Mindfulness of Anger: Embracing the Child Within

During a morning meditation session at The Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin in 2003, Thich Nhat Hanh gave this dharma talk on the mindfulness of anger. Read the transcript below:

Thich Nhat Hanh: Who are five-year-old here? Anyone five-year-old here? Who are less than five year old, please? How many of you who are less than five year old? One, two, and who are five year old, please? No? All right, five-year-old, wonderful. So this morning's meditation is for you and who have been five year old.

[laughter]

This for you too.

[laughter]

Now practice is like this. Breathing in, I see myself as a five-year-old child. Breathing out, I smile from the five-year-old child in me. A five-year-old child is always vulnerable, fragile and he or she can get hurt very easily, so I have to handle a five-year-old child in a very gentle way. A five-year-old child as a flower get hurt and the wound will stay for a long time. And most of us have been five year old and the inner child in us is still alive. And the little child in us, in you all, may still have wounds within. That's why in this meditation you go home and touch the five-year-old child in us, the five-year-old child that may be deeply wounded that you have neglected for a long time. The five-year-old child is always trying to call on us to pay attention to him or to her because you are so busy. You have had no time to go back to him or her. That's a pity. This morning, you have an appointment. Breathing in, I see myself as a five-year-old child, breathing out I smile to the five-year-old child in me with compassion. He needs, she needs a lot of compassion and attention. In a five-year-old child, out smiling with compassion. Please practice.

[Gong]

It would be very nice if every day you find a few minutes to sit down and talk to the five-year-old child in you and very healing, very comforting, because your five-year-old child, you as a five-year-old child, are still alive and need to be taken care of. Talk to him, talk to her, and you will see that child responding to you and feel better. And if she feels better, you feel better also. Talk to him, talk to her, every day. That's what I propose.

Now let us practice the next exercise. Breathing in, I see my father as the five-year-old child. You have not seen your father as the five-year-old child, but he had — he had been a five-year-old child before he became your father. And as a five-year-old boy, he was also vulnerable, fragile and he could get hurt very easily by your grandpa or your grandma and by other people. So if sometime he's rough, he's difficult, that is because of that, because he had been hurt as a five-year-old child. And if you understand that, you no get angry at him anymore. You have compassion to him because he had been a five-year-old child and he may get a lot of suffering, get hurt deeply near the time he was a five-year-old child.

If you have a family album, if in that album there's a picture of your father as a five-year-old that is a good object of meditation. Look at him when he was five year old and breath in and out and see the five-year-old child that is still alive in him and in your own self. And when you understand that he's a five-year-old child who suffered very much, he got hurt deeply and very often, you will understand why sometimes he had behaved — sometime he behaved very rude to you. And suddenly your anger will melt and you have compassion and you feel much better. Breathing in, I see my father as a five-year-old child. Breathing out, I smile to that five-year-old boy who was my father. Let us practice together, father, five-year-old boy, smiling to father with compassion.

[Gong]

Breathing in, I see my mother as a five-year-old girl. Breathing out, I smile to let five-year-old girl that had been my mother. When my mother was five year old, she was also vulnerable, fragile and she may get hurt, wounded, very easily and she may not have had a teacher or a friend to help her to heal. That's why the wound, the pain, continues in her. That is why sometimes she behave not very kindly to you and you understand why because she had not been able to heal the pain in her. And if you can see your mother as a five-year-old girl vulnerable, fragile, you understand and you can forgive her very easily with compassion. The five-year-old girl who had been your mother is always alive in her and in you. Breathing in, I see my mother as a five-year-old girl. Breathing out, I smile to that wounded five-year-old girl who is my mother, mother as a five-year-old girl, smiling to mother as a five-year-old girl.

[Gong]

When you are a young person less than 20, you are wise to practice in order to heal the five-year-old child in you. Otherwise, when you get married, you'll transmit the wounded child through your children. Before getting married, practice in order to heal the little child in you. Otherwise, you will transmit the wounded child in you to your son and to your daughter. That would not be very nice. And if you have already transmitted your wounded child to him or to her, it's not too late. You have to practice now to heal the little child in you and help your son or your daughter to heal the wounded little child that you have transmitted to him or to her and you both as father and son, father and daughter, you can practice together and heal the wounded child in you and in him or in her. If you as a mother, you can practice if you can practice together with your daughter or your son. You can heal both the wounded child in you and in your mother.

This is a very important practice. You have to realize that this is a very important, urgent practice and, if you can succeed in doing that, communication between you and him and her will be restored and better understanding will be possible and you'll improve the quality of happiness in your life and in his or her life. It's very important. You are in here, you are in him. You have transmitted yourself entirely to him or to her. Your son is a continuation of you. Your daughter is a continuation of you. Your son is you. Your daughter is you. And they will carry you far into the future. And if you have the time to endow her, then love him with compassion and understanding, she will profit from that and she will make the future better for herself and for her children and the future generations.

In fact, we are continued by our children and you have to offer them the best in terms of thinking, in terms of speech and in terms of physical action. A painter or a musician, a composer, when they create a piece of art, they always sign their name. You also. You produce in your little life, the thinking, the speech and the action, if you're thinking is the right thinking that is a good work of art. It bears always your name. And I think it means the thinking that goes along with understanding and compassion. And if you can produce a thought that is in the direction of right thinking, that is the product that is your continuation. You cannot refuse to sign your name because that's your product. And looking into your thinking, whether it is right or wrong, now we see you. Your signature is in it.

That is why in our daily lives, you have to be careful to produce thoughts that are on the line of right thinking, the kind of thinking that goes along with insight, understanding and compassion, and you have an opportunity to produce right thinking in every moment of your life that will bear your signatures that is your future, you transmit them to your children and to the world. Everything you say is also a product of your person, whether your speech is a right speech or a wrong speech. It bears your signature. What you say may cause a lot of anger, a lot of despair, a lot of pessimism and that bears your signature. It's not good to produce a work like that. That is why, with mindfulness, you may like to produce only the kind of speech that is called right speech, the kind of speech that goes along with understanding, compassion, joy and forgiveness. And with the practice of mindfulness, at every moment you can produce right speech, loving speech, that will bear your signature. That is what you handed down to your children and to the world. That is your continuation.

And then the third kind of product is physical action. Whatever you do that can protect life, that can help people to suffer less, that express your comprehension, your compassion, will bear your own signature. That is a good continuation of you, of yours, transmitted to your children and to the world. Let us be mindful not to produce any act that has the nature of violence, hatred, fear and discrimination because these acts will bear also your signature. You cannot deny that it's not your product because it has really come from you. Your child, whether that is a boy or a girl, it is a young piece of art, your product. You produce yourself, you produce your own future and that is why mindfulness help us to know whether we are producing the right thing for the future and that what we produce is us, is our continuation.

I am sure that the children enjoy a pebble meditation. I hope they continue today and it's my desire to see them practice pebble meditation when they go home and they can share the practice of freshness, solidity and freedom with their friends at home and at school. You might like to talk to your teachers about your practice of flowerness, freshness and solidity and freedom and calm. I count on you. I have many students who are very young of whom I am very proud. And today, please, go deeper in the practice of, uh, looking deeply into the five-year-old child within yourself, within your father and your mother. Thank you.

When you hear the little bell, please stand up and bow to the committee before you go out and play. This is only for the younger ones.

[laughter]

[bell]

[Gong]

Dear friends, there is a seed of anger in every one of us. In Buddhist psychology, this bit of consciousness is in terms of seeds, like a seed of corn. There are many kinds of seeds that lie deep in our consciousness, a seed of anger, a seed of violence, a seed of fear, a seed of jealousy, a seed of full despair, a seed of miscommunication, a seed of hate. They're all there and, when they sleep, we are okay. But if someone come and water these seeds, they will manifest into energy and they will make us suffer. We also have wholesome seeds in us, namely the seeds of understanding, of awakening, of compassion, of nonviolence, of nondiscrimination, a seed of joy and forgiveness. They are also there.

If you don't practice, if you do not live in a good environment, then these wholesome seeds will have no chance to be watered. That is why it is very important to select a right environment to where the wholesome seeds in us could be watered every day, a kind of environment where the negative seeds will not be watered every day. I will draw a circle representing our consciousness. Then I will divide the circle into two parts. In the lower part of our consciousness is called a store consciousness. Why store consciousness? Because in that part of the consciousness, all the seeds are stored and maintained and kept in it. Nothing can be lost.

So you have a seed of anger, a seed of mistrust, a seed of violence, a seed of discrimination, a seed of despair. But you also have a seed of compassion, a seed of joy, a seed of nonviolence, a seed of forgiveness and others. The Sanskrit term is bija, the seed. The quality to happiness of a human being depends on the quality of the seeds they have in their store consciousness and we should arrange, we should organize, our life in such a way that the wholesome seeds in us have a chance to be watered every day, that we can prevent the negative seeds in us to be watered by ourselves and by the environment. This is a very crucial practice. I don't think that our society can get out of this violent situation, a situation of despair, without this kind of practice, protecting ourselves with a good environment because we are exposed to the kind of negative watering every day.

What we see, what we hear, what we eat, always water the seed of violence, the seed of despair, the seed of hate in us and in our children. That is why it's very urgent to do something collectively in order to change the situation. Not only educators, but parents, legislators, artists, have to come together in order to discuss the strategy that can help bring the kind of safe environment to us and to our children where we shall be protected from the negative watering of the seeds in us. The practice of transformation and healing could not be effective without this practice of seeking or creating a sane environment. When someone is sick, you have to bring him to a place where he or she can be treated and to heal.

Suppose someone has eaten something, drinking something, that give him or her diarrhea. The first thing is to advise that person to stop eating that, to stop drinking that. Then she will begin to eat and to drink the things that will not worsen the situation of her health and maybe some medicine is needed, but what is important is to prevent that person to continue eating and drinking the things that will worsen the situation. It's the same here. If the human person is affected by the poison of violence and anger and despair, if you want to help heal him or her, you have to bring him or her out of the situation where she continues to ingest the poisons of violence. This is very simple. This is very clear and this is not only the job of educators. Everyone has to participate to the work of creating safe environments for us and for our children.

Suppose you are a couple and you don't want to suffer. There are two things you might like to do. The first thing is to make a commitment to each other. Darling, I know that you love me and you want me to be happy and not to suffer. You know that I have the seed of anger, jealousy in me. If you really love me, please be careful not to water the seed of anger and jealousy in me every day, because, if you do, my jealousy, my anger, will manifest and I will suffer and I will make you suffer. I promise the same thing. I will not do anything to water the seed of anger and jealousy in me and I will promise not to water the seed of anger and jealousy in you. So as a couple, we have to protect each other. It means that we recognize that it had the seed of suffering in us and we make the vow not to water that seed in our everyday life. This is something we can do as a couple and that is our commitment to each other that is true love. If you love someone and if you continue to water the seed of anger or hatred and fear and jealousy in him or in her that's not true love.

So this is called the practice of positive watering. Darling, I know that you have the seed of compassion, talent, joy, forgiveness. You have these wonderful seeds. I make the vow to try to water these seeds every day. That is my practice so that you might become more and more beautiful, refreshing every day, that is not only for your sake, but is also for my sake. I promise. And I also promise that I will water the beautiful seeds in me, by reading, by listening, by touching the things that can water these good seeds in me. And we protect each other. This practice, if taken up, will transform the life of the couple in just a few days. And then the second thing for the couple to do is to sit for in a kind of environment where these good seeds have a chance to be watered and the bad seeds will have no chance to be watered. This is extremely important.

If you are sociologist, you are psychologist, if you are hopeless, if you are anxious, if you are having (inaudible) so nervous, you are tired of asking (inaudible) to relieve the suffering in the person, but if that person continue to ingest the toxins (inaudible) and then what you are doing is... there's not really much. You're tired to appease some symptoms, but the roots of the problem is always there. It's like many young people they took drugs and alcohol. They try to forbid the young people they don't [have] the right to buy alcohol. They trying to forbid people to import into the country even use helicopters, airplanes, army to suppress smuggling into the country a huge amount of drugs. And we put in prisons those who sell drugs. We like to put in prison those who sell drugs and youngsters who buy and use drugs, but that is only dealing with a symptom. The fact is that these people who consume drugs and alcohol, they have a great deal of suffering in them, goes by value, society, and (inaudible) and no one has (inaudible) and they will not know to handle (inaudible) drugs and alcohol will destroy them, but they have no alternative. That is why dealing with the roots is very important.

Many speak of law enforcement. There is in the police force a huge administration for the care of detentions and prisons. We try to suppress violence as symptoms, but we allow, at the same time we allow violence to be fed in our daily life, in our family, in our school, in our society. It does not mean much to try to suppress the symptoms. We have to deal with the roots and it's suppressing violence by violence. It does not make any sense because the person in charge of suppressing violence may have a lot of violence and fear and despair within himself or herself. That is why you have to reconsider the whole thing. You have to bring a special dimension to our way of working of solving problems. That does not mean that we have to be religious. We have our human nature. We have our animal nature. We have our Buddha nature, spiritual nature. It is possible that the human nature and the Buddha nature can live together with the hidden animal nature in peace. That is called civilization.

We still keep our animal nature, but it is in control. It doesn't have to suffer. We enjoy transformation and healing. And we have to organize our life, individual, family, institutional, social, in the light of that kind of insight. I don't like terrorism. I don't like people terrorize us, attacking us, killing us. You declare war on terrorism. We want to strike at terrorism. We want to use violence in order to deal with violence, to suppress violence. Every spiritual (word?) can tell you that using violence to suppress violence is not the right thing to do because it will never bring the result. The desire, to remove violence and terrorism, is a good desire. It is authentic, legitimate. But the means that we use in order to remove violence and terrorism should be effective. Otherwise, using violence, repressing violence to repress violence, you create more violence.

As psychotherapists, as teachers, as corrections officers, as police officers, we can see that. If we have some time to look, you realize that. Only understanding and compassion can neutralize violence. Violence only adds itself to violence and creates more hatred, more enemies, more terrorists. This is a fact. If you have one minute in order to look real deeply into the situation, you can see that. We are so busy with our daily life, we have allowed the situation to be like it is now, because the situation is a collective creation of our mind. We have voted for our Congress, we have voted for our governments, but we have not had time in order to help them, to support them, to offer them insight, and we leave everything to them.

Each of us should organize our life in such a way that we have the time to be there in the here and now. Touch the reality deeply and understand and get the insight. That insight is for us to live our life, but also a contribution to our society. The collective insight that we offer will serve as the light to lit the nation and the world out of this difficult situation. There are practices that help us to bring a relief to our anger, to our violence. Of course, we can do it. But if we allowed our body and our consciousness to continue to ingest more violence, then that practice can only ease the symptom for a few moments. And that is why we need to think nobly, to have a kind of intelligence, of planning, in order to really solve the problem at the roots.

And the practice of mindfulness can be represented in two aspects, mindfulness of consumption and mindfulness of transformation. First of all, I would say a few words about mindfulness of transformation (inaudible) of consumption. There is a seed to anger in our store consciousness. When that seed of anger is not watered, we are okay. We can smile, we can have a good time. But when the seed of anger in us is watered, we suffer because when it is watered, it manifests itself on the upper level of our consciousness called mind consciousness.

This is the seed of anger, this is the image of anger. In our tradition, we call it mental formation. In Buddhist psychology, we speak of 51 varieties of seeds and anger is just one kind of seed. When the seed of violence, of anger, is manifested as energy, we call it a mental formation, anger as a mental formation, anger as a seed. And when anger has become a mental formation, it is the kind of energy that make us suffer. And if you don't know how to handle, it will make our beloved ones suffer also. And the practice is that every time anger manifests, you have to invite some other seed to manifest to take care of anger and you usually invite the seed of mindfulness to come up.

Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. When you drink mindfully, there's mindfulness of drinking. The object of your mindfulness is drinking. When you walk mindfully, that is mindfulness of walking. When you look at things mindfully, whether they are the blue sky or the beautiful trees, it's called mindfulness of looking. But mindfulness is not only to be mindful of the positive things and the lovely things. When anger manifests, you practice mindfulness of anger. But I know anger is in me breathing out. I will carefully take good care of my anger. When you stop the traffic as the police officer to check whether there is a person holding a gun or not, you need mindfulness. But out of experience, you know that not everyone, not every car, has a terrorist inside. You might stop 1,000 cars and 999 cars are without terrorist. And if you only look for terrorists, that would be a pity.

If you are truly mindful, you can see the positive things and the negative things. If you exercise your duty in such a way that you are always looking for the negative, that's not good for your health. That's not good for the health of your society and your family. You who are trained police officers, you have to think about it. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. And when you practice mindfulness, you have an opportunity to get in touch with the wonderful, refreshing healing elements in yourself and in the world for your nourishing and transformation. If mindfulness only focus on the negative things, that would be a pity. But right mindfulness has the capacity of transforming the negative things and this is the case.

When anger manifests as a mental formation, it has the power to burn, to destroy. And if you don't know the practice of mindfulness, you allow yourself to be burned and to be destroyed by anger and other people who live around you will suffer also. That is why as a practitioner of mindfulness when you notice that anger is coming up, you have to do something right away. You have to act, not just react. You have to act inviting the seed of mindfulness to come up, breathing in, breathing out, making steps, generating the energy of mindfulness in order to take care of the anger that has manifested. When you breath in and out or you practice walking meditation, you generate the energy of mindfulness. Suppose you call the energy of anger energy number one? Then you can call the energy of mindfulness energy number two.

Energy number two manifests in order to take care of energy number one, not to fight. It's like a mother. The mother is working in the kitchen and she hear the baby crying. She's mindful, so she put anything that she is holding down and goes into the room of her baby. And the first thing she does is to pick up the baby and hold the baby tenderly into her arms. This is exactly what we do when the energy of anger come up. Our anger is our baby, our ailing baby. Our anger is us. The mother is not trying to suppress the baby because she know that her baby is her. The baby should be taken good care of. The practitioner knows that her anger is not her enemy. That is her suffering baby. She has to take good care of her baby. And how?

Using the energy of mindfulness in order to embrace your anger in a most tender way. Breathing in, I know that anger is in me. Breathing out, I am holding peacefully my anger. There are two kinds of energy present and you are safe. The energy of mindfulness continues to be generated by the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking and it begin to penetrate into the zone of energy number one. It's like in summer when you got into that room, it's so hot, the hot air, and you know what to do? You turn on the air conditioner. As soon as the air conditioner begin to function, it begin to send out waves of cool air and the cool air does not need to chase the hot air out. No, the cool air is coming and embracing tenderly the hot air and, 15 minutes later, the situation is different.

There's no fighting in this practice. Your anger is not your enemy. It's you. It's not good to do violence to yourself. Don't say that anger is evil and mindfulness is good and good has to fight evil. That might be true in some other tradition, but not in this tradition of mindfulness. The energy, the tenderness, of the mother begin to penetrate into the baby. The mother does not know what is the roots, the cause, of the suffering of the baby, but the fact that she is holding the baby tenderly can already bring it relief. The baby might just stop crying just because the baby feel better being embraced by the energy of tenderness. The baby got that relief.

You do the same when anger is there. You practice mindful breathing, generating the energy of mindfulness in order to embrace, recognize, anger and, five minutes, ten minutes later, you will get a relief. Anger is in control because the mother, the big sister, the big brother, is there to take care and the big sister, the big brother, is your mindfulness that you call mindfulness of anger. After having hold the baby for a few minutes, the mother always mindful will find out what is wrong with the baby. She is mindful, she is concentrated and mindfulness and concentration always bring insight and understanding. She find out what caused the baby to cry. The baby may have a little fever. The baby might be hungry or the diaper is a little bit too tight. I am not a mother.

[laughter]

So the example I offer might not be appropriate.

[laughter]

After having found the cause of the suffering of the baby, the mother can fix and change the situation very quickly. If the baby is hungry and a bottle of milk, some yogurt, if the diaper is too tight, she just change diaper and then both mother and the baby will be happy. As a practitioner, you do the same. If that is a minor irritation. A good practitioner should be able to embrace that irritation and to transform it in just a few minutes. If that is a more important energy of anger, the practitioner has to be more patient. She should continue to generate energy of mindfulness in order to embrace tenderly her anger. She can bring a relief, but she can do better with mindfulness and concentration. She can look deeply into the nature of her anger and find out the roots.

There is nothing that can survive without food. That is what the Buddha said, the Buddha as a teacher, not as a god. We quote the Buddha like we quote the Sukrat (inaudible). The Buddha is a human being. He had suffered a lot. He had practiced and was able to transform his suffering and was able to help many people. He didn't want us to worship him as a god at all. He commanded that. It is not necessary for people to become a Buddhist in order to practice mindfulness and to profit from the teaching of the Buddha. You don't have to be a Chinese in order to have the authorization to enjoy Chinese food.

[laughter]

There are many traditions of cooking that are wonderful. The Greek tradition, the French cooking, the Chinese cooking are really good. It would be a pity if you are committed only to eat the food of your country.

[laughter]

We have set up centers of practice of mindfulness that are entirely nonsectarian in America and in Europe. There's no incense burning, there's no Buddhist statue. Everyone coming from every tradition enjoy the practice because the practice of mindfulness can be entirely nonsectarian. The Buddha said nothing can survive without food. Your love, you have to feed your love. Otherwise, your love will die. You have to feed your love with the appropriate food. Otherwise, your love will turn into hatred very soon, maybe after two years or less.

Your depression also, if the depression has come to you because you have fed it, there's a seed of depression in you and you have lived in such a way in the last five or six months and, giving that seed of depression daily food, that is why the depression has come to you. And if you look deeply into the nature of your depression and identify the source of nutriment that you have used to feed it, you are already on the path of freedom. If you can identify the source of food for your depression, you lose track of the source of nutriments and a few months later, your depression will die. That is what the Buddha said. Literally he said what has come to be, what has come to be? Namely, illness, suffering, violence, despair. What has come to be?

If you know how to look into its nature and identify the source of nutriment that has brought it in, you are already on the path of emancipation. So if you notice that the block of fear, despair and violence in us have become so important, that is because you have been constantly fed the seed of violence, fear and anger in us. Stop feeding them, is our practice. If you don't stop feeding them, if you practice only to deal with the symptom, you don't go very far. That is why the practice of consumption is a very important. That has to go together with the practice of transformation. You are using mindfulness in order to embrace your anger, your violence, in order to bring a relief. You can get a relief, but if you are exposed to the kind of consumption that will continue to feed your violence, then you will not succeed completely in your practice. That is why mindfulness and consumption is very crucial for healing self, for healing family and society. There is a text left behind by Buddha about this, about consumption, about food. I have sent a copy of that text to the Department of Nutrition of Harvard University.

[laughter]

I asked them to study because there is always a Department of Nutrition in every university. And I think people who are responsible for the country, they have to meditate on this important subject, whether they are in the Congress, whether they are in the Department of Education or Nutrition or Defense. They have to look deeply into the matter, whether they are in the government. They also have to look deeply because this is a huge question, a huge problem of our society. But I would like to continue a little bit more with the practice of transformation before I go to the practice of consumption. Mindfulness can bring relief when the anger come up, when the pain come up. Mindfulness is to be there in order to recognize, to embrace and to bring you relief. This is our daily practice.

It will be better if anger and fear and despair will not show up on the upper level, while consciousness, life is more pleasant, but because we nurture them every day, we ingest the toxins of violence and fear and anger every day. That is why the seeds have become very strong and they push the door of mind consciousness and settle themselves in it. This talk consciousness is like the basement. Anything you don't want, we bring them there.

[laughter]

Everything beautiful we like, we display in — in our living room which is the mind consciousness. And it's not pleasant to have the things you don't want to come up into the living room ...

[laughter]

... our fear, our anger, our despair, our pain. That's why you practice a kind of battle. We lock the door. We don't want the fear, the pain, the anger to come up. And our practice is to fill up the living room with guests, to leave no room for the things in the basement to come up. That is the practice of the majority in our society. It's not pleasant to allow the pain, the sorrow, the fear to come up. That is why our policy as individuals and the policy of our government also very much alike. To ignore the real suffering within, to have our mind preoccupied with other issues so that we forget to deal with the real roots of our suffering. You do not forget that we have blocks of pain and sorrow and fear and violence. We lose ourselves in the practice of consumption. If we turn on the television, that is why. Why do we have to turn the television on? Even the programs are not interesting at all.

[laughter]

Many of the TV programs are mediocre, not worth spending our time, and yet we have to watch, because we want something to cover up the pain, the sorrow and the fear and the anger in us we don't want to come up. That is why we suppress them by consuming. There is some feeling of loneliness, fear, depression inside we don't want and that is why we practice consuming. We pick up newspaper. We open the radio. We turn on our television. We pick up the phone to talk. We take a car to have a drive. We do everything in order not to be — in order to avoid confronting ourselves, our real self, and this is the practice of running away. And what we consume continue to bring the toxins of violence, of fear, of anger into ourselves. And by practicing the embargo, we create a situation of mad circulation of our psyche. We don't allow our mental formation to circulate. We suppress our mental formations. We create a situation of bad circulation in our consciousness and that cause symptoms of depression, of mental illness.

We know that when the blood does not circulate well in our body, there will be a painful spot in our body. There will be headache, there's pain everywhere. That is why to do exercise, to massage, to help the blood circulate well, it will dissipate these symptoms of illness in our body. The same thing is true with our consciousness. If you block the mental formations you don't like by using consumption, then we create a situation of bad circulation in our psyche and symptoms of mental illness drop here and that is why it is very important to lift embargo, to allow the fear, the pain, the sorrow to come up and you can only do that if you are ready. Otherwise, you'll be overwhelmed by your suffering and that is the energy of mindfulness generated by your practice.

They are there to recognize, smile, to embrace and transform, but as you begin, your mindfulness is not strong enough and you risk being overwhelmed by the blocks of fear, anger and depression in you. That is why it is very important to borrow, to rely, on the collective energy of mindfulness of your community. It's much easier to practice in a community than to practice alone. Corrections officials, psychotherapists, teachers, police officers, have to know this. You can lose something enough to handle the fear, the anger, the violence in you, but if you do not have a community of practice, the practice will be more difficult. That is why some community building is extremely important. That is the only way out. That is our protection, our support.

Do your practice well. If you know how to sit, to be in the community, then the energy of mindfulness and concentration in you will be enough — powerful enough to do the work of recognizing, embracing and bringing relief to the suffering in you. And after having been embraced by mindfulness and get a relief, the energy of fear, of anger, of depression will roll back to the store consciousness and sit again, having lost some of its energy. You can see that after having taken a bath of mindfulness, the energy of anger and depression and fear lose a little bit of its power and, when they come back to their place in the store consciousness as a seed, they are a little bit weaker. But next time, when it manifests again, it will weaken the same kind of mindfulness bath. We are not afraid of the block of suffering in us because now we know how to handle them.

My dear little friends, my dear old friends, you are welcome to come up. I will offer you a bath of mindfulness so you'll feel better. And if you lift the embargo, if you allow the blocks of pain and sorrow and anger to come up and to be embraced tenderly by your mindfulness, you will have relief. And when they are free to circulate like this and then the symptoms of your mental illness will begin to disappear. Those of you who are in the field of psychotherapy have already known this. We have to apply the techniques to ourselves. We have to apply the practice to ourselves before we can help other people. How to handle the fear, the sorrow, the anger, the depression, the violence in us?

This is a very important thing. Parents have to learn how to do that if they really want to love their children. And by themselves, they teach children how to do it. Teachers have to know how to do this and they will set an example for their students. And psychotherapists, psychologists, have to learn how to do it. They will set an example for their patients. Doctors, nurses have to be able to do this before they can help their patients. I believe that corrections officers have to be able to do this to handle their loneliness, their suffering, their anger, before they can truly help the inmates in prison because they are there to be helped and not to be punished.

Suppose you are a corrections officer and you have to do your work from one in the morning until seven in the morning while your family, your wife, your children are sleeping and other officials are sleeping. The work can be very lonely, can be painful, can be depressing. And if you know the practice, you will be able to transform the seven hours of your work into something positive. Otherwise, you will suffer during the seven hours of service. Why do I have to be here at this time when everyone is sleeping? Why do I have to suffer alone? And suddenly, you become very unhappy. You don't see your future. You're overwhelmed with loneliness and fear. You begin to sweat, you begin to tremble and you don't know why.

Maybe if there is a revolt in the prison and you don't change your situation, you have to do something in order to respond to what is happening if the seed of fear come up and adrenalin in you is augmented, then you will get out of that kind of depression that goes on from one o'clock in the morning to seven o'clock in the morning, and the seven hours of being a guard like that can be very destructive, full of depression, full of fear, full of sadness, and that is not healthy at all, but someone has to do the job.

Then when you go home, everyone wake up to eat breakfast and will be ready to go to work and you begin to sleep. You might sleep most of the day and you may eat your dinner alone and you may spend the rest of the day just watching television and what kind of television that you are watching it can bring into you more depression, more anger, more violence, more craving. Then you're eating alone and maybe you want to go to sleep again and, when the time is close, you have to drag yourself out of bed to get ready to go in order to take your responsibility for one o'clock to seven o'clock. It's life. This kind of living, you cannot bear it and, if you continue, you'll destroy yourself, you'll destroy your family and your society.

There a number of things you can do. First of all, we have to change our way of thinking, of right thinking. If you behave as a victim, if you feel that you're a victim of the situation and that you cannot overcome your loneliness, your anger, your fear, your depression, you have to learn how to think positively and you don't need imagination. You can practice mindfulness in such a way that the time you spend at night become meaningful, nourishing and healing. You can live your 24 hours in such a way that understanding and compassion in you can be cultivated because, without these two elements, happiness and joy will not be possible. If you practice meditation, if you practice looking deeply, if you practice transformation and healing, you can do that.

And if you are supported by your colleagues in administration, if your colleagues in administration think the way you do and organize, then your life can become very, very meaningful, very joyful. Suppose you try to look at the inmate at the prison while sleeping and understand their suffering, their despair and you practice looking deeply to see how these people have come here and spend their time like this. They are making each other suffer. They inflict suffering on each other out of their ignorance, out of their anger and hatred. As an inmate, you are not free to go out to do the things you like. You are locked into prison. You suffer enough and you don't know how to handle your suffering. We inflict suffering on our inmates and you make decision worse. Hell is created by that kind of practice.

As a corrections officer sitting there, why don't you use your time to practice looking deeply? Is there anything you can do in order to help these people to suffer less? Is it possible for inmates in a prison to practice so that they can suffer less? So they can help each other in the practice of bringing hope and joy in their life in prison? Of course, the answer is positive. I have visited prisons and spent the day with prisoners. I can see the outcome of the visit. Many prisoners have said directly and has written to me that in prison they can practice joy. They can practice transformation and healing. They can help other inmates in prison and their life begin to have a meaning. As a corrections officer, you can do that. You can offer yourself as an agent of transformation and healing for your — for the inmates. You can offer yourself in order to transform the administration, of other colleagues in administration, and build a friendship, a brotherhood, in that.

There are many things you can do. Why don't you enjoy 15 minutes of walking meditation? Maybe you may begin your seven hours by 15 minutes of walking meditation touching the earth with your feet, touching the fresh air, the stars and to be aware that the windows of life are there for you and for other people. If you know the joy of walking meditation and then you can spend some time just enjoying walking to nourish your body, to nourish your mind and later on, as the corrections officer, you might talk to inmate in prison and share your practice, expressing your loving kindness, your intention to help him to suffer less, build human relationship. This is something that all of us can do.

Yesterday I told you about a nun who went to the prison and help the people in the prison practice mindful walking, mindful walking, mindful sitting, embracing their anger and so on. That is a Bodhisattva. As a corrections officer, you can become a Bodhisattva, helping your colleagues to suffer less and helping the inmates to suffer less and all of them become the object of your service. Your life has a meaning. You may like to spend 15 minutes of sitting meditation, now fully there, fully present for them, in your walking, in your sitting, and you do it for love not only for yourself, but for them also. Your presence here is very important. People need your presence. Your colleagues need you to be there and the inmate in prison need you to be there.

So practice right thinking and change the situation just by the way you think. You might read a book, you might listen to a talk that can water the seed of joy, understanding and compassion in you. There's something you can always do. You may like to learn more about art, about the mysteries of life, about civilization, because there is a thirst of learning, of understanding, of loving in every one of us. The deepest desire in every human being is to know more, to learn more and to be able to love. And during the seven hours of your service, you can cultivate and allow the need to understand and to love to be satisfied.

The seven hours can be very fulfilling, very beautiful if only you help and you know the way to do it. During the seven hours of service, you can cultivate your joy, your compassion, your understanding and then let joy, let understanding, let compassion you will offer for the transformation of your community, in the corrections department and you can bring to the life of the inmates. I don't know why a corrections officer could not talk friendly to inmate in prison and give him instruction how to enjoy mindful breathing, mindful walking. I have done it. I feel wonderful. I want to share it with you. A police officer can do that also. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something and the object of mindfulness can either positive or negative. If it is positive, you get the healing and the nourishment. If it is negative, it will help with transformation. When there is a joy in us, you become mindful to allow joy, mindfulness of joy. Mindfulness of joy help to bring the joy — to help — to help the joy to grow.

Suppose you are standing there as a group facing a beautiful sunset, a glorious sunset. A few of you are fully present, free enough from the past, from the future, and are capable of getting in touch with the beautiful sunset. But a few of you are preoccupied with worries and fear and anger. You cannot get in touch with the sunset for your joy, for your nourishment. So mindfulness help us to be free from the past, for the future, in order for us to get in touch with the wonderful, beautiful, refreshing and healing things for our transformation and healing. There are times we have to be mindful of other things, but there are times we can afford to focus our attention fully on the beautiful, on the refreshing and healing things.

When you terminate your service and go home, who prevent you or forbid you to enjoy walking meditation and touching the beauties around you and listen to the birds and contemplating the blue sky or the stars? Why do you have to maintain your fear, your anger, your depression all the time? As a psychotherapist, you have to practice the same. If you only talk about the difficulty, the illness, the despair, if you don't have the time to get in touch with the positive elements within you, around you and even in the person of your patient, of your guest, that would be a pity because in a person of your guest, there's suffering, there's depression, there's a fear, but there is also the capacity of joy — of being joyful, of being compassionate.

You, the therapist, can help touch the positive seeds in him or in her and, by talking to him or to her, by inviting him or her to take a cup of tea and to touch the wonders of life, you can help him or her restore her balance so that she can go home more light, more joyful. So mindfulness is always helping, whether the object of mindfulness is positive or negative. Anger, fear, is negative. Mindfulness holding anger and fear and giving anger and fear patience to be penetrated by the tenderness, by the attention, by the care and a chance to be transformed. Mindfulness is the energy that brings along, that carries within itself, the energy of concentration. And wherever there is mindfulness in concentration, there is insight.

If you live your life mindfully with concentration, you live every moment of your life deeply and you begin to understand deeply what is there that happened in the present moment and that is why insight is the outcome, the flower that bloom on the ground of mindfulness and concentration and insight is what that can liberate you. If you have insight and then even in prison you are free. You may enjoy the time being in prison. In prison, you don't have to work for a living. The government spend $35,000 for you every year and there are prisoners that have gotten enlightenment and who have been able to make use of their time in prison in order to heal and transform themselves, thanks to a number of friends that have been able to help them.

You as a corrections officer, you can be a Bodhisattva and your life will be filled with joy and hope. If you know how to bring understanding and compassion into you, you'll help transform our society and, first of all, you have transformed yourself and you have transformed your department, your community, your administration, and together you can bring relief and transformation into the life of the inmates. As a police officer, you can be a Bodhisattva, an enlightened being filled with understanding and compassion, capable of being joyful, capable of smiling, because you have peace within yourself.

A police officer is someone that is supposed to promote, to bring peace, a peace officer, because your duty is to maintain peace. This means the absence of conflict and violence and anger. And you should have peace within yourself in order to truly doing the work of peace. Doing peace is not possible without being peace and being peace is your practice, recognizing the violence, the fear, the anger in you, embracing them, transforming them, getting in touch with the wonderful things, healing, nourishing around you and in you for your nourishment and for the nourishment of your community and family. That should be your daily practice.

And you can be seen as a human being capable of loving, of understanding, of protecting, and that is the image of police officer you have to create. And this very important for us because we need to see you as a human being capable of being peaceful, of being lucid, of being understanding and compassionate and we trust you. If you act only on the basis of your fear, of your anger, we will not trust you and that is why the practice of peace is very important in a community of police officers, the corrections officers and among others, psychotherapists, a doctor, a teacher, should practice the same.

(Inaudible) that consume is called animal food. The practice is how to consume that it can maintain the health of our body and our consciousness. We eat in such a way that can maintain understanding and compassion in our body and in our mind. We eat in such a way that there will be peace in our body and in our consciousness and the Buddha told this story. A young couple who wanted to get out of the country to settle in a country where there is more freedom, they brought their little boy with them and half the way toward the desert they'd run out of food and they knew that they were going to die, the three of them.

So they made a terrible dramatic decision, killing the little boy and eat a mouthful of the flesh of the boy every day with the hope of getting out of desert to go another country. So they killed the little boy and each of them ate a morsel of the flesh and hanged the rest of the body on their shoulder to dry for the next day. And after having eaten a morsel of the flesh, they cried. Oh, our dear little boy, where are you now? Why do we have to kill you in order to eat like this? It's horrible. And the boy is already dead. Finally, they got out of the desert and settled in that new country.

And then the Buddha turned around and looked at his monks and said, my dear friends, do you think that the couple enjoyed eating the flesh of their son? The monks said, no, Lord, no, teacher, it's not possible to enjoy eating the flesh of our own son or daughter. The Buddha said, let us eat in such a way to preserve compassion in us. Let us not eat the flesh of our own son or daughter. This body has been transmitted to us by our parents. If we don't eat mindfully, you bring a lot of poisons, toxins, conflicts, war into our body. If you use drugs, alcohol, a lot of cholesterol, you destroy it. And with such a body, you cannot transmit the healthy body to our children. We are eating the flesh of our parents. We are eating the flesh of our children. The way we grow our food, the way we raise our stock, our cattle to eat might be very violent. We destroy a lot of forest land. We pollute a lot of the water just by making meat and the meat we eat may contain a lot of anger and violence.

Imagine a chicken that is raised in a cage like this. In modern chicken farms, each chicken has only one space like this like a box and in the whole life of chicken, where the chicken has to live, there another two lay eggs and finally to be killed for the meat. The chicken are so angry that, if there's a chance, it will attack the next chicken by its beak and that's why they practice this cutting off the point of the beak of chicken. Imagine you eat a piece of chicken like that. Every cell of the chicken contains anger and despair. How do we raise our calf cows? When the calf is born from the cow, they take it away from the cow and the calf never know the joy of drinking the milk from its mother. They raise the calf in a space like this. The calf cannot run and play like in the old time. It has to stay in just one place. 100 days later, it will be killed for meat.

If we look deeply, we see that we have caused a lot of suffering around us just by eating, by the way you consume. Every time you drink a glass of alcohol, if you look deeply, you can see the amount of grain that has been used to make that glass of alcohol. Countless people die every day because they don't have the food. UNESCO reported that every day 40,000 children die because of a lack of food or lack of nutrition and yet we still eat our meat and drink our liquor. In order to produce a piece of meat, you have to use a lot of brains, and eating your meat like that, drinking your alcohol like that, is no different from eating the flesh of your own son and daughter.

Who are they, the 40,000 children who die every day? Maybe they are not our children. Who are they? We are ruining our planet by the way of eating. We are bringing a lot of toxins into our body and into the body of our family and that is why practice in mindful eating is a very important. It is a great joy, a great fortune for those of us who have no opportunity not to have to eat the flesh of animals. You who are not vegetarian, you might like to reduce your eating of meat by 50%. And it is said that if hunters of the west can reduce the meat-eating by 50%, it can already change the situation in the world concerning our starvation. I guessed, practicing as a monk, I don't eat meat, I don't drink alcohol, I don't smoke and I don't suffer at all. I keep my body healthy.

I think as parents, you can practice that mindful consumption, mindful eating, and you in the corrections service, in the police service and health service, you might like to practice that because your way of eating, your way of consuming is your way of teaching. We should eat in such a way that allow others to have a chance to live, that allow our children to have a future and this is something possible and we don't have to suffer at all by mindful eating. In fact, we bring into ourselves a lot of joy, a lot of compassion, a lot of understanding that will be the foundation of happiness. A person, who has no compassion left, cannot relate to other human beings, extremely lonely, cannot be happy at all. That is why to cultivate compassion is a very important practice for happiness.

The second kind of food that Buddha talk about is sensory impressions, what we hear, what we see, what we feel, what we think, is the source of food we consume. When you drive toward a city, you consume. There are advertisements, there are noises and even if you don't want to consume, you consume anyway. When you watch television, you consume. When you read newspaper, you consume. When you listen to music, you consume. And items of your consumption may bring a lot of toxins and poisons and war and depression into your body and into your consciousness. Sensory impressions, just listening to a conversation full of hate, full of fear, full of pessimism is consumption that bring into your consciousness the element of hate, of fear, of anger. That's not good for your health. That's not good for your children.

That is why protecting one's self, not to allow these items of consumption to penetrate into our body, our family, our society is very important. How many hours? How many scenes of violence our children witness by watching television? When they grow up as 10-year-old person, they watch many thousands of scenes of murder, violence, and all of that are preserved in their consciousness. We are lonely. If you are alone, you don't feel root. You want to forget our loneliness — you been by consuming. You consume newspaper, you consume magazines, you consume television and we know that we need to consume and that is why they continue to produce what we need. And we destroy ourselves just by consuming and they are getting richer and richer by selling their products.

I have talked to a number of Congressmen about this. Is it possible for the Congress to make a kind of law forbidding the production of films and magazines and books that contain so much craving and violence and fear? These Congressmen I talked to, they are about to see the truth, but they're not strong enough in order to express themselves daily. They are afraid of losing voters. They say that, well, we are a free country and, in the name of freedom, it is in the Constitution. They feel they are free to produce as artists, as filmmakers and so on. We have to look deeply because the Constitution is a product of our collective insight. We can always improve our legislation. The Congress is there in order to do that job.

Freedom should be understood in such a way that can protect us, protect our family and society. We are not free to kill. We are not free to poison people with your products. You have to be responsible for your society. If you feel that you are free to produce this kind of items that bring a lot of toxins and violence and craving into the body and the consciousness of the people, especially of the younger generation, you are destroying us. You are destroying the future. You act on the basis of your craving. You want power, you want wealth, you want fame and you destroyed us. You are not responsible for the well-being of the people and that is why true freedom has to rule together with responsibility. We have a Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. We have to build a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast.

[laughter]

And these two elements are not contradicting each other. It is our sense of responsibility that will protect us and protect our freedom. When we are involved in drugs and alcohol, we lose our freedom. We are no longer free. We are caught. The Buddha used this image. There is a cow who has skin disease so serious that she doesn't seem to have any skin anymore. She's exposed to all kind of attacks. When the cow lie down, all the living creatures in the dust come up and suck the blood of the cow. When you bring the cow close to an ancient tree, the tiny creatures that live in the bark of a tree will come out and suck the blood and when you bring the cow close to an ancient world, the tiny creatures will fly out and fix themselves on the cow and suck the blood. The cow has no protection.

We are also like that. If you do not practice mindfulness, then we will be assaulted by the many, many things to devour our six sense organs, namely eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and consciousness. And thinking full of violence, full of hatred, full of anger that can be seen in newspaper, books, radio, television, have a destructive nature, and if you allow ourselves to consume that kind of thinking, you become violent and fearful by ourselves.

That is why you have to practice mindfulness, concentration, to have our own thinking which is in that right direction called right thinking, the thinking that goes along with insight, understanding and compassion and not allow the thinking of other people to intoxicate us. Repressing violence by violence, striking against terror, using violent means in order to suppress violence that is wrong thinking. It will not solve our problem, the problem of our society. It will make the situation worse and worse. We have to wake up to that reality. We have to change our thinking. Only — only compassionate dialog, only listening — listening deeply to each other, only helping each other to remove wrong perception that they can remove hatred and violence and anger that are a product of wrong perceptions. We will continue this tomorrow.

[Gong]

Share Episode

Shortened URL

Voices on the Radio

is a Vietnamese Zen monk, poet, and peacemaker. He cofounded the An Quang Buddhist Institute, the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Vietnam, and Plum Village, a Buddhist training monastery in France. He is the author of many books, including Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation, and Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals 1962–1966.
photo by Paul Davis

is co-director of the Lotus Institute in Encinitas, California and an ordained Baptist minister. He also owned a management consultant firm for Fortune 500 companies.

is a licensed attorney and consultant on justice and community corrections. She was ordained as a dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2008.

apples