Second Body Practice Resources

Second Body Practice Resources


Second Body System (by Thich Nhat Hanh. from Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices.)

Taking Care of Each Other (By Thich Nhat Hanh, from the Mindfulness Bell, Spring, 1999).

Still Water MPC Second Body Welcome Note (2010)

Second Body System
by Thich Nhat Hanh. from Happiness: Essential Mindfulness Practices, pp. 80-81

In a large community or even a large family, it isn’t possible to always be aware of what is going on with everyone. So in Plum Village we have developed something called the Second Body system to help build our Sangha. Your own body is your First Body, and someone else in your family or Sangha is your Second Body. Your Second Body picks someone else to be her Second Body and so on until you make a circle. In this way, everyone has someone to look after, and everyone is looked after by someone else.

Looking after means taking care of and helping our Second Body when she is physically ill, afflicted in mind, or overworked. For example, when we are traveling together, we are responsible to see that our Second Body is not left behind. When our Second Body’s spirits are low, we can find a way to raise them. When our Second Body is not able to smile, we can help her to smile. When she has the flu, we can bring her food and medicine. We use the Second Body system in all the Plum Village practice centers, and it raises the quality of our happiness in living together. It can be a wonderful way to stay connected to the whole community by taking care of just one member. In large families, it works the same.


Your First Body is your self. Your Second Body is another person who you look after as an extension of yourself. If you are my Second Body, then I am your Caring Friend. Everyone chooses one person to be his Second Body, and that person chooses someone else; so we create a complete circle with each person linked to the next. You should feel very connected to your Second Body, as if he is a part of yourself that we want to pay attention to and care for. So if your Second Body is not well, you find out how you can assist him, such as bringing meals to his room and letting the community know that your second body is ill. If you notice that your Second Body is less than happy by asking and observing you may see a way that you can help. If you need to miss an activity, let your Caring Friend know.

Your Caring Friend is not a police officer keeping watch over your activities, rather he is someone who shows special care and concern for you, and you in turn show special care for your Second Body. Remember that each person has somewhat different needs, so be sensitive and intelligent in how you show your care. Sometimes, a few words of kindness are needed, and at other times, dwelling in your own island of conscious breathing is the best support for your friend.

Caring for our Second Body is a very concrete practice for us to stay connected to each other and to realize how we are all truly parts of one body. Everyone in the Sangha has his Second Body. Thus, the person whom your Second Body is taking care of is your Third Body. Therefore, by taking care of your Second Body you are taking care of the whole community.


Taking Care of Each Other.
By Thich Nhat Hanh, from the Mindfulness Bell, Spring, 1999, pp. 1,4.

One day, Ananda and the Buddha came to a retreat center where there was only one monk. The monk was very sick with diarrhea. When the Buddha and Ananda came to his room, they noticed a very bad smell. The Buddha asked the sick monk, “Did nobody take care of you?” He answered, “I have been sick for a long time and many monks took care of me. But I do not want to disturb them anymore. Now I can take care of myself.” But the Buddha said, “No. You should not do it that way.”

The Buddha told Ananda, “Go and get a bucket of water and a rag.” The Buddha cleaned and washed the sick monk, while Ananda cleaned his room. The Buddha and Ananda cleaned the room for three hours. Then Ananda offered one of his three robes to the monk. He washed the monk’s robe and dried it outside. After that, the Buddha and Ananda sat outside. Soon they saw all the monks coming home.

When the other monks saw the Buddha and Ananda, they were very happy. But the Buddha said to them, “Dear friends, we are all away from our families. Our blood sisters and brothers and our parents do not take care of us. If we don’t take care of each other, who will take care of us? If you want to take care of the Buddha, then you have to take care of your brothers. When you take care of your brothers, you are taking care of me, and when you take care of the Buddha, you are taking care of your brothers.”

Today, we too must support each other in the practice and take care of each other. Our practice is not an individual practice. We practice with other people, we practice with our Sangha. The Sangha is also our body, and all our brothers and sisters are a part of this Sangha body. Sangha bodies have eyes, noses, and ears. Our Sangha body can hear and understand.

The practice of the second body is one way we take care of each other in the Sangha. Each member of the Sangha needs a second body. When you go to sitting meditation, invite your second body. If your second body is sick, you have to know that your second body is sick, and look f or a doctor or someone to help. The second body doesn’t need to be younger, the second body can be older. The second person also has his or her second body, that third person also has a second body, and so forth.

We have to be responsible for the mindful manners and the practice of our second body. If the manners and the mindfulness of the second body are not very high, you are responsible. If you cannot do that, if you need help, you can ask help from Thay or from other brothers or sisters. If your second body’s manners and mindfulness are not very good, you have to remind him or her. If you feel that you cannot, then you should ask brothers or sisters to help you. This practice is not just for monks and nuns, but for all of us.

When each Sangha member takes care of his or her second body, the whole Sangha is taken care of. When your second body has some happiness, you share that happiness. If your second body has difficulties, you need to understand these difficulties. And if alone you cannot help your second body, you need to ask for help from somebody else. You don’t have to be better than your second body, you need to help your second body.

Practicing like this, you will see a miraculous result. You are responsible for everything that happens to your second body. When you take care of your second body, your third, fourth, and fifth bodies are also taken care of. Taking care of your second body, you take care of everybody else.

We may have a second body who feels difficult to look after. Perhaps the people we think would be easy to look after have already been taken. The method of getting a second body is this: everybody in turn says the name of the person they want to be their second body. At first, there are many people to choose from, but as we go along perhaps there is only one person left, and we have to choose that person. We may feel that this person is very difficult to look after, but you should know that this is a wonderful opportunity. The person who you think would be difficult can bring you a great deal of benefit and joy in your practice. Some fruits have thorns and are hard, but when we break them open, they taste very good. The monkeys know that-they break open these hard-skinned fruits. There are people we see who from the outside are not very sweet, but if we know how to open them up, the fruit is wonderful. Don’t be deceived by the outside. Don’t think that the second body is very difficult to look after. Bring all your ability to look after that person and he will become a sweet spring of water.

The practice of the second body is a wonderful Dharma door and we need to succeed in its practice. We should not practice according to the outer form, just saying I have a second body. We should not practice only half-heartedly. With sincere practice, we will have a direct experience of the benefits of the practice.


Still Water MPC Second BodyPractice Welcome Note (2010)

Dear Friends,

Welcome to the Still Water Second Body Practice. From now through April, you and your partner will be practicing as second bodies to each other: supporting one another in mindfulness and practicing deep listening together at least once each week. Please get in touch with your partner as soon as possible so that you can begin your practice together. Contact information for you and your partner can be found at the end of this email.

Please take a moment and read through these ideas to help make your second body experience beneficial for both you and your partner:

1. Please keep in regular weekly contact with your partner (it may help to set aside a regular time that the two of you can meet each week). Staying in touch with each other consistently can help both of you feel supported and cared for. Work it out in advance if you are going to be unavailable and make arrangements that work for both of you.

2. Some people choose to divide the listening time equally between the two partners. For example: you could mindfully listen to your partner for 30 minutes and then your partner could mindfully listen to you for about the same amount of time. If you use this kind of structure, please keep things flexible for those times when one of you may need extra support. Find out what works best for both of you. The more natural the communication feels the more fun you will have with this practice.

3. Be mindful of when you partner wants advice and when they want you to just listen (which is most of the time.) If you are unsure what your partner needs in any given situation, you might ask “how can I best support you and be there for you right now?”

4. Practicing meditation with your partner is a great way to make your time together deeper and richer. Meditate, take a walk together, meet for tea or do whatever other activities you both enjoy. Most of all, have fun!

5. Let your partner know that you are there to support them when they need it. Often the juiciest stuff tends to come up in between the times you have both set aside to meet. Being able to call each other whenever you really need support is a very precious gift.

6. Please remember that the purpose of the Second Body Practice is to deepen the practice of mindfulness and nourish spiritual friendships.

7. Please make contact with your partner as soon as possible. If you have difficulty getting in touch with your partner or if you have any other questions or concerns please contact me. I am here for you as a friend as well as a resource and I am happy to assist you in any way I can. Thanks again for being a second body. May your practice together be of benefit to all beings. Enjoy.

with love,

Annie Mahon

Still Water Practice Committee, 2nd Body Coordinator