Welcome to episode 32 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.
This bonus episode showcases an interview between Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and journalist Jo Confino from before Christmas 2011, during the winter retreat in Plum Village. It begins with a short introduction by Jo and Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu.
This is a conversation about our relationship with Mother Earth, the need to move beyond the idea of ‘environment’, and falling back in love with our life-giving planet.
Thich Nhat Hanh talks about the ‘Buddha nature’; the Earth as a Bodhisattva; meditation as active awakening, and practical ways to bring about a collective awakening; the need for a cosmic religion not based on Dharma or belief; producing our own right view; dogmatism as a cause for separation and war; the most necessary teachings for our times; mindful and compassionate business; transforming suffering; collective awakening; and connecting to the Earth through mindfulness. Thay also further develops on his interest in science, and the benefits of a retreat for mindfulness practitioners and scientists.
The interview also includes important advice to help activists maintain their motivation and peace amid chaos, and how to suffer less in order to help more.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
Love Letter to the Earth
Journalist Jo Confino Interviews Thich Nhat Hanh: Falling Back in Love with Mother Earth
‘Beyond Environment: Falling Back in Love with Mother Earth’
Dharma Talks: ‘The Ground of Right View’
“If you look into the Milky Way, we see that there are millions of stars and each star can be a Buddha, like the sun above us is the real Buddha, a Buddha that can provide light and warmth, a Buddha that can offer life. So it is possible for us to conceive Buddha [as] not [being] in the form of a person.”
“If you look around deeply, you realize that there isn’t anything as beautiful as our planet Earth. And that is why we should not try to abandon this beautiful planet, searching for something far away – whether that is called Pure Land, the Kingdom of God, or anything. And if we gain that insight, we see that the Earth is not only the environment; everything is us, and by taking care of the Earth we take care of ourselves.”
“In Buddhism, we speak of meditation as an active awakening. To awake is to be awake to something. To be awake to the fact that the Earth is in danger and living species on Earth are also in danger. And that should be a collective awakening, in order to have enough strength for a change.”
“Scientists are motivated by a desire to understand better, and Buddhist practitioners are also motivated by that kind of desire. But, in Buddhism, we keep in mind that understanding could help us suffer less. Any kind of understanding, true understanding, will help us suffer less. And the Buddhist tradition has elaborated ways of practicing in order to help people to suffer less. And in the process, they have found out many things about themselves and the world. They don’t use the scientific method, but they have a lot of insight and a lot of experiences. And I think they can share it with other people, including scientists.”
“There are plenty of us who are activists, who are eager to do something. And we should go this way: we should begin with ourselves. We should begin with removing our wrong views, so that we can suffer less. And when we suffer less, we can be more helpful. We can help people to change.”
“If you transcend the notion of birth and death, you are able to transcend the notion of being and non-being. And you know that to be or not to be, that’s no longer the question.”
“When I drink tea, this is a wonderful moment. You do not need a lot of power or fame or money to be happy. Mindfulness can help you to be happy in the here and now; every moment can be a happy moment. Set an example and help people to do the same. Take a few minutes to experiment to see the truth.”
“The Earth cannot be described either by the notion of matter or mind, which are just ideas, two faces of the same reality. That pine tree is not just matter, as it possesses a sense of knowing. A dust particle is not just matter since each of its atoms has intelligence and is a living reality.”
“When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us; some kind of connection, of love is born.
“We want to be connected. That is the meaning of love: to be at one. When you love someone, you want to say, ‘I need you, I take refuge in you.’ You do anything for the benefit of the Earth and the Earth will do anything for your wellbeing.”
Dear listeners, welcome back to this latest episode of the podcast, The Way Out Is In. I’m Jo Cofino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems change.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk in the tradition of Plum Village, a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
And brother, today we’re offering a bonus episode because we are going to be showcasing an interview that actually I did with Thich Nhat Hanh, ten years ago, 2012, just before Christmas.
The way out is in.
Hello everyone. I’m Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
So, brother, this is an episode where we do very little.
And we let Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh do all the heavy lifting. So this episode is of an interview I did with Thay just before Christmas of 2012. Now, brother, I remember that Paz and I were here because we used to come every year for two weeks and leave just before Christmas, and we were set to leave the next morning and you appeared, and tell us what happened, brother.
So as Thay’s assistant, sometimes we are the voice of Thay. So we were, I was instructed by Thay to go and meet Jo and to ask Jo to stay for an extra week because Thay wanted to do an interview as part of his Dharma Talk. But Jo told me that unfortunately we can’t extend for one more week because we have to be home with our children for Christmas. So I said, okay, let me go report to dThay. So I come back to the Sitting Still hut, and we’re in Upper Hamlet, and I informed Thay and so Thay tells me what to tell Jo. And I come back and I meet you, Jo. And this is what I told you.
Yeah. And you said, okay, Thay’s decided we do it now. I said, Now? He said, Yeah, in an hour we’re going to be in the main meditation hall. We’re phoning up all the hamlets to ask all the monastics and lay practitioners to come. And we’re going to set up the hall now with all the tech and all the translation and everything. And I thought, I’m not so sure this is going to happen. But an hour later there we come to the meditation hall and it’s all done. And people are streaming in from the hamlets. And, and the reason we’re presenting this interview is because for me anyway, it was a really deep and insightful conversation around our relationship with Mother Earth. And in it, Thay talks about the fact that the environment is not outside of us. We are the environment. We cannot separate Mother Earth from ourselves. And I remember the sort of moment, Brother Phap Huu, that touched me most deeply was that Thay said some things that I’m, and you’ll listen to it, and I’m maybe paraphrasing a little bit, but he said, When you have true communion with Mother Earth, it is the highest form of prayer. And it’s like that one sentence is the highest form of prayer. You know, there’s, you know, this sense that, you know, the life we’re living in the West is so divorced from our connection to nature. But if we actually connect to nature, that is the highest form of prayer.
And what I love about this is it shows a characteristic of our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, because we are the tradition of here and now. So when Thay said the future is not possible, then we do it now.
So without further ado, because we could wrap it on. But actually this is the moment to listen to Thay. So we really hope that you enjoy this deep and profound conversation.
The way out is in.
Dear Thay, in the last two weeks in your Dharma Talks, you’ve talked about the importance of saying Mother Earth, the cosmos and humanity as one and completely interwoven. And you said our nature is your nature. Can you just say a little bit about what you mean by that and why it’s such an important insight?
This insight, this teaching can be found in the Scriptures. In Mahayana Buddhism, we believe we are taught that everything has Buddha nature, so the nature of enlightenment is immanent in everything. In the circle of Zen Buddhism, they ask whether a dog has Buddha nature or not. And also in Lotus Sutra, and in many other Mahayana sutras, it is confirmed that there are a multitude of Buddhas in the cosmos. So before mankind appeared on Earth, they had been Buddhas, not in the form of a person, but in other forms as many as the sand of the Ganges, Ganga river. So if you look into the Milky Way, we see that there are millions of stars and each star can be a Buddha, like the Sun above us is the real Buddha, a Buddha that can provide a lot of light and warmth, a Buddha that can offer life. So it is possible for us to conceive Buddha not in the form of a person. So what is offered today as a teaching and practice is not something really new, but a continuation of what Thay has been said and practiced. It’s clear that the Buddha Shakyamuni is a child of the Earth, and he has expressed his intention to take care of this Earth as it is a pure land. And therefore we who follow the teaching of the Buddha, we want also to accept this Earth as our Pure Land. You don’t need to look for a kingdom of Buddha elsewhere. And Pure Land, where else? If you have enough mindfulness, concentration and we go get insight, that Pure Land is available right in the here and the now. And the insight is that the Kingdom of God is on Earth. The Kingdom of Heaven is on Earth. In Air France has produced a beautiful sentence Faire du ciel le plus bel endroit de la terre. To make the sky the most beautiful spot of the Earth. We like to change a little bit to say that the Earth is the most beautiful spot of the sky. And if you look around deeply, you realize that there isn’t anything that is as beautiful as our planet Earth. And that is why we should not try to abandon this beautiful planet searching for something far away, whether that is called Pure Land, the Kingdom of God or anything. And if we get that insight, we see that the Earth is not only the environment. Everything is us and taking care of the Earth we take care of ourselves. And many people get sick today because they get alienated from Mother Earth. They forget that they are on Earth to have a body that is given to them by Mother Earth, and the practice of mindfulness helps us to go back to our body and touch Mother Earth inside of our body and touch the Earth outside of our body. And that that practice can help heal people. So the healing of the people should go together with the healing of the Earth. And that is the insight. And this is possible for everyone to practice.
And why is it important for you to be talking about this now? So you say it’s in scriptures, but you’re bringing it very much into your front of your mind and to talk about it. Is it because you feel that the Earth actually is in danger now and that actually we need to go back to that real deep connection that we’ve lost?
In the Buddhist tradition, we believe that the teaching should be appropriate to our time, to our place. So whatever teaching that can respond to the real need of the people of the time should be a good teaching. And that is why this come to the foreground. That does not mean that this is the only teaching, but that is the kind of teaching that we need the most in our time.
Why do you think now is the appropriate time? What do you think, what do you think the dangers are if we ignore this teaching?
Many have already spoken about the danger that we encounter. I just mentioned the fact that many of us in the human family are getting sick. And our sickness is the sickness of Mother Earth. And that is why that kind of enlightenment is very crucial. Without that kind of collective enlightenment, awakening, then we cannot hope to have a change in our way of living so that we can protect us and protect Mother Earth at the same time. And in Buddhism we speak of meditation as an active awakening. To awake is to be awake to something. To be awake to the fact that the Earth is in danger and living species on Earth are also in danger. And that is that should be a collective awakening in order to have enough strength for a change.
And how do you think we can bring about that collective awakening? Because for most people, they live very busy lives, they’re living in cities, they often got major problems in their families. How do you think people can come back to this really core understanding when their minds are so far away from it?
I think the best way would be to help them to be in touch with the suffering that they undergo now. Many people suffer, and deeply. And they don’t know that they suffer. And they try to cover up their suffering by being busy. Maybe it’s not because they like to be busy, but they want to be, to get busy in order not to have the time to touch the suffering in themselves. So anything you can do to help them realize that suffering is there and there is a way to take care of the suffering. And if we are skilful enough, we will help them to stop being busy, take the time in order to go back and take care of themselves. And at the same time, take care of the Earth. And you, journalists, you can do things like that. You can practice that, and by your way of sharing your insight, your experience, you can help people do that. And in Pum Village, we do that in our own way to organize retreats and days of mindfulness, organize the practice of mindful walking and breathing, so that we can touch the suffering inside of us and around us. Transforming suffering is the most important thing and not getting more money, fame, power, sex, and etc..
How would you feel is the best, so you talked about the fact that often people get stuck in the suffering and don’t see a way out of it. What is… ? Your talk about obviously, mindfulness and concentration and then you get insight. For a lot of people that seems very simplistic, that a lot of people say, well, that’s not a way, that’s not an answer. I’ve got too many problems. I’ve got no time. What would you say to people who would find this, who would look at this and say, actually, how is this going to help me?
People are concerned to have a good life. Everyone wants to have a good life, a life that is pleasant, not burdened with worries and things like that. And they don’t know the way, how to play down the worries, the fear, the anger, in order to enjoy themselves in their daily life. So we can very well propose them, propose to them by way of life and practice their way of living so that they can improve the quality of their life right away, today. Suppose you tell them that, Do you remember that you have a body? To have a body is something wonderful. And you have spent a lot of time on your computer. You forget that you have a body. You are not alive. You are not with your body. And when you are not with the body, you are not alive. So if you breathe in mindfully, practicing mindfulness, with only an inbreath, you can already go home to your body and get the insight that you have a body. And a body is a wonder. And when you are with the body, spirit and mind together, you touch the insight and your are alive, you are there, on Earth. And you can, you can get in touch with many wonders of life available to you, in you and around you. You can practice like breathing in, I am aware that I have a body and now I smile to my body, which is a wonder. I enjoy having a body. With my body I can walk on earth and enjoy the beauty of the earth. Something like that. So mindfulness, concentration and insight should be presented in such a way. And then the practice of mindful breathing, the practice of mindful walking can help you to be there in the present moment in order to get in touch with the wonders of life, refreshing and healing that can nourish and heal you. And the practice of mindfulness also help you to be there in order to recognize that suffering is there, so that you know how to take care and transform the suffering. So there are very concrete things. We are not offering them philosophy, ideas, but real ways of practice so that they can suffer less and they can begin to enjoy more of life, beginning with their breath, then their body, their eyes. Suppose you say that Do you know that you have eyes in good condition? It’s a good thing. You practice breathing in, I’m aware that my eyes are still in good condition. And if I open my eyes, I would be able to touch a paradise of forms and colors around me and that will bring me happiness. When I’m mindful, I enjoy more my tea. While I drink my tea, I’m fully present in the here and the now. I’m not carried away by my sorrow, my fear, my projects, the past and the future, I’m here, available to life. And life is available to me. And when I hold a cup of tea, I look with mindfulness and I see that there is a cloud in my tea. The cloud was in the sky yesterday and today it is in my tea. And the cloud is a wonder, the tea is also a wonder and I am also a wonder. And when I drink tea, this is a marvelous moment and happiness is possible. You don’t need a lot of power, of fame, of money, in order to be happy. Mindfulness can help you be happy right in here and the now. And every moment of our daily life can be a moment happy. Can be a happy moment. And if you tell them like that, and if you know how to do it, and you set an example, and you can have people to do the same, and that does not take many years. It takes a few minutes in order to experiment, to see the truth.
One of the things you said in your talks is about, and you were just saying earlier about the Earth, Planet Earth, our Mother Earth, is not the same as the environment. And you said we want to, we need to go beyond environmentalism and beyond just having environmental activists. Can you just tell us a bit about what you mean by that?
We say that the Earth is a bodhisattva. It means that the Earth has many virtues that we can recognize. First of all, like the capacity to endure, endurance. A bodhisattva, a real bodhisattva should have that virtue, that capacity to endure, perseverance. A bodhisattva should have the capacity to be solid, to be stable. And Earth is solid, is stable. A bodhisattva should have the virtue of being creative and the Earth is very creative. She gave life to many species. A bodhisattva should have the spirit of nondiscrimination. And Earth does not discriminate. She embraced everyone, everything. She never gets angry about us, even if we do silly things. So a bodhisattva does not need to be a human person. A bodhisattva can be a star, a river, a mountain, a planet. And that is why when we look at our planet Earth, we should see her as a bodhisattva and… We should transcend the notion that that the Earth is something inhabited by a spirit and that bodhisattva is a spirit inhabiting the Earth. We should transcend that idea. We do not worship a spirit that stayed behind the Earth, because we know that we are not caught in the idea that there is there are two things, the Earth, which is a material thing, and the spirit of the Earth, which is the non-material thing that inhabits the Earth. Because our notion of mind and matter are just notions. We shouldn’t be able to transcend both notions. And when we can realize that the Earth cannot be described either by the notion of matter or mind, when we just recognize the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, some kind of love is born. We admire, we love, we want to be connected. That is the meaning of love. To love means to be one with it, to admire, to adore. So that kind, that is the kind of sentiment that is born from your contact with the Earth. And when you love someone, you want to say, I need you. I take refuge in you. So that is kind of praying. And that is not superstition. You love the Earth and the Earth loves you. You do anything for the well-being of the Earth. And the Earth will do anything for your well-being. And that is the kind of outcome from that kind of relationship. So it begins with mindfulness, that you are there as a child of the Earth. That you carry Mother Earth within you. Mother Earth is not outside of you. She is inside. Mother Earth is not just your environment, and you are part of Mother Earth and that kind of insight of nondiscrimination help you to be truly in communion with the Earth. It’s like in Buddhism, in the Buddhist tradition, every time we bow to Buddha we say, the one who bows, and the one who is bowed to. They are both, by nature, empty of a separate existance. Dear Buddha, you are empty of a separate existence. And I am also empty of a separate existence. It means that you are in me, and I am in you. You are made of non-you elements, including the element me, and I am made of non-me elements and including you. And in that insight of interbeing, communication becomes truly possible if you are only you and I am only me and we are two different entities, how can communication is possible? So when you wake up, when you see that the Earth is not just the environment, the Earth is in you, you have the Earth and you touch the nature of interbeing and at that moment you can have real communication with the Earth. That is the highest form of prayer. And the one who prays, the one who is prayed to are not two. So in that kind of relationship, we have enough love, strength, in order to change our life. Changing is not just changing the things outside of us. First of all, we have took up right view. Right view is kind of build a fence and all notions, including the notion of being a nonbeing, a greater teacher, a mind and spirit. And that kind of insight is crucial for transformation and healing. And only when you have that kind of right view, great insight, this […] is no longer there and will be deep communion, communication and communion, mutual understanding and everything will come from it. Because this situation brings about fear, separation, hate, anger, and the root is that the wrong view, the wrong that you and the Earth are two separate entities. The Earth is only the environment. You are in the center and you want to do something for the Earth in order for you to survive. That is a non-dualistic, dualistic way of seeing. So to breathe in and to be aware of your body and to look deeply into your body and to realize that you are the Earth and your consciousness is also the consciousness of the Earth. And that consciousness can be liberated from wrong views. And you are doing what Mother Earth is expecting you to do to get enlightened in order to become a Buddha and to help other living beings, not only on Earth, but in other planets. So environment, we should not think of the environment as something apart. Not to cut the tree, not to pollute the water. That’s not enough.
What would you say to, because one of the key messages you have is you talk about applied Buddhism, that it’s not okay just to sit and meditate, but you talk about the need to address injustice and to address exploitation. So what would you say to those social activists who are, who call themselves environmentalists, and are fighting to sort of save the planet and fighting to save the species? You’ve talked about that you’re not much help if you’re angry yourself. Can you just talk a little bit about if you actually want to make a difference actively in terms of your sense of really addressing these issues, not just by your own actions, of switch of lights or anything else, but actually really getting to the grips of the issue. What would your advice be to people who really want to make a difference to the world?
In Buddhism we speak of when we do action and collective action. Sometimes something wrong is going on in the world, and we think that it is the other people who are doing it and we are not doing it, but looking deeply you see that you are part of the wrongdoing, by the way you live your life. And that is why it’s good to meditate on collective action. In a human relationship, when you suffer, you tend to blame the other person as the cause of your suffering. But you do not know that if that relationship has become difficult is partly because of you. If you are able to understand that not only you suffer if you are able to see that not only you suffer but the other person also suffers. That is already an insight. And you see the suffering of the other person, you no longer want to punish, to blame. And maybe you want to do something to help that person to suffer less. But if you are burdened with anger, fear, ignorance, and you suffer too much, you cannot help another person not to suffer. That is why to do something for you to suffer less. And that is very crucial. If you suffer less, you are lighter, you are more smiling, you are pleasant to be with and you are in a position to help the other person to suffer less, more easily. So the same thing is true with activists. If you are angry, if you only blame other people for doing wrong things, you may not help, you might make the situation worse. And therefore, to change your mind, to remove wrong view. And just to remove wrong view you suffer less already. You have not done anything yet. Just remove the wrong view, and see that the people are victims. And you cannot condemn the victims. You can only help them. So they’re already making you feel lighter, freer, you suffer less. And there are a lot of things to do in order for you to suffer less. And I think all activists have to get a spiritual practice in order to have them to suffer less, to nourish the happiness in them, and to handle the suffering in them so that they will be effective in trying to help the world, people. With anger, frustration, you cannot do much, you may make situation worse.
Just wanted to move on to the subject of science because you have a very strong interest in that and you’re doing your 21 retreat, a 21-day retreat next summer from the combination of science and Buddhism. Just on that, I’m just interested first about your personal interest. What brought you into your personal interest in science and, and what have you personally learned from it?
Scientists are motivated by a desire to understand better, and Buddhist practitioners also motivated by that kind of desire. But in Buddhism we keep in mind that understanding could help us suffer less. Any kind of understanding, true understanding, will help us suffer less. And the Buddhist tradition has elaborated ways of practice in order to help people to suffer less. And in the process, they have found out many things about themselves and the world. They don’t use the scientific method, but they have got a lot of insight and a lot of experiences. And I think they can share it with any other people, including the scientists. The scientists, they suffer also. And they may make use of some of Buddhist practice in order to suffer less, to enjoy more life. And many of them have done that. And we, in Buddhist tradition, we have found that science helps us. Personally, I think that archeology, philology has helped me a lot. Because thanks to this kind of science, we are able to identify Buddhist texts and know in what time these texts have been produced, and so have a better knowledge about the evolution of Buddhist thought and then the chemistry and physics and others have also helped us. Many findings of science have confirmed that the Buddhist teaching on impermanence. No self, no birth, and no death. It’s like when Lavoisier said that there’s nothing born, there’s nothing dying, nothing is born, nothing dies. We see that that go perfectly with the Buddhist teaching. When you look into a cloud, even if you do not use sophisticated scientific instrument, you can touch the nature of no birth and no death of the cloud. The cloud has not come from the realm of non-being into the realm of being. And that, that insight can be got by anyone. You can help people, non-science people to see that. You can tell them that before the cloud appears in the form of a cloud, it did not belong to the realm of non-being because it was the steam, the water vapor without sunshine. And this is only a continuation, the form of a cloud. So this no birth is only a new manifestation, a new continuation. And when the cloud dies, it does not die. You don’t see it anymore, but it has passed from the realm of being into nonbeing. It’s impossible for a cloud to die. The cloud can become snow, rain or other things that cannot become nothing. So it is possible for non-scientists to touch the truth of no birth and no death of the cloud. So what Lavoisier said goes perfecly with Buddhism and regret that scientists are saying the same thing, and that helps us to help people to understand more easily the teaching of the Buddha. And when scientists talk about the law of conservation of matter and energy, and they also confirm that nothing can be created in terms of matter or energy. And you cannot destroy matter. You cannot destroy energy. So that confirm the truth of no birth and no death. And if you accept the truth of no birth and death, you have to accept the truth of no being, no not being, because birth means from nonbeing you become being. And to die means from the realm of nonbeing your pass into the realm of non being. So if you transcend the notion of birth and death, you are able to transcend the notion of being and non being. And you know that to be and not to be, that’s no longer the question. And findings like that help us very much to confirm the teaching of the Buddha and our own experience we have another way of helping people to see the truth and to touch the truth. And in Buddhism, the understanding of no birth and no death, no being and no not being, is not for the sake of speculating. We meditate on that in order to transcend our fear, our anger, our discrimination. And we suffer less. And that is why we think that if scientists make good use of their findings and apply them to their daily life, they will suffer less and they will succeed more in their work in the realm of science. And that is why a retreat for yogi and scientists is good, because both can support the other, each other.
In terms of the understanding of the cosmos, so, I mean, in ancient times, there was a reverence for the Earth and the Sun, but from a very paganistic perspective. And one of the things science has done is given us this understanding of the cosmos and the interrelationships of planets and solar systems. Can you just talk a little bit about where the science has helped or can help in this understanding of interbeing and our connection to Mother Earth and the Sun?
I think science has been able to demonstrate the truth of no self, of interbeing. But scientists have not been able to apply that kind of insight into the realm of organizing our daily life, our society. So far, the insight of science has been applied in technology, that can be sometime very helpful, but sometimes not helpful. But when the scientists work together with the yogi, they may think of trying to apply to our daily life, in order to handle suffering and happiness. There are those of us who agree on the truth of impermanence but still behave as if things are permanent. So that is common for scientists and non-scientists. So we hope that one day scientists will be able to apply these kind of findings, non-self, interbeing, no birth, no death, into our daily life. We need the time in order to meditate and to apply this insight into our daily life. We need to do, like in the Buddhist tradition, to have the time together, to do walking meditation, to do sitting meditation, to do Dharma exchange, in order to deepen our understanding and to try to apply this kind of insight into our daily lives so that we can transform our fear, our anger, our discrimination, which is very important. This is not technology, but is very crucial to our happiness. Moral science. So applied ethics is on that. And one day, a scientist will participate in a work of applied ethics. Every, every kind of insight can be applied in ethics. So to say that science does not pay attention to the matter of morality and ethics, that’s not true. Because any finding of yours, you know, in the realm of science should have an impact. I know where you live, like when Ashton said that he cannot believe God to be an old man sitting in the sky and decide things on Earth, that kind of attitude that comes from his understanding of the world, of the cosmos. So it has an impact on his personal life and the life of other people and there are theologians who have been influenced by him, like Paul Tillich, and that German theologian said that he also cannot believe that God is a person. And that is, leave that for our Christmas talk. We have to reserve that.
Can I just ask a little, there’s a whole movement amongst businesses and politicians which says that the connection, trying to reconnect people to nature is not working. And so actually what you have to do is put an economic or a monetary value on everything. So if before you cut down a forest, you have to think how much is the forest worth in terms of the soil erosion it creates, how much people will lose the value of being able to walk in the forest, etc., etc. They are trying to take nature down to put dollar signs on it because they say that’s the system we’re in only values money. And therefore, to work within the system, you have to actually work with a monetary value to nature. Do you think that’s a practical thing that we have to do? Or do you think there’s a risk that it might move people away from really connecting to the majesty of nature and to see themselves within the Earth?
Even if we can set up laws like that, there will be people who try to trick in order to continue their way. I don’t think that could work. I think we need a real awakening, a real enlightenment. We have to change our way of saying things and, to change our way of thinking and saying things. And this it possible. We have not tried really that respect. Every one of us, whether we are school teachers, father, mother, brother, sister, or journalist, you have to do it in our own way. Producing awakening, producing enlightenment, and bring right view into the mind of people because the right view brings happiness. Bring right view, release the suffering. And in a very concrete way. And that is why we need to sit down like this and find ways very concrete to help. And there are plenty of us who are activists, who are eager to do something. And we should go this way. We should begin with ourselves. We should begin with removing our wrong views, so that we can suffer less. And when we suffer, when we suffer less, it can be more helpful. We can help people to change.
And just finally, Thay, in terms of the letting go of the future, so you’ve talked about that nature, that the Earth is not angry, but that there’s always a need to rebalance and that if we continue to create damage to the Earth, then the Earth will respond quite naturally, as it has done with other species in the past. And you’ve also talked in the past and in your recent writings about that possibly that the human species will be devastated or annihilated if we don’t change our mind. How do you, again, just from a personal perspective, what’s your view of how do we deal with the possibility that actually, if people don’t change that actually the human species may be devastated. How do you respond to that and feel about that?
We known that many civilizations in the past have vanished. And this civilization of ours can vanish also. The Earth will take a million years in order to help recreate another civilization. So it’s not a problem with the Earth because she has enough patience and endurance and she can wait. But for us, human beings, we do not have that kind of endurance and insight and courage. And we can lose our hope, and we can get.. drown into the sea of despair. And when you’re a victim of despair, we cannot do anything, we can make the situation worse. So that is why you have to, you have to take care of our insight, our thinking, our mind first. And that is why meditation is something very important. To meditate does not mean that you get away from life, but you have the time in order to look deeply into the situation, to allow yourself to have a time to sit, not doing anything, just look deeply into the situation. Look into our mind and find ways to take care, to deal with the anger, the fear and despair in us. And if we do not do that, other things we do will not bring any result. So to meditate is the most basic crucial thing to do. To have to get out of despair, you have to get the insight, the non-fear. You have to preserve your compassion in order for you to be a real instrument of Mother Earth, in order to help other species. And our century should be a century of spirituality. Whether we can survive or not, it depends on it. We have to go home to us and look deeply. And that is the work of the spirit. And that is what every one of us, on Earth, should have, should bring a spiritual dimension to that daily life.
Wow. I hope everyone enjoyed the conversation between Thay and Jo, and isn’t it so lovely that Thay is still offering today? And this episode was recorded ten years ago, which, in 2012, when Plum Village celebrated 30 years of Plum Village, and we released it this year in the podcast because we are celebrating 40 years of Plum Village as a continuation of Thay’s legacy.
Yeah. And also brother, you know, Thay has been an environmental activist and campaigner for, you know, for 50 years. But, you know, this message he gives ten years ago was really, really important to him. But now, ten years on, when we’re facing this sort of existential crisis and this extraordinary industrial, industrialized destruction of the planet, his voice, his message, his profundity is actually even more needed.
Dear listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed this. If you have, there many other episodes of the podcast, The Way Out Is In. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on our very own Plum Village App. And this episode, like the others, would not have been possible without the co-production of Global Optimism, of the Plum Village App. And also, brother, would you like to give thanks to the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation?
Yes, because this podcast was brought to you by the generous donors of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. And if you would like to support future episodes of the podcast and the work of the international Plum Village community, please visit www.TNHF.org/donate. Thank you.
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