Silver Spring, Maryland, Community Online on Thursday Evening
November 5, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Open to all Online on Friday Evening
November 6, 7:00 to 8:45 pm
Dear Still Water Friends,
Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) came to the United States in 1966 to explain to Americans the great suffering of the Vietnamese people and to ask Americans to support a cease fire in Vietnam. He gave many talks and met with politicians, military leaders, activists, writers and artists. At Gethsemani Abbey in Kentucky he met with Thomas Merton, a Trappist monk, writer, and poet. In an introduction for a 1996 reprinting of Merton’s book Contemplative Prayer, Thay described his encounter with Merton:
He was filled with human warmth. Conversation with him was so easy. When we talked, I told him a few things, and he immediately understood the things I didn’t tell him as well. He was open to everything, constantly asking questions and listening deeply.
Thay also used the opportunity of the introduction to explain the similarities and differences in how Buddhist and Christians understand prayer:
Our approach to prayer in Buddhism is a little different from that of Christianity. We practice silent meditation, and we try to practice mindfulness in everything we do, to awaken to what is going on inside us and all around us in each moment. The Buddha taught: “If you are standing on one shore and want to cross over to the other shore, you have to use a boat or swim across. You cannot just pray, ‘Oh, other shore, please come over here for me to step across!’” To a Buddhist, praying without also practicing is not real prayer.
In a real prayer, you ask only for the things you really need, things that are necessary for your well-being, such as peace, solidity, and freedom—freedom from anger, fear, and craving. Happiness and well-being are not possible without peace, solidity, and freedom. Most of our desires are not for our peace, solidity, and freedom. While you pray, you are deeply aware of what you really need and what is just the object of your desire. This kind of prayer is the light of God that shines upon you, telling you which way to go in order to obtain peace, solidity, and freedom. In a real prayer, you also touch the wholesome seeds in your consciousness and water them. These are seeds of compassion, love, understanding, forgiveness, and joy. If while praying you can recognize these seeds in you and help them grow, your prayer is already a deep practice.
Thay included Nine Prayers in his introduction which are somewhat similar to the metta prayers many of us know and practice.
The Nine Prayers
1. May I be peaceful, happy, and light in body and spirit.
2. May I be free from injury. May I live in safety.
3. May I be free from disturbance, fear, anxiety, and worry.
4. May I learn to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love.
5. May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself.
6. May I learn to identify and see the sources of anger, craving, and delusion in myself.
7. May I know how to nourish the seeds of joy in myself every day.
8. May I be able to live fresh, solid, and free.
9. May I be free from attachment and aversion, but not be indifferent.
Thay suggested that we offer the nine prayers nine times, first for ourselves and then for:
the person we like.
the person we love.
the person who is neutral to us.
the person we suffer when we think of.
the group, the people, the nation, or the species we like,
the one we love.
the one that is neutral to us.
the one we suffer when we think of.
This Thursday and Friday evenings, our first post-election gatherings, seem especially appropriate times to focus on and pray together for what we and our country really need. After our silent meditation and introductions, we will will practice The Nine Prayers as a guided meditation and then share our reflections.
You are invited to join us.
Several more paragraphs from Thay’s introduction to Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton are below.
From Thay’s introduction to Contemplative Prayer by Thomas Merton (1996 Image edition)
Buddhists and Christians know that nirvana, or the Kingdom of God, is within their hearts. The Gospels speak of the Kingdom of God as a mustard seed planted in the soil of consciousness. Buddhist sutras speak of Buddha nature as the seed of enlightenment that is already in everyone’s consciousness. The practices of prayer and meditation help us touch the most valuable seeds that are within us, and they put us in contact with the ground of our being. Buddhists consider nirvana, or the ultimate dimension of reality, as what theologian Paul Tillich called the “ground of being.” The original mind, according to Buddhism, is always shining. Afflictions such as craving, anger, doubt, fear, and forgetfulness are what block the light, so the practice is to remove or transform these five hindrances. With the energy of mindfulness present, transformation takes place naturally. When the energy of the Holy Spirit is within you, understanding, love, peace, and stability are possible. God is within. “You are, yet you are not, but I am in you.” In Buddhism, we use words like “interbeing” and “nonself.”
But many Christians and many Buddhists do not practice, or they only practice when they are in difficult situations, and after that, they forget. They support churches and temples, organize ceremonies, convert people, do charity work or social work, or take up an apostolic ministry, but they do not practice mindfulness or pray while they act. They may devote an hour each day for chanting and liturgy, but after a while, their practice becomes dry and automatic and they do not know how to refresh it. They may believe that they are serving the Buddha, the Dharma, the Sangha, or serving the Trinity and the Church, but their practice does not touch the living Buddha or the living Christ. At the same time, these men and women believe that political power is needed for the wellbeing of their church or community. They build up a self instead of letting go of the ideas of self. Then they look at this self as absolute truth and dismiss all other spiritual traditions as heretical. This is a very dangerous situation.
The beginner’s mind, the mind of love, is essential for the practice. It is the source of energy that helps us focus on our desire to touch the ultimate that transcends all duality. Daily practice helps enormously, and anything we encounter can be the object of our meditation—a floating cloud, a corpse, even our own fear. This kind of concentration helps us touch deeply the objects of our meditation and allows them to reveal their true nature. Enlightenment is the breaking through to the true nature of reality.