Brother Chân Minh Hy
Where is the Dharma?
There is an anecdote about an occasion at the Tu Dam Temple in Vietnam, when the monks were about to put their sanghati robe on for the precepts recitation ceremony, and Venerable Thien Sieu asked, “Do you know why we say, ‘The Dharma is deep and wonderful’?” Pausing for a few moments, he continued, “Because it is here, right in front of you.”
I heard this anecdote when the Venerable Abbot of Bao Lam Temple recounted it to us at Dieu Tram Nunnery. This question has stayed with me ever since–How can the wonderful and deep Dharma be right in front of us? Why can’t I see it? Is it because there are many things around that are so ordinary that I am unable to see it?
At banquets, we often offer special dishes. If a meal only has rice and green vegetables, we cannot call it a banquet since they are eaten every day, every week, every month, the whole year round, and throughout our whole life. But there are people who cannot bear it if they don’t have rice, even just for one or two days. If that is so, then rice and green vegetables are not ordinary. They are in fact special because almost everyone can eat them and many cannot live without these staples. “Special dishes” at banquets are special, but they can only be eaten occasionally. We cannot eat them every day like the way we eat rice. As the Vietnamese proverb says, No one loves us like rice does.
The teachings of the Buddha are the same. There are Dharma doors that we practice every day and we come to find them very ordinary. But the truth is, they are very special because irrespective of place or situation, they can be easily practiced by everyone.
Finding depth and gratitude here and now
When learning and practicing profound meditations such as impermanence, non-self, emptiness, signlessness, aimlessness, or interbeing, we need to be able to maintain them with solidity and freedom during daily life. Our steps and mindful breathing must be able to reflect and also to nourish the powerful energy source of these meditations.
We need to develop this way of looking. Each step, each breath, each time we relax is not an ordinary practice but a very special one, as it is able to carry within itself the profound insights of meditation.
Perhaps rice and boiled vegetables have become ordinary due to the way we eat them, especially if we haven’t yet been able to appreciate that “a grain of rice is a jadestone from heaven” (Vietnamese proverb). If you allow yourself to look into the bowl of rice in your hands with appreciation, then gratitude and happiness will be born in your heart right in that moment. With just one breath, happiness will come very quickly. You will smile and know that you are very fortunate.
“Beings all over the earth
are struggling to live.
I aspire to practice deeply
so all may have enough to eat.”
In this way, there are things that are very familiar, but they never become out of date. Each step, each in-breath and out-breath, each bowl of rice can become a banquet if our heart is filled with gratitude.
One time, Thay’s attendants noticed that Thay was a little different. After giving a Dharma talk Thay came back to his hut, drank a cup of tea, took his straw hat and went directly for walking meditation whereas usually he would rest a little longer. Upon arriving at the gathering place, Thay bowed to the sangha and led the walk. Everything unfolded without delay. With light and free steps, Thay led the sangha to the Sixteen Buddhas, his favorite place, where he liked to stop and rest during walking meditation. As soon as the sangha sat down, the church bells rang. The attendant looked at Thay who had a very bright smile on his face. It turned out that there was a delegation of monks from another country visiting Plum Village. That was the first time they had come to Upper Hamlet and joined the practice of walking meditation. Therefore, Thay wanted to offer them a moment of miracle. Thay was very pleased with that moment, as everything happened just at the right time. It is not only with good tea or delicious food that we can treat our guests.
A beautiful moment can help the happiness in people’s hearts grow bigger. Such a moment is a banquet that we can offer our beloved ones many times a day. But first of all, we need to have the ability to perceive, to feel, and to offer ourselves such banquets. If we do not know how to drink tea, how can we offer our friends a good cup of tea? It is very difficult for a busy person to treat others to a relaxing and free moment.
Have you treated yourself today with any happy moments?