Welcome to episode 48 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 instalment marks the first time the two presenters have recorded separately, with Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu in Thay’s Sitting Still Hut in Plum Village France, and journalist Jo Confino at the Garrison Institute, New York.
Speaking from two different continents, they explore fame and humility. What price do we pay for our fame-obsessed societies? Can humility become a great power? How do we show up in the world? What is it ‘to be enough’ in the world? And how did Thay handle fame and other famous people?
These dimensions are discussed with help from Buddhist teachings, Thich Nhat Hanh’s practices, and the presenters’ personal life stories, giving us a flavor of experiences of fame, but also the power of humility in service to life.
Brother Phap Huu further delves into inferiority, superiority, and equality complexes; openness and insight; unconditional presence; humility in learning and being; simplicity; curiosity; Thay’s bodhisattva energy; and honoring blood and spiritual ancestors. And how is Brother Phap Huu coping with… feline fame?
Jo muses about humility in leadership; the power of leading from the middle; responsible journalism; ‘un-cultivating’ fame; looking inwards and outwards with humility; fame as another form of extraction; and more.
The episode ends with a short meditation 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
The Garrison Institute
Dharma Talks: ‘The Power of Understanding – Transformation of Manas’
Dharma Talks: ‘The Face of Manas Revealed: Understanding a Hidden Aspect of Our Consciousness’
The Happy Farm
The Order of Interbeing (OI)
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
Plum Village Thailand
The Four Dharma Seals of Plum Village
Dharma Rain, and Being Alone (short teaching video by Thich Nhat Hanh)
“Humility represents openness for us to enter into a spiritual path or into anything that we want to grow. We need an element of openness, of humility. It means we have to humble our ego. We have to let go of our knowledge. We have to come in with open eyes and open ears and an open mind and an open heart in order to truly allow our understanding to grow deeper.”
“As human beings, we’re very curious. And when we block off our curiosity, we’re blocking off some deep resonance in us that wants to know more, wants to expand our knowledge and our awareness.”
“Humility is learning to look with fresh eyes, listen with fresh ears, and continuing to expand our hearts and knowing, ‘How can we know everything?’ There’s so much insight and so much wisdom alive around us, not just among the people, among our teachers, among our mentors, among this community – but we also [need to] learn to open ourselves to the environment, to nature.”
“Service is a way of expressing love. Therefore, humility is also an expression of love, an expression of giving.”
“You can be a victim of your success, but you would never be a victim of your happiness.”
“Go as a river.”
“One thing that we can always grow and develop is our heart; it’s our capacity for love and our capacity for being there for others.”
“We all make our own contribution and everyone’s contribution is based on everyone else’s; we are a constellation of change. We’re all making a small mark on the world.”
“There’s a humility to recognizing one’s skills or what one can offer and not be caught striving for ‘I need to be better at this’, ‘I need to be better at that’. Recognizing who we are and not feeling we need to be more than that.”
“Our greatest offering, I always come back to, is kindness, openness, and the way of being.”
“Have the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the ordinary in the extraordinary.”
Dear listeners, 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 change.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plum Village tradition.
And today, brother, we are going to be talking about fame and humility. In the West, we are living in a fame obsessed society, and we all know that fame can come at a very heavy price. And also we know that actually when we are in our center and when we have humility, actually that can be a great power. So what we’re going to be doing today is exploring those two dimensions.
The way out is in.
Hello, dear listeners. I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
Brother Phap Huu, this is the first time we’ve been recording away from each other. I miss you. I’m not sitting in Thay’s Sitting Still hut. I can see both of you and Cata, who’s doing all the recording sitting in Thay’s cozy hut. And I’m in the Garrison Institute, which is a very large and contemplative center in the Hudson Valley of New York. And here it’s snowing. And there I imagine it’s much warmer.
It’s warmer. Flowers are blooming everywhere. We have had a lot of rain. But, Jo, are you skipping an activity? Shouldn’t you be contemplating? Why are you speaking to me?
Because Phap Huu, I talk to you because speaking to you is a contemplation. I find these recordings are my teachings. It’s sort of… I’m sitting at the knee of Brother Phap Huu, listening to his wisdom and soaking it all up.
Okay, people, he’s not sitting at my knee. Well put, though. This is very contemplative to be able to share together. And it’s been a while. I know people are missing the podcast, so it’s so great to still come together through technology and look deeply at a topic.
Yeah. So, brother, today we just decided to talk about fame and humility. These are two really important areas because it’s about really how do we show up in the world and what is it to be enough in the world? How do we actually be in our fullness without actually going beyond our reach? So do you want to start by telling us a little bit about how you see these two? Because humility and fame are very much based in the Zen tradition about understanding how to live a good life.
I’m going to start with humility first, because that is such an important quality that was introduced to me the moment I entered into the monastic training. And humility also represents openness for us to enter into a spiritual path or into anything that we want to grow. We need an element of openness, of humility. It means we have to humble our ego. We have to let go of our knowledge. We have to come in with open eyes and open ears and an open mind and an open heart in order to truly allow our understanding to grow deeper. And because I and you, Jo, we were raised in the West, we were also taught about success and sometimes success means to know a lot and to prove that we are better than others. And that comes with superiority complexes, and we are more than you, so why do I have to listen to you? You know, and this kind of mindset is not for everyone. But I noticed that in myself when I enter into the practice center and the first teaching that I receive is you have to be open in order to observe and to put into practice. And when I look at that sentence, I can see aaa, because if I’m coming in with a mind that is already so full and I’m not actually not going to learn anything, I’m just going to look for what I agree to. And I would not and I would say, Yes, I’ll do that. But if it’s something I’m not agreeing to, then I will not even give it a chance, not even give it an opportunity to enter into me, then I lose an opportunity. So humility is learning to look with fresh eyes, listen with fresh ears, and continuing to expand our hearts and knowing that how can we know everything? And there’s so much insight and so much wisdom that is alive around us, not even just among the people, among our teachers, among our mentors, among this community, but we also learn to open ourselves to the environment, to nature. Sometimes I learn to take refuge in the forest and to be little again. Even in my recent trip to Asia, I was in Vietnam and one day I was in a kayak and we went out into the sea. And at one moment I got really scared because I just felt so little among this vast ocean and the water became so dark and so deep. And that was so humbling to me to just realize that I’m just a small element of this miraculous cosmos. And sometimes we forget how we are all interconnected and we think that we are separated and we are better than others, or we are less than others, or we’re trying to be equal to each other. So these three complexes come into play at a very early stage in a lot of our lives and some people very young, some people a little bit later. And we all have different moments when we meet our complexes and it becomes habits that have a big impact on us. So humility is also an opportunity to look at oneself. And there’s this very famous Zen story of a scholar coming to learn from a Zen master back in China. And he went to the Zen master and he asked to have a consultation and the Zen master invited him for tea. But as he was pouring the cup of tea for his guests, this is the Zen master, he was overfilling the cup, so the tea was pouring out. And then the young man, the scholar, told the monk, Teacher, teacher, that’s enough. That’s enough. You’re overpouring the tea. And the Zen master looked at him and said, Well, it’s because you’re like that. Your cup is so full. So actually, you’re not coming to learn anything. Come back to me when you have emptied your cup.
Beautiful. And brother that’s very much around the sort of Zen philosophy of a Beginner’s Mind which is actually always to come back to the start of a journey, that always to recognize that the freshness comes from the not knowing. It doesn’t come from the knowing. If we know something, as you say, we block off, but if we just start off right at the beginning saying, I don’t know, as you say, then we’re open, we’re flexible, and also we’re curious. I mean, I think as human beings, we’re very curious. And when we block off our curiosity that I know it now, then actually we’re blocking off some deep sort of resonance in us that wants to know more, wants to expand our knowledge and our awareness.
Exactly. And in the Buddhist psychology realm, our store consciousness, it needs watering, it needs to be refreshed and reminded. And I remember when Thay taught us how to listen to a Dharma talk or even how to listen to our sharings, our podcast. You know, Thay always tell us, don’t come in here like you’re coming to a lecture and don’t try to be taking notes of everything that I say. From time to time, if there is a key element that will resonate or touches your curiosity, just write it down. But you can come back to it later, because what I want you to do is to allow yourself to be an open field and let the sharing just enter into your consciousness and it will touch the wisdom inside of you also. So sometimes we’re always seeking for insight outside of us, but sometimes insight is also alive in each individual and it just needs the right condition for the individual’s insight to manifest. But for that we need openness or else we’re just using our intellectual mind and trying to grasp an idea that is amazing and awesome, or just having a very critical mind and saying yes, no, yes, no to whatever we are listening to. And I think this also trickles into life itself. You know, for us, humility is not only in the learning, but humility is also in the being. So how we be with each other, there’s a way that we can easily open ourselves up to each other and connect, or we can also show up with very tense shoulders or a very superiority energy coming in. Even the way we position ourselves in a group is… we have to be mindful about that. You know, and as a novice, we were trained how to bow, how to stand, how to sit, how to see each other. And now I look back at all of that training, it taught me not to be stuck in a particular form, but that training gave me the awareness of how my body is also communicating. Right? Like when I come and I see you, the way I look at you, that is communication already. That also can have the aspect of humility, of humbleness, of like, I want to be here to learn from you. Or we can show up and just close our eyes and fake, and pretend like we’re meditating and not allow anything in. And I’ve actually, have students like that in my own years of mentoring and teaching class, where there are those who show up because they have to come. But because they don’t want to be there, so they close their eyes, they shut themself out. They shut themselves off from the whole community or the whole group. And that’s also a lost opportunity. And I like what you point out, Jo, which is curiosity, because in one of the seven factors of awakening is investigation, it’s we have to have a curious mind. We need to explore. We have to explore the world. We have to explore our suffering. We have to explore our happiness. We have to explore ourself. Why am I sitting here and not having ease? Where is that energy coming from? So this humility is also allowing us to also accept ourselves.
Yeah. And brother, there’s something, you know, just coming back to one thing you were saying, which is the humility of sort of I don’t know if it’s humility, but it’s that sense of what it is to recognize that everything that needs to unfold in our lives is inwards rather than outwards. And that we’re such, in a sort of, in a Western society of expertise where we go and build up our expertise and rather than actually build up our inner knowing. And, you know, one of the things I recognize in my coaching practice is all I offer people, in one sense, is I don’t teach people anything. I don’t think there’s any point at which we’ve… it’s about looking out at new knowledge or have you read this or have you looked at that? But it’s just this sort of inner unfolding is the inner looking is the inner sort of that we cover up our, you know, our suffering or our problems with layers of defensiveness. And actually, the humility is to say, actually, I come to myself open hearted. I come to myself compassionate. I come to myself with a sort of not knowing. And that actually I come to myself with a sort of, you know, a sort of sense of nakedness that I’m open to discover what’s within me. And so I think, you know, again, it’s coming down to the name of the podcast, the Way Out Is In, that actually we need to look inwards with humility, not just outwards, with humility.
Right. And also for me, humility has also allowed me to observe, and that’s how I learn the quickest is through observation. That’s the easiest way for me to learn the Dharma or learn any skill is through observation. And with humility, we have to practice mindfulness because our ego also comes into play, which is touching, you know, self. And part of the teachings of Buddhism is learning to touch freedom. And when we say freedom, we have to say freedom of what? And a lot of the time, a lot of our ignorance and suffering it comes from our individualism, our self, our manas. It’s a very Buddhist term and manas here is a layer for consciousness, which is it wants to be loved, it wants to be recognized, it wants to be seen. And it loves pleasure. It loves to be satisfied through being called the best, receiving praises as well as, you know, following into the desire of goodness without recognizing the bait. And our teacher always tells us that we have to be very mindful of what our desire is pulling us towards, because our manas has also the tendency to ignore suffering. And so humility sometimes tells us to take a moment before making any decision as like, Are you sure? You know, there’s this quote that Thay always writes from time to time, Are you sure? Are you sure you want to follow down that path? Have you looked deeply enough? And humility here, what it has allowed me to practice being free from the self and being free from not being caught in the power of fame, is that everything that I have, everything that I am able to do today it is not from me. There is an element of Phap Huu, because I am alive, you know, you can see me, you can hear me. But if I start to remove my father, my mother, Plum Village, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, even the environment that supports me, you know, you, Jo, you, Cata, all of my mentors that were there for me. If I start to remove all of that, then I don’t have anything, actually. So humility reminds you that even in this moment where you have so much capacity to offer, you’re still interconnected to everything else. And that is where it becomes a great support as we navigate through life. And this is where I want to speak on we also have to have responsibility though, so as a monk, as a student of Thay, as a member of the community, as elder brother of many younger siblings in the spiritual family, I can also use humility as an excuse. For example, like, let’s say the Sangha asks me to give a Dharma talk and I say, Oh, no, please, I’m still a young person. I don’t have anything to offer. Or I’m so shy, you know. And I’ve witnessed this in my beloved community, and I’ve also seen the tendency of that in me too, to run away from responsibility. But in that moment of accepting a role, or accepting the responsibility is also you are being humble because you are part of this community. You have to know when to show up, how to show up, and at the same time you can still be interconnected with the whole community that is there for you. And this is what I’ve learned from my observation of Thay. I think I’ve shared this story, but I want to share it again because it’s so relevant to our topic. When I was Thay’s personal attendant, one day, at the Hermitage, two sisters came over who were working together with Parallax Press. And one of Thay’s new book just came out and they came over to the Hermitage, which is where Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh stays. And there’s so much excitement. They told Thay, Thay, your new book just came out, your new book just came out. And I remember one sister said, Fresh off the press, Fresh off the press. And, you know, the first thing Thay did was he took the book with two hands and he went into his library, his study room, where he writes the books, and he put the book on the altar. And then he just prostrated, touching the earth three times. And I followed his action. And, you know, in monasteries and in temples, we all have altars, and altar it’s a place that represents our blood and spiritual ancestors, it’s a place where we can connect to our roots and the ones who came before us. And, you know, I was very curious when Thay took the book and went into the library, I said, Oh, wait, where’s Thay going? And he didn’t even say anything the moment he received the book, and he just went straight to the library. And after touching the earth three times with Thay, I was so moved, and I didn’t say anything, but I knew what he was practicing. Thay was practicing no self, sharing the merit. Even though this book that he wrote has his name Thich Nhat Hanh, bold letters, you can see it. But the first thing he did was to honor everyone that came before him, his blood and spiritual ancestors. And I believe at that very moment, he was expressing his gratitude to the Buddha, to his patriarchs, and then to his teacher. Thanks to them that he has this spiritual life and this spiritual practice, to have this wisdom to continue to offer to the world. And in that moment, the ancestors are alive in him. I saw Wow, Thay is practicing sharing the merit, that all of this establishment, accomplishment at this moment is not just mine, but it’s the past, the present, and the future. So that was a very deep moment that I got to witness. And I carry it every day in my life. And even now, every time, you know, we receive gratitude emails and letters for the podcast, you know, I always join my palms and express deep gratitude to the past, the present and the future.
But brother, one thing that I think as you were talking that came strongly to mind is humility is also about being in service, because when we want to be sort of, you know, number one or we want to be famous, actually, we’re the ones who want to stand out. I mean, that’s the whole point of fame, it’s me, it’s me. But actually, humility is about being in service to. And I think what we are seeing out in the world is that fame is actually extraction, is another form of extraction. We’re all trying to extract things to make ourselves look better. Where’s that… And that collectively has created this problem, created social injustice, inequality, it’s created the climate emergency. Everything is about it’s me, me. And I need more to prove who I am. And service is about community. It’s about saying, actually, I’m here for you, not just here for me. And one thing, brother, when we held this climate leaders retreat last summer, one thing you said which really moved me, you were talking about what it is to lead from the front, what it is to lead from the middle and what it means to lead from the back. And that really moved me because we often confuse leadership with being out in front. I’m the one who’s in charge, just follow me, just do what I say. It will all be okay. But actually there’s this power of leading from the middle, which is saying, actually, how do I hold things together? How do I support the people at the front, but also bring up the people from behind and feel that that there’s continuity in that? In Zen and in Thay’s tradition, he talks about flow as a river rather than a separate… And then there’s the power of the person at the back who’s making sure that no one gets left behind. And making sure that the people who may be trailing are supported. So it’d be great for you to talk about service, because if I were to say anything about Plum Village, if I was to use one word, it would probably be service. You’re in service to yourselves. You’re in service to helping other people through their suffering. You have service meditation as a core part of the practice that one day you might be cleaning the toilet and the next you might be giving a Dharma talk. So can you give us a flavor of the power of humility in service to life?
Yes, I have to say well-put, Jo. I love how you frame it into action, because humility is an action also. And I think, for myself, service is a way of expressing love. So therefore, humility is also an expression of love and expression of giving. And I know that when I’m able to give, I receive so much energy back, and it actually motivates me, and it gives me the fuel and the power to continue to embrace everything that’s happening, because being a monk and living in Plum Village, there are many moments that it’s tough, it’s difficult. There are times when there’s so much to do, and I get overwhelmed by it and I get lost in my own judgmental mind. I’m like, Oh, Phap Huu, what are you doing? You should be a monk, you should be simple. You should just be sitting there and being more still. And then there are moments when I feel also so lazy and I feel like, Oh, my God, what am I doing with my life? I should be out there and like helping and so on. And what has been my groundings is to not get lost in the idea of what is better service and what is less better service. So there is this image that Thay trains us in to touch interbeing in the Sangha, which is we’re all cells of this body, and there are members that are going to play the role of the brain of the body. There are members are going to be the hands of the body. There are those who are going to be the core of the body. And there are those going to be the feet. And when all cells and body parts are working in harmony, the body is healthy and the body will benefit all blood cells, all membranes, just the whole physical body. And when I was a novice, we were all trained to work in the kitchen. That is like the first place that we all look at an individual to see if they can become a monk or not is how they work in the kitchen. Can they work in harmony? Can they listen? Can they serve? Can they be flexible? Can they be fast? Because sometimes the ideas, like being mindful, is very slow, but I’m like, Dude, you got to cook and serve 200 people. You can’t pull that potato that slow. It was like, Dude, can you go to gear five right now for us? You know, and the kitchen becomes also the heart of the community. Not only the meditation hall is the heart, but the kitchen, because that’s where it feeds everyone. And I’ve had my years of cooking and I wanted to be a good chef. And I realized I’m just not a good chef. And I’ve accepted that. But I’m a good sous chef. You can tell me and show me how to cut anything and I will perform it very well. And so that particular training has also allowed me to learn to be so flexible in different ways of life. And I’ve learned to be the guest master, the work co-ordinator, even raking the leaves, cutting the grass at the community. I’ve had the chance to take care of all the toilets, all the dry toilets. Even when I was an abbot I was going to dump the dry toilets poo poo and also urine. And for me at those moments, you know, to know that people can use a clean toilet, it just offers me joy, so I don’t have any complexes. And that kind of service is also what keeps me very grounded and reminded that the teaching body is not through, not just through words, and it’s not just through images like sitting on a rock that is very beautiful and, you know, it’s a postcard photo of what a monastic should be. And yes, I do have those moments, but I do have moments where I want to be in service. I want to roll up my sleeves and help the community do landscape. And we’re like, you know, shoveling manure, we’re digging holes. And all of that is actually my deepest joy is that connection with everyone. And usually in the spring, we have community work day. So we ask everyone to put aside their personal roles for the community and we do a few projects together. It may be a very small project, but this kind of service and even that moment, you know, we’re all confronted with each other. We usually do this gathering and the work co-ordinator explains the task for today and everyone can feel important and everyone can say, Yeah, but I’m doing this for the Sangha, so I’m not going to show up for that. And you know, like, and, you know, and I’m a victim of that. I’ve done that a few times. I said, Oh, you know, dear community, I need to do this, it’s very important. And of course, because I say it, everybody’s like, Yes, yes, of course it is. But when I look back, I’m like, Oh my God, I’m just playing myself, I’m just making myself important.
And so, the way we construct our daily life in organization, in communities, it’s very important to not lose our beginner’s mind, Jo, what you said at the beginning. Like, when I first came, what were some of my greatest joys? Cutting the grass for the community. I have this one experience with Thay. As his attendant, we do, we want to do everything for him, but he’s very careful about that because Thay was very independent and he also likes to do things on his own. And there was one day, we’re in the Sitting Still hut where we are recording this podcast right now. And Thay was in the restroom, in the toilet, and I walked by it and I just heard shoo-shoo and I’m like, What is Thay doing? And as a naughty little novice, I peeked my head in the toilet. I don’t know if I should have been doing that or not, but I was for sure Thay was not using the toilet. And Thay was washing his socks by hand. And my first reaction is I said, Thay, let us do this for you. You don’t need to do this. Because in my mind, I was like, you’re a Zen master of the world like, you’re our spiritual leader, don’t, you shouldn’t be wasting, you shouldn’t be, quote unquote, wasting your time doing this. And you know, Thay just turned and he gave me this big smile, and Thay just said, But Thay enjoys doing this. And of course, I just backed off and Thay continued to wash his socks. And I just realized that, even for Thay, he had moments, activities in the day, in the week, in the month that he would continue to do in order to keep him very close to all of us. Like for me to see him wash socks by himself, that’s a teaching in itself. And this continued through the tour. Like we were in the USA, we were staying at universities where we’re hosting retreats, or even at hotels. I would even see Thay wash his socks, so I picked on a few of that in order to incorporate from my own life to be reminded that I can do things that serve myself as well as serve others that are very simple and that keeps me closer to people.
Thank you, Phap Huu. And there are a couple of things that came to mind as you were speaking. One was, and you mentioned earlier about the superiority complex, and there’s a sort of mistake that what we’re doing, we see in relation to it, other people are doing it and think it’s maybe more important. So to give you a couple of examples. When I worked at The Guardian, a lot of the journalists were quite arrogant because they thought, you know, they are the journalists, they’re the voice of the newspaper, and often, or not often, but occasionally I would see them not treating the facility staff with respect, like the people who were cleaning the toilets, the people who were keeping the lights on, the people who were making the food. And I had this sort of real sense of the discrimination within that, because actually, yes, it’s true, the journalists are the voice that goes out and people then respond to. But actually, if the cleaners weren’t there cleaning out, making sure the toilets were working, and there was no food and there was no lighting, and there was no printing presses, printing of the newspaper or now no tech staff getting the stuff, there wouldn’t be any journalism. And it’s such a mistake, actually, to believe that one job is more important. And we see that in society, don’t we? We see that the billionaires or their sort of people in finance making loads of money thinking they’re very important. And then there are nurses who are creating extraordinary work, who are not respected in the same way financially and often struggle to make a living. And I had this experience myself actually very sharply when I arrived to live in Plum Village three years ago. And I was in a sharing circle and we started going round the circle. And I think the first question was, what are you doing? You know, what are you doing in life, whatever. And I was a little bit I mean, I don’t think I sounded pompous, but I felt a little bit pompousness within me. Well, you know, I’m working on international climate and I’m working doing this and I’m doing that and, you know, sounding quite, you know, important work. And then the next person, this person sitting next to me who then went next, was working on on the Happy Farm in Plum Village, the farm. And he said, my ambition is… It was about ambition. So I said, I want to help, you know, save the world sort of thing. And he said, I want to grow beautiful vegetables. And that was his ambition. And at that very moment, I recognized that what his ambition was, to create beautiful vegetables for the community, was no more or less or the same, so neither superior, neither inferior, and neither equality, wasn’t the same as what I’m doing. And that we all make our own contribution and not to judge that contribution as being… My contribution is more important, because, as you say, everyone’s contribution is based on everyone else’s and we are a constellation of change. We’re all making a small mark in the world. And the other thing that came to my mind, brother, was that we can use humility, as you said, in a way of excusing things or belittling ourselves, but actually there’s something about I think, and I’m not sure if this is humility, so I’ll check in with you on it, but what I was thinking of was about when you said, actually, I recognized I’m not going to be a good chef, is that it’s very easy to think, Oh, actually, that’s my weakness. I need to strive to become a good chef. And it takes so much time and energy to become a good chef that actually you lose what you’re actually good at, which is being the abbot of Plum Village and holding the community together. And sort of, you know, I realized this very much in my working life, whereas my greatest weakness is organization and timekeeping and planning. But what I’m very good at is being with people and having ideas and bringing people together. And when I was a lot younger, I was putting so much energy into the sort of the planning, the time keeping, trying to get better at the things I just was not naturally good at. And I recognize, yes, I need to be responsible, but actually the amount of energy it was taking was drawing me away from my other part of me, which was where I feel my most, where I feel I can give my most. So I think there’s a humility also to recognizing one’s skills or what one can offer and not be caught in the striving of, I need to be better at this, I need to be better at that, but actually recognizing the humility of recognizing who we are and not feeling, we need to be more than that.
Beautifully put. And I want to add that that was when I asked, Thay, Thay, what do I do as an abbot? You know, because when I became abbot, there was no manual. There still is no manual. But I didn’t know what I was supposed to do as an abbot. So I asked Thay. Thay, so, what am I supposed to do? And he said, You need to learn to see the talent in the community and allow those talent to flourish so that their roots can take root in the field of the Sangha, so that they can feel a part of this community. And that was such a beautiful image that he gave me. And so it told me that I didn’t have to be the boss of everyone, and I didn’t have to make anyone better than anyone else or even equal. But each seed, each member will have a way to flourish in the Sangha. But a skillful leader or a skillful mentor or just brother or friend, as someone who can also water the good seeds in the person. And because sometimes we may have a bird’s eye view of what that person’s capacity is rather than the individual. Because sometimes we have blind side, right? We can’t see our own strength or weaknesses, and we need support from each other to flourish. So that also helped me break free from this idea that we all should be the same also. Because I am not going to lie, like, you know, it’s so easy when you think you’re great, like when you think you’re good, like you’re a good practitioner, and you think everybody should be modelled the same. And the word training is wonderful, but it can also be a trap sometimes if we’re training everyone to be exactly the same. There’s also a danger in that is actually. No, we’re training in the same foundation, which is the practice of mindfulness, the practice of understanding, of love, of concentration, of insight, of a collective awakening. But we’re all going to grow differently. And just very recently I was in Vietnam and I was speaking to a very wonderful friend who is a CEO of a company. And we were both talking about we’re asking each other questions, like how our organization works and so on. And at that moment, whenever I get into this conversation, I always feel like I have to be in a row of giving advices or like giving opinion, but I realized at that moment, I’m still very young, and my friend is much older than me and has a lot of experience. And she was sharing to me with a very beautiful open heart in the way… how she has incorporated a lot of the Plum Village teachings into her business and her team. And there was a part of me, I was always trying to look for something, to sound better, to sound a little bit wiser. And at that very moment, you know, and I saw myself, I saw my own mind and I saw my own manas, and I saw my own wanting to be recognized. And I just let it go. And I just sat there and I just had such an open mind. And I just listened and I received so much from that sharing. And funny enough, what she was sharing to me was that she’s learned from mindfulness is that we’re all not the same and that we all have to see the talent and also recognize the weaknesses so that we put people in the right place so that they can flourish rather than being… Then because they can’t do something, then the inferiority complexes come up. So it’s such an interesting, this openness and listening and humility, how much we can continue to learn. And for all of us who are OI members, who have received the 14 mindfulness trainings, please remember that humility and openness is one of our trainings that we’re always learning in life, we’re always observing and growing as long as we keep our eyes, our mind, and our hearts open.
And brother, just to add one more thing to that, and as you were talking, I was thinking about leadership. And often people who are an expert or people who are good at something or people in charge of something, when they see someone coming up who maybe has a talent better, bigger than theirs or better than theirs, there’s often this wish to push them down, to see them as a challenge, to see it as a threat because, and we’ll get to fame shortly, but the sense of wanting to stay on top of things and therefore someone else who might be shining their light is a threat to us. And for me, humility in leadership is about recognizing that actually everyone has a talent. And when you see a talent, you should basically be supporting that talent, even if it makes you look like you’re… because actually people have such a narrow view of what leadership is that, you know, if someone’s seen to support other people in raising their talents and putting themselves not as number one all the time, that is such a powerful thing to do. And I, you know, you talk about stages of life. I’m now 61. And, you know, and I think when we get to fame, let’s talk about age, because actually there are stages in life where we’re different. And my wish now is to support people to be their best. And it’s not about being, me being out in the front, is about that I get such joy and satisfaction from seeing, you know, people I’m working with blossom and shine forth and be able to be more than who they thought they were. You know, it’s such a beautiful gift. You know, while I have my own needs, that’s where I feel my best. The gift is that I am in service to them.
So, brother, why did you want to start off with humility, by the way, first? Because I thought, I was thinking we’d start off with fame. And I thought that’s actually really interesting, because the tendency is to go to the energy of fame first, and you went to humility. So before we go into fame, brother, what made you pick up on humility to go first?
Because I want to be humble. I want to talk… Well, I think because that quality is what I am still cultivating today.
And it is something that I remind myself every morning.
Good. So let’s go into, un-cultivating fame. Because fame is like a drug. And, as you say, it’s like a hook. It’s like there’s such a desire within us to stand out, to be different, to be recognized, to be loved, to be appreciated. And Western society particularly, but also elsewhere, values sort of that the way to get love, the way to get attention is to be able to consume, is to be able to be shining bright and to be often more than who we are. This, as you mentioned a little bit earlier, this wish to be more than ourselves at this point. So I’m just wondering, brother, whether we should start out by talking about our experiences of fame, and minor as it might be. But I know for you, watching you over the last 17 years I have from a sort of very young monk to now the abbot, and seeing you increasingly respected, people, especially with Thay’s passing, you’re now seen as, you know, a senior member of the monastic order of Plum Village. You’re becoming more in demand. People recognize you. You might be walking through an airport and people say, Oh, that’s Brother Phap Huu. So there’s that sort of sense of fame and respect coming your way. And you’re still young at 35, so maybe it would be worth, each of us, maybe giving a bit of a sharing about how fame, how we see fame, how we deal with fame. We are not A celebrities, B celebrities, we’re Z celebrities in our own way. But within our worlds we’re known and, to some extent, respected. So do you want to go first or do you want me to go first?
You can go first, Jo.
Okay. Well, what I’ve experienced it as, it is a drug. So one, you know, when I started out as a journalist, there was nothing I wanted more than my name to be on the front page. And actually, when I look back at that, you know, when I was that age, it was not the quality or the actual story that was most important, although of course that was important, but it was the fact that my name was on the story and my name was on the front page, my name was in big letters, and then I could share it, and show everyone that I was on the front page of The Daily Telegraph or The Guardian or whatever. And what I saw also is how many of the journalists would fight over getting their byline. So if they… if someone’s name was left off a story, how much they got upset by it. So I recognized in that that while so many journalists I know I have so much respect for, because they do want to bring truth and light to dark corners of the world and to inform and to entertain and educate. There’s also a fragility in the ego of wanting to be shown up. And over the years, what I recognize is that the best way to get your name known is to write about controversial things and write about what’s going wrong rather than what might be inspirational, what might be going right. And there was such a sort of… and that regardless of the impact of a story, if you got an exclusive story, you wanted to publish it. And there is obviously very, very good reasons for that, but there were occasions where I recognized that actually if I published the story at a particular time, that it would do a lot of damage to something that I thought was really important. And it wasn’t that I hid the information, but it was that there was a responsibility in me to say, how can I craft a story in a way that it will show the truth, but also can angle towards creating positive change? So I did notice that part of me move from It’s all about me, it’s about my name, it’s about I’m the great journalist because I got that story, to What is responsible journalism? But the other thing was more sort of personal, which was, and there are a couple of examples of that. I remember there was one time where I was chairing, asked to chair a conference in Amsterdam, and it was a major conference, and I was the chair of, it was about 12 or 1300 people, and I was chairing it over two days. And I arrived at the conference with a colleague of mine from The Guardian. And literally, as I arrived, I was walking down and someone came up and said, Oh my God, can I take a picture with you? And then we walked down a bit further and someone said, Oh my God, could I have your autograph? And I remember the guy, my colleague, turned to me and said, God, you’re really famous. And I remember at that point feeling so attracted to that feeling, that I walked into this big place I was recognized. People would come up to me and ask me for my photograph or my autograph. People would see me as important. And what I realized in that moment is the desire to be more than me, that actually what fame did was open up a supersized version of me that I could let go. And in that place, I had no insecurities, no sense of doubt that I was bigger than myself. And it was a very, very wonderful feeling. It felt really amazing. I’m well known, I’m not just one of the crowd. I’m standing out, I’m important. And then you stand in front of 1200 people and you sort of, you run the event and that builds on that. And luckily for me, I really caught that because I recognized that actually what it was actually doing was taking me away from myself and creating a gap between who I really am and the person I would then be pretending to be. And that would need defending and protecting, because if I let it go, then, you know, that it would be like a pin in a balloon. And I would come back to my small self and it would be a disaster. So I recognized in that that what fame does is actually not only does it take us away from who we are, but it means it’s very, very difficult to go back because it feels like collapse, it feels like failure, it feels like, Oh my God, I’ll have to deal with all my problems. So actually there was a huge escape in it. And I remember it was such a strong feeling, even if there was a tiny little thing. I mean, for most people who are famous, you know, they get this every second of the day. But it was such a tiny thing, but it was so strong in me that the way I felt I had to almost exorcize it from myself was that I just had to tell people the story. I went around for the next week telling people, You’ll never guess what happened to me. You know, I had this feeling and it felt like this, but I realized it’s false. And I realized that actually that’s not who I really am. And almost I had to keep telling the story to let go of the need that, as you described it, to let go of the hook. And the only other thing I would mention is that, and I wrote an article about at the time. I was invited to… it was a world congress on nature by an organization called the IUCN. I traveled to Sydney, Australia for this. And when I arrived and normally I’m, you know, you’re a press delegate, so that’s, you know, that sets you a little bit apart, makes you important. But I got a VIP badge, which I’d never received before at that time. And I remember you wear the lanyard around your neck and it had big VIP. And so I would walk around thinking, Wow, I’m a VIP. And then because I’m a VIP, I was allowed into a place where the food was a much better quality, and to mix in just where the VIPs would meet so you could meet more important people. And then I noticed that there was another badge, which was a black badge for really, really big VIPs, and that they got even better food and they got even more sort of attention. And I wrote an article about this, about the falsity in that. And I referred to a Dr. Seuss book called I think it’s something like Sneetches on the Beaches, and it’s about these characters, and there are two groups of characters. And they’re exactly the same, except that one group has a star on their chest and the other one doesn’t. And the ones with stars on their chest feel so important and they’re always partying. And the other ones, with no stars, feel dejected and excluded. And then this character comes along and offers for $5 to give the characters without stars put stars upon theirs. So they all go through this machine and they get stars on them. And then the ones who actually had the stars originally get really upset because they’re no longer important or special. And so they pay $5 to go and get their stars taken off. And this guy’s just making money because they’re all racing in and out, getting stars on, getting stars off, until they’re all completely exhausted. And then they all look at each other and realize actually they’re exactly the same. And that the star on their chest, or not on the chest, was just… was not real, was not important. And that was really important story when I read it, because I think it tells the truth of this, that that fame, there’s nothing to it. In fact, it creates suffering, it creates harm, it creates a sense of hollowness and it creates such a pressure to maintain, because once you’ve got it, you’ve got to maintain it. And I still have that a little bit. You know, I still want that sort of recognition. There’s part of me that still wants to stand out. There’s a part of me that still wants to be respected. And I recognize that, you know, that comes from, you know, some deep insecurities of me and also a human condition to want to be recognized. And so this is always a work in progress, actually, because that hook is dangling there. It’s not like, Oh, the hook gets suddenly taken away and I never have to deal with it again. And, you know, the podcast is a good example, where we get such amazing feedback, you know, saying this changes people’s lives. And I’m doing something very similar to you, Phap Huu, which is I read it and I’m no longer hooked by it by thinking, Wow, I’m doing this or I’m helping people, that I’m wise and I’m doing this. I think what I am able to do is to help share these deep teachings from thousands of years ago that still resonate. And all I am is a vehicle and a channel to help these teachings reach maybe new audiences or to help reach people in new ways. So anyway, sorry, that was a bit of a monologue, but that was, that’s just sort of how I’ve been affected or working by it. And actually I feel really, I think it must be so difficult for real celebrities, you know, for people who are so well known that they step out their door and they’re being photographed, that they’re chased everywhere, that they, you know, that they may get lots of benefits from it, but, oh my God, you know, it feels such a life of suffering from my perspective.
Yeah. Thank you, Jo, for opening your heart and sharing this publicly and honestly.
Oh, we’re not publishing this, are we?
Of course we are. This is a real training, learning to be transparent and be humble to ourself, to even say things like that. Right?
Luckily for me, I didn’t start with the intention to become a monk to be famous. So that wasn’t like a seed that was planted when I joined the monastic path. Like, I just want to shave my head and wear that brown robe and be able to feel like I was a part of, you know, Plum Village. Like that was my real motivation. And of course, part of our training and the teachings of the Buddha and the teachings of Thay, it always talks about being mindful of power, money, fame and sensual pleasure. And I guess like when I was young, I was just, I was like, Oh, yeah, dude, we’ll never like, we will not have to deal with fame, you know, like, we’re just monastics. We’re just nobodies and we’re just home. We’re learning to be homeless. We’re learning to be, like, less and less and less. But I think now to also be totally honest is when I first realized that people recognize me without me knowing them, there was a lot of feelings there. Like someone came up to me in Plum Village, like on arrival day of a retreat, and they came and they bowed to me with a lot of enthusiasm and they shared how grateful they are to have the chance to listen to the podcast through the pandemic, and now through their commutes and everything. And they said, and I feel like I know you. And I was like, Oh, my gosh, like, I feel very naked right now. And I didn’t know how to react. So I just joined my palms, and I just, I think I bowed and I said, Thank you for supporting the podcast and enjoy your week with us in Plum Village. And I did have to go for a walk. I went into nature and I was just like, Whoa, okay, this is new. This is something you can’t also push away because in that moment it wasn’t, they weren’t coming to me because of something I’m not also. You know what I mean? It’s like, there’s also like that view, that respect to the teachings that they are able to listen to. And so I remembered in 2008 I had the chance to go with Thay to India and I was his attendant. Thay gave us a prep talk before arriving in India to the whole delegation of monks and nuns, because there’s a culture of respect in India that when they meet someone on a spiritual path, whether they are a Buddhist monk or maybe a guru, they will touch the earth before you, they will prostrate before you, and they would put their hands on our feet in order to receive that blessing. And Thay said, at that moment, you’re not allowed to reject that respect and that prostration. But what you have to practice at that moment is that what they are bowing to is not you, but is what you represent. It’s the robe, i’s the bald head, it’s the monastic vow that you took. It’s that you are a part of the Buddha’s lineage and the spiritual lineage that has been transmitted for over 2600 years. So what they’re prostrating to is that, it’s not you, you know. And Thay was, when he said that, like he pointed his fingers, it’s not you. They are prostrating and paying gratitude to the lineage, the ancestors that have gone before us and what we are representing now. And then Thay gave us a practice. And Thay said, and if anything, that should encourage us to practice even more deeply in order to represent that spirituality that represent mindfulness, concentration, insight and peace. You know? So when I was walking in the forest after that person bowed to me, that line of Thay came up very strong. And I felt very immature at that moment of the way I received that love. And so I vowed that I would practice better next time when somebody do that, you know, just to also offer my gratitude back for practicing, you know, and I thank them for being a part of the community and so on, and for taking in the practice that Thay has transmitted and that we are now offering. And another part of me is being scared, to be honest, because with a lot of respect and a lot of admiration and a lot of recognition, I just realized that all of my actions have really powerful consequences. You know, I’m very mindful of what I post. I’m very mindful of how I interact, how I share. And I guess there were moments in me when I was like, Am I losing who I am? You know, and that becomes a bell of mindfulness for me to reflect on. So instead of being too scared of it and making it like something dark and heavy, I’m turning it into a koan, like a question to just reflect and just be mindful of my own mind of what I’m cultivating. Because sometimes it’s maybe it’s just our perceptions. Like, maybe nobody cares about us, and we are just creating our own story about who we are also. Right? So what I’m practicing is no matter where I am, when I meet someone, I will look at them in the eye and I will see them for who they are. I will recognize that they are there in front of me and not to allow the ego to say, Oh, they should be respecting me more, you know, to have this sense of privilege or whatever that may be. And that sneaks in with the energy of fame. You know, all of these other weeds that come up with it, which is like expecting people to treat you a particular way, or even in my own community, my monastic community. But I just had the chance to go to Thailand, our Plum Village community in Thailand. Plum Village International Thailand is such a beautiful center. Oh my gosh, I haven’t been back in six years. And when I arrived, like how much love and work this community have put into the landscape, and the energy there is so warm and it’s so beautiful. But many of the new younger brothers have never met me. And many of the new younger sisters in the community have never met me. And of course, through the pandemic, there were times that we exchanged Dharma talks, we zoomed in to see each other. But now it was the first time of seeing each other in person. So, you know, there was some excitement. There was some of that energy like bubbly energy, you know. So I think my practice is just, you know, just being mindful of it and also not pushing it away. You know, I’ve just like also just embracing it with humility, with like, it’s not just you, but it’s what you represent and everything. So for me, that has been a constant reflection and something that I am in touch with and something that I also don’t want to be a victim of success. And it brings me back to this quote, you know, that Thay shared to this business leader that he met in 2013 when that businessman asked, Thay… Actually, Thay asked that businessman What do you think is more important? Success or happiness? And that businessman answered both. And Thay said, No, you have to pick one. And I don’t think the businessman answered, so Thay said, You can be a victim of your success, but you would never be a victim of your happiness. And this happiness is a deeper happiness because we may think success is happiness, but this happiness is the happiness of fulfillment of feeling we have contributed, we are interconnected, we have love inside of us, we have love around us, we are able to support someone. So all of us, we have to define and meditate on what it means is our happiness. And that quote has become very alive for me because I do have a lot of projects going on right now, in this present moment, that we are planning for this year, 2023, as well as projecting 24, 25, and all is to bring the Dharma to different places as well as continue to create retreats for people to come to Plum Village and so on. And I even ask myself, like, am I becoming a victim of that success, or am I actually enjoying the process, enjoying the brotherhood, the sisterhood, the siblinghood while we’re all creating this together? And what I have been practicing is also delegating, like delegating of responsibility and roles to my brothers and sisters and to make sure that I don’t ever fall into the trap like I’m the only one that can do this. So I think when you become known and you’re very respected, you can also become a victim of that, of like you are super man and like, things won’t work without you. And you know, the second seal of Plum Village, Dharma seal of Plum Village is go as a river. And as a drop of water in this river, I can maybe be seen at the head, but there are moments I want to be at the middle, just to be the bridge, to connect to the younger generation and the elder generation, or at the bridge to connect the different cultures in our community. Or sometimes I love it when I can just take a step back and sit and take refuge in my elders that are also there in front of me. So the beauty of that insight is you’re always among a stream of water. That there are going to be those in front of you and there are those behind you and there are those around you. And if you just let go of your pride and just release the barrier a little bit, you will feel so much more supported and you will feel less alone. And I think a lot of us who are famous and who will fall into those realms, I think you can feel very alone. And it’s also because of what we create in our own perception of who we are, rather than just being who we are and also allowing others to support us. So I think that’s one thing I can share right now, Jo. And maybe in five years from now, when you ask me that question, it’ll be different, you know? Because we’re ever changing, we’re always changing, and we’re always growing from the practice. But that’s how I’m practicing right now.
Thank you, brother. And one of the things that we achieved sort of in a sense mentioned there is fame often creates loneliness, it creates separation. That if you’re at the top of something or you’re the leader of something or you’re the CEO or whatever it is, that actually that’s in my experience of interviewing people and being with people, that’s often the most lonely place.
And it’s a place where you don’t know who you can trust. If you’re famous, you know, one of the biggest issues seems to be who can I trust? Who’s after my money? Who wants to be associated with my fame? Who wants to steal attention from me? Who wants to do this? And actually, that’s a place of real potential loneliness. And one of the things I love, you know, about living next door to Plum Village is that it’s a community that you can reach out, you can admit to, this is what I’m going through, this is my suffering. You can share this and it doesn’t become this journey of loneliness and separation and then defensiveness, protection, attack, judgment, etc., that that can lead from that. But brother, I think perhaps, this was my most important question to you today, which is that one of the feedbacks from our listeners was one of them was saying that the being that particularly enjoys listening to you is their cat. And the fact is that Thay always brought in, you know, human beings and all living beings, not just humans. So I’m just wondering if maybe there’s a risk of you becoming famous around the feline world and how are you going to deal with that when they all come purring up to you? Because I know, I have noticed in Plum Village that a couple of cats who like to come and sort of rub against your legs, I’m just wondering whether we are missing a big issue here about how you’re going to cope with your feline fame.
I don’t think we have to worry about that. Cats are very independent. They will come to you when they’re lacking a little bit of love, but when they have enough they know how to be by themselves. I do want to add one element that I’ve been practicing is because when you start to become recognized, like I think we focus too much then on our outer show, like, you know, like how we show, like our outer form, like what we’re wearing, how we show up and what we need to say and so on. And very recently I had a gathering of young Wake Up-ers in Vietnam. And one of the university students, he was so eager to meet me. He’s like, he said, I’ll skip school to come and have a cup of tea with you. So I said, Okay, please come. Sorry, school. But, you know, after the sharing we had a little bit of a Q&A and he asked me. He’s like, Brother, like I have a lot of inferiority complexes about my physical form and I feel so much smaller than other people and like, how do I work with that? And that question was me when I was 12 years old, when I was 13 years old. And it brought back so much memory of my childhood because I’m also very small, a petite person. And I did tell him I’m like, Well, you know what? I’m not that big. But one thing that we can always grow and develop is our heart, it’s our capacity of love and our capacity of being there for others. And I did share like I’ve had the wonderful privilege of being around Thay. And for me, he is as big of a superstar as for me, like, who I feel like the greatest honor in my lifetime to walk next to, sit next to… And what he always offered was his unconditional presence. You know, his way of just being, his open heart, his way of looking at me, his way of seeing me. And I said, you know, out of form is impermanent, but our capacity of love, that can be transmitted lifetime. Just like the teaching of the Buddha, it continues today, and I believe Thay’s legacy will continue for years, hundreds of years to come. So our greatest offering, I always come back to is the kindness, the openness, the way of being. So I think, for me, if I want to be known and be remembered is also that. It’s like, where do I shift? What am I cultivating? What am I investing in? So that I’m offering like what we said, humility is also offering. So if you have an impact, what are you offering to the young generation? What are you offering to people around you? What are you offering to society? And what I want to share is that if you’re famous, wonderful, it’s great. But how can you use your presence to have an impact that can outlast you? You know, and that can be remembered and cultivated in the next generation. And I think people don’t remember your names, but they remember your actions and your presence.
Brother, that’s so beautifully put, and it really brings to the center of my attention how Thay dealt with his fame, because we talk about how we deal with it. But the great example is Thay himself, because Thay, I think I might have mentioned this before, I refer to him as the most famous person no one’s ever heard of because it’s like so many people know about him, but they know about him from the essence rather than from an outer manifestation of who he is. And I always remember when I was at The Guardian, I was told, I heard that the Daily Mirror, which is a sort of tabloid popular newspaper in the U.K., wanted to do a feature on Thay because he was coming to the U.K. to do a tour, and that they asked the Plum Village community for all the pictures of him with famous people, because actually what The Daily Mirror wanted to do was have a photo spread of famous people, and Thay was a way of giving them that opportunity. And I remember the monastics looked and they couldn’t find a single one. And so they went back to the Mirror saying, well, you know, we don’t have any photos of him with famous people, but we’d love you to do an article. And they said, Oh, well, well then, well, we’re not interested. We’ll drop the idea. And my wife Paz, who’s been in different Buddhist traditions and has seen firsthand where people’s fame has got out of control and become abusive. She’s always said that Thay, the Sangha, so the community around Thay reflects the teacher. The teacher reflects the community, and the community reflects the teacher. And what I love about the community that is attracted to Thay is that so many of them, well, all of them, I’ve never met someone who comes to Plum Village or someone who cares about Thay’s teaching to be a show off or to be someone who parades their clothes. You know, people come… It’s a very honest sangha, in my experience, and it was real insight from that I learned from Paz about saying, well, actually, if the teacher is in any way corrupt or it will show up in the community or in the other monastics. And I think, you know, spirituality is such a delicate and vulnerable area because often people come to a spiritual community because they might be broken, they might be suffering, they might be searching for help. And it can easily create a power situation, where the… In any spiritual tradition, the person who has the so-called spiritual wisdom or knowledge looks as though they have a deeper understanding of life and therefore the person that comes to them become can easily become dependent and needy and think that that person is special because actually they’ve got something that the person is looking for and therefore it can easily, that can easily create a place of abuse. And I think Thay’s community pretty much, I mean, most of the time I have not seen that corruption of spirit in the community. But it might be helpful, Phap Huu, just to talk a bit about how you see Thay have handling… You know, he was invited by presidents, prime ministers. He was invited in all sorts of, you know, by some of the most powerful CEOs in the world. How did he handle that?
His sangha, what he created, this community is that he lived in there, and he didn’t build, you know, his own mansion somewhere else. And, you know, he always flew economy. So the way you choose your way of life around you will support your practice. You know, and there were moments when, because of circumstance, you know, we did have to be in a little bit more of a luxurious car in different countries or so on. But when we returned back to Plum Village is still that Toyota hybrid, you know? And when Thay comes back to Plum Village is still that Sitting Still hot, that the mattress is very close to the ground. In his hut is a bookshelf made from bricks and three pieces of log, his table that he’s had for, I don’t know, 30, 40, 50 years? And he cultivates his lifestyle to support his true intention, which is simplicity. And I think that is where your lifestyle also becomes your temple. You know, it becomes your practice. And the mind is also cultivated by how you condition yourself. So if you going to condition yourself by simplicity, then you’re always reminded to not fall into desire, into more and more and more. And what I truly respect in Thay and I am still trying to do it is he’s just so committed to the schedule at the community. You know, throughout all my years of attending him, we would be on like an intensive tour in the United States for two and a half months straight where Thay probably gave over 40 Dharma talks, interviews, and so on. And if we arrive like today is Saturday and tomorrow is Sunday, which is a traditional day of mindfulness in Plum Village, Thay will show up, give the Dharma talk, lead the walking meditation, lead the formal lunch, and then rest afterwards. So it just shows me that everything that he does, there’s no difference. You know what I mean? It’s like, that’s him being the drop of water in the river. There’s no difference in like, Oh, I just came from afar. I’m so exhausted. You all need to respect me. Like there’s none of that. And I just came back from Vietnam a few days ago, and, you know, we’re setting up to record this podcast and we’re all like, for me, I was like trying to select the right time and so on. But sometimes when I get caught up, I am reminded of Thay’s aspiration, his will, his bodhisattva energy, which is like, it’s more than me. And I think that insight of interbeing is what really has also kept Thay so close to all of us. And I think that was one of the uniqueness of Thay, is that he’s so extraordinary, but he’s so ordinary. And there are things that he does that is so ordinary, but is so extraordinary. You know, like I’ve received so many guests that have had lunch with Thay, have had tea with Thay. And Thay shares the same table with everyone. If we’re eating on the floor, Thay’s eating on the floor. And there is this one OI member who later on became a monastic with us. One day Thay invited her for breakfast because he wanted to express his gratitude to her for help organizing the German tour, when Thay went to Germany back in the early 2000s, and through the whole meal she was just crying. She didn’t even eat anything. And Thay just said, Why aren’t you eating? Like, aren’t you hungry? And she’s just like, No, I just want to watch you. But, you know, like, I think for her to witness Thay be so ordinary, but so present and so alive was extraordinary for her. You know, so I think that has been a compass for me, like to be ordinary and there are moments of extraordinary in it. And if you’re ever extraordinary, just be ordinary, because you still want to be so connected to everyone. Like, what’s the point of being great but having no friends? You know? Like what’s the point of being all this and that, but not having time for your loved ones. And I think it’s very cliche to say that, and I know in a lot of movies and a lot of, I don’t know, quotes say that, but it is real. And I think that’s why it has been transmitted through so many generations… This wisdom is like, take time to be with each other because our life is so impermanent. And we think we live long but, I don’t know, one day we turn back to the earth, and let’s live fully. You know? And that’s why this mindfulness practice and people learning to come back and be true to themselves and be home, to be at home with themselves in order to be home with others is so important.
Oh, brother, that’s so beautifully spoken. You know, we hear these stories of stars throwing hissy fits when the green room doesn’t have white, particular white flowers, or blue M&M’s and all those, as you say, are separation. And I see that also in you, brother, you know, and that you come in and, you know, when it’s setting up the meditation, or you’re there moving the cushions and mats. And it’s a grounding, and I, you know, I in my own way do that because I recognize, you know, when I go and facilitate or chair something, I will go in early and I will move all the chairs around … I won’t say, Why did you set this up? or You come and do this. Because I think there’s something so important about just being grounded. You know, that when the sound technician is there to be with the sound technician getting it right, not telling the sound technician what to do, not to tell the people to move the chairs, but to move it with them, to be part of everything, because it grounds me, it respects them. I actually get what I want and it grounds me in that place, in that physical place. So when I then chair or facilitate something, I’m already there. And I think when, you know, when people come into conferences and they fly in and they come in halfway into conference, deliver their 10 minutes and then leave. What are they delivering? Who are they connecting with? They haven’t been there. They don’t know the people. They haven’t spent time there. They don’t know the physicality. They come to deliver something and go and that… What are they really doing there? They’re just delivering something, but they’re not being there. So I really hear that. Brother, maybe this is a good place to stop. And I love that, to have the extraordinary in the ordinary, and the ordinary and the extraordinary that’s a good one, brother, I love that phrase, because that I haven’t heard someone voice it like that, and I think it beautifully sums up what we’ve been discussing today. So thank you so much. And as tradition, we have a short meditation, which is, as you say, in Plum Village tradition, there’s this idea of Dharma rain, we can now let go of all the words and come back to this moment, letting everything else go and just for all the cats that are here and listening, please enjoy the dulcet tones of Pha Huu’s meditation.
And dear friends, wherever you may be listening from, if you are on the airplane, on a train, on the bus, in a car, or going for a jog, going for a walk, cleaning your house or doing your chores, whatever you may be doing, just allow yourself to take a moment to pause. You can find a bench, find a seat, or you can even lay down, if you are near a park. And just allow your body to rest. Just feeling your shoulders drop. Releasing the tension in your arms. If you are holding a fist, let’s undo the fists. Letting our fingers, our palms relax and open. Let us feel our buttocks on the ground knowing that we have feet that support us. And in this moment, let’s become aware of our breath as we breathe in. And our outbreath as we breathe out. This is inbreath, this is outbreath. Inbreath. Outbreath. Feel the breath. We don’t have to think about the breath. If the breath is short, just smile to it, allow it to be short. If the breath is long, smile to it, allow it to be long. Breathing in, I take refuge in my inbreath from the beginning to the end. Breathing out, I take refuge to my outbreath from the beginning to the end. Following my inbreath. Following my outbreath. Breathing in, I smile to my openness inside of me. Capacity to learn, to see, to hear. Breathing out. I cultivate openness in me, to have space for myself, to have space for my loved ones, to have space for life, to experience life in the present moment. In, openness. Out, cultivating. Breathing in, I’m in touch with the quality of humility in me. Even through this breath, I am humble to life in this breath. Breathing out, I cultivate humility, an energy that allows me to connect, to be with others, and to allow others to be with me. Breathing in, humility in me. Breathing out, I cultivate this energy. Breathing in, I see myself as a drop of water letting go to enter into this river, this river of mindfulness, of practicing with so many around the world. Breathing out, I am one with the river. Letting go of my inferiority complex, my equality complex, my superiority complex. In, drop of water. Out, one with the river. Breathing in, I see myself as the river. Breathing out, I am supporting the river. Past, present and future continuing to flow towards the ocean of liberation, freedom, happiness. Breathing in, I am part of the river. Breathing out, we are all flowing together. Breathing in, I smile to life inside of me, accepting myself. Breathing out, I smile to life all around me, being present for what is. What is here, what is now. In, smiling to life inside of me. Out, I am here for the present moment.
Thank you, dear friends, for practicing with us and for listening to our podcasts.
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The way out is in.