Tonight we will be talking about the secret of Zen. And as I meditated
on what is the secret of Zen, I realized that the secret of Zen cannot
be spoken. So, thank you very much. Wake up. So, actually I will talk
about 3 non-secrets of Zen tonight: letting go, letting be, and
And before I begin to talk about that, I would like to share a few
experiences from my trip to Hong Kong this past couple of weeks. On
last Sunday in the morning, I took a trip to one of the larger islands
in the Hong Kong area called Lantau Island. It is very famous because
it has on one of the mountains, I think, one of the largest sitting
Buddha statues in the world. It is very, very big. It is beautiful. It
was very beautiful.
Now I did not go to this large Buddha statue, because I had already
gone a few years before, but I went to the island because there is the
new Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism, AIAB, which is the sister
organization to the European Institute of Applied Buddhism, EIAB. And
tonight I am going to talk to you about E-I-E-I-O. No. I'm just
The European and Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism are Thich Nhat
Hanh's new schools that have formed to help train monks and nuns as
well as laypeople in the art of applied Buddhism. Now, in our
tradition, we have several different labels for what we're all about,
and fortunately or unfortunately there is not really one particular
label, so it is sometimes a little bit confusing for some people. But
it does show us our diversity as a practice.
So sometimes our particular communities are called Unified Buddhism,
because of what happened in Vietnam, which is where Thich Nhat Hanh
comes from, where the 3 major schools of Buddhism and a few others
decided to unify and to cooperate, so they called themselves the
Unified Buddhist Church, or in French at the time, Église
Buddhique Unifié. I think that's what it is. So in English, the
Unified Buddhist Church, because of the sense of unity.
So the Mahayana school of Zen and Pure Land, as well as the Theravada
school of the earlier forms of Buddhism, cooperated in unity. Now,
this did not mean that they all had to do and believe the same exact
thing. It meant that every school of Buddhism could still do what they
do and believe what they do, but in a spirit of unity and harmony with
the other schools, and so the different traditions of Buddhism would
be allowed within each temple. So even though a particular temple may
be a Zen temple, it was totally fine for a Pure Land practitioner or a
Theravada practitioner to practice at the temple simultaneously.
So, it is a very interesting phenomenon in history because it is very
rare for that sort of thing to happen. So in Christianity, you see
some of this movement taking place with the ecumenical movement. I
think there is one particular denomination that actually was a
unification of the few different factions of Protestant Christianity.
The United Church of Christ was a unification of, I think, 3
particular branches of Protestant Christianity.
But anyway, I am sure that in the next centuries, you will see more of
these kinds of movements happening. It is sort of the reverse
phenomenon of the earlier centuries when everyone kept splitting and
arguing and wanting to do their own thing. So I think in the next few
centuries you'll see more unifying and unity happening.
Now, another label for our tradition besides Unified Buddhism is
Engaged Buddhism, or Socially Engaged Buddhism. This was a term that
was coined by our teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh, maybe in the 50s and 60s,
especially during the Vietnam War, right before and right during the
Vietnam War, because there was so much devastation and poverty and,
especially during the war, destruction of land and villages that Thich
Nhat Hanh's students and cooperative branches numbered at about
10,000, 10,000 lay Buddhists and monks and nuns working together to
form the Socially Engaged Buddhist movement.
In other words, what he was trying to say is that true Buddhism is not
about only just chanting to be reborn in some other realm when you
die. And it is not just about going off into your monastery and just
forgetting about everyone else. True Buddhism of course incorporates
chanting and it incorporates meditation, but it has to be the kind of
chanting and meditation and practice that will equip you to then go
out into the world and engage the world and be socially active in the
world and be a part of the movement of really transforming the world
and helping others.
So, this is why Thich Nhat Hanh coined the phrase Engaged Buddhism, to
remind Buddhists and all people that spirituality--true
spirituality--is not just about the inner life. It has to be the
inner life and the outward action. It has to be both. In fact, there
is a Christian saying to this effect: "Prayer in action," or
something like that. I can't remember the exact phrase, but it is
something about prayer is action, prayer is service.
Now, another term that is newly coined is Applied Buddhism. This was
invented just in the last few years because some people took the word
Engaged Buddhism--and of course, it is a word that is used all around
the world in many different communities, not just Thich Nhat Hanh's
communities--but some people have taken the word Engaged Buddhism, and
now what it only means to them is just simply a bunch of Buddhists
shouting and picketing and making trouble.
And that's not really the true spirit of Engaged Buddhism. It is not
just about socially active issues that are the major issues, the
politically hot issues. True Engaged Buddhism, and yes, it does apply
to that, but it also applies to the kind of Engaged Buddhism or
engaged spirituality that affects the way you cook your meals, the way
you teach your kindergarten class, the way you go about your work or
raising your family or planting seeds in your garden.
So Engaged Buddhism is not just about socially activist kinds of
activities. It should apply to all areas of life, because not all of
us are the kind of people that are going to be at the front line of
protests. And I know certainly many of us may not feel called to join,
for instance, the monks over in Myanmar or Burma, where they protested
by marching as thousands of monks with their begging bowls upside down
through the streets to protest the atrocities of the particular
government at this time there. So many of them were beaten, some to
death, and things like that.
Some of us may not feel called to be that outwardly active, and we
should not feel guilty if that is not our calling, because Engaged
Buddhism means that all of us in whatever ways we are called to be
engaged. So it is not just about the social, political kind of
activism, although it does include that. It also means what we can do
here and now, what we can do as a mother or a father, what we can do
as a brother or sister, what we can do as a coworker, what we can do
as a neighbor, what we can do as a volunteer and a shelter. So this is
also Engaged Buddhism.
That is why we came up with the term Applied Buddhism, because we want
to apply the principles of meditation and mindfulness in daily life,
in every day ordinary life. Then there are a few other labels that we
have, like the Community of Mindful Living. That is another umbrella
word for our community. There is also the Plum Village and the Plum
Plum Village is the name of the main retreat center where Thich Nhat
Hanh lives near Bordeaux, France. And if any of you ever have the time
or the money to go to our mothership, I highly recommend that,
especially if you can go for at least a week or 2 weeks. Because you
will want to actually stay longer once you get there. It is
beautiful. Many, many, many, many, many, many acres of land in the
countryside. Beautiful French countryside. And sunflowers everywhere,
and it is just--and you can feel the decades of peace that have soaked
into the soil through their mindful walks and people practicing
together. I mean, it is a pure land of the Buddha on earth. It is a
heaven on earth, paradise on earth, and I highly recommend that if you
ever get a chance to do that.
Now, I also know that not everyone has the means to do that in their
lifetime maybe, and if that is the case, maybe you could at least go
to a one-week retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh when he comes to the United
States every 2 years. And 2011 is one of those years when he does come
with his several monks and nuns.
And by the way, Thich Nhat Hanh never travels by himself anymore. He
is trying to make a statement. He only travels with his entourage of
at least several monks and nuns, usually around 80. Can you imagine
the plane ticket cost? And even though it does cost a lot to do that,
Thich Nhat Hanh has refused to do it any other way because he is
trying to make a statement. What is the statement is trying to make?
He is trying to make the statement that the true teacher is not one
person. The true teacher is the community.
That is his statement that he is trying to make. And this is the
meaning of Applied Buddhism, Engaged Buddhism. It is not about
individualism anymore. It is about community action, living together
in harmony and being heaven on earth, being the Pure Land of the
Buddha. It is no longer about being Christ or being a Buddha on the
earth. It is about being heaven of God on earth or the Pure Land of
the Buddha. See? There is a difference.
It is not about superstar spirituality anymore. It is about community
spirituality. That is why Thich Nhat Hanh is not emphasizing Buddha
but the Pure Land of the Buddha, meaning the community that we
co-create together, the energy field that radiates from each part as
we practice together. That is the deepest meaning of the Pure
Land. That is the deepest meaning of heaven on earth.
That wasn't my topic, but anyway, let's get to my topic. So as we
practice together, we want to practice letting go. You know, the
actual essence of our practice is not about acquiring things. That is
our tendency, you know, especially in our Western culture. We want to
get enlightenment. We want to get happiness. We want to get
wisdom. And even though that may be okay in the beginning of our
practice to have that kind of motivation--because as a beginner, it is
better to start with something rather than nothing, and at least it
gets us through the door and it keeps us going, and that is
fine. There's nothing wrong with that.
But after we practice, we start to realize over time that it really is
not about trying to get enlightenment or get anything really. It is
really more about letting go--letting go of ignorance, letting go of
delusion, letting go of attachment, letting go of aversion, letting go
of all those different things that have accumulated individually and
socially around our hearts that keep us from letting the light that is
already there to shine fully.
All of us are kind of like really dirty light bulbs. You know? We are
already connected, and the switch is on, and the light is already
shining but we cannot see it or feel it fully yet because there is so
much muck around our light bulb. And so our practice is really not
trying to get the light, because we already are the light. Our
practice is to slowly let go, let go, let go of all those
accumulations of generations of stuff that prevent us from really
realizing and embodying the light that we are.
And there is no such thing as Buddhist light versus Christian light
versus Jewish light versus Hindu light versus secular light. It is all
light. If it helps you to have a Buddhist lampshade or a Christian
lampshade, that is fine. More power to you, you know? Diversity and
creativity is all a part of life, that is the light itself; there is
no such thing as Buddhist light or Christian light. Only one light.
So let go, let go, let go. And as you let go, you start to feel the
fruits of letting go, which are more peace and feeling more at home in
the present moment. I am home. I am home. So, practice. Keep
practicing letting go with every breath, for example. You know?
Sometimes we emphasize the in breath or maybe equally the in breath
and the out breath, but in one particular teaching of Zen, the
emphasis is really on the out breath, because we're letting go with
the out breath.
And if you can just practice with letting go with the out breath, you
do not even need to worry about the in breath. So let go and let
yourself completely surrender into the out breath. Let yourself
completely go, surrendering into the infiniteness of the universe. Let
yourself go and just die to every attachment to anything and just
trust yourself, letting go into the great unknown, with every out
And then what happens instantly, effortlessly as a gift of grace, an
in breath just comes without you even trying. And then what happens is
we can be very grateful and feel the happiness and joy of the in
breath without even trying to make ourselves feel the joy of the in
breath our make ourselves mindful of the in breath. It just
automatically comes as a response to the gift of grace that is
manifested as in breath. But we do not hold onto this gift. We still
let it go.
You see? That is the key, even in our daily life. When we receive
gifts of grace, we just receive it with joy and we celebrate it, and
then instead of clinging to it, we also let it go. "Oh my goodness. I
got this wonderful paycheck. I rejoice in it, and now I'm going to let
it go pay some bills, give some donations to the Dallas Meditation
Because if we stifle the energy of anything, including the energy of
money or the energy of any gift of the universe, we will suffocate
ourselves, literally and metaphorically. Guess what, if you hold on to
the in breath, it does not work. You receive all these gifts, but do
not cling. Receive them and celebrate, but let go. Let go just with
the out breath once again. Oh, another gift. The gift of life comes
without even making it happen. It is a gift of grace.
And that is why meditation on the breath is so powerful, because if we
truly meditate on the breath deeply, we will see these kinds of
insights, and it will help us. If we can be so grateful for the
breath, then it will not be so hard to be grateful for anything
else. If we can be grateful for something as simple and ordinary as
the breath, then everything becomes extraordinary around us. So let
go. Let go. Because as we let go, joy is natural. Peace is just
natural. Feeling present is natural. I am home in the present moment
The second secret or non-secret of Zen besides letting go is letting
be. Now, letting be has many different meanings. I do not have time to
go through all of them, but the one particular meaning I want to
emphasize tonight is letting be in the sense of Be with a capital
B. Let be, meaning being or beingness. And this is the insight of
The first insight of letting go is where we start. We start with the
practice of letting go, and then we uncover these gifts of
stress-relief and peace and being present in the here and now and
having a smoother life and love. Letting the light shine. But as we
keep practicing and deepening in the practice, there will suddenly be
an opening. We call it different things in Buddhism. One particular
word is kensho in the Japanese Zen tradition, which means to see our
true nature. Kensho.
To see our true nature. To see the true nature of all of
reality. There's only one true nature. It is not like my nature or
your nature or his nature and her nature. It is one nature that we are
all manifestations of, and that is what we see, and I do not
necessarily mean that we literally physically see, but it does include
that. It is to see, to perceive, to really be it. That is what we
mean, to fully embody it and feel it with our whole being--to see
being with our whole being. And so that is what I mean by letting be,
seeing your true beingness.
And that is another meaning of I am home. I am Home with a capital
H. You see? Not just I am at home in the here and the now, and I'm
getting to be at home with peace and love and joy, but actually
realizing that I am the home that I've been seeking all along, that I
am one with the great infinite home, and I have always been home. I
have never left. I only fell asleep and dreamt that I left, but I have
never left. I have always been home here. I have always been the great
I am. I've always been Buddha nature. I just fell asleep and forgot
for a little while. But even as I fell asleep and forgot, I was
sleeping in the bed of Buddha, in the bed of the divine, in the bed of
heaven. You see? So I am the home. I am one of the infinite, the
divine Buddha nature. Whatever you want to call it.
And last but not least, the 3rd non-secret of Zen is letting flow. So
letting go, letting be, letting flow. And what do I mean by letting
flow? Well, letting flow has many different meanings as well, but the
one I want to emphasize tonight is that just finding peace in the
moment is wonderful, but that's not all it's about. Which is why we
also practice enlightenment.
But the enlightenment of realizing who you truly are is not the end of
enlightenment. It's actually only half of enlightenment, even though
as you experience it, it feels like full, true enlightenment. But if
you have a wise teacher, he will (snipping noises). So make sure you
don't get stuck in your half enlightenment. It is kind of like being a
sophomore. You finally know everything. You are way smarter than the
freshmen, but there are still other things to learn and to grow.
But for our enlightenment to be full enlightenment we not only let go and let be, which is wonderful and we need that, but also we let flow, to allow this realization to then become embodied in every area of our life to affect every relationship and to affect every part of our minds and emotional and psychological aspects and social aspects and physical aspects to transform every area of our lives as individuals and families and communities and nations and as a whole planet. And when we are ready to see our brothers and sisters on other planets, interplanetary sangha.
Yes. One day we will have interplanetary Buddhism, right? So let it
flow means that I, meaning the individual I, which has now realized
the great I, is in harmony and is creating, co-creating a life, a Pure
Land, a heaven on earth as a home for all beings. So that is the third
meaning of I am home. Not just I am home, I am at home in the here and
now, and not just I am the home, but also I co-create home for
others. My life, my ministry, my vocation is to co-create home so that
all beings feel and know home, refuge, safety, love, family, because
of me and all my brothers and sisters together.
This is our true nature's mission is to awaken first of all to who we
already have been and will be but then once we awaken to that then to
forever manifest new and creative ways to make this universe a
friendly, welcoming home for all mini Buddhas so that we can keep
You see, in one sense, enlightenment is a once and for all awakening,
but in another sense enlightenment never ends, always continues
forever, because there are always new and creative ways to express
enlightenment in the physical world, and there are always new and
creative, diverse ways to express enlightenment through our words and
through our actions and through the things that we create.
I mean, Buddha didn't have iPods and all that kind of stuff, and now
we do, and there are new ways that we can express the truth, you know?
So if silent meditation is kind of hard for you right now, it is
okay. Buddha didn't have a CD player back then, but we do today. Put
on a guided CD meditation. You know? Or put on some chanting music
while you meditate until you get the point where you don't need it
anymore, that you can be okay meditating silently.
Or like me, be okay with needing things like meditation beads. I still
use them from time to time when my crazy ADD mind is really active,
and so I breathe with each bead, namo Amitabha. Namo Amitabha. Namo
Amitabha. I just go to each speed, and usually one round until I get
to the main bead is about 12 minutes for me. So I have done 12
minutes, and then if I do 2 rounds I had done 24 minutes of
meditation. And that is helpful because it helps me stay grounded
physically in the present moment in my body in the here and now,
because I have a tendency to go off into fantasyland. So this helps me
to stay real, here and now.
So if you need to do that, go ahead. Do not be ashamed. We are all
baby Buddhas anyway. None of us have graduated or we would not be
here. Just do what you need to do. There is no comparison. Not every
Buddha is going to be like your Buddha. Every Buddha will be
different. There are no Buddhas in the whole universe of infinite
Buddhas that are exactly alike, so we have nobody to judge you and you
have nobody to judge, no one to compare yourself with. You are very
unique and beautiful, and if you do not know it yet, it is okay. Other
people will know it for you. I know it for you, and when I see you, I
see how beautiful you are, and my hope is that someday you will see
how beautiful you are, too. Amitabha.