Welcome to episode 24 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.
In this episode, the presenters, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and journalist Jo Confino, talk about how to find peace in ourselves and to encourage peace in the world during times of war. They remember Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who himself lived through a conflict – the Vietnam War – yet found a way to peace, and to become an activist for transformation.
They also discuss inherited war traumas; the importance of maintaining compassion and balance during these times; the limits of compassion; going beyond our ‘roles’ and ‘labels’; chanelling anger; practicing when we feel ‘on the edge’; racism and discrimination; coming back to our humanity; cultivating love, peace, and nonviolence, every day. And: can we bear arms without hatred?
Brother Phap Huu shares his own family’s experience of the war in Vietnam and, subsequently, as refugees; Thay’s creation of a nonviolent movement in wartime; and surprising insights from a retreat for Palestinians and Israelis in Plum Village.
He also delves into recognizing the thoughts that manifest during wartime; taking refuge in the energy and wisdom of the practice; coming back to our human nature during hard times; nonviolence as a way, not a tool; grounding and moderation; becoming a refuge for those who are suffering; teaching the awareness of interbeing; and how to not drown in our own despair.
Jo considers the difficulty of transforming our feelings about the war through practice (such as not becoming consumed by the news, not taking sides, being equanimous); inherited war trauma; the transformational power of vulnerability; and the perils of hierarchies.
The episode ends with a chant on peace recited by Brother Phap Huu.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
‘The Five Earth Touchings’
Thich Nhat Hanh On…: ‘Peace between Palestinians and Israelis’
Sister Chan Khong
Martin Luther King Jr.
Sutras: ‘Discourse on the 5 Ways of Putting an End to Anger’
“When there’s war, we have to face the beast of war, and that is violence, that is hatred, discrimination, greed, and death.”
“Wherever there is darkness, light is also there. And this is the deep teaching in Buddhism: nonduality. It’s very easy to get caught in the right and the left, the above and the below, the good and the bad, the dark and the light. It doesn’t mean that we ignore it, but we know that if there is the right, there is also the left. If there is war, there is peace somewhere.”
“Man is not our enemy. It is ignorance, it is fear, it is destruction.”
“Nonviolence is not a tool. Nonviolence is a way.”
“We believe in using deep listening and compassionate speech for reconciliation, as a way forward instead of using the army; the army, the guns, the bombs, it doesn’t bring peace.”
“You have to have the peace inside of you in order for the peace outside to manifest.”
“Grounding is very important at this time. You can be a refuge for the ones who are suffering. The people who are suffering are also seeking stability. So, if we as humans, if we as practitioners have that stability, that is also an offering to the chaos that is happening right now.”
“Compassion needs to be nourished. We can be depleted of this understanding and this energy, this source of acceptance, and this source of embracing. One of the teachings that was given to us is to still find the simple joy in daily life. And I think this was Thay’s antidote in the war: to still see the wonders of life, still have time to sing a song. And Thay wrote a lot of peace poems during that time, to channel in the miracle of life.”
“Thay’s community would establish days of mindfulness, and this is why we have a tradition of Thursdays and Sundays as days of mindfulness, because social workers during the Vietnam War needed a day where they didn’t talk about the war. They talked about their deepest aspiration, they talked about their dreams; it’s a way to balance the destruction and the suffering that is there.”
“When you have real love and compassion, it is limitless. And that can be a source of teaching, a source of refuge, a source of inspiration, a source of hope for many people.”
“May I be peaceful, light, and happy, in body and in mind. May I be free and safe from accidents. May I be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind, and worries. May I know how to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love. May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself. May I not be caught in a state of indifference or be caught in the extremes of attachment or aversion. May you be peaceful, light, and happy, in body and in mind. May you be free and safe from accidents. May you be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind, and worries. May you know how to look at yourself with the eyes of understanding and love. May you not be caught in a state of indifference or be caught in the extremes.”
“Compassion gives you a source of energy that gives you no fear, and sometimes that compassion can become your barrier, your protector.”
“War does not lead to peace; peace is the way.”
“Buddhism is really teaching us to be human again, to see each other without a label, without a hierarchy of, ‘Yyou are the boss, I am the servant, you are a soldier.’ Because if we remove all of that and we ask everyone to remove all of that we can ask each other, ‘What is it that we deeply want?’”
“The thing about humanity is that we always repeat the same mistakes, even from the Buddha’s time. The Buddha left his responsibility and his inheritance to be a king because his deepest desire was, ‘That doesn’t bring me true happiness, ruling a nation. What brings me true happiness is the cessation of suffering, is the nourishment of understanding, is the insight of love and compassion, that all blood is red, all of our tears are salty.’ And the Buddha came from the caste system in his country, which discriminated a lot, and he wanted to break free from that. So we may say we live in a free country, but I think there are many barriers.”
“All of us are responsible for either creating a sense of suffering, or pain, or abuse. In every one of our thoughts and actions, we can either be sowing the seeds of hope, love, compassion, and deep listening, or we can be judging, belittling, and taking advantage of people. We are all individually responsible for the collective consciousness that leads to wars.”
“Be the peace you want to see.”
Dear friends, welcome back to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.
I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plum Village community.
And today we are going to be talking about war and peace. So, with the fighting raging between Russia and Ukraine is bringing up for, I think everybody, a deep sense of pain, suffering and recognition of how can this be happening in this present day and how do we cope with all the feelings that are coming up? So this is what we’re going to explore today, how to find peace in ourselves and encourage peace in the world.
The way out is in.
Welcome everyone. I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
So, brother, a very difficult topic today: war. And if anyone can guide us in this, it will be Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who lived through a war and found a way to find peace and yet also be an activist for transformation. So, brother, can I just start off by saying how I’m feeling?
So I’m feeling a bit lost. And what I’m realizing is the practice of mindfulness, the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh. It’s very easy to connect to those when I’m feeling reasonably well. Even if I’m going through a bit of suffering, I can come back to myself, I can observe what’s going on, I can relate to it and sometimes transform it. But I’m being stirred up a lot around this conflict because I think when things are very, very difficult and very, very painful, it’s hard to connect the practice in a way that alleviates what’s going on, because what I’m feeling…. a lot of the practice is about not being consumed by the news, but I’m being consumed by the news. A lot of the practice is about not taking sides, but I find myself taking sides. The practice is about being equanimous — so, being able to see what’s going on and stay calm — and I realize I’m not staying calm. So I need a bit of help, brother, so I would really like to sort of explore this with you today about how do we work with things when we’re feeling very much on the edge?
And I will share about how I feel before going into what I have been practicing. I think, for myself, it brings up a lot of trauma in my own heritage, my own roots, being born in Vietnam and having Vietnamese heritage, seeing the image of the war, seeing the image of refugees, I feel very connected to my own ancestors. My father was a refugee and my mother and the family, we migrated also to Canada in the early 90s. And my father was a boat person in the late 80s after the war in Vietnam, but it just it brings up the suffering and the destruction that war brings. When there’s war we have to face the beast of war, and that is violence, that is hatred, discrimination, greed, and death. And, so, for myself, when the news broke out that the war has manifested, it also was very disturbing and it stirred up a lot of emotions in me. And the first practice I had to dwell on is just recognizing all of the thoughts that are manifesting. That is number one, being one with it and categorizing what is manifesting in my perceptions. To do that, the bridge is your awareness, your mindfulness. And that, for me, is the breath. And coming back to just being with the breath, easing myself in order to see my mind more clearly. And in these moments, in the spiritual dimension of practice, we speak a lot about refuge in practices. And for me, I wanted to take refuge in an energy. And for me, that was Thay’s wisdom. And I concretely, I went to the altar, I went to the altar that we set up. So I was in Vietnam when the news broke out that the war manifested. So I right away I went to the Deep Listening hut at the Hieu Pagoda, and I stood there in front of the altar. I joined my palms, and this practice of joining your palm is the unification of body and mind. And I wanted to have a dialog because there is so much things that are manifesting inside of you. So in Buddhist Zen tradition from the East, we have a tradition of practicing, of connecting to your spiritual ancestors as well as your blood ancestor. So for me, at that very moment, Thay became my refuge that I wanted to speak to. And I invite Thay inside of me to be present, and I shared to Thay that the war has manifested. And I also shared to Thay what is coming up for me. And very interestingly, there was a voice inside of me that is the voice of Thay, which is his teaching, because he has transmitted that to to me. And one of the words that came out very clearly is do not give into darkness. Wherever there is darkness, light is also there. And this is the deep teaching in Buddhism of nonduality. It’s very easy to get caught in the right and the left, the above and the below, the good and the bad, the dark and the light. It doesn’t mean that we ignore it, but we know that if there is the right, there is also the left. If there is war, there is peace somewhere. And in that very moment, even though I am not in Ukraine, I am not part of the fight, I’m not part of the war, but there is a war that is starting to happen inside of us. And as an individual, our practice is to take care of that war inside. And I had to channel my own understanding, my own nondiscriminative mind. And the other line that comes up is ‘man is not our enemy.’ It is ignorance, it is fear, it is destruction. And if you have that cultivation of mind, you keep this inner peace. It’s not complete, but it is there. The practice is not to find the ultimatum of ‘I am fully free from war, I am fully free from violence, from hatred.’ But is that you have to come back to your human nature. And in human nature there are wonderful qualities, and those qualities of compassion. It’s very easy to touch compassion right now for me, seeing the suffering of the civilians, I can touch compassion, and I have to nourish that compassion, and I have to let that compassion be the main energy in this particular time. Hatred is also there. I am like you, Jo, I also identified that I can say the Russians are the enemy, and a lot of the media is presenting it like that. But learning from my teacher and learning from my own ancestor heritage, sometimes even the soldiers are victim of the war. And if we can channel that compassion even to the both side of the fighting, you are being embraced by this energy of compassion and you and that protects you from becoming more bitter, becoming more dark, becoming more aggressive. And I think this is the key… Is the practice in this moment is how are you handling your tender heart? How are you handling the emotion, the rage, the hatred that is coming up. And it’s OK for it to manifest. We’re very human. We have this energy that’s what makes us have feelings, but we don’t become a victim to it. And I think this is what allowed Thay and his community during the Vietnam War to maintain this sense of nonviolence. And Thay, I’ve heard Thay say that nonviolence is not a tool. Nonviolence is a way. So when you go and you take care of the ones that are hurt, of course, it’s easy to nourish your compassion and nourish your equanimity. But to go even the distance further is how do you see the ones that are causing harm? Can you see the human side? That they also have a mother, a father, ones that loves them? And if they die, I’m sure those who love them will also suffer. And when you have that compassion inside of you, that nonviolence, your action, your decisions will be embraced by that energy. You may have to put somebody in jail. You may have to stop. You may have to even fight, but your way of doing it doesn’t come to destroy and hate, but it is to establish peace, it is to establish a relief of suffering. And I’ve heard, Thay say, in Thay’s teaching to the Palestinian and Israeli practitioners who come, sometimes when you are faced with an enemy in front of you, but you have love, and you have compassion, your behaviors will change, and you may find a better way than violence, than pulling that trigger. And maybe to pull that trigger it’s the only way in that moment, but if we also allow ourselves to have a deeper understanding, there can be other ways, and that’s why we believe in dialog. We believe in deep listening and compassionate speech for reconciliation, for a way forward instead of using the army, and the army, the guns, the bombs, it doesn’t bring peace. I think this is a perception that people think to resolve something, you have to use all of these human creation, but the reality of it just brings more and more violence and despair. I wish that we… This is more wishful thinking than the reality, but we know that the history of war, it never brings peace. It is even funny to say I fight for peace. Yeah, and that’s why Thay says, ‘you have to be the peace.’ You have to have the peace inside of you, in order for the peace outside to manifest. So concretely, back to me, you know, in that conversation that I had with Thay at the altar was also a way of channeling all of the emotions and feelings that are manifesting, and to really be present for it. And you will find a way because you have that capacity of inner peace. And after I was able to express that, and I was able to know that there are concrete practices I need to do right now to heal myself and as well as to care for myself. One it is to be very mindful of how much information I am consuming. It doesn’t mean block it off, don’t look, don’t hear, don’t see. You have to, because that is you. The world, the war is also you. But moderation, the middle way. You have to know what is enough to chew on. And then the other practice is grounding. I think grounding is very important in this time. You can be a refuge for the ones who are suffering. The people who are suffering they are also seeking stability. So if we as humans, if we as practitioners, we have that stability that is also an offering to the chaos that is happening right now. And this is on the practice element. And then I practice touching the Earth. You know, I make vows each day to generate some kind of inner peace within the day. It may seem small, but I don’t think we should underestimate it because we can be a refuge and a light for those who are lost in in darkness.
Brother, that was beautiful, I think we could probably just wrap up now. That was like, already felt like balm to my wounds. One of the things, brother, you talked about was around trauma, start off to talk about trauma, so I recognize that also in my family. My mother was a refugee from Nazi Germany. My father was a refugee from Bulgaria. And so one of the things I think is very important, as you say, is to recognize — because we now know that traumas get passed down through generations — that this, for you and I, in that sense is a very direct recollection of trauma, but I think what war does is it brings… it’s a trauma for all of us because it brings out so many differences issues, because one of the big issues is around the persecutor and the persecuted. And I think we all take that on board in our lives, you know, either I feel I’m being persecuted or I’m the persecutor. So, actually, there are so many… there’s issue around weakness and strength. What is it to be strong? What is true strength? So actually, what an event like this does is it brings up all those issues and, in a sense, it sticks it right in your face. You can’t hide from it. So in that sense, well, of course, we would never wish for any harm to be done in the world. If something is happening, whatever it is, whether it’s in our personal lives or the life of our community or the world, it is an opportunity to look deeply about what, as you say, what are the seeds that are being watered in our store consciousness? And then how to work for them. So if a feeling of being victimized is coming up and saying, you know, being able to touch deeply into that feeling, an old feeling, and to sort of calm it and to recognize that and to realize that actually that great truth that whatever’s happening outside, as you say, is also at some level happening inside. And one of the most difficult things, brother, though, which I would really like your feelings around is I remember when Donald Trump came into power, and the perceived wisdom was saying, well, yes, he’s all these things, but it’s really important to see Donald Trump in oneself, knowing that that aspect of why someone would become a bully, why someone would be so narcissistic. And so, in a sense, the same thing is with someone like Putin, which is… It’s very easy to demonize him. And what he’s doing clearly is so wrong and shameful in so many ways, but how do we see, how is it possible to see someone doing such immense damage, causing such immense suffering, and to feel compassion for them? How do we go about that? I mean, you’ve talked a little bit about that, but you know, how we… Is it important to actually say, what is it in me that I see in Putin rather than making him just totally outside of ourselves?
Yeah, I think the compassion that we have for people such as him is to not give them power so that they don’t offer more suffering to the world. And this comes in the part of activism for the war, and activism for peace. And what I learned in history is that voices of humans have power, and this is where we also have to channel altogether the voice of peace, what we actually want. And I think that we are seeing this around since the start of the war in Ukraine. We have seen so many protests, so many peace gathering, so many voices that are saying that we don’t want this. And actually, what is even more powerful is the protests that are manifesting in Russia itself. So, the compassion that we can have for someone such as Putin is to just know that he is being covered by greed, power and maybe fear, whatever it may be, we don’t know. And when you look at someone who is doing such destruction, what you can channel is like, ‘Wow, you have no friends that are helping you see life, the miracle of life, and what you are doing is offering destruction.’ And there’s this sutra on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger, and the first example is if you see someone, you’re with someone who is offering you harsh words, but their actions are still very kind, the heart is still very kind, but it’s just that unskillfulness of their language. Don’t pay attention to that. Give attention to their beautiful side and help them recognize their unmindfulness of speech. Then comes the second example. If somebody is unkind with their the action, but their words are still kind, their hearts are still kind, their direction of life is leading to community building, healing, etc. You pay attention to that. And then one, if both of that is not kind, but in the hearts, there is still some kindness, your practice is to see the goodness in their hearts. And this helps you not become a victim of your hatred, and not become a victim of your discrimination. It’s very easy to push people away, but, as a practitioner, we try to seek to help that person. And then the last one is even if they are unkind in their words, unkind in their action, and even in the hearts we can’t find kindness, what we see is that they are someone who suffers deeply, who has no help, has no support, and they are someone who is very dry, and someone who is just full of hatred, anger. And if you see someone with all of that energy. You can see maybe their life is actually very miserable, and it asks you to channel this deep, maybe it can be pithy, but it can be this kind of compassion and you can just pray that, please, somebody that is close to you can show you the light. And that example is like if you meet somebody who is fainted on the path, you would, if you have enough courage, you would bring him or her to the closest village for him or her to be healed. So, in this light, you know, seeing someone such as Putin, I think a lot of us don’t know…. I don’t know him so well, I don’t know what is behind his mind, what is his personal side. And for me, it’s just seeing that he is somebody who is getting misdirected in the course of power, and I’m sure he is not living a peaceful life. I hear that every time he eats, his food has to be tested. I’m sure that he’s living in fear of being assassinated or of something to be withdrawal of his powers. So I can probably sense that he is living with a lot of that stress and that perceptions being directed towards him. Just like that, I have a drop of nectar of compassion, and it allows me to see him as a human, but on the side of power, he is abusing his power. We have to recognize that we have to speak the words that needs to be said. We have to act the action that needs to be done to help bring a stop to this war. And this is what Thay did. You know, our teacher, and he paid a very high price for it. You know, he was exiled. His own community were victims of assassination during the Vietnam War. And I was just with Sister Chan Khong in Vietnam and we had a chance to talk, and she shared with me that when there were three social workers was taken to the riverbank and they asked him, ‘Are you part of this community, this SS — School of Youth and Social Service — and they said ‘Yes.’ And the army man said, ‘Well, I’m sorry, I have to kill you.’ But they had to because of their actions, it were steps to bringing the cessation of this war. It gave the voice of the people. It gave the voices that, as the civilians who are not part of the fight, what we want is not to kill each other. What we want is peace. We want to be able to build a community, a nation that is based on love and understanding. And our teacher had to leave Vietnam to bring this awareness to the West, concretely, America, to call for the cessation of the war, to really say, actually, what is happening in Vietnam. And this is back in the 60s, right? So the war today is very different, where we are seeing the missiles being shot into cities, and we see the explosion. We are living in a more advanced world, but it means that we get to see everything directly, instantly, through social media, through information that is being shared online. And, in a way, what I am sensing now is that there is much more unity of wanting peace than in 1960s and before, because the media has a more impact on the information being shared. But what we are also learning is, for example, in Russia is now all of the social media and is being cut off. And so that is also a motion of fear. That is a motion of uncertainty. So you can even see the fear in the perpetrators. So this is where you say you connect to the human side of it, but it doesn’t mean we allow it to happen. Because you have fear, we have to tell you to not be afraid. And this is where the dialog has to happen. This is where the United Nations should come in and to hold a peace dialog. It may take weeks, it may take months. Allow that to happen rather than weeks and months of bullets and bombs. That is destruction, that is the cost of the economy, that has cost of suffering. Like, can the United Nations bring these world leaders together and let them see the suffering of the children, the suffering of the people? And I think this is what Thay was doing when he left Vietnam to call for peace. He didn’t target, attack the politics, but he said, this is the suffering. Do you want this in your own consciousness? Do you want to be a part of the destruction, the death of the many people who are innocent?
And as you’re talking about, what’s been coming up for me is that, at some level, you know, the shock of war is because it’s on such a mass scale. And so, you’re seeing millions of people being displaced, thousands of people dying. And, at another level, it’s not different from the way we individually act, let’s say, within a family. That words are bombs. That that bad actions are grenades and that actually the amount of suffering in relationships, in families, in communities is as destructive, even though it’s on a maybe a more individual level. But that actually all of us are responsible for either creating a sense of suffering, or pain, or abuse that, actually, in every one of our thoughts and every one of our actions, we can either be sowing the seeds of hope, and of love, and compassion, and of deep listening, or we can be judging people and belittling people, taking advantage of people. So, actually, you know, we are all responsible individually for the collective consciousness that leads to wars.
Exactly. And we have to not create more Donald Trumps, more Putins. And this is on global awareness that should manifest. Like, this should be a wake up call for everyone. And, like you said, like how am I living my life that I am cultivating nonviolence, compassion, joy, peace and love. Because if we are promoting peace and we can put, you know, a flag on our social media page, but we’re living the way we are that is creating hatred, creating violence, then you’re not walking peace. And I think this is where… What I would hear from Thay is that ‘Be the peace you want to see.’ Your action has to embody the peace, your way of now relating to the ones around you. Can you reconcile if you want nations to reconcile? Can you reconcile with the ones that are around you? Because all of these actions are also transmission to the next generation. If there is the trauma of war, can we teach the insight of healing, of hope that you just mentioned. Can we teach the awareness of interbeing? That we are all one and we are so interconnected. We can have differences in our religion, we can have differences in our culture, in the food we enjoy eating, but this planet that we share together, if we keep destroying it with bombs, and guns, and killing each other, what are we teaching the next generation? And a lot of the times I feel like we recognize the war, and then we’re just going to forget about it and we don’t learn much about it. And I think for us, as practitioners, and those who want to contribute to the peace, contribute to the healing of the world that will need to happen after, post this war, we really have to come together and learn from one another about this, about this situation, and educate the next generation so we don’t wait into another war break out.
And brother, I mean, so much of this is about discrimination. And it brings to mind when I worked at the Guardian, there was a lot of hierarchy. So the journalists felt they were the most important. And then people who, let’s say, did the cleaning or clean the toilets and looked after the facilities were considered less than them. And one of the things I always wanted to at the Guardian was saying, ‘Well, actually, we are all equally important.’ So, without the journalists, you wouldn’t be able to produce a paper, but without the people clearing the toilets and cooking the food and making sure the lights were working, electricity’s working, you wouldn’t also have a newspaper. And so I feel there’s so much in this about things that aren’t really real. So, you know, if Putin and Zelensky were sort of just ordinary people and they were on holiday and they happened to sit next to each other in a cafe or something, that actually without all the judgments and perceptions that they could easily just have a conversation with each other and be deeply respectful of each other, you know. Who knows? Could even become friends. So I’m just wondering, you know, how much of this is actually the fact that at the root we all want exactly the same thing. We want to be respected. We want to be loved. We want to… That we’re not different. And yet all of our perceptions on top of more perceptions actually create all the separation, whereas in truth, there’s no separation at all.
Exactly. I think what you just what you shared is the work of our teacher and the work of many spiritual refuge and teachers who want to share about this and allow people to touch the human nature again. You know, I remember one time Thay say that Buddhism is really teaching us just to be human again, just to see each other without a label, without a hierarchy of ‘you are the boss, I am the servant, you are a soldier.’ Because if we remove all of that and we ask everyone to remove all of that and we ask each other what is it that we deeply want? And you know, Thay always tells every individual who comes and retreat, to look at your volition as a human being. What is your deepest desire? That is a meditation we have to have time to reflect and to see what is the deepest desire and not a desire that a nation gives you or a few people in power gives you, but on a human nature. And I think what it is is we just want to share a cup of tea together. We want to be able to look at each other to see each other as brothers in the garden of humanity. Brother, sister, family. But a lot of the education and a lot of the information that we get it is not that. It leads towards power, individualism, success, even destroying others to be the better, the better side, the better person, the better nation. And I think this is one of the roots of all of this discrimination, this war. And this separation is what we have to keep bridging from generations to generations. The thing about humanity, which is difficult, is that we always repeat the same mistakes even from the Buddha’s time. You know, the Buddha left his responsibility and his inheritance to be a king because his deepest desire is that that doesn’t bring me true happiness, ruling a nation. What brings me true happiness is the cessation of suffering, is the nourishment of understanding, is the insight of love and compassion, that all blood is red, all of our tears are salty. And the Buddha in his country comes from the caste system, which does a lot of discrimination, and he wanted to break free from that. So in a way, we may say we live in a free country, but I think there are many barriers. There are many castes, even in our social life, the way we look at someone who may not have a particular position. Our judgmental mind says he or she is not important. Or you look at somebody who is aggressive, and so our society, we push them away. Those who have mental illness, we push them away. So already, not even in the system, we are installed with a lot of discrimination. And this is also inheritance of our ancestors, as well as inheritance of our society. So, for me, what I’m doing in my life, you know, right here right now, there is war there, but I’m sure that if the right conditions come, war will also be here. How am I nourishing, cultivating the understanding that war does not lead to peace, that peace is the way. That is the question. And, as an individual has an impact because you are part of a community, and as a community, you are part of a society. As a society, you are part of a nation. So you have to see the small ripple effect. And I think a lot of us, we feel powerless because we’re so far away and we’re not involved directly. But you are involved in your space, in your family, in your community, in your society, in your country. Make sure that we speak the voice that needs to be said so that war doesn’t manifest here. And that all of us can have a voice to the political leaders of our country, the people who have influence, all of us can speak that voice, and that’s what our teacher did. He went and he met so many different leaders. He met Martin Luther King because he believed Martin Luther King’s voice has an impact. If Martin Luther King Jr. at that time can speak out against the war in Vietnam, that will have a ripple effect. And so each and every one of us, even though we are far away, we can have an effect somewhere. And this doesn’t need us to take up arms. This is arms of love, this arms of responsibility, of trying to protect and trying to bring understanding.
And, brother, as you mentioned earlier about the work that Thich Nhat Hanh and your community have done with Israelis and Palestinians is that when you have brought them to Plum Village that the first few days they don’t talk at all about conflict, they don’t talk at all about their position, they don’t talk at all about their view. They just spend time together as human beings,, and only when people feel at peace within themselves with the practice of meditation, walking, eating together in silence, only when you come from a place of true stability can you then start to listen to someone else. If you have not listen to yourself, you just cannot listen to anyone else because, as you say, you’d completely judge them. And it’s quite interesting seeing these so-called peace talks between Russia and Ukraine because they happen in a sterile room, they’re in opposition to each other, so they sit opposite each other at a long table. There’s a very formal setting. And you can tell in that setting, there is no room for humanity at all. There’s only room for posturing and for having your view. And you just imagine that if you took those people out of that room and placed them in another setting and really gave them time, and of course, we know in this situation that that’s not possible in that sense, but you would get a very different result. And so it does come to how we show up. And, brother reminds me of that you and I were both last year at a conference called Countdown, a Climate Conference. And I don’t know if you were there, but there was the head of the French delegation who was critical in the Paris Climate Agreement. And she told this little story of on the day that the agreement had been produced, but it hadn’t been formally agreed, that she went to all the most powerful emitters. So the group that was most powerful, so these were America, Europe, Russia, etc. and needed to present them with the agreement. And she said, I talked to them about this is what you’re going to really like about the agreement, this is what you’re going to really, really dislike. And she said she went through it all and then they just looked at her stony faced as though — and she could tell this was not going well. And then she went through again, said, ‘Look, these are things really you’re going to be very happy about. And yes, these are the things you’re not going to be happy about.’ And again, stony faced. And then she said, all the tension of all the weeks of negotiation just overwhelmed, and she just started to cry. And at that point, all these powerful emissaries of these countries just got up and hugged her. And I think it was the head of the negotiations for Saudi Arabia, I think, just turned and said, ‘Don’t worry, we will sort this out for you. We’ll get this through.’ And it was such a powerful story because it was saying that even though there was all this power and all these dynamics and all this, all this politicking and all this, all these people with their own particular views of how things should be, that one person showing their vulnerability, showing their open heart, showing their tears, was able to transform that situation and help create a change which was dramatically important in the world so that, so it’s just a reminder that even when there’s posturing and power, that one event, one small event, one opening of the heart can make a difference. And we’ve seen that with the refugee crisis where there was, I think a young child was found drowned on the beach and that one image just change people’s perception. So it’s like we all can come back to our humanity. But we have to almost have permission to do that.
Yeah. And I think at this time, what I would also encourage is finding communities to nourish each other also in this time of embrace, of difficulties. Having someone that you can share your feelings about what is coming up for you in this moment and having this sense of support for one another. Yeah. Or else we will drown in our own despair, we will drown in all of the information and violence that we are seeing.
So, brother, one time I wanted to ask you was about where of the limits of our compassion. And the reason I ask that is that there are some people who are saying that our collective response in Europe to what’s happening in Ukraine, Russia, is racist because the people in Ukraine are European. They look like us, not you, brother, because you’re Vietnamese, but talking myself. They look like me, they’re European, and therefore I can see myself in them and therefore I feel connected. But there are wars going on all over the world, which are causing immense amount of destruction on a par with Ukraine, in Syria, and Yemen, Afghanistan, Lebanon, all all over the world, we we have wars. And yet, somehow, we feel it’s easy to feel… not easy, but we’ve… a lot of people feel disconnected from those people. And then refugees coming from Ukraine are welcomed, but refugees now from Iraq, even though they were welcomed to begin with, are then not welcomed. I’m just wondering because I’ve been thinking about this, and so there’s this sense of this is racist and that may be so, but what it feels to me more is that we do connect very easily with things that reflect on ourselves, and we do find it difficult to have real compassion for events, people, things that are outside of our experience. And I know in Buddhism one of the practices, I’m not sure, it’s like meta or something, where you start off with meditating on someone — I know it’s in a different tradition — but someone you love, then someone you like, then someone you don’t like, then your enemy, and then all the problems in the world. That there is a sort of a way to go out to the furthest reaches of our compassion and bring that into our center. But I’m just wondering if you have any sense of how, how do we go beyond discrimination of I see you, but I also see myself as opposed to I see you, but I don’t see myself.
Yeah. First of all, I want to say when I also saw the racism that was happening within the civilians that were trying to escape the war, I had so much anger. I had a lot of frustration and despair come up in me because I am Vietnamese, I’m yellow skinned, and if I was there, I would probably have been discriminated too. And I just saw that we have so much work to do as humanity, we have so much more cultivation of interbeing that needs to be taught, that needs to be shared, needs to be educated towards the human race. And when that anger came up in me, I really had to practice, and I did slow walking meditation because it really triggers something really deep inside of me. I think it comes from the suffering of my parents being discriminated in Canada when we first arrived, etc. And just knowing that we are in 2022 and the war is happening, and people are dying right next to you, and people are all trying to look for a safe place, and you still have space for racism, like, that really hurt. And I feel that this hurt on an individual level. I am sure there was many who were very disturbed by that reality. And the compassion that comes in is to connect to the action that needs to be done, the action of, in my work would be to continue to share about mindfulness of love, mindfulness of interbeing, and seeing that your suffering is not separated from my suffering and that your safety is not separated from my safety, your peace is not separate from my peace. And to make that teaching into action, that can only be the nutriments that will keep my compassion alive. Or else if I don’t do that, then I think I will fall into despair. I will fall into hatred, I will discriminate against the ones that are discriminating. So this whole war is triggering so many sources of suffering and is what a time to come inwards: the way out is in. I also know that compassion has limits too. Compassion needs to be nourish. We can be depleted of this understanding and this energy, this source of acceptance, and this source of embracing. So I remember one of the teachings that was given to us is to still find the simple joy in daily life. And I think this was Thay’s antidote in the war was still see the wonders of life, still have time to sing a song. And Thay wrote a lot of peace poems during that time… Is to channel in the miracle of life, you know? Thay’s community would establish days of mindfulness, and this is where we have this tradition of Thursdays and Sundays as days of mindfulness, because the social workers during that time, the Vietnam War, they needed a day where they don’t talk about the war. They talk about their deepest aspiration, they talk about their dreams, and it’s a way to balance the destruction and the suffering that is there. And so we, who are living in a place where there are flowers that are blooming right now, we have a magnificent field of daffodils, wild daffodils. I have to allow myself to see that wonder and to be there for that wonder. And because if I have this insight that this is what I want to protect, I would never allow war to happen. I would do everything in my power to prevent it. And so I see that these actions is also what we need to do to maintain our well-being, maintain our balance, maintain our compassion. Compassion, if practiced, may be endless. Thay usually speaks about compassion. When you have real love and compassion, it is limitless. And that can be a source of teaching, a source of refuge, a source of inspiration, a source of hope for many people.
Yeah. And I mean, one of Thay’s teachings for me is that first we have to look after ourself, because if we don’t look after ourself, how can we look after someone else if our bowl is empty, how do we give food to someone else? But if our bowl is overflowing, then the easiest thing is to give someone else. And I know he used the metaphor, I remember, of a garden. And he said, if you have a garden with some trees and one of the trees has died, don’t just yes, feel the sadness of the garden, of the tree, of the dead tree, but also recognize that there are all these other trees that are beautiful. And I think it’s such an important thing you’re saying, brother, because, actually, if we open up to all the suffering in the world of which there is so much that we can see on the meta level and the micro level, so much suffering, people struggling in so many different ways in the world. And if we only see that, then, as you say, all we see is hopelessness and we have to see life’s beauty, and appreciate good friends, and good food, and nature and all that in order to replenish ourselves. You know, if we don’t have those, then actually if we don’t recognize them, then all is lost.
Brother, one thing I wanted to ask you or discussed with you is about often people see being sort of being at peace or nonviolence as weakness. And that the reason people have power is if you’re not standing up for yourself, if you’re not fighting back, then you’re seen to be as weak. And, you know, when I look at what’s going on in Ukraine, there’s part of me that says, well, you know, the people in Ukraine are extraordinary, you know, they’re fighting against sort of these overwhelming odds, this extraordinary courage that people who are defending what they believe to be absolutely right, and bearing arms in order to do that. And then if they were nonviolent and all peace loving, you know, Russia would just walk in and take over and take away everything that was of value to them in their eyes. And I’m a little bit stuck on this because I was trying to put myself in Ukraine, you know, put myself in that position of, would I bear arms? Or, you know, if I was a different person of a different age and I was there… Not necessarily a different age, but just if I was born and raised in Ukraine and… Would I bear arms? And I’m a bit sort of lost with that, about what is strength. Because I recognize that in nonviolence there’s enormous strength, but in certain situations, I imagine it could appear as weakness. Anyway, help me out here because I’m a bit lost with this one.
Well, I’m not sure if I have an answer for that, too. But what I… If I was in Ukraine, and I am a monk, I would still stay, but I would not take up arms because there are many ways of service. I would probably try to be in the… If there is a department of caring, of rescuing, of healing, of being there for the wounded, being there for them to rebuild what has been destroyed. So, in a war, I think it is very easy to see one option: to fight. But in history, and the closest history for me is Thay. He didn’t pick up arms. He remained as a monk. He created a nonviolent movement. It was turned into a community of over 10000 who chose not to take up arms, but to help rebuild villages, help relieve suffering, help carry wounded children. Sister Chan Khong, our eldest sister, in our monastic order, she shared that she went to villages to help take children that were wounded to bring them to the closest village in order for healing. And there was one moment when she carried a child and when she arrived, the child died. But she said that even though the child died, I did everything in my power to offer help and relief, and for me, that is what I want to contribute in this war. So the question for me is there are many ways of contribution to the situation of the world, to the destruction, to the war, and it is choosing what to help, because that would nourish your compassion, that will nourish your own morale, your own ethics that you want to be. And if you give into the war and you take up arms — and I’m not saying that it’s a wrong thing to do, I can’t judge that. I think there needs to be soldiers, there needs to be those who help to protect. But as an individual, I think I would take another route because there is another route and the route of being the voice of peace, being the voice of healing and of care is also very needed. And do not underestimate compassion because it is not easy to have compassion. It’s more easy to be angry. It’s more easy to create hatred and to be violent, because that is giving into the collective consciousness at that time. Maybe compassion is the most powerful thing. And I remember one time Thay say that compassion gives you a source of energy that gives you no fear, and sometimes that compassion can become your barrier, your protector. And Sister Chan Khong shared with me, sometimes because of that mind, she had no fear of running under the bullets. And maybe because of that compassion, she calls it the energy of Avalokiteshvara that protected her from the bombs and the bullets. And it was the compassion that gave her the courage. If she had no compassion, she would have been afraid. She wouldn’t have run under that open field that the fighting was happening. So this image that compassion is weak and it’s just a flower, I think we need artists and we need movies, music to redecorate compassion, redecorate love, redecorate peace, that it is an energy that is very powerful that can lead us to a more healthy life and more… It’s probably the maturity of us we want.
Yeah, and hatred, like compassion, last a long time. I mean, we see the result of most modern conflicts are the result of historical hatred that is passed on from generation to generation. So, what you were saying about even if you bear arms, can you bear arms without hatred? Because as soon as there’s a collective hatred of another country, then actually that, you know, you can destroy things so quickly and then it can take in a huge amount of time to to regenerate those feelings. So, and that’s true, so I imagine… And I know in my life, in all our lives is that, and Thay talked a lot about in any movement, like the climate movement, he said, there’s nothing as bad as an angry activist because if you’re an angry activist, all you’re doing is maintaining the problem because actually what creates destruction in the first place is unconscious or conscious anger at the world. And if we’re then angry back then, all we’re doing is putting fuel on the fire and we’re not actually creating a resolution. And, you know, I think even like with the Israelis and Palestinians, you know, that is old hatred and it gets passed on. If it gets passed on, it just goes deeper deeper into the subconscious and it is accepted as a fact. So I think we all have a… don’t know if duty is the right word, but we should all… can all make a commitment to be aware of our anger and dealing with it. And, brother, you know, one thing I just want to come back to you mentioned about when you saw the racism in people of color trying to get out of Ukraine, and suddenly this anger came up on you. It’d be lovely if you can just describe your process of… Because you said ‘I went slow walking’, but actually maybe come back to that because for a lot of us who might have a strong emotion that comes up, it’s really helpful to actually say, ‘Oh, wow, that’s great, Phap Huu also gets angry. Yay, that’s good to know that, you know, you’re not perfect, that you are just like everyone else. Emotions come up.’ But it’s then how we deal with those emotions, that is the difference between our level of awareness. So can just talk us through that process. Actually it would be really interesting.
Yes. When I saw the news and I heard about the racism manifesting, the first emotion was anger. It was very clear I was so angry and I said in my mind was like, why? Even in war is there space for racism? When people are literally dying right next to you? How can you be so selfish in this moment, and be discriminating each other because of the skin color that we have, or maybe by the clothes that we are wearing that represents a different belief. And so I recognized that rage that was coming up and I was with it. I saw how draining it was taking away from me. And I remember this teaching that Thay said, ‘When these emotions come up, they are like your little child, or your little brother, your little sister, that you need to hold his hand and guide it.’ So at that very moment, I couldn’t sit still because the anger was too strong. And I remember the practice of walking meditation. So soothing the anger with my action, and for me, that was walking. So I started to walk outside and I just said ‘Anger, I know you are there. Take a left step with me. Anger, I know you’re there, take a right step with me.’ And as you start to be mindful of your anger, your anger is softened, it gets tender because your anger is you. And what you have invited up is another energy, which is to embrace and transform that anger. And, naturally, what comes up is, ‘Ah, it is just ignorance. People are not yet enlightened. They haven’t understood that at this very moment, everyone is suffering. They are still very selfish.’ So I saw the humanity in that and I saw the ignorance, we would say. And I said, ‘How can we help this ignorance to dissolve?’ So that sparks an aspiration. So this practice is called we channel our anger, we channel our anger into the direction of growth, and peace, and healing, rather than channeling it into violence, into destruction. And, naturally, when I started to walk, what comes into mind is a kind of aspiration. It’s like, wow, recognizing I still have this anger and I want to know how to ease the anger inside of me, and care for it, and not be afraid of it. A lot of times, maybe I am afraid of my anger because I’m afraid of what I may do. But now is like, I know you are there, and I can transform you, I can help invite other energies up. And in that particular moment of slow walking — and it was a good 30 minute. And I positioned myself so that I didn’t see other people. I didn’t want any discussion. And particularly, just to be very honest, I didn’t want to see my brothers who are white because that was a discriminative mind that I was also having. I wanted to… There was a side of me like, ‘What can I do to punish?’ And I recognized that because I am also inherited of discrimination inside of me. And deep down in my culture, in my heritage, Vietnam was always at war with Western countries. And so there is a deep wound inside of me, that there is a level of hatred also to people who have white skin, of being a victim and of them being a perpetrator causing war and suffering. And in that moment, I wanted to transform that hate. I wanted to transform that wound so that my continuation either it is my student, lay student or monastics student in the future, we light up a new inheritance. We want to offer a new inheritance of not this pain, of not this discrimination, of not this racism that we felt. And so I know if I do that work now and I can transform it, I can heal it to the best capacity that I can, I am doing something for the future of my descendants. So this walking meditation of embracing the anger, embracing the hatred, recognizing to even the racism in me, the discrimination present in me, and to soothe it. Thay says, ‘Give it a bath of mindfulness, of care, of understanding so that it can be transformed.’ So that, for me, was what I was doing in that moment.
Brother, thank you for that deep sharing, I’m sure that will help so many people. And you talk about the inferiority complex, the superiority complex, also the victim, the perpetrator, and then there’s the savior complex. So we all get stuck in roles. And actually, I think everything you say is about how do we go beyond our roles? Because if we don’t, the victim then becomes the perpetrator, and then the victim does exactly what was done to them. So, thank you. I think that will be extremely helpful for people just to hear what you’re going through. Your deep honesty is a great permission giver to other people to be honest about their feelings, and then to delve into them. And, brother, is there anything else that we want to say before we finish?
I think there’s a chant that we would recite when we invite the bells. And I think it’s very appropriate for this very moment. So I just want to end with that note.
May I be peaceful light and happy in body and in mind. May I be free and safe from accidents. May I be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind and worries. May I know how to look at myself with the eyes of understanding and love. May I be able to recognize and touch the seeds of joy and happiness in myself. May I not be caught in this state of indifference or be caught in the extremes of attachment or aversion. May you be peaceful, light, and happy in body and in mind. May you be free and safe from accidents. May you be free from anger, unwholesome states of mind and worries. May you know how to look at yourself with the eyes of understanding and love. May you not be caught in this state of indifference or be caught in the extremes.
Brother, thank you. Dear listeners, we hope you have benefited from this conversation. I know I certainly have, it’s helped calm my thoughts, and discriminations, and suffering, so, brother, thank you for taking the time. And if you enjoyed this episode, then just know that there are many more and you can find other episodes of the Way Out Is In on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, other platforms that carry podcasts, and also on our own very own Plum Village App.
And this podcast was brought to you by the generous donors of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you would like to support future episodes of the podcast and the work of the international Plum Village community, please visit TNHF.org/donate. Thank you so much, and we hope to see you again in our next episode.
And go in peace. Goodbye.
The way out is in.
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