Dear Thay, dear friends,
Tết, or the Lunar New Year, is upon us!
Tết is the biggest celebration in Vietnam, the birthplace of our Plum Village tradition. It is an opportunity to enjoy being with family and friends, to share food, blessings, songs and poetry. Tết is a wonderful moment to pause and appreciate the love and togetherness that exists in our lives, and look deeply at how we can bring more compassion toward our families and friendships.
To help us cultivate this love, we can use the tradition of practicing with parallel verses, or "couplets." In preparation for the Lunar New Year, Plum Village monastics all around the world print these calligraphies and display them around the dining halls, meditation halls and living quarters. You are warmly invited to do the same in your own homes for inspiration during Tết and throughout the year.
This year, we practice with the following parallel verses:
To practice these verses, we can combine them with our breathing. For example, we can contemplate "Harmony in our home" as we breathe in, and contemplate "Joy in the world" as we breathe out. These words are not a declaration, but a living aspiration we wish to nurture.
Meditation on Compassion
As part of our practice this year with these parallel verses, when difficulties arise, we can remember Thay's teaching on cultivating a mind of compassion and harmony in the home.
Love is a mind that brings peace, joy, and happiness to another person. Compassion is a mind that removes the suffering that is present in the other. We all have the seeds of love and compassion in our minds, and we can develop these fine and wonderful sources of energy. We can nurture the unconditional love that does not expect anything in return and therefore does not lead to anxiety and sorrow.
The essence of love and compassion is understanding, the ability to recognize the physical, material and psychological suffering of others, to put ourselves "inside the skin" of the other. We "go inside" their body, feelings, and mental formations, and witness for ourselves their suffering. Shallow observation as an outsider is not enough to see their suffering. We must become one with the object of our observation. When we are in contact with another's suffering, a feeling of compassion is born in us. Compassion means, literally, "to suffer with."
When we observe deeply in this way, the fruit of our meditation will naturally transform into some kind of action. We will not just say, "I love him very much," but instead, "I will do something so that he will suffer less." The mind of compassion is truly present when it is effective in removing another person's suffering.
We have to find ways to nourish and express our compassion. When we come into contact with the other person, our thoughts and actions should express the mind of compassion, even if that person says and does things that are not easy to accept. We practice in this way until we see clearly that our love is not contingent upon the other person being lovable. Then we can know that our mind of compassion is firm and authentic. We ourselves will be more at ease, and the person who has been the object of our meditation will also benefit eventually. His suffering will slowly diminish, and his life will gradually be brighter and more joyful as a result of our compassion.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace is Every Step
To download this year's parallel verses in English or Vietnamese, click here.