Welcome to episode 42 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 time, the presenters – Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and journalist Jo Confino – discuss generosity. Together, they consider how to cultivate generosity in our ways of thinking, speaking, and acting, by looking at Buddhist teachings, Plum Village mindfulness trainings, and Thich Nhat Hanh’s applied wisdom.
And: what’s the best way to practice generosity? Does generosity come from intimacy or from proximity? What is nondiscriminatory generosity? Can we feel generosity for all the elements making up the Earth?
Brother Phap Huu shares the general meaning and importance of generosity in Buddhism, and in the Plum Village tradition in particular, and addresses gratitude for the simple things in life; the practice of non-self; generosity as a perpetual mindfulness training; generosity as presence; ever-growing love and compassion; mastering the practice of the smile; and community living as a lesson in generosity.
Jo shares a recent show of generosity from listeners of the podcast, and on the subjects of generosity in an individualistic culture; fake generosity; not knowing how to receive generosity; unconscious behaviors in parents; and connection and intimacy as essential aspects of generosity.
The episode ends with a short meditation on generosity guided by Brother Phap Huu.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
Dharma Talks: ‘Manas Consciousness, Teachings on Buddhist Psychology Retreat, 1997’
Dharma Talks: ‘The Face of Manas Revealed: Understanding a Hidden Aspect of Our Consciousness’
‘The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings’
Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha
Six Paramitas: Practices to Cross to the Other Shore (short teaching video by Thich Nhat Hanh)
The Way Out Is In: ‘Slow Down, Rest, and Heal: The Spirit of the Rains Retreat (Episode #7)’
‘The Five Mindfulness Trainings’
“No self means that we cannot exist by ourselves. If we remove all of the elements that are present in us, from the most fundamental – our parents, then our ancestors, then our spiritual ancestors, and then our conditions of life, which are food, sunshine, the blue sky, the rain, the air that we breathe – [then we see that] everything that is present supports us.”
“Manas is a layer in our consciousness which allows us to want to grasp, want to move on, and want to do, and is always looking for something outside of itself, never feeling fulfilled. And it creates many, many habits. Manas forgets that we cannot exist by ourselves. And it forgets that we have to rely on others.”
“In the practice of Buddhism, a true practitioner would actually become more caring for others, more caring for our environment, more caring for even the simplest things. Even the door of your house: you would want to open and close it mindfully so you can have gratitude for the simple things in life.”
“In the practice of Buddhism – which Thay taught in Plum Village with the language and the direction of applied Buddhism, engaged Buddhism – generosity is not only within the material wealth that we have or the material possessions that we’re able to give to others, but generosity is also learning to be present for those you love.”
“Generosity is a practice of openness, by seeing others outside of you as you. And that’s a very deep and profound practice.”
“Each day, a smile is a gift that we can offer.”
“Learn to smile to your past.”
“I think generosity is all about connection and intimacy; sitting here with you, I feel love and warmth towards you. Whereas if I’d never met you and we were doing this on the phone the most significant element would be missing.”
“Generosity is a practice, it’s not just giving, giving, giving. We can give, give, give, but that can become a habit and can become fake in the moment. And so, not losing oneself is also a practice of generosity.”
“Sometimes we have to learn to say no. It may be the most difficult thing, because there are so many requests coming in, and every request is to provide a spiritual practice, is to provide stability: teachings that can help people. But if you don’t know your limit, then you will not know how to love yourself. And you will also lose yourself in this, and therefore not become generous of oneself. So, in our generosity, there’s also a limit. We have to know our limit. We have to know how much we can give, as well as how much we want to give, so we can work towards that in order to be able to offer [it].”
Dear friends, welcome back to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In. I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.
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 going to be talking about generosity and how to cultivate it in our ways of thinking, speaking and acting.
The way out is in.
Hello, everyone. I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
Brother Phap Huu, we’re going to talk today about generosity. And if you remember when we were discussing what should we talk about today? And what came immediately to my mind was generosity. And the reason is that I recently came back with my wife… We were in New York for five weeks. And before we went, I put a photograph on Instagram just saying, I’m really excited to be coming back to New York. And out of the blue, I received a direct message from a woman in New York who I don’t know, saying, I love your podcast so much that I want to invite you and your wife to come and stay in our apartment when you’re in New York. And I just had never met her. Complete trust. We arrived. She put us up for two weeks and during that we got COVID and she attended to us so beautifully to the extent that every morning she would send up by text a menu of the morning so we could have scrambled eggs with toast, we could have a super green smoothie, we could have this or that. And at the end, when we left, I said, you’ve been a real teacher for me about generosity because you don’t know me, you had to offer real trust. You’ve been super generous. And I don’t think I would have done the same. And so it made me start to question what actually is generosity. And if I couldn’t be like her with that type of generosity, where… Am I generous? And what is the purpose of generosity? What can it do for us? So anyway, that was the sort of genesis of the thought for doing this podcast. So as usual, brother, I’m going to come straight to you to say, can you give us a sense of what is the meaning and importance of generosity in Buddhism in general, but also in the Plum Village tradition?
First of all, thank you, dear friend in New York for taking care of Jo and Paz, because when they came back to Plum Village, they are happy and fresh and we are continuing this podcast. Thanks to all the generous, thanks to all of the generosity of all of you listeners and supporters of this podcast. I want to start with generosity it has a nature of interbeing in it because generosity is caring for someone outside of us or caring for something outside of us. And if you’ve listened to this podcast, you know, we talk a lot about how to bring happiness to oneself, as well as how to bring happiness to others. And our practice in Buddhism is to touch the insight of no self in us. No self means that we cannot exist by ourself. If we start to remove all of the elements that are present in us from the very fundamental, which is our parents, then our ancestors, then our spiritual ancestors, and then our conditions of life, which is food, the sunshine, the blue sky, the rain, the air that we breathe in. So everything that is present is a support to us. But because we also have ego, or, in Buddhism, we call it Manas. And Manas is a layer in our consciousness which allows us to want to grasp, want to move on, and what to do, and is always looking for something outside of itself, never feeling fulfilled. And it creates many, many habits. And Manas forgets that we cannot exist by ourself. And it forgets that we have to rely on others. And so in the practice of Buddhism, if we are a true practitioner, we would actually become more caring for others, more caring for our environment, more caring for even the simplest thing. Even the door that you have at your house, you would want to open and close it mindfully so you can have gratitude to the simple things in life. So generosity is the practice of non-self, is the practice of love in all of these elements. And generosity is a very big practice in all Buddhist schools, in Plum Village, in our mindfulness trainings, especially the 14 mindfulness trainings, we have the 13th mindfulness training on generosity, as well as in the monastic training when we become a fully ordained monk, which is a bhikkhu or a fully ordained nun, a bhikkhuni, that literal translation of the word bhikkhu, it means beggar. Because when we commit ourselves to the life of a monk or a nun, we are determined to practice the way that allows us to enter into liberation, and allows us to cultivate insight that allows us to touch true freedom in us. And that means we have to let go of everything. And concretely, we have to let go of our career, our profession, our family, our belongings. And so, suddenly, we become beggars and we live on the generosity of people. And when the Buddha started his journey, he let go of everything. And he was looking for a different dress code when he started, and he was in the forest, and according to Old Path, White Cloud, which is one of my favorite books, a wonderful book that our teacher wrote, telling the story of the Buddha and making the Buddha human again. The Buddha was in the forest and he saw a monk, but actually it wasn’t a monk because it was a hunter who disguised himself in the robe of a monk, because the animal would think that it’s safe to be around this monk. And so the Buddha saw that this wasn’t correct. At that time it was only Siddhartha, he wasn’t yet the Buddha. And so Siddhartha traded his jewelry and his clothes to this hunter and then adorned himself in this very simple robe. And because of the form of letting go, it also supports that determination in the mind. So suddenly the Siddhartha was by himself practicing day and night in the forest. But once a day, we still need to feed ourself, so Siddhartha would go into the village and go house to house without discrimination and beg for food. And because in the nature of humanity there is love and there is care, it’s actually a very natural habit that we have, or I can say, the seed of love that is alive in all of us. And so when we see a beggar, especially someone who begs for the purpose of spiritual realization, and you, as a lay practitioner wouldn’t commit yourself to that, but still need those in the world who would devote their life to spirituality, you want to support them even by just the littlest amount you can offer, even if it’s just one spoon of rice or a piece of bread and so on. And so Siddhartha would every day practice like that one time and would eat one meal a day. And out of the generosity of the villagers, Siddhartha was able to have the condition to meditate, to look deeply, and touch liberation, and touch full awakening, and became the Buddha. And from that became our form in the monastic order. So the monastic would beg every day, like the Buddha’s time, but by time, when Buddhism continued to grow throughout Southeast Asia, it took many different forms and there were many different ways of offering and giving and receiving. When a monk receives, we also know that it doesn’t come for free because when we received something it comes from not only the love but the trust of the people. And when we have that realization, we don’t take for granted the food that we get or the shelter that we are provided with, or the simple robe that is being offered to us. It becomes a means and a motivation for us to wholeheartedly practice, to not disappoint all of the offering that is given to us. So it’s a two-way, it’s a reminder of the love that is there, and it’s also a motivation for us to practice wholeheartedly in order to offer back all of the love given to us. And generosity is a very safe space to work from, because in generosity we won’t be a victim of wealth and power, because our mind is always cultivating true love, which is love not just for oneself, but love for all. So generosity becomes a base for our spiritual practice. And it is something to be continued, to be cultivated in one individual. And all of us we can look and reflect on ourselves and to see how generous are we. And that is on the level of material, but in the practice of Buddhism, which later on Thay taught in Plum Village with the language and the direction of applied Buddhism, engage Buddhism, generosity is not only within the material wealth that we have or the material possessions that we’re able to give to others, but generosity is learning also to be present for those who you love.
In our times, especially with the holidays coming up, we are going to be encountering a lot of advertisement telling us how to love by giving. And this is a very skillful means for shops and for materials to be created and for riches to come into individuals. We’re going to be bombarded by this. And it tells us to love someone, you want to give them something in order to show your love. And sometimes when you receive it, it’s a way of expression of status also. But in the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Thay, generosity can also come by sharing our time together, sharing our true presence, sharing our time to have a deep conversation. That is generosity also. It is actually easier to give something, rather to spend time with someone. It is actually easier to buy you a gift rather than come and offer you a smile. Because we then encounter each other and encounter each other’s habits, each other’s difficulties, and then we start to feel maybe a little bit of… seeing our own shortcomings by knowing that we’re not able to give our true self to someone. During Thay’s Dharma talks, when Thay teaches on love, Thay would always tell this story, and it really stayed with me, because there was a businessman that came to Plum Village to practice and he later, after the retreats, and he would come again and again. And one time he told the story to Thay that one day he came home to his son and he realized that in two weeks it would be his son’s birthday. And out of habit he just comes up to his son and say, My dear, is almost your birthday. What is it that you want? Tell me anything and I will provide it for you. Just let me check this off my list as a duty of a father. But this time around, the son was a little bit silent, and after thinking, the son looked to his father in the eye and he said, I don’t need anything. All I want is you. And that story stayed with Thay. And Thay later on in the teaching, Thay said, If the father had had a deep practice, his father would breathe in and out, mindfully, establish himself in the present moment and look at his son in the eyes. And say, My dear, I am here for you right now. And not wait until the birthday to give that. But it is here and now, this generosity that we have to practice is such an important element in connection. And in the teachings of Buddhism, there’s also the teachings under Six Paramitas. And paramita means perfect understanding, perfect realization. And to have a perfect understanding, it will allow us to arrive at the other shore. And this is an image that is given to us in the school of Mahayana Buddhism, meaning that we are practicing to reach enlightenment, but Thay has translated it as crossing to the other shore. We have different paramitas practices and the first paramita is practicing generosity, offering, because we want to be able to touch interbeing in our daily life and we want to see that by having connection, by taking care of others, you actually become much richer. I had the greatest honor to be Thay’s attendant, and the first thing you trained is to think of your teacher, Thay, as you. You have to practice selflessness right away. If you can’t, you will be a very bad attendant because you won’t be attentive to the need of the teacher. You won’t know what he… how he walks, how he sits, how he drinks his cup of tea. And you can’t connect to that if you are not open. And so generosity is also a practice of openness by seeing others outside of you as you. And that’s a very, very deep and profound practice. And in our monastic training, and I would say in any community training, we have to practice this. You cannot establish a community if we don’t learn to care for others. And we, in Plum Village, we live with at least one to three roommates. And that practice is the practice of no-self. And once a year we would change roommates, so we get to live with someone else in our community. And that is a practice of generosity, that’s a practice of learning to open your heart. It is a practice of learning to care for your fellow brother, sister, friend. And it’s beautiful because the more you are generous, the more you will learn. And we have some set rules. For example, in the Upper Hamlet, all of our rooms have a tea area and that tea area becomes a little bit public. So none of us lock our doors in the monastery, in our personal rooms. And if I come to Brother Niem Thung’s room and none of the hosts are there, none of the roomies are there, but I see a piece of chocolate and it’s on that table, like, in principle, with quotation, I would be able to eat that and the brothers wouldn’t feel like I stole it from them or that there wasn’t permission because we established like a calm and common space in our own room where we can share everything. And the rule is like, if it’s there, is for everyone. If you want it for yourself, keep it in your shelf, beside your bed. And that’s a practice because we all have different levels of generosity and we’re not here to force everyone to be as open like that. But there are rules and we set kind of guidelines to help us become more generous. And once a year during this great room change day, we also have a space for communal letting go. And it’s a wonderful practice because when we change room, it’s also an opportunity not just to change roommates, but we’re also changing our way of life. So we get to look back at all of our possessions that we have. We may have accumulated way too many cups, way too many teapots, way too many notebooks, for example. And then, at that moment, we say, Oh, I have more than enough. And I would like to let this go. And some of the things that I have seen in the community have been rotating within the brothers rooms for years. So I had this tea tray that was offered to me by someone in Vietnam almost 15 years ago, and it is still in the monks residence and it is with a different brother today. Yeah.
So, brother, that is a great teaching on generosity. And within the monastery you have, you know, the broad teachings that help. And then you have the culture. And then you have the very specific practices. For a lot of people who are living sort of in, I was about to say, the real world. Of course, this may be, I think this is more the real world that outside. But in the busy world outside, people find it very difficult to be generous. And as you said, there are lots of pressures. So one pressure is time…
… to people. And we’ve done, we spent time on previous podcast too about busyness. Then when you’re busy and stressed, it’s very difficult to be generous. You talked about the culture, which is, you know, that it’s amassing, it’s individualism, it’s amassing things. And also there’s a lot of fake generosity. And as you were talking, one example came to mind. I remember many, many years ago hearing Emma Thompson, the actress, talking. She was at that time the ambassador of one of the big sort of charities. And she said, You know what? A lot of people who look as though they’re being generous and giving to charities, let’s say, to help starving children in Africa, she said, what they’re doing, they’re not actually being generous. They’re actually giving money to push the problem away. So actually they say, I’ve done my bit and now I can you know, I can put it out of my mind. I’ve done my help and now I don’t have to worry about it. And also, you know, you talked about the 13th mindfulness training in the Order of Interbeing. And one of the things it talks about there is that actually the cause of exploitation, social injustice, stealing, it actually comes from a lack of generosity, comes from saying, I want to dominate, I want to own things. And I sort of I understand that, brother, because in my childhood, you know, I felt I wasn’t really very, I didn’t feel I was very worthy. I was the youngest of six kids. I always had the hand-me-downs. I had very little money. I had very few possessions. And so, in a sense, I grew up wanting to grasp things. So you’ve talked a lot about sort of actually releasing that, you know, the beauty of life is to release things, to be generous, because if you’re generous, then actually you also develop generosity for yourself. It’s not one way. It goes both ways. If you’re truly generous, you truly receive that generosity back. But it’s so hard because, actually, there’s so many pressures saying, actually, it’s mine. I want it, I need it, I need a bigger one, I need another one. So I’m just wondering, you know, how would you say it’s best to practice generosity? How do we go from this sense of taking and wanting and grasping to a sense of real generosity? Because there’s so much, you know, there’s so much sacrifice often in generosity. It basically it looks generous, but actually people give because they want to take something. And so they then never receive the benefit of that. So actually, it just keeps on going round in circles of people pretending to be generous with each other, but actually, underneath, just wanting something from that. So how do we sort of turn that around?
The way out is in.
I haven’t heard that one before.
We… It’s very interesting what you said, because I’ve also encountered a lot of friends who have generosity, but sometimes they’re also seeking a lot of validation. And so in their generosity, there is also a lot of clinging to it. But I would speak as a monk and from the teachings. What you just shared in your example from your own childhood and so on, that is going inwards. That’s identifying where this grasping is coming from. And all of us, no matter from what status that we are coming from, there is a need of wanting to be loved. There’s a need of wanting to feel like I exist and to have that validation, to have that attention. And if we are, if we grew up not having a lot, which I also didn’t have a lot. You know, when my family first came to Canada, we were refugees. And when all of my father’s and mother’s relatives who came by boat, all were doing two jobs a day, finally had enough money, bought one house, one house with three stories, three floors. And I remember growing up in that house and we had about five families. Every room was a room to stay in. There’s no living room, there is no different rooms. But there was only a kitchen, a place to eat, and everything else was room for families. And we truly did learn to share everything. But at the same time, we were always practicing that I cannot wait to have a career to provide more for my family. And unfortunately, I became a monk, so…
It didn’t work with you.
Didn’t work out for me.
But what I am able to offer now is presence and stability in my own self. But coming back to my own experience, living in the Sangha has so many opportunities for practice because, like you said, it is the world, it touches all of the buttons in you. It touches all of the suffering that you go through. When we live in a community, we have brothers and sisters who come from very wealthy families, those who are very educated, those who are less educated, those who come from very poor families. And sometimes you really have to practice truly coming back to oneself and just identifying jealousy when it arises. Especially when we have family members come and they bring their son or their daughter a new jacket or something. And that is a practice for you. You have to practice to see that the love and the care that the family is providing for someone. And when the seed of jealousy arises, you have to practice just like recognizing your mindful inbreath and outbreath, you have to call your jealousy by his true name and identify, Oh, my inner child is feeling wounded. When he or she or they were young that child didn’t have a chance to have that jacket. And this is why the feeling is arising. And this practice of recognition, that is mindfulness. And that is also healing and transformation. Because when you can recognize it, call it by its name, embrace it, and start to talk to it, you know, say, okay, but now I’m a monk, I’m a nun. I don’t need so much. I have more than enough conditions to live, to be here and to talk to the wounded child within and share to it from a space of vulnerability, but love and tenderness, and saying, Oh, I know when we were young, we couldn’t, we never had enough for that computer. Because this was my example. I remember when one of my friends had a new computer that can connect to the Internet and play video games. I remember this so clearly, and we had a very old one that couldn’t run the latest games. And I suffered so much. And I would keep nagging my mother to get a new computer. And now thinking about it, like, I feel so much pain during that moment because my mother loved me so much, and my father, but they can barely provide. Right? Just having food on the table was like the bare minimum. But I remember just that, just that nagging and just that wanting grasping. And even though I remember, I never got it. But now, living in the community and living in the world that we are today, we have so much material wealth around with a lot of computers, a lot of equipment. From time to time, even though I have enough that want still manifests it’s because it has been a suffering of the past. And every time that it comes up, I do have to breathe with it, smile to it, and give it a chance to just be. But then we call it embracing it with the energy of mindfulness. Because with mindfulness you have your attention, you have your deep looking, and then you have other energies that you can invite, such as generosity is one of them. And telling yourself that it’s okay, I have more than enough now. I was very lucky by coming through this community at a very early age where I was taught without speaking how to care for others, because we live in a community where even if you come for a retreat, you’re invited to come to the service meditation, which is to offer, you know, you can have, you can put on this […] way, I pay for this. Why do I have to sweep the grounds? Why do I have to join the wash up team? Or join the toilet team. Or cut vegetables. I paid for this, this is my time. Right? But when you come to a community like this, actually, I don’t know for others, I’m sure it’s for some, it will manifest, but for myself that might never manifest it. And that was just more like, we’re all sharing this planet together. We’re all enjoying this space together and I want to be a part in caring for it. And so that generosity is brought out from the energy of the collective. And so I was embedded with this teaching just by being in retreats with the community. And suddenly when my family later on had more conditions in life, and especially when I became a monk, my mother and sister and father would send me care package from time to time. And in the care package would be like more socks, some chocolate bars, some tea and so on. And, you know, the first thing I always think about is I want to share this to my whole community, because without this community, I wouldn’t have this opportunity of transformation and I wouldn’t have this opportunity of growth. So the first intention is not even me, it’s like, others. But it started from already the practice of recognizing the wound within. So I think all of us we have a wounded child and maybe that child can have a mark of not having enough. And so whenever jealousy manifests and these different mental formations come up, even hatred, we might hate when we see others happy. And it’s because we never had that. And if we continue to let that mental formation stay and that becomes a negative energy, it will become our thought, our speech, and our action. So the practice of generosity is coming home to oneself and being generous with oneself in caring for oneself also. So in the Dharma realm, the practice of generosity begins with oneself. You have to come home to oneself, you have to meet your past, meet your wounded child and embrace it, take care of it, and offer it unconditional love. But this is a process, it’s not a one meditation session and it’s done. Even today, you know, these seeds from the past would come up and I got to practice again and again and again. And that’s why, for me, the practice or even enlightenment or paramitas, perfect realization, it’s a continuous cultivation. So generosity becomes a mindfulness training, and it becomes a compass for our life because it helps us grow deeper every day.
In all my experience in running or participating in workshops, I see that people find it much easier to be generous to other people than themselves. That often people don’t feel there worthy, they don’t feel they deserve it. They feel there’s something wrong with them. And so when actually someone’s generous to them, they find it very, very difficult to receive it. And what you said is absolutely true. And I think Thay gives the example of if you have a bowl and it’s empty of water, then you can’t give anything. But if it’s naturally overflowing, if you come home to yourself, if you’re generous to yourself, if you build your own love for oneself, then naturally you can then naturally be generous and loving to others. But if you don’t love yourself and you don’t feel you’re worthy and you don’t feel you deserve anything, then how on earth is it possible to be generous to anyone else? The other thing you said, brother, which I thought was really important to bring out, was that generosity comes with intimacy or proximity. So everything you’ve described is that in this community, or within a small geographical area, you share rooms, you share your lives very, very deeply. And you’re always on top of each other, you’re always, you’re always around each other. And so actually, you feel very deeply, if something is going wrong in the community, or if something’s going wrong in a relationship, it becomes very apparent and you want to deal with it. Whereas in the world around us, often there’s no intimacy. People don’t know. And I give the example because I’ve done it myself, and I feel still guilty about these things. But, you know, when I’m hiring a car and something goes wrong, if I’m on the phone to somebody I tend to be much more angry than if I am standing in front of the counter at the office where I’m seeing the person. And I think we’re seeing this with social media, that when things are anonymized, that people express a lot of anger and disrespect and there’s a lot of bitterness and attack. But when those people are face to face with each other, then they would act totally differently. And I think one of the things about Plum Village is it’s a trailblazer of community living, because I think what we’re increasingly seeing is this move away from globalization back to local living, local communities, local economies. And I think in those situations, when you buy your eggs from the farmer you know, down the road, also, you’ll probably be prepared to pay more money for it because you know where the farmer is living and you know what his needs are and you know how difficult his life is. But when you go to the supermarket and you just buy a dozen eggs and you think, well, you know, the supermarket’s trying to reduce the price as much as possible to get you to buy them, and so squeezing the farmer, and you’re never in contact with the farmer, so you don’t care. You just want the cheapest possible product. So I think generosity actually is all about connection and intimacy because it’s like sitting here with you now, you know, I feel this love and warmth towards you. Whereas if I’d never met you and you’re on the phone, you know, would be doing this, but actually that be the most significant element would be missing.
Yeah. And luckily you moved here for us to do this. And, you know, and I think generosity, when we worked from that base, we were much freer. I take this podcast for an example. I came to you with the intention just to ask for some advice because you are so seasoned in your…
You mean old.
Seasoned sounds nicer.
I know it does.
As a human being, but also as a journalist. Right? And I wanted to get some advice on how to ask questions and so on. But then when you said, why don’t we do it together? The work together for me was like, Yes, let’s do it. I don’t want to do this alone. And we are free because we are offering this podcast from time, we create time to be present. We create time to see each other, have a cup of tea, ask how we are doing, and then talk about what we will share, and then giving each other space to offer. And from this space of generosity that we both have invested in this podcast, I feel it’s so free whenever I do it, and that’s why I don’t feel ever like pressure or I feel like it’s a job, but if anything, it’s always a gift just to be able to share with one another and then continue for it to be part of other people’s life throughout their week while they listen. So for me, like, generosity is a very safe space to cultivate giving. When we want to give, if it comes from generosity, a true generosity, you will also heal your inner child, because we’re always growing. And the generosity, the generous that we grow in us can also come back to the past and heal. But it’s not like you don’t have to go back and like, because I didn’t get that computer, I’m going to buy that computer. But you grow as a human being because now you can offer in so many other ways. So that’s also another element in this teaching is to see that we’re always changing and the conditions that we have now are very different. And to also highlight that and to see that by having something, it may not be exactly what we wanted by as a child or so on, we can be liberated and free by the condition now because not having enough can become a trap. And Thay used to give this teaching for parents to their children one day. As, for many parents when they were young, they may not had the opportunity to, for example, learn to play the piano or play a guitar or be a singer or wear a dress. And when they have a child, they imprint their past to their child. What they couldn’t have, they enforce it in their child. And that offers so much suffering to the child. The child feels suffocated. The child felt not understood, but rather enforced. And so if we cannot be free from the past of not having enough and practicing with it, our daily action can have the shadow of the past, and that can offer a lot and a lot of suffering. And we have offered a lot of children our programs, retreats, and teenager retreats, and a lot of the children, through the practice of beginning anew, they are able to share to their parents when the parents make them suffer. And from time to time, we would hear a child express when their mother forces something, something that they, the parents, want the child to do, but a child doesn’t want to do it. And so we can also understand that in this practice, we can see that our daily action, whether it offers love or not, can be a practice of generosity. If we’re trying to restore our youth within our child, that may be love without understanding, because we are not seeing that child as the child, as our continuation, but we’re seeing that child as the wounded child of us. And we want it to be perfect and we give it everything that we couldn’t have. But are we sure that that is true love?
So, brother, I’ll give you an example of that. I was a few weeks ago running a workshop and giving a speech in San Diego at a big conference. And at this workshop I ran, it was actually, I gave it the name of one of our previous podcasts. It was Pathways Through Busyness, Overwhelm and Burnout. And there are about 40 people in the room. And what I was asking people to was to deeply reflect on their lives and how they were and what could they change and he rest of it. And three quarters of the way through, one of the men just walked out and I thought, oh, maybe, you know, maybe he’s not enjoying whatever. And he came back. And at the end, we did a sharing of each person gave a commitment to change one aspect or to experiment with changing one aspect of their lives. And this man said actually, I walked out because I phoned my daughter, because I realized, as we were all sharing, that I’ve been putting a lot of pressure on her to be a certain way, and I’m not really listening to her. And so I went out the room to phone her, to apologize to her, and to say, actually, I just want to, you know, listen to you and understand who you are. And it was such a powerful moment because it was just like, it was exactly what you said, it was mindfulness in action because it’s going from this automatic sort of subconscious, unconscious behavior to suddenly he suddenly saw what he was doing, and realized actually he was not creating a loving relationship. He was trying to force someone and I mean, Thay’s teaching’s very much around, especially with children, do not force them or try through propaganda, through money, through anyway that, you know, that if you try and force a child to be someone who they’re not, that it’s a huge disservice to them.
And, you know, the practice of generosity, we can all start today. In Thay’s, one of Thay’s Dharma talks, Thay said that each day a smile is a gift that we can offer. And one of the greatest practices that I have made a real habit for me is the practice of a smile. And it’s because when growing up, seeing how hard my parents worked, the greatest moments with my parents were when we were all together and we all had a smile for each other. And it was so simple, but it was so rare because they were so busy for all the right reasons, to provide for me and my sister. And later on, when becoming a monk, you meet your past so much in our practice, like meeting the suffering of our parents. You know, sometimes, like just at the dining table, I realize I took way more food than I need, and it’s because there was fear in the family during the war and so on of not having enough food. And so you’re constantly meeting your past. And in one of the Dharma talks that Thay gave us, he said, Learn to smile to your past. And that teaching became my way of healing and my way of saying, you have enough now. And that smile is a very profound offering of real presence. And I always, at least once a day, I know I can offer a smile to one person. And I think this is a simple act, but it is an act of true love and an act of like, I see you, I see you for who you are, and thank you for being there. As simple as that. And in my darkest moments so far, I’m still young, but you forget about the smile, and you can become very, very negative. And I remember that during that time, when I was able to smile to my difficulty as a gift to myself, I realized that I’m still alive because I can smile. Because I’m alive, there is a chance for transformation and that is also being generous to oneself, knowing that, as practitioners, we will face difficulties, we will face moments when we want to give up. And we have to remember that we have to be generous to ourselves, to know that the suffering and the difficulty are also a teacher for us. And for me, if I wasn’t able to be generous to myself, then I think I would have been much more selfish. And I would have left the community and left the path. And just to take care of my little happiness, whatever that may be, whatever that mind is saying that the grass is greener on that field over there. But in moments of suffering, we will become very judgmental, very limited in our energy of presence, not capable of smiling, not able of listening, and that is when you know that you are becoming less generous to others and to yourself. So in the practice element of generosity, in those moments, we have to come back to the fundamental practice. And just give yourself that time and the space to sit, to look, to be with oneself, to have intention in meeting people. Because at that time, I remember I’m usually a very happy monk. And people have like a view like, Oh, you know, Brother Phap Huu, he loves having tea, let’s go have tea with him. But everything during those time, like every encounter was, like, suffocating for me, and I was avoiding. It became a habit of avoiding. And so when I was able to, like, look and recognize, I’m not being generous to myself and I’m pushing people away. But if I actually just give myself space, I will cultivate more space for me, which allow me to be present for others. And so the practice is also a space to come home and to be generous with oneself. Even in those times, your mind may be screaming like, Get out of here. You know, that is just an emotion and all emotions come and go. And so we have to have an anchor. And for me, that anchor was just mindful breathing, being present just physically with my community. I just, I went to sitting, walking, even if in my body and mind it was screaming like, I don’t want to be here, but I have to also just take refuge in the community, take refuge in the practice, because I know in the practice there is a generosity that will allow me space. And so this is a practice. Generosity is a practice is not just giving, giving, giving. We can give, give, give, but that can become a habit. And like you said, that can become fake at one moment. And so to not lose oneself is also a practice of generosity. And Thay taught us sometimes, you know, we have to learn to say no. It may be the most difficult thing because there are so many requests coming in and every request is to provide a spiritual practice, is to provide stability, teachings that can help people. But if you don’t know your limit, then you will not know how to love yourself. And you will also lose yourself in this, and therefore you don’t become generous of oneself. So in our generosity, there’s also a limit. We have to know our limit. We have to know how much we can give as well as how much we want to give so we can work towards that in order to be able to offer.
Thank you, brother. That’s so important because generosity has to come from what your capacity is. And if someone’s trying to force you to go beyond your capacity, then it can’t be generous anymore because it’s an act of sacrifice and an act of suffering. And so, actually, you know, we can’t expect everyone to have the same levels of generosity so that if I feel I’m more generous in one way to expect someone else to actually be generous in the same way is a madness, in a sense, because that person may have a completely different capacity. So I think one of the things we have to be very good, become much better at is actually being aware that if we’re giving not to expect anything. Because if we expect anything back and then it doesn’t meet the grade, then actually you will judge that person. So actually generosity is actually about taking back judgments as well. But brother, one thing I just wanted to bring out, so Thich Nhat Hanh was in a sense the founder of the idea of engage Buddhism. And, in fact, I was talking to a friend in another tradition and her teacher had just been saying to her that actually he was so appreciative of Thich Nhat Hanh, because Thich Nhat Hanh’s showing that actually Buddhism is not about sitting on a cushion, but about acting, and the world had actually given permission for many other teachers to show up in that way. But the 13th mindfulness training, as I said before, does refer to sort of, you know, that the lack of generosity creates social injustice. It creates a sense of, you know, imperialism, domination. So I’m just wondering, you know, because, of course, everything has to happen on the scale of individuals changing. But do you have anything to share about Thay’s vision for the world in terms of how can generosity actually start to reshape the system we live in, which is actually tilted towards grabbing, amassing, taking, exploiting, extracting. And all those are because people feel they don’t have enough, isn’t it? You’re not going to keep taking taking from other people you know are suffering if you feel you already have have enough. So I’m just wondering on that sort of global scale, how Thay was viewing this?
Yes. Thay knows that the world also works on resources. And so, you know, Thay wasn’t, like, against people being rich or like telling people to give, give, give. We were all very aware that there’s so many levels to society. But yes, Thay’s vision for it is a more compassionate society. And he envisioned that we definitely need great ethics, the trainings of ethics, understanding of how our actions implement our daily life. And our mindfulness trainings in a way we believe it can contribute to a more healthy society. If you take time to read The Five Mindfulness Trainings as well as The Fourteen Mindfulness Trainings, it is a very clear guideline in all of the ways how actions have consequences in daily life. And every mindfulness training starts with aware of that means mindfulness of. And talking about the world, you know, Thay one time told me, I think it was privately, Thay said that one time, Thay wished that one day we won’t have different nationalities and we won’t be discriminated by the passport that we’re holding, what color it is. And then because, if you come from this country, you’re already labeled like this, and therefore you have to apply for this visa, you need that screening, you need that screening. And they ask for your bank account. And, you know, and this goes on and on and on. Like Thay said, Why can’t we just see that the Earth is our home? Sure, we need to have some protection, some guards, because even though our deepest aspiration is that we all become more kinder in our daily life, but reality is that there is always going to be those who will take advantage of humans, of life, and create a mess. And so we do need laws and we do need rules, but these rules and laws can come from the space of love. And talking about even prison, you know, like Thay wished that the prison would instead of just punishment it is also a way to teach about reflection. Why am I here? How am I here? In order to look at the past, present and future, and even ancestral. So every opportunity is a deep looking moment. And definitely about sharing, and Thay would talk a lot about creating a board that knows how to look at the well-being of all. And I think Thay was very excited when the UN was formed, as well as, you know, I remember when Europe became the European Union, Thay was very happy and he wished that Asia one day would have a union as such with, of course, Thay’s wish would be that there would be much more shared value within the country, much more shared happiness. Look at all of each other’s suffering as one. That should be the principle of a union. But I think reality sometimes doesn’t show that. But the intention is there. And I think that is, it all comes home to community. And I think, like you said, it starts from an individual space. So I can say that what Thay envisioned is Plum Village. It comes from his deepest wish is a community that has a practice, that has life, that supports each other, and so on. And I think Thay called it a village for a reason, he didn’t call it a monastery, even though we are a monastery. But I truly believe Thay had a dream. And I think it is becoming that, you know, people will live close to Plum Village and the ones who live close to Plum Village they work in a career that supports their practice and then they can take refuge in the community of practice, not every day, because everybody has work, but, you know, come here for the precept recitation, come here for a day of mindfulness once a week, and so on. And slowly, I’ve learned that we have more than 100 families that have moved around Plum Village to be close to us. You are one of them.
And then I think there’s even, you know, a little shop has been created from our friends who live here, selling organic food and so on. And I feel some families are looking into ways of creating a school that is linked to Plum Village and so on. And so I think Thay’s vision was a healthy society with good ethics, whether it is Buddhism or not. But we are a Buddhist monastery, and, you know, in the history of Vietnam, Buddhism played a very important role during the crises, during the […] and the Ly dynasty, and different crises. And Buddhism was the harmonizer because it was the teachings for all beings, no discrimination.
So, brother, that’s a brilliant segue, because I have one final question for you, because in the 13th, which is about nondiscrimination, because again, in the 13th mindfulness training on generosity, it says we will practice loving kindness by working for the happiness of people, animals, plants, and minerals. Now, for a lot of people who have no connection to Buddhism, you know, minerals? What are you talking about? You know, this sense of this extraordinary sense of Thay’s nondiscrimination that he does not discriminate between minerals and people and plants and animals. Can you just tell us a bit about this sense, this idea of generosity being nondiscriminatory about, that minerals are as important as people, that actually what is it to practice loving kindness for minerals?
It’s, it comes from the heart of compassion, because if we take a deep look into our own bodies there’s so many bacteria in us. And we are not a self, right? Ta-daaa. But in us there are many, many, many, many selves in us. And then if we bring ourself out into the world, every, every form, there’s living organism there. And because, as humans, we developed, our ego became quite big and very dominant and very violent. Whatever we don’t like, we destroy. Whatever we we want, we take. Whatever we see, that’s not ours, we come and invade. So it comes from a very, very aggressive energy. And because of this energy creates view of belonging and wanting and killing, we start to harm so much, not just humans, but we start to harm animals. We start to harm the environment. And in the environment we can talk about many layers and one of them is minerals. And it is just to know that even walking on this Earth is a practice. You know, the reason why we have the Rains Retreat, our tradition, is because during the Buddha’s Sangha, when the rainy season in India, a lot of the worms and bugs would come out because of the rain, and they would have to walk through many fields. And by walking you kill a lot of insects and you may harm the crops and so on. And even seeing that, the Buddha said, okay, for the rainy season, we’re not going to travel, we’re going to stay within the boundaries in order to create less harm by walking. So this is a continuous evolution in our practice, in the understanding of living beings and us, the cosmos and us. And when we speak about all minerals is to remind us that there are so many living organism in even the littlest form that we may not even see, so that it can help bring us back to the understanding of interbeing, of interconnectedness. You know, this brings up a story which I had with Thay. Thay loves to cook. Thay’s actually a very good cook. One of his dishes that I enjoy cooking is pho, vegetarian pho. And to boile the pho, the noodle, we have to do it in hot water. And when I was cooking with Thay, you know, I was about to… how do you say it? To drain the noodle in those…
In a sieve.
In a sieve. Exactly. And I was about to do that and Thay said, Wait. Let’s close the sink…
.. and pour cold water to make when you pour the hot water in the sieve that becomes warm water so that when it goes down the drain, it doesn’t kill all the bacteria.
And this was totally new. It blew my mind. I’m like, I never even thought to that degree. And Thay said, yes, because this come from compassion. So you see that love and compassion can always be grown. You may think that you’re a loving person because like you said hello to someone, but there’s so many degrees to growing our hearts and to seeing beyond the humans. And Thay even said, you know, as vegetarian, it’s not true that we don’t kill. Because while cutting a vegetable it is taking its life away, but the vegetable can regrow and it doesn’t have the cries and the pain like an animal. And nature also has its gift to us to provide for us. And you know, Thay once said in a Dharma talk, Thay believed that all of us we are actually, we were born to be vegetarian. We don’t have teeth to eat meat. But later on, you know, we evolved and we created ways to be who we are as humanity. So this practice, in these mindfulness trainings, like even and most plants and minerals, is to cultivate compassion for all beings. That’s the base on it.
And that even minerals have consciousness. Everything has consciousness, even the dust has consciousness.
Wow, brother, thank you. I started off with my appreciation of the generosity of our hosts in New York, Ilana and Aneel. But actually, brother, can I just finish by appreciating we have a guest sitting with us in Thay’s hut, Lianne, from New York, who actually put us up in an apartment for the other two weeks we stayed and showed us enormous generosity. So she’s sitting here looking like don’s say…. So, Lianne, this is a good chance for you to have experienced generosity to you. So thank you, Lianne, for hosting us also in New York. Brother, thank you very much. As is customary, we normally end a podcast with a short guided meditation. So I’m not sure if you would like to give us one today.
I’m going to be generous. Dear friends, whether you are going for a walk, going for a jog on a commute, sitting on a bus, in a taxi or on an airplane or cleaning your home, wherever you may be, whatever you may be doing, if you can just allow yourself to be still, either standing, sitting, laying down, and be generous to yourself. Come back to yourself. Become aware of your face. Become aware of your shoulders. Relax them. Give attention to your arms, your fists, your palm, your chest, your back, your legs, your foot. And with an inbreath, offer gratitude to your body. With an outbreath offer a smile to your body. Breathing in, I become aware of my whole body. Breathing out, I offer a smile to my body. In and out. Breathing in, I feel joy for having a body. Breathing out, I’m grateful to my body allowing me to sit, to walk, to do. Breathing in, joy to the body. Breathing out, gratitude. Breathing in, I come home to myself, embracing the feelings in me. Breathing out, I offer it a warm smile. The feeling, whether it is happiness, ease, peace or even agitation, anger, or jealousy, just recognizing the emotions and feelings in me and offering it the warmth of love and presence. Breathing in, I see my wounded child in me. Breathing out, I am here for the child with space and freedom in my heart, embracing, recognizing the child. In, I see you. Out, I am here for you. Breathing in with a generous heart I offer my inner child the love that I have learned, the understanding that I have gained. Breathing out, I smile to the child with tenderness and compassion. Breathing in, I connect the past to the present by feeling alive here and now. Breathing out, I am taking care of the present and the future. In, the past in the here and now. Out, care for the present and building a future. Breathing in, I take the love in my heart and I send it to all of my ancestors. Breathing out, I am their continuation. Breathing in, I take my love, I offer it to the world. Breathing out, I smile to the world inside of me and all around me. In, love. Out, offer.
Thank you, dear friends, for listening and practicing with us.
Thank you, Brother Phap Huu. And, dear listeners, if you enjoyed this podcast on generosity, there are many more you can listen to. You can find us on Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, other platforms that carry podcasts, and on our very own Plum Village App. And so we have lots of people to thank, don’t we, brother? So we have Global Optimism, who is our co-producer. We have Clay and Joe who are sort of editing, and we have Brother Niem Thung, who is here, who’s been doing all the logistics and recording for us.
And we would like to thank all of the donors who are supporting Plum Village and this podcast. And if you enjoyed this podcast and would like to continue to support it, as well as the international work of the Plum Village community, please visit www.tnhf.org/donate. And thank you to the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation for supporting us also.
And for their generosity, too.
Yes. And we’ll see all of you at another episode. Thank you.
The way out is in.
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