Welcome to episode 53 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.
In this episode, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach and journalist Jo Confino talk about what they learned and experienced on the recent Plum Village North American Tour, which consisted of retreats (including one for climate leaders and activists) and Plum Village’s first international music tour.
The two presenters reflect on how the Buddhist teachings and lessons offered by this series of public events can help people create a healthier culture of service, and deal with both personal suffering and the collective suffering of climate destruction, biodiversity loss, and social injustice. Also, what is fierce compassion and how can we practice with it?
Brother Phap Huu further shares on “opening new Dharma doors”, the adaptation of old teachings to new cultures; the importance of music in engaged Buddhism and why incorporating the flavors of contemporary music matters; Thay as peace activist and poet; the message of the song ‘Little Star’ (which you get to listen to!); dealing with the energy of anger; deep connection; and more. And what did Thay say when Brother Phap Huu rapped at a Plum Village festivity?
Jo also shares about innovation in the Plum Village tradition; resilience and guilt in the climate movement; novel teachings and itineraries for retreats; the deep spiritual dimension of climate work; radical compassion; forgiveness and transforming the system; nondiscrimination around suffering; and more.
Thank you for listening. Enjoy!
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
‘Unborn and Indestructible (song)’
‘Plum Village Announces North American Fundraising Concert Tour with Hip-Hop Artist Born I’
Sister Chan Khong
Brother Phap Linh (Brother Spirit)
Sister Trai Nghiem
Sister True Dedication https://plumvillage.org/people/dharma-teachers/sister-hien-nghiem/
Sister Lang Nghiem
The Way Out Is In: ‘Engaged Buddhism: Applying the Teachings in Our Present Moment (Episode #9)’
‘Little Star’ (song video with lyrics)
“The work of a monastic is service and our service is sowing seeds of awakening, or sowing seeds of mindfulness in today’s language.”
“One of my experiences of Plum Village is that there’s a willingness to always innovate. While the core teachings remain present and are at the heart of everything, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about opening new Dharma doors. So there are always new ways, depending on cultural or technological changes, of reaching new audiences with the teachings.”
“Thich Nhat Hanh was an environmental leader and activist for more than 50 years, and he felt deeply around the need to help the environment, to collapse the separation between us and the environment, and the importance of dealing with our suffering so that we can deal with big issues like climate change and social inequality.”
“Spirituality doesn’t mean becoming a Buddhist or following a religion; spirituality is the capacity of awakening which is in everyone: learning to stop our thoughts, our running, and connect to our suffering, taking care of it, transforming. That is spirituality.”
“The way out is interbeing.”
“Mindfulness is a path of understanding and transformation to cultivate nonviolence, peace, awakening, and love.”
“Love is regeneration.”
“With our thoughts, we create the world.”
“Fierce compassion is a deep, deep strength that not only can help change the world, but sustain that change.”
“Anger is not the solution. Anger is an energy to recognize, to practice with; guide it through walking meditation, guide it through being with nature. Because once you realize that your energy, your emotions, are also impermanence, you know that if it goes up, it will have to come down and you can come back to the situation with a different energy. And if you have practiced for a long time, you can channel your anger right away. You make sure that your anger is not the foundation of your words, your mind, and your actions.”
“In Buddhism, the deepest insight of practice is to break free from all views: to touch interbeing so that we can be free and see the truth behind all manifestations, the forms that we meet, whether it is a person, whether it is their energy… Are we meeting just their anger, or can we see beyond their anger and still have compassion and help them out of their suffering?”
“There are always new ways of seeing the world, and if you’re not adapting to that, then the teachings don’t become relevant.”
“Family is not just genetic blood; family is shared aspiration, shared understanding, shared support that we offer for one another, and seeing each other as human beings.”
“Often people chat to hide away from things, so when they’re given silence, it allows other things to emerge.”
“It’s not about forgiving the system, it’s about understanding the system. We can’t forgive a system, but once we understand it, we can transform it. It’s not about forgiving all the time.”
“The present moment is your canvas and your mindfulness, and your body, speech, and mind is the paintbrush that you paint with.”
Welcome back, dear friends, to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In.
I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.
And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Plum Village tradition.
And today, brother, we are going to be talking about the North American tour that you have just returned from. And I was on the last leg of it and came back. We both came back two days ago. And the first part of it was the first international music tour, so music concerts across America. And then you did a retreat for 250 people in Toronto. And then I met up with you on the last leg, which was a retreat for climate leaders and activists on Cortes Island in British Columbia in this beautiful retreat center called Hollyhock. So we’re just going to talk about what happened, what we learned and what we experienced.
The way out is in.
Hello, everyone. I’m Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And brother, as I mentioned, we have returned from Hollyhock Retreat Center in Cortes Island in Canada. And this is part of a schedule of retreats that are being planned for climate leaders and activists. Thich Nhat Hanh was an environmental leader and activist for more than 50 years, and he felt deeply around the need to help the environment, about recognizing… to collapse the separation between us and the environment, and the importance of dealing with our suffering so that we can deal with big issues like climate change and social inequality. So Thay has been a great leader in this, and I think now Plum Village is continuing that legacy by engaging, particularly with this community at a critical time in sort of human and Earth’s evolution, about a time of critical moment. So I think it’s, as I said, a good time to reflect on what did we find out and how these teachings really can help people to deal with their personal suffering, but also the collective suffering of climate destruction, biodiversity loss, social injustice, etc.. So brother, do you want to sort of start off with just a sort of a flavor of what we did and how this sort of developed?
Develop as in all of the retreats or…?
Yeah, just… Well, let’s, because of course you were also doing general retreats and then doing a music tour. So maybe actually give a, let’s start off maybe with talking about your time in America, North America.
Yes, like Jo said, we just arrived two days ago.
So definitely still on jet lag, but very happy to be back in the Sitting Still Hut of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in his cozy kitchen slash dining hall slash calligraphy room slash attendant office slash printer office of Thay. Yeah. So we started the tour with a group of seven monastics from Plum Village friends, naming it after this podcast, The Way Out Is In, and this is a continuation of our teacher’s legacy, which is to bring the Dharma into different places of the world, knowing that not everybody have access to Plum Village, which is all the way in France. And sometimes the work of a monastic is of service and our service is sowing seeds of awakening, or we can say sowing seeds of mindfulness in today’s language. And I think it was a very critical, particularly for my generation of monastics, young monastics, to know that now the torch of wisdom is in our embrace and it is our responsibility to continue to light this flame and care for it as well as transmit it. Because for us, scaling is to continue to sow the seed of mindfulness into people’s hearts. And music is such a powerful language. I think it transcends even meaning of lyrics in a way, because it’s the melody. But particularly what we have created together is meditation, music and spoken words. So they’re like bite size Dharma talks that match the songs that we have put together, all with the foundation of our teacher’s poetry and the poetry that our teacher manifested all come from his experience during the war, the Vietnam War, as well as the crisis of the boat people of Vietnam during that time, as well as his insights in the Dharma, in the practice, like the poem Unborn and Indestructible. So all of this comes from deep and deep insight. And through the years, a lot of his poetry has been put into music, but particularly our generation, we’re putting it in the flavor of pop, hip hop and even contemporary, I would say, music wise. And it’s a very complex set of songs that embraces melody, strings, rap and upbeat drums, etc.. So it’s very diverse, it’s very alive. And we’re using this as a new bridge to bring more people to come into the spirit of spirituality. And for us, spirituality doesn’t mean becoming a Buddhist or following a religion, but spirituality is the capacity of awakening in everyone, which is learning to stop our thoughts, our running and connect to our suffering, taking care of it, transforming it. That is spirituality. And there’s so many layers, as we’ve discussed, through so many of the podcasts, and this is the first big tour that we’ve done since Thay’s continuation of him returning back to the earth. And so I think for many of us young Dharma teachers, it was a moment of real togetherness and we really worked and served as one body. And I hope you were able to see that, Jo, that none of us was trying to be the leader, none of us was trying to outshine the other. But we learned to work as fingers of one hand and be in harmony. And we all have our strengths. We all have our weaknesses. So this tour, from a perspective of service, it holds the legacy of continuation. And then on a perspective of brotherhood and sisterhood, siblinghood, our togetherness, it’s when we’re on tour that we have an opportunity to truly connect at a deeper level. And it’s like, you know, when you put a bunch of chopsticks together and you’re cleaning it, you all rub each other from experience, from walking together, eating together, creating together, planning together. We just become, let’s say, more present, more clean, because we’re rubbing off our habits to be in harmony with each other. So this tour that we offered had this layer, and my favorite moment in the concert wise was in Boston when we had Sister Chan Khong, our most senior elder sister in our community, Thay’s long term assistant and student and friend and I would even say soulmate on the path. She got to experience it and she got to sing the song The Smile, which was a dedication to Thay and to so many people who are suffering and that we still can smile no matter what. And she had a standing ovation after she sang that song of 480 people in Boston. And it was just so beautiful to see that she is still seen and loved by the community, because particularly I think Sister Chan Khong and Thay are a pair of opposites that interbe. You know, I always say that Plum Village cannot be without these two great beings. And Thay, our teacher, wouldn’t be who he is without the support of Sister Chan Khong. And Sister Chan Khong wouldn’t be who she is without the teacher like Thay. And since the passing of Thay, I think it has been more of a grieving journey for her deeper than a lot of us because of her long term relationship of being alongside of service with Thay from the start of the social workers in Vietnam. And to see that she is loved is very important for me as a younger sibling of this family, this monastic family. And then we led two retreats, one in Toronto for 250 people, fully booked out. And the retreat was just so beautiful because for three years, this sangha of Toronto hasn’t had a chance to come together in person. And there are so many new friends. And I think one of my greatest joy was I had three friends who were in the same middle school with me, all came to the retreat. And that was so special for me. So shout out to my three friends who were there. They had such a transformative experience and real eye opening to what the practice is. And then on our journey to the West Coast of Canada, Vancouver, coming to this retreat which we have been planning since the last retreat we had in Plum Village. And it’s to continue to build a community of climate leaders and activists who have a spiritual practice in order to support themselves, as well as to support each other. As we know that this service in this movement is not a one-off, it’s a lifetime commitment. And in the light of Zen, part of the title for it was a Zen approach to climate resilience as we take care of ourselves and take care of Mother Earth and we come in with the mindset of that the Earth is an object and we are protecting it for the sake of human beings. And so then it becomes a job, it becomes a mission, an end to meet, and then we can be happy, and then we can be safe and then we can do happy dances. Right now we’re just struggling and suffering, and a lot of grief, a lot of pain, which is reality also. We’re not denying any of this, but from the last retreat, what we have explored together is to create a sustainable approach of caring for oneself is also caring for Mother Earth, and to see the interbeing nature of humans and the environment. And Brother Phap Linh, Brother Spirit, had this insight and he asked me to write it as a calligraphy is the way out is interbeing, so…
We have to change the name of the podcast.
I love that. I love that. And I think about creating a healthy culture of service. Right? Because we have to shift our mind from doing to this is love and this is care, and this is a culture that we want to hand down into the next generation and even to the present generation that are all still sleeping and not aware of our crisis. And I think a lot of people that we discovered felt guilt, just incredible guilt to be in a retreat to take care for themselves. So I think that’s the one thing that we all recognize, and we had to lead people into a space where they can be vulnerable to touch their own hearts and their own experience of life right here, right now. And for them to discover where they’re at in body, spirit and mind. And this was the journey that we accompany together. And for me and the monastics, it was our journey too, because I believe that this care for Mother Earth is not just a group of people’s responsibility, but is everyone’s responsibility, from activists to climate leaders to businessmen, scientists, teachers, doctors, anyone who is a civilian of this Earth, we have to pay attention. And I think this is the collective awakening that we are building together as a community.
Thank you, brother. And just before we come to the focus on the climate retreat, I just want to go back to the music tour, because one of the things my experiences of Plum Village is that there’s a willingness to always innovate, so that while the core teachings remain present and are at the heart of everything, Thich Nhat Hanh talks about sort of opening new Dharma doors. So there’s always new ways, depending on cultural changes or technology changes, of reaching new audiences with the teachings. And so of course, this podcast series is one way, it didn’t happen before, and it’s a new way of communicating the Dharma and the teachings in order that people can touch it and reflect on it and incorporate it into their lives. But of course music and culture is so important, and the fact that you have a group of monastics, some of whom are world class professionals, like Brother Spirit on the cello, and Sister Trai Nghiem on the violin, that actually this is another way of communicating. So do you want to just again, just talk a little bit about how you came to this idea of music? It’s very novel. It’s not what people would normally expect, but it is deep into the… it teaches the core sort of principles and understandings of the Dharma, but through a new form. So how did you come to this idea of doing it all?
I think, first of all, I have to bring it back to our teacher, Thay. I think not many people in the early days knew Thay as a monk, but they knew him more as a peace activist and a poet because his poetry was his way of channeling his experience during the war, and to write about the suffering in order to transform the mental formations that one experienced during war, and to see beyond the chaos and still touch the depths of life in the present moment, which is a deep meditation and even against the stream. Right? Because everybody is violent, everybody is trying to kill each other. And here you are still trying to transcend all of that and still see the beast in men as human beings. And the beast in men is not the man, but it is the ignorance, it is the suffering, it is the discrimination. And this is to not poison our hearts even in the midst of such suffering. And Thay, he was an artist himself. And a lot of Vietnamese songs Thay made, he was also… His side quest was like making music. And it’s just incredible how this human being was able to cultivate all this talent. And Thay, because his first communities were young activists that were working in war-torn villages and seeing orphans death, you know, bodies dismembered from the bombs and so on. So it is with deep suffering, and, you know, our days of mindfulness in the Plum Village tradition comes from that time where our teacher had the insight that once a week we need to come together as a community of activists, of people, of practitioners, and we’re not going to talk about the war. We’re not going to talk about the suffering, because at that particular moment there was enough just stepping out of our doors. But here we’re going to cultivate the miracle of life and Thay allowed the young social workers to bring guitars, drums and make music and sing together. A lot of his poems were put into music, and he also brought in a lot of artists, songwriters, singers, poets that became very well known in Vietnam later on. So his community were all of these artists of life, and Buddhism is a way of life, it is to highlight the beauty of the present moment as well as shine the light of mindfulness to suffering, to see its roots, to care, to transform and to cultivate new insight, new seeds in us. So our music has always been a part of Plum Village, but it has evolved through the years and I’m not sure if I shared this yet on the podcast, but I shared it during every concert because it gives content to why we are doing this, this concert because, like you said, so many people would never imagine monastics with a cello, with a guitar, with a drum set, with sunglasses, to rap and so on. So, you know, I think if I remember correctly, it was 2012, it was 30 years of Plum Village. It was an anniversary year that we were celebrating it year round. So every retreat had a be-in, had a festival, but the summer was the biggest one. And there was a call for monastics and friends to contribute to the celebration, to bring skits, poems, dance and music. But the norm during that time in Plum Village was very beautiful songs, but it wasn’t as, let’s say, it wasn’t in the genre of hip hop. And now Thay has a much larger student body of young students who grew up with Tupac, with Eminem, with Jay-Z and Backstreet Boys and so on. So we come from hip hop and pop, and we wanted to bring a new flavor to the celebrations, so we took the chance, and we made a leap of practicing two songs, one by… A rap song by Lupe Fiasco called The Show Goes On, and the other was by Jessie J, featuring B.o.B., Price Tag. And when we offered these two songs like the crowd, the audience, the community went wild in a mindful way, if I can even say that, like, you know, people were just so happy. But among the monastics, let’s say it was very new. And some monastics, they raised their eyebrows like, what just happened? Like, is this even allowed? And for some, and this is like the monastics of our own community, didn’t, I can only imagine they didn’t know how to process it. So they went and they told Thay, like […] a telling. And a few days later I had tea with Thay at the Hermitage in Plum Village and when I came in, oh, my gosh, I still remember like Thay had this look in his face, it’s like, you just did something and we’re going to talk about it. And so I sat next to him and he looked at me. He says, So, Phap Huu, I heard a few days ago, you and some young monastics did a song that was not particularly normal in our tradition. And apparently you guys were dancing and whatnot. And I said, I don’t think we were, in my mind, we weren’t dancing, but, you know, when you you’re feeling the vibe like you’re moving and you’re going to the beat with, you know, your body movement. And I just said, yes, Thay, we did it, you know, I’m going to own up to it. And Thay said, Well, some monastics had opinions about it and they felt different and they told Thay. And in the mind of this young monk, this is ten years ago, I only thought that I was about to get cancelled. Like this was about to be over, like, we’re not ever going to be allowed to perform or to offer these kind of music anymore. And Thay looked at me and he said, Well, do you know how Thay responded? And are you eager to know? And I said, Yes, Thay, what did you say? And Thay told me when Thay looked back at the monastics who were reporting to Thay of the performance, Thay had a smile, and Thay looked at them and Thay said, This is my kind of Buddhism. For me, that was a mic drop. That was the greatest recognition, acceptance and approval that a young monastic was offered, meaning that Thay trusted us and Thay loved it, he said, This is the new generation, allow them to express through their language, their experience and what moves them. And, you know, this story particularly, I think it can show the depths and the love and the vision of our teacher of how he doesn’t want people to box us. Monastics should be like this, silent, serene, no body movement, and so on. But it is so much deeper in our monastic culture. And this ancient wisdom from 2600 years ago, the only way it has still succeeded and survived to today is through adapting to culture. If we look back in Zen, just the Zen tradition, you can see that they brought in poetry, calligraphy, gardening art, bonsai, archery, even martial arts, even music, even music in the traditional Vietnamese chanting in Hue, central Vietnam, in the north and in the south, they bring in different string instruments of Asia. And so when Plum Village started to have a chant, a new chant of Namo Avalokiteshvara, it started with just a guitar and a djembe. And later on, when Brother Linh and Sinster Trai Nghiem became monastics, Thay said, Don’t throw your talent away. Bring it in to the Dharma, allow it to be a transmission. And so we have actually been criticized when on YouTube, you know, there are some new chants that we have guitar, drums, violin and cello, and people are like, This is not Buddhism. This is corrupted Buddhism. And I’ve seen this comment on YouTube. And this, when I see that, you know, I just recognize, wow, people still want to box us in to whatever view that they read or they saw on online or in movies or in a book they read that is so ancient. So I think, you know, for us to have this courage is very important because the tradition of Plum Village is Engaged Buddhism and Applied Buddhism. We have to have the creativity to find ways to bring the language of Buddhism, of awakening, of mindfulness into mainstream. And sometimes it’s very interesting, this tour even helps us break free from our own view of who we are. And particularly, there was a very interesting experience we had in Washington, D.C., where this concert we, if you’re familiar with Plum Village, Thay and Plum Village has created a silent clap, which is like flowers of the hands, so it’s movements of the hands shaking back and forth. And when 600 people do it, it’s very beautiful, but there’s no sound. So it speaks to the Zen tradition in a way of celebration. It doesn’t have to be loud and rowdy, but particularly in this setting, we wanted people to be able to express through claps, snapping, stomping and even dancing if they feel the need because interbeing, for us, it is not a performance, but it’s an offering. So when the other is receiving, it gives us energy to continue to offer it. And this live session becomes a co-created experience in this venue. And we selected emcees to help introduce the session to create the space and the permission for people to clap, permission for people to express themselves, because we were very aware that there was going to be a portion of friends who are already very familiar in the Plum Village tradition, who are students of Thay, etc. So we need to say this at the beginning so that people don’t feel confused. And in D.C., the emcee said In the tradition you don’t have to clap, this is how we offer our appreciation. And all of us on the band, we looked at each other like, This is not the memo that we gave. And so we kind of interrupted and we said, No, you can clap. We want you to clap. And our brother on drums, Brother Thien Y, he started bum bum bum, and even I had to go uuu huu, to like, just like break the energy. And what was so astonishing what happened after that, that friend still didn’t get it and said, Well, but you still don’t have to clap if you don’t feel like it. And it really threw me off as one of the elders in this tour and as someone who gave direct instructions, and I came out and we had a discussion about what happened. And I just realized, for some the view is so strong, and they box us. And I realized this is even our community is trying to box us in a particular form or spirit or behavior even. And I just hope that Buddhism is to transcend views when it’s appropriate, allow for claps, allow for stomps, allow for snapping, because our practice is to dance with life. We have to approach life with mindfulness as a dance. If we only know how to do one particular dance, like a ballet, it won’t match at different environments, so we have to know how to flow with the rhythm, with the beat, when to be still, when to be present and when to be active, when to be loud, when to give our energy 120%. And this is Zen.
Thank you, brother. And, you know, what you say is so important because in some spiritual traditions, when the master passes, it’s like everything becomes ossified at that moment. It’s like whatever they said or did becomes the way to do it. And I think, you know, what’s perhaps most strong about Thay was he said it’s got to be re-imagined for each generation to be relevant. And so that fundamental permission he gave, which was to say, don’t, don’t stop, it can never be stopped. It’s always growing. There are always new ways of seeing the world, and if you’re not adapting to that, then the teachings don’t become relevant. But brother, rather than just talk about your music, I suggest that we now listen to one of the songs where… And what you haven’t said, brother, is that you are the rapping artist and I have to say… and we’ll come soon to the climate retreat, but there was a moment where you were doing a music evening and the last evening and then you suddenly put on your shades and you feel this sort of ripple in the audience of like, what is coming up now? And then suddenly you get into the rap and we’re going to play this song now called Little Star. And there was just an eruption of joy and excitement and it was just so, it’s just the energy was just like a volcanic eruption. And what was so skillful, brother, was after that the energy was so high. And what you did was so skillful as a group is you then channeled that energy into Namo, into the prayer, which is about the meta, about giving love to yourself, giving love to the people you love around us, around you, and then giving love out to the world. And you channeled that energy from this high sort of excited energy, you channeled it right back into the practice and finished it in such a deep way. And I thought there was something so meaningful about that, because you could have just kept on the energy, build the energy, build the energy, but actually you channeled it. But anyway, let’s take a few minutes now, dear listeners, to listen to Little Star.
[Plum Village monastics singing Little Star]
So, brother, just tell us a little bit about that song, about the meaning of the lyrics.
Little Star was a poem that our teacher wrote for all of the activists that were with him, because for him, during the darkest night is when the star shines the brightest. And all of the activists were the little stars of the night, that no matter how little you are, but when you come together, a festival of stars can brighten the deepest nights, the darkest nights. And this I also see it was his homage to all of the young people of his times. But I would even say this poem is still so relevant to all of the activists of our times, in our era today. And there’s a line that is says that your faith is diamond strong. And when we become an activist, it comes from a place of selflessness, non-self, to serve beyond you and to bring the love and the care that you have into the places that are in need of help. And it’s so important to find your allies, our stars. We have to learn to shine together. We have to learn to practice together and to offer each other support and offer each other joy and to be there for each other in the darkest moments. And moments when our star, our light is dim, we can rely on the other person’s light that may be stronger, but we don’t become jealous, but we see it as a moment to rely and take refuge and for us to rest so that we can shine again. And I know particularly that that song was, that poem was written for Sister Chan Khong who was also taking care of all of the orphanages during the Vietnam War. And she was such a leader and a compassionate bodhisattva, which mean a being that has the mind of awakening and bodhisattva vows are those who, even after having the Dharma, the practice, they don’t want to just hide in the mountains, but they want to be of service to humanity in whatever form and way they can. And this, as we know, there’s many layers of service today. So Little Star has that message and that homage to all of the social workers. So it’s such a relevant poem till today.
So let’s switch our attention to the climate retreat. And you started off saying something very important, brother, which was about people, a number of the participants feeling real deep levels of guilt that they would take six days out to come for themselves, to look after themselves. The sense of they were being self-indulgent. And also, at the same time, many of them turned up exhausted, feeling they had little left to give. So we see this sort of, in a sense, paradox that people feel we’re dealing with this climate emergency, biodiversity emergency, social injustice emergency, and people have to give fully of themselves all the time, but without thinking that they need to, as you say, be resilient. They need to refill their tanks and actually they need to refresh themselves in order to sort of stay in the game, so to speak, and it feels such a deep-seated feeling, brother. People thinking that their energy just is always going to be there, that they don’t need to recycle it. In other words, we talk about renewable energy, we talk about recycling, but people don’t realize that about themselves, that if you keep giving without receiving, then actually that is exhaustion, that is burnout. And the other thing, brother, is that I think we all noticed that the look of people between arriving and between leaving, that some were pretty unrecognizable. They were looking younger, more joyful, their facial features in some cases relaxed. There was one person who came in one morning and I just said, Oh my gosh, I don’t think I would have recognized you, because literally their face transformed. And I was talking to Brother Spirit, and he said, Well, one of the unofficial metrics of a Plum Village retreat is that actually you can see the difference in people’s faces. So, brothers, is there anything you want to say about this aspect where people just think it’s self-indulgent, guilty that they don’t deserve, that they need to be on the frontline.
I also heard that in my circle sharing in the retreat from friends feeling too privileged to be here when we know that there is suffering and that that being here is not being somewhere else. But after the practice and after six days, as you shared, everybody realized that to be somewhere else, but not be who you are it’s also not true. And I think that this guilty feeling is a mental formation that we all have. Guilt is, on one side, it can be very good. It allows us to know that that if we do something wrong, we should feel guilty about it. We should know how to change. But then there is the other edge of the knife, the other side of the knife of guilt, which is it becomes toxic. It allows us to never have self awareness, self-compassion and love for oneself. And I think, if I dare say it’s also in the culture of sins, you know, others have died for us to be happy religiously as well as even the war, like freedom comes with a price. You know? I think at one of the memorial places in the US that some of us got to visit in Washington, DC. I think freedom is not free. It comes with a price. And therefore this idea of happiness becomes very foggy. And I think people are still trying to grapple to understand and to like have a sense of what does that mean. And therefore, when you are put in this environment, which for so many for many years, let’s say 13, 15, 14, ten years, they’ve never been in a peaceful environment, suddenly this becomes foreign, this stillness, this space to connect to nature, this group of people who we are together and being instructed by the monastics and Christiana Figueres and you, Jo, and other leaders is that we’re here not to talk about business, we’re not here to hand out business cards and to talk about our profession and etc., but we’re here to connect with one another. And let’s say that this is not normal anymore. Like when we come to a conference, we’re all coming prepared to meet each others with ideas. We’re coming together to meet each other with different opinion, which can become arguments, which can become conflicts rather than deep listening and loving speech, which becomes a day where we devote a whole day of practice for that in our retreat, and not just a whole day, but we start to trickle it in from day two, which is the first Dharma sharing that we have, bringing everyone into the circle and asking everyone to share their first name. We don’t need the second name, the last name. We don’t need to know about what you do in your profession and just to speak from heart, space. I think one of my question that I brought to the group was I’m very aware that all of you who receive the requests and committed to the requests also means that you had to move a lot of agendas to be here. But since you’re here now, what would you like to invest yourself for the next six days in this different setting? And so many people talked about caring for themselves. So many friends realized that they haven’t been there for the grief that they have been holding, whether it’s on a very personal level to family or on a level of communities or a level of the environment of Mother Nature. And I think that our society is so structure around suppressing and forgetting our emotions with consumerism, even in work, service can be an energy to consume. Even a retreat is to consume. I’m here to consume this, and we’re sharing that mindfulness it’s not a pill, it’s not a fix. Mindfulness is a path of understanding and transformation to cultivate nonviolence, peace, awakening and love. And, you know, there were so many insights from the practitioners, such as Love is regeneration. And I think everybody was fuel fueling themselves back in spirit of being alive again, being with people who share the same mission. Maybe we have different approaches and different views, but at the end of the day we are here for the collective care of this environment and the collective awakening that we are bringing to the different layers of our society, our environment, our culture, etc.. And we had from elders to leaders to young activists who are also present and very diverse, those who definitely also didn’t see eye to eye. But that was also the reason why to come together too. I think what my main thing was to allow people to connect back to the heart. So it may be uncomfortable at first and allow it to be uncomfortable. You need to feel this. You need to accept this. You need to learn to come home to yourself. And coming home to yourself takes courage. Remember, Jo, in the last retreat, when you asked everyone not to offer gratitude to others because it’s so easy to project our love outside of us. But as we know, Zen is the way out is in, and the way out is to interbe. And how do we interbe? We have to connect to ourself, that is our spirit, where our wisdom of ancestors have come to us spiritual, genetic and land. And therefore, if we can’t connect home to ourself, and we’re just giving, giving and giving, we’re gonna lose ourselves. An aspiration needs food. Love needs food. And the retreat is a way to allow people to come home to nourish themselves.
And, brother, I think it’s important just to be clear about why the retreat is so novel, apart from the teachings, is that when people were invited, they were not given an itinerary. They were not told anyone else who was coming. They were not given any information apart from to have faith. There was… I’d go to so many conferences in the past where you get an app, you immediately see who’s coming. You see the schedule, you decide which sessions you want to go to. And then there’s the pre-networking app so you can look at who you want to connect to. So by the time you arrive at the conference, you’ve already, the grabbing mind has already decided who is worth speaking to, who isn’t worth speaking to. What can I get from the people? What can I bring to myself from, what can I take from other people? And how to divide my time. So you’ve already allowed your mind and your grasping mind to take complete control. And here it was the exact opposite. You turn up almost naked. You don’t know what to expect. You don’t know who’s going to be there. You don’t know what’s going to happen. And that is freedom. That is freedom because it’s giving people no ground, is taking that ground away, which is allowing them to fall to a deeper place, which is themselves, and to have to be emergent, to be present, to come into the present moment, because they don’t know anything other than that moment. So it’s quite extraordinary also that people show the faith to come because, and there are many reasons for that, one of them is Plum Village and its reputation. One of them is Christiana Figueres is so deeply respected in the world. And so if the invitation is coming from them and the monastics, it sort of says, well, you know, if I’m being asked by both of them, there’s something there. But it’s remarkable how many people actually deep down are willing to have faith and to then act on it. Brother, one of the other things that I think we both saw very clearly was this idea of the Buddha with our thoughts we create the world. And that showed up with a lot of participants and very concentrated in a few, but I think was generally there, which was that a lot of people have been guided by the energy of anger, that they look at the injustices in the world, and it brings up the sense of deep anger. And that anger is seen as a very powerful fuel with which to give them the energy to try and create change. But what comes along with that patterning is that if they keep repeating that anger, that actually they become angry and they don’t just become angry at the world, they become angry in themselves and in all their relationships and their relationships with themselves, with their family, with their friends and with the world. And we saw that particularly with people who literally said, I realize anger has fueled my activism, but now I’ve become an angry person and what can I do about it? And then brother, what we often see in these processes is that people realize actually they don’t want to be angry anymore. It’s not serving them, but then they’re left with this void because what they say is, well, if I’m not angry, then what am I? Who am I? And how do I show up in the world? Because that’s been my fuel. If you take my fuel away, I’ve got nothing left. And there’s this sense then, that, Oh, well, all I’m left with is compassion and love. And those in that context can seem very weak. It can seem, well, you know, how is that going to save the world? And I think what Plum Village does so beautifully is to bridge that divide and help people to see that is not an option of this perceived strength of anger and this perceived weakness of compassion and love. But there’s a bridge across that which I think in Buddhism and in the Plum Village tradition, you call either radical compassion or fierce compassion. And I think it’ll be really helpful, because it’s been very helpful to me, in saying actually, there’s not just this binary choice of what is called strong and what’s called weak, but actually fierce compassion is a deep, deep strength that not only can help change the world, but can sustain that change. So for those of our listeners who are saying, well, what is fierce compassion? That came up in the retreat. Well, what is that? Do you want to give us a sense of what that actually means and how might we be able to practice with it?
Yes. And before I get to an example, I want to speak on this, because it seems very like binaries, I like this or that. In Buddhism, and in the teaching of mindfulness, right mindfulness, when we are angry, we don’t say you cut off anger. You don’t cut off anger. Anger is one of your mental formations, one of your energies. But we learn to acknowledge and know that we are angry, and we learn to care and transform and channel our anger into a different energy. Maybe at the beginning we literally need to remove ourself from that situation because evidently we all have experienced that when we are angry, our words, our thoughts and our actions are not kind. And the result of the action based on anger it will lead to something. Even if we think it’s for the good, but there is a redirect poisoning that is happening, making us more toxic, making us more vicious in a way. And one time somebody asked Thay this, and Thay said, Well, we think that anger is a powerful energy, but actually compassion is a very powerful energy. How do you transfer and embrace your anger of seeing what has happened is so wrong, therefore, you’re angry. But now to meet the object or meet the person or meet the situation that is creating the suffering, but you meet it with an energy to understand and to communicate and to help the other side see their wrong action. This is only when real transformation in our society can happen. Because if we’re going to keep meeting each other with anger on any size, on any fights, whether it is nations, whether it is society or it is climate, it will lead to war. Because anger carries a very vicious energy of punishment. We want to punish the other because they dare make me suffer, make my loved ones suffer, make my society suffer, make my community suffering, my nation, etc. And they will just keep escalating. And anger grows many other seeds. Discrimination, seeds of violence, seeds of I already mentioned, punishment. And it goes on and on, and you start to create a different view. And we know that even if we send all of the nuclear weapons, all of the knives, all of the dangerous weapons to the moon, but if we don’t transform the hearts of humanity, none of us do the inner work, we’re still going to find a way to harm each other, to kill each other, and to take from each other. And that is why, for us, anger is not the solution. Anger is an energy to recognize, to practice with it, guide it through walking meditation, guide it through being with nature. Because once you realize that your energy, your emotions are also impermanence, you know that if it goes up, it will have to go down and you can come back to the situation with a different energy. And if you have practiced for a long time, you can channel your anger right away. You make sure that your anger is not the foundation of your words, your mind and your action. And you can do this. In our history of humanity there are many great beings that have met the beasts of man with kindness. And I think that we can all say that when somebody arrives who has such virtue of presence, understanding, kindness and compassion, the other side, the other people will feel that. And even sometimes it yeah, it does weaponize them, they see that they don’t even want to harm this person. The Buddha himself was such a being. He met a serial killer. And the serial killer just realized, like, I don’t think I should do anything bad to this human being. And he had a whole discussion with the Buddha, and the Buddha transformed him. And I’m sure in every ancient times of culture, of civilization, we have beings like this. And therefore, in all traditions of insight, of culture, of wisdom, love becomes much stronger, kindness becomes much stronger. And there was one friend that was in our retreat, and she shared that one take away is that she’s coming out with the insight that to meet suffering and to meet the challenges, the uphill battle that she is embarking on, kindness is the source of energy that will always take you the long way, the long run. I don’t remember other energy that she was mentioning, but it was the opposite of kindness. And therefore, for us, compassion, it doesn’t mean to fluff everything, to put everything under the rug and to be naive and say, well, the tree is still there and the sun is still rising and the flowers are still blooming. That’s not it. Fierce compassion or compassion that has strength it has to come with understanding. One example is from time to time we have to ask people to leave our community. When somebody is so toxic, when somebody is not in harmony with us and when somebody is destructive, mindfulness is to recognize that this is somebody who is draining the energy of the community. And if we allow that person to continue after all of our intervention and we realize that there is no more help, the compassionate act may be to let that person go. So even in our times, there are criminals, our compassion is to put them behind bars, because that is a compassionate act for humanity and maybe for that person so that they don’t continue to have harmful actions, which becomes their karma, which will haunt them and destroy their soul. So compassion has always the element of understanding, to lead to a more healthy and safe community environment. So compassion is a very big word itself, and love is a very broad teaching, therefore we have courses or lessons that we talk about love for like two weeks straight, because there’s just so much layer to that, you know. So I think that in this retreat and, you know, somebody had the insight that come up is we have to have radical compassion during our times even to see the people who are bringing harm to our environment, to still see them as a human being. That is our practice. In our truth, in Buddhism, is that there are two pairs of opposites. We’re never going to be in a situation where there’s only good. We’re always going to meet two sides. The good and the bad are a pair of opposites that come together. Happiness and suffering are two pairs that rely on each other to manifest. Darkness and light, birth and death, right and wrong, and so on. And Buddhism, the deepest insight of practice is to break free from all views, which is to touch interbeing so that we can be free and to see the truth behind all of the manifestation, the forms that we meet, whether it is a person, whether it is their energy, are we meeting just their anger, or can we see beyond their anger and still have compassion and help them out of their suffering? We always have evidence that when somebody is inflicting suffering is because they have suffered so much and nobody has taught them how to love, how to understand, and maybe they are the most broken souls of our world. And therefore, if there is a bodhisattva somewhere that can befriend them, can shine love to them and shine light so that they can wake up from their wrongdoing, then we have an opportunity. And maybe prisons were in principle to help reeducate or so on, but we know that there’s so much corruption and so the system is also so broken there. But we know that mindfulness and the path of awakening is a walk of life, it’s not a religion. So therefore, in my times, in my own generation of monastics, monks and nuns, I think we have to continue to grow this insight in ourselves and to transmit it and to walk this path.
Thank you, brother. And it’s sort of, as you talk, it reminds me of one of the things that came up in the retreat was around forgiveness. So there were people who were saying, well, I can forgive individuals who are doing harm, but how do I forgive the system? And I think it was Brother Spirit answered. I thought it really beautiful. He said, It’s not about forgiving the system, it’s about understanding the system. We can’t forgive a system, but once we understand the system, then we can transform it. It’s not about forgiving all the time. It’s not a weakness of, Oh, I have to forgive it. But saying once I deeply understand it, then I can act. And the other thing, brother, was related to what you’re saying is around what I found so helpful is again, and we know it, but to really feel it deeply is that everyone’s suffering. So, you know, there was such a diverse group of people that were sort of writers and there were indigenous people who’ve been fighting the tar sands for decades. There were wealthy people, there were people working for business, there were people working for NGOs. There was this extraordinary youth activist and there were people on the front line, and there were people in their seventies and eighties. So we had this extraordinary diversity, which you don’t often get in the same room. And yet everyone suffers. You know, you could deeply see, you know, the indigenous people present who’ve been fighting on the front line for years and have become ill from being in close proximity to all the chemicals and are now sort of, you know, their health has suffered and their spirit has suffered. And then people who are incredibly wealthy but they also suffer and have guilt. And I think it’s about having nondiscrimination around suffering, that you can look at people, you can try and compare people suffering… well, a wealthy person suffering can’t be nearly as bad as someone on the frontline. But actually, when you take the comparison away, everyone’s suffering needs to be recognized. Because if we don’t recognize each other’s suffering, then it leads to anger and attack and then separation. Because as soon as you get attacked, you get separation. People going back into their camps and when we all appreciate each other’s suffering, which is I think what the amazing work that you do in these retreats is that everyone is allowed to come into the center. No one feels excluded. No one feels they’re not part of it. And everyone can feel that they can show up.
Yeah. And, you know, it was like a deep tissue massage, the retreat. Each day you just press another pressure point to release all of the tension that has been building up for years for many of our friends. And one friend shared, and she’s a writer, and she share she came into the retreat feeling very disconnected and like an outsider. But after six days, she felt like a family has manifested. And we can see that family is not just genetic blood, but family is shared aspiration, shared understanding, shared support that we want to offer for one another and to see each other as human beings. And I think, I definitely felt it, and I think even I put on a mask, at the beginning, like if everybody wants to be professional, I will be professional Zen monk Phap Huu, you know, too. And it’s so interesting how it’s so automatic. We come into these beautiful settings, but here we are still showing up with a shell. And the work is to feel and give permission, to feel our own vulnerability and suffering and to slowly open ourselves up to un-layer ourself, to soften our hearts. And I think that these retreats, especially for everyone working in this space, some shared like I have never been in nature for this long and I feel, oh my goodness, we have to make this a requirement, like this is why monastichood, our teacher, is like, if you want to be a monk, you stay in a monastery. That’s what you have to cultivate. You have to cultivate what you want to become, what you are nourishing in yourself. And I feel and I think this is why these retreats and with all these leaders, and especially Christiana Figueres with this wisdom, is that there is a very deep spiritual dimension in the climate work, because nature is spiritual. You cannot come into this work as to see as a 9 to 5. It’s not a career to live in order to get, I don’t know, fame, money, power, etc.. But if you’re meeting that line of work with that energy, I think nature would challenge you itself. And one of the friends who shared that, like deep down in her heart, she always knew that spirituality and climate work has to go hand in hand. And this retreat showed that this is exactly, for some, is the missing link. And for one very close friend of both of ours, he shared that this is the first time he’s been in nature for six days. And he’s been here for a long time in this form of work. And so, therefore, I think there should be a bell of mindfulness for all of us and to see that if we are not deeply connected to the land, to the trees, to the soil, to the waters, I don’t think we even know what we are caring for. We’re just caring for our own survival, which is very selfish.
And, brother, it reminds me of… There was a retreat I was co-facilitating in San Francisco for climate leaders, a few years ago, and I took the group for a walk. And the first half of the walk, this was in countryside, the first half of the walk I was watching, there were chattering, chattering, chattering, chattering. And when we got to the halfway point, I formed a circle and I said, okay, now I want each of you to share one thing in nature that you saw that inspired you. And no one could because they’ve all been talking and they’re all people who work around environmental issues. And then I said, for the second half of the walk, let’s all walk in silence. And when we got back, we had another circle. What is it that you noticed that inspired you? And everyone had seen something deep and meaningful to them. And it reminded me, I’m reminded of that brother, because one of the key strengths of the retreats is silence. So, you know, and again, such a skillful part of the design, because I think most people think you just do a retreat. But it’s… There’s an old technology to this, and a form, and the first day and a half is complete silence. And it doesn’t allow anyone to get into the mode of who’s there, who are you, what do you do? It allows people to settle and to hear their mind, to hear their mental activity, to recognize what’s going on. And the power of silence is so meaningful. And there were a couple of retreatants who told me, you know, people said I wouldn’t be able to cope if they’re very chatty or they’re used to talking. But those are the people who enjoy it most because actually often people chat to hide away from things, and when they’re given silence, it allows other things to emerge.
And I think Sister True D and Sister Trai Nghiem did amazing opening in the orientation. And I remember Sister Trai Nghiem explaining noble silence. And she said, You experience how delicious silence is. And it is only in the silence where you can truly open your senses to what is around you. And, Jo, we both were in the same sharing circle and one of our young activists, who I truly adore, she said, I am like a… I get to be like a little squirrel in this place. I’m climbing trees and waking up early, 5 a.m., and just sitting on a tree to see the wonders of life. And I’m able to just walk and to feel alive. And this, when she shared that, I felt it opened, it allowed everyone to touch their inner child in everyone. And I think this is also spiritual understanding of our connection, because no matter how old we become, we are still children of this Earth and we are, we will never outlast Mother Earth. And when you have eyes of wonders like our young activists, and that curiosity is what allows you to still see the beauty. And I know she comes from New York, so to be in a space where the forest was your backyard, it is education, it is a real transmission and connection between one and all. So I see that the retreat, it offers so many levels of deep connection, but also there were moments of challenge, when we had a case of COVID that happened, I think it was day three. And, you know, there was so much emotion and somebody was very upset about the mask situation and even interrupted the talk, which was very challenging, I think, it disrupted the energy of all. And I believe that that person was coming from good intention, but it was such a wrong energy that that person was channeling into the collectiveness that was already being very present and aware of the situation. And the organizing team was working behind the scene to take care of the situation. And the way we all held it together, and I have to give major, major props to Christiana Figueres, because at the halftime of the break, after the first talk, you know, she came in and she gave a heart moving and vulnerable invitation for everyone. And that talk particularly was from, a lead on from Sister Lang Nghiem talk on mind and store consciousness based on the seeds that we all have of mental formation and emotions and feelings. So it was almost like it was meant to be, which we learned about it, and here is the challenge. And Christiana invited everyone, I invite all of us to recognize what seeds are present right now. How did we all react and how are we reacting right now? Because the pandemic is a crisis, one of the crisis, but the biggest crisis that we are all embarking on this path is the crisis of our behavior to climate, our consuming, our taking, our eating from the flesh of Mother Earth, and our unmindful responsibility that we have. And if all of us become angry, become upset, how will we even embrace and handle the collective emotions? And the way that she just brought the suffering to an opportunity of deep looking and practice. And for me, at that moment, I was a student. I was a student of Christiana Figueres. And I marvel of her mindfulness and her compassion of embracing the group and of a woman who is such a powerful leader who I recognize in our sharing that many young activists, young friends, realize that that’s who they want to become. That’s the role model that they would like to be guided by those who know how to face suffering and not to bring back and stronger emotions saying, Oh, what you said is wrong. How dare you disrupt… ? But it was an invitation and that was fierce compassion. That was how can we look at this together and not blame each other? And because there were people who were thinking about leaving right away, of giving up of just, okay, the suffering, let’s just leave. And isn’t that such an autopilot also that we have all installed in us? So our retreat, like, you can’t plan for these, it just manifests to allow us to actually apply everything that we’re learning into the present moment. And in our sharing circle, you know, I asked, it was like the elephant in the room that we had to address, you know, how everyone’s emotion is. And I was asking, how did all of you apply the last three days of Dharma talks and of practice? And one friend who has a major health issue shared it was the first time when she, where she met a health crisis in a space where she wasn’t scared at all. She was able to accept the situation and she shared that I am going to do the tests. If I have COVID, I have COVID, I will accept it. I will take care of it. And if I have time for isolation, I will work on my podcast. And isn’t it just the view how you invite into your mind consciousness can change your whole energy and your approach to the situation. So I think this was the groundwork that we were helping everybody do at so many different levels from the walk, the sit, the sharing, the eating in silence, of how we are cultivating gratitude, how we see food, how we see each other. And it is all views.
Thank you, brother. And maybe to finish, we could share one personal reflection of something maybe we learned from that retreat, because what you were saying just sparked off in my mind, a deep learning for myself. So I can sort of go first, which is… Before the retreat started, sort of, I arrived with the monastics and Christiana and we were assigned rooms and I was in a room that was, you know, it was quite nice and… but I saw other people’s rooms and there was a part of me that sort of, oh, everyone’s got a nicer room. And then I got moved out of my room into another room which was, and I was jetlagged and tired, into a much smaller even… probably, I would say, the worst accommodation in that area. And it was in a small shared room and I thought, Oh, I’m not gonna be able to sleep and won’t help me… And what came up for me, brother, so I’m 61 years old. I’ve been associated with Plum Village for many years and yet the deep wounds in me are still there. And I know, you know, I know that, but I watched it happen in real time because what came out for me, I’m the youngest child of six, and what came out for me was always, because I had this story as a child, which was I never had enough. I was always ignored. I was always the last. I was the one who had to suffered. And all this emotion just came up in me like a sort of volcanic eruption. It’s like the plates of the Earth, of my Earth shifted, and this earthquake happened in my mind, which was I’m not… no one cares about me. And what was interesting, brother, so I took this for a walk and I saw these two aspects of me, the part of me that was holding on to this old story. So I knew consciously no one had seen that room. No one had said, Oh, Jo should have this room or that room. So I knew and I was able to sort of calm my mind to say, you know, this is an old wound coming up. This isn’t important. It’s not important where I stay. It’s amazing to be here. And all the parts of me that could calm myself. But there was a part of me that was so insistent on my old story saying, No, you know, I have been wronged. This isn’t fair. You’re being ignored. There’s no respect for you and all that. And it was just so, it was such a gift before the retreat started to see an old wound come up, flourish. And despite my attempts to calm it, it wanted to be right. It still had an investment of 61 years of being right about an old story that was no longer relevant in my life. And then I took it for a walk. I calmed it. I resolve the situation. It was all fine. I let it go. But it was just a reminder for me, brother, that however much practice we do, that this is a lifetime journey. It doesn’t end. It’s not saying, Oh, actually I’ve cured all my wounds. I know I am free of them. And I think this was one of the things that actually came up generally in the retreat, that this is a lifetime’s work. As you said, it’s not a fix. Mindfulness is not fix, it’s not a pill, it doesn’t mean all your worries go away, but we work with them and we continue to work with them. And I was able to resolve it in my mind within an hour, whereas in the past it would have just kept on coming into my mind. So I think it was just a reminder to myself about to be compassionate to myself, but also to be compassionate when other people stuff comes up, that it’s not… that I’m seeing a child in someone show up when they’re angry or where they feel left out or whether they’re responding in what to me might be inappropriate in a situation… It’s not, they are not the human being, it’s an aspect of them that was coming up, that is a hurt part of them that needs to be loved. And so in that moment, I was able to love myself. So I felt a bit… To be honest, I felt really embarrassed that I was having these feelings, especially when I was coming to help support and facilitate this retreat for other people. But actually, it was a reminder that actually we all suffer. How about you?
Thank you, Jo. I love it. Like you’re able to be so authentic in this podcast. And I think I still get to understand you and support you. Isn’t it interesting that the complexes, the three complexes that we practice to transcend, it will always find its way to sneak in. Inferiority, superiority, equality. I want to be equal as them. I want to… Am I good enough? Oh, I’m better than that. And I think because collectively we knew that this retreat was different because it was by invitation. And everyone coming in is not the same community that comes to Plum Village, where it’s from aspiration, they invested. But this is on trust. And so we don’t know the response of everyone. And when you don’t know, your mind creates a lot of scenarios. And it’s very easy to go down the path where things will go wrong, and preparing yourself for the countermoves in order to make things better. And what I learned is to learn to dance in the present moment and also to trust the Dharma and the transmission of wisdom that has been sown into all of us. Because in that moment, it’s not you that you’re transmitting, you’re transmitting the wisdom, you’re transmitting the old tech, you’re transmitting the collective insight from generations. And that can never go wrong as long as you are authentic to it, and you also make a vow as a teacher to be a student to those words. And all of us who were on the panel to give Dharma talks, Brother Phap Linh, Sister Hien Nghiem, Sister True Dedication, Sister Lang Nghiem, Sister Trai Nghiem and myself, we spent I would say like I think almost 6 hours curating the flow of the talks through the five days plus orientation for six days. And we didn’t stick to our preparation because you have to also be in the present moment while you are offering this teaching and you have to feel the collective energy and you have to dance with it. And that’s where for me, I understood another layer of present moment. The present moment in a space where you have to be free from even your preparation, and then to trust the transmission of so many different wisdom that are out there that you can just pull out, and to offer and still be authentic to it. So that was a very beautiful dance I got to experience from the Dharma talk that I gave to the Q&A that I was a part of, and then to the music evening that we offered. We prepared a few songs, but we saw the collective energy that was like all these friends who were from day one, all everybody, even us, had different masks on and now we’re all just being a happy, big community. It was just like, Let’s keep vibing with this and we were like pulling all of the songs that we brought along and some that we didn’t even perform during the concert. And at the end, Sister True Dedication was so skillful in channeling the energy, because I also had that thought that after the last song, which was I Vow to Live This Day with Love like everybody, the energy was about.
We’re about to like, blow the roof off. And I was also like, Should we just end now? And we all looked at each other and were like, Namo’valo, Namo’valo… we’ve got to bring it back. And the way she weaved the energy with her direction of how we’re going to bring all this joy and transfer it to love and compassion for ourselves, to honor ourselves, and then to honor our loved ones who may not be here, but we no need to transmit and transfer this source of love and compassion. And then transfer this collective energy to the darkest places of our community, of the world in order to not hold it for ourselves, but to share this merit, to share this energy. And it was just so profound. And all of this was unscripted.
It was present moment, wonderful moment. The present moment is your canvas and your mindfulness and your body, speech and mind is your paintbrush that you paint and you draw. So I think for myself, the learning was to trust the wisdom and not to be selfish. Like at that moment it’s not about you. And then to dip in my understanding, my growth in the present moment.
Brother, thank you for the sharing and I think we’re both still in a bit of jet lag. So if this podcast made absolutely no sense, then please have compassion for us. But I think it was beautiful. Thank you for your sharing, brother. And you can find all previous episodes of our podcast on the Plum Village App and also on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms. And if you like what we’re doing, then please subscribe to The Way Out Is In podcasts on any platform of your choice. And it would be really lovely if you have the time to leave a review, if you feel inspired, and that will help others to discover the podcast series.
And you can also find all previous guided meditations in the On the Go section of the Plum Village App. And this podcast is co-produced by Global Optimism and the Plum Village App with support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you feel inspired to support the podcast moving forward, as well as the international work of the Plum Village community, please visit www.TNHF.org/donate. And we want to thank our friends and collaborators. Clay, a.k.a. the Podfather, our co-producer, which we met up in Toronto. Joe, our audio editing. Anca, our show notes and publishing bodhisattva. Jasmine and Cyndee, our social media guardian angels, as well as Brother Niem Thung, who is our sound engineer today, as well…
… as Cata, who is the creator of the Plum Village App and has been our constant supporter. Thank you everyone for listening and see you next time.
The way out is in.