The Way of Practice
from Understanding Our Mind
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Meditating on the nature of interdependence
can transform delusion into enlightenment.
Samsara and suchness are not two.
They are one and te same.

When we live in mindfulness, we are able to see the interdependent nature at the heart of things and transform our ingnorance into insight. Delusion becomes enlightenment - we see that what we formerly perceived as samsara is really non onther than nirvana, the realm of suchness. Mindfulness of the nature of interdependene is the key to this transformation. 
    Verses Thirty-Nine and Forty introduced us to the three natures. The Manifestation Only teachings say that all phenomena have one or more of three "self-natures" (svabhava) - the nature of imaginary construction and descrimination (parikalpita), the nature of interdependence (paratantra), and fulfilled nature (nishpanna), i.e., the nature of ultimate reality. Most of the time we are operating within the world of imaginary construction. We see things being born and dying, becoming and fading, one or many coming and going, and in our mind we attribute these qualities to reality - but they are not reality itself. That is why they are called "imaginary constructions." Reality takes the shape it does because of our lack of understanding. If we are sad, we see the moon as sad. The sad self-nature of the moon is a construction of our own mind. We are imprisoned by the world of ignorance, birth, and death because we take this imaginary, constructed world created by our mind as reality.
    The opposite of the world of imaginary construction is the fulfilled self-nature, the nature of things as they are. This is not a construction of our mind nor is it subject to conceptualization. In the realm of things-in-themselves, there is no birth, no death, no one, no many, no coming, no going, no existence, no nonexistence. This is the ultimate dimension, the realm of suchness, nirvana. How do we leave the world of imaginary construction and enter nirvana? The way is through meditating on the nature of interdependence, the practice of paratantra.
    Paratantra is the process of learning and training ourselves to look deeply into the nature of interdependence. When we see the interdependent self-nature of things, we are no longer caught in notions of duality. We see that samsara and suchness not two. With deluded mind, we only see samsara. But when our mind is purified and becomes true mind, samsara is transformed into suchness, nirvana. Whether the ground beneath our feet is heaven or hell depends entirely on our way of seeing and walking. Samsara and suchness have the same ground - the ground of our consciousness, our mind. If we practice looking deeply into the nature of interdependence, the nature of interbeing of all things, that is paratantra. Through this insight we are able to transform delusion into illumination.
    Interdependence means that a thing can arise only in reliance on other things. A flower arises in dependence on the seed, clouds, rain, soil, and the warmth of the sun. All these things are other than the flower, but the flower depends on them for its existence. This is the interdependent self-nature of a flower. Everything in the universe has this interdependent self-nature. Looking deeply and shining light on interdependent self-nature of all that we perceive is the way to transform ignorance into awakened understanding.
    We shine light on the way things are by looking deeply at impermanence, nonself, and interbeing. The Discourse on the Dharma Seal teaches that when we are able to touch the impermanent and nonself nature of phenomena, we can touch nirvana. Another way of understanding or describing nirvana is the nature of interbeing of all things, or Interdependent Co-Arising. Impermanence and nonself belong to the phenomenal world; nirvana belongs to the noumenal world. The Three Dharama Seals of impermanence, nonself, and nirvana are the keys to understanding the Manifestation Only teachings.
    The first key is impermanence, and it is used to open the door of reality concerning time. Nonself, the second key, is used to open the door of reality concerning space. They are spoken of as different but in truth they are one. Time and space are one. One cannot be without the other. The third key, nirvana, is the fulfilled natrue, the reality of no birth, no death; no coming, no going; no one, no many, no existing, no not-existing. This is the world of Interdependent Co-Arising, where nothing exists as a separate, permanent entity. Impermanence and nonself go tothether with the nature of interbeing. To touch nirvana, to see the interdependent nature of reality, we have to touch impermanence and nonself.
    The nature of imaginary construction goes together with our deluded beliefs in permanence and a separately existing self. We see the world around us as permanent and consisting of separate self-existing entities. That is why when we begin the practice we need to use the two keys of impermanence and nonself to shine light on the Interdependent Co-Arising nature of all things. The way to practice is to light up mindfulness and live every moment in its light.
    Looking at a flower in the light of mindfulness, we can easily see that it arises in dependence with sunlight, rain, soil, and so on. We can do the same with human beings - looking at our parents or our friends, we also see their interdependent nature. We need to have the understanding of Interdependent Co-Arising when we look into our own and others' psychological traits. If someone is always angry or sad, we feel uncomfortable with that person, and we have the tendency to blame or shun him. But once we understand the roots of his anger and sadness, once we see how it manifests in dependence on other factors, we will be able to accept him, to look at him with compassion, and we will want to help him. Naturally, we and the other person will suffer less. This is the fruit that can be realized right away due to insight into Interdependent Co-Arising.
    When we see a child who is well-behaved, we may understand the source and reason for his good behavior - is the ground that nurtured him, his community and his family. It is even more important to see the interdependently co-arising of a child who is cruel. Just as with good behavior, the reasons for a child's cruelty can be found in his family, society, school, friends, and ancestors, If we do not shine the light on Interdependent Co-Arising on the child's character, we get angry or afraid, and we blame him. We must do our best to understand his interdependent self-nature in order to understand him, accept him, love him, and help him transform.
    If we look at the death penalty in the light of Interdependent Co-Arising, we see that such an extreme punishment is not reasonable. A person commits a serious crime because of, among other things, the seeds he has inherited from his ancestors and the seeds that have been planted during his own liftime. He has been exposed to various environments, and his parents, siblings, friends, educators, authorities, and society have not done enough to help him transform the unwholesome seeds that he has received. The ripening of those seeds has created a tremendous force in him that has driven him to kill, rape, or commit other serious crimes. When we think there is nothng to be done with that person other than to kill him, we manifest our collective powerlessness. As a society, we are defeated. We must look deeply at all the causes and conditions that helped make the criminal that he is so that we are able to give rise to a heart of compassion and help transform the unwholesome seeds in him as well as in our collective consciousness.
    Of course, it is very difficult to forgive the person who harms us. Our first response is often anger and a desire for revenge. If, however, we are able to look deeply in the light of Interdependent Co-Arising, we may be able to see that if we had grown up, been educated, or experienced life the way that that criminal had, we would not be very different from him. When we understand this, we may even begin to feel protective toward him instead of angry or vengeful.
    The Jakata Tales are stories of the previous lives of the Buddha. As a bodhisattva, he practiced inclusiveness and forebearance. There are stories of him smiling while his body is being sawed into pieces. As a young boy I read the Jataka Tales and I could not understand how a human being could be that patient and forgiving. I was too young to understand that the Buddha was able to practice that way because he had the eyes of understanding and could see the causes and conditions that had led to the the cruelty and inhumanity of the person who was harming him. "The ability to see" is the raw material in a bodhisatta that leads to great comassion. Someone who has not yet tasted great compassion cannot understand the inclusiveness of a bodhisattva. But when having looked deeply, we get even a small taste of compassion, we are able to undetstand and love those who are curel and irresponsible. We are able to understand the smile of a bodhisattva.
    During the war in Vietnam, many monks, nuns, and young laypeople gave assistance to the victims of the war. Our young social workers were greatly motivated by love. They saw their people and their land suffering, and they wanted to help. The environment in which they worked was wretched and filled with suffering. One side throught we were communists and wanted to kill us. The other side thought we were enemy sympathizers or CIA agents. Many workers died during that time of darkness. In 1966, after I had already left Vietam, I suffered a great deal when I received news of the killings. I did not know whether our social workers were capable of reconciling in their own minds with the killers. So I wrote the poem of advice.

Promise me,
promise me this day,
promise me now, while the sun is overhead, exactly at the zenith,
promise me:
Even as they strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they dismember and disembowel you,
remember, brother,
man is not our enemy.
They only thing worthy of you is compassion-
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.
One day, when you face this beast alone,
with your courage intact, your eyes kind,
(even as no one sees them),
out of your smile
will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.
Alone again,
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road,
the sun and the moon
will continue to shine.

    Before I wrote this poem I spent a long time looking deeply. If we are not reconciled with our killers at the time of death, it is extremely painful to die. When we feel reconciled and have some compassion for them, we suffer much less. One of my students, Nhat Chi Mai, immolated herself as a call to the two warring parties to sit down together and end the war. Before she set fire to herself she read this poem into a tape recorder twice. When we look deeply into the nature of interdependence and see that the person harming us is also a victim - of his family, his society, his environment - understanding arises naturally. With understanding there is empathy and reconciliation. Understanding always leads to love. When we have love and compassion, we do not have anger and we do not suffer. Our fear, anxiety, sorrow, despair, and hopelessness are what cause us to suffer. The ability to see the interdependent nature of all things leads to compassion in our hearts and keeps us from suffering, even when people betray us and cause us harm. When we are able to love others in spite of their misdeeds, we are already a bodhisattva.
    Compassion grows in us from even the smallest acts. If while practicing walking meditation we see that we are about to step on a worm and we stop to avoid it, we know that compassion is already in us. If we practice looking deeply and live our daily loves in an awakened way, our compassion will grow day by day. A phrase in the Lotus Sutra encapsulates this: "Looking at all beings with the eyes of compassion." When we look at trees, rocks, clouds, sky, humans, and animals with the eyes of love, we know that understanding is already there. Understanding, love, and compassion are one.
    Through the practice of deep looking, we can see the interdependent nature of all things and transform delusion into illumination. The object of deluded mind is samsara. The object of true mind is nirvana. When we are able to transform deluded mind into true mind through the practice of paratantra, of seeing the nature of interbeing of all things, we reach the realm of suchness, the realm of things-in-themselves. If we know how to walk with solididty and freedom, the ground under our feet is heaven. If we walk with sorrow, fear, and anger, we walk in hell. It all depends on our way of walking, our way of being.
    When you look deeply into birth and death, you see the nature of no-birth and no-death. It is like the water and the wave. We think that there is one moment when the wave begins and one moment when it ceases to be, and so we get caught in the fear of birth and death. Birth and death, wave and water, are just appearances, just notions. We have other notions, like higher and lower, or more or less beautiful. Because of these notions, we suffer. This is samsara.
    When we touch the reality of interdependence, the reality of fulfilled nature (nishpana), we are free from all notions, including notions of coming and going, being and nonbeing, birth and death. We realize non-fear when we are able to touch nirvana. It is the greatest relief to touch the ultimate dimension, nirvana, and this is possible through the practice of looking deeply. Don't thing that it is too difficult. We all have the chance to touch nirvana, to see things globally and not be caught in the small view.
    Suppose yestereday someone said something that hurt you deeply. He did not give you a chance to reply. He just left. You were so angry. You felt that you had lost your dignity, because you did not have a chance to reply. All afternoon you suffered. but this morning, while you are brushing your teeth, you burst out laughing. the whole matter that had caused you so much suffering suddenly seems insignificant. Only one night separates you from the event, and yet already you feel that kind of relief, because you are going in the direction of seeing the bigger picture. If we know how to look globally, how to touch time and space as a whole, we will not suffer. 
    When your beloved says something that hurts you try this practice: Close you eyes, breathe mindfully in and out, and visualizethe two of you one hundred years form now. After three breaths, when you open your eyes, you will no longer feel hurt; instead, you will want to hug her. These are examples of touching nirvana. We learn to touch the whole and not get caught in small situations. Imaginary construction brings about the misery of samsara. The nature of nirvana opens the door of wisdom and reveals the realm of suchness. The bridge between the two is paratantra, insight into the interdependent co-arising nature of reality.
    Samsara and suchness are not different. They have the same ground. The wave does not have to do anything to become water. It has had nirvana in it for a long time. Just like the water, you don't have to look for nirvana. When you are able to see through the eyes of interbeing and interdependence, you touch the nature of nirvana within yourself.