In this short teaching from the Deer Park Monastery, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) advises the use of a Cong Phu Sheet: a practice journal that shows how well we maintain our practice of mindfulness in each daily activity.
Getting out of bed, opening and closing doors, brushing our teeth, turning on the light, using the bathroom… All of these moments can be used to generate happiness – if we know how to make good use of mindfulness, concentration, and gratitude.
[This transcript has been edited for readability.]
This sheet is for one week. Everyone should get a copy of this, either in Vietnamese or in English. In Vietnamese it is called ‘Cong Phu’. It means “daily practice”; it is not a martial art.
There are seven columns, one for Monday, one for Tuesday, and so on. In the evening, before you go to sleep, you have to look, and evaluate your practice for the day that is ending.
Waking up: when you wake up, do you practice? Do you know that you are waking up in the mountains, in the retreat? Are you able to smile, realizing that you are in a retreat?
This is a great opportunity. And if this morning you did not do that – you were not happy, you were not aware that you woke up in a retreat on a mountain, with the sangha – then you put a zero here.
You are welcome to rate, I think, from one to nine, because we reserve 10 for the fully enlightened ones. Our humility. Sometimes we feel that we are very near to 100%, but we are still practicing humility, so we just put nine. That is Thay’s practice.
Waking up, you are able to smile, and to value, to remember that you have a brand-new 24 hours to live. What a gift!
If you wake up without that kind of awareness, that is a waste. So, this morning, if you did not practice that, if your waking up did not have any value, just give a zero.
Then: wearing your shoes. Because wearing your shoes mindfully can bring you a lot of happiness. Wearing your shoes is not only for walking. Wearing your shoes is like washing the dishes. Washing the dishes is not only for having clean dishes; the time of washing dishes can be joyful.
You can dwell in the here and the now in the Kingdom of God during the time of dishwashing. Every bowl you wash, every dish you wash, is as sacred as if you were giving the newborn baby Buddha a bath. It is very sacred. If mindfulness and concentration are there, everything becomes sacred, holy.
Because the energy of mindfulness, the energy of concentration is the energy of holiness. Your holiness has to wash your bowl mindfully. Otherwise, you are not holy at all. And mindfulness and concentration are the substance of holiness.
When I first became a novice, my teacher gave me a book of about 50 verses to memorize, to practice mindfulness. And there is one for wearing your shoes.
In my case, not leather shoes, but wood clogs. And then, sitting on your bed, you use your leg to find your slippers, your shoes. You breathe in and out, and you recite silently the verse. That is what I learned when I was 16. It is like this:
From the morning until late evening, every living being has to take care of himself, of herself. If by bad chance, I step on one of you and crush you under my feet, I’m sorry; I wish that you will be born right away into the Pure Land of the Buddha.
I was so moved! That is the practice of compassion and mindfulness. You know that while walking, you cannot avoid killing little creatures. That is why, finding your shoes, you are aware of that.
You want to preserve, to protect the lives of living beings. And that verse helps you to generate the energy of mindfulness, and also to cultivate compassion.
So, while wearing your shoes, please, enjoy your practice. The practice is not only in the meditation hall. Make sure that you are happy, and solid, and joyful during the time of wearing your shoes.
And then, if you do well, then you can write down a note like a six, or eight, or nine. Otherwise, you give a zero. No one will look inside your ‘kung fu’ book. You, and the Buddha within you, both of you take care of that. We never inquire about this; this is not an exam.
You and the Buddha in you are enough.
The dharma teacher may have the right to ask, ‘Do you practice it?’ And you say, ‘Yes’. That is good enough. He does not have to look into it. But he has to make sure that you do it.
Folding your blanket. Opening the door. Closing the door.
Do you know my story of closing the door?
One day, my teacher told me to go and do something for him. I loved him so much, I was so eager to go and do it for him that I closed the door after me, not mindfully.
He called me back. “My child.” “Yes?” “Go out again, and close the door mindfully this time.”
I understood. He never had to teach me again a second time. I knew how to close the door mindfully from that moment.
When I met Thomas Merton in 1966, in his monastery in Kentucky, I told him that. He remembered it very well, and spoke about it in a Christian dharma talk.
And it happened that a Catholic lady living in Germany listened to that talk by Thomas Merton. And she was very curious. That is why she went to Plum Village to see how Thay closes the door. She did not tell us. She just came, and signed up for one week. Her purpose was to observe. But after one week, she stayed on for another two weeks. She loved it.
Then, on the day she departed, during the tea meditation, we asked her to share her feelings. And she told us the story of why she had come: she was just curious to see how Thay closed the door behind him. And she had been observing all of us during the three weeks.
So, closing the door, opening the door, is a practice.
You have to do it in the Kingdom of God. In the Pure Land of the Buddha. If you are inhabited by the energy of mindfulness and concentration, you can be very happy closing the door. Not because you don’t want to make noise for other people; the main purpose is to be always in the Pure Land of the Buddha.
Going to the WC. Defecating. Washing your hands. Brushing your teeth. Washing your face. Looking in the mirror. Smile. With compassion. And you have a list like this.
Turning on the light. You need only one second in order for the light to be on. In many areas of the Earth, you have to go for a lamp. You have to strike a match. It takes more time. And sometimes there is no match.
Taking a shower. The water flows. You become aware that the water has come from far away – deep in the earth, or very high from the mountains. And the water running on your fingers is a miracle. 💦
From time to time, I take some water, and wash my eyes. And I value each drop of water like a pearl, like a jewel. It is wonderful, the water! And happiness is made of these moments of mindfulness.
The practice can be described as the practice of mindfulness. Happiness is made of concentration and mindfulness.
When you are happy, when you have had enough of these energies of mindfulness and concentration, you feel good within yourself. You feel that you are in the Kingdom of God, and you are in a situation to help other living beings. You no longer complain of anything, because you have enough compassion to embrace and to help other living beings.
So, please, get a copy of this.