فصل 11

دوره: خرد تسلط بر خشم / درس 12

فصل 11

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Chapter 11

RESTORING THE PURELAND

Making Happiness a Priority

From time to time we have to make a decision, and sometimes the decision is very difficult. We are forced to make a painful choice. But if we know what is most important to us, what we most deeply want for our life, the decision-making will become easier, and we won’t have to suffer a lot.

When a person wants to become a monastic, for instance, it is not an easy decision. If your desire to be a monastic is less than one hundred percent, don’t become a monastic. It must be more than one hundred percent. When you feel that monastic life is what you want more than anything else, other things become less important and the decision becomes much easier.

I have written three volumes on the history of Buddhism in Vietnam. All three volumes have been well received by readers.

There is one more to write, the fourth volume. It’s very important: the history of Buddhism in Vietnam from 1964 to the present. Writing this book is a very exciting and interesting project. I have lived through this period and so have gained firsthand experience. If I don’t write it, there might not be anyone else with the time or the direct experience to do it.

And this would do some injustice to history. Writing this book would also help people to learn more about the development and practice of Buddhism.

In me there is a historian. And I feel great joy when I play this role: making discoveries, revealing things that are new to other people, and giving the younger generation a direction to go in. They can learn a lot from the mistakes and the successes of past generations. So the desire to write this fourth volume is very strong. But I have not been able to write it because there are many more urgent things to do, such as helping relieve the suffering of people right beside me, in front of me, and around me. I cannot afford to be a scholar, a historian, although I know that this book is very important. I have all the documents needed for writing the book, but I would need one year to complete it. Which would mean no retreats, no dharma talks, no consultations, and so on.

We all have many things to do in our daily life. You have to decide which things are the most important to you. Getting a university degree may take you six or even eight years, and that is quite a long period of time. You may believe that this degree is important for your happiness. It might be, but perhaps there are other elements that are more important to your well-being, and to your happiness. You can work on improving the relationship between you and your father, your mother, or your partner. Do you have time for this? Can you afford enough time in order to do this work? It is very important to improve the relationship between you and your beloved ones. You are willing to put aside six years for a diploma; do you have the wisdom to use just as much time to work out a relationship? To deal with your anger? This time will bring you and the other person the happiness and stability you need to restore communication.

Writing a Book on Yourself

Recently, a university professor from the United States came to Plum Village. He was very eager to write a book on Thomas Merton and myself. He wanted to talk to me about it, and I said immediately, “Why don’t you write a book on yourself ? Why don’t you invest one hundred percent of yourself into the practice of making yourself and the people around you happy? That is more important than writing a book on Thomas Merton and myself. Many books have been written on Thomas Merton already.” Our friend said, with the best intentions and a lot of love, “But no one has written a book on you yet.” I answered, “I don’t care about a book on me, but I care very much about you writing a book on yourself.

Write with your whole heart to transform yourself into an instrument of dharma, of the practice, so that you can become a free person, a happy person. That way you can help many people around you to be happy also.”

What is most important to me is to establish a good relationship between my students and myself. I have to make it possible for people to practice and to transform. This is very rewarding and nourishing. Every time a practitioner is capable of transforming her suffering, and able to establish a good relationship with others, it is quite a victory. Not only a victory for him or for her, but a victory for the whole community, and for the practice as well. This is very nourishing for all of us. We know the story of the young nun in Plum Village who was able to help a mother and daughter reconcile.

That was a real victory. It strengthened her faith in the practice and ours at the same time.

If you have difficulties with another person, and think that she only wants to make you suffer, and that it’s impossible to do anything to help her, then you are not putting the teachings into practice. If it seems impossible for you to have a dialogue with her, that’s because you lack experience in the practice. It is possible for you to talk to that person. Many people ask the question—“What if the other person doesn’t want to cooperate, doesn’t want to listen?” If the other person doesn’t want to listen to you, to talk to you, or to work it out with you right now, then continue to practice and transform yourself so that reconciliation will be possible.

Writing a book on yourself is a way of looking deeply to recognize the roots of your suffering and find ways to transform them. It will help you become a free and happy person, able to make others around you happy also.

Nectar of Compassion

You should nourish yourself with the nectar of compassion before you approach another person in order to reconcile.

Compassion is born from understanding—understanding that the other person also suffers. We tend to forget this. We see only our own suffering, and then we exaggerate, thinking, “No one else suffers like I do; I am the only one who suffers like this.” But with a community to support you, you will be able to look deeper, to see that the other person also suffers very much.

It may be that because the other person has not had enough support, he has not been able to advance on the path of practice, and you have not helped him either. You are not even able to help yourself. But the teachings are exactly for that, the community is exactly for that—for nourishing ourselves with the nectar of compassion. We have to call on the dharma, we have to call on the sangha to help us. The dharma is effective in the here and the now.

Leaving the Prison of Notions

You should not practice like a machine, but with intelligence, so that each step, each breath, will make you feel better. Each mindful meal, each cup of tea, can make you feel better.

Touch the wonders of life within and around you. Nourish yourself by allowing the beautiful and healing elements around you to penetrate you. This is the most important thing to do.

Ideas are not nourishing. In fact, ideas and notions very often become obstacles. They can become a prison. We must leave these ideas and notions behind in order to touch life, so full of wonders. Learn from your fellow practitioners who are capable of being happy, capable of loving. There are such people. They don’t have problems with other members of their community because they can accept everyone. They are content. We have to cultivate the capacity of being happy like them. Living in the same environment, we share the same conditions of happiness. Others are capable of being happy, why can’t we? What kind of obstacle is preventing us from being happy?

A Crucial Letter

If you have been trained in loving speech and deep listening, you can resolve a conflict with someone else by speaking to him or her directly. But if you are unsure whether your peace, solidity, and compassion are enough to keep you fresh, loving, and calm while you speak, then you may like to practice writing a letter. Writing a letter is a very important practice.

Because even if you have the best of intentions, if your practice is not solid enough, you may become irritated when you speak and react in an unskillful way. This can ruin your chance. So sometimes it’s safer and easier to write a letter.

In a letter you can be perfectly honest. You can tell the other person that there are things that she has done that have made you suffer, that have hurt you. You can write everything you feel inside. As you write, your practice is to be calm, to use the language of peace, of loving-kindness. Try to establish dialogue. You can write things like “My dear friend, I may be the victim of wrong perceptions, and what I write here may not reflect the truth. However, this is my experience of the situation. This is what I really feel in my heart. If there is anything wrong in what I write, let us sit down and look into it together so that we can clarify the misunderstanding.” In our tradition, when the monks and the nuns come together to offer guidance to someone who has requested it, they always use this kind of language. They use the insight of the community. This does not mean that the community’s vision is perfect, but it is the best insight they can offer us. So the brothers and sisters acknowledge in their response that “As we offer this guidance, we are aware there may be things that we have not understood. There may be positive things in you that we have not seen. And there may be some wrong perception on the part of the community.” So when you write a letter to the other person, do the same: “If my perceptions are not right, then please correct me.” Use loving speech when you write. If one sentence is not written well enough, you can always begin anew and write another sentence that is more kind.

In the letter, we have to demonstrate that we have the capacity to see the suffering in the other person: “Dear friend, I know that you have suffered. And I know that you are not wholly responsible for your suffering.” Because you have practiced looking deeply, you have discovered a number of different roots and causes of the other person’s suffering. You can tell him all these things. You can tell him of your own suffering, and show that you understand why he acted or spoke the way he did.

Take one, two, or even three weeks to finish your letter, because it is a very important letter. It is more important than the fourth volume on the history of Buddhism in Vietnam.

More important than the book on Thich Nhat Hanh and Thomas Merton. That letter is crucial for your happiness.

The time you spend writing it is even more important than the one or two years you spend writing your doctoral thesis.

Your thesis is not as crucial as this letter. Writing a letter like this is the best thing you can do to have a breakthrough and restore communication.

You are not alone in doing this. You have brothers and sisters who can shine light on you and help you with your letter.

The people you need are right there with you in your community. When we write a book, we give the manuscript to friends, to specialists in order to ask for advice. Your fellow practitioners are specialists, because they all practice deep listening, deep looking, and loving speech.

You are the best doctor, you are the best therapist for your beloved one. So show the letter to a sister and ask her to tell you whether the language is kind enough, calm enough, and whether the insight is deep enough. After you show it to one brother or sister, you can still show it to another brother or sister until you feel that your letter will bring about a transformation in the other person and heal him.

How much of your time, energy, and love will you invest in such a letter? And who would refuse to help you in this important endeavor? It is crucial that you restore communication with this person whom you care so much about. It may be your father, your mother, your daughter, or your partner.

He or she may be sitting right next to you.

Restoring the Pure Land

In the beginning of your relationship, the other person made a commitment to love and take care of you, but now, he’s very, very distant. He doesn’t want to look at you anymore. He doesn’t want to hold your hand and walk with you anymore, and you suffer. In the beginning of your relationship, you felt you were in paradise. He fell in love with you, and you were so happy. Now it seems like he does not love you anymore and that he has abandoned you. He may be looking for another person, another relationship. Your paradise has become hell and you cannot get out of your hell.

Where does that hell come from? Is there someone pushing you into that hell and keeping you there? Perhaps hell is created by your mind, by your notions, by your wrong perceptions.

So it is only with your mind that you can destroy the hell, and free yourself.

The practice of mindfulness, of recognizing and embracing anger is to open the door of your hell and transform it, rescuing yourself and the other person, returning together to the land of peace. This is possible and you are the one who is going to do it. Your friends who practice will, of course, support you with their insight, their energy of mindfulness and loving-kindness.

If you succeed in restoring the relationship, making the other person and yourself happy again, you make a great contribution.

Everyone enjoys the victory, because everyone gains more faith in the practice. With support you can transform your hell and restore the Pure Land, restore peace in your daily life. You can start straightaway. You can begin to write that letter today. You will find out that with just a pencil and a sheet of paper, you can practice and transform your relationship.

Writing Your Letter All Day Long

While you’re sitting, doing walking meditation, working, cleaning, or cooking a meal, don’t think about the letter. But everything you do will be related to the letter.

The time you spend at your desk writing is only the time of putting your feelings on paper. But this is not exactly the moment that you produce the letter. You produce the letter when you water the vegetables, when you practice walking meditation, when you cook for the community. All these practices help you become more solid, more peaceful. The mindfulness and concentration you generate can help the seed of understanding and compassion in you to grow. When your letter comes from the mindfulness you have been generating all day long, then it will be a wonderful letter.

Live Each Moment Beautifully

About fifteen years ago, an American Buddhist scholar visited me while I was in the United States. She said, “Dear teacher, you write such beautiful poems. You spend a lot of time growing lettuce and doing things like that. Why don’t you use your time to write more poetry?” She had read somewhere that I enjoy growing vegetables, taking care of cucumber and lettuce. She was thinking pragmatically and suggested that I should not waste my time working in the garden but should use it to write poems.

I replied, “My dear friend, if I did not grow lettuce, I could not write the poems I write.”This is the truth. If you don’t live in concentration, in mindfulness, if you don’t live every moment of your daily life deeply, then you cannot write.

You can’t produce anything valuable to offer to others.

A poem is a flower you offer to people. A compassionate look, a smile, an act filled with loving-kindness is also a flower that blooms on the tree of mindfulness and concentration.

Even though you don’t think about the poem while cooking lunch for your family, the poem is being written. When I write a short story, a novel, or a play, it may take one week or several weeks to finish. But the story or the novel is always there. In the same way, although you are not thinking about the letter you will write to your beloved one, the letter is being written, deep down in your consciousness.

You cannot just sit there and write the story or the novel. You have to do other things as well. You drink tea, cook breakfast, wash your clothes, water the vegetables. The time spent doing these things is extremely important. You have to do them well. You have to put one hundred percent of yourself into the act of cooking, watering the vegetable garden, of dish washing. You just enjoy whatever you are doing, and you do it deeply. This is very important for your story, your letter, or anything else that you want to produce.

Enlightenment is not separate from washing dishes or growing lettuce. To learn how to live each moment of our daily life in deep mindfulness and concentration is the practice.

The conception and unfolding of a piece of art take place exactly in these moments of our daily life. The time when you begin to write down the music or the poems is only the time of delivering the baby. The baby has to be in you already in order for you to deliver it. But if the baby is not in you, even if you sit for hours and hours at your desk, there’s nothing to deliver, and you cannot produce anything. Your insight, your compassion, and your ability to write in a way that will move the other person’s heart are flowers that bloom on your tree of practice. We should make good use of every moment of our daily life in order to allow this insight and compassion to bloom.

The Gift of Transformation

A pregnant mother can be very happy every time she thinks of the baby inside of her. The baby, although not born yet, can give the mother a lot of joy. Every moment of her daily life, she is aware of the baby’s presence, so she does everything with love. She eats with love, she drinks with love because she knows that without her love, the baby may not be healthy.

She’s very careful all the time. She knows that if she makes a mistake, if she smokes a lot, if she drinks a lot of alcohol, this will not be good for her baby. So she’s very mindful, and she lives with the mind of love.

Practitioners have to act very much like a mother. We know that we want to produce something, we want to offer something to humanity, to the world. Each of us carries within ourselves a baby—the baby Buddha, and it is the baby Buddha in us that we can offer. We must live in mindfulness in order to take good care of our baby Buddha.

It is the energy of the Buddha in us that allows us to write a real love letter and reconcile with another person. A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion.

Otherwise it is not a love letter. A true love letter can produce a transformation in the other person, and therefore in the world. But before it produces a transformation in the other person, it has to produce a transformation within you. The time you take to write the letter may be your whole life.

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