Welcome to episode 21 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 lay Buddhist practitioner and journalist Jo Confino, are joined by special guest Christiana Figueres – one of the architects of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, student of Thich Nhat Hanh, and valued member of the Plum Village Sangha.
Ms. Figueres is an internationally recognized leader on global climate change. She was Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010 to 2016. Today she is the co-founder of Global Optimism, co-host of the podcast Outrage & Optimism and co-author of the The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis book. She is a member of the B Team, non executive Board member of Acciona, and non executive Board member of Impossible Foods. Read more about her many achievements here.
In light of Thich Nhat Hanh’s passing earlier this year, the discussion includes collective leadership; guidance; spiritual awakening and nourishing our spiritual dimension; dependent co-arising; saving lives through teachings; and being a community without Thay, and what it means to continue and represent his legacy.
The participants also reflect on the impact on their lives of Thay’s passing, and ways to continue their teacher in a world that is in crisis and in great need for a spiritual dimension. And what next for the Sangha?
Christiana Figueres shares deeply about what brought her to Plum Village, both now and years ago, during her first encounter with Applied Buddhism; her journey to spiritual practice, to overcome a personal crisis; the historical context of making contact with Thich Nhat Hanh; and the transformative power of Buddhist teachings – such as the art of deep listening – on the negotiation process during the Paris Climate Change Conference.
Additionally, she addresses the Global North-South divide; victimhood; and strengthening the arc between the inner and outer worlds.
Jo shares what it means to be a “serious” practitioner; being spacious; “coming home”; and befriending our past.
Brother Phap Huu talks about Christiana’s importance to the Plum Village community, and the significance of her presence during the week of ceremonies after Thay’s passing; the four-fold sangha; channelling Thay as a collective community; interbeing in action; practising the art of community; and transmission.
The episode ends with a short meditation guided by Brother Phap Huu to bring us back to the present moment.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
‘Christiana Figueres Cites Thich Nhat Hanh’s Influence in Paris Climate Talks’
Global North and Global South
Dharma Talks: ‘The Noble Eightfold Path’
European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB)
The Way Out Is In: ‘The Three Doors of Liberation’
“The community is Thay’s masterpiece.”
“Thay is always teaching us and giving us this opportunity to still come together and see the beauty of connection.”
“We tend to think that, if we are on a path of spiritual development, it only has to do with me, but doesn’t have anything to do with the outside world. And it does. They are completely interwoven with each other.”
“With our thoughts, we create the world.”
“I would never want to send my children to a place where there is no suffering, because, in that place, my children will never be able to grow.”
“You know what? The sangha is not perfect, and there is beauty to it because we can continue to learn from each other, we can grow with each other. We have suffering. We have difficulties. We look at it. We learn from it. We evolve from it.”
“We carry our wounds with us. They are part of who we are. They are what make us a whole person.”
“When I feel at home, when I feel my own presence, when I’m aware of my own wounds, then I can have a very beautiful relationship with other people.”
“I can be friends with my past. I can be friends with my suffering. I can make peace with it. I can honor it. I can see the sacredness in everything.”
“If we want to see history, just look at Thay. He didn’t allow himself to be exiled to drown in despair and suffering; he was patient. He embraced. He cultivated. He contemplated. And he grew into that. So, in a way, this step-up moment is really channeling the insight that Thay has offered us and making it a part of our journey.”
“We don’t need to put Thay on a pedestal. Of course, we love and we respect Thay and we honor him, but what he would want from us is his insight to continue in us. And I think that’s really important.”
“Transformation starts with the being and then the doing comes later, not the other way around.”
“The spiritual dimension is that bridge where we can connect to seeing us as Mother Earth, seeing us as the suffering, seeing us as the person cutting the trees, seeing us as the oil being spilled into the ocean. We are the fish that is suffering. We are the birds that are drowning in these oils. We are the animals that are being burnt and have no home.”
“We’re really there; you look at someone, you listen to them, and you’re giving them your trust, you’re giving them your presence, you’re giving them your energy, and that’s very recharging.”
Welcome, dear friends, to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.
I’m Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal development and systems transformation.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plum Village tradition, in France.
And we are very honored today, Phap Huu, aren’t we?
Yes, we are.
Because we have a special guest…
A very close friend, a very dear Sangha member who is present with us in Plum Village, today.
So let’s reveal who it is. It is Christiana Figueres. Now, Christiana Figueres is, as many of you will know, the architect of the Paris Climate Agreement.
One of the many thousand architects.
Okay, well, that’s good.
One of the many thousand architects of the Paris Climate Accord. But it wouldn’t have happened, I don’t think, without you, Christiana. And what is less well known is that she is a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and also a very valued member of the Plum Village Sangha. o welcome, Christiana.
The way out is in.
Welcome, everyone, I am Jo Confino
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
I’m Christiana Figueres speaking to you today from Plum Village.
Yes. So Christiana, what brings you to rural France?
Well, what kind of an answer do you want to add, Jo? What brought me here this time or what brought me here originally?
You can choose.
Let’s do both. Let’s start off with now. Why are you here now?
Well, on the 22nd of January, I got several messages from my dear brothers and sisters with the news of Thay’s passing. And I was in a car in San Jose, Costa Rica, and I did something you should never do, which is look at a text message when you’re driving. Do not recommend that. But I did that and I thought, ‘OK, drop everything that is in front of me right now and go home.’ So I went home and the sun was setting and I lit all the candles that I have. And I put on some Plum Village chanting and I thought I would sit, but I couldn’t. I just lay down on the floor in huddled position. I pulled a very warm blanket on top of me, and I just started to cry and cry and cry and cry. And Naima, my daughter — who’s also been here in Plum Village — she called me and she said, ‘Mom, where are you?’ And I just even couldn’t answer. So I guess she figured out that I was home. She came over. And then we were both on the floor, cuddling with each other for about 20 minutes and just crying, the two of us. And all of a sudden, as though I had been from an ejector seat, you know, it was like a James Bond ejector seat. I jumped up and I said, ‘Naima, I know what to do.’ And she was, ‘What?’, ‘I want to go to Plum Village’. And she was, ‘Mom, you’re crazy. They’re closed because of COVID. There’s just no way, you’re just totally out of your mind. Lie down again.’ And I’m like, ‘No, I’m going to ask them.’ So I put out a little message, very discreet, ‘These ceremonies that you’re preparing are they for the monastics only?’ I thought that was a very discreet question. Answer back, ‘No, they’re for everyone, we’re streamlining for everyone.’ I thought, ‘They’re streamlining for everyone, but that doesn’t mean that you’re welcome in person.’ I thought, ‘OK, I shall accept this.’ And then about two minutes later came the answer, ‘But if you would like to come, you’re welcome.’ And I just jumped again and hit the ceiling. And Naima and I are jumping up and down for joy, go ‘Yay, yay!’ And then I wrote to you, Jo, until you, ‘Wow.’
And I said they won’t let you in, Christiana.
Jo said, ‘They won’t let you in.’ So I was just so thrilled and then I just got everything ready. Very quickly it was evening, so I couldn’t get a PCR test that day. I got a PCR test the next day, but I got here as quickly as I could with deep gratitude for your opening the community to me. Thank you very much, Phap Huu, I really appreciate it.
You’re very welcome.
And Christiana, when you heard the news and you said you just curled up and you were crying, what was it that you were feeling at that moment?
You know, I’ve been wondering about that, and the answer came to me when I was watching the very beautiful moving ceremonies in Vietnam. And when I saw the people lining up and to pay their respects and the people on the streets, and the love with which Thay was thanked and greeted. It suddenly occurred to me that I was reliving the passing of my blood father, who was also a very, very beloved figure, in this case in Latin American politics. He was three times president and the father of democracy in Costa Rica and just incredibly loved. And we had to hold him in his casket for days and days and days because there was such long lines of people who wanted to come and pay respects. And then we had a very long procession from the National Museum, where he was, where the casket was, to where we finally laid him to rest. And the images that I saw from Vietnam had the love and the respect, but multiplied times a hundred. You know, because Thay was… I have my father, my blood father, who I still love and respect so much and admire. But then Thay was my spiritual father, and he was the spiritual father to so many millions of people. And the fact that Thay was a spiritual leader, but also such an embodied human. The fact that he was both those, you know, that spirit that hovered over us and held us, but also someone that was so aware of just our start human needs. And that combination that we usually think is mutually exclusive, but that combination made him not just respected and revered, but truly loved by millions of people. And so, for me, it was like, ‘Oh, wow, first, I lost my physical father, my blood father, and now I’m losing my spiritual father.’ And it was an enormous amount of grief because it’s almost like you scratch a wound and it bleeds again, and this time it was bleeding, I think, you know, in a more profuse way, perhaps. But then the question that comes up and that came up for me much more powerfully now is ‘So what now? What does that actually mean for me? What does it mean for all other students of Thay? What does it mean for Brother Phap Huu? What does it mean for the Sangha?’ Because… And I think the first time that I talk to you, Phap Huu, I said, you know, ‘I feel like this is a step up moment, it’s astep up moment for everyone individually. And it’s a step up moment for us collectively’ because up until this point, we’ve been a little bit of free riders, right? A little bit riding on his coattails. And you so beautifully talked about that in the podcast that I just listened to yesterday. How you were describing that up until that point, you felt that you were holding the torch from the bottom, and then, you know, you had the insight that now it’s for you to hold the torch. And obviously your position in holding the torch is completely unequaled. But I also think everyone else has to hold the torch. Everyone has to hold a torch, you know, and Thay was so clear about that that this was going to be for the Sangha and actually not just for the Sangha. This is for humanity, right? He was very clear that we are on a process of becoming our better selves constantly, and he held the torch for us so clearly. But it’s the step up moment, right? We all have to now step up and pick up our torches and do collective leadership here.
It’s really interesting, Christiana, because, you know, that was a very similar feeling that I had, which is that what does this mean for me and what does it mean now for me to be a serious practitioner?
And where are the gaps in my practice and where am I not fulfilling actually my wish to be sort of… to represent Thay in that way? So, so it’s fascinating you say that and and I want to get..
You and I have been talking about this, in fact, even before…
Thay passed, right? We were… We were talking about it in Costa Rica.
When you were in Costa Rica, we were, you know, talking about, so, you know, ‘What is the next chapter for us? And how do we step up?’ But I think Thay’s passing is like, ‘OK, enough contemplation about this now. Let’s do it.’.
Yeah. So we’re going to get to that in a little while, but, Phap Huu, I wanted to ask from conversely, what was it like for Cristina to come all the way from Costa Rica to be with the community at this moment? And it would be lovely if you put that in the context of the four-fold Sangha because some of our listeners will know that actually, Thay created this whole idea of monks and nuns, but also lay practitioners, et cetera. But I think it’d be good to explain that and why, in those terms, Christiana showing up was important.
Yes. In that very moment when we were all managing our emotions and our feelings and, at the same time, because Thay is a person of action, so in this moment, as a continuation body of Thay, we had to go into action in creating spaces which became ceremonies for a collective grief, collective embrace, collective contemplation on no birth and no death. And we were in this zone that is very hard to come back to because its causes and condition, this particular energy, which is like, we have to work for Thay. And like what Christiana was saying before, like a lot of times when I was going on retreat with Thay, like you just ride Thay’s light and we are just a support. But now, you… His students, his continuation, we need to do it and we need to bring the community together because Thay was that magnet. And if we don’t do it, then we’re not continuing Thay. And that is the insight of interbeing. And so we were channeling as a collective community, strong collectiveness. Like I remember gathering everyone, we said, in the next eight days. We are going to practice real selflessness. Everybody has to give a hand. I know we’re all grieving, but we have to be together in this very moment. And, at the same time, we were reaching out to all of our international communities to let everyone know of the situation of the passing so we can be united. And of course, of COVID time, there are… We do have some restrictions in coming to the monastery. Like, if you’re just coming for the day, then we have a meditation hall that is set up, where you can pay your respects. But if there are those who can come to help us, there’s going to be particular protocols that you have to follow in order for us to be able to embrace you in this moment, because we don’t want to be handling COVID and then the ceremonies. And then we did explain to Christiana and she was like, ‘Whatever needs to be done, I will do it in order to be a support.’ And I think for a lot of us, the first action, you know, Brother Thien Phong, who is sitting here with us, he’s recording this, like he joined me on the walk down to the editorial office, which became our headquarters for the first night. The first thing we did when we all came in is we just hugged each other. So we knew that coming together is the strongest energy and one of the… I would say the community is one of Thay’s masterpiece. So, and the masterpiece is not just the monastics, it is laymen, laywomen, and lay members who also don’t identify as a particular gender. But as humans, we are a community together. And so, at this moment, I was one of the ones who had, they had to ask permission if I had…
They had to ask you for permission.
To give the green light to Christiana. And I also…
I didn’t dare write to you directly.
But I was one of the conditions that, because I was, I did do a video of the atmosphere and it was like, in the video, you can see everybody on their laptops, on their phones. And I was sending this to a lot of members of like ‘the team is assembling.’ And because of that video, many monastics who were on home visits or on trips outside, they’re like, ‘What am I doing outside? I need to be with the Sangha.’
And I think that’s also…
The was the video I saw. And, honestly, thank you for reminding that was the video I said to Naima, ‘I would like to be there, whether they will ley me in there or not, but I would so want to be there.’
And so when Christiana, you know, wrote back to us very willing and her stay was going to be long — which gave enough time for spacing and then tests and everything to come into our bubble — I said ‘She has all the conditions’ and somehow a lot of us who are in that team have a very long relationship with Christiana, and we know of her, her relationship to Thay and to the community. And we just needed warmth, really. And I remember when I saw Christiana in Upper Hamlet, I couldn’t go pick her up because I was holding the community here, but when I saw her, I came into the Sangha as a child. And one of my blessing was, like, I have a lot of teachers, a lot of mentors, and to some they feel like my mom, my dad, my uncle, my aunts. And when I saw Christiana, I felt like I was in an embrace of a mother. Like, really. And we couldn’t be so close, but we had tea together. But I just felt so warm and we had tea in Thay’s hut. And we just took moments to breathe together. And I think Thay is always teaching us and giving us this opportunity to still come together and see the beauty of connection. So I remember that particular tea and then Christiana reaching out to us in person, saying, ‘What can I do now? How can I help? Because I want to be part of the team’ and we were on this chaotic…
Very well-planned, but very chaotic like, we need so much information that we’re receiving and how do we answer all these emails? And Christiana puts up her hands like, ‘I just want to let you guys know I’m a very good organizer.’
And so right away we’re like, ‘OK, Christiana, we’re going to give you a desk in our headquarter office, in a bamboo office, in Upper Hamlet, that’s going to be your station’ and…
Get to it.
Get to it. And it was so beautiful because whenever Thay talks about the Sangha, he talks about cells in one body and even if you are the eyes, the mouth, the ears, but you’re still one body, and if everybody knows how to navigate and cooperate, then the body will be healthy and strong and perform any miracles. And at that moment, because I’ve seen, I’ve been with Christiana at TED conference, I’ve seen her on stage, like I’ve seen her on the stage as someone who is always sharing and presenting and leading. And it was so beautiful and so humbling for me to see Christiana like bees in the same beehive in this moment, and it didn’t matter what she needed to do. There was a moment when Christiana had nothing to do, and she was like, ‘What can I do?’ And, you know, this slide show that is now on YouTube is a very beautiful images of Thay’s life from his year he became a young monk, 16, to all the way to he was a world Zen Master. And Christiana’s like ‘I can help put the words in for each picture.’ And at that moment, like we were all doing, it doesn’t matter, we don’t need our names on it, we don’t need to be recognized. We are one body at this moment, and we had so many, as a team, so many moments when we shared, like, Thay’s very proud of us. And I was able to share that at one of the dinners, I think on day seven of the funeral. And we were just sitting together and I just I told the whole team, as I just want to say, like, I know Thay is smiling and he is, I can’t even say he is hugging us, dancing with us, because he’s so happy to see that all of us monastic and lay are working hand in hand. And we had Maarten, Cata on the PV App, on the PV App web page. All of these other TNH foundation from across the globe, you know. Jo, you were coming in through phone calls… And just we were all in this together, and it was… It was interbeing in action.
Interbeing in action. Beautifully put.
So, Christiana, let’s… Because we’re going to get into all the issue of where we go now. But before that, I think it’d be really useful for our listeners just to get a little bit of a historical context here. And just to ask you, how did you get in touch with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching. So, tell us a little bit about that.
So it was the year 2013, and all of a sudden through what seemed to me out of the clear blue sky, my former, now former, husband informed me that he had never been loyal to me over the past 25 years. And that came as a deep shock to me, a deep, deep shock because I was under the illusion of a perfect marriage, a perfect family,… perfect in quotation marks. And it hit me so hard that I became suicidal, because it went against everything that I had put my energy into over those 25 years. I came from a broken family, my parents were divorced and when I married, I intended, I put all my intention, all my effort, all my love into making a very stable, loving, supportive, integrated home for my daughters. And so I was just such a shock that I became suicidal and it was to the point I was working at the United Nations, I was helping out my team, the 500 people at the Climate Secretariat, plus 195 nations build toward the Paris Agreement. And we were right in the middle of the process. And when I became suicidal and I realized that I had to stop traveling by train because my impulse was to throw myself in front of a train. And so I had to stop traveling by train or take two people from the office with me all the time. And I thought, OK, I really have to do something about this because it was really getting in the way of my work to begin with, but also I was just crying myself to sleep every single night for months and months and months and then getting up in the morning and putting a smile on and going to work. And when it became unbearable, I thought I really have to look for something here, because if I do proceed with suicide, I was thinking, first of all, it’s very unfair to my two daughters because it is definitely not their fault. And secondly, I don’t think this is very good for the climate change negotiations. Front page of the newspaper: ‘Leader of the climate change negotiations commits suicide.’ You know, they would think it’s a comment on the process and the process was actually going quite well, I thought, no, no, no, no, this cannot be. You cannot inject that negative energy into a process that is actually going pretty well. So I remember on Christmas Eve when this became absolutely intolerable, I emailed a good friend of mine who lives in Costa Rica, and he said, ‘Look, I am really dealing very seriously with suicide and I need something.’ He says, ‘Well, what do you need?’ And I said, ‘Buddhism.’ Now this is in Spanish that I’m communicating with him. And he says, ‘Buddhism, what do you know about Buddhism?’ I said, ‘I have no idea. Nothing, I know nothing.’ He goes, ‘So why do you want that?’, ‘I don’t know. But can you please help me out because this is really an emergency situation?’ And he goes, ‘So how do you spell Buddhism in English?’ Because he wanted to do a Google search. ‘I don’t know. You know, I think it has a double d, maybe it has a double h. I honestly don’t know how to spell it. Can you please help me out?’ So in about 10 minutes, he sends me the link to Plum Village. He doesn’t know anything about Buddhism, either, right? He sends me the link to Plum Village. So I look it up and I read whatever was on the web page at that time, which is now different. And I write to him immediately, and I said, ‘Okay, that is exactly what I need. But there is no way that I can make it to France’ because I was in Germany. ‘You know, I can’t take a train. I don’t have the energy or the head to drive all the way there, I can’t do that. So find me something that is close by.’ Five minutes later Waldbrol, the Thay monastery in Waldbrol, Germany, close to Gummersbach. And I looked on the map and it’s 45 minutes from my house. And I said, ‘I can do that. I can definitely drive 45 minutes. I’m going to drive 45 minutes.’ So after much coming and going with the office there, because on Christmas Eve, they’re not exactly responsive to emails. I went, and by the time I left — can’t remember it was 10 days or a full two weeks — I landed right in the middle of the Christmas New Year retreat, right? They were completely full. They first said they don’t have room. Anyway, finally, they found me a room. By the end of the retreat, I was able to go back to work and have those feelings be already much, much more transformed. In particular, the teaching that I remember was incredibly helpful to me, there was ‘no mud, no lotus’ and I thought, ‘OK, I’m drowning in mud, so there better be lots of lotuses here. Where are the lotuses? Because there’s a lot of mud.’ But then, after that, you know, it was such a such an avenue of peace and calm and healing for me that I was, it was just like a magnet and for I don’t know how long I would drive Sunday mornings early so that I could spend the whole day there and then come home Sunday night. And it was incredibly healing to me. And then, later on, what I discovered is it was transformative, his teachings were transformative for the negotiation process. And that’s where, you know, that’s where I, you know, I just I’m in such awe of the power of his understanding, the power of his insight because the connection, the interbeing between what we have inside of us, what we discover inside of us and what we nourish or, in his words, what we water inside of us. And what is possible outside is so interlinked. And that is such a beautiful discovery because we tend to think that, you know, if we are on a path of spiritual development that only has to do with me, but it doesn’t have anything to do with the outside world. And it does. They are just absolutely, you know, it’s like, it’s all completely interwoven with each other. And so I do, I have publicly, in fact, I think an interview with you, Jo, was the first time that I publicly credited Thay’s teachings and my understanding of Thay’s teachings with the fact that 195 nations were able to come to an agreement.
And it’s quite an incredible thing to stop and think about. First of all, Christiana, thank you for sharing so deeply, because, actually, we were discussing last podcast, you know, about after Thay’s passing, thousands of people were getting in touch, and many of them were saying…
You saved my life.
He saved my life.
Yes, he saved mine.
And he saved yours, and he, without his teachings, the Paris Climate Agreement may not have happened.
Which is quite an extraordinary thing to be able to say. Christiana, take us a little bit into the journey of the negotiations in terms of Thay’s teaching. So, you know, he talks about deep listening, about compassion, about sort of staying calm. You know, there are many parts of his teaching, but what would you say were the core of the help he brought to the negotiation in terms of that?
Two things I would highlight, not because it’s only two, just because, for me, they were perhaps the most, yeah, transformational. One was the skill of deep listening. And my experience was there were 195 countries that to every single one of the 70 something issues that were under negotiation, they had at least three opinions. So you multiply that. Right? A hundred and ninety five times three opinions, times 76, I mean, it was just an incredible chess game there. And they had very, very different and sometimes factually and objectively mutually exclusive positions. And, in a negotiation, typically what happens is that every country comes with their position to the table. And the purpose of them coming around the table is to inform everybody else of their position. Nobody really comes to listen. And so I had to do in my in my role there, I did have to go and meet with government officials from almost every country in their capital city. And if I didn’t meet them in their capital city, then certainly when they came to the negotiations, but I made it a really incredibly educational practice to ask them questions and listen to the answers instead of me preaching to them what I thought needed to be done or what somebody else thought it needed to be done. So asking them questions about what their long term interest was, how they saw themselves growing as a nation, how they were going to protect their people, many, many questions that led them to move from their short term thinking to much more longer term thinking and more inclusive thinking. And the more they move into the future and into broader thinking, the more there is an overlap and a coincidence of interest. If you stand in your very tiny little short term nationalistic interest, then you can imagine that there’s not much overlap in that Venn diagram. But if you expand that and they really begin to understand what is their responsibility in the future, now the Venn diagram is very different and there begins to be the emergence of common ground. So that was… But that you can only do if you’re truly listening to what they’re saying and then reflecting back to them so that they begin to see that there is a coincidence there in that Venn diagram. So the art of deep listening, in addition to the personal work where I also practice it, but for my professional work was incredibly helpful. And the other thing that I wanted to highlight is one of the main difficulties, if not the main difficulty in any climate negotiation then and sadly, also, now. But at that point, it was the divide between the Global North and the Global South. And the Global South feeling very much as a victim to what the Global North, industrialized countries, have done. And there’s no doubt that, objectively, they are the cause of climate change. That’s not ideology, that’s not a belief, that’s a fact. And so the Global South countries, the developing countries, to some big degree, are very justified in feeling as a victim. The problem with entering a conversation or negotiation as a victim is there’s no way you’re ever going to agree with anyone on anything, because if you perceive yourself as a victim, you are implicitly accusing somebody else of being a perpetrator. And that other person who’s being accused of being a perpetrator is never going to sit and happily take on the mantle of perpetration, they’re going to turn around and say, ‘Ah, but what you did is even worse than what I did.’ And there you go into this seesaw of accusations and blame. And so it was so interesting for me to see that if I saw myself in my personal life as a victim of what my husband had chosen to do with his life, that there was no way that I could go into my professional work and expect anything other than a victim-perpetrator dynamic because of interbeing, because the energy that I carry into that dynamic is there and I’m only watering the seeds, the wrong seeds of being a victim or being a perpetrator. Whereas if I can walk in with a different mindset and understand, first of all, that I am not a victim, that I have the tools to understand myself differently and that so does everyone else. And then you walk in with a very different energy, and because of the most amazing concept that, well, so many amazing concepts, but the concept of dependent co-arising or codependent arising, depending on which book you read. But is that these seeds, these traits, these feelings, these paradigms, these dynamics actually evolve at the same time and they’re all interconnected, even if that’s not evident. And that was such a lesson to me, such a lesson to me to understand, okay, my first responsibilities for me to get out of my victimhood. That’s my first responsibility. And otherwise, I cannot expect anyone else to do that. And so that was a bit of pressure on me, right? It’s like, ‘Okay, you better get your little, your ducks in a row.’ But I saw it happen. I saw it happen because in the process of me getting out of my own victimhood, then in my conversation with so many other government representatives, I began to see that lift. And I began to see the emergence of very, very different dynamic.
That’s your lotus. Those are the lotuses.
So, Christiana, thank you. So, so there’s so much in what you said and Brother Phap Huu maybe you want to add something because what I hear is two things. One is the Buddha talks about ‘with our thoughts, we create the world.’ So, you know, there’s also that phrase isn’t that 95 percent of people try to change the world around them, and only five percent try to change themselves. So most of the time, we’re projecting our problems onto the world and then almost as a justification for the fact that we feel the way we do and that when we heal that part in ourselves, we are different people. We are and you talked about different, we come with different energy.
We come with different energies.
And we come with a different view of the world. That, by its nature…
Is transformative. Yes.
Brother, is anything you want to add around that sort of codependent arising, the sense that actually, well, I don’t know, brother, what do you want to say? Because there is so much in that.
There’s a lot to unpack, and the teaching of it is so deep, but to make it so everyone who’s listening who may be new to it is to see the interbeing nature of the right and the left co-arising. So we always have this sense of like, this is good and this is bad, this is light and this is dark. This is suffering and this is happiness, and this is birth and this is death. But in deep Buddhist teaching, we have to meditate to see that these two opposites, that human nature, we get this perception that everything is separated.
Victim and perpetrator.
Exactly. We have to transcend that and we have to see the mud and the lotus. And sometimes it’s not obvious. And, as a meditator, we have to learn to see our suffering because that’s one of the noble truths. But by seeing the suffering, then you start to see happiness. And sometimes because we don’t look at our suffering and we just get this bubble of suffering and then we get covered up and life becomes hell. And our teacher usually tells us ‘Hell is not somewhere far away, hell is in the here and now, but also hell is in the here and now.’ And that concept of hell and heaven, and Thay says ‘In our practice, each breath we make, each step we take, each mindful action that we offer compassionate love, deep understanding, that contributes to a present moment of paradise, heaven, or, in Buddhism, the pure land.’ And this is a very deep practice, bt it is very simple, but it takes a lot of training because our mind, our consciousness is so, it’s so used to, and at the same time, it’s more convenient to see ourself as a victim or as superior, and inferior, or even equal. But Buddhism and the deep practice of the Eight Noble Path is to have right view. And right view it actually helps us to break through discrimination, which this… All these opposites are discrimination, but when you have this insight, when you live life, you see suffering, you don’t become a victim of it because in the suffering happiness is somewhere there. And one of Thay’s teaching, he talks a lot about the garbage and the rose. You know, we come and we may look at our self and we see a lot of garbage, and a lot of times we may be ashamed of it or we become a victim of it and we can’t move forward. But Thay says that the garbage can be transformed into compost which can nourish our happiness, our understanding, and this gives us an understanding, deeper understanding of happiness because happiness doesn’t just means la la land. Happiness means you understand your suffering, you understand, ‘oh, by continuing to water these seeds, I’m going to always be a victim.’ If you see that, that’s happiness. And that’s where you grow. That’s where that inner growth, inner strength is developed. And, for me, you know, a lot of the spiritual practice and the meditation, a lot of times we practice and we don’t see our growth right away because you expect to meditate and you become a Buddha tomorrow. But the training is to be patient, and the training is to understand yourself more and more each day. And this is a virtue to patience and is a virtue to understanding. And there’s this teaching that Thay has offered us, and it’s very comforting because Thay speaks to the audience, but he’s speaking to his children, his spiritual children, which is all of us, he says, ‘I would never want to send my children to a place where there is no suffering because in that place, my children will never be able to grow.’
And this is very important. And this helps us as students break free from this illusion that we can only be happy in a perfect place. And, let’s say, Plum Village. A lot of us come and we feel a family. We fall in love with Plum Village. We have… We always say we have a honeymoon phase with Plum Village. And then the more you live, you start to see, ‘Oh, there’s some who don’t practice so well’, that there are corners where the monks don’t clean so properly, ‘Why there’s so much spiderwebs in the dining hall?’ And then you start to see the grass is not green here, you look for somewhere else and, Thay said, ‘You know what? The Sangha is not perfect, and there is beauty to it because we can continue to learn from each other, we can grow with each other. We have suffering. We have difficulties. We look at it. We learn from it. We evolve from it.’ And that is really important because that is also the renewing and the freshness of Buddhism, which is all of us are a part of. And I think this is part of the co-arising. And when we look at ourselves in a relationship or in an environment, in business, in work, you know, I’m looking for a career, I want the best of the best. I’m sorry, there’s no perfectness. And that’s my own understanding. But when you look at the path is like, if there is challenges, it can be ingredients for your own growth. And this insight has really helped me overcome a lot of my own obstacles and times I can recognize my judgmental mind say, ‘Oh, this is not a perfect Sangha. I should look for some way who is better.’ And, you know, through these last few weeks of Thay’s transformation, I’ve had some regret, some regret moments because even when I was living with Thay, I had moments of thinking of leaving. But that is how human we are. And to accept that and now I learned from that, and that’s why I don’t want to take for granted more of these moments I have with my community, with my beloved, with Jo, with Christiana, with Brother Thien Phong, with lovely Clay, who edits this podcast. You know, because all of these moments are gifts. And for me, that’s one of the teachings that Thay has offered, because that is also permanent and impermanence that they go hand-in-hand. You don’t need to wait into the impermanence to regret.
I would like to now ask a question, because I think is… I want to hear from both of you what was the moment when you felt Thay was my spiritual teacher? What was it? Was his presence? Was it a teaching or what was that feeling? Because I think it’s very interesting. Because I grew up in a Buddhist background and I grew up with Buddhism in my heart and in my blood, in my bone, and in my culture. But I think for both of you who come from different culture, different religion, upbringing. And I think, Christiana, when you shared that, it’s like, ‘I just need Buddhism.’ That’s, Thay always says that every one of us has a spiritual dimension. One day it’s going to be knocking on the door, saying, ‘Are you nourishing your spiritual dimension?’ I want to explore that a little bit with both of you.
You go first, Jo.
So when I was young, I had this idea that if I was, that if I resolved all my problems, you know, then I would never have to deal with them again. You know, it’s like, it’s like, I understand this problem, I resolve this problem and I’m free. And what I learned as I was growing up was that, as I was growing older was that actually, we carry our wounds with us. They are part of who we are. They are what makes us a whole person. That is very similar to what you’re saying. You know, it is our wounds that make us whole in a paradoxical sense. And I think with Thich Nhat Hanh it was the recognition that I could be myself and that I could come home to myself, and that I had been away from myself all my life, that actually I wasn’t, that I was so much in my life I was trying to be someone else or trying to fit in, or trying to win praise, or trying to be this, or trying to be that, trying to be successful, trying to please this person, trying to avoid the suffering from that person. And all of that summed up meant that I was never at home. If you came and rang on my doorbell, I would not be there. And I think Thay’s teachings are… And I hear this from so many people who come to Plum Village, they say, ‘I feel like I’m coming home.’ And Thay’s calligraphy ‘I have arrived, I am home’ for me, sums that up. I mean, it’s partly what Christiana was saying, you know, when I feel at home, when I feel my own presence, when I’m aware of my own wounds, then I can have a very beautiful relationship with other people. And that people, you know, what Thay taught me was about that he offers refuge to people, that people can come and feel safe in his presence. And, for me, that’s what it’s come all down to, and Christiana and I were discussing that this morning. We’re so locked into a society which is about doing and that we define ourselves through our doing. And it makes sense because, you know, I can show you my degree and I can show you my LinkedIn profile. So I’ve done this and I went to this and I succeeded in that. And so doing has in a sense become all pervasive and is how we are all judged. But actually, what’s much more important to me is being. My presence that when someone when I speak to someone, do they feel safe with me? Can they be vulnerable with me? If they share a deep suffering, am I able to be present for them in that suffering? Have I been able to touch my own suffering in a way that I don’t feel scared by someone else’s suffering? We see so many people that you share something, people try to close down the conversation because it resonates with their own pain. And I think Thay just brought that about in such a gentle way. I think, in my early years of self-development, they were, and it’s not the right word, but I’ll use it because it was in my mind, I was quite violent. In a sense, I felt I had to wrestle with all my sufferings, with my history, with all my problems. It was like a, you know, a fight to, you know, it was like a fight. I had to overcome them. I had to sort of, yeah, wrestle is the right word. And with Thay it was about, I can be friends with my past. I can be friends with my suffering. I can make peace with it. I can honor it. I can see the sacredness in everything.
Jo, did you come from a spiritually-oriented family?
No, no. I think in my history, in my ancestors, there were rabbis. But my father had lost faith due to all the suffering he had gone through in, sort of, in the war and everything. And that even though he was, he was very spiritual in some ways. In the way he used to write to me, it was very… he had a deep understanding. But it was, in no sense, religious. But he did have a very, a sense of life’s pain and how you work with it. But I think what’s been… What Thay helped me to do is restore my faith in life. And, you know, you talk about victim-perpetrator, you know, I come from a family of, you know, my mum lost all her family in the Holocaust and my father was forced out of his home country. And so there was a lot of persecution. And it’s very easy, as you say, to become the victim and to close down. And so I think, in some ways, my life has been about when I was young, feeling very much a victim, very much that I was at risk. You know, and my family very close, you know that they’ll come and get you type of… even though that wasn’t ever spoken, there was a sort of fear which they’d gone through. And…
A habit energy.
Yeah. And I think what Thay helped me to do is restore my faith in life and restore that I can be who I am and I’m not going to be carted away one day.
And how about you, Christiana?
Well, I do come from a religious family, actually. I come from Costa Rica, as you know, and Catholicism is the official religion in Costa Rica, and none of my family are Catholic. My father, who was president, loved, and as president, you have to go to some Catholic masses. And he loved to go, not because he believed in it, but because he would always say, ‘It’s perfect, nobody’s asking me any questions, nobody’s approaching me. I can sit there and I can think.’ And so that’s why he loved going to Catholic masses. And my mother was not Catholic. She was from a religion called Christian Science. Her parents were Christian scientists, and we were brought up by my mother in that religion, all of us. And I was a practicing Christian scientist until I was 16, and a pretty strong practicing Christian scientist. And then I left when I was 16 because I could no longer accept — I wonder what the verb is — yeah, accept, that in Christian science, there is a beautiful, profound recognition of everything that is love, truth, life and all the positives. But there is a fundamental denial, and that’s my word — Christian scientists would never use the word denial — denial of anything that is on the negative ledger. And my grandfather, who was very important in my life and I have huge respect for the way that he practiced his religion. But for me? I just found that so difficult to divide the world into good and bad. And the good will attract me and I shall practice the good and the bad is literally nonexistent and it shall have no hold on me. And I just couldn’t do that, I thought like, ‘OK, I’m not a good Christian scientist because I can’t, I can’t do that, I can’t divide the world.’ And so I thought, I moved away from the religion and I thought, ‘OK, well, then I won’t be able to have any spirituality in my life if that’s the only option that I have.’ Until I met Tahy and I went, ‘Oh my gosh, OK. So these are actually two sides of the same piece of paper, right? There is no division between the two. And, in fact, they actually feed each other and they strengthen each other and you learn from the relationship with each other, and as you’ve just explained, between suffering and happiness. And that was such a huge aha moment. You know, here in Plum Village, we talk about happy moments and valuable moments. So what else do we talk about? Legendary moments. Today, we had a delicious moment of our wonderful lunch. Thank you, Jo, again. But that was such an aha moment for me. And it wasn’t just a moment. It was like several months that it took me to go, ‘Wow, this is a completely different fresh approach to the reality that we experience, because the fact is we do experience both good and bad. We do experience joy and suffering. We do experience pain and — what is non pain? — I don’t know.
And they are, you know, there’s so much part of the same thing. And so for me to, you know, to to begin to get into understanding that, you know, that the tea is made out of non-tea elements that are part of the tea — to just use one of his analogies — and to begin to wrap myself around that… ‘Oh, now it makes sense.’ It was such a huge, I mean, yes, it was a spiritual awakening, but it was also a cognitive awakening for me because I had separated these things, you know, in two completely different universes. And bringing them together and understanding the very intimate relationship between the two was such a relief and such a fertile ground for me to be able to derive just many, many, many different lessons from that. I forgot what the question was. You asked, ‘Where did we come from? Did we have a spiritual…
Well, the question was…
Did I answer the question? I don’t know what the question was.
There was… You did answer, but maybe just if you want to check if you have answered was when was that moment when you also… wen you felt Thay became your spiritual teacher?
Well, all of these concepts, right? I was learning throughout the months that I was visiting EIAB, as we called it the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbrol. But then in the summer of 2014, Thay came to Waldbrol and….
Dear listeners, we’ll just take a moment to breathe with Christiane. It’s an emotional moment.
I remember sitting in the meditation hall, in Waldbrol, and everyone, of course, was in deep silence. And I remember seeing Thay walk in and I just thought ‘That’s it. That is it. His presence, his aura.’ It wasn’t a physical body walking in, it was a wave of love just spreading itself throughout the hall. I’ve just never, never been in such a sacred moment. And while, as you all well know, he walked very slowly and I was, I remember being so grateful that he was walking slowly because it gave me enough time to take this in. I was just so impacted. And so by the time he got up to the front of the meditation hall because he came from the back and walked all the way to the front. And by the time he got to the meditation… to the top of the meditation hall, and sat on his cushions so mindfully behind the table with his little tea, I said, ‘That’s it. This is what is going to accompany me the rest of my life.’
And, Christiana, what is the essence of what? The emotion you’re feeling as you describe that. What does it touch in you?
Unconditional love. That is what Thay is. Thay can see that in each of us. It doesn’t matter what your walk of life is, it doesn’t matter what we have done or not done. Doesn’t matter, you know, it doesn’t it doesn’t matter. There is just such a complete, infinite, unconditional love for everyone. I mean, it’s just, it’s a little bit difficult to even wrap your head around that capacity to love in that way. And to just be so accepting in that way. Yeah, because while most of us have this judgment right, we antecede our love with a judgment and you have to walk through all of these layers of judgment, either your own or somebody else’s or whatever, in order to get to love. And Thay doesn’t do that. Thay is right there.
And there’s, there’s a story and maybe, you know, Christiana, but after you being in touch with Plum Village and Thay through EIAB, you wrote Thay a letter, an email or a letter, and you shared who you were and you consider yourself as his student. And Thay received this letter and he called one of the sisters in — which now is your dear friends, Sister True Dedication — and he said, ‘Please support this person. She’s going to be one of my continuation.’ And I know during the Paris Agreement in 2015, a delegation of Plum Village came. And that was a mission that our teacher gave to a small group and, you know, Sister True Dedication share to us like ‘We didn’t know what we’re going to do, how we’re going to support, but we just felt just our presence maybe can just be a comfort for Christiana.’ And that was because we know Thay can’t be everywhere, but he was already practicing to see him in every one of us.
And from him to send a delegation and say, ‘I want you as my students, as my continuation to go and support Christiana at this moment.’ You know, and that I just want to say like Thay has a lot of trust in all of us, you know. Thay has a lot of trust in his lay students also, and I think that’s very important. I can say this because I know, in the podcast, I had the chance to share a lot about the relationship I had with Thay and how much his impact to us is and how he wants us to continue him. But I just want to share like Thay’s trust to also the fourfold, which is the lay friends who are not monastic. He sees him in each and every one of you. And Jo, you have also this beautiful connection to Thay, to be close to, interviewing him. And he’s always said journalists should water good seeds, and people also need to share news that are heavy and strong and destructive, right? So I just felt as we are continuing to honor Thay’s legacy just to point this out, because it brings up this moment of what we all have been sharing in the last few weeks to say what’s next for all of us?
Yeah, what’s next?
So, a perfect segue, brother, and thank you for that. Because what we’ve been talking about … Been talking a lot about presence.
And now, Brother Phap Huu, you’re a very youthful soul. I think you’re 33, aren’t you?
Yeah. 34. Yes.
A youthful old, wise soul.
Yes. But in age, you’re still a mere youngster. Whereas, Christiana, I am 60. And, Christiana, am I allowed to say how old are you.
I’m sixty five.
And Christiana is 65. One of the things we’ve been talking about Christiana — and I hope we’ll continue to talk more about — is about this movement to next stage of life, which is that, you know, we’re like the four seasons that we are in sort of maybe the autumn of our lives where we’ve been doing a lot. You’ve been doing a lot. I’ve been doing a lot in my own field, and we’re coming to the stage in life where we want to be more. And, you know, I was saying to you, I feel that one part of me is still in the past where I was very busy, very active, but also very stressed, very always doing, and wanting to move into a place where I’m still contributing. But I’m contributing my being in terms of the spaciousness. You know, so many people are so busy. So if I can offer people, if I can be spacious in myself, then when I’m with people, I’m working with people coaching or whatever, I can be spacious with them. It’s it’s much more intangible. It’s not something, as I said, you can point to. So I’m just wondering for you as we contemplate, you know, Thay’s passing and how what it is to step up, what it is to make a different type of contribution, what it is about this time of life that may be different from earlier. What’s going on in for you? What are your thoughts?
Well, I think Phap Huu has that much clearer than I do? I think he should go first.
OK, I’ll start first.
Because he… I already shared a little bit of that.
I think one of the amazing thing that we didn’t know, but Thay was already training us to be a community without Thay through our time with him in the last 20 years. And I can share this on on my own experience because through all of the retreats, and meaning all of these meetings, how do we organize? How do we make the right decisions? Thay started to empower the bhikshu and bhikshuni order — which is the fully-ordained monks and nuns in Buddhist tradition, in a monastery. The core community is the bhiksu on the monks side, and the bhiksuni on the nun side. And it’s very it’s very easy to just have one leader and and follow the boss. And I think a lot of society is set up in that way. And it’s an easier route, I would say. But Thay had this vision, and he, I think, was already thinking about us with that… He knows impermanence and he knows we are of the nature to die. And Thay know that one day he’s not going to be here. So through the years, he was already training us to see that the community is Thay. And Thay has shared, even if you take a cell, a DNA from Thay and you clone him, that won’t be Thich Nhat Hanh, because that clone wouldn’t have suffered the suffering that Thay suffered. He wouldn’t have gone through the wars. He wouldn’t have been exiled. He wouldn’t have to strive to find ‘I have arrive, I’m home’, that deep insight, the blossoming of his understanding of suffering, of love, of nondiscrimination, of men is not our enemy. So you cannot have another taking your hand. But Thay has transmitted his gems to all of us. And each and every one of us is going to be a different leader in our own life. We are a father, a mother, a couple, a brother, a sister. We all have a role in our relationship. That is a leadership. We have the capacity to take care of our own suffering and I’ll contribute and cultivate happiness and love. That is a continuation, that is a step up, because before, you know, I think we talked about, this is like, ‘Um yeah, Thay is here, we can suffer a little bit, it’s OK, because somebody else is going to shine their mindfulness and we can just ride on it.’ But this is the moment when we realize now, if we want to be in touch with Thay, you cannot just grasp that outside of us anymore. You have to go inwards and you have to activate that. And the coolest thing about Thay is he gave us all the activation codes: mindful breathing, mindful steps, coming back to Mother Earth, being in the present moment, learning to be, learning to embrace, learning to accept, learning to let go, learning to see the lotus in the mud. Even though we are in much more because if we just allow ourselves to drown, we will never have the patience for that lotus to bloom. And if we want to see history, just look at Thay. He didn’t allow himself to be exiled to drown in despair and drown in suffering, he was patient. He embraced. He cultivated. He contemplated. And he grew into that. So, in a way, this step up moment is really channeling the insight that Thay has offered us and making it a part of our journey. Even for myself, like, there was a lot of times I speak about Thay’s legacy, and I want to continue his legacy. But I don’t think Thay wants us to just be in his shadow all the time because Thay has transmitted to us. The Buddha has told us we have to come and see for ourselves and experience it for ourselves because that wisdom has to come from inwards, or else we’re just still copying and pasting everywhere. And one day working, I still feel very empty because we haven’t yet done the inner work. And what is beautiful about also Thay’s legacy, which he has told us, is that we don’t have to do it alone. And that is very important. Thay said that one of the most beautiful quality of a community is siblinghood, brotherhood, sisterhood, siblinghood, that we learn to see each other as one body. Because in that insight, even though you, you are not capable of doing everything, but someone else is there to support that aspect. Just like all the cells recognizing they’re their best and they can offer that, and the body will always be healthy. But if there is so many different complexes and everybody’s trying to fight for a position, everybody’s trying to be the next leader, then we will, in my own understanding, we will break the community, we will break Thay’s legacy. And I truly see that our step up is nothing so far away, but is really doing what Thay taught us. There are so many moments I caught myself in difficult situation and like, what to do, I’m like, ‘Oh yeah, we have beginning anew.’ And it’s almost sometimes like the gem, the gems that Thay gave us, we received it, but we are next to him and we have been transmitted this wisdom, and we see is not for us, it’s for us to transmit to other people. But actually, that step up moment is now embodying that, that teaching, embodying those insights that Thay has given to us and make it, manifest in our own lives. And that’s how we will continue this path. We will continue Thay’s legacy and we will bring him forward, or else one day work just only can talk about his legacy. And when they work, it’s going to be on an altar, on a pedestal. And I think this is what has has been contemplating and I’ve been reflecting like, what does it mean? And for me, it means that we don’t need to put Thay on a pedestal. Of course, we love and we respect Thay and we honor him, but what he would want from us is his insight to continue in us. And I think that’s really important.
Brother, thank you. I know I’ll go back and listen to that bit again. Cause you put it so beautifully and profoundly. So, thank you. Christiana?
Well, it’s very difficult to speak after that.
I have to do it every week.
But this was particularly…
It was particularly, I agree that’s what I’m saying, we’ll cut that out and just type it up.
Put on replay.
The analogy to that, Phap Huu, is I have been in a situation several times where I need to step up to the podium and speak after John Kerry. And John Kerry is about three meters taller than I am. And so the microphone is always way, way, way up here, right? So I almost have to ask for a ladder to pull the microphone down to my small little body. That’s what I feel like right now. I feel like, ‘Oh boy, this is going to be very difficult to speak after Phap Huu.’ But I know that was a mistake.
Look out for what you wish for.
That was a mistake. It was… Thank you. So I’m really grateful for the clarity that you have on that. And it’s a clarity that I am still working toward because it was very clear to me. Almost a few minutes after receiving the news that this was going to be a step up moment and I’ve been thinking about this actually for maybe a year or two. What is my next role after having done what, what I have done with the help of so many people? And now, what is the next role for me? I know for sure what it is not. I know that it is no longer to be in the operational part of climate protection or environmental protection for a very simple reason, that I am 65, and there are so many young people who are coming into the space, who have so much better knowledge, so many more skills, so many are aware of so much more technology than I am. And so I am so eager, in fact, have already turned the baton over to many of them because there’s so many of them that are just absolutely brilliant. And frankly, many of them speak about the issues that I thought I understood in ways in which I no longer understand because they’re way ahead of me already. And so I’m truly grateful for that. So I no longer need to or should be in the operational part of this. So I’m grateful for that and it’s a huge relief. But then what? And, so, for me, what is becoming clear — and I warn you, that’s part of the reason why I’m still here and you haven’t gotten rid of me yet, I’m going to be here still for a few weeks — is to have more clarity on how can I strengthen the arc between the spiritual understanding that we have and the understanding that it is that transformation starts with the being and then the doing comes later and not the other way around. How do I strengthen the arc between that understanding and what I would responsibly call the outer world? How do I strengthen the arc between the inner world and the outer world? First for me, and then how do I take that strengthened bridge and offer it to others, in particular at a time in which, as you all well know, we have millions of young people who are drowning in despair and who can’t see above their doomism, and who truly, truly do believe that their die is cast and that they have no future. And I don’t believe that to be true, but I do understand that it is true for them currently, and they’re deeply in that pain, deeply in that suffering. And that was not so five years ago, that is a pretty recent phenomenon that we have reached both the depth of that pain and the numbers of those who are experiencing that pain. And so it seems to me that my next chapter is to help with that. And I’m not sure how that’s going to look or I’m not sure. I’m just totally not sure how that… how to take that into, yeah, into operation, if you will. Or how to exercise that. But I do know that that is what I would like to do. I also know that it’s sorely needed and that I can let go of the other pieces because there are much better, much more capable, much more prepared people to be doing that other than myself. So that means that I’m here with a big question. So any pearls of wisdom from your side would be very welcome.
OK, brother, before you give us the answer…
So this wonderful…
We’re not leaving this room until we have the answer.
We have the answer.
But I’m feeling, I’m seeing that increasingly, so I was on a call with a number of climate leaders last week, and one of the leading scientists in the climate movement said, ‘You know, I don’t get it. You know, we know so much, we know what the issues are, we know the data, we know the forecasts… we know we’re heading for disaster, and people aren’t acting. You know, why? Why is that?’ Because that, I think, is one of the essential questions of our time and leading partly in part, I imagine to this despair that if we know all this and we’re not acting, that is almost the very meaning of madness. And then the discussion among everyone else was that we need to bring in the spiritual dimension, but people don’t know how, because especially when you’re dealing with the established system, you normally have to speak their language and you normally have, and normally they’re the ones who fund any projects with which you want to change it. And it’s just very… And people are finding it very hard because they recognize we are almost on the cusp of this potential transformation where the people 5, 10 years ago who would never have talked about an inner dimension, and certainly wouldn’t have talked about it in a work type conversation. So clearly we’re coming to a potential transformation, but we’re hitting this real roadblock, which is that we’re so well trained in the doing and seeing the effects of the doing. I’ve got this project. This is my spreadsheet. This is what I’m going to do. I’ve done this. This is going to lead to this change. I’ve done that, that the being is so hard for people to sometimes even talk about.
Well, for us…
It’s not. It’s easy for us to talk about it. We struggle for the words.
And not only to talk about, but then to put into action in a world that for so long has denied it as anything meaningful. So, brother…
We’re at your feet.
You know what? Because we need to make this, you know, we are at the point of the edge of a precipice and we need to build a bridge to the other side.
And I think we’re all struggling. We’re getting close to the edge, and the closer you get to the edge, the more we fear and panic. And we know there isn’t… There is something on the other side, but we haven’t really built even a rope bridge across.
Yes, the spiritual dimension that we’ve been touching on in this episode is very key because when the spiritual dimension, it doesn’t just mean religion, it doesn’t mean I need to believe in a God, I need to believe in the Buddha and to believe in a particular person. A spiritual dimension is allowing us to touch interbeing. This is very important, and I believe the reason why there’s not even as if we have all the information, but we’re not bringing people to the suffering, then we’re not going to change. We’re not going to change our consciousness. We’re not going to change our way of thinking. Just we live in France, where it’s very beautiful. We are experiencing some weather changes and so on. So, but it’s not that bad. And I can still buy whatever I want. I can still have enough food. I can still have water. But the signs are saying, but if we don’t take care of it, we’re not going to have all this.
And some people don’t already.
And in different parts of the planet, there are people who are really suffering. But because I don’t have a spiritual dimension to touch and to understand the interbeing aspect is that. And this is why I won’t change because I just care about me.
This is where a spiritual dimension is bringing people to the heart of suffering and happiness. How this two go hand in hand, how the environment and us is not separated. If Mother Earth suffers, we will suffer. And the Mother Earth is suffering, but a lot of us, we are ignoring it. We are denying it. We are closing one eye to it. We just want to pick a little bit and we can say, ‘Oh, that’s not my problem, though.’ I’ll leave that to Christiana Figueres, or I’ll leave that to scientists. But what we have learned and what our teacher has emphasized so much on is community. Because nature is community. Nature supports each other by the whole cosmos, all of these organisms come together, and that’s how it outlasts all of us. But us, we have such egos that we feel we are better. We are more powerful. We we are alphas and we forget that actually we are so young. We’re babies to this planet. And Mother Earth has transformed many times. When we talk about protecting Mother Earth, and, Christiana, I read this from your articles and from your sharing. It’s worth protecting ourselves, Mother Earth knows how to take care of herself. And this is very important because, once again, we are dividing, we are… I am me, and the Earth is the Earth. Nature is nature. You see, and the spiritual dimension is that bridge is where we can connect to seeing us as Mother Earth, seeing us as the suffering, seeing us as the person cutting the trees, seeing us as the oil being spilled into the ocean. We are the fish that is suffering. We are the birds that are drowning in these oils. We are the animals that are being burnt and have no home. But most of us, we don’t even have time to contemplate that or our attention is to entertainment, to things that just excites us and cover up our suffering because also looking at our situation can be quite overwhelming. And that’s why we want to push it away, ignore and say, maybe I’ll leave that to the future generation. And once again, that is not interbeing, because who is the future generation? Is your children, your descendants, your friends? They are you also. So that is an element that our teacher has been trying to teach throughout his whole life, and he entrust that to all of us as his continuation to continue to spread that insight and to also do it in a way that we have to be very skillful, and this skilfulness we have to learn in every situation we can communicate, we can express, we can let people experience it through different Dharma Doors through different ways. And I think that’s going to be very crucial for us as his descendants, as his continuation, because when we suffer Thaystill suffers. That’s how I see it. And that’s also a feel for me to awaken more of my own understanding and to grow more. And I want to answer a little bit of Christiana’s question.
OK, good. You’re going to tell me what to do. This is fantastic.
This is your contract, sign here.
Invite the bell, something very exciting…
Because what you just shared also manifested in our community as Thay’s student… we had many different generation come in through the years of Thay’s monastic student. When Thay realized that there was a generation that were elders and they were continuing to be, they were continuing to do all the operational work, that administration work. And then there was this whole new young energy coming in, and I think they had to grow in this aspect of being a teacher, say, what do I do so that these young ones don’t feel like they’re at the hands of just the elders and they’re not a part of this movement. They’re not a part of this changed and a part of this growth. And so there was one year Thay created this new image paradigm, you can say, the elders, now your role is not to do the operational work. You become a pillar of refuge because you have a lot of experience, and it doesn’t mean you just sit back and drink tea all day, no, no. Your presence by showing up is a contribution. When you come to the meetings, you don’t have to give all the inputs you can listen in from time to time. Let the young ones share, hear from them, and you can give your insight because you have more experience. And but by listening, the young ones feel they are being heard, and that’s so crucial. And that’s my own experience when I, and for the young ones, is inviting us to learn, to share, to learn, to express. It sounds easier than done because we have so much complexes. Will they listen to me? Will they understand my deepest… Am I able to express? So Thay take give it the role of having virtue as a guidance. Your presence from your experience as a refugee. And when I suffer, because you’re not too busy anymore, I’m doing the organization. You can have time for me. You can listen to me. You can offer me insight. You can offer me your experience. So it’s that image of continuing to now hold your light, hold the fire, nourish it, cook it more, let the flame grow bigger. And then when the young ones, when their flame is a little bit low, they can come in and get more fuel from you. And this was a very big shift in our community because suddenly my generation, I was only around seven years. Not so young, but not so old. But we were put into a position where Thay was and the community said ‘Now, you help run the retreat.’ And the elders will now give the Dharma, the orientation. Thay was still there, so we still listen to Thay’s Dharma Talk, but they would do more consultation. They would do more of the leading of the Dharma. And their role was now as a guide, and that, I think, also transformed something in them because then they start to realize that I have to practice because people are going to really take refuge in me. And if I don’t practice, my words will have no weight. And I think with us who our experience and who have aged, there’s wisdom to that. There is depth to that, and a lot of us, we just want to sit with you and drink tea. And we just want to sit there and hear your stories and share our experience and maybe share our questions and get some, we call it shining light. And Thay says that also keeps the elder connected to the young. And this was what Thay always did. So from time to time, Thay would invite us for a meal, and he would say, ‘What’s new, Khong? What’s happening?’ You know, and it’s very spontaneous and sometimes in it, sometimes now that I remember what I would say the most random thing, and it’s now there’s no depth to it, but Thay said, ‘Oh, really? That’s your suffering?’ And it may for Thay… ‘Wow, that’s your suffering?’ This you shouldn’t… That shouldn’t even be a suffering, but that is Thay’s connection. And so the youth and the elders don’t feel a part. And I think that’s really, really, really an art to it. It is an art of community, and as an art of always having a bridge and knowing each other’s role. And I think that that element really can help you not burn out because you see you have a continuation. And I think that’s what you want, Christiana, and that’s what you want, Jo. And that’s, you know, when you are all this experience, you have matured, you want to express, you want to share, you want to give, and you want a continuation. And that is also a legacy of Thay. I know, thank you for listening to me and giving me the space to share. But there are so many times I’ve come to both of you, and I shared I would like to look deeper together, and that’s because I see you have space for me and I feel I can take refuge in you. And sometimes, honestly, you don’t need to say anything. I can just be there in your embrace, and I feel recharged and that comes from presence, though. And that’s why the practice of learning to be is not simple. When you are really there, you look at someone, you listen to them, you’re giving them your trust, you’re giving them your presence, you’re giving them your energy and that’s very recharging. And I think a lot of the young folks, they have a lot of aspiration. They have a lot of energy. But their experience may be lacking. Sometimes they may be unskillful in words, maybe unskillful in presentation. But if the elders can say ‘No speak, but it’s OK.’ Maybe next time, just share from this direction, be a little bit more compassion and maybe have a better posture in your sharing. And this was my training. When I was a work coordinator, I used to fidget a lot. I get nervous and my body, we used to move back and forth and one day a venerable in Deer Park, who I’m forever grateful for, he just put his hand on my shoulder and he’d say, ‘Just be still, my younger brother.’ And that changed my presence. And that was just an action and two words: ‘Just be still, my younger brother.’ A two-sentence. And that is virtue. And he was experienced and he saw, that’s all I need. And that was a transmission. So how can you, as elders, see ways of transmitting now? And through that transmission, you will still be doing. That’s the amazing thing, because that’s what I saw in Thay, even though Thay were still guiding us. But by guiding us, he is doing the future because we are going to carry him to the future. And both of you, I have to say, you have a lot of fire and I want you to be able to continue to contribute that fire to all of us who are young, who are aspiring, who want to have a change in our personal life and in the collective world, collective environment for us to feel empowered to feel also supported. And that’s where we will carry all of you into the future. And that’s why I feel roots are so important because for me, roots are connection. So that’s what I would like to offer.
That told us. Thank you, Brother Phap Huu. So, you know, these are… This is good for we to chew over.
Just breathe a little bit because we’ve just received an unbelievable transmission.
No, I got it. Yeah.
Christiana, any final thoughts before we wrap up?
No thoughts, just gratitude, gratitude for being here, again. I missed coming for so many years. So, thank you very much for your embrace here. Gratitude for the time that I’ve spent here for such rich conversations with so many brothers and sisters here. And thank you for having me on your podcast. Quite a different experience than our podcast. And a very beautiful one. Thank you.
Yeah. And, you know, it’s such a rich conversation because, actually, these are the deep aspirations. We have, and so many of our listeners will have this wish to create change, wish to to have to make the world a happy and better place. And so I hope that, you know, Christiana, you and I are, we’re not struggling with it, but we’re asking deep questions and looking for paths forward. And so I hope that this is helpful to other people who are also trying to find their path, trying to understand their connection to the world and how they can make an impact without impacting negatively of themselves, and how they can act in freedom and with peace and with great meaning. Brother Phap Huu, so we like to end as all our regular listeners will know, we like to finish with Brother Phap Huu giving us a meditation to bring us back to the present moment to resettle ourselves after a lots of words, but to use words to come back to ourselves. So, Brother Phap Huu.
So, listeners, hello, friends, wherever you may be, if you are going for a walk going for a jog, or you’re working at home, cleaning your house, doing gardening, or you’re on a commute. If you just allow yourself to be still, be seated, or standing, or even laying down. And allow me to guide you in a few mindful breaths. So let us become aware of our inbreath, and just identify this is my inbreath. And as I breathe out, I identify that this is my outbreath. In. And out. You can feel the inbreath coming in your nostrils filling up your lungs, your abdomen, your whole body. Breathing out, you release, relax your breath. Identifying inbreath. Identifying outbreath. And as I breathe in, I follow my inbreath from the beginning to the end. And as I breathe out, I take refuge in my outbreath from the beginning to the end. I am uniting myself with the miracle of the inbreath. And I am one with the miracle of the outbreath. In. Out. And as I breathe in, I become in touch with the trees, the birds, the sunshine, the clouds, everything that is supporting me. Breathing out, I have gratitude. In, I am in touch with the nature element that supports me. Breathing out, I am grateful. Breathing in, I’m in touch with my teacher who has offered me teachings on how to love and understand. Breathing out, I am grateful. In, teacher who has offered me love and understanding. Out, I am grateful. Mindful of my inbreath, I aspire to continue my teacher. Mindful of my outbreath, my teacher is smiling to me. In, continuing my teacher. Out, my teacher is smiling. Breathing in, I feel alive. Breathing out, I’m so grateful to life inside of me and all around me. In touch with this stillness, the spiritual home of presence I nourish and I cultivate. In, I am a continuation. Out, I bring you in the here and now and to the future. There is no separation. Breathing in, inbreath. Breathing out, outbreath. So simple, but it is the key to the here and now. Thank you, friends, for joining us on this podcast, and thank you for breathing mindfully with all of us here.
Dear listeners, thank you for joining us on this episode. If you’ve enjoyed it, there are many more. You can catch us on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on other platforms that carry podcasts and also on our 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 www.tnhf.org/donate. Thank you very much, and see you next time.
The way out is in.