The Way Out Is In / Ancient Path for Modern Times: Active Nonviolence (Episode #70)

Christiana Figueres, Sr Hiến Nghiêm, Jo Confino, Shantum Seth

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Welcome to episode 70 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.

We’re delighted to be able to share with you this special two-part installment, recorded in June 2024 at the recent Plum Village retreat, Ancient Path for Modern Times.

This is the first recording of a panel discussion based loosely around the 14 mindfulness trainings – Thich Nhat Hanh’s ethical guidelines for living, a modern distillation of the traditional Bodhisattva precepts of Mahayana Buddhism. The trainings are followed by monastics and lay friends who have made a a formal vow to receive, study, and observe them. 

In the panel, you will hear two of our frequent guests, Sister True Dedication (Sister Hien Nghiem) and Christiana Figueres, as well as Dharma teacher Shantum Seth.

These three panelists explore how the Buddha faced war and violence in his own time; the principle of ahimsa and Gandhian nonviolence; handling anger, despair, and burnout as activists; practicing in times of polarization and division; insights around the victim-perpetrator dynamic; sanghas as sanctuaries, and their role in activism; different aspects of engaged Buddhism and its evolution over time; the spiritual dimension of change; and much more. And does anger help?

Christiana Figueres, one of the architects of the Paris Climate Agreement in 2015, was a student of Thich Nhat Hanh and is a valued member of the Plum Village Sangha. Executive Secretary of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC) from 2010 to 2016, she is also the co-founder of Global Optimism, co-host of the Outrage + Optimism podcast, and co-author of the bestselling The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis

Shantum Seth, an ordained Dharmacharya (Dharma teacher) in the Buddhist Mindfulness lineage of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, teaches in India and across the world. A co-founder of Ahimsa Trust, he has been a student of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings for the past 35 years. Since 1988, he has led pilgrimages and other multi-faith, educational, cultural, spiritual, and transformative journeys across diverse regions of India and Asia. He is actively involved in educational, social, and ecological programmes, including work on cultivating mindfulness in society, including with educators, the Indian Central Reserve Police Force, and the corporate sector. Across various Indian sanghas, Dharmacharya Shantum is the primary teacher of different practices of mindfulness from Thich Nhat Hanh’s tradition.

Thank you for listening, and enjoy!

Co-produced by the Plum Village App:  

And Global Optimism: 

With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:

List of resources 


The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings 


Bodhisattva vow 






Mahatma Gandhi 

Jan Smuts 

Sister Chan Duc 

Sister Chan Khong 

Paris Peace Accords 

The European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB) 


“I need to find a way of being peace, not just fighting for peace.”

“There’s no teaching as clear as ‘no mud, no lotus’, because that is the kernel of transformation. And if we can all give that to ourselves every day, then we can make space for the despair and the anger and maybe even the hatred. And, at the same time, be able to make space for the reconciliation and for the growth in our shared humanity.”

“What has always been important for me, as a guidance, is to understand that, because of the truth of interbeing, we all play a role. We all have our different positions, our different opinions, our different interests, and they’re all necessary.”

“I wake up, honestly, most mornings, despairing at what I’m seeing. The question for me, then, is: do I let that control my day? Do I let that control my thought, my word, and my action? Or do I use the despair as the very rich mud to transform into the lotus?” 

 “I know the reasons for anger. And if anger is directed at me it’s probably a good direction, because it means that it won’t be reflected back.” 

“Whatever is in me, I mirror out there in the world. Whatever I do has an effect on the world. The other option is to let the world determine what goes on inside me. I did that for many years, and it doesn’t lead to good results. So the invitation is to actually take responsibility. What is the world in here doing, and how do I reflect that onto the outside world?”

“If you can still see that the flowers are smiling, you’re okay.”

“True mindfulness or right mindfulness always contains ethics within it. And if it doesn’t have ethics in it, like, for example, using mindfulness to hold a gun and pull the trigger, then, actually, that’s not mindfulness. That would just be concentration or focus. Mindfulness is your whole being, including the ethical values that are there in the present moment.”

“You could send all the bombs to the moon, but the roots of war would still be in our hearts and minds.”

“The way we show up, the quality of our presence – whether it’s teachers or leaders in politics, the climate movement, our own organizations, or in our families – that quality of applied mindfulness in our presence is our engagement, and that’s what the world needs most.”

“Don’t underestimate the power of our applied mindfulness, the quality of our presence in the most simple moments. That is how we can take our civilization in the right direction.”


Dear friends, welcome to the first in a series of two bonus episodes of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.


The way out is in.


I’m Jo Confino and I’m delighted to be able to offer this first recording, which was done at a recent retreat in Plum Village called Ancient Path for Modern Times. And you’re going to be hearing a panel discussion, and it’s based loosely around what are called the 14 mindfulness trainings which were Thich Nhat Hanh’s global ethic, a way of living life according to ethical guidelines, which are a modern distillation of the traditional Bodhisattva precepts of Mahayana Buddhism. And they were created by Thay, as he was known in Saigon, in 1966. They deal with many aspects of what it is to live a good life. So, they include openness, non-attachment to views, freedom of thought, compassionate, healthy living, taking care of anger and building true community, generosity and true love. And the 14 mindfulness trainings are taken by monastics and lay friends who have made a vow at a formal ceremony to receive, study and observe these trainings. And today you are going to hear from three people, Sister True Dedication, who has appeared on a few of our podcasts already. Christiana Figueres, who also has appeared on a couple of podcasts, and Christiana led the Paris Climate negotiations and she’s continued to accelerate her global response to climate change. And today is the co-founder of Global Optimism and co-host of the podcast Outrage and Optimism, which co supports and sponsors this podcast. And also for the first time on our podcast, we have Shantum Seth and Shantum is a Dharma teacher in the Zen tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. He is known for leading Buddhist pilgrimage and other transformational journeys around Indonesia, which he’s been doing for the last 40 years, nearly. He worked as a senior advisor to the World Bank, and he has set up what is known as Plum Village India, which is bringing the Plum Village teachings to India. And he does this through education, corporations and the paramilitary, which we’ll hear more of. And we hope you enjoy listening to this conversation, which is really based around what it is to be an activist in the world, but also to be at peace. So, please, enjoy.


And today we will and deepen a little bit our exploring of the 14 mindfulness trainings. And as many of us know, the 14 mindfulness trainings, they’re really a living training, a living path that we are exploring together. And they have their origin in the bodhisattva vows. They are really something that can be a kind of a light, a guide, a torch for those of us who wish to relieve suffering in the world. There are kind of teacher. And at the same time, for those of us who may have, if you like, a baby aspiration to serve the world, these trainings are a kind of encouragement and encouragement to pull us out of our comfort zone of perhaps even our daily practice in order to be of service. And as soon as we have that energy available to offer it to relieve suffering in the world. So that’s sort of on the one hand the trainings equip and inspire those of us who already know we want to engage, and they also encourage and challenge those of us who don’t yet know that we would like to engage. The path that Thay offers us with the 14 trainings really starts with ourselves, with our personal practice, and with our mind. How we respond is as important with our body and mind is as important as kind of what we do. So our immediate way of holding a view, practicing openness, practicing non-attachment to views, these are such important sort of first steps, and practicing freedom of thought and kind of tolerance. This is really the foundation of where our path begins. And the fourth mindfulness training, after the three on practicing with our mind and our view, is awareness of suffering. And Brother Phap Huu also touched on this yesterday that it is our awareness of suffering, that’s what gives rise to our compassion, our wish to engage and to help. And that’s what kind of motivates our path. Christiana, you said, you know, we are living in troubling times, and apparently half of the world will go to elections this year. So it is a time of great political change, great political change. And then you said, and with the leaders that we have or the leaders we might have or the leaders we won’t have, a question of whether there will be leadership that the world needs. There are so many armed conflicts around the world. There are so many refugees, people fleeing their homes, and there is so much kind of climate disruption, so much instability in the weather that each of us is experiencing, and we’ve been experiencing here in France and in Europe already this year. So it’s a time of real kind of instability. And so when we talk about an ancient path for modern times, how are our 14 mindfulness trainings a torch, a torch to guide us through the forest of confusion? And that’s what we will explore a little bit today. And I want to start by actually, I’ll start with you Shantum, you’ve deeply studied the Buddha as a human being, and that’s been an important part of your own practice to realize he was a very historical, real person living at a certain time in India, you know, intimately all of those places where the Buddha was, where he walked, where his wisdom and insights kind of manifested. And do you think the Buddha felt that these teachings were powerful enough to bring an end to war, that they could stop violence and injustice and just bring kind of everlasting peace? Do you think the Buddha thought that these teachings had that power?


These are, of course, all prepared questions. At that time, too, there was conflict, war, discrimination. And, in his search, he realized that really, as the Unesco people say, war starts in the minds minds of men, or minds of people, and through the realization of interbeing or the understanding of non separation or interconnectedness, he realized that this transformation is possible individually and collectively, I feel, and that human beings had greed, anger, desire for acquisition, hate, all these sort of human mental states that we still carry. And I feel that these 2600 years, we haven’t changed very much as human beings. We’ve changed technologically. But I think the Buddha tried very hard even at that time, to bring a sense of peace, but he failed a number of times and he succeeded a few times. So there were instances of war where he managed to persuade somebody, a man called Vidudabha, to just not invade Kapilavastu three times. But then he failed and Vidudabha then destroyed Kapilavastu after that. On the other side, he helped bring some sort of understanding between two large kingdoms of Magadha and Kosala by befriending both the kings. So I think the Buddha felt his part is the potential of human beings. I think we all have that potential in us, and he saw that potentiality in us. And some of us who want to wake up to that potentiality, then we have the, for want of a better word, the toolkit, but we have the path and that ancient path which has been transmuting itself through different cultures and through different times, and is completely as relevant today to transforming our world situation and our individual situation and our family situations as it was then. But it’s not an easy path because it’s counter-intuitive. We are very caught up in the I, the me, my nation, my horse, whatever it is. So, it requires a shift. And then it’s sometimes that when we come to a place like this, to realize the potential of the collective shift. So we can see that when we sit together. And I think the Buddha is the power is much stronger. And so the Buddha saw that, he saw the power of the sangha, and that’s why I think his third jewel is the sangha. And I think that was one of his great insights that, yes, we can look at a human being or a person or entity as a great teacher, the teachings, but the sangha is hard work, and I think that’s one of his realizations and how that path would have transformed many, many people and still is.


Thank you, Shantum. And yesterday we were hearing this wonderful phrase, active nonviolence. And in India there’s this term, I don’t know from which language, ahimsa. And I wonder if you could share a little bit about this origin of this principle of nonviolence and what it has meant, what it maybe meant at the Buddha’s time and what it has meant in the journey of the people of India.


The word ahimsa is a negative. A is the negative. So himsa is injury, harming, violence. So ahimsa is the nonviolence, the non-injury, the non harming, not just in physicality but in actually, psychological spaces, even in terms of oppression of people, in terms of, you know, discrimination, economic hardships. So ahimsa is a very large, it can be seen as a large concept. It was developed initially by many, many religious groups at the time of the Buddha and even before the Buddha. So people like Mahavira, who was the founder of the Jain religion has ahimsa as a very core precept of the community to the extent that violence would even mean farming. They would say that don’t eat anything which is under the ground because by farming you’ve been killing insects. The Buddha was more of a middle road person. But people like Patanjali, whose Yoga Sutras, they are also very much part of this sort of ahimsa trajectory in India. And most recently, Gandhi. But Gandhi really was an important person in our living memory because he took that principle of ahimsa into social and political action, and effectively managed to get the largest and most strongest imperial power in the world to leave India. And he saw this as a form of active nonviolence as you’re saying. There’s another word to use a satyagraha, which means the truth force. But he sort of thought ahimsa and truth were two sort of, two sides of the same coin. And what he did was he saw, in many ways, unjust laws. He would oppose unjust laws, but he would always see the person who was having to carry out the unjust law not as an enemy, but as a human being, as a person. So there’s a nice story about a man called General Smuts, who was really… he was a general in South Africa, and Gandhi was always clashing with him. And Gandhi would always say, yes, I’ve broken an unjust law, give me the harshest punishment. And give me hard labor because I am breaking the law. So I’m taking on the suffering of others for this. But at the end, when he was leaving South Africa, he made a pair of sandals, and he gave it to General Smuts. They clashed horribly, didn’t understand each other. And many years later, General Smuts says, you know, I’m not worthy, I’m not a man worthy to be able to put my feet into the sandals that Gandhi made me. So it is just that this general who had had a very difficult relationship with Gandhi, at the end of his life was transformed to the extent that he said that I was not worthy of even putting my feet into the sandals that this man had made, this great man had made. So this sort of practice also informed me in my activism a lot. And we, yeah, we did all sorts of practices, like trying to fill jails, you know, going to jail, organizing large demonstrations to oppose what we thought were unjust laws, and especially on the nuclear dimension and the anti-racist dimension.


So, Shantum, you were on the streets and protesting in the UK at around the same time that Sister Chan Duc was. So this is the 1980s, before you met Thay. So you were being arrested. You were at different protest camps. Would you like to share a little bit about how your activism was before meeting Thay, and then how it kind of shifted after meeting Thay?


So I suffered some direct discrimination when I came to England. It’s a backtrack. In 1975, there was a very draconian law passed in India, and my parents felt that it isn’t good. They didn’t want me to live in a fascist country and to leave India. So I went to England. There I faced discrimination, especially for my color. So I got beaten up three times, spat on my face, etc. and when I went to the police, they told me that it was my problem because I was brown, black […]. And it made me very angry. And so I got more and more involved with trying to be a good activist. But luckily I met a number of white people who really helped me in this to set up. So I didn’t become an antiwhite-ist, which could have easily happened. But in that process of opposing the system, I became rather anti everything. And then, at one point, I had a very bad car crash, in a sports car, totaled it. And I woke up in hospital and I thought, what have I done in the world I was… I was making a lot of money in my career. And I said, no, no, I need to make the world a better place and do it now, as a good 23 year old would like to do. So I left my job and got involved with activism, political activism. And I knew there was suffering, I was a shoemaker. You know, I was buying shoes from India for a company called Clarks. And I could see the suffering or the economic suffering of people who were making shoes in India. So I thought, okay, let me work on both the economic front and the political front. But anyway, this led me to be anti everything, anti-apartheid, anti-nuclear, anti sexist, anti-racist. And then to the extent that I even got elected in my university as a green candidate. But I was so angry, that it attracted people. You know, when you’re an angry activist, it attracts that sort of people. And then I went to jail, and then I burnt… And then one thing led to another, and I just basically burnt out, even though I was training for nonviolent direct action at that time on Gandhian principles, we’ve been doing training, how to handle the police, etc.. When I burnt out, I thought, I need to find a way of being peace, not just fighting for peace. And that was the search which led me to Thay. It took a number of years and I found different spiritual practices, chanting, others. But when I met Thay, I was doing walking meditation on the second day of this retreat that Sister True Dedication mentioned, in […] and I met him. I really felt doing walking meditation I touched peace for the first time, viscerally as an experience. And I knew I’d found a practice and a potential teacher. And that changed my way of being an activist in the sense that when I came back to India, I got more involved with constructive work and also not looking at, looking at the difference sort of causes and conditions which create a certain type of person or a condition. I think that helped me, that understanding of, yeah, it is not me, us and them. It is really cause and condition which created a situation where somebody got into a particular role. Not seeing man as the enemy, as it were.


Thank you, Shantum. And I’d love to bring in Christiana to share a little bit about your path of activism. Do you identify as an activist and where is your kind of passion? And is it angry? Are you an angry activist?


So first of all, I shy away from any definition of anything because I find it so unhelpful. But I would say that in my heart, I’m a very engaged person in my field, which is the protection of our beautiful planet. And that I am actively engaged in that protection. I have many friends who call themselves activist who would look at me and say, you’re no activist, you’re total wimp. They’re still my dear friends, because we need all the different types of engagement that are out there. And just to illustrate how necessary that is in one of these international negotiations with all countries present leading up to the Paris negotiation, I had… The negotiations were not doing well, and I had a good friend, who was the head of Greenpeace, stormed into my office and said, this is outrageous what governments are doing. We are going to walk out, all of us, all the NGOs, all civil society, we’re all going to walk out and we’re going to demonstrate against you. And I said, that is such a brilliant move. Do you have everything that you need? Do you have enough microphones? And he said, I have two microphones. I said, I have access to six. You now have eight. When are you going to walk out? We’re going to walk out Wednesday at 2:00. I said, okay, and what door of this huge building or set of buildings, what door are you going to use? We’re going to use door number two. I suggest you use door number four because there’s more media at door number four. And so we went through and improved that statement. That was absolutely necessary of insufficiency of effort. Absolutely necessary. And it did turn out to be quite a demonstration. And I was just sitting in my office watching all of this going. This is very good. And governments did step up a little bit in response. Now, that also meant that I could not relinquish my responsibility, which is to hold, at that moment it was to hold the governmental process. Which I don’t do anymore. I have a different responsibility now. What has always been important for me as a guidance is to understand that because of the truth of interbeing, we all play a role. We all have our different positions, our different opinions, our different interests and they’re all necessary. Even if I have someone in front of me who views that we are diametrically opposed to each other on anything, on a family issue, on a global issues such as climate, on a war issue, on anything. If someone views that they’re diametrically opposed to me, I personally find it helpful to visualize not a straight line between me and that person, but a circle. And I visualize that that person finds themselves diametrically opposed from me at the other side of the circle. But it’s a circle. And I will always know, find or trust that there is another person, or a government or an institution that will have a position or an interest adjacent to the one that I’m listening to. And then there will be another one adjacent to that, an adjacent and adjacent. And very soon we’re back to 180 degrees around that circle, and then we go around. The point is there is no such thing as mutually exclusive opinions, interests, or positions. Because of interbeing even the person that thinks that they’re diametrically opposed to me, I always smile in my little heart because I go like, you think you’re completely different to me, but actually there’s a lot of me in you and there’s a lot of you in me. And actually, we agree on a lot. And I just find that that lesson of interbeing and understanding that the hate in another person is a part of me, that the despair in another person is a very active part of me, I wake up honestly most mornings despairing at what I’m seeing. The question for me then is do I let that control my day? Do I let that control my thought, my word, and my action? Or do I use the despair as the very rich mud to transform that into the lotus? For me, there’s no teaching that is as clear as no mud, no lotus, because that is the kernel of transformation. And if we can all give that to ourselves every day, then we can make space for the despair and the anger and maybe even the hatred. And at the same time be able to make space for the reconciliation and for the growth in our shared humanity that we all are living.


Thank you. Christiana. I’m so in awe of what you’ve just shared. And really, for me it feels like you’re speaking to this kind of right view, this kind of radical courage of the first three mindfulness trainings, of real openness of heart and mind. How do you find the strength to keep that openness? Especially when, I mean, and I hope you don’t mind me saying this, you have had such personal attacks from within the climate movement as well as from outside the climate movement. How do you find the strength? What is your source of strength? So we’ve had the insight here. How else do you find strength to do this?


Isn’t the insight the strength? I think it is. I think it is. And yes, I have been the target of many attacks and many criticisms. And attack not taken, because I so understand the anger. It’s a part of me also. It’s not like I’m in la la land. I know the reasons. I know the reasons for anger. And if the anger is directed at me it’s probably a good direction because it means that anger will not be reflected back. So I have the opportunity to, without preaching, because honestly, preaching is so unhelpful, at least in the field that I work in. But without preaching, it’s all about the internal work. It’s all about the quality of the presence that we bring to that situation. The quality of the presence, not what we say. Not what we preach. It’s the quality of the presence that allows the other person to have the space that they need at that point in time to express the emotions that are overcoming them at that moment. That is a moment in their life in which, what is the seed that has grown from many things prior to the moment that we’re in, many things in their life, many things that come from ancestors. It’s a tsunami of anger. It doesn’t have to necessarily, the boundary of that anger is not just what we are witnessing right now. It has longer roots, and I know that. And those roots are also mine. Those roots are also mine. So I honestly, I don’t always manage to do this, but in my best days, if I can really embrace that and understand where the anger is coming from, and that what that anger needs is an embrace. And an act of love and an act of patience, somehow that anger begins to subside, and it is a gift that we can give to that person. But let’s also remember that it’s a gift that we give to the world, because whatever interaction we have with one person is something that gets mirrored out there in the world. Whatever is in me, I mirror out there in the world. That is the miracle of systems change. Whatever I do is actually having an effect on the world out there. The other option is to let the world determine what goes on in here. And I did that for many years, and I can say it doesn’t really lead us to very good results. So the invitation is actually to take that responsibility. What is the world in here doing and how do I reflect that on to the outside world.


Thank you, Christiana. And it’s so wonderful the way you sort of explain how our sort of inner landscape is also really that frontier of kind of collective transformation. And what I also really admire in your way of being is you’re not afraid of the strong emotions, that you have this kind of courage to lean into them, to befriend them. And as we know, one of the trainings is about taking care of anger and the line, the line it’s the sixth training, and the line is we’ll practice right diligence in order to nourish our capacity of understanding, love, joy and inclusiveness, gradually transforming our anger, gradually transforming our anger. Important word, gradually transforming our anger, violence and fear, and helping others do the same. So you are practicing this beautifully, Christiana. And I kind of want to ask a little bit more about this anger. It seems so important for me how you allow it to be there, you recognize, you embrace it, you give it space. And, maybe not everyone here is aware that in Plum Village, with Christiana’s help, we’ve been hosting retreats for climate activists, especially who hold different views from each other and might be attacking each other in decision making settings or negotiations. And how have you seen that the kind of path that Thay offers us here, in Plum Village, and these practices, how do they help with this fire of anger that has its right to be there, but may not always be helping? Or maybe it does help. Does the anger help?


I think it does. The mud. The mud. Yeah, I called it the circular firing squad, which is this dynamic that we have built among the environmental community where we all feel very self-righteous about knowing exactly what to do. I have the perfect solution and therefore your solution is not valid because it’s not mine. And your solution is obviously invalid because it’s also not mine. And then we start attacking each other as though we had the time to attack each other. And… So that that is one observation that I started to make several years ago. And then in part because of that, but in part also because we continue to destroy the natural environment around us, those who are dedicating their life to the protection of our planet are very often by now full of anger, of despair, of frustration, into burnout or beyond burnout. Thay’s teachings saved me from suicide. And when I look out onto the climate community and I see the depth of the pain… It’s not just climate, it’s all environmental and frankly, increasingly, all social issues. When I look out and I see this world that, as you said in the beginning, has so many challenges, and I see so many people dedicating their life to bring harmony, to bring resilience, to bring peace, and not seeing that reflected out there. That leads to huge frustration, to anger, to despair, to judgment, to blaming, and to self-deprecating behavior. And just as I wrote the letter to Thay, beginning of 2014, I reached out to Plum Village again because I said, these people who are dedicating their life, it’s not that they’re environmentalists 1 or 2 hours a day. No, it’s their life. They are dedicating their life. I have women and I deliberately use the word women, who are 11 years old, who are dedicating their life to protect the planet. There are also women who are 68 or much older than I. And men. And so that dedication that comes out of this deep love for the home that we all share, when that is not visibly mirrored that we are bettering that. It is no wonder that we have the despair, the anger, the frustration, in fact, even the suicidal thoughts. So I really thank you, sister, and the entire Plum Village that has been willing to do the very, very hard work of rescuing hundreds of environmental activists who were about to give up. Because we cannot give up. We just cannot give up. We have to see everything that we’re seeing as the mud. And we have to stand up for the lotus. We cannot drown in the mud. And so that’s what we’re doing. We’re doing that with hundreds of brave, courageous, beautiful, dedicated people who leave those retreats literally saying to me, I will no longer consider suicide. I go back to the front line because I have a different way of being active now. I have a different way of seeing. I have a different way of thinking. I have a different way of acting. And they go back out to the front lines in Thay’s footsteps.


Thank you, Christiana, for your courage and vulnerability. We are growing and learning from your example. And Shantum, I’d like to turn to you a little bit again. India has just had an election. I believe the results were maybe announced today or being claimed today. And Shantum, how do you practice in your heart? Christiana was just saying, what do we do when the kind of leadership we’re thirsty for is not being modeled in front of us? How have you practiced with your strong emotions, your frustration, and where do you, where do you go, where do you put your energy? How do you practice with this?


So thank you, Christiana. I’ve been very worried about this election, which, just happened. And, we have an interesting result where a particular party’s won, but I feel they’ve, in many ways, lost. And the party that has lost has in some ways won. It’s an interesting paradox because India was heading towards a very, very totalitarian type of government and their power has been diminished. And… So I’m actually heaving a sigh of relief since yesterday. A little bit, a little bit. But I think the way I’ve tried to work with it is both on a personal level, but also in a collective level. On a personal level, I’ve tried to meditate on the person who has been the dominant figure in this authoritarian state and realizing that he too is a victim. He’s been indoctrinated since a very young age into a particular type of fascistic model of government. And with him many millions have been. And so there’s a large club of them. And it’s been an ideology which has been developing for the last 100 years, based very much on the Nazi type model. So when we look like that, when I look like that, I realize that the leadership is also the victims. And how do we see them as that? And then in them I see the potential of transformation. On a wider thing we realize that many people in our sanghas of also thinking in a similar sort of despairing, or despairing way. And we realize that actually the sangha is a refuge for us to share and to be able to really bring, you know, whether it’s our frustration, despair, but not to make, as we say in the trainings, not to make the sangha into a political instrument. So we talk these things, if anybody wants to act outside on the individual level or with others, we have lawyers, activists, people in our groups who do things. But the sangha itself is a place for training our mind, a place of refuge, a place of being able to share our frustrations, deep anger and our fears that the state of India is becoming, for the first time, very fearful state. We couldn’t say what we want to say openly. Everything is being controlled. So I think that’s what I would say, we try and handle it that way. And I’ve known personally, I remember there was a situation where there was a terrorist attack in India some years ago, and I saw this man. It is live TV, pretty much. And this young man who was identified as a Pakistani, later, and shooting innocent people. And it made me more and more angry. The whole time I was thinking, what is this? And then I just sat and I went for a walk. And I remember Thay saying, somewhere saying, if you can still see the flowers are smiling, you’re okay. So I saw… I spent time with the flowers and I found the flowers are still smiling. And I came back and I reflected, and I sat. And I realized this man must be indoctrinated. He must be given some incentives. He probably comes from a poor family. Probably, you know, it could be anything from farmers families, as it turned out the crops are failing year after year. And he’d been indoctrinated. And I realized, yeah, this is exactly what it is. And maybe if I was in a similar situation, I’d be exactly in that man’s position with an AK 47. I mean, if that… So that sort of realization that he is not separate to me and I have to actually try and work towards creating a world, a situation where we don’t create monstrous elements of ourselves to manifest in killing other innocent people. So I think I look at the political situation like that. I may be an eternal optimist in some way. And I think that also comes from the teaching, because I realize that when we work in whatever work we’re doing, the key, I would say the bullseye of our teaching is understanding interbeing, of non separation, not othering. So we cannot… And I remember many years ago, I was in England when there was the war between Argentina and England and the way the othering of Argentina was going on. And the same as with what’s happening with the Muslims in India with, you know, other communities. And you can see the reflection and how autocrats use religion, use nationality and nationalism as vehicles for othering. So I guess that is the sort of way we try and work outwardly within education or within the sangha.


Thank you, Shantum. And what’s extraordinary is you’re also channeling all of your energy. So the form of your activism has kind of taken this new shape now with the kind of collective action, if you like, as a sangha, you’re doing work with the military police, if I am right, the military police in India, who asked, who approached you and asked for help. So it would be lovely to hear how that came about and how you see your life work to kind of shift consciousness in India and how you came to choose also the realm of education, which then in Thay’s trips to India, particularly in 2008 and 97, to really water the seed of a shift in the educational program in India to be where kind of seeds of peace and awakening and not, fanaticism, not intolerance, not, kind of religious indoctrination, but how you saw that if the kind of teachings of Thay could enter the education system in India, that could lead to a shift. So it would be wonderful to hear how you feel that that shift in your energy to these fields, fields of action to help water good seeds, in India.


Yeah. So the part of me thinks strategically in Gitu, Hawaii, and we have a sort of sangha, we think like this. How do we affect change in society? And who are the main players, whether it’s the media, whether it’s the politicians or there’s, you know, the educators, the different dimensions of society. So we see which aspects can we work with our Plum Village training. So with the police… So when Thay came to India, we did that. We actually exposed many people. Thay was the first person who addressed Parliament as a religious leader, we had him speak to 250,000 Dalits were so-called untouchables who embraced Buddhism. We had him talking to the educators, the politicians, the corporate sector, so different aspects of society. But one aspect that we really focused on was the educational aspect. I really felt, and I think Thay felt the same, we discussed it with him, was that this is a slow process of shifting consciousness, and education is the key. And the Dalai Lama famously said, if every child of eight can learn how to meditate, he would have peace in the world. So part of that understanding is and also for myself personally, my own education, which was a privileged education in India, I never learned how to handle my anger, my fear, my jealousy, key practices in the traditional Buddhist tradition. So I thought how to bring in mindfulness into school education. So that is what Thay initiated in 2008. We had large retreats. And since then I’m trying to bring in the curriculum. Now, every teacher in Delhi, every trained teacher in Delhi has to do a three day mindfulness course who would become a teacher, a Bachelor of Education, a Bachelor of Master of education, also working in the new educational policy in India is now recognized mental health is a key issue. So we are now going to work with these people, see how we can bring in mindfulness as an antidote to the mental health issues. So and they try to create modern schools and then more deciding to work with teachers and institutions rather than just students, because it’s, as I said, a slow process. The teacher has to, as we say, the unwritten curriculum is the presence of the teacher in the class. So that’s how the transmission takes place. But the police was interesting because there was a woman who was the director general of police who read one of Thay’s books, and at the back of Thay’s book it was written that we have a sangha in India. So she contacted us and she said that, it’s called the Central Reserve Police Force, it’s the people who are armed police like the army, but for internal security. So it’s very tough job. You’re killing your own people who they call terrorists from time to time. So she said, but I’m having problems in my platoons that, in my brigades, that I’m getting more suicides, more fratricides, that means soldiers killing each other than people being killed in armed conflict. And they are not being able to handle their emotions, they don’t know how to handle…? So can you help? So we as a sangha went to work with these people and it was very transforming to them, but also transforming for me, because they, the men, 35 or 40, and they were crying. They said nobody’s ever asked about our feelings. They’ve been trained to kill. They’ve been trained to see an enemy. And of course, other people said, what are you doing there? Are you actually countering that training by helping bring up the compassionate side. I said, well, we’ve been invited, let’s go. But the backdrop why it was interesting for me was because I had a, when I was in England as an activist, we had this very… I was beaten up by the police a number of times. So I had a very… Antipathy? Antipathetical view to the police, which was, I used to call them pigs. And I had a friend in our Dharma sharing group yesterday. A close Dharma brother of mine was sharing how he’s a son of a policeman and suffered that in school. And Thay… There was a woman called Cheri Maples, who used to be part of our sangha, who invited Thay to lead a retreat for police people in Western, in Green Lake, somewhere in America, Madison. And I went to that, and that’s the first time when I started seeing police people in different way and seeing the worst suffering of human nature. They were always calling for the worst situations. Whether is family dispute or this accident or it’s a murder or whatever injury, so that’s a very toxic life they lead and how that… And so, for me, now working with the police is a wonderful, not just healing, I just feel so lucky to be doing it because I feel, you know, it’s completely changed my view on these people. I say earlier, you know, we have to remove the person from the situation they’ve landed in for whatever causes and conditions. Many of them are coming through idealism to the police force, but they will got, you know, it’s a toxic space that. So I think that’s what I feel, that working in society through the power of the sangha, we always work as a sangha. And we’ve taken that model from the monastic community. When we teach, we don’t go only as one person, we go as at least 4 or 5 people to teach. So whether it’s with the police, with the corporate sector, whether it’s with the educators, with the politicians, we work as a sangha, and model a sangha so that that can also be. And then we with every school we work with now we say that we will work with you, but you must set up your own sangha in the school. And that is the model we’ve used, which some schools have been doing for 22 years, having sanghas in the old school.


Thank you, Shantum, for continuing Thay’s work in these fields. And some of us may remember the 2014 June retreat. If you haven’t seen the Dharma talk where Thay responds to the question about whether it’s appropriate to bring Plum Village teachings to the military. And Thay devoted a whole talk to address this question. And, the kind of Thay’s conclusion was that we have the right. And even if Thay was invited to teach the military, he would do so on the condition that he can offer the whole teaching, the complete teaching. And he says, because if you’re able to offer the complete teaching and it can reach people, then probably they’ll change career. So, but we don’t offer a partial teaching that might then be kind of instrumentalized and appropriated for unethical ends. And this is somewhat what Brother Phap Huu also was sharing yesterday that sort of true mindfulness or right mindfulness always contains ethics within it. And if it doesn’t have ethics in it, like for example, using mindfulness to hold a gun and pull the trigger, actually, that’s not mindfulness. That would then just be concentration or focus. But mindfulness is your whole being, including your ethical values are there in the present moment. And then, as Shantum was saying, we don’t see the other side as the enemy. We see them as a human being with a family, with ancestors, with a culture. And then Thay said, and this is why you then can’t pull the trigger. If you’re truly mindful, you then wouldn’t be able to pull the trigger because your ethics, your inner ethics and values are awakened. Let us enjoy a sound at the bell. Wonderful to feel the living Dharma. And we can check in with our bodies, our feelings. A lot coming up this morning. We can generate the energy of compassion for ourselves, for the world, and feel this collective energy of mindfulness radiating into us, around us as a sangha body and also into the world.


Dear Shantum, there was one kind of powerful thing you shared about how the sangha in India has kind of been a a sanctuary for everyone, and this is also an important teaching that Thay underlined and we can find on YouTube a wonderful question that Thay was asked in 2013, in Deer Park Monastery, in the last U.S. tour that Thay did. I always think of it in my mind as the tiger question. But someone was asking a question, because she was passionate, because she realized this particular type of tiger was going extinct and she was devoting her life to save those tigers because she wanted her grandchildren to be able to see these kind of tigers. And, she was feeling frustrated because when she wanted to go on protests and organize different things for the tigers, the whole sangha wasn’t coming with her. And so she was asking Thay, you know, how to mobilize the sangha to come on the protests to protect the tigers, because otherwise the world won’t have tigers. And Thay gave a very deep answer about how the role and kind of function of a sangha is primarily to be a spiritual refuge and a sanctuary for each of us, whatever our activism is, whether it’s saving tigers, saving the planet, being very busy in sort of social or political realms, bringing change, bringing justice to those places, we need a sangha that is a safe refuge where we can touch sisterhood and brotherhood, in Thay’s terms, touch peace, touch stillness, rest, relaxation, joy, and so on. So thank you, Shantum, for drawing this out and showing how powerful it has been also to support your sangha through times of polarization in India, which also times of polarization in the world. And there’s one more theme I’d like to explore. It’s a little bit around the sense of feeling helpless and feeling like we are somehow a victim of powers outside of ourselves, so we may witness things with our eyes and hearts. We can see things sort of in slow motion unfolding, and we feel unable to do anything. And then we can kind of feel like we have no agency, that we are kind of a victim of that situation, and the other people are the perpetrators of it. And this is a really challenging thing because it connects both in terms of our personal practice, but also in terms of the impact of our personal practice. Is it true that we are a victim of powers outside ourselves? Is it true that powers held… a lot of power is held in very few hands? And how could the power of our practice possibly match to that?


In German there is a fantastic word that is jein, which means yes and no at the same time. I wish every language would have that word. Let me see, I’m organizing my thoughts here. First, I know that it is difficult to see a bigger picture when we are faced with the destruction and the suffering and the injustice that we’re witnessing right now in the world. But if we take a longer arc of history and we understand that our little life is just a short history, and that there is a much longer history, let alone the ultimate dimension, then we have to acknowledge that actually, to come back to your very first question, to Shantum, yes, we are a better particular species than we were 2000 years ago, despite the cruelty that we’re seeing now, there’s less cruelty and there’s less war than there were 2000 years ago. There are better conditions of health for everyone. There are better conditions for women, for children, etc. So those two things don’t cancel each other. There is incredible cruelty right now, and we are getting better at dealing with that cruelty, and we still have a long way to go. The second thought that comes up is the difficulty to see… in all of this is sort of in duality, right? Because if you partake of duality, you say, okay, this pain right now does cancel the betterment of human society. No, both are true. The other duality or non-duality that we have to understand is that systems change, which means big picture system, the political system, the economic system, the extractive system, the financial system, all of those big systems that sort of hover over us, and we feel so helpless because there’s such big systems. How can I have any input on them? And so I have always found it helpful to understand that systems change because we all want some kind of system changing. Systems change is deeply personal. And it is deeply personal for two reasons. One is that it is only through changing my own personal internal system that I can develop the capacity, the understanding, the space, the compassion to be able to go out there and affect the change that I want to change. Because if you don’t do that, you end up affecting the system anyway, in the wrong direction, toward more destruction. It is only through our internal work that we then develop the capacity to effect change out there toward a better world, a more peaceful world, a more just world. The second reason why systemic change is deeply personal is that which you have already mentioned, sister, which is each of us personally has to decide where and when and how we engage. That is not something that anyone can decide for us. You decide for yourself. You decide for yourself. We all decide where do we want to engage? And some people will say, I want to engage only by myself. My individual. Fantastic. One strong, clear individual in the world is huge. Or someone may say, I want to engage at the level of my family. Fantastic. Or someone may say, I want to engage the level of my town, my city, my province, my state, my country, my planet. All of those are options. None of them are better than the other. We all need to decide where and how and when we engage. But that is the choice that we make to take our personal agency out into the world and understand that that system’s change is within my power to influence. So systems change is not out there, it is deeply personal. The third non-duality that is important to understand is the duality that is very often that you just mentioned, Sister True, which is the duality between victim and perpetrator that in some literature has a third agent. But just for today, let’s just, take the victim and perpetrator. And because we’re human, we have all perceived ourselves in some capacity at some point in our life as the victim of someone or something. I make that statement, and I’m actually tempted to ask, is that a false statement? Who here has never felt victimized by something or someone in their life? Has anyone been completely exempt of feeling victimized? I don’t see any hands going up. That is an innate human experience. Now, there again, we have a choice. We have a choice with that experience. Do we choose? And if I had… Ah, sorry, but I had the other question like who has felt victimized? I would, you know, my hand would be way up there, reaching, reaching the roof. And I think most of us would. But we have a choice whether we decide, understand, evolve ourselves to saying that is my only option. Or can I also, without denying, that there was perpetration because there very likely was. But can I also understand that if I label myself as a victim and I often do, what I am doing is labeling the other person as perpetrator automatically. Because otherwise you wouldn’t be a victim. So if I say, and I’ll just pick my mother, who’s not here to defend herself. For years I felt that I was the victim of my mother. When I understood that as long as I hold on to that belief, I am accusing her of being a perpetrator. And here’s the interesting experience. If I then go to my mother, which I did, and I said, you know, here’s the problem. You did this and this, and this, and this. What do you think the reaction is when you accuse someone of being a perpetrator? The reaction is not usually, yes you’re right. The reaction usually is oh, but I did it because you did this, and this, and this, and this. So you can see the victim perpetrator dynamic almost as a seesaw. At one point I’m a victim, seeing someone else as the perpetrator. Very quickly after that, that perpetrator sees themselves as the victim and accuses you of being the perpetrator. And that dynamic goes on and on and on. And that dynamic is a historical dynamic that we’re very painfully witnessing in the Middle East right now, not a dynamic that brings any healing. And a dynamic that we consciously or unconsciously partake of if we don’t intentionally step in to heal it. If we don’t understand that it is a human dynamic that we can witness, but that we do not have to partake of because the moment we partake of it, either because I’m a victim or I’m a perpetrator, because I’m both, call me by my true names, if I partake of it, I’m actually strengthening that dynamic. And that’s not what we want to do. We want to heal that dynamic because we have inherited from thousands of years ago from all our ancestors. And what we would like to do is to heal that dynamic for those who come after us. I was incredibly privileged to have that lightning understanding when I was helping to negotiate, very difficult between Global North, Global South, you can imagine. You know, we in the developing countries, we are the victims of you and the North, you caused climate change, etc., etc., etc. And that dynamic did not allow for countries to agree with each other on many things. And when I realized that I was in a dynamic with my mother and with my former husband and that I saw myself as a victim and the two of them as perpetrators, separately, in different chapters of my life, but the same dynamic. Repeating, repeating, repeating. And when I started, because I’m still on that path, I have not healed that, but when I started to heal that dynamic, I started to see without preaching anything. I started to see that dynamic lift in the conversation between governments. Why? Because what we do inside has reflection outside. Systems change is deeply personal. That’s why we have such a responsibility. Because it is not just about who I am as a person. It is also about what this person affects out there in the outside world, whether that is the family, the community, the state, the globe, whoever, the mother, the former husband. That’s why we carry such responsibility for our inner work. If it were just about us, who cares? Frankly. But it’s not just about us. It is about each of us as part of this incredible reality of interbeing. And we have that possibility to affect so much more than us. If we do it intentionally.


Thank you, Christiana, and thank you for speaking to the power of kind of this radical insight, compassion and inclusiveness that our hearts can kind of open up to, and then how that can be a new, a unique contribution to some very critical moments, because maybe not everyone in the room is dealing with their inner victim, perpetrator dynamic. And Shantum, I just wonder if you would share with us an example from your path, your time with Thay when there was a very tense moment in India and between India and Pakistan, I think, and that Thay, with this incredibly vast and open mind of nondiscrimination, felt that he could contribute something. And maybe you could share a little bit that story for us, because it’s, I think, a beautiful example of how when we can resist the judging and the blaming and the finger pointing, maybe a new path of action can kind of open up.


It was a time when, I can’t remember the exact year, but India and Pakistan were coming very close to a nuclear war. And Thay’d been to India. I had met many of the political leaders in India, and I was here, in New Hamlet, and he just came up and said, Shantum, if I can help in some way […], I’m happy to do so. At which point I rang a very senior minister in the government. I don’t know if he was the defense minister or somebody who was very high in the Indian government and said that he met Thay when Thay had been to India. As I said, That addressed parliament, parliamentarians there. So, and then he said to me that just as of a few hours ago, the situation is now eased off. But please thank Thay for his offer. So I think he was totally engaged, but he also knew where and he had to choose where and when he could make an intervention, which may have some effect. But I also come back further to the Buddha. And I think why I feel the Buddha’s teaching is so revolutionary is that at the time of the Buddha, there were many, many different types of traditions. And many were determined. You know, the fact that the three of us are sitting here and the other… And that is sitting here is exactly what is meant to be. There was no, we have no choice. And there are many, many people who believe in that still or believe in the […] or believe in some sort of power much beyond the human entities that we are. But the Buddha said there is that degree of self agency. That’s why we can choose how to respond appropriately to a particular situation that arises. And that is his training. That is the training of the mind. And how do we respond appropriately to whatever situation arises? And also handle our emotions in that context and not react but respond? So I think this links what Christiana is saying, what Thay was offering, which you say links into the larger Buddha field. This is a type of thinking, I don’t know whether they call it systems thinking or But some sort of thinking process that someone like the Buddha set in process, and people in the West, the existentialists, and all have also taken this up in their own way. So I think it’s not a given that people believe that they can do something. They have agency. And I think the Buddha part allows us to have that agency and also see it down lives and how we respond, and I like that respond appropriately type of phrasing. And one aspect which Thay brought up, which I think was a revolutionary type of dimension, was that we are not responding only as individuals, but we are responding as in a historical context, in an ancestral context, in a cultural context, but also that we can move together as a collective. So this understanding that the Buddha to be will be a sangha, that we can shift a collective consciousnes,s that I feel I’ve been looking in the Buddhist texts to see whether the Buddha ever talked about it. I have not found something, but I know this is when the Buddha talked about interbeing he must have understood. And Thay was very strong on this, on how we as a collective can shift as a consciousness. And once we shift consciousness, then all these other elements like how do we act and how do we see the other, that, so I feel the work has to be about shifting our collective conscious and our individual consciousness, not just about political structures, which I was very keen to do when I was a political activist. I think from there I moved to understand the spiritual dimension of change and both internally and externally, and how to see that as a movement, for all of us to do together and other beings, too. Thank you.


Thank you, Shantum. So this is, for those who are students of the 14 trainings, this relates very deeply to the eighth training, where we have the line, the training on true community and communication and, it’s very challenging, very much a work in progress, I think, for all of us. We will take responsibility for all the ways we may have contributed to a conflict and keep communication open. We will not behave as a victim, but be active in finding ways to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small. So just do… However small or large, exactly. I think it’s so powerful to be able to come back to the training, see these parts that we are sharing, these stories and experiences. And a lot of them relate to very particular lines, in our training. Christiana, you picked up the microphone. Do you have a further thought? I see that we are coming, okay, there’s the bell masters invited a sound of the bell. We’re coming towards the end of our time, but we will maybe listen to Christiana, and then we will draw our sharing to a close.


Actually, sister, I picked up the microphone to ask you a question. You are my elder sister. I have huge respect for you. So I asked your permission, I’m now asking for your permission to ask you a question. And the question that I would love to hear you address is hopefully to bring this whole conversation to a crystal clear close, which you do so beautifully. No pressure. And here’s my question. And I think we’ve been talking about this in many different ways. But I would like to hear you very crystal clear answer the question. If Plum Village is a center for refuge, for healing, for teaching, we would all agree with that, is it still a center of Engaged Buddhism?


Well, first I will cheat by bouncing this straight back to you, Christiana, because in, I think it was early on in the pandemic, you were visiting here or it could have been in 2019, you were visiting here and we asked, how can we be of support to the climate movement? What should our realm of action be? And you said, we need you to take care of Plum Village so that it is a sanctuary, a place of refuge, and a place of peace for the climate movement. So I would just, you did say that, you did say that. You did say that. And I remember being disappointed. I remember thinking, I’m sure there’s more we can do. That was actually my first response then. I was like, come on, Christiana, come on, we can do more than that. And actually, it was thanks to you saying that, personally, for me, it was a real then time of like learning and inquiry, and it stuck with me for weeks and months. I was like, Christiana wants us to be a sanctuary and a refuge. And that was a real lesson for me, which I’m grateful for from you. And it has helped me realize, I think more and more like really personally over the last few years, what the engagement of our Engaged Buddhism is. And that word engage is with our whole body and with our whole mind. Specifically Plum Village, France. Because actually the words Plum Village, as many of us know, can mean a thousand things and maybe different things to each people. But if we just talk really about the residential fourfold community here in Plum Village, France. Each one of us is engaging with our whole body and our whole mind to live the 14 mindfulness trainings every day, every hour. And some of us have a few more precepts, a few hundred more on top of this. And, so we engage on… So I would say, personally, my engagement and I feel the engagement of our spiritual family here is to engage in deep transformation of consciousness at the base, in our own hearts. So this starts on our sitting cushion, in our shared dormitories, for those of you who’ve been here on a Rains Retreat, you know what we’re talking about. How to live in harmony with people from different cultures, different views, different backgrounds, different languages, how to deepen our understanding and our healing together. So for me, this is already a level of engagement I just cannot even compare to my years of a lot of engaged action on the streets of London. It just, it’s of a different level. So our engagement is a kind of inner, visceral, physical, hourly, daily commitment to compassion, to mindfulness, to inclusiveness. I would say, I mean, peace is a big word, but like peace among a cooking team, you know. Peace in a dormitory, peace in an organizing team. I mean, these are real fields of action. And that’s how we grow. That’s actually how we train as monastics. That’s where we’re cultivating our peace, our compassion, our tolerance. So when we say the words Engaged Buddhism, they are words that Thay needed at a certain time. And they actually… Thay coined this term in the 1950s, with a series of articles on Engaged Buddhism. It has a very clear root. And it’s very interesting that, if we kind of study Thay’s pathway and Thay’s arc, engagement evolved over time. And so from his engagement in social work and with Sister Chan Khong in the School of Youth for Social Service in Vietnam in the 1960s, how it then developed in his peace activism in the late 60s and 70s. And then after 1975 and the Paris Peace Accords, Thay was kind of starting again at zero as what he described as a bee cut off from his beehive, and a cell cut off from his body. He was in Paris and his whole community, his whole life, his whole work was in Vietnam and he couldn’t go back. And this was a time, I think, of great kind of despair and sorrow and pain and even, it’s very interesting, that was also a time when the peace movement was, how do you stay, very angry with Thay. Because at that moment the peace movement was going towards taking sides, and Thay was very, very adamant that he would not take sides. And so it was a very tough time, very isolating time for Thay. And from that, we start to see a shift in Thay’s engagement and action through the late 70s and the 80s. Then founding Plum Village in the early 1980s, Thay was experimenting with what would it mean to create a community of peace. He said, I see a lot of anger in the peace movement. What would true peace look like? An international community, a fourfold sangha, what would this look like? So the engagement of the 1950s and 60s for Thay then took its expression in the creation of Plum Village and creating the practices of peace that we experience here. And we see a shift also in Thay’s teachings and evolution in the 1990s where Thay, you know, there’s some photos they circulate often on the internet of Thay doing, joining protests in the 1980s, like for the campaign for nuclear disarmament and so on. And that’s exactly the time when Thay was saying, there is a lot of anger, you know, too much anger in the so-called peace movement. And Thay said, in fact, you can send all, in a Dharma talk, you can send all the bombs to the Moon, you can send all the bombs to the Moon, and those roots of war would still be in our hearts and minds. So I think the kind of peace project, the Engaged Buddhism of Plum Village is very ambitious actually. It is… what if we took thousands of people, I think last year it was 6000 people came and spent at least a week here. So if you take thousands of people and we train for seven days, 14 days, three months in the art of living peace, touching peace with our way of breathing, walking, eating, listening and speaking to each other. That is a huge engagement. That is a huge action into the collective of a different way of seeing and being that has been felt in people’s bodies. It’s not just words on a page, it’s not just a petition or a statement or something. Like thousands of people have experienced this kind of transformation. At one point with Sister Chan Khong we were trying to count how many people have committed to the five mindfulness trainings. It’s more than 300,000, probably at this point more than 400,000, it is hundreds of thousands of people who have participated in a ceremony for the five mindfulness trainings. So not just read them on a page, but they’re bringing them into their lives. And I think this is the kind of systems change, the kind of engaged action that Thay felt was the most deeply effective and enduring. And then when Thay ultimately coined in the creation of the EIAB in 2008, this term Applied Buddhism, what Thay was trying to say was actually, some of us may think, oh, Applied Buddhism is a weaker than Engaged Buddhism. Actually, it’s Engage Buddhism plus, because what it means is mindfulness, compassion and peace applied into every moment of our Engaged Buddhism. So we can’t define Engage Buddhism only as this or that action, but it is applying a certain quality of presence and being and ethics to every aspect of that kind of engagement. So here, as I think our role of as Plum Village is to be, yes, this sanctuary, yes, this refuge. But it’s not in any way static. This is a kind of living, breathing organism. We’re made of everyone who comes through Plum Village. You might be transformed, or everyone who comes might be transformed by coming here. We are transformed by you. We learn from you. There’s a kind of collective organism that is learning from each other, growing and evolving together and being a kind of touchstone then for people to shift their paths, then out in their daily lives. So I think the Engaged Buddhism is still there, and it has this sort of added edge of every action we take, every field of engagement to have a quality of presence in how we do it. And that is the applied part. And I think the theme of this retreat is applied ethics… an ancient path for modern times. And that is, I think, what the world needs most right now. It’s what you’ve both been speaking to, which is the way we show up, the quality of our presence, whether it’s teachers or whether it’s leaders in political or the climate movement or in our own organizations, in our families, that quality of applied mindfulness in our presence is our engagement and that’s what the world needs most. I think sometimes, like when I first came here and I heard this thing about how our quality of presence is important, 20 years ago that seemed so obvious. But now, with phones, with everyone’s agitation, with the kind of constant information overload, literally, to have a deep, compassionate, peaceful quality of presence like in your next family gathering, like this is a revolution. This is going against the stream of the direction of our society right now. And Thay was really pointing to this. Don’t underestimate the power of our applied mindfulness, the quality of our presence in the most simple moments. That is how we can take our civilization in the right kind of direction. Thank you so much, everybody, for being here. Thank you for your listening. Thank you, Christiana and Shantum for being wonderful teachers to us this morning, friends on the path. Let us listen to three sounds of the bell to close.


Dear friends, I hope you’ve enjoyed this discussion and found some real value in it. If you like this episode, then you can find all the other episodes of The Way Out Is In on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, and in fact, any platform that has podcasts. If you’d like to support the work of Plum Village, you can donate at Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation I hope you are well and happy. And see you next time.


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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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