At the Foot of the Bodhi Tree

gateways can be all sorts of shapes...

gateways can be all sorts of shapes, and colors...

The following is excerpted from a Dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh at Plum Village in 1998.

When he woke up at the foot of the Bodhi Tree, the Buddha Shakyamuni said, “How strange—all beings possess in themselves the capacity to understand, the capacity to love, the capacity to be free. Everyone has that capacity, but everyone allows himself or herself to be carried away on the ocean of suffering. How strange.” This is what the Buddha declared at the moment of his enlightenment under the Bodhi tree. He noticed that what we are looking for, day and night, is already there within oneself. What is beautiful, what is true, what is good, is already there in oneself. We can call it the Buddha-nature, the Buddhahood, the awakened nature, the true freedom, which is the foundation for all peace and happiness. This wonderful thing is in us, and a real teacher is someone who can help you to touch that thing in yourself, who helps give birth, to bring about the real teacher which already exists in yourself.

In the process of love, when you love someone, you can be lucky enough to recognize in the person you love the elements of beauty, of goodness, and of truth. If these elements are real, you have an opportunity to go back to yourself and rediscover the same things which already exist in you. It is possible that the person who is the object of your love also possesses within him or herself the elements of beauty, goodness and truth. Then you are lucky. And if you are lucky like this, you are happy to have this. Therefore you have an opportunity to rediscover the reality of these things in yourself. And the person who can help you to rediscover and touch the source of peace in yourself, the source of freedom, the source of happiness in yourself, is a spiritual friend. You are under the illusion that you don’t have goodness, truth and beauty in yourself, and that is why you look for them in somebody else. But when you meet the Buddha, the Buddha will tell you that you have these things, you have this foundation of freedom, of peace, and of love within yourself.

These are not things you can obtain from outside of yourself. These are things that are already available within you, and our practice is to do everything we can in order to bring these things to the light, to bring freedom, fearlessness to the light. The person and the instrument which you use in order to find these things is the deep looking and the deep listening to yourself. In you, there are elements which make up your personality, and we can call these elements the five skandhas.

I am drawing an orange on the board, with five sections. The first section represents form or body, our physical body. The second section represents feelings; the third: perceptions; the fourth: mental formations; and the fifth: consciousness. The five elements are the territory of our being, and if we practice deep looking into these five elements, we will discover the true nature of our being. We will discover the true nature of our suffering, of our happiness, of our peace, of our fearlessness. The Buddha gave us very concrete ways to be able to come back to our own territory, in order to be able to look deeply, observe, embrace and understand these things, and to transform them. In our daily lives we have the habit of neglecting and running away from this territory of the five skandhas. We always want to run away from ourselves, from our territory. That is because we have the feeling that if we come back to our territory, we will have to face the suffering that is there.

Each one of us is a king or a queen, reigning over the territory of the five skandhas, but we are not responsible kings or queens—we have abandoned our territory. We have tried to run away from our territory every day. That is because we have allowed things to get worse. We have allowed war to happen, we have allowed conflicts and disorder to arise in our territory. In the past we did not practice, we did not take care of our territory. That is why there are so many conflicts, so much disorder and suffering in our territory. We have the feeling that if we were to go back to our territory, we would have to face so many difficulties, so many problems. Our daily practice, therefore, is to run away from this territory. Every time we have one or two hours, fifteen minutes, we don’t use this time to come back to ourselves in order to restore some harmony and well being in our territory. We try to forget about out territory. We use the television, newspapers, music, conversation, the telephone, in order to run away from the reality of our five skandhas. I’m suffering too much. I have too many problems. I don’t want to go back to them any more. That is the situation of so many of us.

The Buddha looks at us with a great deal of understanding and compassion, and he says, “My dear child, you have to go back to these things, and put things in order there.” And how does the Buddha tell us to do this? We have to cultivate the energy of right mindfulness, and doing that we will have the strength to go back to ourselves. Right mindfulness is something concrete. When we practice walking meditation, making steps in mindfulness, establishing ourselves in the present moment, when we are surrounded by the Sangha, and we practice mindful walking, we can make solid steps, peaceful steps, which will bring us back to the present moment. Each step will be able to bring about the energy of mindfulness.

That’s pretty much it.

It’s time to come back.

Be well, and at peace,


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