Welcome to episode 35 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.
This time, the presenters, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and journalist Jo Confino, discuss the art of happiness according to the sutras from the Buddha’s time. Their conversation explores the many layers of the Discourse on Happiness, each of the 11 causes of ‘the greatest happiness’, as shared by the Buddha, and how these ancient texts help us create the conditions in which our own happiness can ripen today.
Both Brother Phap Huu and Jo dig deeply into their own private and professional lives to exemplify and support these subjects; from ‘living our values’ and the Four Gratitudes to the power of the sangha, meaning and purpose, generosity, forgiveness, Thay’s memorable calligraphies, and many other topics.
The episode ends with a short meditation guided by Brother Phap Huu.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
Sutras: ‘Discourse on Happiness’
Sutras: ‘Discourse on the 5 Ways of Putting an End to Anger’
‘The Order of Interbeing’
‘The Five Mindfulness Trainings’
TWOII: ‘Engaged Buddhism: Applying the Teachings in Our Present Moment (Episode #9)’
The Four Noble Truths
“There is no way to happiness; happiness is the way.”
“Thay said that happiness is not outside of you, happiness is in you and around you already. It’s whether we have the mindfulness to recognize the wonderful conditions that are there. And so, if we change our perceptions, we start to see that happiness is the way. Just being is the way. And so we can free ourselves from the habit of running after happiness.”
“Not to be associated with the foolish ones, but to live in the company of wise people, honoring those who are worth honoring – this is the greatest happiness.”
“[Thay suggested sometimes calling] a good friend, a soulmate, someone who understands you, someone who helps you see your shortcomings, and has the courage and the intention to share with you your own ignorance, so that you can grow from it. That is happiness.”
“To live in a good environment, to have planted good seeds, and to realize you are on the right path – this is the greatest happiness.”
“The environment is not outside of you; you are the environment.”
“Every thought is planting a seed. Every idea I conjure up in my mind is planting a seed. Everything I say is planting a seed. Everything I do is planting a seed. And I think people tend not to see the full nature of what it is to plant seeds; that, actually, there’s nothing neutral [about it].”
“To have a chance to learn and grow, to be skillful in your professional craft, practicing the precepts and loving speech – this is the greatest happiness.”
“To live honestly, generous and giving, to offer support to relatives and friends living a life of blameless conduct – this is the greatest happiness.”
“Most of the time, we make ourselves very busy and we think we love and we define love as always giving each other presents. But love is to give each other presence, our true presence, our heart, our ears, our eyes: ‘I see you for who you are. I’m here to listen to you.’”
“Being honest means never having to remember what you said.”
“To avoid unwholesome actions, not to be caught by alcoholism or drugs, and to be diligent in doing good things. This is the greatest happiness.”
“To be humble and polite in manner, to be grateful and content with a simple life, not missing the occasion to learn the dharma – this is the greatest happiness.”
“Be grateful and content with a simple life. That always brings me to one of Thay’s calligraphies: ‘You have enough.’ That line tells us to continue to learn to have moderation. We are a species with a lot of greed; we take more than we need. We see things as just things, so we keep taking and taking and taking. But what we have learned in our times is that everything is interrelated; that’s why we are in the state that we are in. And that’s why we need this collective awakening. Simple life should be the new culture.”
“To be humble is to be free, because as soon as we believe we’re something more than ourselves, it’s a shaky superstructure. To keep it going, we have to keep feeding it, and building it, and protecting it. And, again, it feeds into that egoic mask. Actually, we just lose ourselves. And the more we lose ourselves, the harder it is to come back to ourselves, because the distance becomes so great.”
“Practicing Buddhism is not to escape this world, but to be more alive in it.”
Dear friends, welcome to this latest episode in the podcast series The Way Out Is In. I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk in the tradition of Plum Village, student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
And today, brother, we’ve been talking a lot recently about how to deal with our suffering, which is very important. But today we’re going to change direction. But we’re going to now talk about the art of happiness.
The way out is in.
Hello, dear friends, I’m Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And brother, we’re going to talk about the art of happiness today. So why are we going to talk about this? Why? Why we’ve chosen this topic?
Because it is so important to be able to have happiness in our daily life, because that is a nourishment that keeps us fresh balance, solid and present.
So I was, before we came to Thay’s Sitting Still hut to do this recording I was sitting under the linden tree at the entrance to Plum Village and one of the monks came and sat next to me and I said, I said, Brother, I’m going to do this recording with Phap Huu and I want to sound really intelligent. So we’re going to talk about happiness, I think, today. So what should I say? And he said something which is really interesting, he said, Well, actually, we all have a different perception of happiness, by what actually is happiness. Everyone would give a different answer. But today, brother, we’re going to talk about one of the discourses on happiness from the Buddha’s time. And the reason he said this was a good thing to discuss is because actually it’s a way of actually quantifying happiness, it’s a way of actually giving happiness a sort of, a framework, a way to actually explore happiness that in a sense we can all connect with. So I think we’re going to do that today, aren’t we?
That is correct, because happiness has so many layers to it. So we are going to look at many of the layers in today’s sutra and I hope, hopefully, we will find some ingredient for our own happiness also.
That’s worthwhile. So, brother, tell us, first of all, before we get into it, what is a sutra? And what is it? How would you describe it?
A sutra is a recording that is written down by the monks and the nuns, the Buddhist student. But hundreds of years later, actually, that records the time when the Buddha was teaching to his community. And the sutra is the written teachings of the Buddha.
Great. So we’re going to now go through this sutra, the Discourse on Happiness. And, brother, I was thinking we should do something a little bit different today because I think there are 11 causes for happiness actually in the sutra. So I was thinking we could maybe go through each one and I could sort of read it out and then you could give us a sort of an answer to each one, or at least a description. And I think when we were, just before we started recording, you said, well, I’ll give a sort of my understanding from this point in my life. And in ten years time, you may give a completely different answer.
Exactly, because we are always evolving. So our answers today is the present moment of Jo Confino and Brother Phap Huu. But I think in 20 years from now, if we are to come back and do the same topic and the same sutra, we will probably have different answers.
Yeah, that’s, that’s… As long as I’m still alive in 20 years, brother. I mean, there’s 30 years difference between us. I hope to be here, but if not, you’ll have to find another partner.
And hopefully our podcast will still be alive. Right?
We could do a return match.
And, brother, just one thing. One of the things I’ve always loved about Thay’s teachings is that he’s got this sort of famous phrase, this is… There is no way to happiness. Happiness is the way. So again, before we kick into the details, give us a sort of an understanding of that, because I think it’s such a beautiful way of describing it.
You know, I’m still unpacking that two lines also. And I’m still understanding happiness is the way. Because, first of all, when Thay teaches us on the art of happiness, it is to also help us remove also our views, our concept that attaining something is happiness. Because in the normal world we’re always looking for happiness outside of us. So, I can’t wait until I get this degree, and then I will be happy. I can’t wait until I arrive at Plum Village and then I’m happy. I can’t wait until I get married and then I’m happy, etc., etc.. And so we create all of these perceptions or these goals, these ideas of happiness. But the practice is to recognize that happiness is already there. Such as, when I wake up this morning and I just realize that I still have eyes in good conditions that can see the beautiful colors of the forest, the flowers. I can see my loved ones. I can see the cat lying there, lazily. That is happiness. I have ears that can listen to music, the sounds of the birds. I am well enough to be present, to give a hug. And so, when we come to the practice, we start to realize that happiness is very different than what we thought it is. And that’s why Thay said that happiness is not outside of you, happiness is in you and around you already. It’s whether we have the mindfulness to recognize the wonderful conditions that are there. And so if we change our perceptions, we start to see that happiness is the way. Just being is the way. And so we can free ourself from the habit of running after happiness.
So that’s a beautiful way of describing it. So what you are saying is actually, and Thay also said, you know, there are more than enough conditions to be happy. So whatever is going on for us, we can find moments of happiness. But I think this discourse is about helping to create the conditions in which happiness can ripen. Because, of course, if we place ourselves in the wrong environment, mixed with a wrong, in quotes, people, sort of go after sort of craving after this and that, then actually we move away from happiness. So I think this discourse is saying actually, yes, we can be happy in the present moment, but let’s, actually, like a farmer, let’s get the land, the ground ready for growing something, because if it’s stony ground, then it will be very hard for something to grow.
Yes. And what we have to put into consideration is that this discourse from the Buddha is 2600 years ago. So the mindset of the Buddha and the people in India at that time is very different than our time. So, but what I really like about this is it shows how practical the Buddha is. So a question was asked to the Buddha. Many gods and men are eager to know what is the greatest blessing, which brings about a peaceful and happy life? Please, Tathagata, will you teach us? Please, Buddha, will you teach us? So this is, to put it into context, is somebody asking the Buddha, Dear Buddha, how can I recognize that I have happiness in my life?
So, unfortunately, the Buddha isn’t here, but we’ve got the closest thing to it, which is the Abbot of Upper Hamlet, Brother Phap Huu. So I am going to… and in the discourse it’s a Deva who comes to the Buddha to ask these questions. And a Deva is a sort of, is like a spirit or a goddess.
So I’m going to play the role of the goddess. And you can play the role of the Buddha.
Okay. Thay says that all of us have the Buddhahood in us, the Buddha seed in us. So I’m going to generate my Buddha seed and invite the Buddha, 2600 years ago, to be present in me right here, right now.
And that’s quite easy for you to do, brother, because the lineage comes from the Buddha to you in this present moment. It’s unbroken lineage for 2600 years to this moment.
That is correct.
Great. So there are 11 of them. So I am going to ask you, dear Buddha, each one in turn. So, this is the Buddha’s answer. I’m going to give you the answer, but then I’m going to ask you to describe it. So the first one, he said, is not to be associated with the foolish ones, to live in the company of wise people honoring those who are worth honoring. This is the greatest happiness.
Not to be associated with the foolish ones. I’m looking around my life and I am very lucky. I have a lot of enlightened friends around me who are always nourishing my mind, helping me see myself more deeply, helping me check in with my perception, check in with my feelings, check in with my views. And this is such a gem. And this sutra is telling us that the ones who we are associated with, the people that are around us, they have a big impact on us. They can help nourish the different kind of seeds in us. Seeds of love, seeds of hate, seeds of discrimination. And it brings us back to asking, do we have good friends around us? Because in Buddhism we have the Four Gratitudes, and friendship is the third gratitude. And for me, I do realize that to have friends is one of the greatest happiness. And sometime Thay calls a good friend, a soulmate, someone who understands you, someone who helps you see your shortcoming, has the courage, has the intention to share with you your own ignorance so that you can grow from it. That is happiness. Because if nobody helps you open up your mind and shows you that you have a wrong view or your perception can be wrong, let us look at it together, then we won’t have a chance to grow. We will continue to be very little, our heart will be very small. And so to not be associated with the foolish one and to live in the company of wise people. Hmm. I feel that that is an element for growth. And growth for me is happiness. And honoring those who are worth honoring, this is the greatest happiness. And to not be jealous with the ones that are doing well, and that are solid, that are stable, and to water the flowers, see that they are wonderful conditions. You know, there’s this sutra on the Five Ways of Putting an End to Anger. And the fifth one is Shariputra teaches the monks that if you have someone who is fresh, who is solid, who is happy, and you are angry with that person because of your jealousy, I cannot consider you someone who is wise. And so this also tells us to be mindful of who we have around us, the ones who are real friends and who really help us, our mentors, our coaches, our brothers, sisters, siblings who help us grow. Don’t push them away and try to grow the relationships so that they can always be there to support you.
And, brother, on top of that, sort of what came to my mind was it you talked about the Buddha’s teachings, they’re 2600 years, but they feel very relevant now. To me, what this came up was about social media, because actually so many people are listening to foolish people who are giving views and creating anger and frustration and hatred. So if we’re looking at people who who create all these, all these false sort of ideas and conspiracy theories, that actually leads to deep unhappiness, that leads to a sense of separation, a sense of people you can’t trust other people, a belief that people are against you, that they’re cabals out there who want to sort of destroy your life. And that is almost the definition of unhappiness, because actually then you feel separate from… Whereas if you listen to wise people who talk about love and connection, who want to build a sense of trust, who want to build a sense of equity, who want to bring people together, then that actually is happiness.
Exactly. And we also have to know how to break free from the toxic relationships that we may have or who we are associated with. Because I have been in situation where the conversations have been very negative and it waters unwholesome seeds in me and it makes me more aggressive, makes me more angry, makes me discriminate. And when I realize, Wow, that conversation just made me so toxic. I learn, I have mindfulness, and I have to know whenever I’m in this particular conversation, and if it’s not, if I can’t help change the view, I need to disconnect from it or else I will water very unwholesome seeds in me.
Yeah. And that’s I think it leads to all actually media, it’s all consumption. Actually, not being associated with foolish ones can be an article you read, it could be a film you watch, it could be a conversation. It could be a book. I mean, there are many ways that we can be associate with people who are going to, as you say, generate sort of unwholesome feelings rather than wholesome feelings. So the company we keep is all of our consumption, is everything we consume, everything we listen to, all the adverts we listen to. Actually, everything that’s being told to us, we need to be very discerning about where we put our attention.
Okay. Number two, brother. Second one. To live in a good environment, to have planted good seeds and to realize you are on the right path. This is the greatest happiness.
I like this one. To live in a good environment. So there’s the present moment, and then there’s the ultimate also of looking at how we are taking care of our environment. Bringing it to 2022, we are sitting in 37 degrees right now.
And 41 tomorrow.
And 41 tomorrow. And we do realize that our environment, our planet, needs our awakening, needs all of us to wake up and to look at the way we are consuming, look at our impact on this beautiful planet. And so for me, when I read this now, I do realize that I am living in an environment where I can breathe in fresh air, where I can still see the sunrise, where I can still see the sunset, I can still see the beauty of nature. But I know everything is of the nature of impermanence. So, our planet is also of the nature of impermanence. So this is bringing me back to realize how am I impacting by my way of living in this very here and now. And Thay have said the environment is not outside of you. You are the environment. So that also means how are we, how are we cultivating our daily life that it is offering back to the Earth protection, freshness, love, peace, joy. And when I walk, am I walking with angry steps or am I doing it to offer back love? And am I drinking mindfully, eating mindfully, interacting mindfully? Asking the question, Do I have enough already or do I need more? You see? But I think like back in the days this was also to look at the conditions that we have, our environment, our conditions that we have, and maybe we think that we need more to be happy. But already we have a chair to sit on. We have food to eat. We have friends that are around. We have a very good condition. So don’t look for it more because you have enough and to go a little bit deeper, to realize that you are on the right path. I feel very lucky that I have a path, and this is the greatest happiness. Because when you have a path, then, and here the path is not the path of just walking every day, but the path of how we are growing. What are we putting our attention to? And, for me, it is my own awakening, and then building the collective awakening, building community, building love, building compassion, communication. And I realized, Jo, you know, no matter how busy I am in a retreat, many friends have asked me, Brother, how are you? And I can’t lie. So I always say, I’m tired, but I’m happy tired.
Because I see such joy when friends have transformation and it’s so simple the conditions that we offer, which is the practice, and so, for me, this is a path that I am so grateful of and I feel like this path is not just for the present moment, but is for generations to come. And it is also a path of healing, because in this path that I’m walking, I’m also transforming so much of my own habit, which is so connected to my parents, my ancestors. And then, even on a deeper level, even my society, my nation, and I’m building a future in the present moment. So I do feel super, super happy about that. And to have planted good seeds, you know, in Buddhism, seeds we usually associated with our mental formations. We call it bijas, it means like the seeds that are in us. And we have so many seeds that are already there, such as seeds of love, seeds of courage, seeds of happiness, hope. But we also have seeds that are more negative, such as anger, fear, hatred, discrimination. So we have to learn to nourish and take care of the wonderful seeds and then embrace and transform the seeds that bring us despair and bring us suffering. But, you know, in our daily life, we’re always planting seeds by our way of living, planting seeds towards us and planting seeds to our community. So this also brings me back at how am I living that, and what kind of seeds am I planting in people, in my conversations, in my interactions. This can go very deep. How about you, Jo? When you hear this verse, what does it bring up for you?
Well, well, thank you, brother. A few things, I think in modern parlance, sort of being on the right path could be associated with finding, having meaning, and a sense of purpose. And I think having a meaning and a purpose gives people a direction of life. It gives something that deeply nourishes us. I think to just get up every day and have no sense of direction, no wish to create a better world, no wish to do something that will touch people, no idea that actually we can make life better for ourselves and other people. That life, without that is to despair, is lonely. And so I think to have a sense of being on the right path it’s a flow of energy, isn’t it? I’m moving my arms forward because it’s literally an energy. It says, actually, I know why I’m here, I know the direction I’m traveling, and I can bring all of myself to that. Whereas when we don’t have that, where’s our energy go? It normally goes to attack ourselves. But when it’s flowing forward, it’s like a river, we carry ourselves along it, but also we carry other people. And, on the seeds, you know, I think, that’s why I love it so much, if you plant a seed, it would normally grow. And what you were saying, brother, just makes so much sense to me that, that every… and what I’ve learned through this practice, every thought is planting a seed. Every idea I conjure up in my mind as planting a seed. Everything I say is planting a seed. Everything I do is planting a seed. And I think people tend not to see the full nature of what it is to plant seeds, that actually there’s nothing neutral. I can have a thought sitting here, of support for you, Brother Phap Huu, and appreciation of you. Or I could have a jealous thought. And even if you don’t know it, I’m creating, I’m creating that energy here. And so I think that sort of, that’s sort of very meaningful. And to live in a good environment, I love the way you took it to the global level because I think that, as you say, in the Buddha’s time, it would have been probably very local. What’s happening in your local community? What are you doing yourself? But to see our environment, as you say, it’s in us and it’s the whole planet that we’re able actually now to recognize our environment is everything and it’s all interconnected. You can’t disconnect your own personal environment from what we’re doing to the world, and you can’t disconnect the world from our own sense of our own environment. Like, you know, as you say, we’re right now sitting while an hour and a half away the great forest is burning. And I can’t disassociate that that is part of my environment and my actions will either help contribute to more of those or to lessen those.
So, number three. To have a chance to learn and grow, to be skillful in your professional craft, practicing the precepts and loving speech. This is the greatest happiness.
Let’s unpack this one.
Yeah, it’s a lot in this one.
To have a chance to learn and grow, I think this is for a lot of us, we have education, but we forget that there are places in the world where education is still so limited. We know that we are always evolving as human beings and one of our happiness is to see our changes as we move forward in life. So when we don’t have the conditions to learn, we are limited, our view is very shallow, our understanding of the world may not be as deep as how deep the world is. And so I realize that I’m so lucky, I’m so fortunate. And for so many years, Plum Village has organizations where we would give money to hungry children and to help build schools in Vietnam, where there was a lot of poverty. Because we see that education should be a human right. It should be, everybody should have the equal opportunity to learn. And now looking on an individual level, the growth here is not how tall we become or how big we become, but is the inner growth, is the growth of our heart, our minds, our understanding, our capacity of love. Right? Looking back 20 years ago when I just joined the monastery, I see that my capacity to love has grown so much. I am so much more capable of handling my anger, handling someone who doesn’t have the same view with me. I still see them as a wonderful person and I still… And I just accept we have different views, but I can still see you as a human being, and we we still have mutual respect for what we’re doing. So even in Plum Village, you know, I have brothers and sisters where we don’t share the same view towards some, some things, but that’s not an obstacle to us to be in harmony. And I’ve grown a lot in this aspect. So to have a chance to learn and to grow. So this is education, but also spiritual growth, growth as a human being, growth as in our capacity of love and understanding. To be skillful in your profession and craft, I think that also is connected to the path that we spoke about. I have a really funny story with my father. So, before I was abbot, I was vice abbot, and before I was vice abbot, I was work co-ordinator. And so these are like some of the biggest roles in the monastery because all of these roles you always have to have a bird’s eye view on the community to see what is missing, what is lacking, and to organize it. And so there were many retreats that I was always a part of organizing team, and I still am, but I think I am much more mindful now. But before I used to be running around the monastery, not very mindfully, but I was running around the monastery just trying to get things done. And one day, my dad, he looked at me and he had this huge smile. And I said, Dad, why are you smiling? He said, I’m so happy you’re busy. And I said, What do you mean? I want to be a peaceful monk. I just want to sit there and look at trees. And he said, You know, there are so many young people in the world who don’t have a career, who don’t have something that they know that what they are doing is offering happiness. But I see what you are doing is offering happiness to a lot of people. So I’m so happy for you. And when my dad said that, it opened my mind to what I have and how I’m offering. And it is true, even though I’m busy, but I’m happy busy. Even though I’m tired, but I’m happy tired. And whatever we offer, we always get it back in return. And you know, the smiles that I get or the hugs that I receive, they become the currency for me. And then practicing the precepts. So the precept is a very Buddhist term, it is the trainings that we get as monastics, the right conducts, the code. Our teacher has translated the precepts into today’s Plum Village language, Mindfulness Trainings. And so they are very concrete guidance on what to do and what not to do, because if you do something with mindfulness, it offers you well-being and it offers you happiness. But if you do something that is not contributing to your well-being, it will contribute to the opposite, which is your suffering. So the precepts is an ongoing training. So once I received that, when I became a monastic, it doesn’t mean I’m done with the training. I am continuing, I am continuously growing in this in this path of mindfulness, loving speech. When we are able to say things that are kind, things that are… that brings hope, that is such a gift to the world. And so, for me, just practicing this verse, I know we are offering not just happiness for ourself, but happiness for the ones all around us.
Yeah, that’s beautiful, brother. And when I saw to have a chance to learn and grow, what came up for me is I know a lot of people, and you talked about the mindfulness trainings, and in one of the mindfulness trainings, it talks about not believing anything because as soon as you believe something to be true, then you’ve closed yourself down, you say, Well, that’s true. And therefore you’re not open. And in one of the mindfulness trainings, it talks very much about not even believing Buddhist notions and beliefs. And I know a lot of people are able to really be 100% part of this practice, because even Thay was saying don’t believe Buddhist notions, because as soon as you have a belief in Buddhism, as Buddhism is right, then you’ve already closed your mind. And that Thay constantly rethought the Buddhist teachings for the current generation. And so I love that in terms of it’s true for us individually, but actually Thay sort of really built that into the very fabric of his teachings, that actually you can have wonderful teachings, but if they’re not relevant to a new generation, then actually they’re no good. They don’t, they’re not fit for purpose. And so I love that idea is very much built into everything about Plum Village is actually we’re constantly changing if the world changes.
Openness. And then to be skillful in your professional craft, I think there’s something very deep about that, isn’t there? About, it’s about developing our wisdom, that when we focus on something and we put our mind to it and our heart to it, and we’re doing it for a good purpose, then actually we’re developing our wisdom and our effectiveness and our ability to create change in the world. And I think for all generations that come after us, if we’ve been able to be fully there and showcase why it’s so important to really embed our energy and skills into life, then actually it allows the next generation to also recognize that. So that’s beautiful. And loving speech. Yes, brother. Oh, man. You know, what is more important than that in this world? You know, when there’s so much misunderstanding, miscommunication, you know. I know that when I meet people and you just give a kind word, sometimes it’s just one kind word, and people’s faces light up because actually it nurtures and feeds into such a basic need of ours to be recognized, to be seen, to be appreciated. And in the practice here it’s known as sort of watering people’s flowers, in a sense. You know, if you’re not watering a flower, it’s going to wilt and die. But if you water it well, it just wants to give its all. So I think there’s something so powerful about just recognizing the power of our words to create sort of harmony and gratitude and for people just to feel seen and noticed. Okay. What number we’re on? Is this number four?
Now we’re going to number four.
Okay. To be able to serve and support your parents, to cherish your own family, to have a vocation that brings you joy. This is the greatest happiness.
So this one is very deep in the Eastern culture. We have a very rich and deep insight that taking care of our parents is an honor, it’s a gift to have parents coming back to the fore, gratitude. The first gratitude that we always practice is we are grateful to our parents that have brought us life. So the parents here, in the practice of Plum Village, is not exactly the parent outside of us, but also taking care of the parents inside of us. And this is a very deep practice because some of us, our relationship with our parents are not that beautiful and there can be a lot of pain and suffering in that relationship. And some of my friends, their parents have already passed away and they still hold a lot of anger and resentment. But when they came to the practice, one of Thay’s teaching is to see us as a continuation of our parents, meaning that when we see that we are the continuation of our parents, we have also the responsibility to bring them into the present moment and then also forward into the future. So that gives us an opportunity to heal the wounds with our parents inside of us. And this can really liberate and free us because so many of our suffering is so connected to our parents, is so connected to our childhood. So one of the practice of coming home is to reconcile with the past. And so here, when we say to be able to serve and support your parents is also to transform the parents inside of us. Of course, for those of us, as monastics, we do also learn to love our parents more. That’s part of our training. Even though we leave our family to become monastics, but we cannot remove our parents from us because they are so deep in us, in every cell, in blood. When I look at my hands, I see my mother and my father so present. When I look at my habits, I see habits that come exactly from my father. I said, Oh, my God, I am becoming my father. And there is sometimes I see beautiful qualities and I say, Oh, mommy, this is you. And the same with my father and even my grandparents. So this practice, this awareness of we are a continuation of our parents, gives us an opportunity to heal, transform and to honor. And this, in the Eastern culture, we have in our root temple called Tu Hieu, it means Tu is compassion, Hieu is filial piety, and so is compassion with a filial piety heart. So we know how to honor our parents, our ancestors, and so in our training as a monk, we learn to reconnect to our parents at a deeper level. And loving speech in the third verse, I have learned to speak lovingly to my parents. And this has been so powerful for my relationship with my whole family, my whole blood family. And I have learned to accept my parents as they are. When I came home for the first time, I thought, okay, I’m a monk now. I’m going to help my parents transform and grow in the Dharma. And, oh boy, was that a wrong perception. And I came back and I had so much ideas that I wanted to change things around the house and I wanted to change my parents. But I realized that everything takes time, and to just, first of all, just accept who they are and to see the beauty in them. That is already very important and that is love itself. So to cherish your own family and to cherish the family that you have now. So my family is more than just my blood family. My family is also with the Plum Village community, my whole monastic brothers and sister, which is probably 700 of them, so that’s a pretty big family. And knowing to cherish the family is also learning to accept the difference in the family. And touching openness, again, what you just shared, Jo, in the first three trainings in the Order of Interbeing is that we’re always changing, we’re always growing, and to be open is a source of happiness, to have a vocation that brings you joy. Isn’t that very much linked to the right path and the career and I think that the Buddha is always bringing us back to look at our aspiration. What are we doing in our daily life that is nourishing our hearts? So sometimes I would ask myself and I would say, Brother Phap Huu, how is your heart? Is what you are doing every day, is it help growing your heart, help giving you joy in daily life? And so, the Buddha is just giving us different ways at looking at the different layers in life to see are we nourishing ourself and making sure that we are not lost in our life.
Beautiful. And, brother, brings to… I love the way you talk about sort of to be able to serve and support your parents is it… it’s possible to see it in such particular way. Oh well, maybe I need to go home more often and and have dinner. And, of course, that may be part of it, but what you are showing is actually there’s enormous depth to this. And what it brought to my mind was actually that each generation has the possibility of healing what the previous generation were unable to do. And in a sense that, again, why I personally have found great understanding in Thay’s teaching is, you know, once when I interviewed him, he said, you know, he said, When I meet someone, I never meet that individual, but I meet their entire lineage. And so, in our parents, as the teachings and you’ve sort of shown it, we’re not just meeting our, we’re not just supporting our parents, we’re actually supporting the entire lineage. And if we’re supporting the lineage, we’re supporting ourselves. And it brought to mind one story around that, brother, which is my mother was a victim of the Holocaust, and she was forced to leave Germany alone when she was 14. And her family died and her brother died in one of the concentration camps. And after the war, she was looking for her brother to see if he was still alive. And then she got a message from the Red Cross to say that her brother was alive and had gone to Argentina. And there was that moment where she had a thought, Oh, my God, my brother is alive. And then thought, Well, but why wouldn’t he contact me? And looked into it, and it was someone in the SS who had basically who had known her brother and had basically stolen his identity to escape Germany. And one day my mother was in hospital. She had had a heart problem, and it was not known if she would live. And actually she did survive that, but I went to visit her in the hospital and she said, you know, I’ve forgiven so much in my life. And she’d gone back to Germany and she taught schoolchildren and she’d gone back to meet the old school friends who had basically pushed her away when the Nazi rules came in, and had basically ignored her and silenced her. And had gone to make peace with all these people, and she said, you know, The one thing I have been unable to forgive is this person who took my brother’s identity. And when I came to Plum Village, and being Plum Village, I realized actually, I can help forgive that person. I can take on that mantle of what my mum was unable to do, and I can, in these terms, I can serve and support my mother even though she’s passed. But I continue to serve and support her by helping her to take the next step. And I think we’re all able to do that when we see our parents and when we judge them as failing us, and sometimes with very, very good evidence, but that we can either use that to blame them and to make ourselves feel worthless or have negative traits, or we can say this is… they did their very best given their circumstance. But I can support and cherish them by healing that in myself, because if I heal that in the present, I’m also healing the past. So I love that. And that sense, also, brother, you mentioned about to cherish your family. You know, again, we can have a very narrow view of that as just my siblings and my parents. But actually, family is the people we hold close to us, the people that we connect deeply with. So, actually, you know, we can cherish all those people who are in our life. We don’t have to discriminate, it’s just sort of a blood family, but as you’ve taught, brother, you know, we have a spiritual family and we have our land ancestors, our spiritual ancestors and actually our family. We can see that and all those aspects.
Next one. To live honestly, generous and giving, to offer support to relatives and friends living a life of blameless conduct. This is the greatest happiness.
To live honestly, that is part of our training because we know that honesty is something that helps us grow. The more we do things that is against us, because when we lie were lying to us, we’re not lying to anyone else. That’s what I’ve learned in the precepts, is when we learn to lie, we’re doing ourself more harm than what we’re trying to gain. And so to live honestly is also learning to be with oneself, learning to understand yourself more so that you can live a life that you are grateful about, and that you are offering all the time because it’s connected to… to be generous, we have to have honesty to be generous. If we are not honest, if we don’t have that aspect, I don’t think we will be able to offer anything because then we are so selfish, because when we’re lying, that’s also because we’re selfish. We’re trying to gain things just for ourself. We’re trying to just to be the best, and our ego is so big and we’re ready to cut anything that is not offering ourself benefits. So living honestly and for myself, generosity, I’m very grateful that I have this big seed in my family. I remember, as a monastic, whenever we get gifts from our family, we are taught to offer it to our brothers and sisters, because possessions can define us, because sometimes we get so attached to things, and that makes us very small inside. So part of becoming a monk is learning to be empty, is to be as simple as possible. But nevertheless, there are those who really love us and they will offer us love, and one of the way is to offer us gifts. And so this was a very easy practice for me because whenever I receive a care package from my mom and my sister and my dad, it was so easy for me to just give the whole box to the community. And I actually get so much joy in seeing other people get joy in receiving things. And so I think that for me, the more you’re able to give, the more you receive back. And being generous is not only in material, being generous it’s also in time. Do you have time for yourself? Do you have time for your loved ones? Do you have time to understand the suffering of your community, your suffering of your parents, the suffering of your wife, your husband, your partner, your brother, your sister, etc.. And most of the time we make ourself very busy and we think we love and we define love as in always giving each other presents. But what we’ve seen is that love is to give each other presence, our true presence, our heart, our ears, our eyes. I see you for who you are. I’m here to listen to you. Share with me your greatest joy today, brother. What makes your heart sing? Tell me, what is your five year aspiration? How can I be a part of it? How can I help you? Tell me your deepest suffering. I may not have the answer, but I want to hear it so I can help burden some of your suffering. And so generous here is so much, there’s so many layers to it. And to offer support to relatives and friends, I think that’s connected to being generous and living a life of blameless conduct that is living honestly.
So, brothers, what came to my mind as you were speaking was someone once told me a phrase which really stuck with me. He said, Being honest means never having to remember what you said. Because so many of us, you know, if we tell a lie, we have to know the lie and we have to know the truth. And we need to know the difference. And we have to know the story that the lie is so, that if you lie to someone and then you meet them up, you’ve already had to store in your mind the excuse of why you couldn’t do something, or you have to remember the lie, essentially. So actually, if we are used to telling lots of little lies our mind storage is filled with having to remember. What did I say to Bob? What was the lie I told Bob? And is it different from the little Cynthia? And… But when you’re honest, or to the extent that we can be honest, we’re free because we have nothing to hide. Our mind can be clear. So I remember when someone told me that it went so deep into my conscience because I thought of all the lies I’ve told and all the things I’ve had to remember about those lies. And I’ve had a real problem in my life, brother, and generous and giving, because when I was young, I didn’t feel I had anything. And so I was always trying to amass. And for me, sort of amassing things was actually security. It was a feeling that I was good enough, that I deserved something. So I realized I created this pattern of, as you said, giving to get that there was a manipulation in it. And almost… And what I realized is that actually, if you’re manipulating to get something, then that’s not a gift and it’s not generosity. And the other person can never truly receive it. And also I never get the benefit of it because actually the persona that, the mask of me, the ego that feels not good enough, that wants to grab is not who I truly am. So actually the benefit just feeds into the mask, the mask of me, the ego gets the benefit. But also there’s the immediate gap between the ego and who I am. So actually, if you’re not giving generously, actually you suffer greatly. I mean, this is what you were saying. And so I’ve been learning over the years about being more generous. And sometimes I still find it difficult. But actually I realize when I’m really there for somebody, when I really give with this deep wish for someone to benefit, I do feel so much better. And if I’m trying to get something from it, I cannot benefit from that. But also, brother, I just one thing, blameless conduct. I mean it seems a bit of a, you know, I can’t think of anyone who can say they’re blameless or that they’re pure. So just before we go onto the next one, you know, how do we…? Because these are great aspirations, but to say actually, to be completely honest, sometimes we feel we need to say a white lie sometimes to protect someone…
To protect something. I can’t believe of anyone who leads a, who has left a blameless life. So just before we go into the next one, can you just give us a sense of how do we think about this? Because if this is the greatest happiness, yes, but actually, none of us are perfect. So how do we work with that so that we don’t say, oh, actually, I have told a lie therefore I am a bad person. I haven’t always been there for my parents, so actually I’m a bad person. We can use these things to actually create more unhappiness.
Yeah. So the teachings are like the Northern Star that helps us go in the right direction. So there is in the precept, in the trainings that we get, sometimes we have to lie in order to protect life. For example, we were given an example if we have somebody who asks us to hide them because they are being chased by a murderer, and the murderer comes up and said, Have you seen that person? And because we have awareness, you definitely see this person, and a lot of fear, in a lot of anxiety. And, you know, he or she is running for their life. And if at that moment you said, well, my precept says, I cannot lie, and I say, Yes, he or she is right here. Then we’re also committing another precept, which is you are allowing somebody to be in danger. So we have to be very skillful and we also cannot be so attached to every word in the scripture, in the sutra. And this is why I love Buddhism, because in Buddhism, the Buddha, and our teacher Thay has shared so many times we have to learn to be open. The teachings are like the guideposts that tells us the direction we should go in and sometimes we are already in that direction. But we’re in a situation where we have to be a little bit more skillful in order to preserve life, in order to protect the environment, in order to help somebody grow. Right? So sometimes sharing feedback, feedback can be very important. And for some people, if you are very skillful and very gentle in your words, and they will manipulate the words. And so, sometimes, you have to be very straightforward. You have to say, this is how it is, this is exactly what you’re doing. You’re causing a lot of suffering. You’ve got to be so straightforward. And sometime Thay would say some of Thay’s students, Thay has to give them sweets because that’s how they grow. And some of them Thay has to give them very bitter medicine, because they’re too smart, too clever. They will twist the words. And so sometimes we have to be very skillful, even in loving speech. Sometimes compassion, there is also fierce compassion, right? So sometimes you think you’re helping somebody by giving them so much space, so much openness, but then they become lazy. And sometimes you have to say, Brother, every day I want you to wake up at 5:00, even if it’s lazy day, I need you to train, I need you to be more developed in your habits because you don’t know how to take care of yourself. You sleep so late, you don’t know how to rest. And if you just keep giving them space, their habits are too strong. Right? So we have to see the teachings are like the Northern Star. They help us walk the right path, but we have to be skillful. Is that good?
Yeah. No, that’s perfect. Because our ego likes to twist things.
And to make us feel small and insignificant and separate and an individual rather than the opposite. And so we always have to be careful with all these trainings that we don’t fall into our own traps, because then we can use actually the teachings against ourselves rather than to benefit ourselves. So thank you for that, brother. Okay. Number six, I think it’s number six. I’ve lost track, but let’s pretend it’s six even if I’m wrong. So number six is To avoid unwholesome actions, not caught by alcoholism or drugs and to be diligent in doing good things. This is the greatest happiness.
So this is very concrete, it’s about our daily actions. So in Buddhism, actions, there are three parts to it. So the first one, a thought is an action. The second, our speech is action. And then bodily action, how we do things in the world, our energy where we put it, that is action. So we know that unwholesome action will lead to unwholesome karma. Whatever… How does it go? Whatever comes around…
Whatever comes around goes around. And that is the truth. That is the reality. So here it is to tell us to be mindful of our daily action and to have the intention to do wholesome actions in our life because we know whatever we offer always comes back. So in our training, we do have very concrete training about consumption. So we know alcohol and drugs are a kind of escape for people of escaping reality in the present moment, escaping our suffering. And once we become addicted to alcohol and drugs, it is a rabbit hole that is very deep and a lot of suffering. And so for us to not be caught by alcoholism and drugs, that is a great happiness. But for those who are in it, we know there is a way out, and we know… I have met people who have been free from drugs and when they come to Plum Village for the first time, they start to realize that this is something they need to work on to be to be liberated from. And then, a few years later, they come back and they share that I am, I have gone through different programs that society has offered, and now I am not caught in this. You just see their face is so different, their eyes, their energy that they carry, how they carry them. So that is happiness. And so be diligent in doing good things and don’t think that the good things are the grand scheme of projects and changing the world on a community or national level. Just by the simple acts of kindness, do not underestimate them. There are some acts of kindness that I have received in my life that I have never forgotten, never forgotten. And they help me become a kinder person today. And one example, my first time of Plum Village, I was too small to take my own muesli. And somebody very kindly just said, Can I help you? And I will never forget that. And that person didn’t want anything back in return. This was a pure act of kindness and love. And so that was a lesson to me. And so today, whenever I see a child who needs help at the serving line, I always help. Can I help you? And so don’t underestimate just a simple act of kindness that you can give today. When you do it from a space of kindness, you don’t need anything in return. And that is also a teaching to someone else.
I love that, brother, that sense of don’t discriminate about something that may be perceived as important or unimportant, and don’t discriminate between them. And it brings up for me… my first job in journalism was on a newspaper down in the south west of England called the Western Evening Herald. And I remember, and it’s so interesting what we remember, what we don’t remember, but one of the things I remember was that there was a, I received a letter, a letter came in from this elderly woman who lived in the city where the newspaper was based, in Plymouth. And she had been trying to get her… She lived in a council house, so it was owned by the local authority, and all the windows had rotted and in the winter all the cold air was coming in and she had been unable after a year or two to get anyone to do anything. And so I read the letter and thought, well, I’ll do something about that. And so I basically took up her case and two months later, all her windows were replaced and ta-ra-ra… And then later on, you know, I went to the Guardian and I helped set up the environment site and the global development site and creating work around systems change and doing stuff that on one level you could argue were more important. But actually, I always remembered helping that old lady. And almost that felt, that well, it did, it felt as important as anything else I did in my 40 years of journalism, was to just be there for one person who was in need is as important as being there for, you know, important policies, whatever. So thank you for mentioning that, because I think that’s so important that a lot of us might judge ourselves as not doing enough because we might be doing something just for a neighbor, and that feels insignificant compared with someone who’s creating a great change in the world, but actually they’re all important. So thank you for that. Okay, brother, number seven. To be humble and polite in manner, to be grateful and content with a simple life, not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma. This is the greatest happiness.
Humility is a training that I received when I became a monastic because being humble offers us the chance to be open, because if we want to have understanding, we have to have a certain level of humility in order to hear what we don’t want to hear. To allow ourselves to expand our horizons in our understanding and humility is also the chance to allow ourselves to learn from others. Because if we are so proud of ourself, our chest is always pumped up, we are coming with an arrogance and we’re never going to learn anything, we’re never going to be able to see the things that we don’t see. And we’re not going to allow also people that see our blind spot to help us see our blind spot, because our energy is so arrogant that nobody wants to be our friend and then nobody wants to help us. So I see, for myself, in friendship, there also needs to be some kind of humility, being humble, because that allows other people in and gives us an opportunity to let other people know that we’re here to learn. So if I’m doing something that is not beautiful, is not right, can you tell me? One of my early mentors in my monastic path, he’s an elder brother of our community. And he’s someone who was my role model when I was a young novice monk, because he’s like North American, and kind of like from the streets of L.A. So like, I felt really close to him. And much later I lived longer in a community and then I became an elder brother without even knowing. And especially after Thay became sick, so all of us, we had to step up. We all had to learn to lead the community. And by stepping up also, our ego also gets watered and our pride gets watered because Oh, I gave a good Dharma talk today. Or Oh, I see, I need to help guide the community in some areas. And that’s the kind of responsibility that we have to have, and we have to uphold for our sangha. And there was one day my elder brother invited me for tea. And whenever he invites me, I’m always ready because he offers very good tea is number one. And number two, we have very good conversation. And number three, I just like to learn from him. But this time he offered me tea and he said, Phap Huu, I just want you to help me that as we are growing as Dharma teachers, if you ever see that I am stuck in anything, can you please let me know? Wow. It was, because he was so humble, and he said that, number one, my respect for him just grew like tenfolds. And then that also allowed me in. So if I do see that there is something that he’s becoming too strict about, and that’s why he was afraid. He was afraid that he was becoming too strict. Then please help. He said, please help me, because I know there are things that I cannot see. But because you are my brother and you see how I live, I’m sure there are elements that you can help shine light on. And that, when he said that, that continues to help blossom our friendship, our brotherhood, our love for each other. So I see that being humble is a key to help us grow and to allow other people to help us grow. But if we’re always too sure of ourself, nobody wants in, nobody wants to be a part of your journey, because we feel there’s such a wall that is blocking. So that is a key to growth. Polite in manners, we know that our action has impact. So, you know, as a monastic, we have fine manners that we’re trained in. So just learning to say thank you, learning to receive things with two hands, with presence, that has a big impact. And, you know, sometimes I see just the way we walk, it’s a manner. And sometimes, whenever I am so frustrated, I come back to my bodily action. That becomes also a balance for me. So learning to know your manners can be quite supportive, but don’t become caught in it also. Be grateful and content with a simple life. That always brings me to one of Thay’s calligraphy: You have enough. And that line tells us to continue to learn to have moderation. We are a species that have a lot of greed. We take more than what we need. We see things as just things, so therefore, we keep taking and taking and taking. But what we have learned in our times is that everything is interrelated. And that’s why we are in the state that we are in. And that’s why we need this collective awakening. And simple life should be the new culture. I think that’s something that that many friends have shared. When they come to Plum Village, they realize that what they need in life is not that much. It’s just a warm cup of tea in the morning, a nice bowl of oatmeal, a space to sit, a space to write. And that’s more than enough. And so, simplicity should be a new trend that we should develop. I think everyone listening, if you can all play a part in this in order to help shift our consciousness of consumerism, this is bringing us to our consumption, and not missing the occasion to learn the Dharma. The Dharma is teachings that help us grow as a person. So even if it is courses that helps open our mind, that can be Dharma. So this is a very Buddhist language, but learning from mentors and people who have experienced life and to help us open our minds that if we can give ourselves a space to hear wise words, our life will be more joyful.
Yay! So, brother, it’s interesting because when you were talking about humility, you know, I think it’s also really important to say that self-importance is a drug as well. You know, for us to feel that we’re important, to receive from people the sense of, Wow, you’ve achieved this, and to be treated with sort of respect and to be honored, you know, it’s a powerful feeling because actually feeling more than ourselves can feel pretty good.
It is, it is addictive. And so I think it’s really important, you know, to be humble is to be free. Because as soon as we believe we’re something more than ourselves, it’s a shaky superstructure. And to keep it going, we have to keep feeding it, and building it, and protecting it. And again, it feeds into that egoic mask. Actually, we just lose ourselves. And the more we lose ourselves, the harder it is to come back to ourselves because the distance becomes so great. And, you know, when I was living in New York, you know, seeing people who had become so enamored by themselves and what it did it created a shadow because I think when we believe we’re self-important, when we build ourselves up, we know it, at some level, it’s not true. And the way we do that, we project that onto other people. So the more we believe we’re important, the more we’re casting a shadow and actually abusing the people around us. And I went through some powerful experiences in New York with people who gave a public image of self-importance but actually behaved in private in completely opposite manner. So I think it’s really important to be aware that actually it is a powerful drug. It does feel good, like every drug, the first few times it feels pretty wonderful. And then it sets up to destroy us.
Can I say…
You just gave me a new calligraphy. To be humble is to be free. I really like that. Thank you, Jo.
10%, please. If we can have Robbie, who’s helping us here, can you draw up the contract, please? And brother, just to support what you’re saying, a simple life, you know, it’s like in Western culture, there’s this idea about sophistication, being good, about the fact that we’re educated and that we’re knowledgeable and that we have an answer to everything and that we’ve read, we’ve worked with scholars, that we’ve read so much and we’re able to pontificate and have an idea of something. So that’s in terms of our mind, then in terms, as you say, our possessions, we, you know, so many people are still caught up in the fact that a bigger house or another car, this or that. But actually, a simple life it’s, you know, I always say, you know, I always look at children, when children fall, they never really hurt themselves. But someone who’s very, very tall falls from a great height, breaks a lot of bones. And I feel that’s a great metaphor, that when we live close to the ground, even if we fall, we don’t hurt ourselves. But if we fall from a great height, we will harm ourselves very deeply. And there’s that sense of, you know, as you say, this is the era where we have to come back to ourselves, come back to simplicity, come back to recognition that actually we’ve been taking too much. So thank you for giving that sort of, that global sense to simplicity. And I still know, and I’ve probably mentioned this before, on another podcast, brother, but when my wife and I during the pandemic, the first stage of the pandemic, and we were caught in Mexico. We spent four months living in a tiny room with one suitcase each, although, as I keep saying, one suitcase was filled with my wife’s art supplies, the other was filled with her stuff. And I had a little bag with a couple of pairs of underpants, but she denies all that. So I’m not going to say that here, but oh, my word, you know, literally, Thay’s sense of nowhere to go, nothing to do. You know, we had nowhere to go. I didn’t have any work because I’d left my job, had nothing to do. And I really feel that those were four of the happiest months of my life. And then coming to Plum Village and coming, you know, during the Tet, during the Vietnamese New Year, to come and visit the monastic residences and see your rooms, and to see three or four nuns or monks in one room. And there might be one bookcase which is half empty. And that… You have so few possessions, and yet are able to generate so much joy. And it’s just, and this idea of when you get things, that I’ve seen it with, with possession, you know, once a year, you have stuff you don’t need anymore, don’t really need, you put out and then anyone can take. So you have things that get even when there’s not much it gets shared out and people get to share. It’s, you know, it creates community whereas belongings and possessions create distrust, create separation, because it creates this need to protect. And when you get nothing, you don’t need to protect yourself anymore. So that is freedom. Right, okay.
To the next one.
Is this number nine? I don’t know.
Number eight, number eight.
Oh, my God, we’ve got a way to go. So we’ll speed up a little bit, but in a very generous way. To preserve and be open to change, to have regular contact with monks and nuns. Hey, brother, that’s a cheat. You’re gonna cheat on that one. You’ve got to… Anyway. And to fully participate in Dharma discussions, this is the greatest happiness.
To preserve and be open to change. Isn’t that interesting? To preserve and to be open to change. So that is also knowing that we have some beautiful traditions that are already alive. And so we have to help preserve the beauty that is already there and at the same time to be open to change. So very concretely, Plum Village, Engaged Buddhism, Applied Buddhism. Thay helped preserve the richness, the deep riches of Buddhism in the teachings: the simple life, the monastic life, the lay life, the mindfulness trainings, the teachings of the Four Noble Truths, the noble path, the eight noble path, the sutras under 16 awareness of mindful breathing. And Thay also helped preserve some of the most beautiful human conditions: community, learning to share with each other, learning to offer each other help when needed. And he has, he was so open to the change of the world, such as changing the trainings where we know how to be mindful when we’re on the internet, how to be mindful with electronics, how to adapt to the world. So this one is to keep us free and not stuck in the past, but then not to be too forward in losing all of the beautiful tradition that has been handed down from our ancestors, spiritual, blood, and land. And I think this is what we’re also learning in the climate movement, where some of the way of life from the past is exactly what we need to return to in order to preserve our planet. So I see that the Buddha’s teaching is still so relevant to today. So I will cheat in this one to have regular contact with monks and nuns because…
Because I do. I live with them 24/7. Sometimes I need some space from them also. And to have full and to fully participate in Dharma sharing. You know, this one is about presence. And I remember, Jo, we did an orientation together for one of the retreats, and sometimes people come to Plum Village, but they’re not in Plum Village because they’re living in their minds and they’re living in their own idea of what spirituality is, etc. But sometimes we just have to show up, show up, be open and fully participate. And you will see some of the simplest things is what you’re missing. So I think this, like it says, the Dharma discussion, that’s just one example of the practices. But to fully participate in Dharma sharing is also to learn to be available, to have deep discussion. Sometimes we want to bypass our suffering, bypass issues of the world, or issues about us, and we’re not being honest with ourself. And so what we’ve learned in Dharma sharing in the Plum Village tradition, we say, Please let us not share from the intellectual level, but what can I share from the heart level? And that has to ask us to come inwards.
And brother, we should do a recording one day on Dharma sharing because it’s a very powerful practice. And what’s interesting this said to fully participate. Doesn’t say to participate.
To fully participate.
Which means that all of us to show up fully because, actually, most of the time, I remember when I first went to see a therapist in New York and after a while I said, actually, I haven’t really been talking about the real problem I came to discuss. He said, Well, that’s no different. Everyone normally brings their second worst problem to therapy. And it’s that sense of sort of, if you’re fully present is saying, actually, fully present means being vulnerable because actually the Dharma sharing in Plum Village is a very safe space. And actually, you know, the more you share, it’s permission for other people to share. And that creates a depth of understanding and of insight for everybody. And, brother, to preserve and be open to change. So that brings up very strongly for me. So when I was at The Guardian, I set up this sort of major program called Living Our Values. And it’s because I was aware at that time that the Guardian was growing very, very quickly. And I had a vision, actually, and it was a vision of a very, very busy castle. And everyone was rushing about doing their thing. And I went into the castle and down some stairs to the sort of basement. And there I found this little door, and I opened the door, and went inside this small room. And inside the room was a small wooden stool, and on top of the stool was a lovely red cushion. And on top of the red cushion was this sort of little wooden box. And I opened up the box and I found this very beautiful pearl. And what I realized was that, as things get busy and develop, often the original beauty, the original pearl, it was at risk of being forgotten because in the business, people have their plans and their ambitions and their own way of translating values and often for their own personal purpose, rather than for the benefit of the whole. And so I made this commitment to sort of bring the pearl back into the center, which was the core values of the Guardian, and make them fully present. And I remember going to interview the chair of the Scott Trust, which was the founder, the head of the foundation that owned The Guardian, because The Guardian is not a for-profit company. And at that time, you know, the Internet was becoming sort of very central, and The Guardian was building up its whole online presence. And things are getting very complex. And I went to interview her because I interviewed her every year for this program, and I was asking about it. She said, Jo, when everything is changing we need to remember most of all what needs to remain the same, what is enduring, what is not subject to change. And so, I know that’s almost repeating what you’re saying in another form, but I think it’s so powerful that there’s such a balance to be made because it’s in this way, we translate things, we sometimes want to throw away the old because we think, Oh, well, it’s not relevant anymore. And Thay trod this very, very delicate path between honoring the past and translating it for the present. And that’s tricky, and it’s going to be, you know, as Plum Village continues to develop, that’s going to be sort of interesting to see how you tread that path, you know, how you maintain what’s precious and also translated.
And we’re going to do it together.
Okay. Next. Oh, yeah, and I also, brother, I think, to have regular contact with monks and nuns that felt a bit like a marketing ploy by the Buddha because, you know, dear listeners, you know, just sign up for the latest sort of online retreat or come to Plum Village, then, you know, then you’re fulfilling your happiness. I think that’s a bit of a trick, I guess. I don’t think that’s fair at all.
It is a great happiness, right? I mean, when you go with us…
It is a great happiness, come to Plum Village.
Okay. Here we go. To live diligently and attentively, to perceive the noble truths and to realize Nirvana. Oh, brother, that’s a tough one to throw in near the end. Talk to us about that one.
To live diligently and attentively. So to be diligent in our practice. And here when we say diligent, like is also learning to nourish the good seeds in our daily life, that’s being diligent. And I like when Thay says, when he speaks about diligent, he brings it back to how are we watering our seeds in daily life? What are the seeds that are being cultivated? And if it is, if our unwholesome seeds are being cultivated, that means our way of life, let’s reevaluate it and look at our pattern and look at our habits. And then let’s switch it up a little bit in order to nourish the right seeds. And then if our life is balanced right now, we know everything’s impermanent. So if you don’t continue to bring in the right conditions to nourish your balance, then you will lose it. So to be diligent, it’s in so many levels also, but concretely, how are you waking up? How are you starting your morning? How are you taking care of your afternoons and evening? And are you bringing some element of inner peace in your daily life? Because that is going to help us realize Nirvana. Nirvana, you know, it’s a very big word, but Nirvana is also the cessation of suffering, is the coolness of the flame. The flame, when we speak in Buddhism, the flame of anger, discrimination, suffering. So when we ease the flame, Nirvana starts to be present. Nirvana is freedom, is the place where we are free from all notions of discrimination. We are not being caught in birth, death, we are free from that fear because we know we are ultimate. So that’s going to be another podcast, so we can’t really go too deep into this one. And to perceived the nobler truths. Here is the Four Noble Truths. Suffering is a noble truth. To know that we can learn from our suffering and not be afraid of our suffering. And then the second is to see the root of our suffering. We need a little meditation to see the roots of our suffering. And then to see the cessation of suffering, and that means happiness starts to be present. And the fourth one is to change our habits, means to have the path out of suffering, which means the path of happiness, which is what we’re talking about. And, you know, the fourth one is, I feel is really important because if we see suffering, we see the root of suffering, and we know we can’t have the cessation of suffering, but we’re not going to, we’re not ready to change our habits, we’re not ready to let go of our suffering, then we’re still caught in our suffering. So the fourth one is the path out of suffering, the path to happiness. And that, I think, we’re going to talk about that in another episode also, which will be linked to the Eight Noble Path, because that is the Fourth Noble Truth. And so, here also Thay has written There is no way to Nirvana. Nirvana is the way. So not to see that Nirvana is a destination that I have to reach and then I’m happy. But Nirvana is also always present.
And, brother, one thing on that is that I think what our ego or sense of self does is it misleads us to think Nirvana is annihilation rather than freedom. That if we let go of all of our notions, if we let go of all of our beliefs, if we let go of all our judgments, then actually we’re nobody, and that we are and that we would almost it creates this sense of terror because we think, Oh, my God, if we’re not this, then we’re nothing. Whereas the deeper truth is, if we’re not this and we’re not that and we’re not that, then we’re free, as you say. But let’s… We could talk for hours on this, and I want to keep our listeners with us for the last two. So let’s move swiftly on from Nirvana. We’ve done that. Nirvana has been sorted. Next. Okay, here we go. With your heart undisturbed in the world, by the world, with all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace. This is the greatest happiness.
Well, you missed the first line: To live in the world with your heart undisturbed by the world, with all sorrows ended, dwelling in peace — this is the greatest happiness.
Thank you, brother. Yes.
And, you know, this tells us that to live in the world means that we want to be in this world. Like you shared, like we’re not… Practicing Buddhism is not to escape this world, but is to be more alive in this world. But our heart can be undisturbed. I can live in this storm, but still surf this storm, and to help many others surf this storm. And, for me, this is really important because there is perceptions, when we practice Buddhism, is that we’re escaping the world, but it’s actually the very opposite. It’s to be more alive, but to be more mindful and more in control of our habits and how we walk this path. And so to be undisturbed by the world, there is always going to be noise, suffering, but I can look at it very differently then be a victim of it, and to drown in it. With all sorrows ended, that’s ultimate, dwelling in peace. Because we know that everything is impermanent, even sorrows have to end. So peace is always available. There is no way to peace. Peace is the way. Peace is always there. It’s whether we can tap into that peace or not. We can be in the storm, but be in the storm with a peaceful heart and peaceful steps. And this is a very deep practice. And I think we touched this a lot on the episode about being overwhelmed. So for those who want to know more, please listen to that episode.
Brother, thank you. That’s very profoundly described, to live in this world and not be destroyed by it, you know, not to be pulled in, not to be a victim of it. And I think, brother, that speaks very much around the idea of how can we truly be with people who are suffering and not be fall into our own suffering. And I think a lot of people think this idea that, well, how can I be joyous if there’s so much pain in the world? And I always feel, well, if there’s so much pain in the world, it’s so important that we feel joy. Because if I’m also feeling devastated and feeling in pain, then actually what could I to other people? And I think there’s this beautiful sort of path, which is to have recognize our own pain deeply, allows us to recognize someone else’s pain deeply. And if we’ve, to the extent we can come to terms and understand and be more at peace with our own suffering, is the extent to which we can be there for someone else’s suffering. How can we be there to feel what they’re feeling but not become a victim of it ourselves? Because it’s like life is a bit like a tuning fork. If someone’s resonating their suffering and we have not dealt with our own is going to touch our suffering and then we’re going to want to close that person down. And that person will then find it very difficult to open up again. But if we are able to be attuned to someone else’s suffering and to be more at peace, then we offer that to other people. So, I mean, I think that is so important. And also with all sorrows ended, yes, it is the ultimate. And also it’s that sense of when we’re able to put balm on our own wounds, when we’re able to look at our own scars, our own wounds, and not be… And when we touch them, that they don’t open up and that we’re able to touch our own suffering and be calm with it is the extent to which we end our own sorrows. We don’t deny them, but we make peace with them. Dwelling in peace. Okay, we’re here. Final one. Yay!
Ding, ding, ding, ding.
I hope you’re still awake. I’m loving this, brother.
I’m learning more about the sutras by discussing with you, so let’s go.
Okay. Last one. For he or she who accomplishes this, unvanquished wherever she goes, always he is safe and happy — happiness lives within oneself.
That last line right there, happiness lives within oneself. Whenever we recite the sutra in our chanting sessions, I always enjoy that line because happiness is an idea that we think is outside of us, but this sutra tells us that happiness lives within oneself. And this last verse that the Buddha teaches, to me, it speaks about becoming when we can walk this path and with these conditions, we become a refuge because we feel safe and we’re happy. So many others can also feel that safety and also be nourished by the happiness that we offer to others. And so this line, when we can accomplish this, these examples are some of them already we don’t need to accomplish all 11. And these are just examples. But if the Buddha that lives in 2022, I’m sure he would write even more conditions, and he would probably have new insights about what happiness is of our modern world, to be free from social media, and not be attached to how we want ourself to be presented, etc., etc.. But this line here just tells me that when we have happiness within ourself, we become solid, and we can take care of the sorrows, we can look at the disturbed world, but be undisturbed and be that refuge, be that change, be the other element that is needed, which is freshness. We need smiles, we need stability, we need those who can listen to the pain and the suffering and offer guidance. We need the still lake that helps reflect, that help show the reality as it is. So we cannot bypass it. We need to dig in together to find the right transformation and then cultivate the humility, the openness, the space, so that we can continue to learn as an individual and as a collective.
Yeah. And, brother, just finally, I mean, one of the things Thay teaches, which is so powerful, is Interbeing. That actually these are not separate, these 11 are not separate. Each one, if you just focus on one, it would support all the others. And so I think what you said is very valid, which is that it’s not like we don’t see this as a challenge. Right, well, 11, I’m going to take them all on and I’m going to conquer them, because that would, of course, be self-defeating. But it is to recognize that actually, if we focus even on one, we would be able to find the traces in all of them. And so that actually makes life a lot more pleasant and easy because it becomes… We do what we want to do, we focus where we feel our energy is, where we feel our commitment is, where we feel our love is. And we then could actually realize all 11 of these just by focusing on one. So, dear friends, thank you. If you’ve lasted the entire length of this, I don’t know how long we’ve been talking about. Actually, brother, thank you, because actually I found exactly, it’s allowed me to go much deeper into these, so actually I found it incredibly helpful myself. So, thank you. And we usually end, if you’re still here, we usually end with a short guided meditation. So, brother, I’m not sure if you still have the energy to bring us back to this present moment, to let go of all these notions, ideas and ways we can be happier and just be happy in this moment without the need for anything.
Yes, I am here. And I would like to invite all of you to be here also. So wherever you may be, if you are going for a walk, going for a jog, stretching, or cleaning your home, on a commute, sitting in a car, a train, a bus, if you just allow yourself to let go of whatever you may be doing and just to be still. You can be standing, or sitting, or even lying down, and just come back to your breath. As I breathe in, I identify this is my inbreath. And as I breathe out, I smile to this outbreath. Breathing in, breathing out. This is my inbreath. This is my outbreath. Breathing in, I bring my attention to my body. And breathing out, I release the tension in my body. Becoming aware of my face, I can smile to my face. Releasing the tensions in my face. Becoming aware of my shoulders. Is it tense? Is it tight? And just release the worries, release the burden. Allow yourself to just be. Bringing your awareness to your arms, your palms, your fingers. If there’s any tension in your fingers, just wiggle them, letting yourself have the feeling of your fingers. And let us smile to our hands. They’ve done so much work for us. Breathing in, I bring my attention to my heart. Breathing out, I smile to my heart. My heart is working day and night, so in this very moment, I offer my heart, my gratitude. How grateful of you, my heart. I smile to you with gratitude. Breathing in, I bring my awareness to my legs, my feet. How wonderful that you were there. Wiggle my toes. Thank you for allowing me to make steps on this beautiful planet. Thank you, my body for just allowing me to be alive. To have to inter-be with all that is around me. Breathing in, I recognize the happiness of being alive. Breathing out, I smile to life in me and around me. Breathing in, I am mindful of my breath. Breathing out, I take refuge in my breath. Mindful of breath, refuge in breath. Breathing in, I am determined to nourish my happiness in my daily life. Breathing out, I smile to that determination, that aspiration. Breathing in, there is no way to happiness. Breathing out, happiness is the way.
Thank you, dear friends, for being a part of our journey today.
Wow. I just want to first of all, thank Robbie. Robbie, thank you for being here to make sure the recording goes smoothly. So much appreciation to you. And, dear listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed this. If you have, there are many other episodes you can listen to of the series The Way Out Is In. You can catch us on Spotify, on Apple Podcasts, on other platforms that carry podcasts, and also on our very own Plum Village App.
And this podcast was brought to you by the generous donors of the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you would like to support future episodes of the podcast and the work of the international Plum Village community, please visit www.TNHF.org/donate. Thank you, everyone. And see you again next time.
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