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27 June, 2008

We are our Ancestors and The Sutra on Measuring and Reflecting by Thich Nhat Hanh

Dear Friends,

Today is the 26th of March and we are in the New Hamlet in the Spring Retreat.

When we hear the sound of the bell, we should open ourselves up to allow all the generations of ancestors in us to hear the bell at the same time as we do. It means we shouldn’t imprison ourselves in a shell of self – we should allow our ancestors to listen to the bell at the same time. That is our practice at that moment, because all the generations of ancestors, including our father and our mother are in us in a very concrete way - in every cell of our body. The body contains the mind – the soma contains the psyche, and we could say that the mind also contains the body. That means that the psyche contains the soma and that psyche includes feelings, perceptions, mental formations and consciousness and we should learn to see our mental formations are made out of cells, just as the body is made out of cells. The cells of the body contain the cells of the consciousness and the cells of the consciousness contain the cells of the body.

Psyche and soma are just two sides of the same reality. There isn’t one that precedes the other, just like the particle and the wave are two aspects of the same reality. The wave contains the particle, just as the particle contains the wave. The reality of us is the reality of body and mind. We could call ourselves psyche and we could call ourselves soma, but in fact psyche and soma are two aspects manifesting from one reality. If we look into one cell of our body, or one cell of our consciousness, we recognize the presence of all the generations of ancestors in us – that is the truth. Our ancestors are not just human beings. Before human beings appeared we were other species. We have been trees, plants, grasses, minerals, squirrels and deer. We have been monkeys and one-celled animals and all these generations of ancestors are present in each cell of our body as well as our mind and we are the continuation of this stream of life. Therefore, when we hear the bell, it is not a separate "I" which is listening to the bell, but it is the stream, the vast stream of life, and this is the practice of no-self. We talk a lot about no-self. We could talk about it very fluently but we don’t practice no-self, we just talk about it. When we hear the sound of the bell and we allow all the generations of ancestors and all our descendants, which are already present in our body, to hear it also then we are experiencing the reality of no-self which the Buddha taught. No-self is not some vague idea, but it is a reality which we carry in our very person and we only need to listen properly to the bell and we can go beyond the shell of self. We can go beyond the prison of the idea of a separate self and we allow the sound of the bell to penetrate every generation of the past and the future which is in us.

We were earlier talking about guava fruit. Even when the guava fruit is not yet ripe, it has all its seeds of future trees. When we are only 4 years old we think we can only be a child 4 years old... we can only be a little brother, but in fact we are already a mother, already a father. A little novice of 12 or 13 years old plays the role of a disciple, but he already has his own disciples in his person and he has disciples of his disciples in his person already. So when he hears the sound of the bell, the young novice must open his heart so that all the generations of ancestral teachers can hear the bell at the same time, so that all the generations of his blood family can hear the bell at the same time, and so that all the generations of his future students, in him now, can hear the bell. And if he practices like that, he is practicing ‘no-self’ and he is able to see the wonder of no-self and he is giving a Dharma talk on no-self. To listen to the bell like that is to hear the bell according to the highest teachings.

When we take a step on the green grass of spring, we walk in such a way that allows all our ancestors to take a step with us. our peace, our joy, our freedom, which are in each step, penetrate each generation of our ancestors and each generation of our descendants. If we can walk like that, that is a step taken in the highest dhyana. When we take one step we see hundreds and thousands of ancestors and descendants taking a step with us, and when we take a breath we are light, at ease, calm. We breathe in such a way that all the generations of ancestors are breathing with us and all the generations of our descendants are also breathing with us... if we breathe like that, only then are we breathing according to the highest teachings. We just need a little mindfulness, a little concentration and then we can look deeply and see. At first we use the method of visualization and we see, as we walk, all the ancestors putting their foot down as we put our foot down, and gradually we don’t need to visualize any more – each step we take, we see that that step is the step of all people in the past.

When you are cooking a dish of food - something you have learnt from your mother or your father, a dish that has been handed down through generations of your family – you should look at your hand and smile because this hand is the hand of your mother, the hand of your grand-mother. Those who have made this dish are making this dish now and that is the truth! We are not the inventors of this dish, we are just continuing. We see our mothers hand, our grand-mothers hand, and the hands of all our ancestors making this dish. When we are in the kitchen cooking, we can realize the highest teachings – we don’t have to go into the meditation hall to practice this. We have so many opportunities, the problem is – do we know how to make the most of them? We have our teacher, we have our Sangha, we have our dharma teachings, we have all the conditions that are necessary to do this and we should use these opportunities. This is not a theory, this is real experience of our daily life... it is real life.

In the past, your grandfather – did he play volleyball? No, he didn’t, because in those days they didn’t have volleyball... Did your grandmother go jogging every day? Did your grand-mother have the opportunity to practice dwelling in the present moment while she was walking... while she was running? When we are running we should allow our grandmother to run in us, and it is the truth that your grandmother is running in you. She is in each cell of your body. You carry all your ancestors in you when jogging, when doing walking meditation and when you are realizing the practice of dwelling happily in the present moment. Maybe other generations didn’t have the opportunity to practice like this. Now we have the opportunity. We have received the practice as taught by our teachers and when we do that practice we bring happiness and joy to countless generations of ancestors, whether we’re practicing walking, running, or breathing.

We have produced Plum Village in order to be able to do these things, because in the town, in the society, we don’t have the right conditions to be able to walk like we do, to be able to breathe, to smile like we do, to wash clothes and to cook like we do in Plum Village. An environment where we can feel at ease, where we can do these things in a very leisurely way, in order to practice dwelling happily in the present moment. We know that many people have supported, and have brought time and energy to give us an environment where we can take steps at ease, where we can breathe in and out like this... where we can cook like this... where we can practice like this. And when we practice like this, we are doing it for all times – for the past and for the future. Thanks to our taking steps like this, and breathing and smiling and sitting like this, we are able to liberate so many generations. We liberate them by getting out of the shell of our separate self.

Western psycho-therapy aims at healing and bringing us a self which is stable and wholesome, but the psycho-therapy in the West is still caught in the idea of ‘self’. Psycho-therapy in the West can bring about a little transformation, a little healing, but it cannot go very far because Western psycho-therapy is still caught in the idea of a ‘self’. According to Western psycho-therapy, the family can bring about ease and peace and joy; but because of misfortune our family has not been able to bring about that. So now, how can our practice take us out of this misfortune so that we can, once again, bring back happiness and peace in our lives. Western psychology is based on the idea that we had a self that was happy and at peace and joy and we have to revive and restore that state of peace, happiness and joy that we had before. But in the light of the practice of Buddhism, for as long as we are caught in the idea of a separate self, ignorance is still in us – in our body and in our mind. Therefore, the practice of no-self is the most wonderful way to heal. Practicing no-self is to get out of the narrow idea of the self, to see the intimate relation between what is self and what is not-self. That way, ignorance is healed and all the suffering, the anger, the jealousy, and the fear, will disappear, and the fruit which is achieved is a thousand times greater than the healing which is based on the idea of a separate self.

We are people who have problems... psychological problems, and we ask ourselves questions like – "Who am I? When my mother and father came together, did they want me to come into this world or did they just come together and I was the result... rather like a misfortune, an accident... Did they want to have me or did I just appear as an accident? My mother and father came together in a thoughtless way and because of that I came into this world..." If I think like that, I will suffer. There are people who say, "When I came into this life did my parents want to keep me or did they want to destroy me – did they want to have an abortion?" Many people suffer when they think that their parents may have wanted to have an abortion. "Who am I? Was I wanted? What is the meaning of my life?" We are inclined to ask questions like that and when we try and answer those questions we suffer because we are caught in an idea of a separate self. When a young child grows up and if he knows that in the past, his mother had wanted to have an abortion, that child will suffer a lot. He knows that his parents didn’t want to have that child and it was an accident that the child was born and if the child knows that, he will suffer very much and that suffering will bring about illnesses. How will the psycho-therapist be able to help that child? "Does my life have a meaning? Where do I come from? Who am I?" These questions can be the source of abnormalities, of sufferings in the life of a person, but if we look deeply, according to the way the Buddha taught, we can see the reality of no-self and we will no longer ask questions like that. This is one of the essential points which we learn in the Sutra on the Middle Way. First of all we see that we are a continuation of a stream of life. Whether our parents wanted us or not is not so important. Maybe our father and mother didn’t want us, or didn’t want us yet, but our grandparents and our ancestors wanted us to come into life and that is the truth. The truth is that our ancestors, our grandparents, always want a continuation. If it’s not this generation, it will be the next generation. There are always generations who want us to be their continuation and if we can answer that way, then the child will not suffer from thinking their parents didn’t want them, because any parents have their ups and downs – their good moments and their not-so-good moments. Sometimes they are full of love and sometimes they are full of anger, and this love and anger is not the only thing that they have. It is not only from them, but from all generations and when we can see that their love and their anger comes from all generations, we no longer blame our parents. We see that our parents have good things as well as very unwholesome things.

In the East, we are forced to someone to marry someone we hate and we say, "Why do our parents make us marry this person we don’t like?" But after we have lived with this person for two or three years, we discover that the person they made us marry is very likeable and we thank our parents – we see that our parents had a certain wisdom in judging that person to be a good husband and they had a good reason to allow this coming together to happen. We all have friends, who in the beginning we didn’t like at all - we hated them! When we saw that person we hated them so much, but after a while we discover that person is a very good friend and therefore that moment of hatred is not everything. It is just a moment; it is not eternal and after that moment of hatred there are moments of great love and therefore hatred and love are just on the surface. Deeper than that is something else and when we can see that, we are not sad and we don’t say things like – "Do my father and mother love me or not?", because maybe, at one point during the pregnancy, they didn’t want me, but after I was born they loved me very much and they are very happy I was born. So we see we are our father and mother. We see we are our grandparents and when we get out of the shell of self we are no longer made to suffer by the question "Was I wanted?" Therefore, when we study Buddhism and practice according to the no-self teachings of Buddhism, we are able to liberate ourselves and also liberate numberless generations of ancestors and descendants in us.

In our childhood we may have been through stages of great difficulties. We have been wounded, we have had traumas and we generally do not want to remember those stages of suffering. In us there is a protective defense mechanism, we want to defend ourselves against our suffering. Every time we are in touch with the experience of suffering, we cannot bear it and therefore the thing called "defense mechanism" tries to hide these things deep down in our unconscious mind and when someone comes along and digs up these sufferings, we cry, we weep, we are sorrowful and we cannot eat for a couple of days. But running away from our suffering is not the best way to deal with it. Therefore, in Buddhism we are taught that we should practice mindfulness. We should produce the energy of mindfulness and return and embrace the young child who is wounded in us. That young child can have been very heavily wounded – very severely wounded, but because, for many decades, we haven’t had the strength to deal with it, we have tried to run away from that suffering. We have not dared to face it and therefore the wounded child in us continues to suffer and is asking for care and love, but we do the opposite – we run away. We are always running away, because we are afraid of suffering and therefore the method of Buddhism is to practice in such a way that we produce the energy of mindfulness and with the energy of mindfulness we are no longer afraid. We are able to return and we are able to recognize that child in us. We are able to embrace that child in us and we are able to talk to that child in us. When we have the energy of mindfulness we have the capacity to embrace that child like we would embrace a young brother or sister who has been wounded and we say, "I have, in the past, left you alone – I have gone away from you... now I am very sorry. I am going to embrace you.." We have to embrace that child and, if necessary, we have to cry together with that child perhaps while we are doing sitting meditation. We have to talk to that child with the language of love... We can go into the forest and do that. We can call that child a little sister or little brother.

Among us there are people who have practiced this and after a period of practice there has been a diminution of their suffering and a transformation. After that, the relationship between that person and their brothers and sisters and friends become much easier, because they have come back to themselves and healed the wounded child in themselves. The people around us, our brothers and sisters, may also have a severely wounded child in them and we can help them if we have managed to help ourselves. And therefore, after we have healed ourselves, we see the relationship between ourselves and others has become much better, much easier. We see more peace, more love in us. In Buddhism, we see that that wounded child is not just us... not only us. It may also be our mother, because our mother has suffered throughout her life. Our father has suffered, and our mother and father did not meet the Dharma in order to be able to look after the wounded child in themselves and therefore, that wounded child in us is our mother who has been wounded as a child. So when we are embracing the wounded child in us, we are embracing all our mothers of generations in the past – all the wounded children of our past generations. This practice is not a practice for ourselves alone, but it is a practice for numberless generations of ancestors and descendants. Therefore, when we are able to embrace the child who has been wounded in us, we are able to embrace our mother and our father. Maybe our father and our mother had suffered and the baby, the child, in them has not yet been looked after, not yet been healed, and so we heal the wounded child in us for our father, for our mother, and for our grandparents. If we don’t do it now, when will we do it? Now we have our teacher. Now we have our friends. Now we have our Sangha... and we don’t do it, so when will we do it? The years and months we spend in Plum Village are not to give us knowledge, to form us in Buddhist studies, because Plum Village is not a university for us to come and receive the heap of knowledge which, later on, we will take with us in order to get a job or in order to teach to others. Plum Village is a place where we are able to practice embracing and transforming the wounded child in us. In us, the wounded child is always there, is always waiting, and we have abandoned it. Now we have to return to her and recognize her; accept her presence, embrace her, weep with her, and with the energy of mindfulness, heal her. And in the light of the Sutra on the Middle Way, we know that this child, who has been wounded, is not just us, but it is also the child of other generations. It is the wounded child of our mother, the wounded child of our father, the wounded child of our grandparents and when we practice, we practice for all our ancestors.

Where is that child? That child is lying in each cell of our body. There is no cell of our body which does not have that wounded child in it. The cells of our consciousness and the cells of our body. Our consciousness is made of cells and in each cell of our consciousness, of our mental formations, that wounded child is there – abandoned, severely wounded. We don’t have to look for that child a long way away in the past... 3 million years ago. We don’t have to look for that child in our childhood or in the time of our great-grandparents because all the truth of that wounded child, all the suffering of that wounded child is lying, right now, in the present moment, in each cell of our body and our consciousness. We just have to go back to ourselves and be in touch and we will see all of this. You are inscribed in each cell of your body and your mind. You don’t have to go back to the past, that child lies in the present. The wounds, the suffering, the sadness... it is present in every cell of your body just as the awakened wisdom of your ancestors, of the Buddha, the happiness of the Buddha, is also present in every cell of your body. You should know how to return to it and make use of it – these elements of happiness, of awakened wisdom, in order to produce the energy of mindfulness and embrace the child who has been wounded. The wounds, as well as the happiness, are in each and every one of your cells. The Buddha, the ancestors, and the teachers have handed down this awakened wisdom that is lying in each cell of your body. You just need to return, with your breathing and your steps to produce the energy of mindfulness and wisdom and that energy will embrace and heal you, and it will heal the wounded child in you.

We are people who have ignorance in each cell of our body and our mind. That ignorance is called Avidya– lack of clarity. It means the "inability to see" things which are just lying there, we don’t know that they’re there. Avidya– no seeing, no clarity. This term is in Buddhism, it means lack of light, lack of insight, lack of seeing... That wounded child is lying there and we don’t even know the wounded child is there. The wounded child in us is a reality, but we can not see it and that inability to see it is called ignorance. This child has been severely wounded. It really needs us to return to it and accept it, to embrace it, but we don’t know that it’s there and we are running away from it. That attitude – if you don’t want to use ‘ignorance’... what do you call it? We are looking to make money, making profit, but at the same time we are not aware of what is really happening in us, and that ignorance brings about energies that make us sick. In each cell of our body, each cell of our consciousness, there is this ignorance. It is like a drop of ink in a glass of water. That ignorance is in each cell of our body. It stops us from seeing reality and it pushes us in the direction of darkness so that we do things which are foolish and which make us suffer even more and which makes the wounded child in us even more wounded. That energy of darkness is called ‘impulse’ and everyday our impulses push us to do things, to say things, which are ignorant because the basis of our impulses is ignorance. We are sad, we are angry, we blame, we are jealous... all these things are the energy of impulse and the basis of that is ignorance. These impulses – we do not see them. They lie in our consciousness. Our consciousness is ‘wrong’ consciousness. It is full of ignorance and impulse.
Buddhist psychology has two parts. One we talk about is ‘mind consciousness’ and the other is ‘store consciousness’. In Western terms we talk about the ‘unconscious’ and the ‘subconscious’ and in Buddhism these two things are contained in the Alaya consciousness, the store consciousness. We push our severely wounded child down into those regions. The deeper, the better. The child is calling, crying out for help from those places, but we don’t hear and all this is ignorance and therefore, ignorance has brought about our present consciousness. In each cell of our body and in every cell of our consciousness, we have the subconscious and the unconscious, and the energy of them pushes us to live our daily life superficially and foolishly, bringing about more and more suffering for ourselves and those who live around us. Therefore, what we are learning in the practice is - from ignorance, to make clarity. How can we have light in the darkness? We are walking in the dark, so we do things opposite to what we want to do and we know that we want light. Light means being able to light up a lamp and we have to take that light out of our body and our consciousness. Because, in our body and our consciousness, not only is there ignorance and impulses, but there is also awakened understanding because we have been handed down the seeds of understanding by our ancestors. The thing is... we never use them! Buddha has handed them down to us; our teacher has handed down to us; we receive them and we hide them away. We store them away and we don’t use them. It is like we have a lamp which we never light up and that lamp is called mindfulness and the oil of that lamp is our breathing, our steps, our smile, our working in mindfulness. We have to light up that lamp. Light up the lamp of mindfulness and the light will shine out and the darkness will cease, will dissipate.

When light is there, there will not be ignorance and when ignorance retreats, these impulses are no longer produced because clarity brings about a different energy which is called ‘bodhicitta’. The great aspiration – the ‘mind of love’ - it is also energy, just like impulses are energy, but this is an energy with light in it and impulses are full of darkness. When we have lit up the lamp, we have a different energy than when we are in darkness. That is the energy of understanding, of bodhicitta, and when we have the energy of bodhicitta already, our consciousness is illumined and so it’s called ‘prajna’, ‘wisdom’. Wisdom and consciousness have the same basis, but we can talk about consciousness only when it has ignorance in it, but when consciousness is lit up by bodhicitta, we no longer call it ‘consciousness’, we call it wisdom, prajna, understanding. If we have the wisdom of bodhicitta in each cell of our body and of our consciousness, there is happiness. We have a ‘manifestation’ body – Nirmanakaya. We still have eyes, ears, nose, tongue and body, but in each cell there is love, there is bodhicitta, there is wisdom and understanding. Therefore, the key of the practice is to light up the lamp. We have a gatha which is very good... whenever we turn on the light, we say, "Lighting up the candle, I make an offering to all the Buddhas, the numberless Buddhas, to lighten up the face of the earth." Before I light the lamp, I breathe and I say this gatha. I see that the ignorance of my mind gives way to the light of my mind. In our mind, there is the light of understanding and in the room, there is the light of the lamp. It is not enough just to turn on the light, because if you just turn on the light, or light the candle, that is only an outer light. We have to turn on the inner light, the light of mindfulness. So when the young novice has just become a monk, he has to learn these poems so that every time he lights the lamp, he can light up understanding in his heart as well. If he doesn’t do that, however many times he turns on the light in the room, he will never change the darkness in his mind into the light of his mind.
When we can say that we have forgotten the wounded child in ourselves, we feel great compassion for that child. We see how we have to practice our breathing and our mindful walking in order to be able to be stable enough to embrace that child, to comfort and heal that child. If the light of mindfulness is great, if it is clear, if it is sufficient, we will see that that child is not just ourselves, but it is also our mother, our father. Our mother and our father have suffered and they have not had the opportunity to embrace the child in them, so we are doing it for them. Because the wounded child in us is also our father, is also our mother... ask yourself – is there any understanding that is greater than that understanding? We talk a lot about understanding, but is any understanding higher than the understanding of Buddhism? When we can smile, we know we are smiling for our mother and our father, we know we are liberating our mother and our father. If we practice like that then the questions which make people suffer – "Who am I? Did my mother really want me? Did my father really want me? What meaning does my life have?" - all those questions become meaningless. In the Sutra on the Middle Way, the Sutra on Interdependent Arising, and the Sutra on Great Emptiness, we will see that if we can only practice, we will be able to go beyond these questions which make people suffer so much–.– We don’t need those sufferings any more.

We don’t need to go to Ireland or go to China to find our roots. We don’t need to go back to the old native land. We just need to be in touch with every cell in our body. We can find out it’s because of father, mother and all of our ancestors who are present in a very real way in each cell of our body. Even the bacteria are our ancestors, and the awakened understanding has been transmitted to us from all generations and all the sentient beings, but also insentient beings – so-called beings without feelings – have their own wisdom. Scientists today talk about life as matter which is inert. Before there was life this world, this universe, was a kind of... in the West we call it ‘primordial soup’... from which everything came. All the neutrons, electrons, the inert matter, became living matter. It began to be a fungi, an amoeba, and then fish. They always use the word matter, because they have been influenced into thinking that in the beginning there was just matter, there was just soma. They don’t see that matter contains spirit. Object of perception is also perception. The thing which they call matter - the object of our perception - is also perception, so it is also mind. So mind contains matter and matter contains mind. They are two faces of the same reality, sometimes something manifests as matter and sometimes something manifests as mind. The elementary particle can be called a wave or it can also be called a particle, because sometimes it appears as a wave and sometimes it appears as a particle, it is both things. You would say "Something cannot be both form – both particle and wave – those two things... how can they be one?", but in fact, these two things are one. We are both father and child, sometimes we manifest as father and sometimes we manifest as child... or mother. As soon as the guava fruit is born, it has guava seeds in it, so it is already a mother or a father.

So this is ‘thinking matter’, they say that human beings are ‘thinking matter’. The matter now has thinking in it or thinking manifests from matter. Scientists say that there was a stage when human beings first stood up, they no longer crawled along, and they call the human species at that time ‘homo erectus’. Then afterwards they had a kind of man called ‘homo habilis’, and then ‘homo sapien’, and ‘homo sapien’ is the thinking matter. Now we have another expression, ‘homo conscious’, which means the human being who is aware, who is mindful. A human being who knows – "I will get sick... I will grow old... I will die...", that is a person who is aware and because of that awareness, that person suffers more. That awareness brings about anxiety and fear, called ‘anguish’, and this brings about ill health. People ask, "Do other species have less awareness and therefore do not have the suffering of thinking ‘Oh, I will get old, I will die’ ", If other species do have that awareness it is a slight awareness. if they get sick, they get sick and they don’t have to worry about getting sick. But because human beings have this ‘anguish’, we have questions of philosophy, like "Who am I? What will happen to me?", we have the kind of questions that people sometimes asked, as recorded in the Sutras, "Did I exist in the past? If I did exist in the past, what kind of animal was I? Was it a beautiful animal? Was it an ugly animal.... Was I a frog? Will I exist in the future, and if I exist in the future, what kind of animal will I be? Will I have a beautiful face? Will I have a long tail?" All these questions that we ask come from this anguish and it brings about a lot of illness.

Did my parents want me? Was it an accident that I was born? Does anybody love me? All those questions make us suffer so much! And they come from our thinking - from this anguish, but the capacity to be aware – that is, the human being who is mindful – that is what will save us. That awareness will help us to know that the environment of this planet belongs to all species and will help us to realize that the human species is destroying the environment. When people are aware of these sufferings... they have come from political oppression... have witnessed injustice in society... When people can really see these things, they have the capacity to stop what they are doing and to help others to stop in order to go in a different direction which will not destroy our planet. Our awareness brings about our anxiety and our anguish, but if we know how to use that awareness, that mindfulness, we will be able to see the state we are in and we know what we should do and what we should not do in order to be able to transform and bring about peace and happiness and life for the future. The Buddha was one of the most beautiful people of the human species who we call ‘homo conscious’. We have the homo erectus; the homo habilis (the skillful man), and we have the homo sapiens – (the thinking man). But now we have the expression ‘homo conscious’, (the aware man). It is an expression which has been used by people – it was not invented by me.
So when we are having a meal, we should eat in such a way that allows leisure, ease and happiness, because it is really a deep practice to eat together. Just as with your breathing and working, eat in such a way that your ancestors can eat with you. Your father eats with you, your grandfather and grandmother eat with you. Sit at ease, like someone who has no problems, no anxiety. The Buddha taught us that when we eat we should not allow ourselves to be lost in meaningless thinking and conversation. We should dwell in the present moment to be deeply in touch with the food and the Sangha around us. Eat in such a way that we are happy, at ease, that we have peace, so that each of our ancestors and descendants in us can benefit. In former times, when I was 4 or 5 years old, every time my mother went to the market, she brought me back a cake made of bean paste. Before my mother came back, I would be playing in the garden with the snails and the pebbles, and when my mother came back I was very happy to see her and I took the cake that she gave me and I went off to eat it in the garden. I knew I mustn’t eat it quickly. I wanted to eat it slowly - the slower, the better. I’d just chew a little bit off the edge to allow the sweetness of the biscuit to go into my mouth and I’d look up at the blue sky. I’d look down at the dog. I’d look at the cat. That is how I ate the cake and it took me half an hour to eat it. I had no worries... I wasn’t worried about fame, honour, about profit... so that cake of my childhood is a souvenir. All of us have lived moments like that, when we are not craving for anything, not regretting anything. We are not asking ourselves philosophical questions like "Who am I?" Are we able to eat a cake like that now? Drink a cup of tea like that? Enjoy ourselves in our environment? We come to Plum Village to learn to do these things again, the things which we thought we could no longer do. We have come to learn how to walk again. To walk solidly, like a free person, without spirits chasing after us. We have come here to learn how to sit. To sit at ease as if we are sitting on a lotus flower, not sitting on hot coals. Sitting on hot coals, we just jump up and down the whole time – we lose all our peace. Here, we learn how to breathe, how to smile; we learn how to cook. Our mother taught us how to eat, how to drink, how to stand up, how to walk, how to speak... everything! Now we have to learn these things over again. We have to be born again in the light of the true Dharma, the true teachings of the Buddha.

We are going to study the Sutra on Shining the Light. This is not a Sutra spoken by the Buddha, it is a Sutra spoken by Mahamoggallana. It is in the canon and in the canon we see there are sutras not only spoken by the Buddha, but also spoken by the disciples of the Buddha. We are very happy about this, because we see the continuation of the Buddha right in the life time of the Buddha. Often after his disciples had given teachings, the Buddha would praise them and say, "If I had spoken, I would have said exactly the same...", so we see how the Buddha supported and encouraged his students and we see how the continuation of the Buddha was there, even in the lifetime of the Buddha. The original name of this sutra; was Anumana , which means ‘Measuring and Reflecting’, it is very necessary for monks and nuns. In the Chinese canon, it is called the Sutra on Inviting. Besides Shariputra, Mahamoggallana, Ananda and Katyayana, there are nuns, such as Dharmadhina, who gave talks. These talks by nuns have also been recorded in the Sutras.


Source: From the Talks delivered by Thich Nhat Hanh in the New Hamlet in the Spring Retreat on 26th March 1998.

22 June, 2008


THE aphorism, ”As a man thinketh in his heart so is he,” not only embraces the whole of a As A Man Thinketh man’s being, but is so comprehensive as to reach out to every condition and circumstance of hislife. A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts.

As the plant springs from, and could not be without, the seed, so every act of a man springs from the hidden seeds of thought, and could not have appeared without them. This applies equally to those acts called ”spontaneous” and” unpremeditated” as to those, which are deliberately executed.

Act is the blossom of thought, and joy and suffering are its fruits; thus does a man garner in the sweet and bitter fruitage of his own husbandry.

”Thought in the mind hath made us,
What we are by thought was wrought and built.
If a man’s mind Hath evil thoughts,
pain comes on him as comes the wheel the ox behind....
..If one endure in purity of thought,
Joy follows him as his own shadow–sure.”

Man is a growth by law, and not a creation by artifice, and cause and effect is as absolute and undeviating in the hidden realm of thought as in the world of visible and material things. A noble and Godlike character is not a thing of favour or chance, but is the natural result of continued effort in right thinking, the effect of long-cherished association with God like thoughts. An ignoble and bestial character, by the same process, is the result of the continued harbouring of grovelling thoughts.

Man is made or unmade by himself; in the armoury of thought he forges the weapons by which he destroys himself; he also fashions the tools with which he builds for himself heavenly mansions of joy and strength and peace. By the right choice and true application of thought, man ascends to the Divine Perfection; by the abuse and wrong application of thought, he descends below the level of the beast. Between these two extremes are all the grades of character, and man is their maker and master.

Of all the beautiful truths pertaining to the soul which have been restored and brought to light in this age, none is more gladdening or fruitful of divine promise and confidence than this that man is the master of thought, the moulder of character, and the maker and shaper of condition, environment, and destiny.

As a being of Power, Intelligence, and Love, and the lord of his own thoughts, man holds the key to every situation, and contains within himself that transforming and regenerative agency by which he may make himself what he wills.

Man is always the master, even in his weaker and most abandoned state; but in his weakness and degradation he is the foolish master who misgoverns his ”household.” When he begins to reflect upon his condition, and to search diligently for the Law upon which his being is established, he then becomes the wise master, directing his energies with intelligence, and fashioning his thoughts to fruitful issues. Such is the -conscious -master, and man can only thus become by discovering -within himself -the laws of thought; which discovery is totally a matter of application, self analysis, and experience.

Only by much searching and mining, are gold and diamonds obtained, and man can find every truth connected with his being, if he will dig deep into the mine of his soul; and that he is the maker of his character, the moulder of his life, and the builder of his destiny, he may unerringly prove, if he will watch, control, and alter his thoughts, tracing their effects upon himself, upon others, and upon his life and circumstances, linking cause and effect by patient practice and investigation, and utilizing his every experience, even to the most trivial, everyday occurrence, as a means of obtaining that knowledge of himself which is Understanding, Wisdom, Power. In this direction, as in no other, is the law absolute that ”He that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened;” for only by patience, practice, and ceaseless importunity can a man enter the Door of the Temple of Knowledge.


Source:  "As a Man Thinketh" by James Allen.

21 June, 2008

What happens when you die? by Thich Nhat Hanh

“When I drink tea it’s very pleasant to be aware
I am drinking cloud.” What happens when you die?
by Thich Nhat Hanh

A transcription from a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh during a retreat with five hundred people in Hong Kong on 15 May 2007.

In order to answer what happens us when we die, we need to answer another question – what happens when we are alive?

What is happening now to us? In English we say ‘we are’ but it’s proper to say ‘we are becoming’ because things are becoming. We’re not the same person in two consecutive minutes.

A picture of you as baby looks different to you now. The fact is you are not exactly the same as that baby and not entirely a different person either. In a picture of you as a five year old, you are not exactly the same as that child and not entirely a different person either – the form, feelings and mental formations are different.

In the middle way there is no sameness and no otherness

You may think you are still alive but in fact you have been dying everyday, every minute, cells die and are born - for neither do we have funerals or birthdays (laughter).

Death is a very necessary condition of birth. With no death, there is no birth. They inter-are and happen in every moment to the experienced meditator. For instance a cloud may have died many times, into rain, streams, water. The cloud may want to wave to itself on earth! Rain is a continuation of the cloud. With a meditation practitioner nothing can hide itself. When I drink tea, it’s very pleasant to be aware I am drinking cloud.

When you are parents, you die and are reborn as your children. “You are my continuation, I love you.” The Buddha told us how to ensure a beautiful continuation – a compassionate thought, a beautiful thought. Forgiveness is our continuation. If anger, separation and hate arise, then we will not ensure a beautiful continuation. When we pronounce a word that is compassionate, good and beautiful that is our continuation.

When a cloud is polluted, the rain is polluted. So purifying thoughts, word and action creates a beautiful continuation. We can see the effects of our speech in our children. My disciples are my continuation ¬– both monastic and lay. I want to transmit loving speech, action and thought. This is called karma in Buddhism.

This body of mine will disintegrate but my karma will continue – karma means action. My karma is already in the world. My continuation is everywhere in the world. When you look at one of my disciples walking with compassion, I know he is my continuation. I don’t want to transmit my negative emotions, I want to transform them before I transmit them. The dissolution of this body is not my end. Surely I will continue after the dissolution of this body. So don’t worry about my death, I am not going to die.

Let us meditate on the birth of a cloud. Does it have a birth certificate? (laughter) Examine the notion of birth – the notion that nothing can come from something, from no-one to someone. Is it possible for something to come from nothing? Scientifically this is not possible.

The cloud was water in an ocean, lake, river and heat from the sun gave it birth – the moment of continuation. For instance, birth – before you were born you were in your mother’s womb. The moment of birth is a moment of continuation. Is the moment of conception the start? You are half from your dad and half from your mum already, this is also a moment of continuation. When you practise meditation you can see things like that.

It is impossible for a cloud to die. It can become water, snow – it cannot become nothing. It is also impossible for us to die. Speech, action and thought continue in the future. The person who dies still continues because we are not capable of using meditators’ eyes. They continue in us and around us. All our ancestors are alive in us. Our ancestors are in our chromosomes.

I wrote a book ‘No Death, No Fear’. When conditions are right I manifest and when not, not. There is no coming, no going. Before she manifests we should not call her non-existing. Before manifestation you cannot call her non-being. They are a pair of opposites.

Meditating on the nature of creation and being may be the best way to understanding God. The theologian Paul Koenig describes God as the Ground of Being. Who then is the Ground of Non-being? This diminishes God. In Buddhism both notions of being and non-being can describe reality. Similarly, above and below, Europe and here.

Nirvana is the absence of all notions, birth and death, coming and going, sameness and otherness. According to Buddhism, ‘to be or not to be’ is not a real question.

Meditation takes us beyond to a place of fearlessness. We’re too busy, so we become victims of anger, fear. If we have really touched our nature of no birth/death, we know to die is one of the root conditions to realise oneself.

We have to learn how to die in every moment in order to be fully alive.

This teaching on the middle way is the cream of Buddha’s teaching. Many of our ancestors realised this and were not afraid of death.

We should be able to release our tensions. We are the karma we produce every day in our daily life, if we know how, to ensure continuation. I have a disciple in Vietnam who wants to build a stupa with my ashes. He wants to put a plaque with the words ‘Here lies my beloved teacher’. But I want to write ‘There is nothing here’ (lots of laughter). Because if you look deeply there is continuation.

I treasure the time I have left, more for me to practise. I want to generate energy of love, compassion and understanding so I can continue beautifully. I would like you to do the same. Use your time wisely. Every moment produce beautiful thoughts, loving, kindness, forgiveness. Say beautiful things, inspire, forgive, act physically to protect and help. We know we are capable of producing beautiful karma for good continuations and the happiness of other people.

When the time comes for dissolution of this body you may like to release it easily. You aren’t to grasp – releasing body and perception. Remember the image of a cloud in the sky seeing continuation in rice and ice-cream waving to itself. You can already see your continuation. The art of living is continuation. For myself and the other beings.

Sariputra – one of Buddha’s main disciples, Ananda and other friends went to see Anathapindika a lay disciple who was a businessman and dying. He had made time to come to dharma talks and weekly practice.

When the Venerables came they asked whether the pain had diminished. He replied that it was increasing. The monks led him on a meditation on the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha. After a few minutes there was no more suffering and he smiled.

When you sit close to a person dying talk to them of happy experiences in their life. Touch seeds of happiness in them.

The monks asked Anathapindika to look at his feelings and perceptions. “I am life without boundaries, this body is a residue.”

Help the dying person not to cling to his or her body. If there is regret, help them to see they are not their feelings. When conditions are manifested this body manifests and when not, it goes. The nature of this body is not birth, death, coming or going – not hurt by notion of being or non-being. I am free from birth or death. That practice helps me.

Anathapindika cried. Ananda asked, “why are you crying?”
“No, I don’t regret anything,” Anathapindika replied.
“Why are you crying?” asked Ananda.
“I cry because I am so moved by such a wonderful practice as today,” Anathapindika said.
“We monastics receive this every day,” said Ananda.
“There are those amongst us lay people who still need this, please tell the Lord Buddha this.”

Ananda promised to tell the Buddha, and Anathapindika died smiling peacefully.

Thich Nhat Hanh gave an illustration with a box of matches.

Holding up an unlit match, he said, “there is flame, but the conditions to manifest it are not here now.”

Then he lit the match and blew it out.

He said when the conditions were right (the conditions being his hand striking the match to the matchbox), the flame became. And when the conditions were not right, the flame was extinguished.
Courtersy: Holistic Hong Kong

14 June, 2008


AND a woman who held a babe against her bosom said, Speak to us of

And he said:

Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life's longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
YOU may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of to-morrow, which you cannot visit,
not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, and He bends you
with His might that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the Archer's hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, so He loves also the bow
that is stable.


Source: The Prophet by Kahlil Gibran.

07 June, 2008


My own Self in the form of ladies and gentlemen,

       Rama does not blame European or Christian nations for their cohorts and armies to conquer other nations; that is also a stage in the spiritual development of a nation, which is at one time necessary. India had to pass through that stage; but India being a very old nation had weighed the riches of the world in the balance and found them wanting; and the same will be the experience of these nations that are in these days for accumulating worldly prosperity and riches. Why are all these nations trying to march cohorts to conquer other nations? What do they seek in all that? The only thing sought is happiness, joy, pleasure. It is true that some people say they do not seek happiness but knowledge. Others say that they seek not happiness; they seek action. That is all very good; but examine the hearts and minds of average men, or of ordinary mortals. You will find that the ultimate goal which they all set before them, the ultimate goal they all seek directly or indirectly, consciously or unconsciously, is happiness, nothing but happiness.

      Let us examine this evening where happiness resides, whether happiness lives in the palace or the cottage, whether happiness dwells in the charms of women or in things that gold and silver can buy. Where is the native home of happiness? Happiness has also a history of its own. These are great travelling days; steam and electricity have annihilated time and space, great travelling days these are, and everybody writes an account of his travels. Happiness also travels. Let us have something of the travels of happiness.

       We start with the first glimpse of happiness that a child has in his infancy. All the happiness in this world is for the child located in the skirt of the mother, or in the bosom of the dear mother. All the happiness is located there. This is the first stage on the main road which happiness has to travel along, the mother’s skirt, the mother’s bosom, say. To the infant there is nothing in this world which brings happiness so much as the mother’s bosom. The child hides his face behind the skirts of the mother and there he says, "Look! Look! Find me out! Where am I?" and he laughs heartily. He laughs with all his heart and soul. Books are meaningless to the child; treasures are useless to him. Fruits and sweets have no taste for the child that has not yet been weaned. The whole world of pleasure is, for the child, concentrated there.

       A year passes and the happiness of the child changes its centre; it moves on to some thing else. The residence of happiness now becomes the toys, the beautiful toys, pollies and dollies. In the second state, the child does not like the mother so much as he likes his own toys. Sometimes the child quarrels with the dear, dear mother, for the sake of toys, for the sake of dollies.

       A few months or years more and no more is his happiness in the pollies and dollies; it has shifted its centre again, it is no longer located in these things. In the third stage, when the child grows up to be a boy, happiness is located for him in books, especially in story books. This is the case with an ordinary intelligent child; sometimes happiness is in other things, but we are taking an ordinary case. Now the story books engross all the love and affection of the boy. Now the toys, dollies and pollies lose their charms; story books take their place, and he finds them beautiful and attractive. But happiness travels on.

      The schoolboy enters the college, and in college life, his happiness is found in something else, say, in scientific books or philosophical works or the like. He reads them for sometime, but his happiness has travelled from books to the longing of seeking honours in the university; his desire is to reach the residence of his happiness, the headquarters of his joy.

       The student comes out of the university with flying colours. He gets a lucrative post and the happiness of this young man is centred in money, in riches. Now the one dream of his life is to accumulate riches, to be rich. He wants to become a big man, to amass a large fortune. When he gets some wealth after working in the office for a few years, his happiness passes on into something else. What is that? Need that be told? It is woman.

      Now the young man wants to have a wife, and for the sake of a wife, he is ready to spend away his riches. The mother’s skirt no longer gives him any happiness; the toys have no charm for him; the story-books are cast aside, and they are read only on those occasions when they are expected to give him some insight into the nature of that dream of his life—the woman. He is all a sacrifice for the sake of his wife. Hard-earned riches are cast to the winds for the sake of petty whims of what is now the headquarters of his happiness. The young man lives for sometime with the woman, and lo! the happiness is sighted a little yonder.

       The pleasure he could derive from the thought of his wife in the beginning, he no longer gets now. Taking the case of an ordinary youth, an ordinary youth of India, the happiness of the youth now passes from the woman on to the coming child. Now a child becomes the dream of his life. He wants to have a child, an angel, a seraph, a cherub in his house.

      Rama knows not much of the state of affairs in this country; but in India, after marrying, people pray to God and yearn for a child. They do all that lies in their powers to seek the aid of doctors and to invoke the blessings of holy men; all that they can do they do in order to be blessed with a child.

      In the expectation of the child, concentrates all the happiness of the youth. The child is the sixth stage in his travel of happiness, in the march of joy. The youth is then blessed with a child. His joy knows no bounds; he is full of spirits, he springs up to his feet; he is elated; he is, as it were, raised above the earth many feet; he does not walk, he swims in the air, so to speak. His soul is full of happiness when he gets a child. In the sixth stage, in the moon-faced child, the happiness of the grown-up youth has reached in a way its acme. The intensest happiness is when he sees the face of his child. The happiness of an ordinary man has reached its zenith.


After that, the youth begins to decline in spirits, the child becomes a grown-up boy and the charm is lost. The happiness of this man will go on travelling from object to object, sometimes located in this thing, at other times residing in that thing. But the intensity of happiness in the objects with an ordinary man will be not so strong, as it is in the love of his own child.

       Let us now examine whether happiness really dwells in objects like these—the mother’s skirt, dollies and pollies, books, riches, woman, child, or any object and anything of this world at all. Before proceeding further, let us liken the travelling happiness to the travelling Sun-light.

       Sunshine also travels from place to place. It is at one time shining over India, and at another time on Europe. It travels on. When shades of the evening fall, see how rapidly the Sunshine shifts away from place to place. It shines on eastern America and it travels on to its west. See how the Sunlight goes skipping on tiptoe, slipping on from land to land, and is then seen spreading its lustre on Japan and so on. The Sunshine travels on from place to place. But all these different places where the Sunshine is seen are not the source, the home of Sunshine. The home of Sunshine must be somewhere else; the home of Sunshine is the Sun.

      Similarly let us examine happiness which goes on travelling from object to object like the Sunshine. Whence does it proceed? Where is its real home? Let us look at the Sun of happiness, as it were.

     Take the case of the gentleman who has been blessed with a child. This gentleman is sitting in his office. He is busy with his official duties, and all of a sudden he hears the ding-ding of the bell. What bell? The telephone, but when he is about to hear what the message may be, his heart beats. They say, coming calamities cast their shadows before. His heart beats, never was it so with him before. He reaches up to the telephone and hears a message. Oh, what a distressing message it must have been!

       The gentleman was panting and sobbing; he lost all presence of mind; his cheeks lost all colour; with a pallid, cadaverous face he came rapidly to his seat, put on his coat and hat and went out of the office as if he were shot like a bullet from a gun. He did not even ask the consent of the chief officer, the head of the department. He did not even exchange a word with the employees in the room. He did not even lock up the papers that were lying on the desk, he lost all presence of mind and went straight out of the office. All his fellow officials were astounded. He reached the streets and saw a car running before him, he ran up to the car and there he met a postman who gave him a letter. This letter brought to him the happy news, (if in the circumstances it can be called happy news from the worldly point of view) the happy news of a large fortune having fallen to his lot. The man had bought a share in a lottery, and about $10,000 had fallen to his lot. This news ought to have cheered him up, ought to have filled him with joy, but it didn’t, it didn’t.

       The message he had received over the telephone was weighing heavily on his heart. This news brought him no pleasure. He found in the same car one of the greatest officials in the State, sitting just in front of him. This was an official to have an interview with whom had been the one dream of his life. But look here. This gentleman did not exchange glances with the official; he turned his head away. He also noticed the sweet face of lady friend. It had been the ambition of this gentleman’s life to meet her and exchange words with her, but now he was insensible to her sunny smiles.

       Well, Rama ought not to keep him in a state of suspense so long, nor should you be kept in a state of suspense any longer.

       He reached the street where his house was located and a great noise and tumult was there, and he saw clouds of smoke rising to the sky and veiling the Sun. He saw tongues of fire going up to the heavens; he saw his wife, grandmother, mother and other relatives weeping and bewailing the conflagration which was consuming their house. He saw all his relations there but missed one thing; he missed the dear little baby, he missed the sweet little child. That was not there. He asked about the child, and the wife could make no answer. She simply answered by sobbing and crying; she could make no articulate answer. He found out the truth. He came to know that the child had been left in the house. The child was with the nurse at the time when the fire broke. The nurse had placed the child in the cradle, the child was asleep and the nurse had left the room. Now the inmates of the house being panic-stricken at the sight of the fire consuming the house, had quitted the house in haste, each thinking that the child must be with some other inmate of the house.

       All of them came out, and now they found that the child was left in the room which was then being enveloped by fire. There was crying and gnashing of teeth, cutting of lips, beating of breasts, but no help. Here, this gentleman, his wife, his mother and friends and the nurse were crying aloud to the people, to the standers-by, to the policemen, and asking them to save their child, to rescue their dear, little baby. "Save our little dear child anyway you can. We will give away all our property, we shall give away all the wealth that we may accumulate within ten years from today, we will give up all; save our child, save our child."

       They are willing to give up everything for the sake of the child. Indeed, the child is a sweet thing, the dear little baby is a very sweet thing, and it is worthwhile to sacrifice all our property, all our wealth and all our interest for the sake of the child.

    But Rama asks one thing, "Is the child the source of happiness, the sweetest thing in the world, or is the source of happiness somewhere else?" Mark here. Everything is being sacrificed for the child, but is not the child itself being sacrificed for something higher, or for something else? Wealth is given away, riches are given away, property is given away for the child, but the child is being given away for something else.

       Even the lives of those people who may venture to jump into the fire may be lost. But even that dear little child is being sacrificed for something else, for something higher, and that something else must of necessity be sweeter than the child, that something else must be the real centre of happiness, must be real source of happiness, and what is that something? Just see. They did not jump into the fire themselves. That something is the Self. If they jump into the fire themselves, they sacrifice themselves and that they are not prepared to do. On the child is everything else sacrificed, and on that Self is the child sacrificed.

      We see now the highest stage of happiness, the child has not happiness in itself. The child is beautiful, lovely and the source of happiness, because the child is blessed with the Sunshine which proceeds from the Self; that Sunshine was not inherent in the child itself. If that Sunshine of happiness had been inherent in the child, it would have lasted in the person of the child for ever. Notice that the Sunshine which brightened the face of the child proceeded from the source within. The source was within the Self.

     Here we come a little nearer to the source of happiness, to the home of happiness. Not for the sake of the child is the child dear, the child is dear for the sake of the Self. Not for the sake of the wife is wife dear; not for the sake of the husband is husband dear; the wife is dear for the sake of the Self; the husband is dear for the sake of the Self. This is the truth.

       People say they love a thing for its own sake. But this cannot be; this cannot be. Nor for the sake of the wealth is wealth dear, wealth is dear for the sake of the Self. When the wife who was dear at one time, does not serve the interests of the husband, she is divorced; when the husband who was dear at one time, does not serve the interests of the wife, he is divorced. When wealth does not serve the purpose, it is given up.

       You know the case of Nero. He did not see that the beautiful Rome, that metropolis of his, was of much interest to him, was of much use to him. To him it was of greater interest to see a conflagration; to him it was of more interest to see a big bonfire. Look here. He went up to the top of an adjoining hill and asked his friends to go and set the whole city on fire in order that he might enjoy the sight of a grand conflagration. Here was he fiddling while Rome was burning. Thus we see that even wealth is divorced, given up, when it does not serve our interests.

     Rama was an eyewitness of a very strange phenomenon, a very curious phenomenon. There was a great flood, a great inundation of the river Ganga, and the river went on rising. On the branches of a tree were sitting several monkeys; there was a female-monkey and some children of this female-monkey. All these children came up to the female monkey. The water rose up to the place where the female monkey was seated. Then the she-monkey jumped up to a higher branch; the water came up to that place. The female monkey come to the highest top-branch, and the water rose up even to that place. All the children were clinging to the body of this female-monkey. The water reached her feet; then she just took hold of one child, one baby-monkey, and placed it underneath her feet. The water rose still higher, and then this female-monkey took hold of another child and placed it under her feet. The water still rose; and the third child was also taken up and mercilessly placed under her feet to save herself. Just so it is. People and things are dear to us as long as they serve our interests, our purposes. The very moment that our interests are at stake, we sacrifice everything.

     Thus we come to the conclusion that the seat of happiness, the source of happiness is somewhere within the Self. The home of happiness is somewhere in the Self, but where is it? Is it in the feet? The feet support the whole body, it may be in the feet, but no, it is not in the feet. Had it been in the feet, the feet ought to have been the dearest thing in the world. Of course, the feet are dearer than anything else outside, but they are not so dear as the hands are. Is the home of happiness in the hands? The hands are dearer than the feet, but they are not the home of happiness. Then, is happiness located in the nose or in the eye? The eyes are dearer than the hands or the nose, but happiness is not located in them. Think of something that is dearer even than the eyes. You might say it is the life.

      Rama says take the whole body first. The whole body is not the home of happiness. We see that this whole body we are changing every moment. In several years, every particle of the body is replaced by a new particle. It may be in the intellect, in the brain, in the mind. It may be there. But let us see if there is not something even dearer than the intellect. Let us examine that. If there be something which is dearer and sweeter even than the intellect, then, that may be the home of happiness. We say that life, or as the Hindus put it, prana may be the source of happiness, because often times people want to live even at the sacrifice of their reasoning powers. Here is a choice between two alternatives, die altogether, or live as a crazy, lunatic man.

       Everybody will choose the alternative of life, even in a crazy, lunatic frame. Thus we see that intellect or intelligence is sacrificed at the altar of life. Then life, personal life, this may be the home of happiness, the Sun from which all happiness emanates. Just examine whether life is really the home of happiness or not. Vedanta says, No! No! Even life is not the home of happiness, the Heaven within is higher up still; even beyond individual, personal life. Where is it then?

      Rama once saw a young man at the point of death. He was suffering from a very bad disease. There was excruciating pain in his body. The pain began in the toes of the feet. At first it was not so great, but after a while it kept coming up, and then his body was undergoing a hysterical movement. Gradually, the pain came up to the knees, and then rose higher, until that dreadful pain reached the stomach, and when the pain reached the heart, the man died. The last words this young man uttered were these, "Oh, when shall this life leave me, when shall these pranas leave me!"

       These were the words of that young man. You know, in this country you say he gave up the ghost. In India we say he gave up the body. This shows the difference. Here the body is looked upon as the Self and the ghost is looked upon as something tacked on. In India the body is looked upon as something foreign to the spirit; the real Self is looked upon as the reality. There, when the body dies, nobody believes that he dies; the body changes, he does not perish. And so, the words that escaped the lips of that youth were, "Of, when shall I give up this life; when shall this prana leave me!"

      Here we have something higher even than life; some thing superior to "prana", something which says, "My life," something which says, "My prana," something which possesses the "prana" and is above the "prana" or life, and that something is sweeter by far than the individual, personal life or "prana" Here we see that the "prana" or life in that particular body did not serve interests of the higher Self, of the Self higher than "prana", and the "prana" or life was sacrificed; the "prana" or life was thrown off. Here we see something which is superior to the "prana" or life, for which the life is sacrificed. This must be, by all means, sweeter by far than life even and that must be the home of "anand" or happiness; that must be the source, the origin of our joy. Now we see, why "prana" or life is sweeter than intellect; because pranas are nearer to the real Self, the Self within. Why is it that the intellect is sweeter than the eyes?

       Because the intellect is nearer to the real Self than the eyes. And why is it that the eyes are dearer than the feet? Because the eyes partake more of the real Self in you than the feet do. Why is it that everybody looks upon his child as being far more beautiful than the child of somebody else, of his neighbour? Vedanta says, "Because this particular child you call ‘mine’ you have gilded a little with the gold of your real Self." Any book in which you may write a line of your own, any work that contains something contributed by your pen appears to you to be far more worthy than any other book, even if it came from the pen of Plato. Why is it? Because this book which you call ‘mine’ has the sunshine of your real Self in it. It is blessed with the sunshine of Heaven within.

       Thus the Hindu says that the bliss, the real metropolis of happiness is within you. All Heaven is within you, the source of all pleasure is within you. This being the case, how unreasonable it is to seek happiness elsewhere!

      In India, we have this story about a lover. He pined for his beloved one; all his body was reduced to a veritable skeleton; all his flesh was dried up, so to say. The king of the country in which this young man lived brought him into his court one day, and he also brought the lady-love of the young man into his presence. The king saw that the woman was very ugly. The king then brought before this lover all the fair damsels that adorned his court, and asked this lover to choose one of the these. This man said, "O Shah! O King! Don’t make a fool of yourself. O King! you know, love makes a man very blind. O King! you have no eyes to see. Look at her with my eyes, and then say whether she is fair or ugly. Look at her with my eyes."

       This is the secret of all the charms in this world. That is all. That is the secret of all the fascination of the attractive objects in the world; O man! you yourself make all objects attractive by the way you look at them. Looking at an object with those eyes you yourself shed your lustre upon the object and then you fall in love with it. We read the story of Echo in Grecian mythology. She fell in love with her own image. So it is with all charms; they are simply the image of self within you, the Heaven within you. They are simply your shadow. Nothing else. That being the case, how unreasonable it is to hunt after your own shadow.

       Rama knows of the case of a little child, a small baby that had just learnt to crawl, to walk on all fours. The child saw its shadow and thought it to be something strange, something remarkable. The child wanted to catch hold of the head of the shadow; it began to crawl to the head of the shadow; and the shadow also crawled. The child moved and the shadow also moved. The child began to cry because he could not catch the head of the shadow. The child falls down, the shadow is with him; the child rises up and begins to hunt for the shadow. In the meantime, the mother taking mercy on the child made the child touch his own head, and lo! the head of this shadow was also caught.

       Catch hold of your own head and the shadow is also caught. Heaven and hell are within you. The source of power, joy and life is within you. The God of men and nature and nations is within you. O people of the world! listen, listen. This is a lesson worthy of being proclaimed from the house-tops, in all the crossings of big cities, in all the thoroughfares.

       This is a lesson worthy of being proclaimed at the top of the voice. If you want to realize an object, if you want to get anything, do not hunt after the shadow. Touch your own head. Go within you. Realize this and you will see that the stars are your handiwork, you will see that all the objects of love, all the bewitching and fascinating things are simply your own reflection or shadow. How unreasonable it is that— For a cap and bells our lives we pay,Bubbles we earn with a whole soul’s tasking.

      There is a beautiful story about a woman in India. She lost her needle in her house. She was too poor to afford a light in her house, so she went out of the house and was searching it in the streets. A gentleman inquired from her what she was doing. She said that she was searching for her needle? The gentleman asked, "Where did you lose the needle?" She said, "In the house." He said, "How unreasonable it is to search in the street a thing which was lost in the house!" She said that she could not afford a light in the house and there was a lantern in the street. She could not hunt in the house, she had to do something, so she must hunt in the street.

       This is exactly the way with the people. You have the Heaven within you; and yet you are searching pleasures in the objects in the streets, searching that thing outside, outside in the objects of the senses. How strange!

      There is another very beautiful story extant in India about a crazy man. He came up to the boys of the street and told them that the Mayor of the city was preparing a grand, royal feast, and had invited all the children to partake of the feast. You know, children like candies and sweets. The children being assured by this crazy man of the feast arranged by the Mayor, ran to the house of the Mayor, but there was no feast at all, nothing of the kind. The children were baffled; they were put out of countenance for a while, and there was hansi (laughing), and the children said to him, "How is it Mr. that you too came when you knew that this story which you told was wrong?" He said, "Lest there be a real feast, lest the story be true and I should miss it." For this reason, because he did not wish to miss it, he also followed the boys.

       Exactly the same is the case of those who by their imagination, by their own benediction, you may say, make flowers beautiful, make everything desirable by their own imagination and like the crazy man, then, they want to run after it, so that they may not miss it.


Realize the Heaven within you, and all at once all the desires are fulfilled, all the misery and suffering is put an end to.

      Lo! the trees of the wood are my next of kin.And the rocks alive with what beats in me.The clay is my flesh, and the fox my skin.I am fierce with the gadfly and sweet with the bee.The flower is naught but the bloom of my love.And the waters run down in the tune I dream.The Sun is my flower, up hung above.I cannot die, though forever death Weave back and fro in the warp of me.I was never born, yet my births of breath Are as many as waves on the sleepless sea.

      Oh, Heaven is within you, seek Happiness not in the objects of sense; realize that Happiness is within yourself.
Om! Om!! Om!!!

Source: In wood’s of God Realisation – Swamy Rama Tirtha – Lecture delivered on December 17, 1902 in the Academy of Sciences, San Francisco, U.S.A.