Dear Still Water Friends,
A Sanskrit phrase from the Sutras that the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh repeatedly used in his teaching was “drishta dharma sukha viharin.” He translated it both “dwelling happily in the present moment,” and “dwelling happily in things as they are.” He called it “the most important practice.”
Do not be disinherited and always going looking, searching for things. Come home and receive your heritage. To come home and receive your heritage means to light up the lamp of mindfulness so that the happiness and joy around you can nourish you. We only need to practice dwelling happily in the present moment and we have enough resources to benefit others. We can do this anywhere, wherever we are.” (From at Dharma talk on February 19, 1998.)
Like much of what Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, it is a very simple practice, and, often, difficult to implement. It is so easy to get caught up in our projects and to be overwhelmed by difficult emotions. Many of us never learned, even as small children, to “dwell happily in the present moment.”
The practice is not about denying the suffering that is present in us and in the world. Rather, it involves the realization that there is always suffering and always happiness. A practitioner of mindfulness learns skillful ways of working with both the ten thousand sorrows and the ten thousand joys. In Transformation at the Base Thich Nhat Hanh explains:
the elements of suffering do not remove or supercede the elements of happiness. If we touch only suffering elements, we are not really living. Some people become imprisoned in their suffering. Wherever they look, they see what is wrong, what is hurtful. They may know in principle that the flower is beautiful and the sunset is majestic, but they are not able to touch them. There is a wall surrounding them that prevents them from being in contact with the flower, the sunset, and the wonders of the natural world and the present moment that are always available to them. If these people could touch the healthy and beautiful things that lie within them and around them, their suffering would decrease. It is not enough to touch our suffering. We have to be in touch with the healthy and wonderful things in life as well. To do this, we need a Sangha, a group of friends, who smile, share with us, understand us, and take steps with us in freedom to help pull us out of our world of darkness.
This teaching resonates with me because it parallels my experience. Almost thirty years ago, on a work trip to Thailand, I managed to spend a week at Suan Mokkh, a Buddhist monastery founded by Ajahn Budadassa. I came imprisoned in my suffering. Although I was outwardly successful, I knew I was spiritually ill. I glimpsed there that my ceaseless efforts to fix myself and the world were actually part of my problem. I didn’t know how to turn off my preoccupation with suffering. I lacked the capacity to calm my mind and body and to become more intimate with my own present moment experiences. What surprised me most of all, is that when I had learned to become just a little bit more present, answers to many of my life problems began appearing. It was as if my mind had never been quiet enough to listen to my heart offering helpful suggestions.
This Thursday during our meditation period I’ll offer a guided meditation on using our mindful breathing to touch joy in the present moment. It is based loosely on the four body awareness practices of the “Full Awareness With Breathing Sutra,” a sutra favored by both Ajanh Budadasa and Thich Nhat Hanh. (My understanding of the sutra was expanded recently by a workshop with Santikaro, a Dharma teacher I first met at Suan Mokkh, where he translated Ajahn Budadassa’s Dharma talks into English.)
We will begin our Dharma sharing reflecting on these questions:
Has it been difficult for me to “dwell happily in things as they are”?
Does the phrase “imprisoned by suffering” resonate for me?
What mindfulness practices have been helpful in learning to find joy in the present moment?
You are invited to join us.
As is our tradition on the first Thursday of the month, we will also offer a brief newcomer’s orientation to mindfulness practice and to the Still Water community. The orientation will begin at 6:30 pm, and participants are encouraged to stay for the evening program. If you would like to attend the orientation, it is helpful if you let us know by emailing us at info@StillWaterMPC.org.
A question and answer with Thich Nhat Hanh about dwelling happily while experiencing pain is below.
Dwelling Happily in the Present Moment
A Question and Answer with Thich Nhat Hanh, Mindfulness Bell, Summer 2007
Woman from audience: First of all I would like to wish Thay and the monks and nuns good health so that you can continue to transmit the teachings to us and to future generations. When we practice we can come back to the present moment and dwell happily and peacefully in the present moment, and in order to do that we have to bring together the three factors of body, mind, and breath. But what if one of these three factors, for example, my foot, has a problem and I cannot keep it still. So then would my practice yield peace or ease?
Thay: Very good! [audience applause] First of all, do not wait until you have pain in your foot, then say, “I cannot practice!” Practice when you don’t have pain in your foot. When there’s pain in the leg, first of all we take care, we try to find treatment for the leg and at the same time we find a way to sit so that there’s comfort. There are people who have problems. Instead of using one cushion, they use two cushions. Instead of sitting in a lotus position they sit in a half-lotus, or they sit on a stool or in a chair. People may sit in a chair but they can still bring their mind back to their body.
As for the breath, for example, it may be very difficult when we have asthma. So we should practice when we are not having an asthma attack, and then when we have an asthma attack we can still practice with that.
Do not use the excuse that I have this particular difficulty with my body or my mind or my breath. There are people who are victims of vehicle accidents, who were artists and now they cannot draw with their hands, so they use their feet to draw — beautiful paintings. So if we have a little pain in our feet or we have difficulties with our breath, we can still practice. We don’t use that excuse to be too lax in the practice.