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Thursday, September 27, 2007

Search for the beauty, the truth and the good

Search for the beauty, the truth and the good
---Daily News

Thich Nhat Hanh

Compassion: We all known what love is and suffered because of it. May be we haven't had the time to be able to look deeply into the nature of our love, to sum up what our love was about, to be able to understand what we did when we loved, and to understand why suffering arose from it.

In Buddhism, the meaning of love is very deep, but also very clear, and it is necessary to have time to look deeply into the nature of our love, in order to be able to cultivate the elements which make true love.

All of us need to love. We need something beautiful, true and good, and we are looking for the beauty, the true, and the good. We feel that these things don't exist in us, that what is really beautiful, what is really truth, and what is really good, is not in us.

Therefore, we look for it, and sometimes we feel that we have found the object of our love. The person before us is a symbol of what is beautiful, of what is true, and we fall in love with that person. We have found the object of our love.

There are two things to be looked into. The first is the impression that this beauty, this truth, this goodness, is not in us. The second is that we feel what we are looking for must be outside us, and therefore we feel that this person is the object of our love, and we feel satisfied and happy.

That is the foundation of our love, but after sometime we discover reality is not what we thought of. The other person, the object of our love, shows herself or himself to be different from what we thought in the first place. We are disappointed, and we keep looking for the beauty, the good, and the truth.

Antoine de St. Exupery wrote something like this: "To love is not to look at each other, but to look in the same direction." But when we love each other, we have to look at each other. Because the other symbolises beauty, truth, and goodness for us, we really need to look at each other.

Beauty and truth seem to be one thing. And when we love, we tend to see in the other person the combination of the beauty, the good and the truth, and it gives us great pleasure to look.

That is our happiness. But since we do not know the art of mindful living, we make mistakes in our daily lives, and internal formations arise in us and in the other. Pain, anger, jealousy, all these things being shown bit by bit in ourselves, and in the other, the object of our love.

We make the object of our love suffer, we do not understand them well enough, we are not patient enough, we are not tolerant enough, and we make them suffer. There is a slow change in each of us, and one day we find that looking at the other person no longer brings us happiness.

At the beginning, when I looked at you, it made me happy. Just looking at you give me so much happiness, but now, that is not true anymore.

When I look at you I suffer. It is because you symbolise suffering for me. I am already suffering, but you are also suffering, so looking at suffering is not something pleasant.

So both of us sign a contract: we won't look at each other any more, we will look in the same direction. And usually that direction is the television set, so we don't have to look at each other anymore.

Because we no longer see the truth, the beauty and the goodness in the other person, we are disappointed, and we are tempted to look for the beauty, the good and truth elsewhere in the universe, to find another person who can really offer us beauty, goodness and truth.

We have travelled throughout the world looking for that person. Each one of us is like a pot without a lid, and we travel around the world looking for the lid. The same thing happens in the spiritual realm.

We are thirsty for truth, we are thirsty for goodness, for compassion, we are thirsty for spiritual beauty, and we are looking for these things. We meet someone, a spiritual teacher, a spiritual friend, and we feel so happy.

Pic. by Saman Sri Wedage

To be able to sit there and look at the teacher, look at the spiritual friend, brings us a great deal of happiness, but this does not last very long, because the discovery may be a false discovery. We may have a wrong perception of this person who represents truth, goodness and beauty, just as in the realm of falling in love.

We think we had found the ideal woman, the ideal man, in our life, but maybe it is a wrong perception, and in the spiritual realm it is the same thing. We think we have found someone who stands for truth, compassion and beauty, but once again, this can be a wrong perception on our part.

When we have contemplated, when we have spent time with that teacher, that spiritual friend, we discover slowly that this person is not really the object of our love. We are disappointed over that person, and we keep looking in the cosmos.

If you are lucky, you will meet a master, a spiritual teacher like the Buddha, and the teacher will say to you, "Look deeply in yourself, don't look for these things somewhere else." The true teacher is someone who helps you to discover again the real teacher in yourself.

When He woke up at the foot of the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha Shakyamuni said, "How strange-all beings possess in themselves the capacity to understand, the capacity to love, the capacity to be free.

Everyone has that capacity, but everyone allows himself or herself to be carried away on the ocean of suffering. How strange." This is what the Buddha declared at the time of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree.

He noticed that what we are looking for, day and night, is already there within oneself. What is beautiful, what is truth, what is good, is already there in oneself. We can call it the Buddha-nature, the Buddhahood, the awakened nature, the true freedom, which is the foundation for all peace and happiness.

This wonderful thing is in us, and a real teacher is someone who can help you to touch that thing in yourself, who helps give birth, to bring about the real teacher which already exists in yourself.

In the process of love, when you love someone, you can be lucky enough to recognise in the person you love the elements of beauty, of goodness, and of truth. If these elements are real, you have an opportunity to go back to yourself and rediscover the same things which already exist in you. It is possible that the person who is the object of your love also possesses within him or herself the elements of beauty, goodness and truth.

Then you are lucky. And if you are lucky like this, you are happy to have this.

Therefore, you have an opportunity to rediscover the reality of these things in yourself. And the person who can help you to rediscover and touch the source of peace in yourself, the source of freedom, the source of happiness in yourself, is a spiritual friend.

You are under the illusion that you don't have goodness, truth and beauty in yourself, and that is why you look for them in somebody else. But when you meet the Buddha, the Buddha would tell you what you have within yourself, it is the foundation of freedom, of peace, and of love within yourself.

These you cannot obtain from outside source. These are things that are already available within you, and you should practise in order to bring these things to the light, to bring freedom, fearlessness to the light.

The person and the instrument which you use in order to find these things is the deep looking and the deep listening to yourself. In you, there are elements which make up your personality, and we can call these elements the five skandhas.

I am drawing an orange on the board, with five sections. The first section represents form of body, our physical body. The second section represents feelings; the third: perceptions; the fourth: mental formations; and the fifth: consciousness.

The five elements are the territory of our being, and if we practise deep looking into these five elements, we will discover the true nature of our being. We would discover the true nature of our suffering, of our happiness, of peace, of fearlessness.

The Buddha gave us very concrete ways to be able to come back to our own territory, in order to be able to look deeply, observe, embrace and understand these things, and to transform them.

In our daily lives we have the habit of neglecting and running away from this territory of the five skandhas. We always want to run away from ourselves, from our territory. That is because we have the feeling that if we come back to our territory, we will have to face the suffering.

Each one of us is a king or a queen, reigning over the territory of the five skandhas, but we are not responsible kings or queens - we have abandoned our territory. We have tried to run away from our territory every day. That is because we have allowed things to get worse.

We have allowed war to happen, we have allowed conflicts and disorder to arise in our territory. In the past we did not practise, we did not take care of our territory. That is why there are so many conflicts, so much disorder and suffering in our territory.

We have the feeling that if we were to go back to our territory, we would have to face so many difficulties, so many problems.

Our daily practice, therefore, is to run away from this territory. Every time we have one or two hours, fifteen minutes, we don't use this time to come back to ourselves in order to restore some harmony and well-being in our territory.

We try to forget about our territory. We use the television, newspapers, music, conversation, the telephone, in order to run away from the reality of our five skandhas.

I'm suffering too much. I have too many problems. I don't want to go back to them any more. That is the situation of so many of us.

The Buddha with a great deal of understanding and compassion, says, "My dear child, you have to go back to these things, and put things in order there." And how does the Buddha tell us to do this? We have to cultivate the energy of right mindfulness, and doing that we will have the strength to go back to ourselves. Right mindfulness is something concrete.

When we practise walking meditation, making steps in mindfulness, establishing ourselves in the present moment, when we are surrounded by the Sangha, and we practise mindful walking, we can make solid steps, peaceful steps, which will bring us back to the present moment.

Each step will be able to bring about the energy of mindfulness. When we are seated, and we are following our breathing, breathing deeply, mindfully, aware of in-breath, aware of out-breath, we also cultivate the energy of mindfulness.

When we are sitting with the Sangha to have a meal in mindfulness, we live in the present moment, and we eat, being aware of our food and our community of practice. We cultivate the energy of mindfulness, and a few days practising like that can increase the energy of mindfulness in you, and that will help you, protect you, and give you courage in order to go back to yourself, to see what is there, and embrace what is there in the territory of the five skandhas.

There are feelings, painful feelings; there are emotions, strong emotions; there are perceptions which trouble us, which agitate us. We have to go back to all these things, and offer our real presence to all these things, and be able to embrace them all.

"Darling, I am here for you; I have come back; I am going to take care of you." This is what we do with all our emotions, all our feelings and all our perceptions. There are perceptions which trouble us, which make us afraid.

There are strong emotions which can trouble us, but if we are armed with the energy of mindfulness, we can return to them.

What is the energy of mindfulness? It is the energy of the Buddha. A Buddha is someone who is made of mindfulness, and mindfulness is something which can be cultivated. At a meditation center, that is what we do. We cultivate the energy of mindfulness while we walk, while we breathe, while we eat, while we work. When we are in the kitchen, we practise mindfulness as we work.

When we are in the meditation hall we practise mindfulness as we sit and breathe. When we are washing our clothes, it is an opportunity to cultivate the energy of mindfulness. We do all these things with the support and the help of the whole community.

One day, two days, ten days in a practice center, that is the time to cultivate the energy of mindfulness which will protect you, and make you strong, so that you can embrace what is there in you.

The writer is a Vietnamese-born Buddhist monk and a widely read author. He is the founder of Plum Village, a Buddhist monastery in France.

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