Sep 5, 2007

we are our ancestors

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

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


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

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

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

Thich Nhat Hanh, excerpt from We are our Ancestors and The Sutra on Measuring and Reflecting, Dharma Talk given at 26th of March 1998, New Hamlet, Plum Village, France.

To read the entire talk please refer to:

Photo: The Royal Cloister (Claustro Real) in the Batalha Monastery, Portugal © Antonio Sacchetti

Sep 1, 2007

dissolve among things

When I ask Phap An about the meaning of love, he says, “When your eyes are open, the love happens. Love is a state of mind where you are very bright, very clear. There is connectivity between you and the rest of the universe. It is a source of energy that makes you dissolve among things. Slowly a process of opening begins, your mind begins to expand, and you begin to see things much more clearly. You hear the sound of bird chirping and you see the green on the bamboo. You feel a lot of energy to be alive. That is love. It gives you the energy to serve. You feel your life is very wonderful. That is spiritual love.”

I love asking about love, now that I’m in love. I ask Sister Chan Khong what love is, and her response is so beautiful I am in tears. She speaks from such a deep place of knowing, with a sweet, soft, strong voice. Sweet as a flower and strong as a lion. She says that we need to love a person the way we love a tree – not just the surface, not just the branches or the trunk, but also the roots. We need to know all of them – their ancestors, their family, their friends, their dreams. This is all part of who they are. What is it that really matters to them? A lover always offers joy and eases suffering.

Excerpt from I Am Home by Velcrow Ripper, who reports on Thich Nhat Hanh’s historic second trip home to Vietnam, in 2007. To read the entire text please refer to:

Photo: Sister Chan Kong in a school at Buong Dang, Vietnam, March 5th 2007 ©David Nelson

Photos taken by David Nelson can be seen on