Welcome to episode 52 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, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach and journalist Jo Confino are joined again by frequent podcast guest Sister True Dedication (Sister Hien Nghiem). Together, they respond to further questions from listeners in this second part of our first question and answer session of 2023.
We hope that their answers will show how the teachings can help people who are in distress or are dealing with critical issues – but also simply how to find more joy in our lives.
This installment’s questions and answers cover topics ranging from how to create a practice with no sangha to how to develop a spiritual practice in busy, stressful lives; how to find meaningful communities and connections and become aware of our own story and that of our ancestors; understanding the complexity of ancestry and transmitted wisdom; belonging and home; intention and aspiration; the quality of presence; how to engage mindfully in a policing role; the difference between mindfulness and concentration; finding the sweetness of joy in life and making simple things your joy – and much more.
To give a flavor of Plum Village Q and A sessions, the two monastics share memories including a story about Thay singing a song during a Q and A session for children.
And what question do you think people should be asking? Or don’t ask enough?
There’s an answer to this one, too.
Thank you for listening, and for sharing your deep questions!
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
The Way Out Is In: ‘Listeners’ Questions: Responding from the Heart (Episode #51)’
Sister True Dedication https://plumvillage.org/people/dharma-teachers/sister-hien-nghiem/
Touching the Earth
The European Institute of Applied Buddhism (EIAB)
Dharma Talks: ‘The Five Skandhas of Grasping and Non-Self’
Find a local group
Local communities (sanghas)
The Miracle of Mindfulness
Sutras: ‘Discourse on Knowing the Better Way to Live Alone’
‘The Four Dharma Seals of Plum Village’
Sister Chan Khong
Dharma Talk: ‘Mindfulness and the Police’ by Cheri Maples
A Field Guide to Climate Anxiety: How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet
Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet
Online course: Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet
“As long as you are breathing and have awareness to be with your breath, that is an opportunity. And nobody can take that away, besides our old excuses.”
“At the beginning of my practice, I thought that mindfulness meant doing sitting meditation for 30 minutes every morning or having to do sacred reading or something, and having some kind of spiritual structure or program. And, actually, thanks to the five mindfulness trainings and coming on retreats here, I was like, ‘Oh, mindfulness is in three dimensions. Mindfulness is how I listen to my boss at work. Mindfulness is how I don’t get into arguments with my housemates.’ And I started to realize this three- or four-dimensionality of mindfulness, which is about how I choose to spend my time.”
“If we think of our separate selves as just our life and what we’ve experienced, that cuts off an enormous amount of intelligence, knowledge, and understanding that can help us to understand ourselves more deeply and to heal ourselves.”
“Some of the themes we’ve been speaking about are also around despair, and in the Buddhist teachings, intention – what we’d call aspiration – is the antidote and the medicine for despair. And so, if we’re feeling dull in our life, it may be because we haven’t yet identified what we really want and aren’t acting on it.”
“We do not know how long we have. And if mindfulness can give us anything, it is awakening to what is most important to us.”
“Mindfulness is mindfulness when it starts to generate more love and understanding.”
“Mindfulness is not a pill, but it is a path.”
“For us, mindfulness always contains within it love, understanding, and helping people to suffer less. But it also goes to the roots. And what’s happening now is that there are a lot of mindfulness products which are more about wellbeing and making you feel good. But for us, mindfulness does so much more. It gets to the root of our suffering so we can transform what is painful in our life, so we can generate more happiness in our life, so we can heal, sometimes healing things over many generations.”
“It’s not that you can only be mindful in nature. So somehow challenging ourselves to see what is extraordinary about any moment in front of us, and to give ourselves space to enjoy those moments, can really bring back the sweetness.”
Dear listeners, welcome to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.
I’m Jo Cofino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.
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 we are doing the second part of our question and answer session with the fabulous Sister True Dedication, who’s come up from Lower Hamlet. And it’s a joy to have you here, sister.
The way out is in.
Hello everyone. I’m Jo Confino.
I’m Brother Phap Huu.
And I’m Sister True Dedication.
She’s becoming a complete pro, isn’t she, brother?
We’re never going to let her go. Oh, no, we’re not allowed to be attached. We have to let her go. Okay. So before we go into the questions of our listeners, which, thank you everyone who did that on Phap Huu’s Instagram and Facebook accounts. Before we get into them, one of the things that I’ve always loved about Plum Village is how Thich Nhat Hanh always included the children. And he did that in the Dharma talks, so he would have 20 minutes with the children and talking to them direct. And I think often the adults took in as much because he had to bring it to that level and bring it to our childlike sense of knowing. And in particular the Q and A’s, he would always start off with the children, and some of those were some of the funniest, but also some of the most insightful questions because that’s what children do. They cut through all their messy intellectual lecturalism and speak often from the heart because they don’t know any other way, whereas we have to sometimes try to do that. So it would be nice, maybe, Brother Phap Huu, SisterTrue Dedication, just to get a flavor for those who have not attended those, what were they like? And whether you have an example that will give us that sense. Sister True Dedication.
Well, the atmosphere was always very joyful and the children were always so attentive. And I kind of sometimes I wondered, how is Thay holding all their attention? You know? But I think he loved being with children. And I think his way of being in the world is like, so gentle, so warm, so present. And children respond right away to that cause like children always in the present moment, you know. They’re not, for the most part, kind of ruminating and worrying and so on. They’re just dealing with all of these immediate sense impressions. And I remember one time a cute little boy was asking, you know, what if I want to become a monk? Like, how old would I have to be? And when can I become a monk? And then we’re all like, well, this is interesting. And then Thay was like, when you’re old enough to tie your own shoelaces and take a shower by yourself, because you won’t have your mom there with you. And it was just so real. And just to let you know that actually that was the little boy had been kind of growing up in Plum Village. And actually his mom used to be a nun. And so I think it was a phase he was going through, and I think he’s now grown out of this phase and is living a very happy life. But it just really moved me how like, how Thay brought his answers to exactly where the children were. And one of my favorite ones was in Toronto in 2013 when, you know, the children, like I mean, as we all know, children are sometimes peaceful and sometimes they’re really naughty and mischievous and can be quite hard to handle. And that retreat, we had a very big group of children and some of the slightly older boys like, I don’t know, nine, ten, 11, 12 were being a bit kind of naughty. And in the question and answer session, Thay was trying to wrap it up because we’d had such a long line of children asking questions and it had taken almost the whole hour. So it was like, okay, now we’ve got to give the adults at least a couple of questions. And then this boy came up just as the children had been invited to leave and kind of yelled into the microphone, Sing a song, you know. And I just remember how Thay grabbed that moment and he was like, Okay. And he sort of held it into. Okay, okay. You know.
Challenge accepted. Exactly. And there was this long pause and I remember thinking, Thay is not going to do this. Is he going to do this? Is Thay gonna sing? Because I think at that point I was like, I’m not even sure I’ve heard Thay sing. Like I’ve heard Thay chant. You know, he would chant the traditional chants so beautifully in the Hue style. I was like, it’s Thay literally gonna sing? And then he sang a song from his childhood, in French, because we’re in Canada. And I think this boy was French. So he sang a song in French about a little boy… some childhood song that Thay had learned in Vietnam, in French, as a little boy, when he was the same age as this child. And it just really the way Thay humbled himself, he was not there as a great teacher. He was there to be this little boy’s friend and to say, you matter, to this little boy that had kind of had this slightly kind of careless and provocative question. He was like, I see you. We can be friends. Let me sing you this song. And then Thay just started singing this song in French. Some booboo, somebody needs something. Booboo does something like some snake has bitten off my thumb or something. It’s a very strange song, and Thay was completely sincere, like 100% wholehearted singing the song and trying to get the words right, you know? And that humility was such a teaching. And for me, I then thought, That’s a truly great master. He doesn’t need to have that outward impression of being a great master, but by being so humble, so present, so attentive to what that boy really needed, which was to be seen, to be heard, to have some attention, actually. And for me, it was actually an educators retreat, and I thought, Wow, that is such a teaching for all the teachers in this hall, that when we have mischievous and naughty children actually to be there for them directly and what they are asking of us can be the greatest, greatest teaching, greatest message and greatest gift that we can give them.
Thank you, Sister True Dedication. Phap Huu, anything that comes to your mind?
One retreat, we were in Germany at the EIB and I was sitting behind Thay and the translator beside him also. And we’re there to also help like you’re next, so please or please wait for the bell, instruct the flow of the Q&A. And you just never know with children, because sometimes they have been dared by the other children to go up. Right? And if you start seeing them look at each other, I’m like, Oh, what’s going to happen? And it is very similar to the story of the child asking Thay to sing. But this child, which was a boy, and his question, I actually think it was very sincere from him, though. He said, Thay, can I have a hug? And it was just such a pure moment of wanting to be loved and wanting to be recognized. And the whole meditation tent, because we were under a huge tent, were anticipating like, what is the Zen master going to say? Because everybody has a perception about a Zen master. Some would think, Oh, this is unholy. This is too normal. This is not deep. And Thay just put out his two arms and the child just came into his embrace. And they had such a pure moment of warmth and humans recognizing human. A teacher recognizing a young student. And he was very cheeky afterwards, he said, This is the last question about hugging. Nobody else is allowed to ask this question. Because suddenly you see like hundreds of people coming up. So, you know, Thay was also very sharp and very present and very real at that moment. And for me, also as as a student and somebody walking this path, it’s just so important to see this human side of Thay and how he can be just so down to earth and so simple. Just if someone’s asking for a hug, just give a hug. You don’t need to make it more than that.
I’m going to ask you when we finish, brother. So, thank you both. And now we’re going to, as I said, we got to answer three or four questions last time out of 200. So let’s see if we can at least double that number. Not that, but less is sometimes more. I know that, but let’s see what we can do. So the first question is… My question is about ancestors. It’s something Thay talks about a lot. I am adopted, so it’s confusing for me and I don’t feel like I can participate fully in insight or meditations that reflect on ancestors. Do I focus on my parents and family as I know them? Or my unknown genetic ancestors? I don’t have a genetic connection to my adopted family, but they’re the only family I know. My mind always gets thrown out of meditation or reflection on ancestors because I don’t have a deep connection to anyone genetic or in my adopted family, anyone older than my grandparents. I feel a bit of a disconnect when people talk about ancestors. Now, I know that this is not limited to this one person that that for a lot of people who are adopted, they are confused about what home is and where do they come from and who they really are. And so I think this question is there for a lot of people actually to get benefit from. And Sister True Dedication, any reflections?
I think with our practice with ancestors, first of all to understand that we have different kinds of ancestors, right? So in our tradition, we at least speak about so blood or genetic ancestors, and then we speak about kind of land ancestors, meaning like our culture, our environment. And that would also include what we have been nurtured into. So in where we’ve grown up, how we’ve been schooled, how we’ve been loved and cared for by our main caregivers, whoever they were. And that may not have been our genetic family, right, in many cases. And even if folks weren’t necessarily adopted, but it may have been that the most nurturing they got wasn’t from their immediate home environment. And then the third category of ancestors we also acknowledge is spiritual ancestors, which is kind of wise ones. And that can be any kind of teacher. It could be a teacher at kindergarten, high school or college or a mentor at work. People who have transmitted wisdom to us as well as whatever kind of faith traditions we might be navigating. And it might be more than one, right? And so for me, the power of the teaching from Thay on ancestors is to give ourselves permission to open that up. Let it not be a closed door. Let’s get really curious about opening that door and kind of seeing how far we can go. And so actually being aware of our own life story and then the life story of people around us, being aware of the history of our cultures, our societies, and what extraction, colonialism, exploitation, for example, myself, as I have British roots, I need to know that, I need to understand the complex threads, the kind of mud that is also there in my land ancestors, as well as just the stuff you might learn at school or kind of have in your general knowledge. And to allow ourselves also to have that kind of spiritual ancestry, to sort of say, I acknowledge those who have transmitted wisdom to me, whoever they were, and to really cultivate that respect, that gratitude and that kind of love and also a real sense of belonging and identity can come by really looking deeply into our spiritual roots. So in the monastery, like Thay would ask his monastic students to write a little kind of biography of ourselves. So this happened, the kind of monastic generation before mine. And one time, apparently they all came up for a day of practice in Upper Hamlet, and Thay had set up benches and tables in one of the meditation halls, and everyone had to sit down in front of a piece of paper and write their life story. And, you know, I don’t know whether they had half an hour or an hour to do it and then had to give it to Thay so that he understood, like what has happened. And then Thay also then said, each one of you needs to research your parents, your grandparents, your ancestors. And so for some of us that might be also understanding our adoptive family. What are their roots? How has this great compassion and this gift, this generosity, this inclusiveness, where has that come from? Because I guess Buddhism is kind of in line with epigenetics in the sense that the context we’re in activates seeds in our consciousness. So that loving family, that environment, that embrace of our adoptive family has activated seeds in our consciousness that has been able to kind of manifest, to grow, to bloom thanks to that environment. So it’s not actually, so I wouldn’t say there’s exact a clear cut between kind of genetic and environment, because we know in the study of kind of Buddhist psychology and kind of how things manifest in the world, we can have all the good seeds in the world, but if we’re in a bad environment, those seeds can never manifest, but in a good environment, those seeds can kind of come up. So this sort of threat of deep looking is so helpful to our practice to understand who we are and like also just what we come up against. And so for me, understanding my grandparents, who also I had never met, became super helpful for understanding what was going on in me. For example, and yeah, I had some issues around being able to eat peacefully and in moderation, and I was like, Why is this so hard? But then realizing that one of my grandfathers basically lived like an ascetic kind of monk, super simple life, very humble, very lean. And the other one died of obesity and had a real issue with kind of craving and greed in his lifetime and then realizing, oh, my two grandfathers battling in my heart when I’m in the monastery trying to serve an appropriate amount of food for a meal with my monastic siblings. It’s not just me participating in that choice. So for me, it’s been a real kind of Dharma door to open up to understand what’s going on in me, in different moments when we’re trying to be a mindfulness practitioner, we have the best will in the world. I want to bring awareness and I want, so in this case, I just I remember joining my palms at the beginning of the kind of service line and saying, I want to take an appropriate amount of food. And then being devastated when I sat down and then realizing how did I, how on earth did I take too much food? How did that happen in the last 5 minutes? But then to be able to understand it and then I can have compassion for myself, and then I realize my lifetime is a chance for these two grandfathers to kind of reconcile in me. And they’re not separate selves either, right? They are also the product of their grandparents and their parents. So it’s a real journey of discovery. And I really have faith that even for those genetic ancestors that we didn’t meet in person, there’s something cellular in us that emerges that can come up at a certain time, and it’s almost like we know them by their absence is like the the shadow or the relief is like that must be something coming to me through a genetic route because that that I really don’t recognize as something necessarily coming from my upbringing or my own characteristics or even my parents. It’s like, Oh, but this must have come maybe through many generations is coming to me and I’m struggling with it. And that in my practice has given me a lot of patience because then I realize I am… It’s not just about me and having autonomy and a chance to change in this lifetime, but I’m going to be changing a habit that has fallen down through many generations. So just another really concrete example, just to make this super real. When I fluff up and make a mistake, I call myself stupid and I call myself stupid in a very particular way. Sometimes it’s you stupid girl, okay? There was a point in my practice when I realized that was my mother’s voice. And then there was even a later point. I’m already a monastic. I heard my mum speak to herself like this, like literally those two words in that tone to herself. And we had an interesting conversation. I was able to talk to my mum about this. Did you realize? And then I was like, Did you ever hear your mum say this? She’s like, all the time. And what I suddenly realized was that these two words had fallen like a lead weight through three generations. Like the same words, the same tone, and I was just like, Oh, my goodness, it was such an awakening moment because I had them been there trying to practice self-compassion, and I got to cut this habit. You know, you stupid girl, stop calling yourself a stupid girl. I was like, How on earth do I cut this habit? And then you just realize, Wow, this like I suddenly thought, maybe this is like ten generations of women this has fallen down through the generations like this. So when I… Then it gave me so much more compassion to be like, okay, I just take an inbreath when that’s about to come out of my mouth, I just hold it. And I don’t want to be someone that talks to themself like that. I don’t want my mum to talk to herself like that. My grandmother, my great grandma. And so this has been super helpful. But like I say, some of it is kind of like deduction. It’s not like a scientific process. It’s more like an intuition mindfulness journey that we’re invited to go on.
Thank you, sister. And just to highlight one aspect of that, because some people will spend years in therapy trying to get to the bottom of why they behave or respond in a different way. And often they find it very difficult because they can’t find the experience in their lifetime or the conditions in their lifetime that would have led to that. And that can cause immense suffering over decades for people. And what you’re saying essentially is it is incredibly helpful to have a broader perspective of who we are. Because if we think of our separate selves and it’s just our life and what we’ve experienced, actually, that cuts off an enormous amount of intelligence, actually, knowledge and understanding that can help us to actually understand ourselves more deeply and also to heal ourselves.
Yeah. And life is mysterious and life is messy, so exactly as you say, I think the point is not to try and get to kind of get to the bottom of anything, but just to not identify with these things. So that’s what exactly what it’s helping us to be vaster, to be broader, and to not think that we are our habits, that we are our way of thinking, our way of doing, our way of responding, that we are our weaknesses, like our weaknesses don’t kind of belong to us as an individual. They may be there in our family, in our society, in our heritage, in all sorts of ways.
Okay. Brother Phap Huu, you may have a general response, but there are two things I’d like maybe also for you to touch. One is about in Western… in my life, but in a lot of people I know that ancestors don’t come up as an issue. And often they’re associated with sort of more Eastern religion or Eastern societies. So just want for you to touch on that. And also about one of the things I’ve learned from Thay’s teaching is when we heal something in the present moment, we’re healing it for our ancestors and also then creating a different future. So in the present moment, we’re able to heal the past and create a new future. So it’d be lovely beyond anything else you’re going to say, just to help people understand how that sort of… because it’s a different understanding of time, because we think if I change, then something changes forward. But it also changes in the past.
And the teaching in Buddhism, coming home to oneself, you have an opportunity to connect to everything that is because we are made out of non us elements. So therefore the past, even the present, even if we are, I’m not living in Vietnam, but Vietnam is in me and I don’t have to feel like I have to return to Vietnam to be a Vietnamese person. But in this present moment I do acknowledge my Vietnamese seed. I do see all of the beauty, all of the culture, the richness, the language, the food and the suffering. But also because of my condition, I grew up in Canada and I grew up in Plum Village, I also have this opportunity to be this environment, to be part of this culture, to be embedded with all of the wonders that exist in this land and the community that I live with. And with mindfulness, this light that allows me to see and to channel into me, I suddenly feel very rich, I feel rooted, I feel also connected to so many pathways East, West, up, down. And this insight is to tell us that we’re not alone. And a big part of my time, especially as a monastic, was learning about the ancestors around me, my brothers, my sisters, their ancestors. And so this insight is to go beyond the self also, is to help us touch interbeing at a deeper level of connectedness. So there comes a time, though, and it will arrive as our growth as a human, a human being with roots. We will have curiosity to return back to Vietnam or to return back to England. Or to return back to wherever we come from and not to just see where our parents grew up in, but to see how can we be a part of this because we are a continuation of our nation also. And for myself, particularly in this particular year, there was just a maturity that grew in me that I felt, I felt more Vietnamese. Very strange. I don’t even know how to put a finger on it, you know? And, you know, you all can see, yeah, because you’re Vietnamese. But for me, I arrived there though, I arrive at this understanding that I’m a lineage of this also. I’ve left Vietnam since I was three years old. The most I spent there was with Thay in 2005, three months. And so that was the only experience, but nothing is lost. What we’ve learned in the present moment, nothing is lost. So that also ripples into our transformation. Whatever we are able to acknowledge that manifest in us of a suffering from the war, from the hunger, from part of my direct ancestors, all the refugee of my families that experienced death as boat people, fear of the unknown. All of that fear has been transmitted to me. So everything that I’m able to transform in this present moment is for them, for myself and for future generations. So this teaching of ancestor is even beyond our direct bloodline, but it can be even wider. And in 2007, when Thay returned back to Vietnam with the mission to create a healing ceremony in three regions in the north, the center and the south of Vietnam, because our country has just been gone through so much war. And this ceremony was to connect to all of the past, the present and the future. And we even prayed for both sides of the war. There was no… We’re not just praying for the Vietnamese people, but we’re even in these ceremonies. We were even naming all of the American soldiers that came, all of the French soldiers that came and for their generations. And so we’re helping heal this wound that is still so alive. And that needs to be acknowledged, needs to be embrace, and collectively, we invited so many monastics from different traditions to be a part of this. So this was Thay taking this ancestor practice to another level and I will never forget those ceremony.
Thank you, Brother Phap Huu. And as you were both talking, what was coming strongly into my mind, which is, I suppose I’ve known, but it came into that from a different angle is that when I was growing up I didn’t really have a sense of who I am or to place myself in my life. It felt like a sort of desert with no sort of points of reference. And when I look back, it’s, you know, both my mum and my dad were refugees who had suffered greatly, but as I grew up, I grew up like it was normal. Nothing had happened. And I had this idea I grew up in this perfect family. And what I realize is that, and it was only later that I started to develop the context of this suffering, and then I started to understand the suffering in myself and how important it felt to know the truth, actually, and then to see what healing is. And like you, brother, you talk about Thay, you know, my mum, who escaped the Holocaust just after Kristallnacht left Germany, aged 14, on her own. She took all of her grandkids back to Germany and she didn’t take them back out of hatred. She took them back for healing. She took them back to understand their roots and to find forgiveness and understanding in what happened and to meet the people from her home, small town, where she grew up, who had isolated her and discriminated against her. And I absolutely recognize how her healing was my healing. That in her lifetime that the pain she was able to heal was the pain almost I was able to heal. And that my job has been in a sense, it’s like a relay race to see, what can I heal that still needs to be healed?
And in this practice, particularly in our practice of touching the earth, which is to our ancestors, is also to nourish gratitude, the gratitude of the continuation that we are. And so it’s also to empower us that we are this continuation now. So in our lifetime, can we be their continuation? Can we transform and heal and move forward?
So it is very empowering, this practice.
So I want to stick with the, sister, you talked about belonging and home because a lot of the questions that were posted were around loneliness and around sangha, around how to create a sense of community, people, there were questions around how do I practice when I’m alone, and that the actual understanding that one person wrote, they understand they’re development seemed to be slipping away. So I just want to read one question that relates to that, but I think there’s a dual aspect, and we sort of touched on it very briefly in a previous podcast, with the other questions and answers, about people are living very busy lives, very complex lives that they find it very hard to maintain a practice. They find it very hard to maintain a sense of focus and concentration where there’s so much going on around them. So let’s pick just one question, but that I think we also can we will reach many people. How can I create a practice when I have no sangha and no Buddhist practitioners in my surroundings? I find this very hard and like I’m losing touch with the Dharma in a way, because I feel so alone. I feel I’ve gone astray in this modern world with its demands and rushing energy. I may have a weakness in character since I find it so difficult to practice on my own. But I have this yearning for Dharma connection and it feels like I am losing it bit by bit. And then there’s another one related. I would like to ask how to find meaningful connections and communities in a world filled with materialism and grasping. So brother, the question it says, I may have a weakness in my character. Do they have a weakness in my character, or is actually this just a condition that we all feel? And even within monastic life, people can struggle with their practice and with connecting and can suffer loneliness. It’s not just in a busy world. It’s feels like part of our human condition. But do you want to reflect on that question or those questions?
And I think this question speaks to probably many who are listening and even to all of us who are present in the hut right now. But the good news is we all have the capacity to develop a mobile practice that is living and no one can take away. And as long as we are breathing, breath is life. And in our tradition, we have made breath our greatest spiritual friend. And I’ll never forget this, Thay said to us, as long as you are breathing and you have awareness to be with your breath, that is an opportunity. And nobody can take that away besides our old excuses. And that is an encouragement, not a judgment. And that is a teaching that Thay had to live himself. If you remember, he was exiled from Vietnam, and he explained to us that he felt like a cell that was removed from the body of all of his beloved, his community, his friends, and he felt absolutely alone. And the characteristic of wanting to give up was very present. And in those moments, you feel absolutely alone, you feel absolutely powerless, and you can sink into that. But if you have mindfulness and you can find a grounding practice to find yourself, to come home to the present moment and to ask yourself, what do I do now? This becomes your koan. This is the question. I don’t have my sangha. I don’t have skillful means, there were no apps, there was no internet to connect. Having a telephone was already very difficult during that time. And why I have arrived, I am home is the Dharma Seal of Plum Village is because this is our answer. The present moment where you are is your sangha. Your breath is your sangha. Your deep looking into your situation to take care of yourself is your sangha. The moment you create a practice to drink tea and to truly be mindful that is your sangha. So sangha can also means to practice not exactly human beings. We have a sutra that is a foundation of our Dharma school, and it comes from the Buddha himself. How to live alone. This year live alone doesn’t mean we should strive to be a hermit and not have any connection. But this living alone is to not lose oneself, is to know how to be in the present moment with oneself. So this mobile, our teacher calls it our mobile monastery that nobody can take away. The more traditional language is our island, our safe island within us. And we all have that. Our five skandhas, our garden that we come home to take care of is our practice. So that is speaking on the level of finding the art to create your daily practice, which becomes your backbone for your spiritual well-being, your home of practice. And nevertheless, though, to have one friend. Don’t look for many. To have one spiritual friend to start is already something. Thay had just Sister Chan Khong, Sister True Emptiness. And for Plum Village to be what it is today, it started with one aspiration. Many who who saw the beauty join, but many also gave up on it. But one person to stick with you and slowly you keep building and building and building. So I always encourage some members, if you start with 20 people, but then it falls down to five people still keep at it. That’s how Plum Village started. We just kept maintaining the diligence. And slowly, slowly, the nest grew bigger and more birds would fly home. And it is our deepest aspiration to have multitude of practice centers. Our work of our generation is to be this foundation to grow Plum Village Dharma door into an international Buddhism that is accessible to many walks of life, to continue Thay’s openness that you don’t have to be Buddhist to practice. And our deepest aspiration is to continue to grow hundreds of monasteries, every country. That is our deepest aspiration. Thay told all of us, monastics, you should all have the dream to go home where you grew up in and set up a monastery. And if it is not realized in your time, you pass it on to the next generation. And that’s how Buddhism have remained to today. And we also have to be patient. We have to also we have to have endurance also. And we also have to build our own inner strength and our our work today, you know, having Cata sit here, who is the pioneer of our Plum Village App, our teacher gave us this vision saying there are so… there are hundreds of thousands of people in this lifetime who will never have a chance to come to Plum Village. How can we make our Dharma more accessible? This is an ongoing koan for us. This is an ongoing project for us. The podcast was born from this aspiration. Our online retreat was born from this aspiration. Thay’s books that he writes hundreds is from this aspiration. How can it reach to even the places that have never heard of Buddhism? And just leave that book there and you never know who will pick it up. And so we are continuously asking and being curious, how do we continue to create connection? And so when I hear this question, I don’t have an immediate solution, but I have an aspiration. And for all of us listening, you know, please, please help us, please help Plum Village build this sangha. And Thay always says, we don’t have enough monastics. We don’t have enough Dharma teachers. We need more Dharma teachers, lay Dharma teachers. We need more people to also have this aspiration to walk this path with the monks and nuns because it’s not enough. And even if we’re not monks and nuns, you’re not limited. Be that support, be that friend, build that sangha even if it’s three people. Nothing is lost. So I want to really reignite that aspiration that Thay has strongly transmitted to us from years and years and years and is still very alive in me. And every time, you know, we sit in hours of meetings in Palm Village, please don’t think that we just sit and breathe all day, we have hours of meetings, of projects, of development and is all how do we make this a foundation for generations to come? And this is the continuation of Thay. Thay said, Don’t just think about you, think about the next generation. And this is our interbeing practice also. So this question, I hope it sparks creativity in all of us and we need a helping hand here.
Thank you, Brother Phap Huu. Sister True Dedication, I remember that often when Thay would talk about, you know, practice and building sangha, what would come into my mind was, I think was a question, but maybe with a touch of cynicism, which was I would think of, you know, a single mother in a high rise building in a flat where there might be mold, with three kids, sort of struggling to survive. But also, it could be, you know, a banker trying to hold things together, trying to support his family under enormous pressure and busy constantly. And that, you know, within the question is that whole sense of modern life often pushes us in the opposite direction to practice. So for people who are leading demanding, busy, stressful lives, how can they engage with the practice when they feel they are already pulled in a thousand directions?
Another excellent question.
Thank you, sister.
So I’ll start at the end of your question, actually, which is in our busy life, how do we do this? How do we do this? And I’m so happy that this podcast exists so that you have company and inspiration when you’re commuting or cooking or doing the laundry or whatever you’re doing, perhaps just sitting outside enjoying a beautiful day. And so already there is some practice seeping into your life. And then the question is, what else would be like nourishing to do? And I think, at least for me, at the beginning of my practice, I thought that, like, mindfulness meant that you have to do sitting meditation for 30 minutes every morning or that you have to do some other kind of like, I don’t know, sacred reading or something, and that you would have some kind of spiritual structure or program. And actually, thanks to the five mindfulness trainings and then coming on retreats here, I was like, Oh, mindfulness is in three dimensions. Mindfulness is how I listen to my boss at work. Oh, mindfulness is how I don’t get into arguments with my housemates. And I started to realize this sort of like three or four dimensionality of mindfulness, which is like it’s about how I choose to spend my time. So actually, like your spiritual practice in your in your life may simply be stepping back and asking what choices am I making about how I spend my time? And then what is like the lowest hanging fruit for how I can bring a little bit more mindfulness in? And maybe, I mean, Thay’s great one was choose a distance on your way to work or on your way to the bus, on your way to school, 200 meters, just start with a 200 meter stretch. It could be the first 200 meters out of your door. It could be the last 200 meters to the bus stop or to wherever, it could be from the parking lot, if you drive to work, your car to the entrance of your workplace, whatever it is, choose something in your day and you transform that into I will walk as a free person, you know, set the bar really… I was going to say, set the bar really low. Just…
That sounds like a tough one to me.
One step, Jo, one step.
Thanks, brother. You’re much more compassionate.
But what I mean is don’t expect yourself to be like 100% mindfulness, but just say I’m going to set myself free from my worries for this 200 meters. I’m just going to feel my contact with the ground. I’m going to enjoy the surroundings. I’m going to look at all the stressed people around me. I’m going to hear all the noise of the city and you just transform it into a moment of, I’m a human being, living this crazy life. And you kind of wake up into the craziness that you’re describing, Jo, and I think that is part of the trick. It’s like you have, if you’re living in a city, to some extent, we’ve kind of chosen that, and that’s maybe also an interesting thing to look at is this really where I would like to live? And how can I make it work for me? How can I spend more time in the park? How can I make the time of preparing a meal, time of being with the earth? The earth is there in the food and make that into a meditation and to not have too much kind of going on around it. So I think kind of the part of the trick to integrating this practice into our daily life is go for some easy things. And the next thing I want to share is that, as Brother Phap Huu was describing, Thay’s really powerful experience of being isolated and alone when he first came to the West, and he then had to find the elements of sangha around him. So if we don’t have a local Plum Village group in the town where you are, in the city where you are, it’s easy to think, Oh, that’s not available to me, like there’s other people, they’re lucky because they’re in towns where it’s available to them. You know? But actually sangha is not like a service that we consume. Sangha and community is something we create and we weave together with our own imagination, and also our own values and preferences. So just take, for example, we know a lovely family in Ireland. They have young kids. Their sangha consists of saying to other parents, Shall we do a mindful walk through the forest on this day of the week? And they just got together like half a dozen people. And that’s what community means to them. And so they saw people in their network who might have a shared interest, going for a walk in a local forest, and then to make it a kind of real in-person human moment of interaction and connection. And I think the silent part of the walk is like maybe only 15 or 20 minutes. And then the catch up and the being together is a kind of much bigger part of it. And then I remember one time they had to be away and I was in touch with them and they were like, We’re so excited because the rest of the group are doing this without us. And so when we think of having a community, maybe, for example, your neighbors are your community. We don’t need to be able to talk about Buddhist topics with them or great Dharma talks or books or inspiring ideas, but maybe the way we could be a little bit more available when we pass them in the high rise flat or on the street or wherever they are in the, I don’t know, neighborhood group, on WhatsApp, to really offer a kind of quality of presence and be like, you know what, for better or for worse, these are the elements of my community right now. And to not ask, to not sort of expect that the cosmos is going to give us like a kind of sangha in a package with a bow, but like I could, with a little bit of intentionality, convert these quite mundane relationships into meaningful connections where you’re bridging a gap, a gap of background, a gap of interest, a gap of character, whatever gap of age. And actually, when we open our heart to just the people physically close to us, it can be the person at the corner shop. Like, I don’t know for everyone else, but maybe it’s just because I travel around the world now with a shaved head and a robe, but I love meeting strangers. Like, I just have the most fascinating conversations. I was in the U.K. last week, and I think I ended up talking to this stallkeeper for like 40 minutes. He was from Romania, Cata. He was a wonderful stallkeeper selling us local vegetables. And then as we were talking to him, then other people were coming in the shop, and then you just suddenly realized that we were weaving community just by having a real conversation. And so to be present, to be listening, to be available, to have that device somehow a little bit more in our pocket and away, to not have the headphones in, we can transform even the commute into something a bit more relatable. When I used to practice mindfulness in London, walking meditation was my main thing because I then walk to work and I walk as much as I could. That was also my kind of exercise. And then sitting on the bus and sitting in the tube, a nun in Plum Village had told me whatever you do, don’t get, don’t listen to music and don’t read the newspaper or magazine or a book. Be there for the people around you. So I had this experience that, like London became my community and I’m like, I don’t know about other people in London, but like, I would have the most amazing interactions just by being like, just I guess it’s something about our… when we are following our breathing, when we’re present, maybe our composure is a little bit more open and we’re just enjoying the diversity of our city or our place. And I don’t know, conversations and connections can happen. And so for me, I’d say, yeah, don’t expect, don’t look for Buddhism. Maybe this is it. Don’t look for Buddhist allies. Transform the people around you and deepen the qualities of those connections you already have. And kind of identify what’s going to be your field of creativity to build community. Is it your neighbors on your street? Is it on public transport? Is it your people at work? You know, something as simple as saying I’m going to make a commitment to be more present and to listen to my colleagues and to greet everyone good morning when I come into that open plan office. I’m going to really be there and acknowledge everybody. That’s community, and then that will affect the quality of presence in the meetings. That’ll affect the quality of collaboration. And as Brother Phap Huu was saying, we do need just like one or two people who can be our soulmates, who can kind of accompany us on this path. And there are online sanghas also, and I’m sure that we can put a link below this episode where you can find our listing of online sanghas. But I’m a bit hesitant to emphasize that because although it’s powerful, I think our in-person connection is still some of the most deep and meaningful. And I wouldn’t want like having that kind of online Buddhist sangha to be a distraction actually from building community with the people we’re seeing every day or the, I don’t know, say, our housemates or if we’re like in student dorms or something. You want to… You don’t want your practice to take you away from the people you’re living with. So I think also kind of re-imagining what community might be like. And I remember really vivid time with a group of friends when I started this practice, but before I’d become a nun. And it was sort of realizing that we had to choose different places to meet. So instead of meeting in like a bar than it was, I’d have to meet them in the afternoon for tea, and then I’d meet like in botanical gardens or like parks, and then the kind of topics become different. So even if my friend’s not going to be Buddhist, I can ask them, Wow, what has given you joy this week? What’s been challenging or what’s going on for you? Like, I was able to somehow shift the level of the connection with my friends and take it to that deeper level. And so that is possible. So maybe the soul mates they don’t need to identify as being interested in Buddhism or even as being a practitioner. But maybe you identify some friendships you already have that have potential to deepen. So you can talk about these things. The topics and the themes that are really inspiring you and share them with this person who is already close in your life.
Sister True Dedication, thank you so much for that because you know, in a sense, Thay traveled an enormous distance, moving Buddhism away from a devotional experience to what will help you in your everyday life. But I think you’ve just sort of added another concentric circle, which is that there is a trap in thinking that Buddhism is Buddhism and only Buddhism, and that actually a sangha has to be other Buddhists coming together. And that actually is taking away any separation of our spiritual practice from our daily life. And I think so many people or from what I understand, can make the mistake of thinking, well, I sat for 20 minutes in the morning and then I rushed off to work and had all these stresses rather than saying, actually my practice is my daily life and I don’t separate it off. So with that in mind, I wanted to ask another question, which was around this idea of are there any boundaries to the teachings? So I’m just going to read the question because then it will be obvious what I mean. I’m in law enforcement. I have been for 30 years. I’m a lay practitioner and have been struggling with the lifestyle of a job where you must be ready to do violence to keep peace. How can I and others engage in a job where the teachings of Buddhism are difficult to engage?
Well, you are a bodhisattva and we need a police officer who is mindful, who is compassionate, who knows how to understand suffering and how to show up in a different spirit. And one of Thay’s senior lay Dharma teachers who has passed away and she is my elder sister in the Dharma Cheri Maples, she was a law enforcer. She was a captain of a whole branch. And she became a practitioner, first of all, to take care of herself. And second, how to incorporate compassion in her line of work so that, first of all, she doesn’t lose who she is. And we, I would say, first of all, thank you for being there. Please continue to be there because it is possible to have this practice as a practitioner, because we know that to be a police officer is to protect rather than to be violent. And it’s so sad that even I grew up with the idea, Oh, I can’t wait. Like, of course, I think I wanted to be a police officer, too, because I wanted to hold a gun and I wanted to be violent. So can you help shift that narrative? And we need all of everyone in their life, in their walk of life, in police officers, businessmen, leadership, actors, singers, journalists, we need practitioners, people who have a heart of service, a heart of awakening so to bring this element into that life. Because for us, Buddhism is not constrained by a form of a robe or a form of a shaved head or a form of joining our palm and bowing. But Buddhism is peace. Every action can embody peace. And somebody who shows up with peace can change the whole situation. And it was our dear friend Cheri said that when she was more mindful and when she was more compassionate, she had to use less force because the way she showed up, the way she handled the situation, it didn’t need violence. It needed care. It needed presence. Of course, there’s firmness in compassion. There’s way to orientate the situation where there is safety. And the last resort would always be to use an instrument that would have to pin someone down or so on. But if police officers are more mindful, they can see the situation for what it is then rather than the imagination, rather than the fear that is alive in them. And that is why, till today, we have so many police brutality and violence and injustice done by law enforcement. And it’s because of the fear that is so deep in them. They see somebody for their race and they think right away that they are a part of a category, and there is violence, they are gang members, they are someone who will bring harm. And you don’t even see the person, you see the fear that has been given to you, that you have been transmitted. And we need compassionate police officers. So if all your friends think that to practice is to be away from life, it is actually the opposite. And that’s why our teacher has coined Engage Buddhism, Applied Buddhism, everything that we practice, it can be applicable into all walks of life. And I truly believe that we cannot do it alone as Plum Village. We cannot do it alone as monastics. When we talk about our collective awakening, we need all walks of life on board in order to help generate a more kinder society. We’re all intelligent enough, but we’re just not compassionate enough. And so how can we bridge that? How can we bridge the humanity? How can we bridge the love? And if police officers, you, are a bodhisattva, there’s an opportunity.
Thank you, brother. I remember when I was at the Guardian, I once interviewed Thay, which was particularly around business and how business might be abusing mindfulness in the sense that it was asking people to sort of, helping them to concentrate and be more calm in order to make more money rather than for anything else. And I remember Thay answered with a rhetorical question. He said, If a thief is picking a lock, is he being mindful? And the answer is no, he’s concentrating. And he said that mindfulness is mindfulness when it starts to generate more love and understanding. So sister… And brother, thank you for your beautiful answer. Which seems so… I really hope that our listener who posed that question really felt that deeply. And sister, beyond that we talk a lot about bringing the teachings into everyday life. But it is now a multi-billion dollar business. People are making money out of mindfulness. We talk also about no borders to the teachings, and I’m just wondering if any form of mindfulness or any teaching around that is of benefit because it can start to create the conditions in which a different type of inquiry into life can start, or whether actually there’s a risk that the very system that Buddhism is seeking to in a sense show another way is co-opting and sucking the life out of it. I hope that was another good question, sister.
The more thorny question. For me what I’ve learned from Thay, and it was actually in good thanks to you, Jo, for, I think, bringing these questions to Thay, laying them at his feet and giving Thay an opportunity to really reflect on them, especially in those last two or three years of Thay’s teachings and a lot of trips to the U.S. and engagement with business leaders and Silicon Valley and everything else. And what I learned from Thay’s responses to you and Thay’s way of engaging in these settings was that wherever we go, we offer the complete teaching. The complete teaching, we don’t dilute it. We don’t give people what they think they want. We give the whole teaching that we believe will help them suffer less. Whether they’re working at Google, whether they’re in a prison, whether they are schoolteachers. We don’t try… We don’t self-edit. And I think that’s been such a gift from Thay that he’s trusted in the integrity of this tradition, this lineage that he has already renewed so much and is like, just go as your complete selves and offer the complete teaching. And so whenever we’re invited to kind of go anywhere and speak or interact in these new settings, that is really our kind of beacon. We will give the whole teaching, even saying money can’t make you happy, even saying you will die one day. Hope you’re ready for it. You need to have a good aspiration, and probably your aspiration might not include working for this large corporation. Like we really get very playful and we won’t accept speaking invitations where we can’t ask these provocative questions when we are, we’re being asked to dilute ourselves. And so for us, mindfulness, as you say, it always contains within it love, understanding, helping people to suffer less. But I would also say it goes to the roots. And I think what’s happening now a lot is there’s a lot of mindfulness products, which is more about wellbeing and making you feel good. But for us, mindfulness does so much more. It gets to the root of our suffering so we can transform what is painful in our life, so we can generate more happiness in our life, so we can heal, sometimes healing things over many generations. That is what mindfulness is for us. It’s a whole life’s journey. And when we can offer that kind of mindfulness, it’s meaningful for us. It’s meaningful for the people who we come into contact with. And that kind of mindfulness can never be kind of appropriated and exploited, that kind of mindfulness will be applied to your workplace, your life choices, your relationships, and it will only bring good things. It may bring mess and it may be challenging. It’s not to say that like everything is flowers and roses, but ultimately it will bear fruits of healing and transformation. And I think the danger comes when we think of mindfulness only as a kind of wellbeing thing. And Brother Phap Huu, you recently had an insight about this.
And the insight is mindfulness is not a pill, but it is a path. And this is because I recognize that in the marketing of mindfulness now is selling very well as a do this and you will feel that. And who doesn’t want to feel happy, who doesn’t want to feel well, who doesn’t want to be more productive? But our mindfulness is be mindful and see your habits. And do you have the courage to let go of particular daily habits in order to have transformation? And because the difficulty of also our mindfulness practice in deep Buddhism is the transformation. Sometimes you can’t see it right away. It’s not you come into public for one week and you go out a completely enlightened person. You are a new person because we’re always changing, but you may not even recognize that because your mindfulness is still very shallow. It’s still very thin. You don’t even recognize that you have transformed in seven days. And our mindfulness is you have to do it, we can’t do it for you. We can only provide you conditions, teachings, meditation hall, sessions, and so on. And what I’m recognizing today that there is this danger is looking for a quick fix. Running after one act to the next or running after one retreat to the next. And we have people who come to Plum Village every year and they always say, I come back just to be. And that’s such insight because it’s letting go of the grasping. I’m not here to arrive at this realization. I’m just here to be and be organic. Let things, let things manifest, to let things transform in this organic way, because I am present, because I am practicing. And what I would like to offer the insight is that there is every moment of practice, nothingness is lost. The insight comes in mysterious moments, sometimes in the most simple moment. You’re just sitting there, you’re totally empty, and you go, Oh, wow. I understand. I have to change. And suddenly something ripens in you. And that is something that you cannot really like, like our teacher was very careful about language, like doing courses and now we are because it can create a container. But before he was very careful in like for people to feel like after you do six weeks or five weeks or ten weeks, then you get this diploma, then that is against Buddhism also because we’re not here to grasp and grasp and grasp. But these teachings should be means to help us live a more meaningful life, have a deeper connection, and to come to the base to transform.
So you both talked about generating happiness. And so our next question is related to that. But before I read, I think some of the questions were very much about despair. So Sister True Dedication, you edited and co-wrote with Thay the Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, and you’ve created an online course to support people in becoming, taking action in the world, but from a place of deep understanding and love. And also how to deal with our despair, because despair and joy are, as we know, interrelated, you can’t separate one from the other, but a lot of people are in places of despair or discomfort or upset. So within that, with that sort of context in mind, I’ll read you this question for you. It’s the short, maybe the shortest question there is. How do I find the sweetness of joy in life? I’m generally content with life, but I rarely find life sweet or joyous. So this talks about almost the nectar that we can be content, but it’s still, that’s not the same as joy. So, Sister True Dedication, what allows us to move from a place of maybe despair or disharmony and to find the sweetness of joy in life?
I think in this question also, what I’m hearing is a kind of there’s a kind of a neutral feeling. Right? And I think sometimes all of us, we can recognize that it’s like, I don’t even have the energy even to feel despair or joy. I’m just feeling meh. I don’t know…
And so this is a very interesting one. And I think for me, I would say, oh, this might be call for a recipe of some quite particular practices. For example, tangerine meditation to transform something as simple as eating a tangerine or an orange into a very particular concentration on can I see that this is a miracle? Can I see that this piece of fruit is nothing less than a miracle? Can I be fully present for this tangerine in my hands? Can I see my body that could receive this tangerine as food is also a complete miracle? Because I can transform this orange thing in my hand, this particular texture, the skin, this coolness, this weight I can transform into energy, ideas, inspiration, action that can inspire someone who I meet later in the day. Like this is nothing short of miraculous. And our teacher wrote the book The Miracle of Mindfulness and for Thay, I think in his early development of these mindfulness practices, he was kind of like, Hello, hello everyone. You do realize life is a miracle. Hello. And what’s so wonderful is I feel like, you know, the teachings evolve over the decades, but that would be the medicine that I would offer when we’re in this kind of state of mind. Don’t walk past that beautiful flower on the sidewalk. Don’t just look up at the moon and be like, Oh, nice moon, walk on. Be like, I will give this moon ten full breaths and I will contemplate what on earth is this thing hanging in the sky? And then I’ll realize I’m hanging in the sky on this extraordinary planet. And then you just have a moment where you like This is unbelievable. And I think when we feel meh, I think the trick is to activate our senses, that’s why the tangerine meditation can be powerful to chew a segment of tangerine 30 or 40 times and let the flavors explode in your mouth and the acidity and the sweetness. So the question was, how can I find more sweetness? See if you can find it in a piece of fruit, a tangerine. And like just the miracle of taste, of smell, of sound. Here in France, it’s springtime. Spring is springing and the birdsong is just extraordinary. And I feel every day an incredible sense of joy, wonder, mystery and amazement at our siblings, the birds and their journeys, their music, their own weaving their own web of knowing across the valleys as they call out to each other. And I think sometimes we’ve spoken about how we have so many impressions, life is so overwhelming and so busy, and actually I think that’s a part of mindfulness practice, which is just simplifying things, turning off the screens, turning off the soundtrack, and allowing ourselves just to get a bit more into contact with the miracles of the present moment as it is in its wonder and also in its messiness. And I really remember in my walks across London, sometimes I’d walk quite fast and I’d combine my breathing with my steps and it was really kind of exercise and I might be, you know, walking a kilometer or two across the city and just opening my heart, being in touch with the trees as I walk past them, hearing the sirens, the traffic, but also just really saying, I love this city, God, do I love this city? Like it’s thrumming. It’s a hive of diversity and creativity and kind of human experimentalness. And cities are also wonderful places, and they’re also rife in miracle. So it’s not that you can only be mindful in nature. And so I think somehow challenging ourselves to see what is extraordinary about any moment in front of us and to give ourselves space to enjoy those moments can really bring back the sweetness.
Beautifully spoken, sister, thank you. Brother, anything you want to add to that?
I just love and I want to highlight making the simple things your joy. Because what is joy? You have to define it and with our practice is also to be to artist, to be the… invite the creativity out of you that makes you feel satisfied, such as cleaning your home. Like yesterday, I felt overwhelmed. I decided to clean one of the cars that I’ve been driving and suddenly two other persons came and joined me and we were just scrubbing the car. It was so simple. It was so normal. And I had the most joy and satisfaction. And I made a mere moment into such a moment of we did something for everyone to enjoy, like a clean car benefits everyone. And so in zen we have this tradition of creating like a garden becomes your practice. Our teacher, Thay, has green hands, as we say in Vietnamese. I don’t know if we say it in….
Or we say it in English, green fingers. He was such a gardener. He used to have this nursery of plants so that he would care for every day. Have you ever planted a tree? Have you ever taken care of a seed? Let it sprout, see its growth, see the miracle of life. And you know, this is Thay’s transmission to the children also, not just in this deep teaching of no birth, no death, no coming, no going. But letting the children experience like planting a seed of corn, that it is a miracle that we can be a part of a journey. So one of the reading the Zen stories and even the Buddha’s time, how he made everything so normal into such a profound practice. And for myself, I have grown into like, in plants, right? And so just like, see your own growth, get outside of yourself. I grew up in the city, so I never expected myself to have such an affiliation to plants now. And does this also opening yourself up, like humility, we talked about this in another podcast is just like be humble and just see what is out there for you to explore.
Thank you. And Thay talks about if a tree dies in your garden, you could easily despair over it. And of course, you have to grieve over the death of a tree, but also lift your eyes up and see the other trees in your garden that are still there. And I think that there’s despair at seeing what we’ve lost, but also let’s have joy in what’s still there and what we can still protect. So there’s that sort of balance. But you partly answered the last question I was going to ask you, but you haven’t fully answered it, I don’t think. So I’m going to sort of raise it because what you said, Sister True Dedication, you, Brother Phap Huu is to see the world with fresh eyes. Now something you can easily just walk past, never notice, but if you actually are mindful of your life and mindful of the beauty of life, then that changes. But I want to ask this question because I think it’s a good one. When I saw this, I thought, and this is referring to the questions, Phap Huu’s questions, your Instagram post. When I saw this, I thought to myself that I would have a million questions to ask, but then all of a sudden my mind goes blank. So instead, I’ll ask this What question do you think people should be asking or don’t ask enough either to themselves or to each other? So, Brother Phap Huu?
No, no, no. You first, Jo.
Oh, no, that’s no fair.
Good move, good move, bro.
That’s so mean.
This is the moment when we bring it back to you first.
What question do you think people should ask or don’t ask enough? What comes first to my mind is, in a sense, what begins hope out or what brings me happiness? So in a lot of the coaching I do, one of my great learnings was that when I was at the Guardian, there was a moment when I was thinking of leaving and I was offered another job with a very different… It was within sustainability, but it was a consultancy rather than journalism. And I went for the interviews and I was offered the job, and there was part of me that was attracted to it, but then I thought, well, I need to think about this. I went to the person who trained me as a coach, and he said, Well, good question. I’m going to send you to the person who trained me as a coach. So I met this particular gentleman in the South Terminal of Gatwick Airport in the coffee bar, and I told him the situation and he said, This is a point lots of people come to in their life where they often don’t understand the difference between what they love doing and what they’re capable of doing. And he said, a lot of people get caught in the trap of they’re offered something or they’re invited to do something which they have the capability for, but they don’t often love doing. And when I was at The Guardian, the person who did all the management training once told me, she said, I’m so happy that they don’t track what happens to the people I support because around half of them leave. And the reason they leave is because when we really go deeply into asking what brings you happiness, what brings you joy, that they suddenly realize that what they’re doing is not bringing them happiness, that they’re doing it out of loyalty, out of duty, out of the expectations of what their parents wanted them to do, because they fell into something by chance and then just got locked into it, because the money was great and they then felt trapped by the money. And there are so many reasons why we end up doing the things that we don’t love doing. And so I think my question would be, what do I love doing? What brings me, what allows the love in my life to grow? What is it that allows my heart to open more? What is it that allows me to feel more? Does it allow me to connect more? And when we ask those questions, you know, we often get a very different answer to where we currently are because we suddenly realize we are a product so much of the system we live in, the culture we’re in, the expectations we’ve had, what people expect of us, what we think will bring us status, what we think will bring us sort of stuff. What will help us to feel more of more than who we really are or will give us fame? What will allow people to notice us? And so for me, it’s about presence and embodiment, and I learned that from Thay, is that how we show… Who shows up is more important than what they say or what they address in this thing? Do I trust this person? Am I able… Do those words align with who this person is? And I think the more we find deep happiness and love in our life, the more we share that without saying anything, we just show up. And I felt that Thay often just by showing up, he was able, he illustrated a way to live and he didn’t need to say very much for that to be transmitted. And I, you know, that word, transmission, is very important. You know, he transmitted it because that’s who he was. Sister TD? Oh, the reason I call Sister TD is because it stands also for True Dedication, but actually, I normally call her Sister Three D because she is in many realms. And then, of course, she’s Sister 4D and she’s Sister Endless D, Sister True Dedication.
Yeah, well, I was just really enjoying your answer, actually. And for me, I was something along with similar lines. It’s a question like, What do I really want? Might be my formulation of it. What do I really want? And I think that it is such an important question that maybe we have to ask ourself like once a week or like we have to ask in a really deep, real way and really opening up and not being afraid of what the answer might be. I think I spent quite some time of my life being afraid of what I really wanted, and so I had to have actually a lot of courage to ask that question and then a lot of openness. And some of the themes we’ve been speaking about also around despair and in the Buddhist teachings intention or what we’d call aspiration, is the kind of antidote and the medicine for despair. And so if we’re feeling dull in our life, it may also be because we haven’t yet identified what we really want and we’re not yet acting on it. And if we have despair because, say, we want to protect our beautiful planet, the best thing we can do is to identify I have an aspiration. I’d like to protect our beautiful planet. And then action, having identified what we really want, then we know the action we might want to take to kind of get there. I would like my whole life to be in service of this beautiful planet. And then you start directing, the aspiration becomes a pathway of action, and that action is already medicine for the despair. And there’s a beautiful book I love as well as the book you mentioned that we wrote with Thay, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, there’s another book called How to Keep Your Cool on a Warming Planet on climate anxiety. And we can put it below this as well. And that also speaks about the power for young people, even for children or whatever. The action that we can take is so important to be able to address the feelings of despair. And then that’s a theme that we really look at in the Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet course. Have you identified what you really want? And each one of us, there’s many ways, as many ways to realize our dreams as there are humans on the planet. Right? But are we living our dreams? And life is so short. Like we do not know how long we have. And if mindfulness can give us anything, I think is that awakening to what is most important to us?
Beautiful. Thank you, sister. Brother?
So this one saved my monastic life. So it is… And it’s a question I think we all can ask. How’s your heart? And because a lot of times we stay on the mind level of like what is happening. So the grass is greener on the other side. Oh, I am overwhelmed, I’m just going to give up. And you start procrastinating, you start daydreaming, you start judging, and you allow your perception, your mind to just create such a different reality than actually what you want. And so this shoutout goes to my soul Brother Luc in the Bay Area, he was the one that sent me this email. He’s like, How’s your heart, brother? Honestly. And for some reason, this is also the antidote to our autopilot, which is like, how are you? And we all have this autopilot. Oh, I’m fine, because that’s what we want to appear to everyone. And when that question came to me, it made me just like, Oh, man. How is my heart? Oh, it’s heavy. Oh, how is my heart? It’s lonely. How is my heart? It’s fragile right now. Anything can happen. I’m scared. And that was when I woke up and I told myself everything that Thay has transmitted to you, put it into practice. And that was the key that allowed me to go back into my aspiration and go back into what gives me the greatest joy, the greatest happiness. What is my legacy I want to leave behind? And my heart told me it belongs in this community. And so I was able to also then open my heart to others that were around me. Because I close it off without even knowing, and this can become because we go into this victim mode and which I did. And I said, nobody understands me, nobody’s getting me. But if I’m not telling people, then how do they get me? And there’s a deeper side that I do want people to understand. And an even selfish side that I recognize that I wanted to suffer, to punish the ones around me. So, how is your heart was a bell of mindfulness for me. And because in Vietnamese, the word heart the word […] it combines heart and mind. And there’s a beauty of wordplay there in the Vietnamese language. And how do you… What is it that is giving you freedom, giving you clarity and allowing you to also be transparent with yourself, which is a very difficult realization some time to actually just look at yourself and recognize that you’re not doing as great as you thought. And so how is your heart has been my mantra from time to time. And I think it’s a question that we can practice and to be true to ourself.
Wow. Well, thank you. What beautiful answers. Thank you, Sister True Dedication. Thank you, Phap Huu. It feels like this is a good moment to stop. I just wanted to thank our listeners again because without asking your deep questions and looking into yourselves for what was on your minds and in your hearts, then we wouldn’t have been able to host these two podcasts that we have had around your questions and answers. And I know I’ll learn a lot from the questions because of course, as soon as someone asks a question, we have to also ask that question of ourselves if we want to give any resonant answer or to seek to understand. So thank you for your engagement. We hope you have found benefit from these two last episodes of question and answer, and we look forward to hearing and seeing you soon.
Dear listeners, you can find all the previous episodes of our podcast on the Plum Village App and also on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all the other platforms that carry podcasts. And if you like what we’re doing, please subscribe to the Way Out Is In podcast on the platform of your choice. And we’d also appreciate you leaving a review because it allows other people to discover this podcast.
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And finally, an occasional thank you, but always in our hearts is to Christiana Figueres and Tom Rivett-Carac, who have given us their love and support. And we are now their… Outrage and Optimism podcast is our sibling and we are their sibling and it’s lovely to be aligned and supported by them.
The way out is in.