Make your own free website on
  by Thich Nhat Hanh

  //Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice,
  stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn
  ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and
  minerals. I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and
  material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined
  not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others.
  I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from
  profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on

  Exploitation, social injustice, and stealing come in many forms.
  Oppression is one form of stealing that causes much suffering both
  here and in the Third World. The moment we vow to cultivate loving
  kindness, loving kindness is born in us, and we make every effort to
 stop exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression.

  In the First Precept, we found the word "compassion." Here, we find
  the words "loving kindness." Compassion and loving kindness are the
  two aspects of love taught by the Buddha. Compassion, //karuna// in
  Sanskrit and Pali, is the intention and capacity to relieve the
  suffering of another person or living being. Loving kindness,
  //maitri// in Sanskrit, //metta// in Pali, is the intention and
  capacity to bring joy and happiness to another person or living being.
  It was predicted by Shakyamuni Buddha that the next Buddha will bear
  the name Maitreya, the Buddha of Love.

  //"Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice,
  stealing, and oppression, I vow to cultivate loving kindness and learn
  ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants and
  minerals."// Even with maitri as a source of energy in ourselves, we
  still need to learn to look deeply in order to find ways to express
  it. We do it as individuals, and we learn ways to do it as a nation.
  To promote the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals, we
  have to come together as a community and examine our situation,
  exercising our intelligence and our ability to look deeply so that we
  can discover appropriate ways to express our maitri in the midst of
  real problems.

  Suppose you want to help those who are suffering under a dictatorship.
  In the past you may have tried sending in troops to overthrow their
  government, but you have learned that when doing that, you cause the
  deaths of many innocent people, and even then, you might not overthrow
  the dictator. If you practice looking more deeply, with loving
  kindness, to find a better way to help these people without causing
  suffering, you may realize that the best time to help is before the
  country falls into the hands of a dictator. If you offer the young
  people of that country the opportunity to learn your democratic ways
  of governing by giving them scholarships to come to your country, that
  would be a good investment for peace in the future. If you had done
  that thirty years ago, the other country might be democratic now, and
  you would not have to bomb them or send in troops to "liberate" them.
  This is just one example of how looking deeply and learning can help
  us find ways to do things that are more in line with loving kindness.
  If we wait until the situation gets bad, it may be too late. If we
  practice the precepts together with politicians, soldiers,
  businessmen, lawyers, legislators, artists, writers, and teachers, we
  can find the best ways to practice compassion, loving kindness, and

  It requires time to practice generosity. We may want to help those who
  are hungry, but we are caught in the problems of our own daily lives.
  Sometimes, one pill or a little rice could save the life of a child,
  but we do not take the time to help, because we think we do not have
  the time. In Ho Chi Minh City, for example, there are street children
  who call themselves "the dust of life." They are homeless, and they
  wander the streets by day and sleep under trees at night. They
  scavenge in garbage heaps to find things like plastic bags they can
  sell for one or two cents per pound. The nuns and monks in Ho Chi Minh
  City have opened their temples to these children, and if the children
  agree to stay four hours in the morning -- learning to read and write
  and playing with the monks and nuns -- they are offered a vegetarian
  lunch. Then they can go to the Buddha hall for a nap. (In Vietnam, we
  always take naps after lunch; it is so hot. When the Americans came,
  they brought their practice of working eight hours, from nine to five.
  Many of us tried, but we could not do it. We desperately need our naps
  after lunch.)

  Then at two o'clock, there is more teaching and playing with the
  children, and the children who stay for the afternoon receive dinner.
  The temple does not have a place for them to sleep overnight. In our
  community in France, we have been supporting these nuns and monks. It
  costs only twenty cents for a child to have both lunch and dinner, and
  it will keep him from being out on the streets, where he might steal
  cigarettes, smoke, use delinquent language, and learn the worst
  behavior. By encouraging the children to go to the temple, we help
  prevent them from becoming delinquent and entering prison later on. It
  takes time to help these children, not much money. There are so many
  simple things like this we can do to help people, but because we
  cannot free ourselves from our situation and our lifestyle, we do
  nothing at all. We need to come together as a community, and, looking
  deeply, find ways to free ourselves so we can practice the Second

  //"I vow to practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and
  material resources with those who are in real need."// This sentence
  is clear. The feeling of generosity and the capacity for being
  generous are not enough. We also need to express our generosity. We
  may feel that we don't have the time to make people happy - we say,
  "Time is money," but time is more than money. Life is for more than
  using time to make money. Time is for being alive, for sharing joy and
  happiness with others. The wealthy are often the least able to make
  others happy. Only those with time can do so.

  I know a man named Bac Sieu in Thua Thien Province in Vietnam, who has
  been practicing generosity for fifty years; he is a living
  //bodhisattva//. With only a bicycle, he visits villages of thirteen
  provinces, bringing something for this family and something for that
  family. When I met him in 1965, I was a little too proud of our School
  of Youth for Social Service. We had begun to train three hundred
  workers, including monks and nuns, to go out to rural villages to help
  people rebuild homes and modernize local economies, health-care
  systems, and education. Eventually we had ten thousand workers
  throughout the country. As I was telling Bac Sieu about our projects,
  I was looking at his bicycle and thinking that with a bicycle he could
  help only a few people. But when the communists took over and closed
  our School, Bac Sieu continued, because his way of working was
  formless. Our orphanages, dispensaries, schools, and resettlement
  centers were all shut down or taken by the government. Thousands of
  our workers had to stop their work and hide. But Bac Sieu had nothing
  to take. He was a truly a bodhisattva, working for the well-being of
  others. I feel more humble now concerning the ways of practicing

  The war created many thousands of orphans. Instead of raising money to
  build orphanages, we sought people in the West to sponsor a child. We
  found families in the villages to each take care of one orphan, then
  we sent $6 every month to that family to feed the child and send him
  or her to school. Whenever possible, we tried to place the child in
  the family of an aunt, an uncle, or a grandparent. With just $6, the
  child was fed and sent to school, and the rest of the children in the
  family were also helped. Children benefit from growing up in a family.
  Being in an orphanage can be like being in the army -- children do not
  grow up naturally. If we look for and learn ways to practice
  generosity, we will improve all the time.

  //"I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that
  should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I
  will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the
  suffering of other species on Earth."// When you practice one precept
  deeply, you will discover that you are practicing all five. The First
  Precept is about taking life, which is a form of stealing -- stealing
  the most precious thing someone has, his or her life. When we meditate
  on the Second Precept, we see that stealing, in the forms of
  exploitation, social injustice, and oppression, are acts of killing --
  killing slowly by exploitation, by maintaining social injustice, and
  by political and economic oppression. Therefore, the Second Precept
  has much to do with the precept of not killing. We see the
  "interbeing" nature of the first two precepts. This is true of all
  Five Precepts. Some people formally receive just one or two precepts.
  I didn't mind, because if you practice one or two precepts deeply, all
  Five Precepts will be observed.

  The Second Precept is not to steal. Instead of stealing, exploiting,
  or oppressing, we practice generosity. In Buddhism, we say there are
  three kinds of gifts. The first is the gift of material resources. The
  second is to help people rely on themselves, to offer them the
  technology and know-how to stand on their own feet. Helping people
  with the Dharma so they can transform their fear, anger, and
  depression belongs to the second kind of gift. The third is the gift
  of non-fear. We are afraid of many things. We feel insecure, afraid of
  being alone, afraid of sickness and dying. To help people not be
  destroyed by their fears, we practice the third kind of gift-giving.

  The Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara is someone who practices this extremely
  well. In the //Heart Sutra,// he teaches us the way to transform and
  transcend fear and ride on the waves of birth and death, smiling. He
  says that there is no production, no destruction, no being, no
  nonbeing, no increasing, and no decreasing. Hearing this helps us look
  deeply into the nature of reality to see that birth and death, being
  and nonbeing, coming and going, increasing and decreasing are all just
  ideas that we ascribe to reality, while reality transcends all
  concepts. When we realize the interbeing nature of all things -- that
  even birth and death are just concepts -- we transcend fear.

  In 1991, I visited a friend in New York who was dying, Alfred Hassler.
  We had worked together in the peace movement for almost thirty years.
  Alfred looked as though he had been waiting for me to come before
  dying, and he died only a few hours after our visit. I went with my
  closest colleague, Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness).

  Alfred was not awake when we arrived. His daughter Laura tried to wake
  him up, but she couldn't. So I asked Sister Chan Khong to sing Alfred
  the //Song of No Coming and No Going:// "These eyes are not me, I am
  not caught by these eyes. This body is not me, I am not caught by this
  body. I am life without boundaries. I have never been born, I will
  never die." The idea is taken from the //Samyutta Nikaya//. She sang
  so beautifully, and I saw streams of tears running down the faces of
  Alfred's wife and children. They were tears of understanding, and they
  were very healing.

  Suddenly, Alfred came back to himself. Sister Chan Khong began to
  practice what she had learned from studying the sutra //The Teaching
  Given to the Sick.// She said, "Alfred, do you remember the times we
  worked together?" She evoked many happy memories we had shared
  together, and Alfred was able to remember each of them. Although he
  was obviously in pain, he smiled. This practice brought results right
  away. When a person is suffering from so much physical pain, we
  sometimes can alleviate his suffering by watering the seeds of
  happiness that are in him. A kind of balance is restored, and he will
  feel less pain.

  All the while, I was practicing massage on his feet, and I asked him
  whether he felt my hand on his body. When you are dying, areas of your
  body become numb, and you feel as if you have lost those parts of your
  body. Doing massage in mindfulness, gently, gives the dying person the
  feeling that he is alive and being cared for. He knows that love is
  there. Alfred nodded, and his eyes seemed to say, "Yes, I feel your
  hands. I know my foot is there."

  Sister Chan Khong asked, "Do you know we learned a lot from you when
  we lived and worked together? The work you began, many of us are
  continuing to do. Please don't worry about anything." She told him
  many things like that, and he seemed to suffer less. At one point, he
  opened his mouth and said, "Wonderful, wonderful." Then, he sank back
  to sleep.

  Before we left, we encouraged the family to continue these practices.
  The next day I learned that Alfred passed away just five hours after
  our visit. This was a kind of gift that belongs to the third category.
  If you can help people feel safe, less afraid of life, people, and
  death, you are practicing the third kind of gift.

  During my meditation, I had a wonderful image -- the shape of a wave,
  its beginning and its end. When conditions are sufficient, we perceive
  the wave, and when conditions are no longer sufficient, we do not
  perceive the wave. Waves are only made of water. We cannot label the
  wave as existing or nonexisting. After what we call the death of the
  wave, nothing is gone, nothing is lost. The wave has been absorbed
  into other waves, and somehow, time will bring the wave back again.
  There is no increasing, decreasing, birth, or death. When we are
  dying, if we think that everyone else is alive and we are the only
  person dying, our feeling of loneliness may be unbearable. But if we
  are able to visualize hundreds of thousands of people dying with us,
  our dying may become serene and even joyful. "I am dying in community.
  Millions of living beings are also dying in this very moment. I see
  myself together with millions of other living beings; we die in the
  Sangha. At the same time, millions of beings are coming to life. All
  of us are doing this together. I have been born, I am dying. We
  participate in the whole event as a Sangha." That is what I saw in my
  meditation. In the //Heart Sutra,// Avalokitesvara shares this kind of
  insight and helps us transcend fear, sorrow, and pain. The gift of
  non-fear brings about a transformation in us.

  The Second Precept is a deep practice. We speak of time, energy, and
  material resources, but time is not only for energy and material
  resources. Time is for being with others -- being with a dying person
  or with someone who is suffering. Being really present for even five
  minutes can be a very important gift. Time is not just to make money.
  It is to produce the gift of Dharma and the gift of non-fear.

                                * * * * *

  [THICH NHAT HANH is a Zen Buddhist monk, peace activist, scholar, and
  poet. He is the founder of the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon,
  has taught at Columbia University and the Sorbonne, and now lives in
  southern France, where he gardens, works to help those in need, and
  travels internationally teaching "the art of mindful living." Martin
  Luther King, Jr., nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967,
  saying, "I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel
  Peace Prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam."]


Return to Teachings

Return to Zen Buddhism @ Neurotopia__           ___       ______________________________________________