A few weeks ago, the following talk by Thay was posted on tnhaudio.org. The talk was given at the Francophone Educators’ Retreat in Upper Hamlet on October 27, 2014 and the anglophone OI on Facebook expressed an interest in a translation, so I decided I would give it a try. Here is the audio:[audio http://tnhaudio.org/audio/2014/2014-10-27.mp3]
And here is the translation below. Note that this translation of the talk is somewhat unpolished and definitely not official nor sanctioned by Plum Village. It is simply intended to be an “interim” translation until such time as a proper one is made available.
I had to take a few liberties in some spots (noted with brackets ) and I ask to be forgiven for whatever mistakes I might have made.
I might add that this effort was profoundly joyous because it made me listen, deeply, to our beloved teacher and I am grateful for this opportunity.
Welcome dear friends, welcome dear colleagues, welcome to this Francophone retreat reserved for teachers and educators. I myself am a teacher and I love my job. And I know that you too love your job you want to build young men and women who are healthy and happy who are able to be happy and who are able to help other people around them be happy also. Our mission is not only to transmit knowledge but to build people, a humanity that is worthy [of it – humanity] and that can take care of our precious planet.
I have been very lucky because people, especially young people, who have come to me have had the same ideal. They want to learn how to transform themselves to be happy and live happily – to help others learn to live happily also. Every time I enter my classroom there is always happiness. There is a kind of mutual understanding between student and teacher. There is also a kind of brotherhood which makes the work of teaching and the work of studying much easier.
I always learn about the lives of my students. I tell them my difficulties, my hopes and aspirations things like that and therefore communication is always possible.
We know that children – the students of our time – have a lot of suffering in them. It’s because their parents suffer, because their parents are unable to communicate with one another and the communication between parents and children is not easy. So there is a certain kind of solitude, a kind of vacuum in the child and the child seeks to fill the void with games and the internet and things like that and you all know this very well. Thus there is an enormous amount of suffering in young people and this makes the work of teaching very difficult. And we ourselves [teachers] also have difficulties. We have tried our best but the environment, the family, the colleagues with whom we work have a lot of suffering in themselves, so it’s hard.
If teachers and their colleagues are not happy, then how can we make children happy? It’s a great problem. We don’t have enough patience, understanding, freshness and compassion to confront all of this, so there is a spiritual dimension that is necessary for us [to develop] and that helps us to transform and begins to help those who are close to us to transform themselves also, starting with members of our family and our partner. And if we succeed in this practice we become much more pleasant, smiling, compassionate. And then we can help our colleagues do the same thing and we can bring this practice into our classroom.
So the first step is to make a great return, a great return home [to one’s self]. The Exit. We are looking for an exit [a way out]. But the exit begins with an entrance. “The way out is in”. [You know something, brother ???] There, that’s the great return to one’s self [breathing in gesture, perhaps]. In order to take care of one’s self. In order to manage the difficulties in oneself. And here we have the methods with which to practice. And we can practice them together with joy.
With the full awareness of breathing we can bring our mind together with our body and take care of our body first of all. If you have tension or pain in your body, with this practice you can come back to your body, recognize the presence of the tension and of the suffering in your body and breathe in such a way let go of this suffering. Even one hour of this practice can already change a lot.
This is an exercise proposed by the Buddha: “breathing in I am conscious of my body”. I have come back to my body, which is a marvel, but which does not have enough peace in this moment. But if there is no peace in the body it will be much more difficult. To have peace in the mind, body and mind must always be together. Therefore you must begin with the body. In the sitting posture or walking or standing, or lying down, you can very well practice to relax the body. That is the main thing.
Sitting in the bus, in the car, you can practice there too. Preparing breakfast you can do it [there] too. Washing dishes you can do it [there] too. We have lots of time to practice relaxing the body – it’s very important. And these are exercises [practices] that help us recognize the marvels of life, the beauty of nature that are available in the present moment.
It’s easy. If you make one in breath and you pay full attention to your in breath, then you will see already that all your thinking will come to a stop. We think a lot but our thoughts are not productive. We become more and more confused when we think. “I think therefore I am not really there”. “I think therefore I am lost in my thinking”.
Therefore even if you pay attention just to one in-breath and even if it lasts only 2 or 3 seconds, you stop your thinking. You become free: of the past and of the future, of your projects and breathing-in can be enjoyable. For you, practitioners, one in-breath in is very enjoyable: you are alive. One in-breath is a marvel. Someone who is dead cannot have an in-breath.
Therefore “if I breathe in, I am alive” and to be alive is a miracle; the greatest miracle in the world. So it brings you great pleasure to have one in-breath. And when you take that in-breath you bring your mind together with your body. Because in daily life often the body is there but the mind is somewhere else, taken into the past or into the future, into your projects or into your anger. So when body and mind are not together and when the situation is like that – you are not really alive.
The body must be with the mind so that you can be there and live deeply, this moment, each moment of your life. When body and mind are together, you are entirely alive, present and you can recognize that all the marvels of life are there: the sun, trees, the birds, the kingdom of God is available here and now. It is the recognition, pure and simple of the beauty and the marvels of life. If you can recognize that, you and others have the great fortune to live happily here and now. If you have the time, you can write on a piece of paper the conditions for happiness that you have already, that you don’t have to look for in the future. I am sure that one page will not be enough, not even two, three or four pages. You have many conditions for happiness, and happiness is possible here and now, and this is the teaching of the Buddha.
The French have these words of wisdom: “what are we waiting for to be happy?” So there is there is this exercise [practice] that helps us recognize this – the marvels of life, the kingdom of God, the conditions for happiness that are available and you can generate this feeling of joy and this feeling of happiness at any time and any place. A true mindfulness practitioner is capable of generating a feeling of joy and happiness at any moment. It’s the art of happiness, it’s simple, it’s easy, it’s possible for everyone.
And there are two exercises [two practices]: when a painful feeling begins to arise, when a painful emotion begins to arise, you can breathe in such a way as to generate the energy of mindfulness in order to recognize this feeling or this emotion and to embrace it tenderly and you can bring relief [to this suffering] with just a few minutes of practice. This is very important. You must listen to your own suffering in the body, in the feelings [sensations] and in your emotions.
The other person also has this. She[he] has suffering in her[him]self. So if she[he] speaks, she[he] acts, so as to make us suffer, she[he] has the intention to make us suffer because she[he] cannot manage this suffering in her[him]self. And we practitioners, we know how to manage our suffering. Managing our suffering is an art. We speak of the art of happiness but we can also speak of the art of suffering. We have to learn to suffer.
The one who knows how to suffer, suffers a lot less than others. Believe me. The person who knows how to suffer, suffers a lot less than others. It’s a fact. And if you are able to see that suffering in her[him] [the other] you will not suffer yourself any more. “Poor people, poor friend, poor colleague, they have so much suffering in them, and they don’t know how to manage their suffering.” He[she] does this [act] because he[she] is suffering and is making other suffer.
So when you remember this, there is compassion in your eyes. When you look at people with compassion, you are not suffering. Compassion is an antidote to anger. And it is possible to generate the energy of compassion. It’s very simple: recognize the enormous suffering in him or in her and you have compassion for him or for her and you can always smile and be kind and be compassionate and she will be surprised: “how do you that?” [she will ask herself [or you?]]. Others in this situation would react with anger but you are relaxed smiling, you are compassionate and like that you can help others.
Therefore to make a return [home] to yourself – is the first step. And after that you can start to help your partner and the members of your family. It is because the other person has witnessed this transformation in you that he or she can believe that if she does the same thing, then she can succeed like you. And reconciliation and restoration of communication will be possible because loving speech and compassionate listening always helps to restore communication and to bring about reconciliation.
“Dear friend, I know that you have suffered a lot in previous years. I have not been able to help you, and I have reacted in ways that have made the situation more difficult. I am terribly sorry. My dear friend, it was not my intention to make you suffer. It is because I have not seen and understood the enormous suffering in you. You must help me my friend. You must tell me everything that is in your heart, your hardship and your suffering. I am sure that if I understand your suffering I will not react in the same way as I have in the past. Help me my friend, please tell me what is in your heart”
That is loving speech. It is the key that can open the door to someone’s heart. It is very effective. Even after 5 years of hardship [difficult relationship with the other person], he[she] will tell you what is in his[her] heart and then you can practice like Avalokiteshvara: listen with compassion.
Only listen. Compassionate listening has only one purpose – to help the other to empty their heart so that they suffer less. So even if they say something that is false [incorrect], you must not interrupt them, leave them [that person] to speak and speak. Later maybe you will be able to offer some information that helps them correct their perceptions, but not at the time that they are speaking. It’s very effective. To restore communication. To bring back reconciliation. And with the collaboration between the teacher and his[her] partner, and his[her] family, you will be able to take another step. You will be able to enter the workplace, including our colleagues and our students. We know that most of our colleagues have suffering in them, already if we have understanding and compassion in us, we suffer much less when these people explode.
Therefore you must consider building a Sangha, i.e. a community, among your colleagues, among the employees of the establishment [educational institution]. It can be just two or three or four people with whom you can communicate well about the situation – so you have to speak to them first – they have seen your transformation and healing. You are fresh, compassionate, smiling, and you can speak to them and build a Sangha. You have to meet more often to be able to continue your practice, not only as an individual and as a family but also as a community. To build a Sangha is absolutely necessary. You can practice walking mediation together, you can drink tea together, you can practice a session of total relaxation together and you will build a small community of teachers who are happy. Happy teachers will change the world. With this small Sangha, you will be able to change the whole community of the establishment [educational institution].
You can write a letter saying “we are a group of people, we have done this and that, and made a lot of changes in our lives and in our work and in our classrooms and we think that if you would join us, it would be marvelous”. This way, your colleagues will be able to taste this kind of peace, and brotherhood and relaxation.
We cannot continue like this – if teachers are unhappy, if they do not have harmony and peace in themselves [and with each other], how can they help young people to suffer less, how to succeed in their work [studies]? So building a Sangha is absolutely necessary. And every teacher should be a Sangha builder.
You know that after his enlightenment the first thing that the Buddha thought about was to build a Sangha. He knew very well that without a Sangha, he could not succeed in his career as a Buddha. The teacher also has a noble career, a beautiful, very desirable career. So, without a Sangha, you cannot do much. Sangha Building is something that is absolutely necessary.
Dear Friends, we have a retreat. This is a wonderful thing. We have the time and the opportunity to practice all this together. I wish you all a good and happy retreat.