The 40 Tenets of Plum Village is a new series of in-depth video teachings on the Plum Village App. It is based on an ongoing weekly class run by Dharma teacher Brother Phap Luu, which is being live-streamed from Deer Park Monastery, California throughout 2021.
Each class discusses a new tenet – a principle that Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village community developed through insight into applied Buddhist teachings – and lasts around an hour. You can join the remaining classes live – which usually take place on Wednesday nights, US Pacific Daylight Time – by setting upcoming-event reminders on the Monastery’s YouTube channel. Alternatively, watch them subsequently on YouTube or the Plum Village App.
The class is based on the book Làng Mai nhìn núi Thứu – or Plum Village Looks at Vulture’s Peak (an English translation is currently being prepared). Written by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, it describes the essential characteristics of Plum Village practice and teachings.
A tenet is a principle that we realize through our insight into lived experience, something we see that nourishes our capacity to touch the unconditioned. It is not a dogma, and we should not get attached to the wording. Thay lays out the whole of the path of liberation in these tenets. The tenets are concise; with study and practice each one expands out to touch every facet of the teachings of awakening. Learning the tenets can serve as a mnemonic to help us to practice in difficult moments.Brother Phap Luu
The 40 Tenets: a short history
In the early 90s, Thich Nhat Hanh taught many courses on the history of Buddhist thought, and discussed the different tenets of the twenty-plus different early Buddhist schools. These teachings gave an overview of the history of Buddhist thought.
The 40 Tenets formulated by Thay were taught by him in Plum Village during retreats over 2006 and 2007. They are his attempt to identify and define the teachings that are learned, maintained, and transmitted in Plum Village, and their relationship to the various paths in the history of Buddhism. They result from his and the Plum Village community’s study and practice of Buddhist teachings and methods, and of their deep looking into the evolution of the various Buddhist schools.
These tenets serve as the foundation for the Plum Village teachings and practices.
It is possible that our way of looking today will change in order to adapt to a deeper and more relevant way of looking tomorrow. In being faithful to the open and undogmatic stance of Buddhism, Plum Village always holds the door wide open for change, and so never has a rigid and dogmatic attitude that only its way of seeing things is right. This way of looking is practiced regularly in order to remove the obstacle of knowledge (jñeyāvarana), and always to have the opportunity to go forwardThich Nhat Hanh
The 40 Tenets
Below are the English translations of the tenets themselves, initially published on the Order of Interbeing website:
1. Space is not an unconditioned dharma. It manifests together with time, matter, and consciousness.
2. In the historical dimension, every dharma is a conditioned dharma. In the ultimate dimension, every dharma is an unconditioned dharma.
3. Nirvāṇa is the absence of ignorance (avidyā) and the afflictions (kleśa), but not the absence of the aggregates (skandha), sense spheres (āyatana), and domains of existence (dhātu)
4. Nirvāṇa is nirvāṇa. There does not need to be a nirvāṇa with residue (sopādiśeṣa) or without residue (anupādiśeṣa).
5. It is possible to touch nirvāṇa in the present moment.
6. Nirvāṇa is not a phenomenon, but the true nature of all phenomena.
7. Not-born means nirvāṇa and is the awakening to the truth of the deathless, the no-coming and no-going, the not-the-same and not-different, the not being and not non-being.
8. The concentrations on emptiness, signlessness, and aimlessness help us to touch nirvāṇa and the unconditioned.
9. The Three Dharma Seals are: impermanence, non-self, and nirvāṇa. We can uphold Four Dharma Seals or Five Dharma Seals on one condition: that they include nirvāṇa.
10. The basic concentrations (samādhi) are the concentrations on impermanence, no-self, and nirvāṇa.
11. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight are the essential practices that give rise to liberation.
12. Precepts are mindfulness. (Śīla is smṛti.) Precepts and mindful manners are concrete expressions of mindfulness.
13. Right diligence is mindfulness training (morality, śīla), and therefore is also mindfulness.
14. Mindfulness, concentration, and insight include each other. All three have the capacity to bring joy, happiness, and liberation.
15. The awareness of suffering helps us recognize the existing conditions of happiness, and also helps prevent the creation of wrong actions and the planting of negative seeds that will bring about suffering.
16. The Four Noble Truths are all conditioned. The Four Noble Truths are all unconditioned.
17. The Third Noble Truth can be called the truth of happiness.
18. Free will is possible thanks to the Three Trainings.
19. You should learn to see the Second Noble Truth as the path of the eight wrong practices. The deep cause of ill-being is not only desire.
20. A real Arahat is also a Bodhisattva and a real Bodhisattva is also an Arahat.
21. As a human being, you have the capacity to become a Buddha. As a Buddha, you continue to be a human being. That is why numerous Buddhas are possible.
22. The Buddha has many bodies: the body of a living being, the Dharma body, the body outside of the body, the Sangha body, the continuation body, the Dharma-realm body, and the true nature of the Dharma-realm body. Since human beings can become Buddha, they also have all these bodies.
23. We can talk of a person as a continuous and ever-changing stream of five aggregates. This stream is always flowing. It is connected to, receives from, and contributes to other streams of phenomena. We cannot speak of a person as an unchanging and permanent separate self.
24. We can only understand the real teaching of rebirth (samsāra) in the light of impermanence, no-self, and interbeing.
25. Happiness and suffering inter-are. Affliction and enlightenment are both of an organic nature.
26. The Sangha body, the Buddha body and the Dharma body inter-are. In a true Sangha, you can find the true Buddha and the true Dharma.
27. Since the afflictions (kleśa) and the awakening (bodhi) are of an organic nature, the practice needs to be constant in order for transformation to continue and for regression to not take place. Samsāra is a continuation and the beautiful and wholesome things need to be continued for as long as possible, while the not-beautiful and unwholesome need to be transformed so that they do not continue. The compost has to be used to nourish the flowers.
28. Liberation from samsāra does not mean putting an end to the personal self (pudgala), because that person is not a real entity anyway. Nor does it mean putting an end to the precepts’ body and the spiritual life.
29. Birth and death are only manifestation or non-manifestation. Both manifestor and manifested occur at the same time; the manifestation of one thing is the non-manifestation of something else.
30. A dharma is not a thing, an entity, but a process, an event, and above all an object of mind.
31. Retribution consists of both body-mind and environment, and is both individual and collective. This land is the Sahā land for living beings, but Pure Land for Buddhas and Bodhisattvas.
32. There is no self but still there is the cycle of birth and death; there is inter-continuation and the nature of all inter-continuation is interbeing.
33. On the one hand, each generation of Buddhist practitioners has to resist the human tendency and need to make the Buddha divine, and has to try to find a principle to take the place of a self.
34. Store consciousness has the capacity for learning, storing, protecting, responding, nourishing, healing, and continuing. Its function is to establish a database of the unconscious habits of response to situations, making it possible for a human being to act on ‘auto-pilot’.
35. Manas has a tendency to seek security and long-lasting pleasure. It is ignorant of the law of moderation, the danger of pleasure-seeking, and the goodness of suffering. It does not see the necessity of insight into impermanence, non-self, inter-being, compassion, and communication.
36. With the practice of mindfulness, concentration, and insight, mind consciousness can learn and download its insights to store consciousness, leaving it to do the work of maturation, before manifesting the seeds of wisdom that are already innate in store consciousness.
37. The basic practice of Source Buddhism is the Four Domains of Mindfulness, which have the function of recognizing and transforming habit energies and fully realizing the Seven Factors of Enlightenment and the Noble Eightfold Path. The Mahāyāna practice of meditation, including the Zen of the patriarchs, needs to go back to take a bath in Source Buddhism, from time to time, in order to not lose the essential Teachings of Buddhadharma.
38. The reality of the Pure Land or Nirvāṇa transcends both space and time. The reality of everything else is exactly the same.
39. Conditions, feelings, skandhas, āyatanas, dhātus, vijñāna, etc, are different ways of presenting the teachings. These different ways of presenting the teachings are not in opposition to each other.
40. The teachings on impermanence, non-self, interdependence, emptiness, signlessness, aimlessness, mindfulness, concentration, insight, etc, constitute the heart of Buddhist wisdom. They can coexist with the spirit of science, can be used in dialogue with science, and offer suggestions and support scientific research. Modern science should try to overcome the tendency of double grasping, and scientists should train themselves to develop their capacity for intuition.