Thích Từ Lực: Practicing Mindfulness for Youth

Tuyển tập 22 Tác giả
Biên tập: 
Cư sĩ Tâm Diệu, Nguyên Giác và Tâm Thường Định
Xuất bản và phát hành: 
Ananda Viet Foundation, Bodhi M Foundation và Lotus Media

Mùa Thành Đạo, Phật lịch 2563

Bìa và trình bày: Quảng Pháp và Thiên Nhạn

Published by
Bodhi M. Foundation, Lotus Media and Viet Ananda Foundation

Compiled and produced by
Tâm Diệu, Nguyên Giác, Tâm Thường Định.

Layout by Quảng Pháp and Thiên Nhạn

 ISBN: 978-1-0878-5969-9


Looking at American society so active and proliferous, we Buddhist practitioners sometimes have some conflicting ideas. We believe in the bright future and great growth of American society and the strong value of human rights in the United States; however, the law of impermanence in the Buddha’s teaching is still with us.

Through the news and TV programs, I feel the youth’s spiritual needs are not being met. We believe that without true direction, youth will not be able to develop their true potential and might be stuck in this society with such strong and fast growth.

I feel very honored and happy to attend the Vatican’s conference on ‘Buddhist – Christian dialogue’ in the summer of 2015. With my spirit of a Buddhist monk in Engaged Buddhism, I would like to contribute a few ideas in regards to youth in America.

A few key points that I would like to share are as follows:

  1. We, as spiritual leaders need to continue understanding youth’s wishes, desires and thinking in this Information Age. From there we may be able to guide them to have strong belief in their spiritual path, in order to help them build a strong, constructive and healthy future and bring benefits to all people.
  2. We need to encourage youth to pay attention to their family life where their daily activities and connections are with their loved ones. In the spirit of religion, families are like a warm place to nourish people. If we have a solid and harmonious family, then we have created an environment for youth to live happily and solidly in order to build a healthy society.

Now I would like to introduce my students who have accompanied me on this trip, Brother Pho Duc and Sister Pho Chau. They are also my assistants and recently were assigned to be the spiritual advisors to the Buddhist Youth groups: Chanh Tam (Right Heart) and Chanh Hoa (Right Harmony). Brother Pho Duc was born into a virtuous family of teachers. He graduated from the University of Education in Vietnam. As a monastic in the United States, he continued going to university studying multi religions until 2006.

Sister Pho Chau came to the United States when she was 10 years old; she graduated from the University of Hawaii. She became a nun to serve mankind. She also has served at Alta Bates Hospital in Berkeley, California, as a chaplain; assisting the patients and their family members.

Brother Pho Duc and sister Pho Chau are young and represent the young generation; they both will contribute direct and practical experiences to young people. The reason we create this document is to share our hearts with you, the conference attendees, to build our relationship and fraternity.

I sincerely express my deep appreciation to Pope Francis who shows a generous heart when he created and supported this opportunity. I also want to thank Professor Donald Mitchell of Purdue University who has helped and encouraged me on the journey to attend this conference.


My youth occurred during the war in Vietnam, therefore I had more sorrow than joy. I remember my family was in a village that was about 20 km in the south of Hue city, which is Central Vietnam. In high school at the age of 14, I already felt there was something wrong in my future. I stopped going to school and left home when I was 15 years old, even though my family had enough food and clothes, and I knew my parents loved me very much. The only thing was that I felt nobody understood me and I needed to leave home and find my own path! During these 2 years away from home, I lived with friends. One of my best friends was a member of the Buddhist Youth group; he was three years older than me. We shared with each other many experiences of happiness and sorrow. We had lots of fun discussing ancient Chinese stories. We felt sad when feeling lonely and disconnected from life; we also felt poor when we had to share a cigarette. During this period, I also was a friend with a Catholic man. The interesting thing was that both of us had a dream to live a monastic life. Dũng wanted to be a Jesuit priest, focusing on education. I had to wait for eight more years to have the ‘right condition’ to realize my dream. Knowing Dũng, and a friend with many Catholic practitioners, and especially because of my father’s acquaintance with Father Ngoc & Uncle Oai at the Catholic village, My Luong, I had love and respect for other religions early.

As a refugee in the United States in 1975, and living by myself, I had the opportunity to look closely at my life. Leaving behind me the sorrow past of a war-torn life, I did my best to rebuild my life in this new free society. Because I experienced a poor quality of life in a war-torn country that I had just left, I appreciate the meals full of nourishment in this country. Since then I also love the children who are starving in Africa and in many other places in the world. I remember when I contribute to the fundraising to support the hungry children in Vietnam, coordinated by sister Chan Khong of Plum Village since 1978, every month $10.

I deeply connect with the loneliness and lost feelings of young people; especially when they no longer have faith in society, or they can not lean on their loved ones or have a warm and loving connection with their family members. My personal experience was the months and years away from home, as a homeless person, lying on a hammock, in the middle of the jungle full of danger in the Central part of Vietnam. I love and respect the warm, connected atmosphere of families. I realize that growing up in a family full of care with understanding and love, a child may be able to become a solid person both spiritually and physically.

Believing in this, when I graduated from University and started to work with youth, I focused on building and working closely with the Buddhist Youth groups. At the Compassion Meditation Center in Hayward, California where I reside, we now have three Buddhist Youth groups: Right Heart, Right Virtue, and Right Harmony, a total of about 300 students. I also participate in retreats of the Retreat of Awakening, Harmony Pine Camp and the WakeUp movement. I also attend many camps of Boy Scouts, youth of Catholic groups to maintain the Vietnamese culture in many places in the United States.

I believe that through our common activities with the same goal of supporting society and humanity with love and compassion for youth, we can build a close, sincere and long lasting brotherhood and sisterhood relationship.

I feel at ease and happy as a Buddhist monk. Looking back, for the last 20 years plus, I made friends with many young people. Despite our various religions, languages and cultures, we collaborated to build our community in friendship and love. I specifically remember the connection at the summer camp with Unaccompanied Minors (orphans) coordinated by the Lutheran Social Services of North Dakota. I treasure this memory (I have a picture of this event hanging in my room.) Wow! I felt love and heart-felt emotion looking at young children, thinking of my poor situation in my past, and being lonely without connections to my parents and other family members.

However, I had many connections with friends to nourish human touch. Recently Professor Mitchell kindly offered to help me transport a mindfulness bell to Rome. The sound of the spiritual bell reminds me of a lovely memory spending time with some young people. I used a lid of a pan as a mindfulness bell to guide a sitting meditation with a Catholic family. Such a courageous young man, no roadblocks! I have fun thinking about this story. That year I was 32 years old. I took 3 months going through 20 states in the United States to share the dharma in many places with many people. In my youth, I had neither serious obstacles nor disaster. Similar to so many other families and people in a country during wartime, we had to be patient, tolerant and even be-friend with the difficulties and danger of war. I recognize I did not have a clear future for myself. Luckily, perhaps because I was raised in a strong and healthy family, I did not fall into serious problem. After that, growing more in the United States, I had many wonderful opportunities of ‘right conditions’, I found peace and joy in my life. On the path of service, through my own experience, I understand somewhat the wishes and desires of youth in this modern society, what do they want, what are they struggling with. I vow to do my best to guide youth, to help young people have better spiritual path and energy to progress solidly in life. Hopefully society will be peaceful and have more joy and less suffering. I believe exactly as the teaching and wishes of the Pope. This is also the path of Bodhisattvas in Buddhism:

May all beings be safe.

May the world be peaceful and happy.


Each morning when I wake up, I ask myself: How do I live? Life is not permanent; I know that each minute, each hour during the day is for me to live in each moment. I need to live in peace in order to bring joy and happiness for myself and consequently for others. I practice this gatha from the practice of Plum Village tradition, and I want to invite you to do the same:

“Waking up this morning, I smile, Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.

I vow to live fully in each moment; and to look at all beings with eyes of love and compassion.”

This is mindfulness, love and compassion. You may light up your mindfulness energy with your breath. Then smile and offer your gift to life. Let go of worries, and remember not to chase after a material life. The more I want in the material world, the less freedom and peace I have. I know the same is true for all of us. When I know I have ‘enough’ for both mind and body then I have happiness. I then vow to beautify the world. This is the path of compassion and loving kindness in Buddhism. We can look at all the people around us with loving eyes, from kind neighbors to police officers who protect us, from our loved ones to our coworkers. We can treat each other with loving-kindness, and we will see life is a joy and life is peaceful in each day, each hour.

I want to introduce another method, for example, PBS that is an acronym for Public Broadcasting System on television in San Francisco. And we can use it this way in mindfulness: P: Pause, B: Breathe & S: Smile. Once in a while, stop what you are doing; follow your breathing with awareness and a smile.

Another code from the world Medical Society is: SAFE. We need to look at this deeply.

S: Smoking

A: Alcohol

F: Food

E: Exercise

We need to pay attention to these four areas of our life, and take care of them carefully. Naturally, don’t smoke or indulge in alcohol. Daily we need to watch out for our consumption in moderation and we need to exercise. If we apply these guidelines in pagodas or at home, we foster a happy and healthy life right in this world for ourselves and for those around us, even though the world may not be perfect.

If you want to progress further on this path, and you can achieve more peace and joy, plus have the capacity to help others; please let me introduce to you the Buddhist mindfulness practice. Mainly Buddhist mindfulness has two parts: stopping and looking deeply.

Stop wishing for things that are far-reaching ambition. Stop wanting material things and forget that you are living right here, right now, moment by moment. At our pagoda, I practice: mindfulness is the heart of life. I believe that with mindfulness we can stop and prevent creating bad things and cultivate good things. Therefore we can create goodness and beauty in our lives.

First thing we need to remember: When we have mindfulness, we can be our own bosses. Then look deeply in our activities during the day. For example, when you feel some sadness or anger, don’t let that anger hurt yourself and others. Don’t let a small anger become a huge deal, and regret later. Use mindfulness skillfully, breathing in and out with awareness and you will be the boss of that anger.

You will find peace and joy as a result of practicing mindfulness daily and being aware of your daily activities. You may want to practice 20 minutes a day. This is a time of peace and nourishment for our spiritual lives. I believe strongly in this. I wish you success.

Thich Tu-Luc
Hayward, May 25, 2015

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