The Heart of The Buddha’s Teaching – Thich Nhat Hanh

Without suffering, you cannot grow. Without suffering, you cannot get the peace and joy you deserve. Need to embrace it and cherish it.

Dharma – the way of understanding of love. 3 main components

  1. The Middle Way. Balance is key. Avoid extreme austerity and also extreme indulgences.
  2. The 4 Noble Truths
  3. Engagement in the World – The goal is not to disappear and become an ascetic.

4 Noble Truths –

  1. Existence of Suffering (Dukkha)
  2. Making of Suffering. The origin of suffering. (Samudaya)
  3. The possibility of restoring well-being. The cessation of suffering (Nirodha)
  4. The Noble Eightfold Path. Refraining from doing the things that cause suffering. (Marga)

Dukkha Dukkhata – The suffering associated with unpleasant feelings.

Samsara Dukkhata – The suffering that comes from knowing things fall apart. Composite things

Viparinama Dukkhata – The suffering associated with change.

Craving is not the only source of suffering – it is a source, but not the only one. Too simplistic.

Mindfulness – Helps us stop our thinking, our habit energies, our forgetfulness, and our strong emotions.

Breathing – helps to calm us, and serves as a barrier to going into an automatic response. Allows us to rest.

Stopping, calming, resting – ultimately leads to healing.

Dharma Wheel – 4 Noble Truths with 3 turns per truth. Recognition first – seeing it. Then encouragement – deciding that it should be understood. Then realization – understanding it.

What leads to happiness or suffering? Our inputs. Edible food, sense impressions, intention, and consciousness.

Sensations – eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body, and mind. Provide the “food” for our consciousness. If we are mindful, we will know if we are ingesting food with the toxins of fear, hatred, and violence, or eating foods that encourage understanding, compassion, and desire to help others.

Intention – also known as volition. The desire to obtain whatever it is we want. The strong energy that pushes us towards chasing what we think will make us happy.

Consciousness – individual and collective. In collective, we need to make sure the leanings of the community we live in aren’t toxic since we will absorb them. Same with individual. If we bring up negative, fearful memories, we are in effect poisoning ourselves. Living in the painful past keeps us ruminating.

Practicing mindfulness helps us realize that well-being is already here. You don’t appreciate your good health until you are sick. The base condition of everyday life is already good, and you need to be mindful to fully appreciate it!

The perscription for living without suffering – being mindful of what we are ingesting. Is the Noble Eightfold Path. This is the path towards well-being. Leads to a life full of joy, ease, and wonder.

Noble Eightfold Path

  1. Right View –
    1. To have faith that and confidence that there are people who have been able to transform their suffering.
    2. At the base of our views are perceptions. Buddha – where there is perception, there is deception. Most of our suffering comes from wrong perceptions. Our perceptions carry all the errors of subjectivity.
    3. There are no right views or no wrong views. No view can ever be the truth. It’s just from one point. Go somewhere else and your perspective will change.
  2. Right Thinking –
    1. The speech of our mind. Builds on top of right view, sets the stage for right action.
    2. Much of our thinking is unnecessary, and do not carry much understanding in them.
    3. Are you sure? A question to ask yourself frequently. Wrong perceptions lead to suffering.
    4. What am I doing? Another question to make sure you aren’t lost in the past or future planning. Plant yourself in your present activity and don’t try to rush through it.
    5. Habits – look out for habitual ways of thinking and patterns pulling you around.
    6. Best way to keep your thoughts wholesome – stay in a wholesome environment.
  3. Right Mindfulness – technically #7 on the path, but given it’s great importance shown third given it’s importance. When right mindfulness is present, all of the 4 Noble Truths and the other 7 elements of the Eightfold Path are also present.
    1. Attention – a constant, the question is to what are you giving it? Aim for the here and now.
    2. 4 Objects of the practice – body, feelings, mind, object of our mind
      1. Body – Position and movements. Recognize and check-in with all 32 parts of our body. Acknowledge them while meditating. See that your body is made of the same 4 elements of the earth – Earth, Wind, Water, and Fire. We are a piece of the universe.
      2. Feelings – 51 different mental formations (Abhidharma). Natural tendency to cling to pleasant feelings, and chase away painful ones. Try to avoid doing anything but observing them. Feelings are us.
      3. Mind – Be aware of mental formations. There are both wholesome and unwholesome formations, and certain formations can be either depending on the circumstance. Again, the key is to practice simply noticing and identifying the formation.
      4. Phenomena – The objects of the mind. Each of our mental formations has an object. Eyes, forms. Ears, sounds. Nose, smell. Tongue, taste. Body, touch. Mind, the objects of the mind.
      5. 6 Great Elements – Earth, Wind, Water, Fire, Space, & Consciousness. All physical phenomena are made up of these elements. Proves that we are not separate from the universe that surrounds us.
      6. 6 Realms – Happiness, Suffering, Joy, Anxiety, Letting go, & Ignorance.
      7. 6 Realms Part 2 – Craving, Freedom from Craving, Anger, Absence of Anger, Harming, & Non-Harming.
      8. Dharmas – Objects of the mind. Every object of the mind is itself a mind. Ex – If you are practicing breathing meditation, breathing is mind. This includes our feelings. Ex – If you hate someone else you hate yourself.
  4. Right Speech –
    1. Loving Speech and deep listening to bring joy and happiness to others and relieve others of their suffering.
    2. Must speak truthfully with words that inspire self-confidence, joy, and hope.
    3. Avoid forked tongue- saying one thing to one person, and something else to another. Universal truth.
    4. Avoid speaking cruelly – slander, curse, encourage suffering, creating hatred.
    5. Avoid exaggerating or embellishing.
    Right speech comes from right thinking which comes from right mindfulness.Deep Listening is the foundation of deep speech. Mindful listening. Listening to relieve the suffering of the person who is speaking.Writing is another good way to communicate since it forces you to think deeply and the time it takes to get the words on paper allow you to get through emotional reactions.
  5. Right Action – based on right view, right thinking, and right speech, linked to right livelihood.
    1. Avoid killing and causing pain to other people, animals, plants, and minerals.
    2. Be generous and add to the well-being of other people, animals, plants, and minerals. Share your time, energy, and material resources. Prevent others from profiting from human suffering.
    3. Be committed to responsibility. Respect commitments and commitments to others.
    4. Mindful eating, drinking, and consuming (media, etc). Committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my community
  6. Right Diligence – right effort. What drives you, what motivates. Avoid unwholesome, nourish wholesome.
    1. Unwholesome – not conducive to liberation. Greed, hatred, ignorance.
    2. Wholesome – happiness,love, loyalty, and reconciliation.
    Motivations should come from joy, ease, and interest. If you have to force it something isn’t right.Suffering can be a motivation for right action, but you need to get to the root cause of the suffering, not simply use right action as a band-aid for the symptom (suffering).
  7. Right Concentration – “Maintaining Eveness”, neither too high nor too low, neither too excited or too dull. Two modes of concentration:
    1. Active concentration – the mind dwells on whatever is happening in the present moment, even as it changes.
    2. Selective concentration – we choose one object and hold onto it. We concentrate to make ourselves deeply present.
    To practice concentration, you must be mindful, fully present, and aware of what is going on. Sometimes translated as absorption.Elements of concentration – space, consciousness, nothingness, understanding the inherent limitations of our perceptions, and cessation.We tend to ignore the knowledge that everything is impermanent and there is no self, everything is inter-connected.
  8. Right Livelihood – finding a way to earn a living without transgressing your ideals of love and compassion. Have a vocation that is beneficial to humans, animals, plants, and the earth. Avoid:
    1. Dealing in Arms
    2. The slave trade
    3. The sale of alcohol, drugs, or poisons
    4. The meat trade
    5. Making prophecies or telling fortunes

If someone has a profession that causes living beings to suffer and oppresses others, it will infect their own consciousness, just as when we pollute the air that we ourselves have to breathe.

Summary –

Right view and right thinking to see identify our suffering and begin to look into it.

Right mindfulness and right concentration to understand it’s true causes, to look into it deeply and courageously. We start to see what is feeding our suffering. Not a single cause, many layers from our families, friends, society, etc.

Right speech, right action, and right livelihood to break the habits that lead to our suffering. The necessary corrections to put us more on a path towards liberation.

The components of the path all work together and reinforce each other. You cannot succeed by adopting only parts – it’s an all or nothing system. This is the nature of interbeing.

The Two Truths

Relative truth and absolute truth. Relative allows you to benchmark, to make comparisons, as such it can help push you in the right direction – away from suffering, towards happiness. The paradox is that there is no difference between suffering and happiness, because they are two sides of the same coin. You can’t have suffering without happiness and vice-versa. This is absolute truth. Relative is useful for actual experience, absolute gives us understanding of how much bigger it is than us.

5 Rememberances

  1. I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.
  2. I am of the nature of ill-health. There is no way to avoid having ill-health.
  3. I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.
  4. All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.
  5. My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground on which I stand.

Waves and Water.

In terms of relative truth, you can compare waves. The size, duration, etc. And they have a beginning and end.

In terms of absolute truth, waves are just water – when they end they become a part of the next one, even if it takes a bit of time in-between.

Non-human elements -when we look deeply into non-living beings, we find out that they are made of non-being elements. Ex a flower. A flower is made of sunshine, clouds, time, space, earth, minerals, gardeners, etc. See the interbeing – everything on earth is made up of each other. Harming one thing is harming ourselves.

The Three Dharma Seals

Impermanence, Noself, and Nirvana

Impermanence – things change because causes and conditions change. From the perspective of time.

Noself – the existence of every single thing is possible only because of the existence of everything else. From the perspective of space. You are made up of elements that are not you.

Nirvana – the substance of all there is. The complete silencing of concepts. The extinction of ideas, all of which ultimately cause us to suffer. Nirvana teaches that we already are what we want to become.

The Three Doors of Liberation

Emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness

Emptiness – on our own, we are an empty vessel. What we are in the vessel filled with many different things. A reminder of the interconnectedness of everything.

Signlessness – signs are perceptions in this instance. Although useful and essential, the signs (perceptions) can also mislead us. Wherever there is a sign, there is a deception, an illusion.

Diamond Sutra – four signs. Self, person, living being, and life span. Need to break through each. Self – you aren’t a completely independent, self-contained person. As mentioned, you are the combination of many things, including emotions, elements of the universe, food, drink, etc. Person – we are not a stand-alone superior species to any other life forms on earth. Again we are interconnected. Living-being – similar idea, we are not separate from non-living things either – rivers, land, etc. We damage them, it will come back through to us, not in a karmic sense, but in real terms. Life-span – you don’t have a start and finish date. You will keep going, and merge into the earth after you die. Before you were born, you were a part of your parents.

Aimlessness – your purpose is to be yourself. There is nothing to do, nothing to realize, no program, no agenda. We already have everything we are looking for, everything we want to become. We don’t need a purpose or a goal.

The Three Jewels

Faith – not blind. It must be formed through our own insight and experience.

Don’t look for things that are far away. Everything is in your own heart. Be an island unto yourself.

Buddha – physical form, the teacher we can look back to for guidance. But need to always remember that the Buddha is in us and everything else on this planet. (????)

Dharma – the teachings of the Buddha. Four Noble Truths, Noble Eightfold Path, etc. How we need to live to minimize sufferings.

Sangha – community. The group we surround ourselves with that share the same values and help to keep us grounded. A community that has mindfulness, peace, joy, and liberation.

The Four Immeasurable Minds

Love, compassion, joy, equanimity. Called immeasurable because if you practice them everyday they will grow until they embrace the whole world. You will become happier, and everyone around you will become happier too.

Buddha never encouraged people to “convert” over to Buddhism. Wanted them to understand the teachings, and if they resonated, apply them to their own lives, but not to give up on their roots.

Love (Maitri)- the intention and capability to offer joy and happiness. Need to pay attention to see what to do and what not to do to make others happy. Understand the needs, aspirations, and suffering of the one you love.

Compassion (Karuna) – the intention and capability to relieve and transform suffering and lighten sorrows. Be aware of suffering, but don’t let it overcome you. Must retain your calmness, and strength so we can help transform the situation.

Joy (Mudita) – happiness relates to both the body and mind, joy relates just to the mind itself. Joy can be achieved through mindfulness. Simply being aware of how many wonderful and beautiful things surround us at any given moment.

Equanimity (Upeksha) – Non-discrimination, even-mindedness, letting-go. Not discriminating between ourselves and others, seeing everyone as equals. As long as we see ourselves as the one who loves and the others as the ones being loved, and as long as we value ourselves more than others or see ourselves differently, we do not have true equanimity.

Four Noble Truths + Noble Eightfold Path + Four Immeasurable Minds when practiced together will prevent us from descending into suffering. Buddha

The Five Aggregates

Form, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. Contain everything both inside of us and out, in nature and in society.

Form – your body, including your sense organs and nervous system. Your body is a river and every cell is a drop of water. Cells born and die off constantly. Your body is the vessel, everything inside is constantly changing. Highlights the impermanence of things, and that you have no real self since physiologically you are not the same thing you were x days or weeks or months ago.

Feelings – roots are in our body, our perceptions, or our deep consciousness. Practice looking deeply into feelings to try and identify the nutriments that brought them into being.

Perception – They arise, stay for a period of time, then cease to be. The aggregate of perceptions include noticing, naming, and conceptualizing. Erroneous perceptions and distortions lead to all suffering. Perceptions are conditioned by many afflictions that are present in us. Where there is perception, there is deception.

Mental Formation – feelings and perceptions are mental formations. 51 categories of mental formations overall, including those two. They are impermanent and without real substance, so we must remember not to identify ourselves or seek refuge in them.

Consciousness – seeds that reside in our deep consciousness. 51 in total, these are what ultimately turn into mental formations. We have to be careful of what seeds we water via our inputs, since negative seeds can lead us to become overwhelmed.

Each aggregate contains all the other aggregates, just like each cell in your body contains all aspects of yourself.

The Five Powers

Faith, energy, mindfulness, concentration, and insight.

Faith – The confidence we receive when we put into practice a teaching that has helped us overcome some difficulties and obtain some type of transformation.

Buddha – comes from the root of the verb “budh” – which means to wake up, to understand, to know what is happening in a very deep way. This involves mindfulness, because mindfulness means seeing and knowing what is happening in a very deep way. Every single person has the capacity within them to become a Buddha.

When you realize that you have the capacity to be happy anywhere, you can put down roots in the present moment and make them the foundation of your life and of your happiness. The capacity to feel at peace anywhere is a positive seed.

The Six Paramitas

Giving, Mindfulness Training, Inclusiveness, Diligence, Meditation, Understanding.

Giving (Dana Paramita) – When we give, the other person may become happy, but it is certain that we will become happy. What can we give? Time, Stability, Freedom from afflictions, peace, freshness, space, understanding.

Mindfulness (Shila Paramita) – Protect the lives of other animals, vegetables, and minerals. Protect nature and other living things on earth from exploitation. Protect people from sexual abuse. Practice deep listening and loving speech. Practice mindful consumption.

Inclusiveness (Kshanti Paramita) – The ability to receive, embrace, and transform. Making our heart large enough where we don’t suffer. Don’t suppress – we have to receive, embrace, and transform. If you nourish your hatred and anger, you burn yourself.

Diligence (Virya Paramita) – Continuous practice. Being aware of of how are actions cultivate positive or negative seeds in our stored consciousness. Training to minimize the emergence of negatives, cultivate positives.

Meditation (Dhyana Paramita) – avoid dwelling on the past, or thinking about the future. Stay in the present moment. Calming our body and emotions through the practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, and mindful sitting.

Understanding (Prajna Paramita) – The highest form of understanding. Free from all concepts, ideas, knowledge, and views. The Buddhahood in all of us.

The Seven Factors of Awakening

Mindfulness, investigation oh phenomena, diligence, joy, ease, concentration, and letting go.

Awakening – to be aware of what is going on within and all around you. All living creatures have the basic nature of awakening, yet they don’t know it. Buddha.

Mindfulness – not forgetting where we are, what we are doing, and who we are with.

Investigation of Phenomena – being curious and open to letting things revel themselves.

Diligence – energy, pursuit.

Ease – overcoming the constant thinking and worrying that comes from our lifestyles. Bringing the energy from our heads down to our abdomen.

Joy – touching things that are beautiful and refreshing, within and outside of ourselves.

Concentration – collecting the energy of our mind and directing it at an object.

Equanimity – also known as letting go. Loving everyone equally. Avoid feeling anger, bitterness, or dejection. Avoid feeling elation when praised, since no single individual is solely responsible for everything that happens to them.

The Links of Interdependent Co-Arising

This is, because that is. This is not, because that is not. This comes to be, because that comes to be. This ceases to be, because that ceases to be. This is like this, because that is lie that. Buddha.

One cause is never enough to bring about an effect. A cause must, at the same time, be an effect, and every effect must also be the cause of something else.

Causes are present in the effects, and effects are present in the causes.

The twelve links can actually be simplified to ten.

Ignorance > formations > consciousness > mind / body > pleasant and panful feelings > craving and aversion > grasping and rejecting > being and nonbeing > birth and death > samsara

Ignorance leads people to create formations. Formations lead to consciousness with a separation between the subject and object (the opposite of no-self, incorrect). body and mind separation ensues. feelings ensue. leading us to crave, grasp, etc baed on whether they appear to be pleasurable or painful. leads further to ideas of being and non-being tied to being born and dying. Ultimately creates suffering (samsara).


When a wise person suffers, they ask themselves what they can do to be free from this suffering? Who can help me? What have I done to free myself from this suffering?

When a foolish person suffers, they ask themselves who has wronged me? How can I show others that I am the victim of this wrongdoing? How can I punish those who have caused me this suffering?

If someone has betrayed you, ask why. If you feel the responsibility lies entirely with them, look more deeply.

Understanding and compassion help us to alleviate our suffering and also some of the suffering in others. They give some meaning to our lives.

Through the practice of mindful living, we learn new habits. We slowly undo our old habits, and develop the new habit of dwelling deeply in the present moment.

Avoid devotion to sensual pleasures, but also avoid harsh austerity. Choose the middle way, and stay on the path by following the noble eightfold path.

When the wheel of dharma is put in motion, it can’t be turned back.

Right View

When there is wrong view, and one knows it is wrong view, it is already right view (stage 1)

When there is right view, and one knows it is right view, it is also right view (stage 2)

2 Types of Right View –

When all the leaks have not been stopped – you know you are doing right, but it’s not automatic or natural. This will give rise to merit, but will still lead to attachment.

When all the leaks have been stopped – you have transcended. It is noble and pure.

This framework – wrong and not evening knowing, wrong but knowing it’s wrong, right, but not having pure intentions, and right with pure intentions applies to the eightfold path.

Use this framework to incorporate intentions in the evaluation of your actions. Intentions and the reasons for your actions matter equally to what you do. Doing the wrong things for the wrong reasons – ignorant. Doing the wrong things for the right reasons, ok. Doing the right things for the wrong reasons – good, not great. Doing the right things for the right reasons, great.

Right view – component parts:

Understand the difference between wholesome and unwholesome.

Understanding inputs – food, sense impressions, intention, and consciousness

Understanding suffering and the cessation of suffering.

Understanding aging – birth, old-age and dying.

Understanding becoming, grasping, and thirst –

Understanding feelings and impulses

Understanding senses, consciousness, and mind / body

Understanding ignorance and leaks which arise from ignorance

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *