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Right Mindfulness

Right Mindfulness (samyak smriti) is at the
heart of the Buddha's teachings. Traditionally,
Right Mindfulness is the seventh on the path of
eight right practices, but it is presented here third
to emphasize its great importance. When Right
Mindfulness is present, the Four Noble Truths and
the seven other elements of the Eightfold Path are
also present. When we are mindful, our thinking is
Right Thinking, our speech is Right Speech, and so
on. Right Mindfulness is the energy that brings us
back to the present moment. To cultivate
mindfulness in ourselves is to cultivate the Buddha
within, to cultivate the Holy Spirit.

According to Buddhist psychology
(abhidharma, "super Dharma"), the trait
"attention" (manaskara) is "universal," which
means we are always giving our attention to
something. Our attention may be "appropriate"
(yoniso manaskara), as when we dwell fully in the
present moment, or inappropriate (ayoniso
manaskara), as when we are attentive to
something that takes us away from being here and
now. A good gardener knows the way to grow
flowers from compost. Right Mindfulness accepts
everything without judging or reacting. It is
inclusive and loving. The practice is to find ways
to sustain appropriate attention throughout the

The Sanskrit word for mindfulness, smriti,
means "remember." Mindfulness is remembering to
come back to the present moment. The character
the Chinese use for "mindfulness" has two
parts: the upper part means "now," and the lower
part means "mind" or "heart." The First Miracle of
Mindfulness is to be present and able to touch
deeply the blue sky, the flower, and the smile of
our child.

The Second Miracle of Mindfulness is to make
the other — the sky, the flower, our child —
present, also. In the Vietnamese epic poem Tale of
Kieu, Kieu returns to the apartment of her beloved,
Kim Trong, and finds him fast asleep at his desk,
his head resting on a pile of books. Kim Trong
hears Kieu's footsteps, but, not quite awake, he
asks, "Are you really there, or am I dreaming?"
Kieu replies, "Now we have the opportunity to
see each other clearly. But if we do not live deeply
this moment, it will be only a dream." You and
your loved one are here together. You have the
chance to see each other deeply. But if you are not
fully present, everything will be like a dream.

The Third Miracle of Mindfulness is to nourish
the object of your attention. When was the last
time you looked into the eyes of your beloved and
asked, 'Who are you, my darling?" Don't be
satisfied by a superficial answer. Ask again: "Who
are you who has taken my suffering as your
suffering, my happiness as your happiness, my
life and death as your life and death? My love,
why aren't you a dewdrop, a butterfly, a bird?"
Ask with your whole being. If you do not give
right attention to the one you love, it is a kind of
killing. When you are in the car together, if you are
lost in your thoughts, assuming you already know
everything about her, she will slowly die. But with
mindfulness, your attention will water the wilting
flower. "I know you are here, beside me, and it
makes me very happy." With attention, you will
be able to discover many new and wonderful things
— her joys, her hidden talents, her deepest
aspirations. If you do not practice appropriate
attention, how can you say you love her?

The Fourth Miracle of Mindfulness is to relieve
the other's suffering. "I know you are suffering.
That is why I am here for you." You can say this
with words or just by the way you look at her. If
you are not truly present, if you are thinking about
other things, the miracle of relieving suffering
cannot be realized. In difficult moments, if you
have a friend who can be truly present with you,
you know you are blessed. To love means to
nourish the other with appropriate attention.
When you practice Right Mindfulness, you make
yourself and the other person present at the same
time. "Darling, I know you are there. Your
presence is precious to me." If you do not express
this while you are together, when she passes away
or has an accident, you will only cry, because
before the accident happened, you did not know
how to be truly happy together.

When someone is about to die, if you sit with
him stably and solidly, that alone may be enough
to help him leave this life with ease. Your presence
is like a mantra, sacred speech that has a
transforming effect. When your body, speech, and
mind are in perfect oneness, that mantra will have
an effect even before you utter a word. The first
four miracles of mindfulness belong to the first
aspect of meditation, shamatha — stopping,
calming, resting, and healing. Once you have
calmed yourself and stopped being dispersed, your
mind will be one-pointed and you will be ready to
begin looking deeply.

The Fifth Miracle of Mindfulness is looking
deeply (vipashyana), which is also the second
aspect of meditation. Because you are calm and
concentrated, you are really there for deep looking.
You shine the light of mindfulness on the object of
your attention, and at the same time you shine the
light of mindfulness on yourself. You observe the
object of your attention and you also see your own
storehouse full of precious gems.

The Sixth Miracle of Mindfulness is
understanding. When we understand something,
often we say, "I see." We see something we hadn't
seen before. Seeing and understanding come from
within us. When we are mindful, touching deeply
the present moment, we can see and listen deeply,
and the fruits are always understanding,
acceptance, love, and the desire to relieve suffering
and bring joy. Understanding is the very
foundation of love. When you understand
someone, you cannot help but love him or her.

The Seventh Miracle of Mindfulness is
transformation. When we practice Right
Mindfulness, we touch the healing and refreshing
elements of life and begin to transform our own
suffering and the suffering of the world. We want
to overcome a habit, such as smoking, for the
health of our body and mind. When we begin the
practice, our habit energy is still stronger than our
mindfulness, so we don't expect to stop smoking
overnight. We only have to know that we are
smoking when we are smoking. As we continue to
practice, looking deeply and seeing the effects that
smoking has on our body, mind, family, and
community, we become determined to stop. It is
not easy, but the practice of mindfulness helps us
see the desire and the effects clearly, and
eventually we will find a way to stop. Sangha is
important. One man who came to Plum Village had
been trying to stop smoking for years, but he
couldn't. At Plum Village, he stopped his first day,
because the group energy was so strong. "No one
is smoking here. Why should I?" It can take years
to transform a habit energy, but when we do, we
stop the wheel of samsara, the vicious cycle of
suffering and confusion that has gone on for so
many lifetimes.

Practicing the Seven Miracles of Mindfulness
helps us lead a happy and healthy life,
transforming suffering and bringing forth peace,
joy, and freedom.

In the Discourse on the Four Establishments of
Mindfulness (Satipatthana Sutta), the Buddha
offers four objects for our mindfulness practice:
our body, our feelings, our mind, and the objects of
our mind. Monks and nuns in many Buddhist
countries memorize this discourse, and it is the text
that is read to them as they leave this life. It is
helpful to read the Discourse on the Four
Establishments of Mindfulness at least once a week,
along with the Discourse on the Full Awareness of
Breathing and the Discourse on Knowing the
Better Way to Live Alone.' You might like to keep
these three books by your bedside and take them
with you when you travel.

The Four Establishments of Mindfulness are
the foundation of our dwelling place. Without
them, our house is abandoned; no one is sweeping,
dusting, or tidying up. Our body becomes
unkempt, our feelings full of suffering, and our
mind a heap of afflictions. When we are truly
home, our body, mind, and feelings will be a place
of refuge for ourselves and others.

The first establishment is "mindfulness of the
body in the body." Many people hate their bodies.
They feel their body is an obstacle, and they want
to mistreat it. When Sister Jina, a nun at Plum
Village, teaches yoga, she always begins by saying,
"Let us be aware of our bodies. Breathing in, I
know I am standing here in my body. Breathing
out, I smile to my body." Practicing this way, we
renew our acquaintance with our body and make
peace with it. In the Kayagatasati Sutta, the
Buddha offers methods to help us know what is
happening in our body. We observe
nondualistically, fully in our body even as we
observe it. We begin by noting all of our body's
positions and movements. When we sit, we know
we are sitting. When we stand, walk, or lie down
we know we are standing, walking, or lying down.
When we practice this way, mindfulness is there.
This practice is called "mere fgnition."

The second way the Buddha taught us to
practice mindfulness of the body in the body is to
recognize all of our body's parts, from the top of
our head to the soles of our feet. If we have blonde
hair, we recognize and smile to that. If we have
gray hair, we recognize and smile to that. We
observe whether our forehead is relaxed and
whether it has wrinkles. With our mindfulness, we
touch our nose, mouth, arms, heart, lungs, blood,
and so on. The Buddha described the practice of
recognizing thirty-two parts of our body as being
like a farmer who goes up to his loft; brings down a
large bag of beans, grains, and seeds; puts the bag
on the ground; opens it; and, as the contents fall
onto the floor, recognizes rice as rice, beans as
beans, sesame as sesame, and so on. In this way,
we recognize our eyes as our eyes and our lungs as
our lungs. We can practice this during sitting
meditation or while lying down. Scanning our body
with our mindfulness in this way might take half
an hour. As we observe each part of our body, we
smile to it. The love and care of this meditation can
do the work of healing.

The third method the Buddha offered for
practicing mindfulness of the body in the body is
to see the elements that it is made of: earth, water,
fire, and air. "Breathing in, I see the earth element
in me. Breathing out, I smile to the earth element in
me." "Earth element" refers to things that are solid.
When we see the earth element inside and outside
of us, we realize that there is really no boundary
between us and the rest of the universe. Next, we
recognize the water element inside and outside of
us. "Breathing in, I am aware of the element of
water in my body." We meditate on the fact that
our body is more than seventy percent water.
After that, we recognize the fire element, which
means heat, inside and outside of us. For life to be
possible, there must be heat. Practicing this, we see
over and over that the elements inside and outside
our body belong to the same reality, and we are no
longer confined by our body. We are everywhere.
The fourth element of our body is air. The best
way to experience the air element is the practice of
mindful breathing. "Breathing in, I know I am
breathing in. Breathing out, I know I am breathing
out." After saying these sentences, we can
abbreviate them by saying "In" as we breath in,
and "Out" as we breath out. We don't try to
control our breathing. Whether our in-breath is long
or short, deep or shallow, we just breathe naturally
and shine the light of mindfulness on it. When we
do this, we notice that, in fact, our breathing does
become slower and deeper naturally. "Breathing in,
my in-breath has become deep. Breathing out, my
out-breath has become slow." Now we can
practice, "Deep/slow." We don't have to make an
effort. It just becomes deeper and slower by itself,
and we recognize that.

Later on, you will notice that you have become
calmer and more at ease. "Breathing in, I feel calm.
Breathing out, I feel at ease. I am not struggling
anymore. Calm/ease." And then, "Breathing in, I
smile. Breathing out, I release all my worries and
anxieties. Smile/release." We are able to smile to
ourselves and release all our worries. There are
more than three hundred muscles in our face, and
when we know how to breath in and smile, these
muscles can relax. This is "mouth yoga." We smile
and we are able to release all of our feelings and
emotions. The last practice is, "Breathing in, I
dwell deeply in the present moment. Breathing
out, I know this is a wonderful moment. Present
moment/wonderful moment." Nothing is more
precious than being in the present moment, fully
alive and fully aware.

In, out
Deep, slow
Calm, ease
Smile, release
Present moment, wonderful moment

If you use this poem during sitting or walking
meditation, it can be very nourishing and healing.
Practice each line for as long as you wish.
Another practice to help us be aware of our
breathing is counting. As you breathe in, count
"one," and as you breathe out, count "one" again.
Then "Two/two," "Three/three," until you arrive at
ten. After that, go back in the other direction:
"Ten/ten," "Nine/nine," and so on, until you arrive
back at one. If you don't get lost, you know that
you have good concentration. If you do get lost, go
back to "one," and begin again. Relax. It's only a
game. When you succeed in counting, you can drop
the numbers if you like and just say "in" and "out."
Conscious breathing is a joy. When I discovered
the Discourse on the Full Awareness of Breathing,
I felt I was the happiest person on Earth. These
exercises have been transmitted to us by a
community that has been practicing them for 2,600

The second establishment is mindfulness of the
feelings in the feelings. The Abhidharma authors
listed fifty-one kinds of mental formations.
Feelings (vedana) is one of them. In us, there is a
river of feelings in which every drop of water is a
different feeling. To observe our feelings, we just
sit on the riverbank and identify each feeling as it
flows by and disappears. Feelings are either
pleasant, unpleasant, or neutral.

When we have a pleasant feeling, we may have
a tendency to cling to it, and when we have an
unpleasant feeling, we may be inclined to chase it
away. But it is more effective in both cases to
return to our breathing and simply observe the
feeling, identifying it silently: "Breathing in, I
know a pleasant (or unpleasant) feeling is in me.
Breathing out, I know there is a pleasant (or
unpleasant) feeling in me." Calling a feeling by its
name, such as "joy," "happiness," "anger," or
"sorrow," helps us identify and see it deeply.
Within a fraction of a second, many feelings can

If our breathing is light and calm — a natural
result of conscious breathing — our mind and body
will slowly become light, calm, and clear, and our
feelings also. Our feelings are not separate from us
or caused just by something outside of us. Our
feelings are us, and, for that moment, we are those
feelings. We needn't be intoxicated or terrorized by
them, nor do we need to reject them. The practice
of not clinging to or rejecting feelings is an
important part of meditation. If we face our
feelings with care, affection, and nonviolence, we
can transform them into a kind of energy that is
healthy and nourishing. When a feeling arises,
Right Mindfulness identifies it, simply recognizes
what is there and whether it is pleasant,
unpleasant, or neutral. Right Mindfulness is like a
mother. When her child is sweet, she loves him,
and when her child is crying, she still loves him.
Everything that takes place in our body and our
mind needs to be looked after equally. We don't
fight. We say hello to our feeling so we can get to
know each other better. Then, the next time that
feeling arises, we will be able to greet it even more

We can embrace all of our feelings, even difficult
ones like anger. Anger is a fire burning inside us,
filling our whole being with smoke. When we are
angry, we need to calm ourselves: "Breathing in, I
calm my anger. Breathing out, I take care of my
anger." As soon as a mother takes her crying baby
into her arms, the baby already feels some relief.
When we embrace our anger with Right
Mindfulness, we suffer less right away.

We all have difficult emotions, but if we allow
them to dominate us, we will become depleted.
Emotions become strong when we do not know
how to look after them. When our feelings are
stronger than our mindfulness, we suffer. But if we
practice conscious breathing day after day,
mindfulness will become a habit. Don't wait to
begin to practice until you are overwhelmed by a
feeling. It may be too late.

The third establishment is mindfulness of the
mind (chitta) in the mind. To be aware of the mind
is to be aware of the mental formations (chitta
samskara). "Formations" (samskara) is a technical
term in Buddhism. Anything that is "formed,"
anything that is made of something else, is a
formation. A flower is a formation. Our anger is a
formation, a mental formation. Some mental
formations are present all the time and are called
"universal" (contact, attention, feeling, perception,
and volition). Some arise only under particular
circumstances (zeal, determination, mindfulness,
concentration, and wisdom). Some are uplifting and
help us transform our suffering (wholesome, or
beneficial, mental formations), and others are
heavy and imprison us in our suffering
(unwholesome, or unbeneficial, mental formations).

There are mental formations that are sometimes
wholesome and sometimes unwholesome, such as
sleepiness, regret, initial thinking, and developing
thought. When our body and mind need rest, sleep
is wholesome. But if we sleep all the time, it can be
unwholesome. If we hurt someone and regret it,
that regret is wholesome. But if our regret leads to
a guilt complex that colors whatever we do in the
future, that regret can be called unwholesome.
When our thinking helps us see clearly, it is
beneficial. But if our mind is scattered in all
directions, that thinking is unbeneficial.
There are many beautiful aspects of our
consciousness, like faith, humility, self-respect,
non-craving, non-anger, non-ignorance, diligence,
ease, care, equanimity, and nonviolence.

Unwholesome mental formations, on the other
hand, are like a tangled ball of string. When we try
to untangle it, we only wind it around ourselves
until we cannot move. These mental formations are
sometimes called afflictions (kleshas), because they
bring pain to ourselves and others. Sometimes they
are called obscurations because they confuse us
and make us lose our way. Sometimes they are
called leaks or setbacks (ashrava), because they are
like a cracked vase. The basic unwholesome mental
formations are greed, hatred, ignorance, pride,
doubt, and views. The secondary unwholesome
mental formations, arising from the basic ones, are
anger, malice, hypocrisy, malevolence, jealousy,
selfishness, deception, guile, unwholesome
excitement, the wish to harm, immodesty,
arrogance, dullness, agitation, lack of faith,
indolence, carelessness, forgetfulness, distraction,
and lack of attention. According to the Vijñanavada
School of Buddhism, altogether there are fifty-one
kinds of mental formations, including feelings.
Since feelings is, by itself, the second
establishment of mindfulness, the other fifty fall
into the category of the third establishment of

Every time a mental formation arises, we can
practice mere recognition. When we are agitated,
we just say, "I am agitated," and mindfulness is
already there. Until we recognize agitation as
agitation, it will push us around and we will not
know what is going on or why. To practice
mindfulness of the mind does not mean not to be
agitated. It means that when we are agitated, we
know that we are agitated. Our agitation has a good
friend in us, and that is mindfulness.

Even before agitation manifests in our mind
consciousness, it is already in our store
consciousness in the form of a seed. All mental
formations lie in our store consciousness in the
form of seeds. Something someone does may water
the seed of agitation, and then agitation manifests
in our mind consciousness. Every mental formation
that manifests needs to be recognized. If it is
wholesome, mindfulness will cultivate it. If it is
unwholesome, mindfulness will encourage it to
return to our store consciousness and remain there,

We may think that our agitation is ours alone,
but if we look carefully, we'll see that it is our
inheritance from our whole society and many
generations of our ancestors. Individual
consciousness is made of the collective
consciousness, and the collective consciousness is
made of individual consciousnesses. They cannot
be separated. Looking deeply into our individual
consciousness, we touch the collective
consciousness. Our ideas of beauty, goodness, and
happiness, for example, are also the ideas of our
society. Every winter, fashion designers show us
the fashions for the coming spring, and we look at
their creations through the lens of our collective
consciousness. When we buy a fashionable dress,
it is because we see with the eyes of the collective
consciousness. Someone who lives deep in the
upper Amazon would not spend that amount of
money to buy such a dress. She would not see it as
beautiful at all. When we produce a literary work,
we produce it with both our collective
consciousness and our individual consciousness.

We usually describe mind consciousness and
store consciousness as two different things, but
store consciousness is just mind consciousness at a
deeper level. If we look carefully at our mental
formations, we can see their roots in our store
consciousness. Mindfulness helps us look deeply
into the depths of our consciousness. Every time
one of the fifty-one mental formations arises, we
acknowledge its presence, look deeply into it, and
see its nature of impermanence and interbeing.
When we practice this, we are liberated from fear,
sorrow, and the fires burning inside us. When
mindfulness embraces our joy, our sadness, and all
our other mental formations, sooner or later we
will see their deep roots. With every mindful step
and every mindful breath, we see the roots of our
mental formations. Mindfulness shines its light
upon them and helps them to transform.
The fourth establishment is mindfulness of
p h e n o m e n a (dharmas) in phenomena.
"Phenomena" means "the objects of our mind."
Each of our mental formations has to have an
object. If you are angry, you have to be angry at
someone or something, and that person or thing
can be called the object of your mind. When you
remember someone or something, that is the object
of your mind. There are fifty-one kinds of mental
formations, so there are fifty-one kinds of objects
of mind.

When we are attentive to a bird singing, that
sound is the object of our mind. When our eyes see
the blue sky, this is the object of our mind. When
we look at a candle, an idea or image of the candle
arises in our mind. That object of perception is a
s i gn (lakshana). In Chinese, the character for
perception is composed of the ideograms for
sign and mind. A perception is a sign, an image in
our mind.

"Investigation of dharmas" (dharmapravichaya)
is one of the Seven Factors of
Awakening (bodhyanga).' When observing
dharmas, five kinds of meditation can help us calm
our minds: (1) counting the breath, (2) observing
interdependent arising, (3) observing impurity, (4)
observing with love and compassion,7 and (5)
observing the different realms.

The Pure Land School replaces this
meditation with contemplating Amida Buddha. In
fact, when we contemplate Amida Buddha, we are
ob serving with love and compassion, because any
Buddha is an embodiment of love and compassion.
What does Buddhanusmriti, "mindfulness of Bud
dha," mean? What does it mean to recite the name
of the Buddha? It means to invite someone
precious to come into our living room. Every mo
ment that the Buddha seed is in our mind
consciousness, it plants seeds of love and
understanding. If we invite Mara in, it will not
plant those seeds. Mindfulness means, above all,
remembering the Buddha nature that is in us.

What are the different realms? First, there are
the Eighteen Elements (dhatus): eyes, forms (the
objects of our vision), and the consciousness that
makes sight possible, which we can call eyeconsciousness;
ears, sound, and the consciousness
connected with hearing; nose, smell, and the
consciousness connected with smelling; tongue,
taste, and the consciousness connected with
tasting; body, touch, and the consciousness
connected with touching; mind, the object of mind,
and mind-consciousness. These Eighteen Elements
make the existence of the universe possible. If we
look deeply into the Eighteen Elements and see
their substance and their source, we will be able to
go beyond ignorance and fears.

In the Discourse on the Many Realms
(Bahudhatuka Sutta), the Buddha taught that all
our anxieties and difficulties come from our
inability to see the true face, or true sign of things,
which means that although we see their
appearance, we fail to recognize their impermanent
and interbeing nature. If we are afraid or insecure,
at the root of our fear or insecurity is that we have
not yet seen the true face of all dharmas. If we
investigate and look deeply into the Eighteen
Elements, we can transform our ignorance and
overcome fear and insecurity.

One day during sitting meditation, the
Venerable Ananda realized that all anxieties, fears,
and misfortunes arise because we do not
understand the true nature of physical and
p sy chological phenomena. Later, he asked the
Buddha if this was correct, and the Buddha said
yes, first explaining the need to penetrate the
Eighteen Elements.

Ananda then asked, "Is it possible to penetrate
the Eighteen Elements in another way?" and the
Buddha replied, "Yes, we can say that there are Six
Elements." These are the Four Great Elements
(mahabhuta) of earth, water, fire, and air, plus
space and consciousness. All physical phenomena
are made up of these Six Elements. If we observe
these Six Elements inside us and around us, we see
that we are not separate from the universe. This
insight frees us from the idea of birth and death.

The Buddha then taught Ananda the Six Realms
— hap p iness (sukha), suffering (dukkha), joy
(mudita) anxiety (Pali: domanassa), letting go
(upeksha), and ignorance (avidya). Happiness can
be true happiness or deception, so we have to look
into its substance and go beyond attachment. True
happiness will be of benefit and nourish ourselves
and others. Deceptive happiness brings temporary
pleasure and helps us forget our suffering, but is
not of lasting benefit and can actually be harmful,
like a cigarette or a glass of wine. When something
causes us to suffer, if we look deeply into it, we
may see that it is exactly what we need to restore
our happiness. In fact, suffering is essential for
happiness. We have to know the suffering of being
too cold to enjoy and appreciate being warm. If we
look deeply into the realm of joy, we can see
whether it is authentic or whether it is just
covering up our suffering and anxiety. Anxiety, the
illness of our time, comes primarily from our
inability to dwell in the present moment.
Letting go is an ongoing practice, one that can
bring us a lot of happiness. When a Vietnamese
woman who escaped her country by boat was
robbed on the high seas of all her gold, she was so
distraught that she contemplated suicide. But on
shore, she met a man who had been robbed of even
his clothes, and it helped her very much to see him
smiling. He had truly let go. Letting go gives us
freedom, and freedom is the only condition for
happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to
anything — anger, anxiety, or possessions — we
cannot be free.

The Buddha taught another list of Six Realms:
craving (kama), freedom from craving
(nekkhama), anger (vyapada), absence of anger
(avyapada), harming (vihimsa), and non-harming
(avihimsa or ahimsa). If we look deeply into our
craving, we see that we already have what we
crave, because everything is already a part of
everything else. This insight can take us from the
realm of craving into the realm of freedom. The fire
of anger burns in us day and night and causes us to
suffer — even more than the one at whom we are
angry. When anger is absent, we feel light and free.
To live in the realm of non-harming is to love. Our
world is full of hatred and violence, because we do
not take the time to nourish the love and
compassion that are already in our hearts. Nonharming
is an important practice.

There are three further realms: the desire realm,
the form realm, and the formless realm. The form
a n d formless realms describe certain states of
meditative concentration. In the form realm,
material things are somewhat subtle. In the
formless realm, they are very subtle. In the desire
realm, material things are present in their grossest
form, and human beings do not meditate there.
These three realms are produced by our mind. If
our mind has craving, anger, and harming, we are
like a house on fire. If craving, anger, and harming
are absent from our minds, we produce a cool, clear
lotus lake.10 Every time we practice Right
Mindfulness, it is like jumping into that cool lake.
If we are standing, we only have to know that we
are standing. If we are sitting, we only have to
know that we are sitting. We don't have to add or
take away anything. We only need to be aware.
10 In the "Universal Door" chapter of the
Lotus Sutra, it is said that the mindfulness of the
Bodhisattva of Compassion can transform the fires
that are about to burn us into a cool, clear lotus

Finally, the Buddha taught the meditation on
the Two Realms — the realm of the conditioned
(samskrita) and the realm of the unconditioned
(asamskrita). In the conditioned realm, there is
birth, death, before, after, inner, outer, small, and
large. In the world of the unconditioned, we are no
longer subject to birth and death, coming or going,
before or after. The conditioned realm belongs to
the historical dimension. It is the wave. The
unconditioned realm belongs to the ultimate
dimension. It is the water. These two realms are
not separate.

To arrive at liberation from narrow views and to
obtain fearlessness and great compassion, practice
t h e contemplations on interdependence,
impermanence, and compassion. Sitting in
meditation, direct your concentration onto the
interdependent nature of certain objects.
Remember that the subject of knowledge cannot
exist independently from the object of knowledge.
To see is to see something. To hear is to hear
something. To be angry is to be angry about
something. Hope is hope for something. Thinking
is thinking about something. When the object of
knowledge is not present, there can be no subject.
Meditate and see the interbeing of the subject and
the object. When you practice mindfulness of
breathing, then the breathing is mind. When you
practice mindfulness of the body, then your body
is mind. When you practice mindfulness of objects
outside yourself, these objects are mind. Therefore,
the contemplation of the interbeing of subject and
object is also the contemplation of the mind. Every
object of the mind is itself mind. In Buddhism, we
call the objects of mind the dharmas.

Contemplation on interdependence is a deep
looking into all dharmas in order to pierce through
to their real nature, in order to see them as part of
the great body of reality and in order to see that
the great body of reality is indivisible. It cannot be
cut into pieces with separate existences of their

The object of our mind can be a mountain, a
rose, the full moon, or the person standing in front
of us. We believe these things exist outside of us as
separate entities, but these objects of our
p ercep tions are us. This includes our feeling.
When we hate someone, we also hate ourself. The
object of our mindfulness is actually the whole
cosmos. Mindfulness is mindfulness of the body,
feelings, perceptions, any of the mental
formations, and all of the seeds in our
consciousness. The Four Establishments of
Mindfulness contain everything in the cosmos.
Everything in the cosmos is the object of our
perception, and, as such, it does not exist only
outside of us but also within us.

If we look deeply at the bud on the tree, we will
see its nature. It may be very small, but it is also
like the earth, because the leaf in the bud will
become part of the earth. If we see the truth of one
thing in the cosmos, we see the nature of the
cosmos. Because of our mindfulness, our deep
looking, the nature of the cosmos will reveal itself.
It is not a matter of imposing our ideas on the
nature of the cosmos.

Sitting and watching our breath is a wonderful
practice, but it is not enough. For transformation
to take place, we have to practice mindfulness all
day long, not just on our meditation cushion.
Mindfulness is the Buddha. Just as vegetation is
sensitive to sunlight, mental formations are
sensitive to mindfulness. Mindfulness is the
energy that can embrace and transform all mental
formations. Mindfulness helps us leave behind
"upside-down perceptions," and wakes us up to
what is happening. When Thich Quang Duc made
himself into a human torch, people all over the
world had to recognize that Vietnam was a land on
fire, and they had to do something about it. When
we practice mindfulness, we are in contact with
life, and we can offer our love and compassion to
lessen the suffering and bring about joy and

Do not lose yourself in the past. Do not lose
yourself in the future. Do not get caught in your
anger, worries, or fears. Come back to the present
moment, and touch life deeply. This is
mindfulness. We cannot be mindful of everything
at the same time, so we have to choose what we
find most interesting to be the object of our
mindfulness. The blue sky is wonderful, but the
beautiful face of a child is also wonderful. What is
essential is to be alive and present to all the
wonders of life that are available.

In many talks, the Buddha spoke about the
Threefold Training of precepts, concentration, and
insight. The practice of the precepts (shila) is the
practice of Right Mindfulness. If we don't practice
the precepts, we aren't practicing mindfulness. I
know some Zen students who think that they can
practice meditation without practicing precepts,
but that is not correct. The heart of Buddhist
meditation is the practice of mindfulness, and
mindfulness is the practice of the precepts. You
cannot meditate without practicing the precepts.11

When we practice mindfulness, we generate the
energy of the Buddha within us and around us, and
this is the energy that can save the world. A
Buddha is someone who is mindful all day long.
We are only part-time Buddhas. We breathe in and
use our Buddha eyes to see with the energy of
mindfulness. When we listen with our Buddha
ears, we are able to restore communication and
relieve a lot of suffering. When we put the energy
of mindfulness into our hands, our Buddha hands
will protect the safety and integrity of those we

Look deeply into your hand, and see if the
Buddha eye is in it. In Tibetan, Chinese, Korean,
Vietnamese, and Japanese temples, there is a
bodhisattva with one thousand arms — it takes
that many arms to help others — and in the palm
of each hand there is an eye. The hand represents
action, and the eye represents insight and
understanding. Without understanding, our actions
might cause others to suffer. We may be motivated
by the desire to make others happy, but if we do
not have understanding, the more we do, the more
trouble we may create. Unless our love is made of
understanding, it is not true love. Mindfulness is
the energy that brings the eyes of a Buddha into
our hand. With mindfulness, we can change the
world and bring happiness to many people. This is
not abstract. It is possible for every one of us to
generate the energy of mindfulness in each moment
of our daily life.

From "Heart of the Buddha's Teachings"
by Thich Nhat Hanh