Welcome to episode 47 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 special episode features a precious recording of Thich Nhat Hanh which was previously thought lost. Dating from 2012, it documents an interview journalist Jo Confino conducted with the Zen master in Plum Village’s Toadskin Hut. (Though since remastered, be aware that some background noise remains.)
The conversation covers a wide range of absorbing topics, from the environment, climate change, and civilizational collapse to consumerism, the simple life, 70 years of practicing mindfulness, new Buddhism, passing on, and sangha as continuation.
The recording is introduced by Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and Jo Confino, who provide details about the context of the interview and the significance of certain places, people, and events which are mentioned.
“Thay is relaxed, insightful, open, and being Thay at his very best.”
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
‘The Toadskin Hut and Paths of Legend’
Outrage + Optimism
Brother Phap Linh
Brother Phap Lai
‘Bat Nha: The Indestructible Seed of Awakening’
Rains Retreat 2023-24
Plum Village International Center in Thailand
‘New Contemplations before Eating’
‘The Five Mindfulness Trainings’
40 Years of Plum Village: ‘Dharma Lamp Transmission during the 40 Years of Plum Village Retreat (June 11-12, 2022)’
Shambhala Sun/Lion’s Roar
‘Plum Village Practice in Vietnam – Some Background’
“Love has no frontier.”
“When you are grateful, you are happy.”
“Why should they have the courage to think about the suffering of the Earth or the environment? They try not to think about it, like a camel who doesn’t want to realize that there’s a lion ahead, so they’re just looking to the sand in order to see only the sand. So that is the attitude of men; we are afraid, we don’t want to see the truth.”
“Thay sent a message to the root temple [Tu Hieu Temple] saying, ‘You should not build a stupa for Thay, because Thay is continued out here.’ One person has already built a temple for Thay in Hanoi, so I reminded them to make the inscription outside, on the front: ‘I am not in here.’ And then if people don’t understand, you add a second sentence: ‘I’m not out there either.’ And if they still don’t understand, add the third and the last sentence: ‘I may be found, maybe in your way of breathing or walking. I’m not in here.’ The root temple has received that message. I said I don’t want to waste the land of the temple in order to build me a stupa. Don’t put me in a small pot in there; I don’t want to continue like that. It’s better to put the ash outside to help the trees to grow. That is the meditation.”
“It’s not true that I will die one day, because I have already died many times. And you die every moment and you are reborn in every moment.”
“The foundation of your happiness is understanding and love. So if you have that insight and you live by that insight, you will not be fearful anymore.”
“We are happy because we are able to have the Buddha and to renew his teachings. He’s deeply misunderstood by many people, so we try to make the teachings available and simple enough so that people, all people, can make good use of that teaching and practice.”
“Taking a walk and nourishing yourself never harmed anyone.”
“And if this body has 100 years’ mortality, Thay will continue to practice, to learn how to love better, to understand better; there’s no limit to the practice. And I think that is true of the human race: we can continue to learn, generation after generation. And I think it’s time for us to begin to learn how to love in non-discriminative ways. Because we are intelligent enough, but we are not loving enough as a race, as a species.”
“I think our perception of time may help, because for us, it [the climate crisis] is a very alarming notion – but if Mother Earth suffers, she knows that she has the power to heal herself. If needed, she will take one hundred million years to heal herself. But for us, we think that our time on Earth is only 100 years, and that is why we are impatient. But I think the collective karma, the collective ignorance, anger, and violence of our race, will lead to our destruction.”
The way out is in.
Hello dear listeners, and welcome to a special episode of the podcast series. The way Out Is In. I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And Brother Phap Huu, this is… Just to put some context around this episode, so I did a number of recordings with Thay when I was at The Guardian and unfortunately the IT department wipe my computer before backing it up, so I thought I had lost them all. But it turns out that there was one that has reemerged, which is the last interview I did with Thay, which was in what was called his Toadskin Hut down in the small hamlet of Son Ha, which is very close to Upper Hamlet. And at the time it was very, very difficult to listen to it. And the reason is because we had a very sensitive mic and we put the mic on the table in front of Thay, but just before we started, Thay got up because it made us tea and he went up to get us some biscuits and he put the biscuits down next to the microphone and there was a fly in the room and the fly kept on coming to the biscuits and flying off and kept on coming back and back and it didn’t seem to be making much sense. It was fine. But then, afterwards, basically throughout the recording it’s zzzzz, of the fly coming back and forth. And actually just to hear at that time, because this was ten years ago, so this was on the 30th anniversary of Plum Village. It was very, very difficult to even transcribe it. But now, thanks to technology, and particular thanks to our podfather producer Clay, who works for Global Optimism, does all the Outrage and Optimism podcast and also produces all ours. So, Clay, thank you to your wizardry. We have been able to clean up this recording and are able to bring it to you, our listeners, because it’s the first time and it was a couple of weeks ago the first time I had actually heard it for ten years and in a way that I could understand it all. And for me personally, it feels like a very precious recording. Thay was very relaxed. He, actually, what I love about it, he just, he chuckles the whole way through. It’s not often you hear Thay… You know, Thay sometimes will laugh, but actually throughout it you’ll hear him laughing and chuckling. And also because we cover so many interesting topics and talk about the environment, climate change, civilizational collapse. But also I was a bit cheeky, Phap Huu, because I also asked Thay about how his practice was. I said, We always ask, you always ask people how their practice is, but what is your practice like? And where are you focusing your practice? And he gives this beautiful answer about the fact that this is never complete. He said, Love has no frontier. And also, again, in a cheeky way, he was 86, I think, at that time, and so I asked him about his own passing and about how he felt about. And I said, I remember, I said, Thay, you look in the peak of health, but you’re not going to last that long. You know, what’s gonna… How are you feeling about that? So we cover a range of topics. And also the interview includes the voices of a couple of now elder monastics, Phap Linh and Phap Lai, who at the time were sort of much younger in the practice. Phap Linh, who is now very clear and erudite in his teachings, sounds beautifully hesitant in the way he responds, because Thay gives them a question to answer. So it’s quite nice to hear Phap Linh from ten years ago, seeing how he answered it. And we start off with a conversation actually where Thay uses the symbolism of the Bat Nha monastery in Vietnam. So maybe Phap Huu, you know, you can maybe just help us to sort of just give a bit of context, but also about Toaskin Hut, when Thay used it and just a little bit of maybe context would be lovely.
Yes. So let’s speak first about Toadskin Hut. So in Plum Village we have three hamlets, Upper Hamlet, Lower Hamlet and New Hamlet, and Thay has a hermitage that is very close to New Hamlet. And during the three months Rains Retreat in Plum Village, Thay would always stay with the brother for the whole duration of the 90 days retreat. And every morning to practice his exercise and to keep himself fit, he would do a big circle hike around the hamlet and he would hike down the pine forest that leads to the Son Ha residence, which means the temple at the foot of the hill. And Thay has a hut there, and he calls it the Toadskin Hut, which resembles outside, is kind of like rocky, like the toad skin, it may look a little bit ugly, but inside it’s very warm and cozy. So every morning during the Rains Retreat, he would go on this hike on this walk down to his hut there where he would make a fire and write calligraphy as well as spend some time with his monastic students. And this is where that recording was made. And Prajna monastery was a monastery that was established after Thay’s first trip to Vietnam in 2005. And we were present with monastics from Plum Village and new monastics coming in when young people were coming to ordain. So within the span of three years, we had, I think almost 400 young Vietnamese people ordained, but because of conditions, Prajna had to be closed, and it was quite a moment for our Plum Village community globally, but especially for our brothers and sisters in Prajna monastery, in Vietnam, at that time. But from the mud grew the lotuses, which is we were able to establish Plum Village International Center in Thailand as well as all of our brothers and sisters there, we were able to bring some to Plum Village, in France, some to the US centers, some to Germany, and later on establishing a center in Hong Kong as well as centers in Australia. So you will hear a little bit about that during the interview with Jo Confino and our teacher Thay.
Thanks Phap Huu. And just finally, exactly as you described, it was very cozy inside. The fire was going, burning, and Thay was sitting in a comfy chair. And it was very, it was literally very, very cozy. And we actually felt very guilty at the end of it, Phap Huu, because we were there for nearly 2 hours. And as a result, Thay missed his lunch because actually everyone in Upper Hamlet was waiting for Thay to come up for his lunch, and had to… got very delayed and then they had to start without him. And we were worried we’d taken too long because Thay’s health was not perfect. So I remember Phap Linh, Phap Lai, my wife Paz and I leaving thinking that was amazing. But Oh, God, we hope we haven’t sort of harm Thay. But as we left, we looked through the window and Thay had got up very quietly and gone to his desk where he was doing the calligraphy. And as we passed, we saw him drawing a Zen circle with his calligraphy pen. And it was just such a precious moment to see Thay had been very present for nearly 2 hours interviewing and being, and then had just got up so gently and then drew this perfect Zen circle. And I thought, Wow, Zen master at work. So dear listeners, we hope you enjoy this precious recording of Thay relaxed, insightful, open, and being Thay at his very best.
I’m eager to ask a question. You can see. Is it okay to start asking?
Did you see the sheet of paper I wrote? Have you seen that well in advance?
Yes, I wrote some questions in advance.
I understand very well. Brothers Phap Linh and Brother Phap Lai who help me to answer. Please go ahead.
So Thay, I was here last year, I read your book on the Bat Nha monastery, the koan, and I read it again this time about how each official did not act and why not. And I have been looking again at issues like climate change and the fact that the last year there’s been very bad weather, extreme weather, lots of problems, and yet still nobody is acting. And so the first question I wanted to ask was in the sense that koan of why nobody acted to stop the harassment of Bat Nah is what you think is the reason why no one is still acting on climate change, and the destruction of the environment.
No one is acting on that, but they are not acting on many other things. They had many problems, their relationship with themselves, relationship with the other person, their family. There are many problems, but they don’t act. So it’s easy to see how they don’t want to act on the environment. Even their suffering, they don’t act in order to handle the suffering. So if we expect them to do something about environment, it might be too much because the most necessary things for them to do, they still don’t do it, like understanding themselves, taking care of the suffering. They are afraid of thinking about their own suffering, their own problems. Why should they have the courage to think about the suffering of the Earth or the environment? They try not to think about. Like a camel who doesn’t want to realize that there’s a lion in front, so they’re just looking to the sand in order the see only the sand. So that is the attitude of men. We are afraid, we don’t want to see the truth.
And if they saw the truth, what impact would it have on?
When they see the truth is too late to act. Yeah, I think that is true. It will be too late. And people like yourself like to bring them up when they when they don’t want to get up. Because waking up maybe make you suffer so you continue to want to dream in order not to suffer. They cannot confront, they are not someone up to confront the truth. It’s not that they don’t know what is going on. They don’t want to think about it. They want to get busy in order to forget. It’s not because they like to do it so much in order for them to be busy, they need to be busy in order not to think about the real reasons.
We’ve had this year we had this Hurricane Sandy in New York, and even that hasn’t had a big impact. So do you think we’ll need a real disaster to wake people up? Or do you think that will make people hide even more? What do you think might change the balance?
If you show them, if you bring them a film or something like that, evidence to convince them that the situation is like that, they might not like to, they might have some time to look at what you wanted to show them. But after that, they’ll go back because they don’t want to think about that. And that is the situation. Not because they are not intelligent enough to know what is happening but they only want not to think of the situation. I think maybe the other approaches, like to show them something else, not reality, not that kind of reality, but another kind of reality. Show them a person always happy, who live relaxantly and who is happy. And that person does not need a lot of money, or power, or… and try to make them experience a little bit of that kind of happiness. And if they can taste the happiness of relaxation and peace and then they may have let go, maybe they will change. They will see that it’s not worth to continue this path of money and power. And when they have tasted a little bit of peace and love and those things, they may wake up and abandon everything in order to follow. So if they are still themselves, whatever you tell them, they will not change. And if you try to change them, and then that may be the only thing to help. So bring them to a place where there is happiness, bring them to meet a person who is truly happy. And that is their chance, because they think that there’s no other way than the way they are going. And that is the purpose of education. You are the minister of education, you have to show people like that, and bring awakening. If you are a minister of the environment and even if you prescribe the right path to save, they still don’t listen, even if you try to make a law to forbid things, they will try to go around and do it other ways. So maybe it might be time to show them something else. You can be happy, you can be relaxed, you can heal yourself. And we need people who know how to do it in order to show.
The new book is about, I know you said it’s not your brand new book, but it’s not even in your bookshop up in Upper Hamlet. So it’s new in terms of being out in the world. It’s about fear. And there was a recent study into the financial markets of London and why they weren’t changing and thinking of the environment. And all the answers that really came up were about fear, fear of losing status, fear of being ridiculed, fear of rocking the boat, fear of destroying their career, because the dominant position is about don’t change, the vested interests are saying it’s fine as it is. So how important is the role of fear in preventing people from acting? And how do we get around fear?
You know the shooting that took place in Newtown a few days ago. That is because of fear. If you buy a gun because you are fearful, you don’t feel safe. So American law allows you to buy a gun to put in the house then you can, you think that only the gun can guarantee your safety. And because of that kind of mentality, fear, fear can go together, always go together with anger. Fear of what? You are afraid that they will kill you before you can kill them. And to think that they are ready to kill you, but […] will I get them, even if they don’t want to kill you. That is the case of terrorism. So fear and anger go together. So that young man killed his mother and the children because of these two energies, fear and anger, that went together. And in that kind of anger they don’t discriminate anymore who is friend, who is enemy, and just they are blind, and they just want to kill. And not people like him, not only people like him acted like that, not the national policy about security, about foreign policy, about terrorism, is based on that kind of fear and anger. The policy about terrorism and national defense also based on that. So it’s not the problem of some people, it is a collective problem of us all.
And within… you also talk about fearlessness, about the courage to stand up, what do you think it takes for people who see, again, from the environment, who see there’s a problem, who recognize they want to change, they realize they need to change, but they’re scared of speaking out. What helps people to sort of find that courage to stand up, even at a risk to themselves?
You have the courage to do it because you have compassion, enough compassion. Without compassion, you cannot do it. Compassion is very powerful energy. With compassion you can die for other people, like a mother who can die for a child. And compassion is possible when you understand the suffering. And then you also have insight because compassion is born from insight, because of our insight while suffering. And also insight about happiness. You had the courage to do it, to say it, because you are not afraid of losing anything. You are not afraid of losing fame situation because you know that that is not the foundation of your happiness. The foundation of your happiness is understanding and love. So if you have that insight and that you live by that kind of insight, you are not fearful anymore. But if you still have a fear of losing your status, your position, your house, and so on, you will not have the courage to do it. And if you have experienced some happiness, some happiness like love, understanding, did you know that happiness is not these outer conditions. We know that happiness comes from our mental insight. You know how to be happy and you know how to recognize the real conditions of happiness that you have, that you are not the […] You don’t need to be […] supposed to talk about from Plum Village. You would come to Plum Village and shut down Plum Village like they have shut down Bat Nha. If you have some insight, you see that grow if you cannot do it in Plum Village and then you can do it elsewhere, anywhere you can breathe, anywhere you can walk, anywhere you can gather friends to practice sitting and walking, and with or without Plum Village, you can continue to do like that. The proof is that without Bat Nha, our 400 monks and nuns, they continued, you see, and they even continue stronger. So you can release, and with that, you are free and you can do all the things that other people who care so much about outer conditions of happiness cannot. And that is not talking alone or listening alone in that […] camp. We have to learn how to live like that, without fear. We have to be strong enough. We have to got the power of love. The power of giving up all these things, and the power of understanding. Three kinds of powers that are not money, or status, or things like that. The power to love, the power to be […] one, to cut off from these sorts of afflictions. The power to understand, understand the suffering and the suffering of the other person, cultivating true powers. By the way, we have to talk to the people, to write in such a way that can touch the heart. I can show them that happiness, true happiness, is possible. Because we should not talk in terms of that practice, that this is what we should do, that we should not do for the sake of the future. We should talk to them in such a way that touches the heart and helps them to see the path so that they can in turn let go, and […] on a path that can bring them true happiness, the power of love and understanding, and the courage to release if needed, like the Buddha. He had so many things, but that did not make him happy. So he left everything. And became a wondering monk. And if you tried to persuade him to go back, to use these facilities to change the society, he would not say, […] he knew that he can change society better being a monk, with no political power, no army. So there’s a story about the Buddha in sitting meditation and Mara came and said, Siddhartha, you’re just visiting your homeland. You see what a mess it is. You are a talented person. You can go back as a politician and help people. And the Buddha said, I know you. To be a politician, that’s not what I like, I like to be a monk. I can do better as a monk. So Mara was disappointed and he disappeared. There’s the practice of simple recognition. It shows there is a temptation. With some power you can do something to help your people. And the Buddha had a […]. We’d have the insight in order to respond to that temptation very quickly. He just smiled to Mara. I know you, Mara, and I’m not being fooled by you. So the temptation of power. And they say that it’s not that make you happy, but that is a way so that you can serve the war, political power.
So how do you think the best way is of getting that message out? So if it’s not from the political sphere, it sounds like it’s going to come from a grassroots movement, sort of a movement of the people. And what’s the best way of giving that message out there, which is the message you have, the best way of communicating to people so that it really creates change amongst a lot of people rather than just a few?
Suppose you write a book on the art of consumption because people spend money and buy a lot of things every day and you know that it’s not because they buy a lot, they consume a lot that they’re happy. So you write a book, maybe you’re speaking in the kind of language that they can help people to wake up to see that what they buy cannot make them happy.
There’s a title of the book. We can call it Look at yourself in the future […]. Look at yourself in […].
That is the fifth mindfulness training. The fifth of the five trainings. Also in the 14, you have the precepts on being mindful. So that is about four kind of nutriments. And many people consume in order to cover up their suffering. And that does not help because during the night these kind of things come up and they suffer hell. So tell them how to consume and what to consume, so that they get the healing, they have a little bit more peace, love. Like when we do walking meditation, you consume. In the light of, in the context of modern civilization to walk like that is a waste of time. You don’t do anything. You don’t talk, you don’t think, and you just walk like that. It’s a waste of time. Time is money. So you consume time. But for us, this is good consumption because we allowed our body to relax, our mind to relax, to rest, and every step we touch the wonders of life, rest, refreshing and healing elements of life. The air, the green. And so that is good consumption. And after half an hour of walking like that, you feel refreshed, restored. That is consumption. That does not need a lot of money, does not need anything at all. But people don’t consume. We are not against consumption. So tell them how to approach […] the parking lot to the place where they work, walk in such a way that every step can restore their peace and joy and love for life. Teach them how to stop the thinking.
And it was important Thay to […] A lot of people I speak to in the world of business, and then they say there’s a disconnection between people’s lives and the impacts of their lives. So you buy something and you don’t know where it comes from. You don’t know who produced it, you don’t know the conditions of those people. So do you think there’s a problem with the fact that people live their lives, but they’re so disconnected, they’re so isolated from the world around them. And whatever they do, they don’t see the impact.
So in that book, The Art of Consumption, you tell them how to eat, the art of eating, because instead of thinking and talking a lot, you stop talking, you stop thinking, and you try to eat properly. And you look at the food, you get in touch with the piece of carrot, and you get in touch with the soy, the water, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with your Mother Earth. And eating in such a way that you feel in touch with true life, your roots. And that is meditation. And meditation here is very pleasant and you have a habit of eating and you should be shown another way of eating so that you can see how a piece of carrot has come to you. I see. So that’s the five contemplations. In the beginning of our meal, we read it, but during our meal we contemplate […] and not just in the beginning. Well, what stopping the thinking and […] every morsel of our food in that way we get in touch and we become grateful, and when you are grateful, you are happy. Yeah. When you are grateful you are happy. As far as you are grafetul you can still be happy. And that is not only true with the food, but with everything. Like when you sit with another person, the person in front of you whether a friend or a partner, you have to see the background of that person, where that person has come from. And responding when Thay touched the Earth, he did not touch the Earth as one individual. He saw a line, lineage of ancestors, blood ancestors, and spiritual ancestors. I see myself as a sangha, fourfold sangha, and it touched the earth as a huge community, not as an individual. He does not see himself, you see a whole lineage. And when it touched the earth before the Buddha, he saw the Buddha as not a self. Buddha is the continuation of a long lineage. So we see the roots of the Buddha, the origin of the Buddha in many generations. So in that moment of touching the earth you’ve got the insight of no self. The person sitting in front of you, she is an ambassador. She just represents a whole lineage, and if you look at her in that way you see that she is not there as an individual, she is there as an ambassador of the whole lineage. She represents her lineage, her country, her people. And you have to see that because when an ambassador comes and presents his credentials, the president has to look at him not as an individual. That is a whole country with plans […] making. So he’s looking at the embassy […] with that kind of eyes. He’s not an individual I’m dealing with. He is an ambassador. So you have to see your partner, your friend as an ambassador of whole lineage. And then you refer to him, to her, as Mr. Ambassador. And with that, you can deal with her with respect, with admiration, […] the talents […] of many generations. And when you talk to her, you talk to all her nations, you don’t talk to her, as I self, you talk to her with respect because there is a Buddha in her also. So that’s the way you look at a person. Maybe a pine tree is made of many generations and there’s the moon, the stars in her, so you bow to that pine tree. And that is a kind of civilization, a way of life. And if you learn how to live that kind of life, and you don’t need anybody to remind you to take care of the environment. You can do it by yourself. And that is the insight when you practice yourself. So we live that kind of experience. We live our daily lives like this. And everything we say, everything you write now will be able to touch the hearts of people, because you write from your own insight and not from ideas you get from another person. So writing that book, that is a practice, the art of consuming. And then they want to produce for us to consume and […]. And we, who go and buy the products, we should learn how to consume. Shambhala Sun, have you seen the article in the Shambhala Sun.
A recent one.
Yeah, the most recent one. Andrea Miller came a few weeks and stayed in New Hamlet. And she went back and wrote an article on how people would probably practice the five mindfulness trainings, not how they teach the five, but how they practice the five mindfulness trainings. And they talk about the way we eat, what we eat, the way we sit with each other and things like that, the way we consume. It’s a good article because it’s not all about the teaching, it’s about how people practice, how people live. If you have two people living together and express their way of living, their insight. So she also wrote about a wedding that took place in the New Hamlet during her stay. And talk about true love, the practice of true love. And so that is a good article because it’s not talking, just describing here as how people cultivate happiness by living together in that way. And she talked about internet consuming, bell of mindfulness in computer, not having an individual email address because none of the monks here have as she learned. It’s a good article. I think people love to reat these, but her readers are mostly Buddhist. When you write for The Guardian you have to write differently because there are non-Buddhists who are reading, so there must be a way of turning them on so that they can reflect…
Well, I think I’ll write two pieces. I’ll write one piece about my experience…
Just wondering, I was listening to the 14 mindfulness trainings this morning. And in three of them, it talks about action, about, you know, I think where you talk about Applied Buddhism, so it says don’t invest or purchase from companies that deplete natural resources, harm the Earth and deprive others of their chance to live. And then in two of the others, it says, speak out against injustice. And then another one, a clear stand against oppression and injustice. And so last year I asked you about activists. What should they do? And you said quite rightly, the first thing they need to do is find their own happiness. But in terms of action in the world, in terms of how you risk, you know,in terms of applying that to activity in the world, how should people work in terms of speaking against injustice, against oppression? What do you mean by… In the mindfulness training, what would you ask people to do? How can they do that in a way that is peaceful and that they’re resolved in themselves?
You know that the monastics they have a three month retreat every year and like to have a monastic day every week. And the Dharma talks and sharing during the monastic days are quite different because we are aware that if we cannot be ourselves, if we don’t have enough brotherhood, sisterhood and happiness what we do will not have a meaning. Very aware. So we organize our monastic days and it is in such a way that we can get enrichment enough to sustain us as a community so that we can offer retreats and days of mindfulness everywhere. This is a very clear and we feel that it very, very much we should be ourselves, we should not lose ourselves in too much work. Otherwise, we are not authentic, we are not true in our daily service. The problem is not to do a lot of things, but to do things coming forward rightly. And we should not have the feeling that we do not enough to help. We should be sure that what we are doing is well done, is right. And with that, we can be peaceful because whatever we do will profit everyone even if just sitting, do sitting meditation or walking meditation. Because if you do walking meditation right, you get the nourishment and healing in every step. And not only your ancestors in your profit, but the future generations will profit. Without that, you cannot do anything. So every step is a basic practice. Every breath, every sitting should be true, should be nourishing and healing. So even if you do little, like organizing a day of more mindfulness only, but if you do it with all your heart and with happiness, well, you are doing everything at the same time. So whatever you do for yourself, rightly, you are doing for all of us. That’s how I see things. You don’t have any complex that you are not doing enough. I think this is very important. I think to contribute to the collective awakening we have to operate as a community, as a sangha. Even the journalists should have their own sangha, where they can share the suffering and difficulties, where they can communicate and share their happiness, their hope. It’s a very important thing. Psychotherapists also, teachers also they should have their own sangha. And our experience here is very clear, without a sangha you cannot do anything, even if you are very talented as a teacher, as a journalist, and so on. This is very clear in Plum Village, that without a sangha, we cannot do anything meaningful. So taking refugee in sangha is a very basic thing. So that businessman, he has not changed. He continued to produce in such a way that can intoxicate people. He doesn’t help himself. He does not help his consumers. We want to change him. But how can we change him? There are many ways. One of the ways is to go to him and say that you can be happier, you can be more relaxed, you can live a life that is not hectic like this, you have more joy of relaxation, you are not overwhelmed by your worries, your anger and so on. And you help him. That is one way. That way is to tell our friends to consume according to the five mindfulness trainings. Why do we have to buy these things? We will tell them that they should not continue to produce these things. We don’t need them. We need other kind of products that help us to be healthier. And then if there is awakening in the ranks of consumers and then the producer will have to change otherwise, he cannot continue. So we force him to change by not buying what we don’t need. Thay can survive very well without these electronic devices, and he survives better without them. He has more time for himself and for his sangha by not using too much of these electric devices. So why? We can survive very well without television, even without a telephone, and without reading newspapers. We don’t need to watch the news every day or twice a day. Yeah. Now, if the newspaper brings us good food, then we will buy, otherwise, we don’t need, even The Guardian. Yeah. So there are many ways. I think we operate as a sangha, and we work with the grassroots people and we can change from there. We don’t have to persuade people on the top to change if that work is not easy. I think Gandhi was capable of urging his people to boycott a number of things and he knew how to take care of himself. He knew that during the nonviolent operation he should take care of himself. He told his partner that we should practice, we should refrain from sexual practice during this time, we have to practice breathing and preserving ourselves because this is hard struggle. He knew all about these things, how to preserve energy because the struggle is long. So a spiritual practice is very much needed in an attempt to help society change a society. You know that this spiritual dimension in the life of an activist is very, very important. So we should arrange so that there will be more peace and relaxation and healing in our daily life. We should have companions on our path that should have sanghas. I think the idea of having journalists together as a community and get their collective insight and […] where to work is very important. As we do, like here, in Plum Village, we need brother monks, sister nuns in order to do things together, we need to support each other. It’s very clear in Plum Village that if we don’t stay together as a community we cannot do it. So when there are good many […] help the world.
So if you have a couple of questions, I just wanted to ask you about your practice and if you still… If that’s still okay.
The first one was, you know, this is the 70th year of yourself as a monk and the 30th year of Plum Village. And I wanted to ask you, first of all, what is it that Thay feels has achieved? So you’ve been a monk 70 years, now involves all your experiences of life. You’ve now created this sangha. How would you describe what you feel you’ve achieved over that 70 years?
There’s not much that we have achieved. To have some peace, some contentment inside it is already a lot. We should not think of us humans in terms of the work we do because there are moral beings […] at the end. I think every time we sit as a community, if you’re happy, because you are a community now and the community is everywhere. We are very present in Vietnam, even physically, we cannot express ourselves publicly, but we are very present in Vietnam, in China, in many places that practice the spirit. Now we have opened up a path of practice that can help many young people. Young people they suffer a lot nowadays and they need a path. So when I was a young monk, I think I did not know exactly what I will do when I grow up as a monk. It’s quite vague, because the situation is changing. Political, social and things like that. So you cannot predict, you cannot see what you will do. It’s not like the young monks and nuns now they know, they know what they will do when they’re out and they get the lamps transmission and so on. But Thay did not see like that, did not know exactly what he will do. But there was a belief, there’s a confidence that if you practice well, then you’ll be able to help your people, your country. And that is that is a kind of belief that got to you, because of when you read the history of your country. And in the past, during the ten, 11, 12, 13 century, thanks to the teaching of Buddhism, your country has got hundreds of years of peace and brotherhood. So if Buddhism can serve in the past, there’s no reason why it cannot help in the present moment, in the future. That’s the only thing we had during the time of war and things like that. So engaged Buddhism and social service and things like that, were born from that kind of belief. You can renew Buddhism and help. And one dream that was very, very dear to Thay is that when I grow up, I will set up a sangha, a sangha of monks and nuns that live together as a family and that they can show brotherhood and sisterhood. And that dream has been realized, that we have them in Prajna, in Deer Park, in… where we operate together as a sangha. That is the achievement, not material things like that. So the happiest moments when we sit down and we feel the presence of our brothers and sisters, lay and monastic. We are practicing walking meditation, sitting meditation, building […] That is the achievement, the main achievement, and other things like publishing books and things like that they are not setting up […] divisions like that, like in […] and things like that, they are not important. Important is that we have a sangha and the insight came at the Buddha about time may not be an individual, it might be a sangha. If there is love and harmony in the sangha, that is our new Buddha. And each person can be a cell in a body of the Buddha, the new order. And that is possible if every day you practice walking meditation and sitting meditation and generate some energy of mindfulness and concentration and peace, you are a real cell in the body of the Buddha, of the new Buddha. You are a lay practitioner, you are a monastic practitioner, you are a real cell in the Buddha’s body. And this is not a dream, this is possible today and tomorrow. So that gave you a lot of happiness. A Buddha is not something very far away, it is in the here and the now, because you are capable of producing mindfulness, and insight, and compassion. And you will not die, because you will continue. It’s like a wave does not die, she continues in other waves. Like an iceberg, you can see only the tip of the iceberg, but if you look deeply, you see the huge amount of ice beneath the water. So birth and death should be… So it’s very clear that Thay will not die. He will continue in Phap Linh, in othe people. And there’s a huge mountain of ice beneath, so there’s nothing lost. And we are happy because we are able to have the Buddha to renew his teachings. He’s deeply misunderstood by many people, so we try to make the teaching available and simple enough so that people, all people can make good use of that teaching and practice.
And when you when you look ahead, because obviously one day you will continue, but you will also die in the sort of physical sense. And do you feel the sangha is strong enough to flourish without you? Because you were telling the story of the Buddha the other day and the Buddha when before he died, he went round all the sangha and said, you know, go back to the island of yourself. You know, that’s where’s your strength. I mean, you know, you look in fantastic health. You know, you look very good. You know, one day you won’t be. I was just wondering how, you know, where you feel the sangha is and what do you think will happen in the future?
Well, you know, we always go up and down. And the sangha may go up and down also. But the sangha can continue to grow, even with the ups and downs. You know that there were times when the Muslims killed Buddhist monks and destroyed temples. And the monks had to bring some scriptures and flee from India to go to Nepal and other places. There were moments like that, difficult, but Buddhism was able to survive episodes like that. So it’s not true that I will die one day because I have died already many times. And you die every moment and you are reborn in every moment. So that is the way we train ourselves. It’s like the tea you see, when you pour the hot water in the tea and then you drink it for the first time and you pour again some hot water and your drink. And after that, the tea leaves although they are there, they are in the pot, but they have gone into the tea. And if you say that they die is not correct because they continue to live on in the tea. So this body is just a residue. You still can provide some deep flavor, but one day there will be no deep flavor left. And that is not a death. There’s no death. And even what is in a pot is not deep flavor, but you can put them in a flower pot and it continues to serve. So we have to look at birth and death like that. So when I see young monastics and young laypeople practicing, I see that that is a continuation of the Buddha, my continuation. You know that the people in Vietnam, although they are not practitioners, but many of them practice like that. You know that some people, they order a kind of coffin, a coffin. They like to have a coffin made of wood. And they even placed the coffin in the house. And they go in and go out and touch… they say that there will be a time when they will put their body in there and carry it to the cemetery. So they are not afraid of dying. They prepare like that. And then they sit on the threshold of the house and they watch their children playing in the sunshine and they see themselves in the children as their continuation. They did not practice meditation and they can see their continuation, their no birth and no death. That is a very […] scene, when the children grow up healthy, they see them in the children, and not only something put in the coffin. And the other day, on continuation day, Thay sent a message to the root temple and Thay said that, You should not build a stupa for Thay, because Thay is continued out here. One person has already built a temple for Thay in Hanoi, so I reminded that they make the inscription outside, on the front: I am not in here. And then if people don’t understand you add a second sentence: I’m not out there either. And if still they don’t understand, add the third and the last: I may be found, maybe in your way of breathing or walking, I’m not in here. So that the root temple has received that message. I said I don’t want to waste the land of the temple in order to build me a stupa. Don’t put me in a small pot and put it in there. I don’t want to continue like that. It’s better to put the ash outside, to grow, to help the trees to grow, things like that. That is the meditation. So I think one day of practice can bring you happiness, the happiness of one day. And you care […] And the success of the practice will never harm you. But if you are a business man, a politician, you might be victim of your success. But success of your practice will never harm you. It can only nourish you and nourish your children and friends. And taking a walk and nourish yourself, never harmed anyone.
Just two quick questions. One is… Or Slow questions. One is… How are you still deepening your practice? Because everyone in the sangha looks up to you as you’ve reached this wonderful level of realization or calmness, of the ability to someone said, you never put a step wrong. So how do you see, do you feel you’ve reached the end in terms of your own knowledge or do you feel there’s endless amount, still learn and develop…
Yeah, yeah, that is true because in Buddhism we speak of love as something limitless. The four elements of love, which is loving kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. They have no frontier […], not without consciousness. So that is true with your practice, your achievement. I think the Buddha is thinking like that, even if they call him the perfect one. But that is out of love they call that. But they can never be perfect. But we don’t need to be perfect. That’s the good thing to know. You don’t need to be perfect. And if you’re making a little bit progress every day and a bit more peace and […] joy, that’s good enough. Yeah. So I expect this to continue to practice, and his insight grows deeper every day. It’s like the teaching of I have arrived, I am home, because of many […] ago, but this is still deepening. Like the other day, Thay gave that talk about go home in the here and now and heal yourself. As I continue to come and make you understand deeper the teaching and the practice. When you look at people around you, you’ll see them as ambassadors and not individuals. You have respect, you know that they are you. The person who is coming you know that he is you. You are him. And when you touch the Earth, you touch as a lineage, as a community, and not as individual. There are people who are pleasant, and there are people who are less pleasant, but your practice is equanimity. You try to love them equally. You are trying, even if they are less pleasant, then you try to give him more, a little bit more of your time so that you can practice equanimity better. So you make progress every day. And if Thay has, this body has 100 years mortaly, he will continue to practice like that, to learn how to love better, to understand better, there’s no limit of the practice. And I think that is true with the human race. We can continue to learn generation after generation. And I think it’s time for us to begin to learn how to love in the non-discriminative ways. Because we are intelligent enough, but we are not loving enough as a race, as a species.
Thay, my last question. When you look out in the world, at the moment, there’s an enormous amount of suffering and you yourself have said, you know, in 100 years it might not even be… Climate change runs away, there might not even be a human race left and most of the species may have died out. And I’m just wondering how you’re able to look out in the world with peace when you see so much, there’s wars everywhere, things are not becoming more peaceful, there’s a worry that there going to be more more conflict. And if climate change gets much worse, there’ll be terrible, terrible suffering… Hundreds and hundreds of millions of people will suffer. And I’m just wondering how do you maintain your own sense of peace when you see all that going on around you?
I think our perception of time may help, because for us, it’s very alarming notion, but for Mother Earth, if she suffers, she knows that she has the power to heal herself. If needed, she will take one hundred million years in order to heal herself. But for us, we think that our time on Earth is only 100 years, and that is why we are impatient. But I think the collective karma, the collective ignorance of our race, collective anger, violence of our race will lead to our destruction. And we have to learn to accept that. And maybe Mother Earth could produce a great being. Sometime in the next decades so that that person will tell us what to do in order to avoid this catastrophe. We don’t know, we cannot predict, because Mother Earth is very talented. She has produce Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, great beings. So taking refuge in Mother Earth, and surrender to her, and ask her to heal us, to help us. Or maybe […] help. And we have to accept that the worst can happen. That most of us will die as a species. And many other species will die also, and Mother Earth will be capable after maybe a few million years to bring us out again and this time wiser. We are very intelligent, but we have to learn how to be better. First of all, to love Mother Earth, because when you practice mindfulness, and when you look at the sun during your walking meditation, mindfulness of body, in a body, helps you to see that the sun is in you. Without the sun there’s no life at all. And suddenly you get in touch with the sun in a different way. You see the relationship between you and the sun change. Even the sun is embracing you as a father. And that is the power of mindfulness, bringing insight. Before, you see the sun as something very far away, not having too much connection, but in fact your connection is very, very deep. You are a child of the sun. You come from the sun. A nephew, a niece, a grandchild of the sun. And that is something true with the earth also. You walk in such a way that you see that your relationship with the earth is so deep and the earth is in you. And this is not something very difficult, it’s much less… This we call then philosophy. And you can walk like that and you see the relationship between you and Mother Earth will change drastically. Because your mother is also a daughter of Mother Earth. And that insight, that feeling can come easily. And maybe you can feel that Mother Earth is in you. You are Mother Earth. And then you are no longer afraid to dying, because the Earth is not dying. You might reproduced in a better form, in a more beautiful form. It’s like a wave. A wave appears and disappears and appears again. Why? […] We should be able to die. So that kind of insight can come when you have a good relationship. And I don’t think that you need to be a philosopher in order to feel that way. Every one of us can see the connection. So good education can help us feel the connection between us and the sun and other living beings. And we can feel a lot of peace and happiness also by having that kind of relationship. I think when your relationship with the Earth will improve, your relationship with your partner, also improves naturally, with your brother or your sister will improve naturally. So the next retreat for schoolteachers we should tell them to help the children to learn that, to have that kind of relationship. Loneliness is an ill-being of our time. Children feel lonely because their parents feel lonely.
They feel disconnected.
Yeah, yeah. So this is a kind of Dharma sharing, Dharma discussion that they should have in our family, in a classroom. And that education is a plant and the school teachers should teach the young people in that way. That’s sharing, educate them to love, to be connected. I want to be friends on Facebook. It’s the need to connect. Thank you very much.
Thank you very much. Dear Thay, thank you so much for your time. We really, really appreciate it.
You would not be with us for Christmas?
No, we’re leaving on Friday. But Thay, just to say, we feel so nourished. I mean, it’s just such happiness to be here. And it’s everything you teach, everything you say is what I feel. You know, coming home to myself, coming back to ourselves, feeling nourished. Coming back to a very, very simple life and realizing that’s actually where I’m happiest, when things are at their most simple.
So you get that lamp transmission and you go home and give the light to other people.
Yes. I will no longer build a stupa to you. Dear Thay, thank you so much for all your time.
… for all your time. Really, a great blessing. Thank you.
Have some more tea, hot tea.
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