Welcome to episode six 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, hosts Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and lay Buddhist practitioner and journalist Jo Confino talk about the sacred practice of drinking tea, and why it’s important in a world where grabbing a cup of tea on the go seems to be the norm.
Over a cup of genmai (cloud tea), they discuss bringing the energy of mindfulness into daily life with a cup of tea; sitting with a cup of tea and its power to bring people together; the ceremony behind this daily habit and why enjoying making tea is just as important as drinking it.
Brother Phap Huu recalls making his first cup of tea for Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, as his attendant, and doing so again years later, after Thay’s stroke. The brother explains why drinking tea is so significant in a Zen monastery; how to feel at home with a tea kit; and why one should offer and receive a cup of tea with both hands. There’s even an in-depth exploration of the types of tea drunk in Plum Village.
Jo recollects Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphies and why he poured tea into the ink. He discusses transformative moments in simple gestures, and shares his love of PG Tips and how it can get one through climate talks.
The conversation also touches upon slowing down and enjoying the simple things in life; good habits; the cloud in the cup of tea. And have you ever wondered if the tea is experiencing us too? They did.
You’ll also experience the mindfulness bell of the Plum Village monastery.
Finally, Brother Phap Huu ends the episode with a guided meditation.
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
The Tea Inside the Calligraphy
Bamboo shoots and tea
“If you know how to slow down and be more present, allow things to settle, then your way of life will be much better.”
“Even a small, simple practice, like drinking tea, contains all of life.”
“A woman in the Indian Sangha said, ‘In India, they say if it’s hot, it’s time for tea. If it’s cold, it’s time for tea. If you’re happy, it’s time for tea. If you’re sad, it’s time for tea. It’s something that calms us down.’”
“When you drink a cup of tea, you’re not drinking your projects, you’re not drinking your worries; you’re not drinking, you’re thinking. And it’s a real art for being in the present moment.”
“There’s something very powerful and symbolic about tea. It’s a chance to come back to ourselves, to relax, to hold something in the palms of our hands – which is itself almost a reverent act, to feel the heat, to smell the aroma. It’s actually a very visceral experience.”
“The cloud is in your tea.”
“In the present moment, the way we live, the way we think, the way we talk, and the way we act is a contribution to society, to life. So our actions are already our reincarnation.”
“It’s an act of awakening: to wake up to life and smell the fragrance of the tea; you taste it, you feel its warmth, and turn to your body. It’s very simple, but very deep in that moment. If you allow yourself to be in the very here and now, drinking tea is meditation in disguise.”
“This cup of tea in my two hands is mindfulness held perfectly. My mind and body dwell in the very here and now.”
“Having good habits is part of meditation.”
“You can have a moment of enlightenment just sitting there drinking your tea.”
“Have time for a cup of tea, because it is present for you. You just have to be there for it.”
Welcome to the latest episode of The Way Out Is In.
I am Jo Confino
and I am Brother Phap Huu.
In this busy world, we tend to grab a cup of tea, but actually there is an art to drinking tea and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh has made that into a whole ceremony. How do we sit with a cup of tea?
The way out is in.
We are sitting in the baking heat of the first hot day in the southwest of France, and I’m already wishing the weather was already back to the cold and wet that I was complaining about. It’s a great learning from Zen traditions is to not wish it to be different, but accept things as they are. But today we’re going to be talking about tea. And the reason is because in Zen tradition, drinking tea is a very important ceremony. And, you know, in a lot of countries in the West, people talk about going to grab a cup of tea or grab a cup of coffee as though it’s something that’s done on the run, something that is rushed. But Brother Phap Huu, tell us about the art of drinking tea and why it’s even important.
In Zen practice, we learn to enjoy the simple things of life and not just to enjoy the finished product, but to enjoy the process. So making a cup of tea, if you know how to do it, you don’t enjoy it when the tea is finally in your cup… in your two hands in a cup, but you already are meditating as you make the cup of tea. Because in meditation, when we have meditation, I… we can see that in the tea leaves there’s much more than just the leaf itself. You can see that it comes from this beautiful planet Earth, from all the care of the people, the farmers and all the conditions that have come together for that tea leaf to be present with you. In our monastery, drinking tea is really part of our life. And I think in one of the episodes I shared that one of the first things I learned in the monastery was to fold my own blanket and make my own bed every morning, because is a kind of discipline that you learn to take care of your space because your space is also someone else’s space. And a second thing I learned in a monastery was how to enjoy a cup of tea. And a cup of tea is also a focus point that brings people together, especially if you know how to be there with a cup of tea and be there with the people around you. So having a cup of tea is a whole art. And our teacher always teaches us to be in the present moment is to learn to enjoy life in the here and now. And how do we put our daily life into also that view? So when we drink tea, you have to learn to drink that cup of tea. You have to be present for it. Most of the time, like you said, we grabbed the cup of tea because it’s a means for us. We think it’s gonna give us caffeine, is going to give us energy. It kicks us… It gives us a kick -start for the day. So we see it as just a means. But here you are going to enjoy that cup of tea and to actually be present with it. And so when you drink a cup of tea, you’re not drinking your projects, you’re not drinking your worries, you’re not drinking, you’re thinking. And it’s a real art of being in the present moment. And so if you ever have a chance to own a teapot and to own a set of cups to go along with it, it becomes a sacred practice. So every time for us in a monastery, I think most of us, whenever we wake up, the first thing we would do is make a cup of tea. And that’s how we would start our day. And we would boil the water, heat up the pot with some hot water, pour it out, put the right amount of tea leaf in and then pour the hot water in and then let the tea sit for a little bit. And I have a really funny story about this, because when I was a young novice monk, I was being trained as an attendant for Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And I have a very… I try to be perfect in everything, and especially I wanted to impress my teacher. So one of the things that we had to know how to do is make tea for our teacher. And so I was very eager to make tea my first session with him. And so when Thay arrived for a day of mindfulness in Plum Village, in Upper Hamlet, he would come and the first thing we would do is prepare the tea and then offer the cup of tea to our teacher. And I made the tea, I put the leaves in and I poured the hot water and I saw Thay just sitting there doing nothing. So I felt rushed. I need to give him a cup of tea because that’s my job. And so I started to pour the tea out of the pot into my cup and Thay said, Phap Huu, not yet, is not ready. And he said you have to allow the tea to do sitting meditation. Everything that has… that is allowed to be still will be much better.
Isn’t that beautiful? And Thay said, it’s just like life. If you know how to slow down and be more present, allow it to settle, then your way of life would be much better. And that was a moment that that he was also helping me to be more relaxed and be more present for myself and for Thay and for the tea that I was going to serve him.
In other words, the tea is as important as the people as there’s no discrimination in a way, the same way a human needs to sit still.
And find his way. So does the tea.
And when we drink tea like this and one of the fine manners that we learn as a monk and a nun is learning to be respectful for people that are around you. So when we offer somebody a cup of tea and you offer with two hands and then when you receive it, you also receive with two hands. And at first I practice it as a form. But then when I went deeper into my practice as a monk and I see that your bodily action does play an effect on your mental state. And I do see when I receive and when I take something with one hand, it’s just like it’s automatic, like I don’t care about it. But suddenly when somebody gives you a cup of tea and you receive, you put two hands out to receive it, there’s much more gratitude and there’s much more presence. And then it allows you to be more there for yourself and for the cup of tea.
I heard a very powerful story just the other day because Plum Village held an event for the Indian community, Buddhist community in India, because of the covid disaster there. And I’m one of the members of the community. One of the Sangha members did a little tea ceremony actually online. And she was talking about how her father had been very ill in hospital with covid and that she spent every night there and that the last thing every evening that they did was the the nurses brought them a cup of tea to drink. And she said that it was the one moment in the day where she could really just stop and come back to herself. She said, you know, just to hold the cup and to feel the heat in her hands, just to smell the aroma of it and just to drink it mindfully. And it was just such an important moment for her in every day before a very long night of staying awake and looking after her father and how that sort of mindfulness and that appreciation of the tea actually made an enormous difference, allowed her actually to deal with the drama and trauma of what she was going through. And, you know, when I listen to it was it was such a powerful understanding of, you know, most people, as I said, you know, they drink a cup of tea and they don’t even know they’re drinking the tea.
So, brother, what’s your sense of why… of the Zen tradition around here? I mean, what’s your what’s your understanding of it?
So somebody once asked Thay that also like, why do we drink tea and why is it such a big thing in Zen monastery? And I think it was a… It must have been a kid that asked Thay during one of the retreats and Thay said: is to help us stay awake during meditation. And everybody laughed, including myself. And if I think about it, that’s true. Um, there is an aspect that that we try to support our well-being so that we can enjoy our meditation more throughout the day. And I think that tea has also a lot of good effect on the well-being of our health. And I think in the monastery where we focus on coming back to the present moment, we need activities to help and wind us down, slow us down. I feel like when we’re in the big cities, the stream of life is so fast and that becomes a natural energy and a natural habitat. We gain whether we want whether we like it or not. And if we don’t have the capacity to be aware of that and to kind of give a pause to it and we have to retrain ourself to slow down. So in the monastery, we try to create activities to help us slow down. And making tea is one of the art and to prepare a cup of tea for yourself and for the ones around you, if you do it mindfully, you are enjoying every action and you are creating a wonderful environment with your brothers and sisters that are around you. And that session becomes sacred. And what I like about drinking tea when everybody can really be present and enjoy a cup of tea, that is meditation in itself, that is meditation in daily life, that it doesn’t belong in a temple, it doesn’t belong in a meditation hall, but it is created by the energy of mindfulness that we bring into our daily life. And I see that it’s also a way of communication. When you can sit down together and have something to help us be present, then your way of being, your way of just being present is a way of communicating. I also, for myself, sometimes, when I’m overwhelmed by fear or by sadness or I’m just having a tough day. And to help me unwind is also just to come to a room of one of my brothers and just ask for a cup of tea. And I don’t need a conversation. Just to be present. And like the friend that shared, just to have that cup of tea in your two hands and to know that you are holding a cup of tea, which is… you have the cosmos in that cup of tea. And I want to really be present for it and I really want to enjoy it.
And that and that sense of, as you say, the cosmos, I always remember going to an exhibition in New York of Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphies. And as he was preparing the calligraphies, the ink, he poured some of his tea into the ink. And so… He was sort of giving that sort of sense, I think, of of life, you know, that his calligraphies have got the tea in it and then the tea is the clouds, which produce the rain that produced the water to go into his tea. And then his tea went into the calligraphy and then his calligraphy go out into the world and have effect. And I thought at the time that, you know, in every… even in a small, simple practice, like drinking tea, actually there’s all of life.
Yeah. And we had a cup of tea before we started this podcast, so we can say now this podcast is also the tea itself. So it’s also to see the interconnection of life, of all of the elements, how it comes around to support us. And with that insight, we know how to live our life much more mindfully.
Yeah, and there’s something around also about tea, you know, because in England, they say, you know, even if even if your life’s falling apart, even if everything’s going wrong, there’s nothing like a cup of tea to calm you down. And then I heard the woman in the Indian Sangha, she said, you know, in India, they say if it’s hot, it’s time for tea. If it’s cold, it’s time for tea. If you’re happy, it’s time for tea. If you’re sad, it’s time for tea. That it’s actually it’s actually something that calms us down. And, you know, I’ve always felt that that’s you know, I wake up every morning and I make myself a cup of PG tips and in fact, which is a brand of tea for those who don’t know. And one of my fears of coming to France was… Where am I going to get my PG tips, especially after Brexit? And of course, I found it in the local supermarket. I thought, yes, I got my PG tips! And it reminded me of a little story about Christiana Figueres, who was the architect of the Paris climate talks, was the head of the sort of United Nations body that looked after them. And she’s also a practitioner in Thich Nhat Hanh tradition. And when she arrived in Paris to sort of look after, manage all these talks of 195 countries trying to get them to reach one agreement, she entered her hotel room and in her hotel room was a box, a wooden box filled with PG tips tea. And in fact, the chief executive of the conglomerate Unilever, which actually PG tips is one of its brands, actually had arranged for that tea to be brought to her room because she knew that actually she was going to get through these late night talks, actually, there’s nothing like a cup of her PG tips that was going to get her through these talks. So there’s something very powerful, actually, and symbolic about tea, about… It’s a chance, as you say, to come back to ourselves, to relax, to hold something in the palms of our hands, which is itself almost a reverent act, to feel the sort of the heat, to smell the aroma. I mean, it’s actually a very visceral experience.
As a long time attendant of Thay, wherever we traveled, part of my kit, the attendant kit, is two thermoses, a teapot and a few empty cups that we would bring from France and also tea. And it is one of the things that help you feel at home, whatever new places that we arrive in and whatever country that we arrive to in order to offer our mindfulness retreat. If we still have that cup of tea, you still feel you are at home. It does have a very wonderful element that that supports your spirit and your environment.
Can you talk a bit more, Phap Huu, about this sort of, in a sense, tea showing us the cycle of life? Because, you know, that that sense of Thay saying, well, you know, the cloud is in your tea, you know, because at first sight it seems like mad… The cloud isn’t in my tea. But then actually, because the practice of mindfulness for me is about being able to go deeper, that actually, you know, someone says the cloud is in your tea, it’s like hello! But then actually you think about it and you think, well, actually the cloud is in my tea and then I drink my tea and it will become something else. And it seems to be a wonderful example of what it is to see deeply, because you actually see that, as you said, the cosmos is in your tea because everything needs to exist for the tea to exist. And us drinking the tea also has an impact because we’re creating the demand for the farmer and then we’re drinking our tea, and then it will pass on to another realm after us in the same way the cloud comes into that tea. Can you just talk a bit about what that cycle of tea and drinking tea actually shows us about about the Zen practice overall?
I think, Jo, you just answered it. I think you did a very good job. But just to go into one of the teachings that I see Thay connects to the cloud is to see the continuation of life. And in our retreats, you know, Thay would teach us how to touch the present moment, how to be in touch with the environment inside of us and also around us, as well as learning how to embrace our fear. And a lot of our fear is about death, is about the passing of something. And at the last day of the retreat, Thay always gives us attention and a space to talk about the insight of no birth and no death, where we are always… we are a manifestation thanks to all of the wonderful conditions of life. One of the conditions when we look inside of us is our ancestors, which we have talked about. We can see in ourself the elements of our mom, the elements of our father, but as well as we can see that the environment is part of us also. We cannot take the education that we have learned outside of us. We cannot take the friends that have supportive, that have support us outside of us. So we are a manifestation of all of these wonderful conditions. And then one day when we cease to exist is because those conditions are not there anymore. And we will… we have a transition. And in the Plum Village tradition, we don’t go into talking about reincarnation in the next life, but our teacher always tells us we don’t have to wait into into the the next life to see where we will be reincarnated into. Because in the present moment, the way we live, the way we think, the way we talk, the way we act is already a contribution to society, to life. So that is already our reincarnation, our actions. And so Thay will use the example of the cloud. So if one day we are very attached to a cloud, a cloud that we hold dear to our hearts, and one day we see that that cloud is not there anymore and don’t be too overwhelmed by sorrow. But you learn to look at the cloud with an eye of meditation to see the continuation of the cloud, which now the cloud has now become the rain and the cloud has now become the rain, and the rain has now become the earth. Or it could become the tea or it is the tree in front of your house, it is the wonders around you. So that nothing is actually lost. So in this way, when you touch that, when you drink your cup of tea, you can see that it is not just a simple existance, it is everything that has come together for it to be there. And then when you drink, you have that awareness and you can touch the tea at that deep level. Then one day you can use that insight to touch the deep level with your relationship with your loved ones. For example, we know that every… all of us are of the nature to die one day, of that impermanent nature. And so if we live life with that insight, we will live life much more, much more beautifully, much more simple, much more grateful. And then we don’t have to, we don’t have to wait for that moment when somebody is not there anymore, for us to have guilt and have sorrow, but know how to live and enjoy this moment right here, right now.
So it’s very interesting Phap Huu because as you’re talking, what it’s making me realize or think about is that often people are looking outside, outside for some grand sort of almost fireworks display in the sky of a big spiritual experience that will help them to see life differently and change the way they see life. They’re looking for a big moment. But actually, what I hear you saying which I really feel also is that actually you can find that transformative moment, you can find that insight. In fact, you can have a moment of enlightenment…
… just sitting there drinking your tea.
Exactly. Exactly. I have another beautiful memory of my teacher. It was in 2014. My teacher suffered a stroke and he was also paralyzed. But fortunately, he was able to get out of the coma and as well as regain a lot of his capacity on his left side. And, you know, the first thing he did after he was able to drink water and eat and hold something was he… He motioned for us to make him a cup of tea. And we were… I was so emotional that day. And I remember making that cup of tea and then handing the cup to my teacher and Thay holding the cup with only one hand because the right side it was… is still paralyzed. But at that moment, just the way Thay held the cup, I can see this was a Zen Master holding a cup. He was with full dignity, full presence. It was the Zen Master and a cup of tea and the present moment. And I was captured in that moment and I just watched Thay drink that cup of tea and for me that was the teaching in itself, because for me at that moment, no matter what state you were in, you can still enjoy a cup of tea.
It’s like time can stop.
Brother, what was it like to make that cup of tea at that moment?
There was a lot of excitement, but at that moment, because Thay was awake and he was very present, he was watching us very carefully. And I felt like… I felt like…
Like you were an aspirant again making the first cup of tea.
And I couldn’t make a mistake. And what what I enjoyed at that moment, because Thay was so present with me at that moment. Because, you know, one of the greatest gifts in my life was just to be so close to him, to my teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And most of the time we would make tea for Thay. But the teacher and student relationship that a lot of us have with Thay, he’s so down to earth and he’s so humble and there are so many moments that he has made a cup of tea for me. And at that moment when I made that cup of tea for him, even though it looked like I was making that cup of tea for him, but I felt like I was making that cup of tea with him, like he was really a part of me at that moment.
So when it comes to looking at sort of a practice like this, how can you… What can you advise people to do? Because one of the things is that people are living very busy lives and they are often rushing from one thing to the next. They sort of grab… they do grab that tea. They are in a rush. Well, what is your advice about how people can stop and sort of, in a sense, start to pay more attention?
I think… Look at making a cup of tea for yourself as a gift for yourself. And the illusion that you don’t have time for a cup of tea is an illusion. That thinking, I think, is an illusion. It’s because we create different scenarios. But if you say I have time for a cup of tea, then you have time. And what I would advise, though, is that we all want to start the day with a little bit of peace and stillness. So when you wake up and you make that cup of tea and you sit there and you wait for the tea to come out, right? Even if you make a tea out of tea bag, it tells you, wait two to three minutes. And I think most people don’t. They just drink it right away. Actually, the art of mindful living is to see that that moment is a moment of meditation. So just to sit there and be present for it, to be present for that two to three minute as the tea is coming out. And then when you drink that cup of tea, don’t look at news, don’t look at social media, don’t have any distraction. Allow yourself to be present for that cup of tea. We even have a gatha, a poem that you could that we could recite before we drink a cup of tea. And I like to recite it. It goes like this: This cup of tea in my two hands, mindfulness held perfectly. My mind and body dwell in the very here and now. And if you allow yourself to just recite that and be present and then enjoy that cup of tea, see that this is an act of life. It’s an act of awakening, to wake up to life, and then you feel, you smell the fragrance of the tea, you taste the tea, you feel the warmth of the tea and turn to your body. It’s very simple, but it’s very deep at that moment. And allow… Is you allow yourself to be in the very here and now, and that is meditation in disguise in in drinking tea.
And I don’t know what… I know what I’m about to say, but I don’t know if makes any sense, but I’ll go with it. One of the things I’ve been thinking about recently is about, you know, what is consciousness of what has consciousness? So as you were saying that I was… what came into my mind was and also provide space for the tea to experience us. Because in a sense, we’re so human-centric that only tea and only we can experience the tea and that the tea doesn’t experience us. And I and I just wonder if that’s the case and what brings that to my mind is… I once attended a course at a very famous college in Devon in England called the Schumacher College, which teaches around things like biodynamic farming and about consciousness. And we were led… we did this exercise where we were led out into the forest and we were split into pairs and one person was blindfolded and the other would lead them around. And so I was blindfolded. And so with the instruction was for the next 15 minutes for the other person to lead us and for us to experience nature. So we go and I would, you know, hug a tree and I would touch the sort of moss and I would feel the leaves of a plant and and I would get all that sort of sensory information. And then after 15 minutes, they said, OK, now we want you to switch round. And I thought, oh, let’s switch people. But it wasn’t that. The instruction was then to allow and to experience nature experiencing us. And at that time, it completely blew my mind because suddenly I was aware that actually if I was touching and holding the tree, that the tree was also experiencing me holding the tree. If I was treading on the moss, that the moss was experiencing being trodden on. And that sort of changed my whole, actually, and I’m not sure if it happened at that moment, and it might have been something that came to me over time, but changed my whole sense of that. We often so… think of ourselves as a separate self that that it’s only me experiencing what’s happening. But actually, could it be the case, Brother Phap Huu, that the tea is also experiencing us?
I believe so. It’s the view, right? And I think that when you are present with the tea, you enjoy the tea, then you can see the tea becoming a part of you. Like our teacher says, if you have a calligraphy of mine in your house, you don’t only see my writing, but you see the tea in it also, because I drank the tea to make that… gave me energy for myself to write that calligraphy. And then in the ink I pour a little bit of the tea inside of it. So it really touches interbeing. When you have that inside you, you really see that you in a tea are not separate.
And one last thing which is on my mind today is, is what tea is drunk in the monastery? Because my experience of tea is that this is like the holy this is like, you know, this is like the Holy Grail, that everyone has their own…
Not only their own tea pot, but someone will only drink kukicha from the northern slope of the mount this in the north of Vietnam, and someone else will only drink it from the south end of the mountain in Japan. And it’s like it’s such a… It’s not like you go into a shop, you grab a pack of camomile, you stick the tea bag in a pot and off you go. Tell us a little bit about the culture of who drinks what tea. So what tea are we drinking right now?
So we are drinking a tea is called genmai, I think is like the name of it is cloud tea, but it’s a kind of white tea and it has a little bit of caffeine in it. But it’s very fresh, it’s very… It’s from the high mountains. So I would say in the monastery, in our monastery, we drink a lot of green tea, we drink a lot of oolong, and we drink a lot of gaoshan, which is high-mountain tea, as well as we drink a lot of Japanese kukicha and also like different herbal teas for the afternoons and evenings. So I think that we don’t have one particular style, we’re not attached to this is the holy tea. But it goes in… It’s a trend. It’s like who’s in the community now and what have they introduced to the community? And then what is… What does people enjoy? And I see that actually part of our… one of our precepts, which is for the fully ordained monks precept, is that even the teas that we drink, it shouldn’t be too luxurious, it should be kind of moderate, like we should be humble about it. So the kind of tea that we drink, it really some of it is donated by friends that knows that monks love drinking tea and they want to give us a gift. And is one of the things that the monks never say no to is tea. So we take, we get whatever we are offered. And then when we do have a chance to purchase our own tea is mainly in that category of like caffeine, green tea from the range of oolong to high-mountain.
A chance to experience the monastery bell of Plum Village, and this is a chance always the bell of mindfulness for the bell reminds us to come back to our true home, to come back to the present moment. So whenever a bell is invited, it’s a chance for everyone to stop. And I… My house, our house I’m living in currently is within earshot of the local church bell, the church, the monastery bell of the nuns in Lower Hamlet, the monastery bell of the Upper Hamlet monks, and then the lunch bell of the monastics down in the small monastery somehow. So I never get anything done, brother, because…
You’re always stopping…
As soon as I try to do some work, there’s a bell ringing somewhere and I have to stop.
Oh, you’re so blessed, brother.
But brother, let’s come back to what you’re saying about the tea.
Yeah. So it’s it’s really it’s just in that range of, like, oolong green tea. But I think the most important thing is knowing how to really enjoy the tea together. And I think the part of our retreat that we that we do and we add a schedule, we always have tea meditation and we want our friends that come to have this experience. And when we’re in a big group, we would make bigger pots of tea. And it’s very… We always invite our friends to enjoy the silence before, while the teas are being prepared. And then we have this part where we put all of the cups on a tray and then we pass the tray around and we instruct people that when the tea, the tray comes to you, you would bow, you would put your palms together. And in our tradition, in the Plum Village tradition, it can be a symbol of our body and mind united. And then when you offer that bow to the person who presents the tea to you, you are presenting your full self. And then you take the cup of tea, you put it down and then I would usually invite my friends in my group to look at the person, have eye contact and recognize his or her presence and then receive the tea tray and then pass it. And that in itself, that action of just passing tea tray and for everybody to have a cup is also an art. And at that moment you really see this connection that is happening. And after everybody has a cup of a cup of tea in front of them, then the facilitator would invite everybody to hold the cup of tea in their two hands and we would recite the gatha like I did. And then I would invite everybody to take their time to smell the tea and enjoyed the cup of tea with full awareness.
Yeah. So one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphies says drink your tea.
Exactly. Nothing else. Just drink your tea.
And it’s like. It’s like, it’s so powerful, isn’t it? Because it’s just it’s just saying actually at this moment there’s nothing else that we need to do. Just wholeheartedly drink your tea, be here. And, you know, it’s not easy, I mean, you know, every morning I wake up, I make my cup of tea, but, you know, I have to really, you know, sitting here now, ask myself, have I ever fully been present for drinking my cup of tea or does my mind wander or do I think about something else or am I worried or do I think I ought to check my email? So actually, it’s not an easy practice, Brother Phap Huu. I mean, I’m not sure if I’ve ever actually if I can honestly say here that I’ve ever been there 100 percent in terms of understanding the whole cosmos is present in my tea. I am fully here for the entire cosmos. Are you better than me? Have you got… Have you… Are you there? How often are you able to really be present for your tea?
I think, for myself, the environment that I’m in is really helpful. When you drink a cup of tea with also somebody who is enjoying a cup of tea, it almost makes you OK, I got to do this too. I can’t just be slacking off or like being noisy because, you know, the other brothers, the other monks are so present. I kind of got to match that energy. And I think for myself, just having that chance to be Thay’s attendant, like every morning we would… before going to sitting meditation, I would make tea and Thay and I would just sit there and drink a cup of tea. And it has become almost like a good habit. And that really helps me start the day with attention, with presence and with almost freedom, because I know how to enjoy that cup of tea in freedom. So it gives me that that element within the day. And I can come back to.
Yeah. And you talk about good practice, a good habit, rather. And it’s really interesting because in my mind’s eye, you know, when someone says, oh, I’ve got a habit, is normally associated with something very negative.
And you’ve got to change it. But what you’re saying is actually it’s if we’re developing good habits, that’s actually really, you know, by its nature, a positive thing, because actually we the practice actually builds and builds our presence. So actually, this isn’t something you’re going to master like anything else and like meditation or mindfulness. You’re not going to master it by sitting there first day expecting 100 percent to be there for your tea.
It takes time.
It takes a lot of time. And even now, I’ve been a monk for now 19 years. And there are moments when the cup of tea is not pleasant. And then if I have… If there’s a bell of mindfulness that is invited somewhere or maybe that cup of tea becomes my bowl of mindfulness. Then I have to refocus, I have to really tell myself to come back to my breath, come back to the present moment, come back to that cup of tea. But the experience that I have had, it allows me to taste that fruit of freedom with a cup of tea. So it tells me I could do it, though, as long as I put my myself into the practice. And having good habits is part of meditation. So when we start to practice meditation in our daily life, we start to see that I walk too fast as a habit and I want to adjust it. I want to have now steps of freedom, now steps of more solidity, and you have to almost retrain how to walk. And in not my first time, I think was my second time in Plum Village in 1999 for a summer retreat. I was in the dining hall. I was very young. I think I was only like 11 or so and I was walking with flip flops and I was like dragging my feet on the ground. And this woman comes up, she looks at me, she goes, young man, lift your feet when you walk. And from that moment on, I’ve never dragged my foot again. I’ve been able to gain a new habit and gain a new attention. And at that moment, actually, when that woman shared that to me, it wasn’t… she wasn’t yelling at me. She was just… I felt actually very respected. She said, young man, when you walk lift your feet and don’t drag, you know? And I actually felt this is somebody who cares for me and somebody who wants me to walk more beautifully. And then if that person didn’t tell me that I was doing that, I wouldn’t have recognized that habit and I wouldn’t have established a new habit.
Dear listeners, we hope you enjoyed this episode and that the next time you pick up a cup of tea, that perhaps you’re able to stop, reflect, be present, see the whole universe, the whole of the cosmos in your cup of tea. And Brother Phap Huu, could you now take us through a guided meditation?
Hello, friends, it is that moment in our podcast when I like to invite you to experience meditation, whether you are sitting on a bus, sitting on a train, commuting or going for a walk, going for a run or cleaning your house, if you can find a space to be still, whether you allow yourself to sit down or to just stand still. I would like to invite you to bring your attention to your breath. As you breathe in, aware that this is an inbreath. As you breathe out, aware that this is an outbreath. Know the inbreath happening. know, the outbreath following. As I breathe in, I follow my breath from the beginning to the end. And as I breathe out, I follow my outbreath from the beginning to the end. I am one with my breath. I take refuge in my breath. As I breathe in, I become aware of the air around me, the breeze. As I breathe out, I am one with the air. I am one with the environment. I hear the sounds of the birds. I hear the wind blowing through the trees. I can feel the environment around me and inside of me. As I breathe in, there is life inside of me. How wonderful. As I breathe out, there is life all around me in this very present moment. As I breathe in, I enjoy my inbreath. How simple, how wonderful. As I breathe out, I enjoy my outbreath. Thanks to my breathing, I know I am alive. That may be the greatest gift. To be aware that I am alive. With life, I’m able to love and to be loved. I’m able to nourish my understanding, my love and kindness and my compassion for myself and for all around me. Breathing in, I have compassion in my heart. Breathing out, I offer my compassion to those who are suffering. In, compassion in my heart. Out, I send my compassion to all those that are suffering. Breathing in, I am in the present moment. Breathing out, I am alive in the present moment.
Thank you, friends, for practicing.
Well, thank you, Phap Huu. If you’d like to listen to other episodes of the podcast series, The Way Out Is In, you can find us on Spotify, on Apple podcasts, on all other platforms that have podcasts and also, most importantly, the Plum Village App. Brother Phap Huu, any last comments from you? Any last thoughts?
Have time for that cup of tea because it is present for you. You just have to be there for it.
Drink your tea.
Thank you, listeners, for being there and for listening to us.
Yeah. Bye, everyone.
Bye. See you next time.
The way out is in.