Changing Ourselves Changes the World

Oh boy! We don’t seem to be getting along. 

Pundits shout => Leaders fail => We fall. 

If we don’t change, if we don’t stop screaming, ‘IT’S ALL YOUR FAULT!’ our suffering will only get worse. 

Luckily, we have access to something far more powerful than suffering: Love. Our very nature is Love, whether we want to call it ‘Buddha Nature,’ ‘That of God in everyone,’ or ‘Compassion.’ All these names point toward the unnameable Awakened Heart present in all things since the very beginning. We don’t have to improve our ability to love because it’s already fully formed. We simply need to practice in such a way that we transform the behaviors and beliefs that obscure our loving nature.

I propose a three-step practice: Setting intentions, stopping, and letting go.


Intentions direct us. Without clear intentions, we risk replaying old habits of belief and action and squandering this one precious life. Plum Village Zen offers concrete ways to set our intentions and reminds us that each act can wake us up. For example, when we brush our teeth we can recite the gatha, ‘Brushing my teeth and rinsing my mouth, I vow to speak purely and lovingly. When my mouth is fragrant with right speech, a flower blooms in the garden of my heart.’ You can search the internet for Plum Village gathas and find many to help set your intentions. 


Old beliefs and habits arise before we’re even aware of them, coloring our mind and body and controlling our behavior. But when we practice stopping, we have the possibility of responding rather than reacting. It is possible to respond from our intentions rather than react from our habits. Practice is based on stopping: We sit, breathe, listen to the bell, and find other creative ways to make space for things as they are. 

Letting Go

We are originally endowed with Awakened Nature, so we already know how to love. Our practice is the art of letting go of whatever blocks this Essential Love. Noticing, naming, and letting go of our unhelpful beliefs and behaviors is the hard work of personal change. But loving is the easy part. I like to breathe in things just as they are, drop what-is into the deep well of Love, then allow Love to breathe out. The breathing in takes effort; the breathing out is letting go. The breathing in takes courage; the breathing out is joy.

These three steps - setting intentions, stopping, and letting go - are how we learn to get along. Deepening our awareness of our Loving Nature by transforming all that blocks it changes us and, paradoxically, changes others. We aren’t separate from others, so how could it be otherwise?

Listen to the Podcast of this Dharma Talk.

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