“Transforming Negative Habit Energies”, by Thich Nhat Hanh

photo by Didier Descouens ( CC BY-SA 4.0)

[Dharma talk – August 6, 1998]

[…] Have you ever felt that kind of pushing behind your back? Even if there was no one behind you, you have felt that you were being pushed and pushed to do things you don’t like to do, and to say the things you don’t like to say, and in doing that you created a lot of suffering for yourself and the people around you. Maybe there is something behind us that is pushing and pushing. Sometimes we say horrible things, and do horrible things, that we did not want to say or do, yet we were pushed by something from behind. So we said it, and we did it, even if we didn’t want to do it.


Buddhist meditation offers the practice of stopping. Stopping is very important, because we have been running all our lives, and also in all our previous lives. Our ancestors, our grandfather, our grandmother, had been running, and now they continue to run in us. If we don’t practice, then our children will carry us and continue to run in the future.

So we have to learn the art of stopping, L’arret. The Chinese word for stopping is zhi (sounds of writing), and if you go to China you’ll see a lot of these signs on the street. It means “Stop.” If you are a driver, you have to understand that. That is exactly the word used in the scriptures: stopping. Stop running, stop being pushed by that habit energy. But first of all you have to recognize that there is such an energy in yourself, that is always pushing. Even if you want to stop, it doesn’t allow you to stop. At breakfast time, a number of us are capable of enjoying our breakfast, a number of us are capable of being together in the here and the now. Just yesterday I had breakfast with two novice monks. We did not have fancy things, but I looked at the two novices and I said, “It’s wonderful that we are having breakfast together. It’s a most wonderful thing, a most joyful thing. Do you think that there is something more wonderful than just sitting together and having our breakfast together, one teacher and two novices?” One novice offered me a broad smile. He understood. Not only did he understand my statement, but he understood the reality that happiness was real, because we were capable of being together, recognizing the true presence of each other. In that moment life was real. But many of us, while having our breakfast are not really there. We continue to run. We have a lot of projects, we have a lot of worries, we have a lot of anxieties, and we cannot sit like a Buddha.

The Buddha is always sitting on a lotus flower, very fresh, very stable. If we are capable of sitting in the here and the now, anywhere we sit becomes a lotus flower—whether that is the root of a tree, the grass, a stone bench—any of these things becomes a lotus flower for you to sit on, because you are really sitting, you are really there. Your body and your mind together, you are free from all worries, from all regrets, from all anger. Though each of us during sitting meditation has a cushion, the cushion can be Hell, the cushion can be Heaven, the cushion can be a lotus flower, the cushion can be thorns. Many of us sit on the cushion, but it’s like sitting on thorns. We don’t know how to enjoy the lotus flower.


Sitting is not like hard labor, sitting is the enjoyment of stability, of peace, of dwelling in the present moment. We have to recognize the habit energy every time it manifests. It always dictates our behavior, pushing us to do and say things, so we have to practice mindfulness, in order to recognize it every time it is manifested.


So that negative habit energy that pushes us may have been cultivated by us during the past many years, but it may also have been transmitted to us by our mother, or our father, or our ancestors. And that is our heritage.


Our joy, our peace, our happiness depend very much on our practice of recognizing and transforming our habit energies. There are positive habit energies that we have to cultivate, there are negative habit energies that we have to recognize, embrace and transform. The energy with which we do these things is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a kind of energy that helps us to be aware of what is going on. Therefore, when the habit energy shows itself, we know right away. “Hello, my little habit energy, I know you are there. I will take good care of you.” In recognizing it as it is, you are in control of the situation. You don’t have to fight it; in fact the Buddha does not recommend that you fight it, because that habit energy is you, and you should not fight against yourself. You have to generate the energy of mindfulness, which is also you, and that positive energy will do the work of recognizing and embracing. Every time you embrace your habit energy, you can help it to transform a little bit. The habit energy is a kind of seed within your consciousness, and when it becomes a source of energy, you have to recognize it. You have to bring your mindfulness into the present moment, and you just embrace that negative energy: “Hello, my negative habit energy. I know you are there. I am here for you.” After maybe one or two or three minutes, that energy will go back into the form of a seed, in order to re-manifest itself later on. You have to be very alert.

Every time a negative energy is embraced by the energy of mindfulness, it will lose a little bit of its strength as it returns as a seed to the lower level of consciousness. The same thing is true for all other mental formations: your fear, your anguish, your anxiety, and your despair. They exist in us in the form of seeds, and every time one of the seeds is watered, it becomes a zone of energy on the upper level of our consciousness. If you don’t know how to take care of it, it will cause damage, it will push us to do or to say things that will damage us and damage the people we love. Therefore, generating the energy of mindfulness, to recognize it, to embrace it, to take care of it, is the practice. And the practice should be done in a very tender, non-violent way. There should be no fighting, because when you fight, you create damage within yourself. The Buddhist practice is based on the insight of non-duality: you are love, you are mindfulness, but you are also that habit energy within you. To meditate does not mean to transform yourself into a battlefield, the right fighting the wrong, the positive fighting the negative. That’s not Buddhist. That is why, based on the insight of non-duality, the practice should be non-violent. Mindfulness embracing anger is like a mother embracing her child, big sister embracing younger sister. The embrace always brings a positive effect. You can bring relief, and you can cause the negative energy to lose some of its strength, just by embracing it.


Therefore, we have to do something, to call on the positive things within our bodies and our consciousness, to take care of our situations. It’s okay to suffer, it’s okay to be angry, but it’s not okay to allow yourself to be flooded with suffering. We know that in our bodies and our consciousness there are positive elements that we can call on for help. We have to mobilize these positive elements to protect ourselves and to take good care of the negative things that are manifesting in us.

Full text at http://www.dhammatalks.net/Books2/Thich_Nhat_Hanh_Transforming_Negative_Habit_Energies.htm

“Transforming Negative Habit Energies”, by Thich Nhat Hanh

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