December 22, 2022 7:00 to 8:45 pm Eastern time
Years ago, after a silent retreat, there was a question and answer with the teacher, Larry Rosenberg, about returning to our homes. His advice has stayed with me: “Don’t go home as a Buddhist trying to teach the practice to everyone around you. Rather, go home as a Buddha.”
What I heard in his words was both an acknowledgement that I and others were excited about what we had learned at the retreat and an encouragement to share the practice with others through our presence rather than through instruction on how to be, speak, or act. I remember him also saying that when people notice you have changed, they may want to talk to you about it. Then you can explain the practice to them.
This practice of giving to others the fruit of our practice has been part of mindfulness practice since the time of the Buddha. The gift of the Dharma, as it is often called, is celebrated by the Buddha in the Dhammapada as “excelling all gifts.” For Thay (Thich Nhat Hanh), and for the teacher who told me to “be a Buddha,: the most suitable way to give the gift of Dharma is by embodying the teachings so that spiritual energies, such as peace, love, joy, and understanding can live in us and flow to others. In a 1996 interview with Ram Dass, Thay explained:
Happiness is not an individual matter. When you are able to bring relief, or bring back the smile to one person, not only that person profits, but you also profit. The deepest happiness you can have comes from that capacity to help relieve the suffering of others. So if we have the habit of being peace, then there is a natural tendency for us to go in the direction of service. Nothing compels us, except the joy of sharing peace, the joy of sharing freedom from afflictions, freedom from worries, freedom from craving, which are the true foundations for happiness.
And once we have the condition of peace and joy in us, we can afford to be in any situation. Even in the situation of hell, we will be able to contribute our peace and serenity. The most important thing is for each of us to have some freedom in our own heart, some stability in our heart, some peace in our heart. Only then will we be able to relieve the suffering around us.
That beings gather about us to see their own images,
And so live for a moment with a clearer,
Perhaps even with a fiercer life
I want to share just two of the times in my life that my encounter with someone’s presence has transformed my life:
One occurred the first time I heard Thay speak to a group. I was amazed by his capacity to give human form to mindfulness and concentration and also project it outward, so that I and the thousand other people in the auditorium could experience it with him. It gave me increased motivation to practice and confidence in the power of what he was teaching.
Another time, when my daughter was in preschool, a neighbor committed and made deposits at two different schools in order to guarantee his child’s position. Just before the start of the school year, he withdrew from his commitment to my daughter’s school. I was outraged. I saw it as an unethical and mean thing to do to a struggling preschool. I believed the school should keep his deposit in order to punish him. The director saw it differently. She was full of compassion and understanding and gave the money back with a smile. Wow! I was amazed by her spontaneous kindness and ashamed of my vindictiveness. I wanted to be more like her.
This Thursday evening, after our meditation, we will share about the gifts we give and receive.
- Have you had the experience of being transformed by the spiritual energies cultivated by others? What was the like?
- Have you been able, through your presence, to bring joy to others and relieve their suffering?
- What are the important lessons you have learned about giving and receiving spiritual gifts?
You are invited to join us.
An excerpt by Thay on “the greatest gift we can offer” is below, after the Still Water announcements.
Warm wishes and many blessings,
P.S. I will be traveling and practicing in Vietnam for a month, from the end of December until the end of January. While I’m away the Still Water Thursday evenings will continue with wonderful presenters. I will be sending some photos and commentary to the Still Water Instagram account, and probably even more to my own rarely used Instagram account. If you are not on Instagram, you can still see the Still Water Instagram posts on our website without ever joining.
The Greatest Gift We Can Offer
by Thich Nhat Hanh from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching:
The greatest gift we can offer anyone is our true presence. A young boy I know was asked by his father, “What would you like for your birthday?” The boy hesitated. His father was wealthy and could give him anything he wanted. But his father spent so much time making money that he was rarely at home. So the boy said, “Daddy, I want you!” The message was clear. If you love someone, you have to produce your true presence for him or for her. When you give that gift, you receive, at the same time, the gift of joy. Learn how to produce your true presence by practicing meditation. Breathing mindfully, you bring body and mind together. “Darling, I am here for you” is a mantra you can say when you practice this paramita.
What else can we give? Our stability. “Breathing in, I see myself as a mountain. Breathing out, I feel solid.” The person we love needs us to be solid and stable. We can cultivate our stability by breathing in and out, practicing mindful walking, mindful sitting, and enjoy living deeply in every moment. Solidity is one of the characteristics of nirvana.
What else can we offer? Our freedom. Happiness is not possible unless we are free from afflictions — craving, anger, jealousy, despair, fear, and wrong perceptions. Freedom is one of the characteristics of nirvana. Some kinds of happiness actually destroy our body, our mind, and our relationships. Freedom from craving is an important practice. Look deeply into the nature of what you think will bring you happiness and see whether it is, in fact, causing those you love to suffer. You have to know this if you want to be truly free. Come back to the present moment, and touch the wonders of life that are available. There are so many wholesome things that can make us happy right now, like the beautiful sunrise, the blue sky, the mountains, the rivers, and all the lovely faces around us.
What else can we give? Our freshness. “Breathing in, I see myself as a flower. Breathing out, I feel fresh.” You can breathe in and out three times and restore your flowerness right away. What a gift!
What else can we offer? Peace. It is wonderful to sit near someone who is peaceful. We benefit from her peace. “Breathing in, I see myself as still water. Breathing out, I reflect things as they are.” We can offer those we love our peace and lucidity.
What else can we offer? Space. The person we love needs space in order to be happy. In a flower arrangement, each flower needs space around it in order to radiate its true beauty. A person is like a flower. Without space within and around her, she cannot be happy. We cannot buy these gifts at the market. We have to produce them through our practice. And the more we offer, the more we have. When the person we love is happy, happiness comes back to us right away. We give to her, but we are giving to ourselves at the same time.