On “The End of Suffering” by Thích Nhất Hạnh


An arrest­ing med­i­ta­tion by Thích Nhất Hạnh came back to me the oth­er day. I first post­ed it sev­en years ago. I encour­age you to lis­ten to it again or for the first time. 

The End of Suffering

May the sound of this bell pen­e­trate deep into the cosmos
Even in the dark­est spots liv­ing beings are able to hear it clearly
So that all suf­fer­ing in them cease, under­stand­ing come to their heart
And they tran­scend the path of sor­row and death.

The uni­ver­sal dhar­ma door is already open
The sound of the ris­ing tide is heard clearly
The mir­a­cle happens
A beau­ti­ful child appears in the heart of the lotus flower
One sin­gle drop of this com­pas­sion­ate water is enough
to bring back the refresh­ing spring to our moun­tains and rivers.

Lis­ten­ing to the bell I feel the afflic­tions in me begin to dissolve
My mind calm, my body relaxed
A smile is born on my lips
Fol­low­ing the sound of the bell, my breath brings me back
to the safe island of mindfulness
In the gar­den of my heart, the flow­ers of peace bloom beautifully.

You can find this med­i­ta­tion in this book and CD, a series of med­i­ta­tions and prayers devot­ed to facil­i­tat­ing the pas­sage from life to death. 

As I lis­tened this time around, the con­text seemed to have changed, or per­haps I’ve just got­ten older!

What does he mean by “this bell”? The bell in the record­ing that I am hear­ing with my out­er ears or the bell I hear with “inner” ears? And these dark spots where there are liv­ing beings? Where are they? I thought of peo­ple I know who are in dark places: the admin­is­tra­tor who unex­pect­ed­ly lost her hus­band of many years, the doc­tor who has a heart attack of his own, the friends whose mar­riage blew up seem­ing­ly with­out warn­ing, the accom­plished, super-bright client strug­gling with self-worth at work. All these events, these dark spots, and more. How, indeed, can we “tran­scend the path of sor­row and death”?

Some­thing unfolds in me like an old enve­lope. There’s a mes­sage in this med­i­ta­tion that for all the exte­ri­or suf­fer­ing we see around us and per­son­al­ly come to know, there’s so much that we cause to our­selves. The bell says “Real­ize” and “See into” and “Hear what can­not be explained.” Do you know what “under­stand­ing” it is that comes to their hearts? 

I am talk­ing to one of my favorite peo­ple about this and we explore togeth­er what can be done to stop the part of the suf­fer­ing in our lives that we own as self-caused. She men­tions how when she does­n’t feel under­stood by anoth­er, this trig­gers painful self-exam­i­na­tion; painful to the point of inter­nal ero­sion of her spir­it, a depres­sion, one that does­n’t make any sense. She los­es a bound­ary, buys a tick­et for a doom loop, some­times shal­low, some­times deep. Some of us buy a tick­et to blame oth­ers for what pain we expe­ri­ence and con­sid­er it jus­ti­fied. Some buy one to feast on them­selves. Either way, there are costs. The tick­et takes us down a path of sor­row caused to our­selves and oth­ers. Blam­ing, ques­tion­ing, doubt­ing, all these things can fade if the bell “pen­e­trates” deep enough into our cosmos. 

Per­haps that bell is just this: a deci­sion to tran­scend, to not take the bait, to refrain from that path of suf­fer­ing time and again as we find that deci­sion in our­selves, leav­ing all the rest to the inevitable work­ings of kar­ma. One does not escape kar­ma (even the bell suf­fers, I sus­pect) but there is the under­stand­ing, word­less and inex­plic­a­ble as it may be so that — tran­scend­ing — “a beau­ti­ful child appears in the heart of the lotus flower” and “in the gar­den of my heart, the flow­ers of peace bloom beautifully.”

Looked at in this way, the world may be full of sor­row and suf­fer­ing, and much more than we imag­ine shows itself as the prod­uct of our human choic­es to go down wrong paths, day after day, blam­ing oth­ers or our­selves, explain­ing these bad choic­es, unaware of any safe islands at all wait­ing for us. After all, it does seem to be a time when whole soci­eties are head­ed for those “dark spots.” Per­haps, hear­ing the bell, as we climb out on that lit­tle island, feel­ing a strange com­fort we nev­er expect­ed to feel, we’ll see for the first time the real depth of the flood that sur­rounds us and expe­ri­ence the greater com­pas­sion that is our birthright and that is need­ed now more than ever.


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  • Byron Murray wrote:

    “Something unfolds in me like an old envelope”. Thanks Dan. Sev­er­al old envelopes are unfold­ing right now. Amaz­ing what comes out of them that is much need­ed for us. Some­times we ignore them and don’t allow what’s inside to reveal itself. Might be because I’m get­ting old­er that I allow their mes­sage to be received and used. Late­ly sev­er­al doors have opened that allow neat soul work. Thanks again for push­ing me “beyond the edge.”

  • Byron–

    I’m glad to hear those doors keep open­ing for you! By the way, I don’t think any­body pushed you beyond the edge — I think you will­ing­ly leapt for­ward — and learned to fly! All the best to you!

    – Dan

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