The followings are excerpts from the podcast.
I thought maybe Plum Village practice doesn't work for me. ... After 4 years as a (novice) monk, I became a young bhikkhu (fully ordained Buddhist monk). I went to Thay's room and said, "Thay, I would like to leave you. I would like to leave the monastery and leave you. I want to go to Dalai Lama to learn the different practice. Because after 4 years, I don't find anymore peace. At the beginning I do had a lot of peace, joy and happiness. ... But now I feel very exhausted and very sick with my body. I want to go. Maybe your way of practice doesn't work for me. I need something like mantra in a something more complicated, more mystic than this breathing in-and-out and walking meditation." (lol)
And you know what Thay said? "Can you do the mindful breathing from the beginning to the end at the sitting?" I said, "No, I can't do that." "Can you do the mindful step? Can you really feel the earth from the beginning of the walk to the end of the walk?" (Usually we have about 45 minutes (of walking meditation) in Plum Village.) And I said, "No, I can't do that." And he (Thay) said, "You have to stay." (lol) That means that he doesn't give me the permission to go. And it's true because I hadn't trained yet. I had not been training fully this simple practice yet. And I already wanted to go because I was confused. I faced a lot of sufferings in me and I was running away from my sufferings. I had been running away from my own sufferings, thinking I need to go to the different traditions to learn more sophisticated way of the practice, mystic mantra, tantric (tantra).
Now after 27 years as a monk, I always ask a question to myself, not "who I am", but "What am I doing?" "What am I doing right now?" And that question brings me back right into, you know, the basic practice. "What am I doing here?" And "What am I doing for my life in the monastery?" So, it brings me back right away to the basic practice; breathing in, breathing out, walking meditation, eating meditation.
My mind kept wandering. ... Sometimes searching for enlightenment. My aspiration to become a monk was to become a Buddha. ... Because I wanted to become a Buddha, I wanted to get an enlightenment. So, that tendency of "who I am", you know what is the purpose in life as a human being, is to become a fully enlightened Buddha, which was very deep in me. It doesn't help at all in my daily practice.
But it is very deep anxiety (that is) running, looking for the state of mind where identified that I'm completely enlightened. But it's nonsense. It doesn't work that way for sure. Because I know now that enlightenment is not the state of mind. Enlightenment is not ideas. Enlightenment is not that you go deep inside, searching inside. No.
Enlightenment is a daily moment to moment practice. And what are we practicing? The practice of mindfulness. That's why mindfulness is the first factor of enlightenment. You know the Buddha spoke about enlightenment in seven factors, seven characteristics of enlightenment. Very concrete, very clear. And the first one is mindfulness.
(To be continued)
I understand that Thay Phap Dang is fully enlightened (one of several fully enlightened persons in the Plum Village tradition). He is very open and frank to have shared his very concrete experience before his full enlightenment. His method to be mindful was to bring him back right away to the basic practice by asking "What am I doing?". And he seems to have attained the full enlightenment through his daily moment to moment practice of breathing in-and-out or walking meditation. I want to ask him, "Is that all?" Because I understand that it's not so easy to remove the deep anxiety. My guess is that he must have understood the root cause of his very deep anxiety during the basic practice. That's because unconditional self-acceptance, or self-love is essential to remove the deep fear and anxiety. By the way, my self-inquiry method of asking "Who am I?", was very successful as below.
Thích Nhất Hạnh and Thay Phap Dang