Listening to Namo Avalokiteshvara

Namo Avalokiteshvara is one of the most loved Plum Village chants. The following is an excerpt from the Dharma talk by Thay introducing this chant in the first week of Summer Opening 2012, in Lower Hamlet, Plum Village.

Also included are links to selected videos of the Plum Village monastics chanting Namo Avalokiteshvara in many different places over the years, touching many people’s lives, and watering the seeds of compassion in them.


We shall begin today with chanting. And everyone is invited to participate in the practice of listening. The monastics are going to chant the name of Avalokiteshvara.

Avalokiteshvara is the name of an enlightened being who knows how to listen to the suffering within himself or herself and the suffering in the world.

This is a very deep practice.

Introduction to Namo Avalokiteshvara (Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France, July 2012)

If you know how to go back to yourself and listen to the suffering inside, you can get enlightenment. Understanding and compassion will arise from that kind of practice.

You understand your suffering. You understand the suffering of your father, your mother, and your ancestors. You understand the suffering of your people, your country. You understand the suffering of our society, and of the Earth.

And understanding like that will help love and compassion to arise.

Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France, July 2011

And when compassion arises, you suffer less right away. There is transformation and healing taking place when compassion is born in your heart.

Now you can look at the other person with compassion. You don’t suffer anymore when you look at him or her and can see the suffering in that person. You don’t blame. You are not angry at him or her anymore. Because in your heart there is already compassion. So instead of trying to punish him, you have the intention to do something or to say something to help the other person to suffer less. You can listen to that person with compassion. You can say things that can help him or her suffer less.

You can do many wonderful things like that, just because you are able to understand your own suffering. Understanding your own suffering, you can understand the suffering of the other person much more easily.

Upper Hamlet, Plum Village, France, July 2012 (from 39:17)

Avalokiteshvara is the kind of bodhisattva that is specialised in listening.

First, he goes back to himself and listens to the suffering inside of him. When listening to the suffering inside, he can understand the suffering of his parents, his ancestors, and at the same time he can understand the suffering of other people in society.

This is a very important practice because many of us do not want to listen to our own suffering. That is why you do not have a chance. So today’s chanting is to chant and to touch the suffering inside, so that you can allow compassion to arise, so that you can understand the suffering of your parents, of your ancestors, and of the world.

Brock University, Ontario, Canada, August 2013 (from 25:00)

When the monastics chant the name Avalokitesvara for the first time, they go back to themselves and try to touch the suffering inside of them.

When they sing and chant the name for the second time, they become aware of the suffering of the people around them.

And when they sing and chant it for the third time, they get in touch with the suffering in the world.

Blue Cliff Monastery, New York State, United States, August 2013 (from 38:00)

There are many spots in the world where people suffer very deeply. Not only because of war; because of separation, of natural catastrophes. They suffer also from social injustice or oppression, and violence. They suffer from difficult relationships and so on.

The practice of listening to the suffering is to give a chance for compassion to arise. When compassion arises, you feel better, you suffer less. It can happen very quickly. That is the practice of mindfulness of suffering. You are mindful of your own suffering. You are mindful of the suffering of the other person. You are mindful of the suffering of the world. Mindfulness of suffering will bring compassion and understanding.

Deer Park Monastery, California, United States, October 2013 (from 27:20)

When we sit and listen, we can do very much the same. We don’t have to chant aloud. We follow our in-breath and out-breath, and we go back to ourselves. We are not afraid of being in touch with the suffering inside. We allow ourselves to embrace our own suffering.

“Oh, my dear pain, my dear suffering, my dear sorrow. I know you are there. I’m not running away from you anymore. I’m back to recognise you and to embrace you like embracing a baby.”

That is what we practice. We go home and allow ourselves to be embraced, allow our suffering to be embraced by ourselves. We take care of ourselves.

When we hear the chanting for the second time, we are aware that the people around us have suffering also. We can communicate with them.

And then, when we hear the chanting for the third time, we know that in the world people suffer very much. And we want to be in communication with them. We want to be something or to do something in order to help the world to suffer less.

Why does Thay make finger movements during the Avalokiteshvara chant? | Q&A, June 2014

The practice is to allow ourselves to be here. Not to be taken away, pulled away by our thinking. Because if we sit here thinking, our thinking will take us elsewhere. That is why it is very important to stop thinking. Just to focus our attention on the chanting. And you are with the chanting.

You are breathing in, breathing out, and you stay with the chanting. So there is only the breathing in, breathing out, and the chanting.

And our mind can stop thinking. We just feel the energy – the collective energy of the sangha. The energy of mindfulness, the energy of compassion generated by the chanting. And we allow our body to be relaxed and to be open, so that the collective energy of the sangha can penetrate into our body. This is very important. Not to think. Just to feel.

European Institute of Applied Buddhism, Germany, August 2014

Open our body and allow the energy of mindfulness and compassion to penetrate into our body. We can do that. And if we can do that, then a few minutes later there will be a change. The tension in our body, the pain in our body will go away. Because we allow our body and our mind to be embraced by the collective energy of mindfulness, of compassion, generated by the chanting.

Chanting is not exactly praying, no. Chanting is to touch the suffering [in order] to allow compassion and understanding to arise. And when we do that together, the collective energy of compassion and mindfulness will be great. If we sit here and allow ourselves to be embraced by that energy, we will suffer less in a few minutes.

There is tension and pain in our body. If we allow our body to be embraced by the energy of mindfulness and compassion, we can release the tension and reduce the pain very easily in just a few minutes. And we will feel much better after a few minutes of listening. Listening, feeling, and not thinking.

Dreamforce (one of the world’s largest IT conferences), San Francisco, United States, November 2016

If you have some pain and sorrow or anger or fear in your heart, try to open your heart so that the energy of the sangha can penetrate into your heart. Don’t keep it for yourself. Open! And allow the energy of the sangha to penetrate and to help embrace the pain and the sorrow, the fear, and the anger in you.

“Dear sangha, I’m here. I have pain, suffering, fear, and despair in me. Please, help embrace these blocks of pain in me. I entrust myself to the sangha.”

So if you can open your heart and allow the energy of the sangha to penetrate and embrace your pain and your sorrow, you will feel better after a few minutes of listening. This is a matter of energy. The energy of suffering, of fear, of anger has been embraced by the energy of mindfulness and compassion, and transformation can happen if you allow your suffering, your fear, your anger to be embraced by the sangha.

Transformation and healing are possible during the time of this practice.

Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France, July 2017

And if we have someone very close to us back home who could not come to the retreat, and if that person suffers deeply, we can very well send this energy to him or her right here and right now.

We just think of that person or call the name of that person silently in our mind. And then this energy generated by the practice will be channelled to that person right this morning. And at home that person may feel better.

Avalokitesvara is a person who knows how to listen to the suffering inside and outside. And he got transformation and healing because of that practice. So we are going to practice like him, the bodhisattva of deep listening, the bodhisattva of compassionate listening.

And we feel that the bodhisattva is in us, not outside of us. It is in us. He is in us. Because we too have the capacity to listen to our own suffering and the suffering of the world.

Let us sit relaxed, and practice listening to the chanting.

Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France, July 2012 (from 24:20)

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