think that we will  live forever. And therefore we do not have  the insight we need to live beautifully and really cherish our loved ones. For many of us, the excruciating pain we feel at the death of a beloved one is not entirely because we miss him, but more because we regret that while our beloved was alive, we didn’t have time for him, we didn’t care wholeheartedly for him. We may have treated him unkindly. And now that our beloved id gone, we feel guilty. If we have the insight of impermanence, we know that our beloved will die one day and that we must do everything we can to make her happy today. Don’t wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow may be too late. If we know how to live according the insight of impermanence, we will not make many mistakes. We can be happy right now. We can love our beloved, care for her, and make her happy today. And won’t run toward the future, losing our life, which is available only in the present moment.

When the Buddha spoke about impermanence, he was speaking of insight. He was not being pessimist, but only reminding us that life is precious, that we have to treasure every moment of life. Concentrating on impermanence in this way will bring us the insight of impermanence. With this kind of insight, we don’t allow ourselves to be carried away by despair, anger, or negativity, because our insight tells us exactly what to do and what not to do to change the situation. With impermanence, everything is possible.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’

The power of concentration

Mindfulness brings about the fourth power, the power of concentration. When you drink your tea, just drink your tea. Enjoy drinking your tea. Please don’t drink your suffering, your despair, your projects. This is very important. Otherwise you can’t nourish yourself.

There are things that you have seen but not very clearly. You can use the power of concentration to experience a break-through and see deeply the nature of what is there. Perhaps you have some difficulty, depression, fear, or despair, and you want to look deeply into the nature of your affliction to be able to transform it. To do this you need a lot of concentration.

Concentration can help us look deeply onto the nature of reality and bring about the kind of insight that can liberate us from suffering. There are many kinds of concentration we can cultivate. Through concentration on impermanence, we become aware that everything is constantly changing. We may die tomorrow or anytime because of an accident. We should do everything we can to make our loved ones happy today. Tomorrow may be too late. With concentration on nonself – the reality that we do not have a separate self – we become aware that suffering is there not only in us but also in the other person. Not only do we suffer, but so do our children, our partners, our friends, and our colleagues. When we develop concentration on interbeing, on the interconnections of all things, we see that if we make them suffer they will make us suffer in return. Concentration on nature of impermanence, nonself, and interbeing can help us realize great breakthroughs that will bring us the fifth kind of power, insight.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’

The power of mindfulness

The third power id the power of mindfulness. Mindfulness is the energy of being aware of what is happening in the present mpment. When we have the energy of mindfulness in us, we are fully present, we are fully alive, and we live deeply every moment of our daily life. Whether you are cooking, or washing, or cleaning, or sitting, or eating, it is a time for you to generate the energy of mindfulness. And the energy of mindfulness helps you know what you should do and what you should not do. It helps you avoid difficulties and mistakes, it protects you and shines light on all your daily activities.

Mindfulness is the capacity to recognize things as they are. When you are mindful, you recognize what is going on, what is happening in the here and now. When you recognize something positive, you can enjoy it, you can nourish and heal yourself just by recognizing these positive elements. And when something is negative, mindfulness helps you embrace it, soothe it, and get some relief. Mindfulness is an energy that can hold the suffering, the anger, the despair; if you know how to hold your suffering long enough, you get relief.

If we lose this power of mindfulness, we lose everything. Without mindfulness, we make and spend our money in ways that destroy us and other people. We use our fame in such a way that we destroy ourselves and others. We use our military strength to destroy ourselves and other people.

Walking and eating are actions we perform every day. But usually when we talk we are not really walking. We are being carried away by our projects and worries. We are not free. When we walk with mindfulness, dwelling in the present moment, no longer pulled by our regrets about the past or our worries concerning the future, we touch the wonders of life and each step nourishes our happiness. With mindfulness we do not have to regret the way we have lived. Mindfulness helps us see and be in touch with our loved ones. It is the energy that allows us to come back to ourselves, to be alive and truly happy.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’

The art of diligence – the fourth aspect

The fourth aspect of diligence is trying to keep a good mental formation in the living room as long as possible. We have to nourish it, to keep it in our mind. If a seed of compassion, a seed of joy, or a seed of peace is manifesting as a mental formation, it is good for you, so keep it there, invite it to say, don’t let it go back down to the basement. When you have a lovely friend visiting, you invite him to stay as long as possible, because his presence brings you a lot of joy. it is so pleasant to have a good friend with you in the living room. If there is rain, you might say, ‘My dear friend, its raining outside, so stay and have another cup of tea.’ You try to persuade your good friend to stay as long as possible. The longer the mental formation stays on the level of mind consciousness, the stronger it grows at the base. This applies to the positive as well as the negative. If you entertain craving in your living room for five minutes, the seed of craving has five minutes to grow. Help the seed of craving go back to the basement as soon as possible, and invite a beneficial seed to come up instead.

When you use your skillfulness and these practices to create mindfulness, this is called true diligence. True diligence can bring a lot of joy, a lot of happiness to you and your loved ones. People with the energy of diligence are extraordinarily powerful. They can transform themselves; they can help transform the community, the environment, and the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’

The power of diligence – the third aspect

The third aspect of diligence is to always invite good seeds to manifest. You know that you have a seed of love, a seed of forgiveness, a seed of joy, of peace, of happiness. Learn ways to touch them and help them manifest. If you live in a good environment, where you are supported by loving, healthy community, you have plenty of opportunities to help these positive seeds manifest.

The seeds of awakening, understanding, and compassion are always in us. They are part of our inherent nature. The question is how to help these seeds manifest. If the positive, wholesome seeds in store consciousness haven’t manifested, help them manifest. Read something, say something, watch something that will water the seed of compassion, of loving kindness, so it will manifest in your mind. Organize your life in such a way that the good seeds in you can be touched several times a day, so they can manifest on the level of mind consciousness. This can be done quickly. Invite a wonderful guest to be in the living room often, and it will change the whole situation.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’

The power of diligence – the second aspect

The second aspect of diligence is calming and replacing negative seeds that do manifest in your conscious mind. When a negative seed is triggered – the seed of despair, the seed of anger, or the seed of violence – you need to know how to help it stop manifesting and return to its original form as a seed. Don’t let it stay too long on the upper level of mind consciousness, because if it stays a long time, it will grow stronger and cause a lot of destruction. There are many ways to calm a negative energy without suppressing or fighting it. You recognize it, you smile to it, and you invite something nicer to come up and replace it, you read some inspiring words, you listen to a piece of beautiful music, you go somewhere in nature, or you do some walking meditation.

It’s like you have put on the wrong CD, and it plays music you don’t like, so you replace it with another one. When the new CD begins, it is very pleasant. The Buddha didn’t have CD’s in his time, so he used the image of changing a peg. A carpenter uses a wooden peg to attach two pieces of wood. When the peg is rotten, it cannot hold the two pieces together, so he removes the old one and replaces it with a new peg. In the same way, you can change your thinking if it is unpleasant. If an idea is negative, full of craving or anger, you can use mindful breathing to touch a seed that is wholesome and invite it to come up. If this wholesome seed is interesting enough, the unpleasant seed will shrivel. But the new seed should be more attractive or the unpleasant seed will not go easily and will fight for your attention. With skillfulness, with diligence, you practice the second step to change the situation, helping the negative mental formation go back to sleep and helping the positive seed manifest. When the positive mental formation arises, the living room is occupied and there is little chance for negative guests to intrude.

The first two aspects of diligence concern taking care of negative seeds, the third and fourth, nourishing positive seeds.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’

The power of diligence – the first aspect

The second kind of power is diligence. You are capable of coming back to your best and highest self, but you must maintain this practice. Don’t allow yourself to get distracted and forget to practice. Practice regularly, daily, with support of your family, friends, and community – this is diligence. If you practice sitting meditation every day, walking meditation every day, mindful breathing every day, mindful eating every day, your practice is nourished, steadily, continuously, and this is the second source of power. You are able to practice mindfulness, but your motivation is not to prove that you are able to do it. The point is to practice for your well-being and enjoyment. You simply practice, and you do it every day.

There are four aspects of diligence. The first is that when negative emotions haven’t manifested in your mind, you don’t give them a chance to manifest. In Buddhist psychology, we describe our consciousness as having two layers, two levels. The lower layer is called store consciousness, and the upper layer is called mind consciousness. Mind consciousness is our normal, waking mind; store consciousness is our unconscious mind.

Store consciousness is like the land, the ground, with many seeds preserved in it. In our store consciousness there are seed of joy, forgiveness, mindfulness, concentration, insight, and equanimity. But there also seeds of anger, hate, despair, and so on. All these seeds are kept by our store consciousness. One of the functions of the store consciousness is to maintain these seeds.

When a seed is watered in our store consciousness, it manifests as an energy in our mind consciousness and becomes a mental formation. You have a seed of anger, but when the seed of anger is asleep, dormant in your store consciousness, you don’t feel angry. However, when the seed is touched, when it is turned on, it becomes a mental formation called anger, and you feel the energy of anger arise. We can envision mind consciousness as a living room and store consciousness as a basement. If we water a seed of joy, that seed will manifest itself on the upper level of mind consciousness, making the living room beautiful. If we water the seed of anger or hatred, it will make the living room of our mind a hell for us and our loved ones.

We all have a seed of anger, a seed of despair, and the seed of jealousy in us. If you live in  a negative environment, the environment can trigger these seeds. If you live in a positive environment, then the seeds of craving, violence, hate, and anger are not touched, not watered easily. So it is wise for you to choose a good environment that will prevent these negative seeds from being touched often. You should not allow other people around you to touch these seeds, and you should not allow yourself to water them.

When you read an article full of violence or watch a violent television program or film, you turn on the seed of violence. The first step of diligence is not to turn on these negative seeds and not to allow the environment to turn them on. Diligence here means the practice of selective watering. So if negative seeds in store consciousness haven’t manifested, keep them down there, don’t let them get watered. In your daily life, be careful not to give these seeds a chance to manifest. Don’t suppress them, just don’t give them a chance. In your community, in your family, expose yourself only to sounds and sights that will help you touch the wholesome elements within you. Try not to expose yourself to sights  and sounds that stimulate the seed of craving or the seed of anger in you. You need diligence to practice this, and you may need a community or group of friends with similar values to help you create a good environment. You can encourage your partner, your children, and your friends to help you protect yourself. And you can also protect them by creating an environment where they don’t have to be in touch with things that water their negative seeds.

Thich Nhat Hanh ‘The art of power’