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Photo from PlumVillage.org

A young man asks Thich Nhat Hanh a question on young people following their dreams during the Questions and Answers session of a retreat at Deer Park Monastery, California in September 2011.

Young man: Dear Thay, dear Sangha, I’m wondering if you could talk to us younger people about following our dreams whilst staying in the present moment, and not getting pulled away by ambition and some of the needs that might arise to be seen or to belong.

Thich Nhat Hanh: In the teaching of the Buddha there is a source of food, a source of nutriment called ‘volition’, aspiration. Everyone should have a dream, and the Buddha also had a dream.

There are four kinds of nutriments, food. The first one is edible food you eat with your mouth. And the Buddha recommended that we eat mindfully and we eat in such a way to preserve compassion in us, not to destroy compassion in us, so that we can connect with other living beings. Mindful eating of edible food.

And the second kind of food is sensory impressions. We consume not with the mouth but with the eyes, ears, nose, tongue, body and mind.

When we read a magazine, we consume – that is a kind of nutriment. When we watch television, we consume. When we listen to the music, we consume. And again, the Buddha recommended that we consume mindfully so that we will not ingest toxins into our body and mind. Because a television programme or a magazine article may be full of violence, fear and anger. I have to select and not to consume too much of these things. That is the second source of nutriment called sensory impressions. This has to do with the 5th Mindfulness Training: Mindful Consumption. And in our family, in our society, we have to adopt an intelligent policy of consumption so that we will not bring toxins, poisons into our body and our mind. And therefore we need people to produce only the items that do not contain toxins, poisons and despair. And young people, if they know how to protect themselves, they will know not to consume these things. They continue to produce these things because we keep consuming, and if we stop consuming they will stop producing many toxic products.

Each of us should have an aspiration, a dream, a deep desire, so that we come alive.

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And then the third nutriment is our dream, is our volition, is our aspiration. Each of us human beings should have an aspiration, a dream, a deep desire, so that we come alive. So the young people, they also should have a dream, they want to realize something.

When Siddhartha was young, he saw a lot of suffering around him. But he did not give up to despair, so he tried to find a way in order to transform the suffering in him and after that help other people to transform their own suffering. So that is his deepest desire, his deepest volition. And that is the third source of nutriment: volition. And that desire is very strong, very strong. That is why the Buddha, Siddhartha, could go through many difficulties. And finally he could transform himself and begin to help many people. He wanted to help many people and that’s why he spent 45 years going around many countries helping people to suffer less. And during the course of sharing, teaching, he built a huge Sangha to support him, to help him change the way of life so that people will suffer less, and have a taste of peace and happiness. And the whole life of the Buddha was inspired, nourished by that kind of dream.

So we also should have a good dream. But the dream should be positive. The intention should be good because there are people who have a negative volition, like the ones who have a lot of hate, a lot of anger – they want to punish, they want to kill, they want to destroy, they are ready to die and to make the bombs explode so people will die, because there is so much anger and the wish, the intention, to punish, to kill. And that is kind of a volition, a dream too, but is very negative.

So every one of us should look into ourselves and to identify the dream, what kind of dream we are having, what kind of intention, what is the kind of deepest desire that we have in us.

If you have a desire to help people to suffer less, if you have a desire to protect the environment, the planet, if you have a desire to help the children not to die because of starvation – all these kind of dreams, of intentions, is good. And that is the third source of nutriment that we have to have. So the young people have a lot of energy, and if they have a wholesome desire, a beautiful dream, they can realize their dream. And that dream can be connected with the present moment.

So every one of us should look into ourselves and to identify the dream, what kind of dream we are having, what kind of intention, what is the kind of deepest desire that we have in us.

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One day, a young student of Thay in Plum Village asked Thay this, “Dear Thay, you are over 80 now, what is the thing you would like to do before you die? Tell us your dream, anything that you like to do”

And Thay answered like this, “Dear one, everything that Thay is doing every day, Thay like to do it. Walking, sitting, teaching, writing, helping, everything Thay does, Thay like to do it. So his dream is unfolding every day. Thay does not need to wait for the future in order to see the dream realized. His dream is being realized in every moment. He’s a happy person because he sees his dream being realized. It is being realized in the present moment and sure it will be realized in the future.

It’s like when Thay practices mindful walking with his disciples, and when he sees that his disciples enjoy every step and experience the kingdom of God in the here and now, Thay is very happy. Thay’s dream is being realized in the here and now and Thay knows that after the dissolution of this body, Thay’s dreams will continue to be realized with his disciples.

So the future and the present, they are linked to each other. And if you know that happiness, peace and love is possible now, you are sure that it will be possible in the next step. So there is a way of dreaming that can help us to enjoy the dream right away and not to long for something only in the future.

Please reflect on this. It’s wonderful teaching of the Buddha.

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Listen to Thich Nhat Hanh’s response here (11 min): 

Listen and download the entire Question and Answers session here.
Watch the video version here.