This is an excerpt from a Dharma talk for children that took place in 2010 during the No Birth, No Death Nottingham Retreat.
Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of a kernel of corn becoming a corn stalk. It is a story of continuation that you can share with your children, as Thay made it accessible to a young audience.
Thay starts by remembering how on a previous retreat, where there were about seventy children, he gave them homework. He bought a bag of corn seeds – the kind you make popcorn with. There were about 1,000 grains of corn inside, and Thay offered each child and adult in the retreat one grain of corn. The homework was to take the grain home and plant it in a pot, and then to come back every day to check the seed and give it water.
“And 10 days after the planting, they may already see a young plant of corn with two or three leaves. And they should come and talk to the plant of corn.
“The first question they may ask the plant of corn is: ‘My dear little plant of corn, do you remember the time you were a tiny seed?’
“The young plant of corn may have forgotten and it may look up, very surprised: ‘Me? A grain of corn? I don’t believe it!’
“You know, the plants of corn, they don’t speak English like we do here. They don’t speak Italian either. But they have their way of talking, of communicating, so if you are very attentive, you can understand what it tries to tell you.
“So the plant of corn will look up very surprised, and say something like: ‘Me? Lived as a grain of corn? I don’t believe it!’ And you have to help her because you have planted the seed of corn. You have come every day and watered the seed of corn. You know very well that is the truth, and you try your best to help the young plant of corn to remember: ‘Listen, my dear. I remember very well the time when you were a tiny seed of corn – Thay had given it to me during a retreat, and I planted you in this pot. And I have waited several days before you sprout and put forth the first leaf. So I know very well that you had been a grain of corn.’
“So with your help, the plant of corn will be able to remember and acknowledge the fact that she had been a grain of corn at one time. And if you do better, when you look at the plant of corn, even if you don’t see the grain of corn anymore, you know that the grain of corn is still there somewhere. The grain of corn has not died.
“If the grain of corn had died, the plant of corn could not have been there. So you know that somehow the grain of corn is still alive in the plant of corn. And if you look deeply into the plant of corn, you can still see the grain of corn in it. It doesn’t have the form of a grain anymore, but it’s still alive. And you know very well that the plant of corn is a continuation of the grain of corn. […]
“And you tell the plant of corn: ‘I know the grain of corn in you is not dead. It’s still alive. You don’t see it, but you have come from it and when I look at you, I see the grain of corn in you.’
“If you are a practitioner of meditation, you can see very well the seed of corn present in the plant of corn. And when you look at yourself, into your body, what do you see?
“You don’t believe that at one time in the past you were a tiny seed also. You were a very tiny seed in the womb of your mother and much smaller than the grain of corn. You don’t remember that. So Thay is helping you to remember the time you were a very tiny seed in the womb of your mother. And you are a continuation of that seed. If you look deeply, you still see that seed in you, still alive.”
As Thay’s story suggests, when you practice meditation, you can see and understand things that other people cannot see.
“Do you remember that wonderful time you spent in the womb of your mother? Maybe you have a vague memory of that time. It’s so comfortable there. It’s not too hot. It’s not too cold. The temperature is just right, and it’s very soft. You spend about nine months in that wonderful abode.
“In Vietnamese and Chinese, we call that place in the womb of your mother ‘the palace of the child.’ It’s such a wonderful, comfortable place to be in.
“The most wonderful thing is that you did not have to worry about anything there. You did not think of the past or the future, you didn’t even think about eating or drinking, because everything was done by your mommy. She drank for you, she ate for you, she breathed for you. You did not have to do anything at all. And your father was taking good care of your mother.
“It is possible for us to remember that time when you were a tiny seed in the womb of your mother.
“The day when your mother was aware that you were there inside of her, she was so happy. She bloomed like a flower, and love was born in her. Although you have not learned English, she already talked to you in English.
“She said something like: ‘Darling, I know you are there. I am very happy.’ She was practicing the first and the second mantras.
“Your presence brought a lot of joy to your mom and your dad. You were very tiny, and yet you were the object of love. And your mother was very careful. She stopped drinking alcohol, she stopped smoking because she knew that doing so would harm you inside. That was out of love. And she didn’t stay up too late in the night. She tried to do things gently, and she cared about what she ate, she selected the good things to eat only, because she knew that eating something that is not good for her, would not be good for you.
“So there was a lot of love, a lot of care from the part of your mother. And your father was equally happy, and he took good care of your mother. He did not dare to say anything that would make your mother worry or angry, because if your mother was angry, you inside would get angry also. So, out of love, your father was very mindful, not to say or do anything that makes your mom suffer, because if he makes your mom suffer, he makes you suffer.
“The love was great and many of us do not remember that time.
“The moment when you were born was a very difficult moment for you, for your mother, and for your father. It took a lot of pain for her for you to come out. When you come out, they cut the umbilical cord. You have been connected to your mother by a long cord. The air that your mother breathed came to you through that umbilical cord. The food that your mother ate went to you through that umbilical cord. It’s quite long, and when you were born, they cut the umbilical cord. And you had to be on your own from that moment.
“You had to eat for yourself. She cannot eat for you anymore. You had to drink for yourself. She cannot drink for you anymore. And you had to breathe for yourself. She cannot breathe for you anymore.
“It’s so difficult for you, it’s so difficult for her. And it was a very dangerous moment. You had to learn how to make your first in-breath. It’s not easy for a baby.
“There was some liquid in your lungs. If you could not get it out of your lungs, you could not take your first in-breath. So you try your best. If you did not succeed, you would die. That is a very critical, difficult moment for you, for your mother, and so on.
“But happily, you have survived. You were able to expel the liquid from your lungs, and take in the first in-breath.
“You don’t remember that moment. Thay is helping you to remember like you are helping the young plant of corn to remember.
“Although you have two arms, two feet, a mouth, and a nose, you still need someone to feed you, to help you, to make you warm, to make you comfortable. And that was provided by your mother and your father.
“And what I would like to remind you today is that during the time you were in the womb of your mother, from time to time, she talked to you and although you had not learned English, you understood.
“There are other ways of communication.
“Sometimes you would like to remind your mother that you were there. So you gave a kick. It means, ‘Mommy, I’m here.’ And she got the message. She said, ‘Darling, I know you are there.’ Because sometimes she may forget. And when you have grown up to be a little boy or a little girl, you might do the same meditation practice that you wanted the little plant of corn to do. You wanted the little plant of corn to look deeply and to see herself as a small grain of corn and to know that she is a continuation of the grain of corn.
“And Thay wants you to know that you have come from a very small grain planted by your mother and your father. And you are the continuation of that grain.
“It means you are a continuation of your father and your mother. You believe that your mother and your father are outside of you, but that is only part of the truth. The truth is that your mother is in you, your father is in you, in every cell of your body. And wherever you go, you carry your father and your mother with you. And when you smile, your father and your mother smile with you. When you cry, your father and mother cry with you. And when you are happy, your father and mother are happy in you. And when you suffer, your mother and father suffer with you.
“And if you practice better, you see that not only your father and mother are in you, but all generations of ancestors are in you. Every time you are able to take in one in-breath and feel happy, all your ancestors in you feel happy.
“When you are able to make a step full of stability, freedom and joy, all your ancestors in you rejoice. So you are not practicing for yourself alone. You are practicing for your parents and your ancestors.”
Watch this short teaching here ⤵️
Watch the full Dharma talk here.