Most of us want less stress in our lives as well as a more enlightened world, without the vitriol and suffering that seem to deepen by the day. We want those effects, those ends, but how do we get there? As Thich Nhat Hanh notes in the excerpt below, “cause and effect are one.” If we want peace in the world, then we need to be it. If we want less stress, then we can stop, come back to ourselves, and reframe how we relate to the world and our place in it. How? Most concretely, by practicing the Five Mindfulness Trainings. As simple as that solution sounds, it is far from easy.
Why we came to mindfulness varies by practitioner, but we often hear the same themes. “I want less stress.” “I want to be more compassionate.” “I want to make a better world.” “I want less suffering.” The central teaching of the Plum Village tradition is that to bring about these states, we have to be them here and now. We can have less stress now, in this moment, by stopping and coming back to our breath. This is how we cultivate the causes and conditions that will help ensure less stress. Because we only have ourselves and the present moment to work with, our only way of bringing about the effect is to be the cause. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “There is no way to peace, peace is the way.”
But how do we do that? Thich Nhat Hanh says that the Five Mindfulness Trainings are mindfulness itself. The Trainings create the conditions for mindfulness, and mindfulness reinforces the ability to live the Trainings. By living our lives in mindfulness and in observance of the Trainings, we transform our minds. Over time, this transformation untangles our preconceptions, neuroses, habits, and hang-ups and also grows our compassion, gratitude, joy, and generosity. The effects of this transformation are seeing with a clear mind the beauty of a smile, the stark blueness of the sky, the taste of our apple, and the joy of being alive.
This Thursday, we will recite the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and several Still Water practitioners will share their experiences with them. Why should we undertake to practice the Mindfulness Trainings? What does it mean to do so? How do you relate, or not relate, to the Trainings?
A study group that will discuss the Five Mindfulness trainings will meet in Takoma Park every other Saturday morning for three discussions—November 18, December 2, and December 16. Please register if you would like to join us. The greater Washington area mindfulness communities will gather on January 6, 2018, to transmit the Five Mindfulness Trainings to anyone who wishes to take them, so we will also discuss this ceremony and any questions about it.
We hope you will join us.
Eliza King and Scott Schang
From Interbeing by Thich Nhat Hanh
Ideas about understanding and compassion are not understanding and compassion. Understanding and compassion must be real in our lives. They must be seen and touched. The real presence of understanding and compassion will alleviate suffering and cause joy to be born. But to realize does not only mean to act. First of all, realization means transforming ourselves. This transformation creates a harmony between ourselves and nature, between our own joy and the joy of others. Once we get in touch with the source of understanding and compassion, this transformation is realized and all our actions will naturally protect and enhance life. If we wish to share joy and happiness with others, we must have joy and happiness within ourselves. If we wish to share calmness and serenity, we should first realize them within ourselves. Without a calm and peaceful mind, our actions will only create more trouble and destruction in the world….
Only the present moment is real and available to us. The peace we desire is not in some distant future, but it is something we can realize in the present moment. To practice Buddhism does not mean to endure hardship now for the sake of peace and liberation in the future. The purpose of practice is not to be reborn in some paradise or Buddhaland after death. The purpose is to have peace for ourselves and others right now, while we are alive and breathing. Means and ends cannot be separated. Bodhisattvas are careful about causes, while ordinary people care more about effects, because bodhisattvas see that cause and effect are one. Means are ends in themselves. An enlightened person never says, “This is only a means.” Based on the insight that means are ends, all activities and practices should be entered into mindfully and peacefully. While sitting, walking, cleaning, working, or serving, we should feel peace within ourselves. The aim of sitting meditation is first to be peaceful and awake during sitting meditation. Working to help the hungry or the sick means to be peaceful and loving during that work. When we practice, we do not expect the practice to pay large rewards in the future, even nirvana, the pure land, enlightenment, or Buddhahood. The secret of Buddhism is to be awake here and now. There is no way to peace; peace is the way. There is no way to enlightenment; enlightenment is the way. There is no way to liberation; liberation is the way.