Welcome to episode 25 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 for a second time by special guest, eco-philosopher Joanna Macy.
A scholar of Buddhism, systems theory, and deep ecology, Joanna Macy, PhD, is one of the most respected voices in the movements for peace, justice, and ecology. She interweaves her scholarship with learnings drawn from six decades of activism, has written twelve books, and teaches an empowerment approach known as the Work That Reconnects.
Together, they talk about the passing and legacy of Thich Nhat Hanh, with a focus on interbeing and continuation. Additional topics include their own practices during uncertain times, and the application of Thay’s teachings in daily life.
Joanna reflects on the early days of peace activism, becoming aware of Thay in the 1960s, and meeting him for the first time in the early 1980s, during a special United Nations session on disarmament.
She further delves into Thay’s courage, imagination, and devotion to life and peace; religion and revolution; why framing the tackling of climate change as a ‘fight’ may not be helpful; transcending individualism and achieving a wider sense of self; seeing our interconnection and inter-existence with all life on Earth; humility; the ‘legacy’ of nuclear weapons; affection and love; honouring the pain we experience for the world; seeing with new eyes; having that ‘sense of wonder’ at the end of the world; and gratitude.
Additionally, she talks about some of the main concepts in the new edition of her classic book, Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re In with Unexpected Resilience and Creative Power, such as the importance of having “power with, not power over”.
And: how would she like to see her continuation in this world?
Brother Phap Huu discusses ways that Thay’s teachings can help us in these times of crises; Thay’s legacy as a peace activist; taking care of the past, present, and future; what it means to be a Bodhisattva; the interbeing effect; moderation; change; and the need for a spiritual dimension.
Jo muses over the importance of bringing the future into the present moment; humility; how Thay became his teachings; and honours Joanna as a teacher and Bodhisattva.
The episode ends with a meditation on interbeing, guided by Joanna Macy.
[This episode was recorded on February 16, 2022, via Zoom.]
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
“One reason that Thay was so important to me was that he loved this world – and I’m so fed up with spiritual people who think they can rise above mere phenomenality and the physical world; it’s all one.”
“You don’t try to be a spiritually perfect person; just be open to love. That love wipes out fear, takes you into this world, and gives you strength and courage.”
“‘This is’ because ‘that is’, and ‘that is’ because everything is intertwined.”
“An oyster, in response to trauma, grows a pearl.”
“This world is too fragile and too beautiful for us to hesitate for a moment in service to peace.”
“We are part of the world, and the suffering that is outside is also a part of us. And if the outside suffers, we will suffer also. And if we can bring peace to little villages, little communities, little families, the impact will multiply and have the interbeing effect; the idea that everything can connect and effects can ripple through.”
“One part of what’s killed us is competition. That’s the ‘gift’ of five centuries of individualism and capitalism.”
“This planet doesn’t know whether it’ll be around to carry life. So that makes every moment precious. This moment is once in a lifetime.”
“It’s at the moment when we’re most tender that our heart opens the widest; when we have nothing left, nothing more to lose, everything becomes crystal clear. Everything becomes precious.”
“Don’t try to cheer yourself up all the time. Feel the sorrow, feel the grief. Feel the loneliness. Feel that it’s good that you’re alive. And the fact that you care for the world, that’s a form of love. Do not let that get pathologized. It isn’t, because it’s not abnormal. It’s a face of love. Pain for the world and love for the world are just two sides of one coin. So honour your pain for the world.”
“Don’t complain all the time. You’re not going to be useful to the world in any way if you’re not glad to be here. And then sorrow together.”
“Thay had that quality of such fullness of presence that he didn’t have time to think about, ‘Well, how are they seeing me?’”
List of resources
Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals 1962–1966
Dr. Dan Siegel
Songs: ‘No Coming, No Going’
Tassajara Zen Mountain Center
Call Me by My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh
St. Francis of Assisi
The Way Out Is In: ‘Grief and Joy on a Planet in Crisis: Joanna Macy on the Best Time to Be Alive (Episode #12)’
Dear listeners, welcome back to the latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.
I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems change.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plum Village tradition.
And today we have the honor of speaking with Joanna Macy, the famous Buddhist scholar, environmental activist and expert on general systems theory and deep ecology.
The way out is in.
Welcome back, everyone, I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And we have Joanna Macy. Joanna, welcome.
I’m delighted to be here. Good morning to you in your late afternoon.
Yeah. And we feel very fortunate because this is our second bite of the cherry, because we had Joanna on a few months ago, but now we get the chance to speak to you all over again. So we’re very happy about that, Joanna. And it’d be great maybe to start, obviously, with the passing of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Joanna, it would be lovely just to get a sense of the impact of Thay’s passing. When did you hear about it and how did you respond?
Well, of course, a lot of people were telling me. And the first was from a colleague, miles away, who just sent an email: ‘Thich Nhat Hanh is dead.’ But then then the news came, and at my heart-mind-body couldn’t believe it. And, in a sense, it made no sense. And… But then, as the remarkable thing is that in this case… I saw a lot of people, you can imagine, for me, in my 90s, how many people I’ve heard about dying. But this, in this case, with Thay, it soon became a not news of a loss, but an experience of almost an intensification of his presence in the world. The world seemed fuller than ever. I mean, really full of Thay. That it was what he meant was so close to the very nature of ou world, to the air we breathe, to the way the light comes in, to the joy that there is and being alive, the pain there is and seeing sorrow. It all was a resident with the presence of Thay, not his absence. And so it seemed to me in the days and weeks that have followed that people are relishing and, as they remember, their remembering is washed with gratitude. So it’s been like that.
And, Joanna, you had the opportunity to see some of the ceremonies live from Vietnam of Thay’s passing, which was, in a sense, a worldwide phenomenon. But tell us, what was your experience of that?
I just… Such utter gratitude that Thay was granted a good long life and that in that life he could share so much and grow around him like a garden, a place that reflected his devotion and his awakened mind, and the beauty he loved in this world. One reason, of course, that he was so important to me was that — I’m going to cry again — but was that he loved this world and I’m so fed up with spiritual people who think they can rise above mere phenomenality and physical world. It’s all one. And that’s to see that he had had time in his life to bring interbeing, Plum Village, as well as so many wonderful books, and so many teachings, and so many lives that he touched. What a blessing and how grateful we can be. He saw so much death around him when he was a young monk in Vietnam. Recently, there’s been the publications of those early days from Parallax Press, The Fragrant Palm Leaves, when he was remembering seeking a place with his young brother monks and sister nuns that they could be rejoice. I love those books that they were able to come out before his death. He was granted that much. He had so much courage. The courage and the imagination, the combination of courage, imagination and devotion to life, and service to the Buddha Dharma. That he could always, always seeking from a young man’s voice through the School for Social Service or the temple he was building with that he described in Fragrant Palm Leaves that could… Because he loved this world. He loved this world. And so do I. And that’s why I have been so deeply… I feel blessed to know him because he echoed, or I could say, yes, it is fitting. You don’t try to be a spiritually perfect person you want to just be open to love. And that love wipes out fear and that love takes you into this world and it gives you strength and courage… I’m sorry, I didn’t… I’m really happy. I’m so happy about this. I can’t help but cry. My heart is crying too.
What are your tears telling you?
That he’s alive and all of us… And we are, we inter-are. If ever there is a message in our grief and in our love at his passing, I guess that’s it, that we belong to each other. There’s no limits to the joy that comes with having a way to know and express your deepest feelings and knowings.
So tell us a bit about your feeling around this, how… the way the whole world came together to celebrate Thay’s life. What was your sensing of that?
You see, some wonderful people in my lifetime we lost, but to have this because it’s like he… Maybe it’s that, Jo. That is like he became his teachings. He who so wanted, and this is what moves me, he knew that the word Shunya – empty, for what we awaken to, wasn’t enough. I had felt that. When we really get the core of the teachings, but Pratitya Samutpada — our dependent co-arising — and that for centuries, the common word that was used for that in, especially in Zen, was Sunya – empty. So I would often have to explain to people. They’d say, ‘empty of what?’ I’d say ‘Empty of a separate self, empty of the illusion of its permanent separate self.’ Well, that’s helpful, but it doesn’t quite make you, you know, see sparks. You know, it’s not thrilling. It’s intellectually very helpful. So what I loved was back when I had… Because he had been important to me since the 1960s, when he was in Vietnam, and then had to leave. And I was already knowing that and following that to some extent. And then his coming with, through the Quakers and the Fellowship of Reconciliation to the U.S. and tour. And so watching that, I didn’t know him and ever meet him until 1982.
Hmm. So many people were giving messages of people, thousands of people were appreciating.
Yeah, that’s right. Well, and the generosity and forethought that went into Plum Village being able and so generously to share was how you’re celebrating or honoring, experiencing that, allowed us to feel that we’re a family together, and that this family is his and a strong element, but not the only one, of his continuation. So, I guess, the very word continuation became more vivid, more palpable through in this case. Boy, yes, I think this continuation of a being. I can feel it. I can see it. So, the teachings… I was on a call to a neuroscientist with whom I am working, Daniel Siegel, who had been invited actually to Plum Village and hadn’t been able to make it. And that had an appointment with Thich Nhat Hanh, but when he got to be able to do it, he had a stroke. And he’s just in the phone call, he just said, ‘Let me, just let me just read a poem.’ And so he took time slowly to read No Coming, No Going. And for us to, one of us in Berkeley, in the Northern California, and the other in Los Angeles, who are usually so busy with plans on and new ideas about what we’re doing. Oh, taking time as he quietly read those lines, as like the world became a way of seeing him in a way, not a new way, but a more intense and real way that yes, it’s a continuation. We have been brought to life, brought to birth by… In the web of life has brought us here. And, in that sense, and we’ll always be part of it.
And Joanna, I’m just wondering, I mean, you know, there are lots of people who have never met Thay. There are very few people who have known him as you have over more than 40 years. It would be lovely…
Went back 50.
50. So it would be lovely for our readers, our listeners, rather, to just get a sense of what impression he made on you when you first met him.
Can I go back to just when I first found out about him?
Sure, of course.
Yeah, because that was in the 1960s, and that was when I encountered the Buddha Dharma. And as I… And that was in Northern India when I was working with Tibetan refugees. And it became my path, and my gladness, and my love, and my purpose. I wanted to teach it at the university. I remember after, I thought so… I went home and stopped everything else and studied. I loved the teaching about the Bodhisattva when I heard about it. And I thought, what a wonderful idea that came in 2000 years ago in the tradition, how wonderful it was that they saw that. And then, when I learned that there was this monk in Vietnam, and then he was brought on a visit — though I didn’t meet him then — to the United States by the Fellowship of Reconciliation and the Quakers. And there were pictures of him and poems. I thought, ‘Oh, that’s a Bodhisattva.’ They’re alive in the world today. He is actually working to bring sanity and peace in Vietnam. He is struggling there. He’s teaching young people how they can go into the villages and help that pillages, you know, during the years of the what they call the American war there. So right on, I saw a Thich Nhat Hanh as a comforting thought or a challenge, a beautiful thought, energizing thought that the Bodhisattva, there are Bodhisattvas in our world today. That’s major. When I went to the university to study, I said I’d like to study about and even make a course on religion and revolution. And the professors said ‘What? Those are opposite things. What do you mean, religion and revolution?’ Okay. And I said, ‘Well, of course, that’s what I want. I want to see how the spiritual teachings are not separate from your work for justice and peace in the world. That’s what… That’s a revolution.’ Anyway, so that, he was enshrined in that. I’m sorry to be talking so slowly, but I get the point well. And then it was, then reading him, and then much later… 40 years ago, now, 40 years ago this June, I met him and that was at the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament. It was very moving because that was the time of the insane under President Reagan and his war against the evil empire. An insane amount of nuclear arms race and military gestures, and are putting missiles all over Europe to get closer to menace the Soviet Union. And at that time, this was, so people poured out to the United Nations. There was a march there, across New York, a million people. I was there, but near the U.N. was — I can’t remember where exactly — but there was a very formal, official, pompous meeting of religious leaders. And they were patriarchs, and they were bishops, and one after another would come in to address the audience. And they were all in their fine robes, and mitres, and imposing. And then, at the end, my heart beat faster. Oh, this Thich Nhat Hanh, now I’m going to see him with my eyes. And then, from stage, yes, I love this. I just love it. From stage left comes this slight figure in a plain brown coat. And he’s walking out, no papers in his hand for what I was going to read, and he just walked quietly out to the mike, reached in his pocket, and all he said was ‘On the way here I wrote a poem. I will read it to you.’ And that was his speech. And the speech was Call Me by My True Names. It was the first time I had heard it or those words, ‘I am a frog swimming happily in a pond, and I am the grass snake quietly consuming him. I am the girl throwing herself in the ocean after being raped by the sea pirate. And I am the sea pirate. The pirate not able yet to learn to love.’ So… And that was that. And those words meant more than all to me, and I couldn’t imagine not to others. What? All the resonance, words that were spoken so resonantly and importantly of important people. All these important voices. Thay had an absolute knack. I’ve seen it in so many situations where he could deflate the pompous, the self-important. And that was one of his most amazing capacities to teach styles of teaching.
And, Joanna, what impact did that poem have on you? What did you feel it was telling us in the world?
Well, I would, in Joanna language, for me, I said, what I saw, as I’d seen, in other amazing people — and it doesn’t have to be Buddhist, you know, because my roots are Christian. But as we’re here, we’re given to live this life and service to love. And he was able to do this in his way, without sentimentality, with saying that the heartbreaking cost and service to the gift of life, the preciousness of each moment, each breathing moment we can live is for that. So it’s sort of slaps. I love that it slaps you awake. And to jerk you back from your self-importance. You’re thinking that you’ve made it, the concerns about rank, titles and that you remember, like the true saints, like St. Francis. You know, when St. Francis, during the Crusades, went to talk to a Muslim leader or high imam, he just walked, and he was soiled, and he looked like a beggar. So this world is too fragile and too beautiful for us to hesitate for a moment in service to peace. And right now. My country is trying to go to war right now. Our president is using every excuse he can — it seems, it seems — to find reason to use our huge military machine against Russia, fostering a crisis so our society, as a whole, is trembling with the chaotic feelings of ‘what are we here for?’ What are we here for? To feed the weapons makers. Their stock is going very high. Oh, everyone who’s invented and the nuclear weapons… A lot of money. So Thay’s work on devotion to peace is just as important to every breath we take as it ever was.
And Brother Phap Huu, do you want to add something about Thay as the peace activist because he was in… During the Vietnam War he neither supported one side or the other, and that’s what made him the enemy, almost to both sides. But he stood his ground right in the center. Is there anything you would like to add to what Joanna said?
Thank you, Jo. I think we were very lucky to have a teacher who was able to stand on his two feet very firmly with the insight that compassion, love is the answer. And there is a path of nonviolence and that, as humans, what is so important is to recognize that different mental formations that we have, the different feelings that comes up, which is we can name it, greed, we can name power, we can name it hatred, discrimination, wanting to consume. And we need teachers to wake us up because this is what pushes us to do things that we will regret as well as will bring harm and will bring destruction. And if we don’t have teachers and we don’t have people who are brave to speak those words, to share that insight, then there is no light. And I think what Joann shared about Thay, one of the characteristic that we can see Thay as is a living Bodhisattva, because bodhi, it means awakend, it means someone who has seen the light, who has seen the path. And sattva is a being that has compassion and that wants to be a part of the world, wants to still see him or her as part of this beautiful manifestation. And because Thay has seen the beauty of life, he wants to help us not fall into the darkness and to share that also suffering can be an ingredient for us to wake up from the darkness. And I think this is quite a revolution because sometimes we, even spiritual practitioners, we forget to come out of our comfort zone, which is like the peace, and quiet, and the stability that we may have in our living room, we may have in our little shrine that we create. And we forget that. But we are part with the world, and the suffering that is outside is also a part of us. And if the outside suffer, we will suffer also. And if we can bring peace to little villages, little communities, little families that are groups here and there, the impact will multiply and that will have an effect that we call this interbeing effect, that this everything can connect and it can ripple through. And I think this was very, very engaging. And that’s what we can say that part of his legacy is bringing Buddhism into engage and applied Buddhism. And, for Thay, that was where he was growing up and then where he was, his environment around him was a lot of war, was a lot of violence, was a lot of destruction, and he saw that I have to be engaged now, I have to apply the teachings of the Buddha that I have studied, that I am chanting peace, compassion, suffering, and I have to speak it in the language that everyone can understand and can see the suffering in the here and now. I think a lot of the times, you know, we talk about the past and then we forget about the present. And I think one of the things that Thay, as a teacher, was always helping us come back to the present moment to know what is the suffering in the here and now and to use the teaching of the Buddha to apply it, to solve and to find a way out of this suffering. So, you know, this was a part of Thay’s path and this is part of Thay’s teaching and this is what he never stopped doing. And even after, we can say the war, it doesn’t mean that hell doesn’t exist anymore and suffering doesn’t exist anymore. But there is still hells, and suffering, and fire in our hearts, and as well as in the environment around us. And we want to take care of the peace and the love that is also present. And that is also part of Thay’s work, it’s allowing us to see the beauty of life and how to nourish, and protect it, and cultivate the beauty, because if we don’t cultivate it, it will die out. And then we will repeat itself. This is samsara. And humanity, we like to go in this circle of suffering – happiness, suffering – happiness, suffering – happiness, and there is a deep interconnection to it. But, at the same time, we have to know how to cultivate the well-being. And I think this is where some of today’s work through the time of the war, as well as after the war and creating communities of love, community of understanding, and community of change. And I think this is still very relevant of today.
Thank you, Phap Huu. And you mentioned, Phap Huu, Interbeing, and we know that this is a word that Thay coined to give us a deep understanding of the interrelationship of all there is. And I know, Joanna, you were present as Thay was trying to formulate how to get that across. It would be lovely if you would tells us about that time you were with him.
It was the year after he was on a tour in 1983, coming back to the U.S., the year right after he first came, that I first met him at the United Nations. On this one he went from zendo to zendo, Zen teaching centers around the country. And here, for us in the San Francisco Bay Area, we went out a group of us to be with him at the Tassajara Zen Mountain Center, and my doctoral work, decade before, had been on the Buddhist teachings of dependent co-arising and reciprocity. I was a very lively part of that small group, because I was so excited with and I could see what he was driving at. And he started with a chair, because he was looking out and he put it… we were sitting together in a circle and he put a chair in the middle of the circle and said, ‘Well, now, that chair, you think it’s chair, but it’s actually made up of non-chair elements.’ And so that he was, as we were, you know, teaching to see that this chair is made up of non-chair elements and therefore it is very intricately connected with other forms of existence. We were… I could see he was trying to look for something to replace Shunya or empty, as well as the essential nature of existence or what we awaken to. And I was… And one night I heard a knock on my door and opened the door and there was Thay. And he says, ‘I think I have the word.’ And I said, ‘Oh, what is it was?’ And he said, ‘Togetherness’. ‘No, no, it’s not that yet. No, you’re going to find it, it’s going to come to you. It’s not that.’ And it, actually, Interbeing did not arrive then, I think. It was on that trip… And I knew that he would know the minute it came because he made a word, he had to make up his own word. That was…. He couldn’t borrow something like togetherness, which makes it sound like the Saturday Evening Post or just being cozy together. It’s not really… And because you hear that and use that, you begin to feel your way into the experience of it, and you begin to see that it actually relates to aspects of what you experience and what you want to serve. Yeah, I think that that will be appreciated as much as anything that he offered us. I’ve just finished bringing up a book that I am so excited about, and it’s a new edition, but very rewritten and newly written called Active Hope. And it is saying that our hope is in what we not what we just like to see or what we think is happening or what we think it looks like this is… I’m hopeful because of some outer phenomenon, but this is what I really want and what I’m ready, even if it’s not very likely, is what I’m ready to give my life for. So that deep intention, so it’s a celebration of intention and an intention that I see in every aspect of Thay’s life to how we can, in our manner, in our thinking, in our breathing. It’s all imbued with a recognition of our belonging, our mutual belonging with all the world. And that mutual belonging touches our responsibility that we interare, so that we can and we must take part in our world. And I think of that, as I see now in the climate crisis, the threat to everything, every aspect of our world, and our existence, we are closer to its chaotic collapse than at any time of our history, of our existence. That’s what the scientists are saying and we’ve got this decade, we haven’t yet begun to lower the emissions that, and the desecration of our world. So it’s been very easy for people to talk about, especially here, you know, where I live, this country ‘fighting climate change’ as if climate change is an enemy. And I am finding myself invited by Thay’s teachings… This bringing every effort to engage in all those practices of ours, of every aspect of our life, to see it now, how this this feeds the greenhouse gas emissions, this feeds the loss of biodiversity. This action, this policy, these things of ours that bring up the sea level rise. And to see that as not an enemy to fight, but an invitation to engage in seeing the factors, every factor that can help us enhance our world, to see that climate catastrophe is an invitation to us to express our appreciation and understanding of our interbeing so that we can stop throwing our waste into the sea and the ocean, that we can put our waste in ways that are not poisoning the world. And it’s an invitation to be with our world in a new way, what my co-author, up in Scotland, and I are bringing out this new edition of Active Hope. The earlier edition was how to face the mess with the subtitle How to Face the Mess We’re In Without Going Crazy. And this new one was How to Face the Mess We’re in With Unexpected Resilience and Creative Power. One of my favorite sections, the middle, was we can find, it’s not just some ordinary chores that we are giving money to 350.org or marching, but the way we do all our living, and the way it helps us do with joy and with fresh eyes, a way of living more fully on this planet. And these transformations, what we call a wider sense of self, to recognize that you interexist with the natural world, with that flower, with the sanitation truck just taking the trash from front of my house or from the inter-exist with the empty mansions and the crowded tenements in our world. And that wider sense of self brings a sense of inter-existence, and affection, and love with so much around our world. And then that’s a different kind of power, that our power is not power over, but power with. And with so much wonderful examples and ways of experiencing that in our life that you can find that your power with is you actually can feel as that collaboration is so transforming to your life that you can do this and you can work in tandem or in collaboration with the peoples, with the critters, with the ecology, and this gives you a sense of community, brings that a reality of community. And then it brings in what we can find with time itself. We are building weapons and nuclear contamination and weapons that last until the end of time. Part of what our weapons when they are used, like depleted uranium, that poison lasts four and a half billion years. It does. So we we’re capable now of doing things of almost erasing time. And in working with that, we find that we can be supported by and we have exercises were we speak with future beings, future. They’re with us in this moment because what we’re doing now affects everyone who will live until the end of Earth. And so, we can imagine we’re doing it for them, we’re doing it with them, relishing feeling of partnership and that with people who are living in the future and who will be contending with what we’ve left them. And so, therefore, they want also to be helpful to us now as we do things that will help there be a world for them. So it’s a wealth that we can learn to experience, you know?
And Joanna, that’s a wonderful way of saying interbeing that it’s not just interbeing in the present moment, but it’s actually bringing the future into the present moment.
Oh, beautiful. Yes.
So that whatever we do now will affect the future. And if we bring the future into the present moment, it connects us to the impact of our actions now.
And what I found, Jo, is that there is actually a sense of grace, of being assisted, so that the going through a long meeting or preparing statistics and reports, I have found that this reality of our inter-existence actually helps me feel them with me, and it gives me more energy. It gives me more staying power. I’m doing it for them, for their sake, so they’re in me because I’m… Maybe it’s their idea, but they don’t have any hands or a laptop, or to voice this audible now. So they have to borrow for people, us, who have hands and voices, and human voices. It helps that we’re human because we need to talk to other humans. So I feel sometimes that I’m just on my interbeing with the future. I’m handing them, letting them use me, but it’s their ideas, sometimes their humor, their passion that keeps me from getting tired and giving out.
Thank you, Joanna, beautifully, beautifully put. Brother Phap Huu is anything you would like to add about the, you know, what interbeing means for you and how it can help all of us to, and, as Joanna says, to really deeply connect to our place in the world and the world’s place in us.
Two famous sentences that Thay has used to shared about Interbeing: This is because that is and that is because this is. Everything is intertwined. So I think I feel like Joanna and you, Jo, really presented into Interbeing so beautifully. So I think… I just wanted to add that that two sentences because I really, really, really enjoy it whenever Thay would share about it in the Dharma talks. And that language is so simple but is so profound. And it’s such a reality because this is because that is and that is because this is and that is a fact. That is the truth. And no matter what our mind tries to create, if we are courageous and we are brave, we will accept that. So Interbeing is also a teaching for us to look at reality with courage, with understanding and with that agency to take care of the past, present and future.
Thank you, Phap Huu. I think what would be really interesting is to know, over the last 10 years since Active Hope was published, which talked a lot about the anxiety and the problems in the world and how to address them. You know, how has your thinking changed over the last 10 years in terms of how do we approach this multiple crises?
For me, what has been showing up, and particularly in the last, say, four or five years, what’s been showing up has been an increased sense of wonder. And that to be here at a time when this could very well be and many people think is the end of the world, because how are we going to be able to control the forces we’ve unleashed? We don’t know. How do we stop this huge engine of capitalism? It’s on automatic. I’ve come to see the corporations that keep on drilling and keep on spewing their ways and keep on… It’s not that they want to, but that they have set the goals. They’ve automated the goals. And it’s in the way. So it’s gone trans-human into a machine-like and that when a CEO gets to a human, gets to be chief executive officer and says, ‘Oh, let’s do…’ they can’t, the machine gets him fired before he can take office. So the humans are sort of hapless in this. So much has become automated, so this can look like a nightmare. But it can also make us stop, come to each other’s rescue, come to see our solidarity. And no one is really wanting everybody to choke to death on fumes. You know, no one. So we can, it’s an invitation for our compassion and willingness. And then what? Strangely, Jo, what’s come for me over and over again is a sense of awe and wonder, as I said, and gratitude. Here’s grateful. If I had ever known that this, we would be in a situation like this, facing a global collapse, and collapse of our civilization, that I could be present then. That if this time would ever come, you know, that, yes, this the end of the world, that I could be present. I would have thought, how could I be so lucky? It’s just an incredible privilege to be here, to be here because then you realize that there’s just a short step from that to see that everything is kind of hapless. Who knows how to deal with this? And they become your beloveds. You want to reach out to everybody. Nobody’s choosing this. There’s their forms that it goes way back through time. Some of it’s the patriarchy and power over. Nobody, you know, nobody living certainly chose that. And so, oh, here we are together in this boat and the boats, you know, we’re still in the fresh air, or not fresh air, you know, choking a little, but we’re together. I’m thinking there was a wonderful play about the ghetto in Warsaw, where people were trapped and they knew they were trapped and they were talking together because there was a big Gestapo raid up out in the streets. They couldn’t, you know, if they went out, they go off to Auschwitz. So they’re down there, and they think that’s there they are. And they loved each other. They broke into love for each other in a way and honesty. And all falsehoods, all falseness dropped away. It’s so wonderful to be in a moment when we can’t see, take part in this, when we can see that nothing can stop us, we can from still loving each other. And maybe that’s the best thing we could do because nobody’s really in charge. Nobody’s forcing us to fear and hate each other.
And Joanna, then, the opportunities, if we love each other, then something can very quickly transform.
There is at the moment a moment of greatest vulnerability is the opportunities for greatest transformation.
That’s right. That’s right. I feel this so in my heart, and it gives me such gladness to be alive that I haven’t found a way of saying this. Maybe you can help me say it better that when we fall into each other’s arms helplessly, who else is there? Who else is there? But the people that we’ve been trained to distrust or compete with… one part of what’s killed us is competition. That’s the gift of five centuries of individualism and capitalism.
So, Brother Phap Huu, because luckily, Joanna, Brother Phap Huu is very articulate. So maybe we can turn to you, brother, which is, can you describe how Thay’s teachings can help us in these times? Because what we’re seeing in the world is actually, as this fear grows, there’s a lot of division also and separation of people seeing each other as enemies. And what Joanna is saying is there’s also an opportunity to end the separation, to come together, to see each other deeply connected. And that could be what allows us to finally shift gears as a species. Well, what would Thay say at this moment, you think, knowing everything he has taught you?
I think Thay would teach us to to continue to learn, to fall in love with the Earth, continue to fall in love with humanity as a species and to see that we are all interconnected because, like Joanna said, like at the end, if we don’t fall… you explained it so beautifully. It’s like falling. What was it? Falling into each other again? Because at the end like that’s…
Yeah. We turn to each other.
We turn to each other.
We can fall into each other’s arms.
Because we’re going to, like those people in the tunnel under the doomed Warsaw ghetto. And there they were, the only ones they had. And they first they blamed each other for their set up. And then they when they saw that they were going to die together, they took care of each other and were very tender and even fell in love. So we can learn to not blaming each other.
Yeah. Yeah. And the teaching is mindfulness of connection and mindfulness of no self, and this is a very deep Buddhist teaching that we cannot be without all of the conditions around us, you know, like let’s bless to all meditate together right now. Let us just look within our own body if we look deeply within our two hands, you know, we are not separated. We have to recognize that our ancestors are very present — our father, our mother. Looking more deeply, we can see the whole cosmos that is present with us. The air that we breathe is thanks to nature all around. The well-being that we have is connected to everything that is around us, so we have to bring up this awareness of no self. And no self doesn’t mean we are nobody, we are empty, and we don’t exist. But this practice is to allow us to see that beyond our self, we are connected to everything else. And if we can touch this. I believe that we will reduce our greed. We will reduce our own competition, our own ambition, that we want more, more, more and more. And I think one of the practices that we have is the middle way in Buddhism and maybe today’s language, we can even put it in moderation. We have to know when is enough. And ’the more’ actually doesn’t offer us more happiness and this striving for wanting more, wanting to be better, wanting to have a bigger house, a bigger meal, and all of this is all based on this temptation of seeing that we want to be better than others as well as we are not supporting each other. So this insight that our teacher teaches us through very simple language, which is seeing that we interare, we interconnect, we interbe. This is the key. And what is so important is we do need a spiritual dimension, you know, whatever I am sharing, they are notions, they are teachings, but what we all need is a practice. We all need to apply it. And what our teacher was saying, ‘Now put it into practice.’ The air that you breathe, connect that, see the life inside of you, and the life all around you. And if you can connect to that, then this insight becomes a reality. So we have to bring this aspect, which is our tradition, is the engagement, is the applying to everyday life. You know, if we look at ourselves right now, we can see happiness is present. We have good eyes. We can breathe, we can see, we can feel, and we have to nourish that, to care for that. And if we look outside of us, we see the beauty of life, like Thay has seen the beauty of life, and he loves this world. Therefore, he has put his heart to protecting this world, right? So it’s all about applying it and that’s why communities are very important. We need to be reminded of each other. We need to be reminded of the beauty. We need to be reminded of the path. You know, this path that we have in front of us. And this is, for me, so crucial as now we are all continuations of Thay. We have to bring his teaching into reality because if we don’t practice it, this is actually when Thay dies. But if we practice then Thay will always be alive. And I think this is the gentle reminder or the thunderous reminder that Thay is offering us.
Thank you. You know, I’ve just about a practice that came to mind that I do and that and now it’s worked its way into being in the work that reconnects. And when seeing a face, it could be somebody I don’t know, it could be someone I step into an elevator with or that I see driving a truck coming around the corner, just seeing that face, or someone I buy toothpaste from in the store, this person is someone I could be with when I die. And that notion that these hands that I see holding the briefcase could be offering me water if we’re in an accident or if the elevator stops between floors and we’re stuck there and we are with, you know, that we’re in life together. We may even be falling into death together, someone I never even met before. So the possibility of that depth of sacred encounter is there with everyone in this planet. This planet doesn’t know whether it’ll be around to carry life. So that makes every moment this precious. This moment is like a once in a lifetime. Every moment is like you can feel inside you, sweet ache of love, of how you can be there for this being you hardly know.
Thank you, Joanna, and you talk so beautifully about it’s at the moment we’re most tender that our heart opens the widest. When we have nothing more to lose that actually everything becomes crystal clear. Everything becomes precious. Everything comes in the moment. At that moment there’s no past, there’s no future, there’s just now. And that’s when we can feel the most, experience the most, understand the most, and see the most.
And choose to instead of panic, you can say ‘Ah, we’re in this moment, with this tree, with this person, with this dog, with this planet.’
Joanna, we’ve talked a lot about Thay’s continuation, and you are still very much alive with a lot of energy. And also, I want to ask you about your continuation because I imagine you have less years to live than you’ve so far lived. I think we can probably say that is true. What is it that you hope will be your continuation? What is it? What is it that you feel that… Like Thay has been a teacher to you, how would you like to see yourself continuing once you have passed into another realm?
Well, I think probably what we’ve just been talking about. That’s what I think I would want people to… I want people to be glad in a sense of grateful. Each one of us has been given this incredible sensitivity and given eyes to see, ears to hear, voice box to sing… fingers that can feel, skin they can receive and give touch. A mind to imagine with. And it always begins with gratitude to receive the gift of life. And that means just stop hurrying for a moment and just realize, or realize… Looking at your face on the screen, Jo, and all that you have brought, and and your wit, and your funniness, and your way of loving people, and your imagination. And you’re a great journalist at the Guardian… So just to be bowled over by each other. In a moment, there’s a friend of mine coming, making time in her life to take me for a hike. And I love her because she knows I like to go to high places and she knows I think I’m a great walker even when I like stumble. Anyway, so there’s that. And then, with that gratitude we move to the second part of the spiral, which is honoring our pain for the world. No, don’t try to cheer yourself up all the time. Feel the sorrow, feel the grief. Feel the loneliness. Feel that it’s good that speaking, you’re alive, and the fact that you care so it hurts for the world. That’s a form of love that just shows you it’s not, do not let that get pathologized. No, no, no, no, no. It isn’t, because it’s not abnormal. It’s a face of love. Pain for the world and love for the world are just two sides of one coin. So honor your pain for the world. And that actually is so magical for us now that the third part of the station of the spiral is to see with new eyes. And we’ve been talking about that right here, using every moment to wake up to something that, oh, what that means? Oh, what that all house? Oh, what that gives me a new idea about what I can do. So that seeing with new eyes and then you get all kinds of creative ideas and feelings. And then the fourth and last part of the spiral is going forth. I’ve just use that… words in English the Buddha used to say. Now we will go forth with a welfare and happiness of all beings. Now what? I just heard the other say that there is a big rally for our — if you can do a Zoom rally — but there is a virtual rally for coaches on climate change. And a friend of mine told me day before yesterday that the whole thing is based on the spiral. People are going to be relishing gratitude together for this moment to be here. Don’t complain all the time. You’re not going to be useful to the world in any way if you’re not glad to be here. And then sorrow together. Oh, cry, oh, let’s cry together. Things are so cruel and hard and all people are suffering. Oh, but always huge heart, what a huge heart I have. Oh, wow, that gives me new ideas because it’s a heart-mind. And now I’ve got new ideas of what I can do and whi I can work with, and then end it with going forth. OK, see you later, I’m off to do what I want to do.
The last sentence of your first edition of Active Hope said ‘An oyster in response to trauma grows a pearl.’ And I think that’s such a beautiful summation of what you say. As we go into the hard times we go into the suffering, we go into the feelings, and the pearl is inside, which is why this podcast is called The Way Out Is In because in, I’m the pearl.
Joanna, I want to release you in a moment, but I just want to ask you one final question, because everything you talk about — gratitude, appreciation, about seeing our interconnection — is about humility. You’ve talked a lot about power over, sort of the domination of patriarchy, and we know that actually we’re moving into new times of distributed leadership of a sense of interconnection. But to have that, we need to let go to some extent of our ego and come back to a place of humility. And I would just love it for you to just talk a bit about Thich Nhat Hanh and… Because he was this extraordinary presence in the world, but utterly humble. You never saw any sense of ego of ‘It’s me, it’s mine, it’s because of me.’ And so tell us a little bit about your understanding and maybe moments you’ve seen in Thay when you saw that humility shine out.
Well, when I first saw him, after all these, I don’t mean to… I saw them as self-important. I saw them. And because they were all so grand and the other religious leaders and they were bringing the authority and the tall bishop’s miters and everything. And he just, you know, it was as if they were entering to bugles were playing or something. And his capacity to just be quiet and listen. Now, I don’t think Thay was too humble, but it was because he didn’t even think about how he was being, his attention was on the relationship, he was bringing up poems, so we just walked out. And that’s one of the most endearing. And also, there’s something fierce about it. I am. I’m going to show you that I can just be here. I’m here. I don’t need to impress you. I don’t need to show off. I don’t need to display my wondrous capacities for speech or intellect or charm. I’m here. I’m here, so real. That maybe I don’t, maybe that doesn’t leave us much choice to be anything, but just be here with him because it certainly is a form of simplicity that makes anything added on. Look, unfitting are made up or corny. I’d like to be here like that, like a flower is here, like a tree is here. Thay had that quality of such fullness of presence that he didn’t have time to think about, well, how are they seeing me? You know, you get into an and and our consumer society as works very hard to make us become ever more thinking of how we impress people because we can buy things to be more impressive or learn things to be more impressive. And there was none of that. And this teacher, this Bodhisattva he was the the whole thing is so incredible to be alive and to be here and to be here with someone else or others are with the sun in the sky. Are the frogs in the pond? That kind of presence and presence like a natural phenomenon. Not dressed up by your facts and what are they thinking of me and what am I going to put on? How’s my makeup or, you know? And just being with you, you have a lot of that. As I look at your smiling face.
Well, Joanna, the reason my face is smiling is because of you. And I just want to, you know, because we don’t want to take up too much of your time, but just to honor you in this moment, because the reason I’m looking at myself in the Zoom call and and I’m looking so happy and I wasn’t looking this happy before I came on this call. And I, you know, dear listeners, I’ve just had a stupid smile on my face the whole time. And that’s because, Joanna, you also have extraordinary presents and a love of life and a joy, and a depth that that is like a babbling brook that just brings forth and naturally and with grace and with power and with and with just just a deep sense of life. And, you know, just to be here with you for this time, I am full of gratitude for you and for… And it’s not just about everything you’ve done because you’ve written many books and you’ve given, you’ve taught thousands of people, and you’ve given hope to people, and you’ve shown people a path in life. But I’m enjoying it this moment because this moment I feel completely alive in your presence. And you are a teacher because right now you are my teacher. And to show appreciation.
Oh, hey, Oak? You recorded that. I want to hear a recording of that. I wanted… So I want a recording of that about me. I want that to be my mirror.
And also, Joanna, just for you to have known Thay, to be able to share his teachings in such a beautiful way. But Phap Huu, do you want to… Is there anything you would like to say before we release Joanna from our clutches?
This one is just also just express my gratitude. Has been such an honor just to sit here in your presence and to hear you share about your experience with Thay, your encounter with him, as well as your practice and how you applied his teaching into your daily life, as well as your work, your mission. And, to me, also, Joanna, you’re also a Bodhisattva. So thank you for your presence. Thank you for your heart. Thank you for your selflessness. And we also aspire to continue you in us. Thank you very much.
And so, Joanna, let’s… I know you want to go hiking up a big mountain, so we’re going to release you. But if you’re able, we can just record your short guided meditation and then we can say goodbye.
So we’re breathing. Each one of us, here in the San Francisco Bay Area. I with my friend here. You at Plum Village. Christiana, who’s visiting. Oak, at the controls. All of us with our people, with the humans of this planet, that are breathing. Over eight billion of us, and the other critters too, breathing through lungs and gills. Because to be alive is to feel the pulse of our planet and providing us oxygen. So feel our… Just let the air enter your body. Feel it come into your lungs, down through the little passages to the alveoli in your lungs. The oxygen released into the blood vessels, they kiss each cell awake. The outbreath, the outbreathing, the exhalation. Oh, that good CO2 to nourish the trees, the grasses, the plants. So more oxygen can be made. That beautiful cycle of reciprocity. So we will let our breathing, each lung full, each exhaling remind us that we’re awake and that we’re part of this great exchange. Like everything we do, we receive and we give. Even when we sleep. Feeling that in our torso, in our arms and legs, coming alive each time. And this sweetness of the exhaling, breathing out. And with this breath we feel how it is being breathed now. And people in their cars sitting on the highway are waiting their turn for the next light just change. Is fame breathed in the hospitals where nurses are helping people summon the hospital to put them on ventilators, people sick with the pandemic, breathing… Breathe with them now, feel their breath with the ventilators. Breathing with their families who are anxious. Keep it breathing. Breathing with people waiting in line in towns all around our planet. Some waiting in drought ridden lands like here. Or way over in Africa, waiting, waiting in line, waiting in line, breathing as they wait, as they wait for a piece of paper. A visa, perhaps. Are waiting to be paid, they’re breathing. Or waiting for their turn. People waiting and breathing. People running, and skiing, and skating, breathing as they skate in the Olympic Games… Long strained by their athletic and so competently breathing in and breathing out as they show the wonders the human body can do. Because we are breathing people and breathing creatures. And some of us are breathing in prayer, prayer for our planet. Because our people are learning, our planet is breathing. Militia men and soldiers, military women and men, breathing as they polish, or tend, or wait for signals to use their weapons. Breathing as they wait. Inside or outside the borders in Ukraine. Breathing as the diplomats and their assistance prepare the next lap of the negotiations. Breathing with the trees. Breathing with the whales, the dolphins, the turtles. Breathing with a newborn. Just now, the first breath, sometimes coming with a cry. Welcome to Earth, newborn! You’ll be breathing with us. How lucky we are. How blessed we are. With each breath, and our beloved teacher, Thay, he now must breathe through us in his continuation. May his teachings continue through us, the breathing ones. For us, his continuation. Oh, may we not tire? Or complain ever for what we must face or what we… or the work we can do. Let us stay glad because we are breathing in the continuation of our beloved teacher, Thay. Did you feel each breath of that silence? Continue to feel it as you go forth. You, my friends, into an evening. And me, out into the sunshine for a high hill walk with my friend. But even when I finish this now, we will be breathing together. We can tune together. And know that is the Earth breathing through us in gratitude for this life, for this moment, for this.
Joanna, thank you. What a blessing, what a peaceful time, thank you for all you are. And you deserve your walk.
Bye, all. Thank you.
Lots of love.
Love you. Bye.
Dear listeners, wow, that was quite something. Joanna Macy at 92 in her full glory. What a treat. Anyway, we hope you enjoy it as much as we have. If you have, there are many more episodes of the podcast series The Way Out Is In. You can catch us on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, on other platforms that carry podcasts and of course, 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.