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Lions Roar : January 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2012 44 The university gym has a blue glow—blue floor, blue seats in the bleachers, closed blue curtains filtering the morning light. Thay has a glow too—a warm smile. “When we make a happy step, all our ancestors enjoy walking and making happy steps,” he says. “If you walk in the Kingdom of God, all of them walk in the Kingdom of God. If you walk in Hell—in despair and anger and DEAR THAY, I suffer a lot and I know that suffering is part of my practice. My suffering comes from two main things. One is that I have a chronic illness, which causes me a lot of physical pain. The other is that I am an activist and I care very deeply for the world. Sometimes I feel a lot of despair about what’s happening in the world around us, in terms of violence, poverty, and environmental destruction. What practices would you recommend for those of us who are living with physical pain or are in despair about the suf- fering of the world? THICH NHAT HANH: As activists we want to do something to help the world to suffer less. But we know that when we’re not peaceful, when we don’t have enough compassion in us, we can’t do much to help the world. We ourselves are at the center. We have to make peace and reduce the suffering in ourselves first, because we represent the world. Peace, love, and happiness must always begin here, with ourselves. There is suffering, fear, and anger inside of us, and when we take care of it, we are taking care of the world. Imagine a pine tree standing in the yard. If that pine tree were to ask us what it should do, what the maximum is a pine tree can do to help the world, our answer would be very clear: “You should be a beautiful, healthy pine tree. You help the world by being your best.” That is true for humans also. The basic thing we can do to help the world is to be healthy, solid, loving, and gentle to ourselves. Then when people look at us, they will gain confidence. They will say, “If she can do that, I can do that too!” So anything you do for yourself, you do for the world. Don’t think that you and the world are two separate things. When you breathe in mindfully and gently, when you feel the wonder of being alive, remember that you’re also doing this for the world. Practicing with that kind of insight, you will succeed in helping the world. You don’t even have to wait until tomorrow. You can do it right now, today. The Buddha proposed so many ways to practice to reduce the pain in your body and in your emotions, and to recon- cile with yourself. We have learned in this retreat that you can reduce physical pain through the practice of releasing tension in the body. Pain increases as a function of tension, and it can be reduced if we release the tension. You can practice relaxation in the lying or sitting position. You can also practice relaxation when you walk, and with every step you can help release the ten- sion. Walk like a free person. Put things down, don’t carry any- thing, and feel light. There is a burden we always carry with us. The skill we need is how to lay down our burden in order to be light. If you sit, walk, or lie down like that, it’s very easy to release the tension and reduce the pain. hate—your ancestors have to join you. Let us choose to walk in the Kingdom of God, in the Pure Land of the Buddha.” INTERBEING: this is Thich Nhat Hanh’s term for dependent origination, a key concept in Buddhism, which states that all phe- nomena arise together in a mutually interdependent web of cause and effect. In traditional Buddhist literature, this is a doctrine that can come across as philosophical and cerebral. Thich Nhat Hanh, however, has a gift for presenting Buddhist teachings in very human, very personal terms. At the retreat, he uses the orchids on the stage to explain interbeing. To exist a flower needs sun, clouds, rain, earth, minerals, and a gardener. Many non-flower elements come together to help the flower manifest and if we remove these non-flower elements, there is no flower left. In a similar way, so-called opposites always manifest together, inseparably. There is no darkness without light, no left without right, no above without below, no parent without child. “Before the son or daughter manifests, you cannot call the father a father,” Thay explains. “Of whom would he be the father?” In Imagine a Pine Tree THICH NHAT HANH answers a retreatant’s question on what to do in the face of suffering. The monastic choir PHOTOBYDZUNGVO