Welcome to episode 16 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.
In this episode, the presenters, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and lay Buddhist practitioner and journalist Jo Confino, are joined by special guest, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Linh (Brother Spirit). Together, they discuss eco-anxiety, the challenges of and solutions for shifting to a new paradigm which can heal us and our planet, and whether it’s possible to change our minds, hearts, and future. Plus: how can you be at peace in what feels like a battlefield?
The conversation touches upon “the decisive decade”; individualism and competition; interdependence; handling fear; transformation; change in “the age of collective procrastination”; and opportunities in difficult times. Is it possible to ‘sit’ with collapse?
Brother Phap Linh (Brother Spirit) shares his journey of transformation, from studying sciences at Cambridge, to numerous retreats, and eventual monastic life.
He further talks about creating transformation at both personal and collective levels; the cult of individualism; societal numbness; handling the energy of negativity; the basis of understanding reality, and what nourishes our views and beliefs; the economic conceit ‘the tragedy of the commons’; creating shared visions and aspirations; and telling new stories. And how do you change your view when you’re caught in the old paradigm?
Brother Phap Huu shares insights on how to not lose ourselves in a fast-paced environment, and looks at: fundamental questions; procrastination; individual aspirations; becoming free from attachment; striving and the importance of stopping; learning in the community; the Six Harmonies; and the joy of sharing.
There’s also important advice for those ‘burning out’ in the environmental movement.
Jo recollects Thich Nhat Hanh’s speech to the members of the UK Parliament and his thoughts on conflictual political systems. He further muses on the lasting joy of community life.
The episode ends with a short meditation on gratitude and Mother Earth, guided by Brother Phap Linh.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
Brother Phap Linh (Brother Spirit)
The tragedy of the commons
Dharma Talks: ‘The Four Noble Truths: Vulture Peak Gathering’
Multi-level selection theory
The Five Mindfulness Trainings
The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings
“When everything is motivated by love, you don’t burn out.”
“My dad wrote me a letter that said, ‘You know, in life, it’s not for me to hand you a rose, but to hand you an onion, where you peel every layer and you cry.’ It’s like we find ourselves through suffering. And it’s the suffering we go through in order to find joy. We can’t bypass suffering.”
“They say ‘It’s darkest just before the dawn’, and we seem to be at this crossroads where, if we don’t have what Thay would call a collective awakening, we are very, very likely heading for a catastrophe that is unimaginable in terms of the suffering it will create. And there’s an opportunity for this time to turbocharge the change into a new paradigm.”
“Every single drop that we put in the bucket of mindfulness increases our zone of freedom and our capacity to notice difficult feelings arising in our body and mind. Then, when anxiety is coming up, we’re going to see it coming. You get to see it because you’ve put energy in, maybe five, 10 minutes every day. You paid attention to your steps on the way to work. You made that commitment and you’ve invested. And when you do that, in the difficult moments, you have that little bit of extra time and extra freedom, and you notice that energy coming up; you see it coming and you can go, ‘I see you.’ That’s mindfulness.”
“Dare to feel.”
“What’s interesting is to learn that we have resources, we have ways to meet those difficult feelings, and to transform them, and to not be alone with them. And that’s the power of our community: that we can be in that process of holding, of embracing the pain and the fear, and that we can do it together.”
“That is enlightenment: to be free from all attachment; we’re not striving for happiness, but we enjoy the path because the path is happiness. We have this notion that we have to accomplish to receive happiness, to arrive at success. But then, [by doing that] we bypass all of these beautiful present moments.”
“Thay gave a speech to MPs and members of the House of Lords. And one member of the House of Lords said, ‘Well, Thay, the UK political system is, by nature, conflictual. We sit opposite each other, we argue against each other. We’re always trying to point out what’s wrong with each other. What do you think of that?’ And Thay looked at him and after what seemed like an age, he just asked, ‘Does it make you happy?’ That was a really profound moment because it was so far outside the normal conversation. And it feels like, increasingly, we need to be outside of the normal conversation.”
“One of the things that may contribute to a burnout is starting to feel negativity all the time, that kind of blaming. It may actually be true that other people are not doing enough. But the point is that we have to keep our sovereignty. We have to keep our peace, our freedom, and know when we’re being colonized by that energy of judgment and hatred; we have to know how to handle that.”
“Be brave to feel your feelings. Be brave to see what your mind is producing. Once you do, you see the roots of it. And this is the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism: to only change and have transformation as you come to the root of it. So then you start to look at how you live your life: ‘What is it that I’m doing that nourishes this view?’ And if you see the root of it, then you see a way out of it. But seeing is not enough. Then, you have to walk the path; you have to change your way of living. And for me, this is where real transformation happens.”
“In the dharma, we always say, ‘Peace in oneself, peace in the world.’ Which means that, to achieve transformation outside of ourselves, we need to start with ourselves.”
“Many people have asked me, ‘After Thay passes, who’s the next Thich Nhat Hanh?’ I say, ‘Nobody.’ Thay has told us very clearly that the continuation of Thay is the community. So each and every one of us will be his continuation. Each and every one of us will share that responsibility; that’s the power of community.”
“Learn to go as a river; be a drop of water in the river. Don’t be that drop of oil which doesn’t penetrate into it.”
“My inbreath, the outbreath of the trees. My outbreath, the inbreath of the trees.”
Hello, everyone, and welcome back to another episode of the podcast The Way Out Is In.
I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems change.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk in the tradition of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Plum Village community.
In this episode, we’re going to be looking at the whole issue of eco-anxiety, the risk of ecological collapse and social dislocation. And yet, there is a path to a new way of living that’s based on community, on support, on love. And in this episode, we will explore whether it’s possible -changing our minds, changing our hearts, changing our future.
The way out is in.
Hello and welcome back, I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And we are today sitting in the Sitting Still Hut of Thich Nhat Hanh, so where he used to live in Upper Hamlet, in the southwest of France. And you may occasionally hear the sound of nuts falling from the tree above onto the roof, which sort of provides us a moment to sit back and reflect on the fact that nature is all around us. So Brother Phap Huu, today we are going to be talking about the need for what people are referring to as the new paradigm, which is the fact that the current system we live in, the current way we live, the current way we think is leading to extraordinary ecological damage, it’s leading to disastrous climate change, it’s leading to social dislocation. Basically, we are heading very much in the wrong direction. And everyone realizes with business as usual, if we carry on in the same way that our very foundations of our civilization are at risk. So today we’re going to talk about how do we make the shift from this old system to a new system? How do we cross this chasm to a new world? And, brother, with us we have a very special guest. Do you want to introduce him?
Yes, today we have Brother Phap Linh, Brother Spirit, joining us for our podcast. He has been a monk for 13 years in our tradition, and he’s a very close brother to me. I’ve actually been on a lot of projects and trips with him. And Brother Phap Linh is also a musician, a composer. And if you go on YouTube and watch some of our chants, such as the Namo Avalokiteshvara chant, you will see him playing the cello.
And brother, let’s not forget that he actually created the music for this podcast.
So thank you, brother.
And he will be joining us to give his insight on this topic that we will look into. So, Brother Phap Linh, with no further ado, hello and welcome. And how about you introduce yourself and your journey towards the practice and towards the community here in Plum Village?
Yeah, I’m happy to share a little bit about my journey to monastic life. I guess, partly because I think it connects with today’s theme, I want to share, you know, I’m not going to share my whole story, but a kind of aspect of it which is in relationship with what we’re sharing that today, which for me is the kind of transformation of my view of reality from a kind of very rational scientific approach – I really kind of took refuge in science as a teenager, as being like, this is going to be the sole source of truth for me. This is how I determine what is real, what is not real, what is important, what is not important. And yes, I really took that on board and kind of relied on that having very early on – I think probably aged six or seven – I rejected all forms of religion. And, you know, I kept finding contradictions in the Bible and stuff. And, anyway, it’s not to say that I was right or wrong, but I had a very logical approach to things, maybe a little bit simplistic. And and I was… Yeah, I thought that was how I was going to determine how to live by relying on science. But then when I was 18, just maybe I think two days before, no, two days after my 18th birthday, my mother passed away suddenly from a brain aneurysm and it was a total shock. And I maybe didn’t… It took me a while to realize, but I think what I discovered was that I had nothing to rely on, I had nothing. And in a sense, our whole family, we had no religious practice or tradition. There wasn’t much to bring us together, although, you know, we have very loving family, but suddenly we had no way to handle the immensity of what had happened, the loss. We had no tradition. We had no ritual. We had no… Nothing to bind us. And especially for me, I was left feeling very numb because I kind of stuck to this belief, which is, well, you know, the person is equivalent to basically the activity of their brain. And when the activity of the brain ceases, then that’s that, there’s no person anymore. So what are we, you know, what’s the big deal? It was very cold, like, my attitude. And I think the reality of that was that I was feeling a lot, but I couldn’t handle it. So I covered it up with this kind of hyper-rational, intellectual approach. But that definitely left me very dry and empty. And in fact, for about a year and a half after that, I I was kind of numb and cold. I didn’t feel anything, and I think I was also quite aggressive and maybe not so nice to be around. You know, for people who maybe had other views or other feelings about, you know, something deeper or important in a kind of sense of meaning, or love, or something more cosmic, something bigger, I would destroy that, you know, if I ever encountered those, I would take it apart with logic and reason. And it was pretty violent and not not very, yeah, not very kind. And also not very wise, actually. But it was, I guess, my own self-defense mechanisms kicking in, although I didn’t think of it as that at the time. And so I was actually in a kind of depression without knowing and I couldn’t feel anything. But some part of me – and I feel very grateful that that is the case – some part of me was still searching for something else for another way to live, another way to deal with these huge questions of life and death and, you know, love and what is meaning, and purpose, and all these things. What do we do with this one precious life? You know, I was still searching and I consider myself just very, very fortunate to have been surrounded by good friends who helped me gradually, despite all my resistance, to start investigating other ways. So I started looking into spirituality. My girlfriend at the time bought me Siddhartha by Hermann Hesse. I read that. I remember being very touched by watching the film Kundan, and Gandhi. And so something was being awakened in me. And then another one of my friends found out about Plum Village and Thay, Thich Nhat Hanh. And he said, ‘Well, this guy, you know, he’s supposed to be enlightened’. And as soon as I heard that, I sort of thought, ‘Well, OK, if I’m going to make a decision about, you know, whether this is real, whether there is such a thing as spirituality or whether there’s only kind of just atoms and molecules bouncing off each other according to physical laws, eternally until the end of time without any meaning or purpose.’ It’s kind of it was one or the other for me. Either there’s a magical spiritual world or there’s just particles and physical laws and chance and total meaninglessness, which, by the way, is very widely espoused view right now. And we have to acknowledge the reality of this view, whether it’s consciously held or unconsciously held, many, many, many people, when you get down to it, that’s what they think is going on, that there’s kind of just no meaning or purpose to anything other than what we may be invent or create as human beings. But ultimately, it’s just all random and chance and total meaninglessness. That’s a very… That’s a real story that we tell ourselves nowadays, and I was telling myself that story. I guess why I think that’s important is that it has an effect. That’s a very powerful story and it changes how we show up, what kind of things we do, how we speak, how we think, what we believe, how we are with each other, what we think is important. So anyway, I was very lucky that I had people around me who helped me to examine other possibilities. And, you know, once I found out about Thay and I said, ‘Oh, this guy’s enlightened’. So I thought, ‘OK, well, if anybody knows is probably this guy’. So if I’m going to try to determine which one it is – either it’s random and meaningless or magical and full of meaning and depth and significance – I should go and visit and see what he has to say. At least, you know, just out of intellectual curiosity and honesty, I have to try. So four of us, we were all studying together at Cambridge, we all made our way that summer to Plum Village. And I don’t know to what kind of like, you know, ancestors or past conditions I can pay gratitude and respect, but I am just so lucky and fortunate that that happened that I, for whatever reason, encountered this tradition, this stream of wisdom that has been flowing, you know, for thousands of years, and I could just run into that and find myself here and be exposed to that. And I resisted, I fought, you know, I was sitting there in the Dharma hall trying to refute every single line, you know, every single thing that Thay said. I tried to fight with it, tried to find some flaw, some chink, some kind of something I could resist. But it was… I mean, the image I have is it was like fighting the ocean. You know, the waves coming and you try to stop it, you know, but it just goes past, you know, and you just try to stop the next one. It was like that. I couldn’t find anything to fight with, actually. So at some point I had to stop fighting, but I still had my doubts. So I remember, you know, I had a very kind of powerful transformation in that retreat, and I was able, I think, for the first time in 18 months to get in touch with my grief about my mother’s death and to start to reconnect with her and to experience her as still being in my life, you know, and still being in me and not being totally lost. So that was amazing. We could go more into that, but I think, yeah, in terms of my skepticism and this sort of seed of separation and individualism and the sort of scientific rationalism, I still had this question in my heart, which was, ‘Are these guys for real?’. You know, these brothers and sisters, it all looks very nice, you know, in the summer. They’re all very peaceful and they walked slowly and they smile and it all looks great. But I bet as soon as I turn my back, as soon as a summer retreat is over, I bet all of this stops, you know. I don’t think they can live like this all the time. There’s no way. I didn’t believe it because I felt challenged by it. And so some part of me wanted to say, it’s fake. And I think that’s because maybe I felt fake, you know. And I was struggling to find that kind of authenticity. So I didn’t want to believe that other people could be deep and authentic and real and sustain that. So actually, I checked, I tried to check. I left after the end of the summer retreat, I stayed the whole summer retreat and then maybe like a week later, I came back randomly. And we’re not supposed to… Plum Village supposed to be closed, but I wanted to see. So I came back and I was thinking, I’m going to catch these guys out. You know, it’s not going to be the same. But it was, yeah, it was the same. If anything, it was even more peaceful. It was so beautiful and the spirit of harmony, the brothers and sisters, and just seeing, also seeing how they were kind of at play because they were, yeah, they were in the lazy period. They were relaxed and at ease and just hanging out together and playing volleyball. But it was so beautiful and so genuine and so deep. And yeah, so then my life really changed and I began to rely on Plum Village. I came back every six months, at least twice a year for a retreat, maybe a week or two. And then gradually that started getting longer and longer until, you know, my partner and I started coming for retreats together. And then those retreats got longer and longer, and eventually we were just, you know, we kind of couldn’t resist anymore. We realized we have to give our whole lives to this. And so we both ordained. We both became, yeah, monastics.
So, brother, just… I want to pick up on one element of what you said because I think what you described as a good metaphor for what we’re discussing today, which is you talked about feeling numb. And, you know, when I look out in the world, you know, I also have that sense of, you know, there’s a great Pink Floyd song, you know, Comfortably Numb, that people… that at some deep level people are recognizing that the world is changing and that we need to change the way we live and our view of the world. But actually, most people are very fearful of that and are hiding behind, you know, what capitalism allows us to do, which is to hide behind all sorts of pleasures and distractions, whether it be sort of films or gambling or sex or whatever. And I’m just wondering what your senses of… since you experience yourself of that numbness, because, you know, we’ll get on to talk about how do we actually create change. But talk to us a little bit about that numbness and whether you see that in society in general.
Yeah, I think this is a very important thing to to reflect upon, which is a kind of… the sense of being overwhelmed by the scale of the challenge that we face collectively and individually and a sense of powerlessness, and then the terror that comes from that, which because it’s so hard to face and because maybe we feel alone with that, then the easiest option and the readily available option thanks to yeah – all the various ways that we have at our disposal – is to avoid, to procrastinate, in a sense. I think we’re in a stage of collective procrastination with climate change and of course we can blame and we can point the finger and say either it’s the corporations or no, is the government or… And then the corporations turn around and say, no, it’s the individuals, the individuals need to do more. And it’s up to everyone and everyone’s pointing the finger at everybody else. But really, it’s a kind of collective procrastination, and I think it’s very directly linked to our emotional state. If we are not able, if we don’t find ways to face that fear, to face that despair and feeling of overwhelmed and not just, I don’t mean just face it intellectually, but I mean actually feel it, feel it in our bodies, in our hearts. And without being reckless, we don’t want to traumatize ourselves and just go into shock. But to have the skill and to learn how to feel without being overwhelmed, how to feel in a way that is able to embrace and to transform those feelings, and then they actually become the fuel for our action. So that’s I think, like one of the biggest things that I’ve experienced in this tradition. And what I feel I’ve received from Thay is this insight of the connection between the suffering and the transformation or the, you know, the liberation. And for me it’s very direct. It’s like as long as we keep finding ways to numb ourselves and, of course, that’s made easier and easier. I always think of like auto next, you know, auto next episode, auto play on YouTube or Netflix or whatever. It’s always going to be easier to follow the path of least resistance and just let the next episode play, you know, until you find yourself falling asleep at the screen having binge watched, I don’t know how many episodes of whatever it is, rather than to stop, to say ‘No’. To say ‘Stop’, because to say stop means that those feelings are then present, and that’s hard. So what I think is interesting is to start to learn that we actually have resources, we have ways to meet those feelings, we have ways to transform those feelings and to not be alone with them. And that’s, I think, the power also of our community: to find that we can be in that process of holding, of embracing the pain and the fear, and we can do it together.
Yes, so Brother Phap Huu, I wanted to ask you that – that’s a lovely segue – because as you were talking, what came up in my mind was once when I interviewed Thay, I asked him, I said, Thay, you know, why is it that when we have so much science, because there is a good purpose to science as well, when we have so much knowledge and understanding of the direction of travel and the fact that we’re heading towards potentially cataclysmic collapse, why is it that people aren’t responding? And he said very simply, said, ‘People don’t know how to deal with their individual suffering’. So how do you expect them to care for humanity of the Earth itself? And I remember Phap Huu, and so this is the question… because I wanted to ask Thay a question and I forgot to ask him, so I’m going to ask you, which is I was… I heard him say that and I sort of completely got it. And then I thought, coming back to your point, Phap Linh, that, you know, to someone who’s maybe a single parent, who’s living in a, you know, trying to bring up two kids with very little money who’s, you know… And of course, there are lots of people like that, but even people who have privileges, who are in proper families. But people live very busy lives. There’s 101 things to deal with. How do you expect people to sort of shift from this very, very busy life to suddenly, as you say, Phap Linh, stopping? I mean, it almost feels difficult to… How do people stop, Phap Huu?
First of all, come back to you inbreath and outbreath. That’s very basic, but that’s the fundamental practice in our tradition. If we want to stop, we also have to start to look at what is our priority of happiness. We all can have 1000 things to do, but like what brother Phap Linh mentioned, but if we look back at our life, which is not permanent – we’re of the nature of impermanence – and we start to really come home and ask ourselves these questions: How is my heart today? What are my impacts? Am I able to share something to someone that I truly love to let them know that I am here for them? Like, these are very simple questions, but in meditation, what we do, part of our practice is to reflect that, not on other people, but on ourselves. So if we start to see that oh, there are fundamental questions that I still haven’t looked at. Then it allows us to stop because that becomes important for us and the world that we live in today is so fast-paced, it’s like a huge vacuum that pushes us in one direction. I remember walking in Tokyo and our tradition is like wherever we go, we have one style of walking. That’s our deepest aspiration and that is walking meditation. And we were walking down the streets. We were a group of four monastics. And as we were walking, suddenly, we matched the pace of the people without even knowing that that is happening. And thankful to one of my sister, she stopped all of us and she said, ‘Brothers and sisters, we have become this fast-paced energy without even knowing. We should come back and take refuge in our steps again’. And for me, that experience really stayed with me because, like you said, we all have so many things to do. We have jobs, we have missions, we have projects to accomplish, but we can lose ourself in that. And what the practice allows us to do is to not lose ourself. And that starts by stopping. And this is so so important because even as a monk, we can fall into the realm of striving for something and then we’re not free. So a part of our deepest aspiration as monastics, and I think not just monastic, but for also lay people. I think for you too, Jo, is to become more free each day. And that is enlightenment: to be free from all attachment like we’re not striving to a happiness, but we enjoy the path because the path is happiness. And we have this notion that we have to accomplish to receive happiness, to arrive at success. But then we bypass all of these beautiful moments in the present moment. And I think this is when we start to coming back to the word being numb because we’re being numbed by this concept, these ideas. And I just want to give my two cents on this too, because even living in the community, which I have is one of my greatest honor and being surrounded by such love and such support. But I also have to be responsible for my individual connection, my individual practice, my individual aspiration, because I remember there was also a moment when I was really struggling on my path and I had a lot of questions I do. I like, Is this from me? Like, Do I want to finish my whole life as a monk? And and I was procrastinating on and on each day and the beauty of living in the community as we call this the Sangha I, meaning everyone sees each other and we start to identify and my brother or my sister is suffering and we try to to to find a skillful way to be there for them to support them. But because I was so numb by my own suffering, I didn’t allow their love to come in and I had a moment when I had a breakthrough. I started to recognize that I am the one pushing myself away from my brothers and sisters. And all they’re doing is saying, ‘Brother, I’m here for you. Would you like to have a cup of tea to share?’ And sometimes even our idea of support, we get caught in it because we think, ‘Oh, nobody understands me, my brothers, my sisters, they’re just trying to tell me to be mindful, quote unquote be happy’. But that is my deepest aspiration. But because of this feeling of aloneness and this feeling of like… And that for me is also being numb, like cutting yourself off from everyone. And that moment when I recognize that and I stop. Every time this thought came up of me trying to push myself away from everyone, I came back to my breath. I can connect it to my heart, and I said, ‘I need to allow these brothers and sisters, these friends into my life, let them support me’. And so sometimes I feel like we do have particular conditions. But if we know how to stop and really identify them and change our view, things can change, we have a new opportunity.
So that’s really interesting. So I wonder, Brother Phap Linh, I want to ask you a conundrum. Because, Brother Phap Huu, you talked about striving and about the importance of stopping and yet, you know, we have now entered what people are calling ‘the decisive decade’, that we have 10 years or actually nine years now because a decisive decade started a year ago, to turn this ship around. In other words, if we do not reduce our emissions, if we do not change the way we live our lives, if we do not sort of transform our economic system, et cetera, et cetera, then if we don’t do that within 10 years, then game over, then we hit uncontrollable change and irreversible change. So that is quite tough because if you just take on board, we’ve got 10 years and I see so many people who work in the environmental movement, sustainability, et cetera, et cetera, who are burning out because all they think is, ‘Oh my God, it’s so urgent. If we don’t act quickly now, then all is lost’. And you have people burning out, but actually what they’re doing is that they’re living exactly like the old system. Because you think what created the system? It was striving, it was competitive, it was fast-paced. And then you have the people trying to save, quote unquote, this planet, the civilization, but they’re acting in the same way. But what would you say to them, Phap Linh? We got a decade to turn it around. Everything’s slow, everyone’s procrastinating, these individuals feel ‘it’s my job to save the world’, you know? And yet they’re burning out. What’s your advice to them?
I would say ‘Dare to feel’. We have to have the courage to feel what we’re feeling and when we do that, then to take the time to take care of whatever it is, which is going to be to some extent, panic, right? I mean, that’s the feeling. The feeling is overwhelm is terror is panic is despair. And we need to have some courage to allow that feeling to be there. And I’m really talking about how that feels in your body right now as you’re listening to this, wherever you are, whether you got it on headphones or you’re in your kitchen or whatever it is that you’re doing, going for a walk or sitting down somewhere. Just take a moment to actually feel how you’re feeling in your body. Is it tight? Is it open? You know, are you… Do you feel your connection with the Earth? Do you feel some sense of pressure, of anxiety, of nervousness? Do you feel like there’s something that has to be done right away? Or do you feel actually free to do the things that you have to do in the day, in a peaceful way? And whatever feeling is there, we cultivate a spirit of non-judgment. So even if the feeling is of a kind of discomfort, of being pressured, of rushing, of stress, we want to actually instead of feeling like, ‘Oh, that’s a bad feeling to have, I shouldn’t have that feeling. I need to get rid of that feeling so that I can be peaceful and free’. That only creates more stress. So the first thing to do is to accept whatever feeling is there and to allow it to be there to say ‘Hello. Hello, my feeling, I know you’re there and I am here for you’. And it’s okay to be there, and you can be there as long as you want. And suddenly, you know, the feeling in your body, you may find if you can actually communicate like that with yourself, you may find already that there’s a transformation that already there’s a kind of relief of just like, ‘Oh, OK, I can just be like this. I can feel like this. It’s OK. I don’t need to be something other than what I am. I don’t need to feel something other than what I feel’. And that’s already very powerful. That’s actually a kind of self-therapy. You know, it’s self-soothing that we can do. And it’s not… you’re not wasting time, you know, it’s not like less important. It’s actually what gives you the freedom to be able to do what you have to do. Because mostly, you know, we have the information we know the science, we know what we have to do, we know what we have to not do. But that’s actually pretty clear, and there’s a very broad consensus on that. But why are we paralyzed? And for me – obviously, there can be different responses to this question – but for me, a big part of it is this inability or this fear of being with these genuinely overpowering, overwhelming, terrifying feelings. And there’s no judgment in that, because this is what I face too, like it’s genuinely hard. So, you know, I think when we look at the broader situation, we can identify three kind of broad categories of action that need to happen. So there’s obviously stopping greenhouse gas emissions or reducing and stopping reversing, so that’s called mitigation, right? And then there’s adaptation, which is adapting our infrastructure to deal with a disrupted climate, with increasing temperatures and so on. But the third part, which is increasingly, I think, being recognized as important and that’s what I think we’re really talking about today, is helping people to deal with the chronic stresses and the toxic stress and the trauma of the knowledge that we may be facing the end of our civilization. And that is intimately connected to mitigation and adaptation. We won’t do the mitigation and adaptation unless we take care of number three. And it’s not to say this is more important than that or this has to take priority. Obviously, we have to do everything, that’s part of the problem, right? We have to. There’s no question that we have to stop emissions and we have to, you know, prepare and do the adaptation that we need to do. But I think we shouldn’t underestimate and we shouldn’t forget the third part. And that’s where I think, you know, if you’re listening to this podcast today, you can kind of give yourself a moment to thank yourself and say, ‘Oh, there’s a connection between this thing that I’m doing now, which is actually taking care of myself, learning how to check in with my feelings, learning how to calm those feelings a little bit if they are difficult, you know, overwhelming feelings. I’m learning how to handle my fear. I’m learning how to face it. I am actually investing in this third part, which is a very real part of our collective strategy as humanity to transform the situation’. So, for me, it’s really, really important to paint that picture for people because sometimes, you know, I guess it’s a question, it’s like, ‘Do I have time to do my sitting meditation today? Do I have time to go for walking meditation? No, I have to answer my emails. No, I have to write this policy brief. No, I have to, you know, edit this essay for that collection that’s going to be published’. You know, whatever it is that we’re facing, whatever it is that we have to do, it’s very easy for other things to seem like a higher priority. But I think when we can remember that every single drop that we can put in the bucket of mindfulness is going to increase our zone of freedom, is going to increase our capacity to notice when a difficult feeling is arising in our body and mind, when anxiety is coming up, we’re going to see it coming. Do you have more time? You know, it’s not like it’s there and it’s pushing you and you’re acting without noticing what’s pushing you. You get to see it because you’ve put energy in a little bit, maybe five minutes, 10 minutes every day. You paid attention to your steps on the way to work. You know you made that commitment and you’ve invested. And when you do that, what happens is that in the difficult moments, you have that little bit of extra time, extra freedom and you notice that energy coming up, you see it coming and you can go, ‘I see you’. That’s mindfulness. That’s mindfulness saying hello, saying, ‘I see you coming, I know you’re my old friend and I don’t have to be pushed anymore, I’ve been pushed my whole life. All my ancestors have been pushed, my whole society’s been pushed and now I have the freedom. I have the power to say stop’. And that’s amazing. You know, stopping is not a small thing. It’s like there’s a freight train of habit coming down at you through the generations of no, no, just just do the next thing, because that’s more important. It’s very strong. So you have to have an equivalent or greater strength to be able to say no to be able to say stop. It’s a courageous act.
It’s an act of resistance.
And brother, you know, it’s very difficult in times of change because there are all these activists out there who have woken up, who are putting sometimes in the global south, they’re putting their lives at risk to save forests there, activists all over the world who are rising up, who have woken up and who are taking action. And what’s your advice to people who are sort of, you know, who look out in the world and see most people asleep and are trying to have their voice heard. It reminds me of the film The Matrix, where there’s someone who’s sort of joined the revolution and everyone in the revolution against the matrix is is leading this very harsh life. And one of them actually betrays them, and he meets the agent and they’re sitting at a dinner table and he’s eating a steak and drinking a glass of red wine. And he looks at it and he says, ‘I know this steak and this red wine are not real, but I would rather be here and believe they’re real than to live this difficult life’. So besides the stopping for all those people who are taking action and suffering because it they’re trying to help people wake up, well, what can they do? How can they almost be at peace rather than sort of… it can feel like a battle?
I think, you know, we all sometimes have the energy of judgment coming up, of thinking others are not doing enough and feeling like we’re doing a lot and wanting others to come on board. And maybe there’s frustration sometimes. Like, why don’t people just, you know, help out and join the struggle? And I think we have to be alert to that as well, and we have to be able to say hello to that too, you know, because that’s also a kind of friction on our own ability to continue. It’s actually one of the things that may contribute to a burnout if we start feeling that kind of negativity all the time, that kind of blaming, it’s not to say that it’s wrong in a sense, it’s like it may actually be true in the sense that other people are not doing enough. But the point is that we have to keep our sovereignty. We have to keep our peace, our freedom and to know when we’re being kind of colonized by that energy of judgment and hatred, and we have to know how to handle that, too. And then, what’s amazing is that when we are able to handle that and when we’re able to keep doing what we’re doing with a spirit of invitation, it’s kind of like when you do what you do with love, first of all, you don’t burn out, you know. When everything is motivated by love, you don’t burn out. And it’s inviting because you look like you’re having a good time. You know, you look happy, you look relaxed. Even though the work may be very hard, you know, and you may not sleep as much as you’d like, it’s not necessarily going to be all just a bed of roses, it’s going to be difficult. But when you know that everything is motivated by love and when you know how to take care of, yeah, the anger and the judgment and the frustration when it comes up as it will very naturally, you know how to recognize it, you see it and you go, ‘Oh, hello, my old friend, I’m here for you too’, you know? And you can listen to that part of yourself. See that it’s good, it’s also contributing, it’s trying to, in its way, protect you or, you know, it has a role to play. But, in a sense, we make a deeper choice. We say I’m not going to cultivate that, I’m not going to come from that spirit because, like you were saying before, that’s kind of part of the old paradigm. And that’s what I’m committed to, I’m committed to a new paradigm, which is a profound transformation, really just a different way to approach everything. And if you can realize that to whatever extent, you can realize that, it’s just more inviting for others. And in fact, you achieve the result that the anger wanted to achieve in a more powerful way.
Brother Phap Huu, I want to talk a bit about how people change their minds. And the reason that… I’d been attending the sort of Davos World Economic Forum for the last 10 years, most of those years, and the shift among all these leaders is that they say, actually, it’s not about just doing things differently, but we need to change our minds, we need to have a shift in our mindset. But they say that, but they very rarely achieve that because they say, yes, we need to change our minds, but they don’t really know how to change their minds because they’re so fixed into a straitjacket of a system, especially, you know, whether business leaders, political leaders, but people in all sorts of areas, they tend to be stuck in their tramway because we need this profound change in our views. Brother, can you talk… because one of the key sort of aspects of Buddhism is to have right view?
Yeah. First of all, we have to start learning to come back to oneself. That’s the most basic thing because if we don’t know how to come back to ourself and then we don’t even know what our views are and we might be living with someone else’s view. I think, for a lot of us who became monastic, that was a big shift when we came to the community retreat and we started to see, ‘Wow, there’s another way of living? There’s another way of of talking? There’s another way of interacting? People are smiling here?’ Like, you know, like outside if somebody is like smiling to you, you’d be like, ‘Dude, don’t look at me like that?’ Right? But then when you come to an environment where this is not just a teaching, this is a reality, that change starts by the human body, by the environment, and then it would change in the view. So I feel this is really important. So this is why I am here in Plum Village is because it’s not just the teaching, it’s the living. And that is so important. And I think this is where our teacher and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh had a very big impact, which was he saw that the way of life is to be more compassionate, be more loving, meaning to have more understanding. And through this energy of compassion and understanding, he was able to move forward to teaching the way. And he met so many obstacles on the path too. And I’m sure he had moments of anger, moments of frustration, but he trusts in the ability of awaken nature in everyone. And nothing is lost when you are moving forward with that energy. So I see that to change the view is to be mindful of your mind. What comes up in your daily life? So there’s meditation is… there’s a whole spectrum to it and there’s many ways of practicing. And for us, you know, fundamentally, we always connect to our breathing because our breathing is a very clear bridge that can help bring our mind home to the body. But there are moments in your meditation you can practice like you’re sitting at the bank of the river. Your mind is like a river is going to flow into many directions. And sometimes you have to start looking at your own mind. What is it that comes up in your mind? You start to see patterns. If you are someone who is caught up in power, you’re going to see that your mind’s going to start thinking and try to manipulate situations. How can I gain my power? You have to identify that. And this is where the practice of meditation becomes also challenging. Because it starts, you start to see yourself more clearly. But like Thay Phap Linh has shared, is like, be brave to feel your feeling. And here it is, also, be brave to see what your mind is producing. But then once you see what your mind is producing, you see the roots of it. And this is the Four Noble Truths of Buddhism to only change and to have transformation as you have to come to the root of it. So then you start to look at how you live your life. What is it that I’m doing that nourishes this view? And if you see the root of it, then you see a way out of it. But seeing is not enough, which is to Four Noble Truths, which is harder is now you have to walk the path, you have to change your way of living. And this is for me, this is where real transformation happens. And we talk about global scale, but in the dharma, we always say ‘peace in oneself, peace in the world’. And it means that if we want to achieve transformation outside, we need to start with ourself. And this is so important because our action can become the teacher, our action can become the leading. And we live in a place, in a world that information is very accessible now, and this is our blessing. Thanks to the internet, thanks to social media, etc. and so many different platforms. But we can also be addicted to just views. Because I can talk about it with you too, but then, like Thay Phap Ling said, but then after this podcast, let’s say, if we go out and we are doing things, buying things that are not needed and we start to accumulate and harm the Earth, then there’s no change, then we would just be an empty vessel. And for me, what is more important is to have the feeling of transformation in the here and now. And I think this is also so powerful in Thay’s teaching is that when we learn to come back to the present moment, we see that the past is here and the future is here. So if you don’t start changing in this very moment, we’re always going to be waiting. And so I think this is very important to change the view is learning to come home, see what manifests in our daily life in our view. What are the roots of it? Do we want to keep nourishing this? That’s the question we have to ask. And you know what? Sometimes we’re going to find ourselves saying yes, because that feeds our ego, that feeds our pride, that feeds our comfort. And the real change is when we see that this pleasure is not real happiness. That’s also when change can happen.
So, brother, it’s very interesting you say that because as you were talking, what it may help me to crystallize in my mind was, you know, in all the years I’ve been in Davos, for instance, I’ve never seen someone be truly vulnerable and I’ve never seen any world leader, any business leader talk about problems they were having at home with their family. It’s like everyone was talking about changing their mind, but everyone was stuck in their role and everyone was fearful of coming out of their role. And until we come out of our role and until we show our vulnerability and open our heart and pull off the armor, then actually we remain part of the problem. And also, you picked up around competition, Brother Phap Linh, I’d like to ask you about individualism and competition because obviously I think that’s at the root of the problem we’ve got too. And again, I remember when, and I think you were probably both there when Thich Nhat Hanh came to the Houses of Parliament. And he gave a speech to MPs and members of the House of Lords. And I remember one member of the House of Lords said, ‘Well, Thay, you know, the UK political system is, by nature, conflictual. We sit opposite each other, we argue against each other. We’re always trying to point out what’s wrong with each other. What do you think of that?’ And I remember Thay looked at him and he just said after what seemed like an age, but was probably only a few seconds, that ‘Does it make you happy?’. And I always remember that was a really profound moment because it was so outside of the normal conversation. And it feels like increasingly we need to be outside of the normal conversation, not about how do we make people feel less of an… It can’t be by degree, it has to be like to shock people almost out of their current thinking. But Brother Phap Linh, can you talk a bit about, you know, the cult of individualism? I mean, this is rather recent in human history. And also how we move beyond that. And then maybe after that, we can talk about Plum Village as a community, and it may be an example of a different way of living. But can you shed some light on?
Yeah. Thank you for that question. I think it really is one of the most important things for us to examine and to see how do we bring transformation at this level, at the personal and the collective level? Because, in a sense, we know intellectually, we know that we live in a profoundly interdependent world, that everything depends on everything else. And that the only way to change the system or the situation is to kind of adopt that new vision, that new understanding and this change is happening in biology, is happening in economics, it’s happening in social theory and political theory. Everybody is starting to see more aspects of this interdependence. And in a way, we get it, especially if we’re practitioners, we can, yeah, yeah. yeah, sure: interbeing, interdependence, right? I’m down with all of that. But when we look at our actual behavior, our day to day actions, we may still be, uh, to some extent caught in the habits of the old paradigm. So when you talk about… I liked your question to Thay Phap Huu before as well about like, how do we change our view? Because ultimately that’s what it is. It’s a whole belief system, it’s a whole view of what is the nature of reality? Are we individuals? Are we selfish? Does altruism really exist? Can we be good people? Are there such things as Bodhisattvas and saints? Or is that just all kind of trickery and fakery? You know, is it really possible to transform this kind of self-interest that we all have, of course, to take care of our own needs? And do I have enough food security, emotional, you know, support, comfort? Do I take care of my loved ones first to my family and kind of like, you know, hope for the best for everyone else. But, you know, when it comes down to it, it’s number one, you know, number one is first. Like, we know that if we’re going to make this big transformation, we’re going to have to deal with these kinds of beliefs. And intellectually, we get it. Intellectually, we are most probably many of us already on board. But when we look at our habits, maybe we don’t see the transformation yet. So that’s when it gets… it’s kind of when the rubber hits the road of the practice is like, how do we make that shift? And, you know, Thay Phap Huu has given a really beautiful answer along those lines already. And I think a part of that when we start to see, OK, let me identify. So first, I’ve identified the OK, I am still acting to some extent from the paradigm of individualism. I am still mainly concerned with number one, you know, maybe my immediate circle of loved ones. But ultimately, when it comes down to it, I’m kind of like, OK, am I going to have enough? Am I going to have enough? And can I have more? Of whatever it is. And so we have to ask ourselves, ‘OK, well, what are the roots? What are the roots of that way of understanding reality?’ And then if I can identify the roots of it, I can identify what is… How am I feeding that view? What is the source of nourishment? And that’s where you can make a change. If you can stop the source of nourishment that’s coming into your life, that’s feeding that view and that belief, then you can start to move into the new way of seeing the new way of seeing yourself, the new way of conceiving of what is a human being as an independent, interdependent, interbeing reality, interconnected, you know, like a community being not a… not just a separate cut off reality. So, so that’s my question: What are the roots? What are the things that are feeding that? So I’m really interested in stories. I think we are still in the grip of some very, very powerful collective stories, kind of cultural narratives that are perpetuated even though many of them we don’t believe in anymore. But the transformation hasn’t reached all the way into, for example, film, media, novels. So most of the novels you read, most of the superhero films you watch or any other kind of film, they’ll still be in that world of individualism or even good against evil, of kind of competition at some level. So we haven’t yet started telling these new stories. So in order to do that, we have to identify, well, OK, so what are the elements of these old stories that we’re that we keep retelling? So I’m really interested in this question. So one for me is the kind of nature, red in tooth and claw. You know, that’s, in a way, it relates to the selfish gene theory and this kind of idea that science tells us, you know, through evolutionary theory that basically everything at the base depends on competition. And ultimately that’s what we’re all about. Like, if you really look deep into your own heart, what you’ll find is that you’re just a machine, biological machine that exists to reproduce. And you’ll do anything ultimately to guarantee your own continuation into the future and to secure that and to protect that. Well, that’s the question. Is that actually true? Like what’s the actual evidence for that? And that’s where it gets really interesting because I remember reading Richard Dawkins aged 15 and being terrified by it because I thought, ‘Well, OK, this is what science is telling us. Science is telling us that any altruism that I feel is just a kind of trick. It’s a trick to get status in the group, to be more attractive to a potential mate, and ultimately, it’s still just about selfishness and trying to reproduce’. And I thought, ‘Wow, if that’s true, that’s a very bleak picture of reality’. And what I want to emphasize is like how prevalent that story is, consciously or unconsciously, we’re still living with that. And it and it manifests in all kinds of ways. That has very profoundly shaped the roots of our current economic thinking. You know, that we’re all considered in current economic thinking to be rational actors, which basically means everybody’s out for themselves, looking after their own interests, and so we actually base all of our economic theory on that assumption. But it’s wrong. And that’s the amazing thing that science, the modern science, is now telling us that that’s, even from the point of view of evolutionary thinking, that’s not true. So now we talk about multi-level selection theory. It’s a little bit technical, but it basically means that we don’t only evolve as individuals in competition with other individuals. We can also evolve as groups, as communities. And humanity, humans, are a profoundly, you know, social communitarian species. And so we have evolved many, many ways, in fact, many probably more important than the competitive side of us is the cooperative side of us. But we’re not telling that story yet, and we need to tell that new story. We need to tell the story of ourselves as communities, as communities of love, of cooperation, of brotherhood and sisterhood. And this isn’t just fantasy. This is not just made up because it sounds nice. It’s actually what we are. That’s maybe more important than the competitive part of us. But then that story we need to tell. Let that story penetrate through into our fiction, into film, into novels, into music, into songs, you know, everywhere. We need to be retelling this new narrative and luckily, I think that is starting to happen, but we can all contribute to that. We can all sort of research, study it, look into a little bit more and start to notice, like when are we being manipulated by these old stories. Like a really strong one, I think, is this idea of the Tragedy of the Commons. It’s like a cultural meme or even a scientific meme. It’s an article that was published in, I think, the Sixties, 1966, I think, and with that title, The Tragedy of the Commons. And it’s one of the most cited scientific papers ever, and it’s still cited now, even though what we now realize is that it was based on no evidence. It’s incredible, like when you actually look into it. So what is it about? It says essentially that land held in common will be destroyed. Any resources held in common without private ownership, without being divided up into, you know, private property will be wasted, will be destroyed so that sort of story goes that in the past, in the Middle Ages, all British towns had a common, like a green in the middle, where anybody could go and graze their cattle or their sheep or whatever, and it was open to everyone. Nobody owned it. It was owned collectively. And in the paper, it’s sort of like he paints this picture where he says, well, rationally, every cattle herder would just think, ‘Well, I can increase my flock, you know, I’ll just get another cow’. And then because everybody will do that, suddenly, you know, there won’t be enough and will destroy the Commons. But he just made it up. That isn’t actually what happens. That’s the amazing thing. So we really urgently need to change these stories that we’re telling. Check the evidence. And luckily, there are people who are doing this. So Elinor Ostrom won the Nobel Prize for Economics in 2009 because the research she did into this question where she actually said, ‘Well, no, hang on, let’s have a real look at the evidence. Let’s look at all the cultures in the world where they are able to have property, you know, held in common with no private ownership. And let’s check, like, can they manage it effectively?’ And the answer is yes, first of all, in many cases. And then she said, ‘Well, how are they doing that? Like, what are the principles that they have in place that allow them to effectively manage the Commons without destroying their environment and without the need for breaking it up into pieces?’ And so this is important because it still governs, you know, current policy. Like right now there are areas of Canada that are being privatized and broken up because of this belief, this ancient belief, which is based on no evidence. It’s just incredible how strong it is. I remember being in university and hearing this again and again, ‘oh, the Tragedy of the Commons, Tragedy of the Commons’, to the point where I just thought it was true. I thought, ‘Oh, wow, what a pity’. You know, we just, you know, unfortunately, we can’t share. That’s what it means ultimately, we’re just not able to share and we’ll always end up fighting. But that’s not true. So we need to find lots and lots of examples and start telling each other, start reminding each other, start showing each other. No, look, like here in Plum Village, like you were saying, this amazing example. Like none of us own a car or none of us have a separate bank account. You know, pretty much everything we have is is freely shared and it’s beautiful. It’s amazing. It’s an amazing way to live and it’s totally possible. So let’s find these new stories that start turning them into lots and lots of different ways. And so then when we do that, tying it all back together, it’s like identify the roots of the old views, see what is nourishing them in terms of the media that we consume. What are the news stories? What are the fiction stories? What are the conversations that we’re having? What are the things that we’re taking in that are reinforcing constantly these old views and stop or limit? You can’t go on a diet, it kind of media diet. Can I find better sources of information? Can I find sources of information where these news stories of cooperation, collaboration, kindness, altruism and love are being told? Can I nourish myself with that? Then my view will start to change because I’m taking in different food. Then you change your mind, you know, then you start contributing to that change by telling those stories. You know, it spreads beyond you and then maybe you change your environment, you change your way of living because you have faith that this new way of living is possible, and then we come together as groups and we organize ourselves and we learn like, OK, how practically do we do that? How do we create a community? What are the principles? This is not a problem that hasn’t been solved. This is a problem with solutions.
Brother Phap Huu, Brother Phap Linh says Plum Village is maybe a good example of that, and I want to ask you a couple of things around that. One is about what are the principles that have allowed Plum Village to succeed? So if we say that we want to move from individualism to more community, what are the basic tenets of success? But first of all, maybe, if you come to Plum Village for the first time it can look quite boring. I mean, compared with this sort of world outside, which is full of exciting jet off on holiday, you can go to the movies, you can go nightclubbing, you can go out for a nice steak and chips… Oh, actually I shouldn’t be talking about that. But you know, go down a pub and have a few pints and go home and watch Netflix and et cetera, et cetera. I mean, it looks very exciting and it’s very diverse, and you can keep doing new things. Then you come to Plum Village and you know, you tend to do the same things and it’s, you know, you’re not engaged in that. Is it boring, brother? Or is it just that it’s coming with a different view?
It’s definitely a perception, and I have to say my life is not boring. Humans, we all have our own stories, we all have our experiences and living together is so enriching. You know, I only finished middle school and after that I didn’t go to high school, I didn’t go to university. But everything I’ve learned is by living in this community. We can also say that Plum Village, for me, speaking personally, has been my education also, my upbringing. And through all of this experience that I lived in this diverse community, it has given me so much flavor and it is not boring at all. We sing. We learn different cultures. We get to eat all interesting meals because each of us come from a different mother, a different grandmother with different recipes. I’ve learned new ways of speaking, new ways of telling a story, I’ve learned about different behavior, what that means in this culture, what it means in our culture. And then also another aspect, because I became a monk, was learning this beautiful tradition, this beautiful monastic tradition, which goes way back to 2600 years. And we are an evolving community, we’re an organism that is living. We’re not statues, so we all have life, we have joy, we have happiness and we have suffering. So, you know, just speak and say, ‘No, my life is not boring’. If anything, sometimes there’s too many things going on and I’m just like, ‘Wait, what am I doing as a monk? Shouldn’t I be just like looking at a tree, you know? But here we are. And also because the direction of our community, which is engagement, which is how having hundreds and thousands of people come throughout the year, especially before the pandemic and at one stage after this pandemic, people coming, bringing life, bringing the world here educates us also. You know, when listen to people’s stories, that also gives me insight knowing what suffering is, and therefore, because I’ve learned from that, that means I don’t have to suffer like that because I’ve seen a different way. And so that is also very entertaining. So yes, we don’t watch like Netflix and movies like, I guess, like every day like people. But from time to time, our community, we do watch very wholesome movies or documentaries and things like that, too, to keep us also engaged with what is happening in the world. So we have done many workshops on the climate. Yesterday, we just had a workshop on the LGBTQ Plus community for us to continue to learn, evolve. So we’re very rich in a way. And I feel like in the community, because community is made up of people, and what is it that makes us have more fun is people, right? Because you go clubbing to be with people. But here we party, but we party with tea. So we’re all very sober. We’re all very present. So you’re not going to do something really stupid and embarrassing, so you’re going to be very alive. And Jo, you’ve experienced a Lunar New Year celebration here, right? It is with these monastics, lay friends in the Dharma. Wasn’t it fun? Like the amount of like interaction and et cetera.
I think the thing that it adds the flavor, adds in, particularly for me, is intimacy. Because I think with all these entertainments, things to do in the world, there are things that might excite our mind in that moment, but often at the end of it, it leaves us feeling empty. Whereas I feel here there’s a deep intimacy that really I feel, like you talk about tea, it’s like infuses who I am. And it allows me to see myself more deeply because it’s more real.
And that’s why this podcast is called The Way Out Is In, because the whole purpose is to say not to look for the answer out, because that’s never the answer, it’s an avoidance. And here, it may on the surface, look boring, but the truth is it allows us to take that extraordinary journey into ourselves and into life, you know. And it feels like that is the new adventure. You know, people in the 16th century used to getting on a small boat and go to the far horizons to search for new lands. And I think we’re here looking for new lands. It feels like an adventure, but adventure going in rather an adventure getting out. So, yeah, and it’s not an intimate but is joyful. And I think that’s the other thing, that often outside these things you can do they’re momentary, but they’re like a firework display in the night sky. They look beautiful, but after 20 minutes, it goes dark again, whereas here it feels that the joy here is lasting.
It has a big impact. Yes. So coming back to our community, one of your question is what are some of the principles? So this is not a Plum Village, it wasn’t born from the Plum Village community, but we have changed the language a little bit. So in Buddhism, you hear about the Six Harmonies, and this comes from the time of the Buddha and his community. And in the Six Harmonies is what really keeps us really united and also keeps us on the same line, meaning that in the community, I do feel a direction is very important. And that direction gives energy. A right direction, which is a right view, will be very encouraging, and it gives us energy to move forward. And if there’s no direction, then at one point we’re all going to be so lost and then chaos can happen. If everybody has different views, then there’s no harmony. So the first harmony is learning to live together physically in harmony. We all live in a monastery under one big umbrella, and we all have to know how to live together. So in Plum Village, compassion is one of our foundation, so we all learn to eat vegetarian. So Jo, if you come here, you want to eat a steak, you know, I will ask you to please leave the Upper Hamlet property and you can have your steak somewhere else. But in Plum Village that’s one of the harmonies, and we learn to respect this direction. It brings us… it cultivates our aspiration. So learning to be in harmony with each other by our daily action. And we have mindfulness trainings. So for monastics, for monks, we have many precepts that help us stay in line with our deepest aspiration. That’s what the precept is, it helps us stay with our aspiration because our habits, some of us lived in the world much longer, so we have a lot of worthy habits and it needs signs to say, ‘Hey, hey, don’t do that, that goes against your aspiration’. And then for the lay community, we also have like the 40 mindfulness trainings which you have undertaken, as well as the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and those are very fundamental guidelines that keeps our community in harmony when we live together. The second is we learn to share resources. Like what Thay Phap Linh shared is that we don’t have a personal bank account, we don’t have a personal car, none of these houses is under any of our names. And this is the insight of Buddhism, which is like we’re here, we’re present, but we’re all connected. And nothing actually belongs to you because one day you’re not here anymore. And where does that go? Right. So by living in this spirit, it also carries the teaching and then the intention of wanting to protect Mother Earth. We have seen that by living together and by sharing we would do so much. Is this idea that I want my own car. Thay Phap Linh wants his own car. Jo, you want your own car. Then suddenly, if that’s the case, we won’t even have space for you. Our monastery will just be a parking lot for all of the monks and all of the nuns and all the lay friends, right? But you break free from that idea that by traveling, you can travel together and it’s actually much more fun and we share materials. This is a real practice, not just by eating together, but even when, like a brother, he receives a package, a care package from his family, we are taught to learned to share that with one another. And that’s a very basic human kindness. But we forget about that because of our greed. But when you do it, and I think there is actually science proof that when you share, you’re more happy and this becomes a reality. So whenever I receive a package from my family or even from Jo and you, Paz, when you give us some gifts like, ‘Oh, this is my chocolate, I’m going to eat it alone in a corner’. Of course I can do that, but that’s not happiness when I actually I can bring it to a table with other friends and I can say, ‘Hey, this was love from our two dear friends. Let’s enjoy it together’. And you see that other people enjoy it. That becomes your joy. So you learn to share not just material. You learn to share people’s happiness. You learn to share people’s suffering. And suffering here doesn’t mean you suffer, Jo, and I have to suffer with you. But I suffer, I know you suffer, and I want to support you. So we’re slowly breaking barriers of individualism, and this is a practice. And like what Thay Phap Linh shared… When he was sharing, I was reflecting and just seeing, yeah, I still have a lot of habits that goes toward that story of individualism: I want to be the hero… And one of the cool things about Plum Village monastic training, and this is very important for us in the spiritual world, is that as we grow in our path, we we start to develop some kind of power, some kind of authority. And if we can get sidetracked and lost in this. But one of the beauty here is we teach together. There is no… Many people have asked me, ‘So after Thay passes, our teacher, who’s the next Thich Nhat Hanh?’ I said ‘Nobody’. Thay has told us very clearly the continuation of Thay is the community. So each and every one of us will be his continuation. Each and every one of us will share this responsibility, and that’s the power of community. And today I can give the dharma talk, but tomorrow Thay Phap Linh. The next day it is another sister, etc. So we share this responsibility that also protects our ego and that protects our arrogance. And what I love about it is like after, you know, I give a dharma talk for, let’s say, the community – it could be a big community, it can be a small community – but after that, I join the community in walking meditation, I join the community in eating together. And there’s this image that we have in Plum Village, it says ‘Learn to go as a river, be a drop of water in the river and don’t be that oil, that drop of oil that doesn’t penetrate into it’. So all of our activities is directed towards that spirit. But we have to be reminded of this because our habits are strong. These stories that we have accumulated from past centuries, ph, not centuries, past years, decades are in each and every one of us. Sometimes I recognize my own ambition: If I accomplish that, what do I get? But then when you see, when we accomplish it together as a community, we all benefit. So that’s sharing. And then we have the ethics of sharing the same principle, which I talk about the mindfulness trainings, how to conduct ourselves in a way of life. If not, then it becomes like a circus, like anybody can do whatever they want. Then there’s no harmony and there’s no spirit of going in one direction. So this doesn’t mean that we don’t allow you to have like openness and things like that, but there are some guidelines that help us to make sure that we’re not being sidetracked. This one is really important, it’s sharing insights and views. We all have views, we all have ideas and we learn to share it and we grow with it together. And sometimes insight and views can change, and that helps us to grow. And we have a lot of meetings, we have a lot of sharing, and we learn to also let go of our views. We’ve been talking a lot about views because sometimes our views can be the the obstacle to happiness. So we learn to be in harmony, we learn to listen. That’s so important. We have to learn to listen. And the fifth one is sharing from the heart, meaning we want to communicate. Communication is a way of life and connection, right? We all want to be connected and our speech is such a bridge and we all learn to cultivate loving speech here. We learn to speak the truth, but there’s a way of speaking the truth that is not harmful and decisive and discriminating. There’s always a way of showing suffering, but in a different way. And there’s a way of sharing our appreciation with gratitude, then looking for people to feed their ego…
Yeah, you’re not just pumping them up…
We’re not just pumping them up, but this is a real connection. I’m so grateful for that. And when is done from the heart is very different than you’re just bluffing or the other languages, you’re not kiss asses, right? Ass kissing, right? Sorry.
You want that edited out, brother?
No, let’s keep that. And the last one is harmony of thoughts. We have to learn to listen to one another, to learn to be open to one another. And this is a real training and we’re all still doing it. And one thing to also be reminded is that we’re not looking for perfection. Plum Village is not perfect. We all have our flaws. We are still growing. We’re still evolving. We’re going to have many more mistakes that we’re going to… that’s going to present itself, and we have enough courage to look at it and say, ‘Wow, that was wrong’. And then let’s transform it. Let’s change it. And that is a very strong view. But that’s a very important insight to have that. We’re not a perfect community.
Yeah. And I think, you know, if as you’re listening to this, you’re wondering like, OK, this is all very well, but you know, I got to go back to my cubicle, I have to go back to my work. And, you know, where am I going to find community in my life? I think so, OK, I would make a suggestion: so one thing that we now know is that a sense of community develops around a shared vision or a shared aspiration. So how do we create that shared vision on that shared aspiration? Well, the first thing is just to get together and to talk about it. So even as a company or in your team, or even as a family, as a school, as a classroom, whatever groups that you’re part of and it can be multiple… we all belong to multiple different groups, we could organize a time to sit down together and say, ‘OK, well, let’s hear. So for each of us, what is the most important thing? What are our most important values and can we identify from all of those values something shared, a collective vision or aspiration?’ And then we make a kind of commitment to that, you know, to helping each other to realize that. And that’s very powerful. We really can kind of come together around that. And it can just feel very good. We feel less isolated, we feel more connected to each other. And what I love about this new kind of vision of how we can be together, how we can understand ourselves, our interconnected selves, is that there’s still space for individuality. It doesn’t mean that we all just become photocopies of each other, and it’s all just conformity and, you know, walking in step. That’s the amazing thing. So if, for example, you know, when you hear, I remember when I first encountered Plum Village and I heard about the The Five Mindfulness Trainings, The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, the 250 Precepts of the Big Shoes, I was kind of like, ‘Oh my goodness, that just sounds like totally regimented conformity, you know, there’s not going to be any space in that’. But what’s amazing is that when I look at my brothers, and we have 250 precepts, right? But we’re all so different. We’re so diverse. You know, I might not even share affinities, necessarily with a brother. We might have totally different interests and yet I can look at him and say, ‘Wow, I know that we have this deep agreement around our ethical principles that we share fundamentally, this sense of what it is that we want to cultivate in this life? What is important? What are the things that we’re going to do? What are the things that we’re not going to do?’ And that’s amazing because I can feel completely connected to somebody that in fact, otherwise I might not share much affinity with, you know, we just don’t maybe not have the same interests or hobbies or, you know, things that we want to study or investigate. But we still share that. And what I want to say is just there’s so much freedom, like when I can look at somebody and know, OK, we are practicing the same precepts, we’re cultivating the same kind of ethics. Then I feel that it’s like automatic connection. It’s very freeing, actually. And then I can allow that person to be themselves and they can allow me to be myself. But we can still feel connected without having to be identical.
So, brothers, just finally, you know, what’s on my mind is this sort of sense of there’s always an opportunity in difficult times. In fact, there’s only an opportunity in difficult time and difficult times. The only time there’s an opportunity because of course, I remember my dad wrote me a letter and said, ‘You know, life is not about handing.. not for me to hand you rose, but to hand you an onion that you peel every layer and you cry’. You know, it’s like we find ourselves through suffering. And it’s the suffering we go through in order to find the joy. We can’t bypass the suffering. So can you, Brother Phap Linh, maybe first talk about the opportunity there is now because at the moment they say ‘it’s darkest just before the dawn’, and we seem to be at this crossroads where if we don’t have what Thay would call a collective awakening, we are very, very likely and Thay talks about it, and we all talked about it before most people do, but now it’s become almost established understanding that we are heading for a catastrophe that is even if we can intellectually think about it, now is unimaginable in terms of the suffering it will create. And there’s this opportunity that this time will turbocharge this change into this new paradigm. So I don’t really know what my question is, Brother Phap Linh, but one aspect of it is, have you sat with collapse? And is it possible to sit with collapse? Because the pain and suffering will be so extreme that we can’t even begin to understand what that would look like. And also have you sat with the new paradigm being part of this world and part of the mainstream?
So the answer is yes and yes.
I suspected so.
And you know, the notion of the collapse, I feel like I’ve been sitting there with that my whole life. From since a very, very young age, I was intensely aware that we cannot continue to live as we are living. I used to feel physically hurt by just seeing roads and cars and, you know, trees being cut down and the pollution of the environment and animals being killed. Even as a very, very small child, I was always kind of making trouble for my family trying to, you know, stop them from using the car or, you know, I would refuse to get in a boat if, you know, it was an engine boat with an engine instead of a punt or something, you know, or in a rowboat, I would make things very difficult for everyone. And I think that’s true for many people, especially now, people who are in their teens or in their 20s. And we’re all growing up with this knowledge. It’s right there, it’s right in our face, we’re all feeling it. And so, yeah, as a teenager and growing up in my 20s, I used to have dreams regularly of a kind of apocalypse, of a flood or fire or just kind of like it’s all going to come crashing down. And that kind of obsessed me for a while and I was like getting a little bit into the prepping as well. I remember like stocking up in my grandmother’s garage with, you know, food that would last for years and say, ‘We’ve got to be ready, you know, who knows when it’s going to come and you know?’.
One of the first survivalists.
I know, it was a little bit nuts. Maybe I read too much science fiction. And then as a practitioner, as a meditator, I started to see like, OK, so we all face old age, sickness, death and loss and separation, this is like one of the very basic contemplations of a Buddhist practitioner before remembrances. And the point is that that’s not morbid. It’s not like depressing to think about your own death, it’s energizing because it makes you realize the preciousness of this moment of what we have. Not just, you know, me, my body, my aspirations, my wishes, but each other. It makes you look around, you know, and you look into the eyes of your loved ones and you see, like, ‘Wow, they’re really there now. They’re there now’. And so how could I not treasure that knowing that it won’t always be so? You know, you look at a tree and you know that, well… I mean, I remember sitting in this hut with Thay, and he looked out and we have this beautiful view of the forest, and he pointed to it and he said: ‘In 20 years, is that still going to be a forest? Or will it be a supermarket?’ And I was just kind of frozen, you know, like, am I supposed to answer, am I supposed to say something? I don’t know what I’m supposed to do, but I was just looking at this beautiful view. And then he turned to me and he said, ‘It depends on you’. And that should give us energy because it means that we can still do something, it’s not too late. And so like when we look at our own death, it can give us energy and we treasure the preciousness of what we have. But also, when we look at the death of our civilization, the end of our civilization is the same. Because, of course, we know that it can happen, and ultimately it will happen, sooner or later, all civilizations come to an end. That’s just in the course of things, whether it’s in 100 years or a thousand years or a million years, who knows? But we have to kind of metabolize that, we have to let that in and sit with that and know that. And then it means that we start to treasure everything we still have, all the beauty in terms of our institutions, our art, our culture, each other, our communities. There’s so much that’s good in our society and in all our different cultures, in the multiculturalism, in the diversity. There’s just so much beauty and it’s so… Like when you know that can be lost, you want to save everything that you can and anything that you can save is saved. That’s the amazing thing. There’s this beautiful story about, you know, a girl walking along the beach and all the starfish have been washed up by the tide. And she starts, you know, she goes and she picks up one, and she throws it back in the sea, and then she picks up another one. She throws that one back and but there’s millions of them. And so her friend says, ‘Why do you bother? There’s no way you can’t save them all’. And she says, ‘Yeah, but I can save this one. I can save this one, and this one, and this one, and this one’. And we can do that too. There’s so much that we can save, you know? And so that’s what it means to me that contemplation. It’s not a morbid thing, it’s an energizing thing, it gives me energy. It motivates me. What was the other part of your question?
Well, whether you’ve sat with us being in the new paradigm we want to create.
That it actually exists. And we’re looking out at it.
Right, right. So what does that, what does that look like? Yes, that’s right. It’s to do with the insight of interbeing. Like we, again, like I said before, we get it intellectually, we get it, but I invite you to do a little exercise because I think we’re still stuck in the, yeah, this story of individuals: I’m me, you’re you, you’re outside of me, I’m outside of you. Ultimately, we’re separate. Yeah, so we’re kind of interdependent and we’re kind of interconnected. But really, when you get down to it, come on, you know, we’re separate. So I’m very interested in seeing how we can challenge that and starting to feel not just no, but to feel the interdependence. So I once asked a group, I’ve done this with several groups. It’s a very nice exercise. You sit there, you pair up and you ask, so one member of the pair is going to listen, the other one shares. And I asked the person who’s going to share to share the most inspiring and joyful thing that happened to them in the last week, thing that gave them the most joy and enthusiasm. And the job of the one who listens is to be completely indifferent. Not to feel anything. So the question is, are my feelings mine? Do I have feelings that are mine, that are separate? All right, so if that’s true, if I’m just me, then I could sit there, I can be completely blank and I will be untouched by your joy, your enthusiasm, your inspiration. So it’s an experiment. So you sit there and say, and you try to be completely blank, you try not to smile, you try not to let your eyes sparkle, you know, you just sit there and you say, ‘Yeah, whatever’. It is impossible. It’s completely impossible. I mean, it was a real revelation for this group that I did it with and they will shared and then we switched around and they tried to be different and I was like, ‘OK, so did it work? Could you sit there and be unmoved? And they’re like, ‘No, it’s just completely impossible’. So the point is that we feel each other’s feelings. So what we think of as mine, it’s not mine, it’s ours. When you have joy, I feel joy, I can’t help it. You know, when you suffer, part of me suffers too, you know. It’s everything that we think of as mine is not only mine, it’s both collective and individual. And that’s what we can start experiencing. And there’s lots of playful, creative ways that we can start to to share that, to teach that in schools to, you know, to get in touch with ourselves as meditators. That’s just one example. But yeah, I think it’s nice because it’s concrete, it’s something we can do and right away. Then why are you going to start to think about yourself in a different way? You’re going to start to see yourself in a different way. You can’t start to conceive of yourself as a different entity, a different phenomenon, one which is more like…. I like to think of having no edge. So we think of ourselves as being bounded by our skin. It’s like the edge of me is my skin. But if I can feel what you’re feeling, then that’s immediately obvious that my edge is not my skin, right? That you’re in me and I’m in you. It’s very concrete.
Thank you, brother. I love these sessions because I feel I come in as one person and I feel I always leave as a slightly different person. So, Brother Phap Linh, thank you for sharing your insights, and I feel you’ve been sort of working with this for so long, and so it’s lovely to be able to come in and synthesize that learning and to share it in such a clear and beautiful way. So thank you for joining us today. So, dear friends, we hope you have enjoyed this session as much as we’ve enjoyed it. You can hear all the other podcasts in the series. The Way Out Is In on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, on all other platforms that carry podcasts and also on the Plum Village App,
And this podcast was