Graphic #2_Ep 68

The Way Out Is In / Showing Up at Work (Episode #68)

Br Pháp Hữu, Jo Confino

This item is part of a series, you can subscribe to future episodes on your favourite podcast platform.


Welcome to episode 68 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/journalist Jo Confino discuss Right Livelihood in Buddhism. After starting with what this means, they dive more deeply into practical steps and examples. How can we find joy, feel deeply connected, and also make a positive impact on the world through our daily work?

The conversation also touches upon ‘bringing our cosmic body to work’; the insight of responsibility; the difference between doing what we love and doing what we’re good at; ego and compassion in the workplace; planning for the future while being in the present; and much more. 

The episode ends with a short meditation guided by Brother Phap Huu.

Enjoy and thank you for listening!

Co-produced by the Plum Village App:

And Global Optimism: 

With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:

List of resources 


Dharma Talks: ‘Right Livelihood and True Love’ 

Dharma Talks: ‘The Noble Eightfold Path’ 


Dharma Talks: ‘Our Cosmic Body’ 

Buddha Mind, Buddha Body 

Sister True Dedication 

The Art of Living


“Each and every one of us has a spiritual dimension inside that we can generate wherever we go, and that is a contribution to what we want to build.” 

“By being we do more effectively.”

“Don’t just do something, sit there.”

“Time is being, time is to be alive.”

“When you have anger, it can be a bell of mindfulness that tells us when we see injustice, when we see suffering. And we can be with that anger. And that anger can become a voice for us, to have empathy, to have compassion. Because compassion can come from anger sometimes. It can come from what we’re seeing, because it tells us that this is wrong. But if we allow anger to always be there and not transform, and we don’t channel it into another energy, then we will become one with exactly that outer energy that made us angry in the first place.”

“Sometimes silence is the loudest noise.”

“Why not be soft? Why not be kinder? That softness and that kindness are very loud in a moment of big aggression. The kindness, the softness becomes a louder action because it shows our humanity; it shows the heart of love.”

“Thay emphasized that all of us have a Buddha body. We have [the potential for] awakening inside of us – we just have to cultivate it. And there are moments that we’re not a Buddha. That’s okay. But remember that we have Buddha nature inside of us.” 

“Thay had a calligraphy that really informs us about deep interbeing: ‘The piece of bread in your hands is the body of the whole cosmos.’ And that is for us to have a deep understanding that this piece of bread didn’t just come from nowhere, nothing. It’s the whole lifetime of the existence of time and space. And it’s a miracle to have this piece of bread. So be grateful. Hold it with gratitude. Hold it with reverence. Eat it with gratitude. Eat it with reverence.”


Dear friends, welcome 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’m Brother Pjap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in the Plum Village tradition.


And brother, today we’re going to talk about something in Buddhism called Right Livelihood. And we’re going to look at really how come we in our work, but also in the rest of our life, find joy and feel deeply connected and also make an positive impact in the world.


The way out is in.


Hello everyone, I’m Jo Confino.


And I’m Brother Phap Huu.


So, brother, we are doing this at a distance. You are in Harvard. I’m in Plum Village. How is your American trip going?


The American trip is flowing well. I first arrived at New York City for an event, and coming into the concrete jungle where dreams are made of, I arrived also into a field of energy where it’s very, very busy. It is very, very it can be very stressful. And there was a lot of energies. And one of something I picked up and I’m sharing this not to like criticize or point fingers, but because everybody is in a mindset of like doing doing doing, and so the present mind of the present moment in the present body is definitely not there because it just feels like everybody’s moving towards the future. And in that spirit, there’s a particular attitude where it’s like chin up and just look forward. I don’t see you, you’re not important. And it was… It’s a very different culture than in Plum Village where, you know, we learn to or not just in Plum Village, but anybody in the Dharma it’s… Or in a spiritual dimension that we embody we learn to have presence. We learn to recognize one another just by the way we look. And I was catching myself absorbing this particular energy of not seeing each other in the streets of New York or sitting at a cafe, and a part of me was like, okay, if that is the attitude, I’m going to do that too. I won’t care about anybody. And then I caught myself in like, okay, this is why we practice, we have to go against the stream. We have to go against the culture that has become a norm, which is like, do, do, do. I need my coffee, I’m out. No particular… It’s not… The autopilot of saying thank you is there, but it’s more than that is like recognizing the kindness of the friends who make the coffee. You know? And when I’m giving the money, it’s not just a transaction of money, but it’s a transaction of human, human connection. And I caught myself like, okay, no, no, no, be kind, smile, generate that presence. So I’ve been… I’ve been aware of how I’m showing up outside of the Plum Village community, as well as outside of the Plum Village culture into, let’s say, quote unquote, mainstream culture, or the culture that we have co-created together. And understanding when Thay, our teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh saying that each and every one of us, we have a spiritual dimension inside that we can generate wherever we go, and that is a contribution to what we want to build. You know, when we talk about a peaceful environment, a loving kindness culture is not words that we recite and chant, but it is… we have to embody it. And this is when you’re in the world, right? You’re at a coffee shop. You’re in the street waiting to cross and you hear cars are honking, people are cussing because people are angry and road raging. You know, I was witnessing and I was present, smiling to everything that was happening in the present moment. And then my choice, like, what am I going to offer in that moment?


So, brother, this is of course very relevant to the topic we five minutes ago chose which is around right livelihood because I lived and worked in New York for five years, and it’s quite harsh from a work’s place, you know, in the sense that everyone’s striving for success, everyone wants to prove themselves. Everyone feels that they need to give all of themselves to their work. There’s a lot of pressure that you can easily, you know, you can get… If you’re fired, you’d get chucked out of your work on that day, and you have to collect your box of things that actually there’s very little security and enormous amounts of pressure and competition. So let’s talk about right livelihood. And one of the reasons I suggested the topic just now is because I was coaching three people this morning, and what was common amongst all of them was a feeling of disenchantment with their work that they’re all working in a field that’s contributing to a better world, but feeling either not good enough, feeling that they’re not making enough impact, feeling that there’s a lack of collegiality that actually the old pressures in other jobs of sort of who’s of status, sort of showing up. So, you know, work takes up a lot of our time, or for a lot of people a lot of their time, and it can cause a lot of stress and unhappiness, even when we’re working to create a better world. So it would be really good just to sort of investigate, first of all, within the Plum Village tradition and within Buddhism, just let’s talk about what does Right Livelihood actually mean. So let’s start off with an understanding of that before we sort of dive in.


Thank you, Jo. I think when we hear about right livelihood we associate it with a career right away, which is, like you said, it’s very important a career, having the means to support oneself, education, a roof over our head, food on the table, means for just daily life, like that is very important. But in the broader deep dive and view on right livelihood, the word livelihood it means for me when I hear about it is like it’s my impact as a human being, 24 hours a day. That’s livelihood. So, it’s not just of what we are contributing and doing to offer, but it’s also how we are consuming, how we are receiving the choices that we make on a daily basis. That is livelihood. We all have a livelihood. Right? So in terms of the right livelihood, we know that this is part of the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. And there is a deep connection to it because to have right livelihood, we also have to cultivate right view and then cultivate right speech. And then right action, which is also, right effort, right mindfulness, right concentration, right insight. And then also there is right livelihood. Which is… the livelihood can become the foundation to continue to cultivate these other seven pathways. But don’t be caught up in, you know, the order because in Buddhism, all teachings, we always have to have the insight of interbeing where it’s all connected and it all supports one another. Sometimes when you’re practicing right mindfulness, you are practicing right livelihood already. And then when you’re practicing right livelihood, you are embodying right mindfulness, which has built in also concentration then can lead to insight, right insight, right view. So it all threads… The path threads and becomes a support for one another. So right livelihood is a question and a koan for all of us to reflect on how we are living this very present moment, our impact that we are giving towards the three times which is supporting discontinuous stream of life, which is how we’re going to impact the past, because this present moment will become the past. And then how we’re impacting the future, because this present moment is making the future. The future is only made of the present moment. So as a meditator, as somebody who breathes in spirituality, which is all of us, we are constantly reflecting right livelihood. How is this livelihood also impacting my store consciousness, my mind consciousness, my bodies? Right? The bodies of this present moment body, but also my body of the cosmic energy. And then my body of continuation, my body… And we have eight bodies in our school of Buddhism. And there’s just so many layers, and we’re all looking for jobs so that we can put a roof over our head, food on our table, and to support ourselves, support our family, sometimes support our parents. And there’s just so many layers here. And sometimes it also feels like what I am doing is not aligned with my deepest aspiration, especially after coming to a retreat. You know, we’re asked to see what is our deepest aspiration. And so this question and this reflection is deep. And sometimes it’s hard because not everybody is privileged. Not everybody has the means to choose what we can do, what we… the pathways we want to have impact because some of us we have to be janitors, some of us we have to work the 9 to 5 in an office, and so on and so on. And it’s not glamorous. And for me, that’s why I wanted to bring in this other aspect, it’s like, yes we are doing 9 to 5 as as a bar… not a bar. What’s the word for those who make coffee? Barista?


In a coffeehouse it would be a barista, yes.


That’s right. Okay. A barista or, you know, a flight attendant, a janitor, a landscaper, etc., and etc..But how do we be compassionate towards ourselves while we do all of this? And then for those of us who are working at different positions that can bring in a lot of money for our livelihood and have a reflection. What is our impact as leaders? What is our impact as managers, as CEOs, etc.? What kind of culture are we building within our teams, our work space? And so the right livelihood becomes a big koan for each and every one of us. And a koan is a question that we can keep reflecting on to have insight. We have had people who come to Plum Village. I have a good friend who was an executive for Coca-Cola, in Vietnam. And after coming to Plum Village, she’s like, I can’t continue to do this. And because she had resources she channeled her energy and investment into creating vegetarian restaurant in Vietnam. And it’s very successful now. And it gives her a lot of joy and happiness because she’s able to walk a new path and have a new impact. And this is somebody who has, like I shared, has choices. And I’m still very good friends with her, so I always ask her, I call her boss, I’m like, boss, you’ve done this aspiration. But how are you? You know, how are you living your life so that you don’t try to be number one? Because at one point they were like number one in like vegetarian restaurants in Vietnam or something like that. I’m like, how’s your ego, my friend? You know, like, is the aspiration still there? How are you building your team? What kind of culture that you have developed… Is there space for deep listening, for understanding among employees, etc., etc.? And, you know, this topic, we can keep diving. But, you know, I’m speaking from also a position as a monk. So I also want to bring it back to you, Jo, because you were a journalist for a very long time, and you also lived in New York, in London, and you’re still living in the lay world, where that is something that, you know, you have to put your mind focus on. It’s tax season. You say, okay, do we have enough to sustain ourselves, etc., etc..? So I think you probably and many of us, listeners, have to reflect on this and meditate and come to peace with it also.


Thank you for the question, brother. Often when we do our work, when we’re in our jobs, what we’re trying to do is prove ourselves or prove to somebody that we’re good enough. And it might be to, you know, we all bring our childhood issues to our work. So it might be that we never got the recognition, however hard we worked. And then often we go into jobs where we find a boss who, however hard we work, doesn’t recognize us. So what we find is often we’re either repeating patterns from our childhood or doing everything we can to avoid mistakes we felt our parents made with us, so we end up overcompensating. So what I find in work is often we are acting out in work. So rather than being true to ourselves, if we’re not mindful of the cause of that difficulty, we will often respond to it in ways that are unskillful. So I find that actually, if we start to understand why we tend to respond in certain ways, what our scars and wounds are in life, then when all the things that happen to work come towards us, we can see other people’s behavior and our own behavior in the… complexity of emotions. In more retreats in Plum Village, people ask a question that I’m in a job which I don’t feel I can really have the impact I want. I’m not very happy there. So I’m going to go off and find another job more in line with my values, brother, what’s your advice to me? And he said, well, that’s great if you want to go and find another job, that’s good. But have you thought about the change you can bring in your existing job? So rather than complaining about what’s being done to you, can you see yourself, empowering yourself to actually create the change you want in work? And so I often feel that people feel they’re a victim at work, that they’re a victim of the system, victim of their bosses, they’re the victim of their busyness, they’re the victim of all the projects they have to manage. And often they feel powerless to act themselves. And I think often we underestimate our power to actually start to change things. Give you an example, brother. When I came to London and we did the first live podcast recording, I stayed in a basic hotel in King’s Cross in London. And when we arrived, it was incredibly busy. And I went up and I waited my turn. I asked for a quiet room and even though she was really busy, she took the time and the energy to look at where the rooms were free and found us a really quiet room. And I was really touched by the fact that even though she didn’t have a sort of powerful job, and it was a job that clearly was very stressed and very busy, that she was acting in a very kind way. And I asked, I said, I appreciate it. I said, you know, thank you so much for taking the time when you’re so busy. And I’d notice in the queue other people complaining about things. And I said, you know, how do you cope with things when you’re very busy and you’re being criticized or people are complaining? And she said, well, if someone comes with that anger that they’re probably on the edge that something’s happened to them that has put them in a difficult situation, rather than respond to that anger with anger, that if I’m kind to them, then I’m giving them the opportunity to step back. And I thought, wow. Because what she was saying was she was showing up with kindness, thoughtfulness, changing the whole situation, it changed my whole experience. I would now go back even though it wasn’t a great hotel. I would go back to that hotel. And it’d be lovely, brother, for you just to, in a sense, just to riff off that about moving from being a victim to recognizing that we can create change in the world.


Well, it makes me also want to visit that hotel too. And just like, be grateful for such bodhisattvas that are are hidden in the world. Because exactly that person’s way of being present it just has impact right there, right then. Right? And instead of seeing the position as not important or important, you’re free. You certainly have freedom within the work that you’re doing. You’re not caught by is this a high position? How many more years do I have to do this until I climb, etc., etc., etc..? Which… To have goals are very important in our lives as well as in the language of service we have to have aspirations in order to have energy. Our volition becomes a source of energy in order to give and offer. And it’s okay to also feel proud and happy of what we’re doing, of what we’re offering. What we have been educated is competition, like you said, as well as like to be better, to get a better position in order to consider ourselves more successful. And we lose the present moment because of that. We lose the journey. We lose the joy of walking a path of a career, of offering, of service. Because we’re just thinking further ahead and say, I’m just only doing this for a few years, and then I’m going to da da da, which once again, I don’t want to be criticizing or condemning any pathways. But the path of aimlessness, aimlessness and signlessness in Buddhism also teaches us that happiness is actually not there at that diploma or that position, but happiness is the path, meaning that in every pathways that we are walking, there are opportunities to cultivate joy and happiness. And the fear of not having enough and the fear of not being good enough is a complex that we all have to breathe and transform, because that also pushes us in the direction, or it doesn’t allow us to be free. And to say, actually, this is a very toxic environment. The manager that I have is not supportive. It is making me become more and more of an aggressive person. And actually I can let go of this and do something less, but still be joyful, happy and alive. So livelihood is also the question to say what we are doing? What we are choosing to do? Is it making our heart sing? Is it allowing us to feel so alive even though we make less? But it’s giving me the quality of life that is deeper, is more profound. And I think this is what our teacher always asks all of us, because there are daily concerns that we have to take care of. But what is our ultimate concern? Because that will become our legacy. What is our ultimate impact that we want to offer? In the spirit of continuation, like what will we be remembered by? Is it that position, that job? How much money we made? Because at that last moment of breathing and letting go, we have heard from a lot of people who shared, from the elders, when you get to interview them, like, what are the things that they want to tell the youth? And a lot of them always share and reminisce on the joy of life. I do not take it for granted. Do not forget to tell the one that you… do not tell your beloved how much you love them. Do not waste and take for granted a moment of true connection and so on and so on. And so this wisdom, this ancient wisdom of deep connection and deep presence is in our culture, is in all cultures, all religions, as well as in all insights from our elders. And the culture that we are living in and that has been built on from the Industrial Revolution as well as the capitalist world that we’re living in, is trying to… it has pushed us into a different mindset, which is be successful, have the best cars, have the best house, have the best apartment to show off to, you know, post on social media, etc., etc. and it’s just, you know, it’s just, these are just, you know, smoke bombs, they’re instant joy and gratification. But that’s… What happens when you turn off the screen? Right? What is your livelihood that you that you’re living now? Who’s around you? What kind of spirit that you are embodying every morning that you wake up? You know, can you smile to the 24 hours that is ahead of you? Or is it dreadful? So the the right livelihood, deep looking is also from empowering the ones that are in positions to change and to change culture to bring love, compassion. And also right livelihood is also a reflection. This environment, this culture that I’m a part of, am I thriving as a human being? Yeah. Right. Livelihood is a pathway to also look at our situation of the eight hours, nine hours, 12 hours that we are working and to see what impact that is doing towards us also as our human body, our human mind, our human hearts, is it making us a toxic person? Because if it is, we also have to have the courage and the non fear to let go of it in order to look for an environment, a work, a job that is caring for our aspiration. And our aspiration can just be I just want to be a kind person. You know, and that’s still my aspiration today. I still want to be a kind person. And so, like, am I burning out from this job? Am I becoming angrier, becoming more aggressive? So these are all reflections that we all have to ask. And this is Engage Buddhism.


Thank you, brother. You mentioned earlier about not always planning for the future but being in the present. And it reminds me that, when I was a young man and in our local high street, there was a shop selling lamps and light bulbs and things like electrical equipment. And I sort of bought things a few times then I got to know the people and I knew that it was a couple of, they were Greek Cypriots and they have been saving up for 20 years in order to be able to go back to Cyprus and buy a house and retire there. And that was their dream that they were going to live there. One day I went in there and the husband was not there, and the wife was there, and she was looking very sort of upset. And I asked her, you know, just checked in with her. And I said how she was, and she said her husband had passed away. And that the dream of going to Cyprus had gone. And it cut so deep into me because I realized exactly then, even though I had not sort of become involved in Buddhism or Buddhist philosophy, that that they had been living a life that was only in the future and had been working all the hours of the day and night to then retire and then didn’t get to enjoy that. And it was a reminder for me that actually we need to live day by day with an eye to the future, obviously, but not to base our lives on something that will happen in the future, because then we miss the present moment, as you say. And the other thing, brother, I’m hearing you saying, well, a few things. One is, which I think is so important is that however strong we are, if we are in a toxic environment, or being forced to behave in ways that we find going against our values, that after a time that infects our system, however strong we are, if we’re in an environment where we have to behave in a certain way, after a while, that’s how we will behave, and we won’t even notice that shift happening. But actually, we often will become the very thing we don’t like if we keep acting in that way. So I really value hearing you say that. And the other thing is about, which I want to… it would be lovely to hear from you, brother, is about you’re talking about presence and being rather than doing. Because a lot of time at work, the only thing that is valued or that appears to be valued is what you practically achieve. So did you make that deadline? Did you get that project done on time? Did you build revenues by 20% in a year? And there’s very, very little credit given to the soft skills, which is did people feel that they were able to find a balance in their lives? Did people… Actually, was there a way that people could raise issues or difficulties in a way that they didn’t feel that they would be singled out or bullied? And in a sense, we all know that’s the most important thing, and yet it’s rarely recognized. And so I just wanted to ask you a bit, brother, about that sense of how can we build our sense of presence? How do we counteract this culture of doing and become more a sense of being and doing? It’s not about… You know, we often think of a binary choice, we’re either being or we’re doing, but actually by being we do more effectively. So how can we in our work life, in difficult circumstances, and of course, there are difficult circumstances in the monastery as well, sort of find a place where we can ground ourselves in our presence and not act out?


What comes up for me is, you know, Thay always loves to have a play on word and on the quotes of the world… One of it is like, don’t just sit there, do something. And then Thay’s like, don’t just do something, sit there. And actually knowing how to sit is so difficult and it’s so challenging. As well as Thay’s counter insight, which is like time is money, and Thay’s like, no, time is being, time is to be alive. And the doing that we speak of in this term, what you just asked me, it’s the doing that is not allowing yourself to be present. And we’re not against doing, I’m just saying this because like Sister True Dedication like recently made a post on her Instagram and she’s like, meditation is very normal. I’m a normal human being. I need to sit. I need to take care of myself. I need to meditate. There’s not voices, there’s not woowoo, there’s not…. And sometimes we think, oh, you know, the monastics, we just sit, we do nothing. And of course we can talk about peace and we can talk about not doing. But no, no, no, we do a lot. And the doing is what gives us so much energy and aspiration. But to do in the light of spirituality is first we have to know how to be, because it’s the being that enforces the doing with the deep impact that we would like to seamlessly offer in the present moment that has a continuous live stream of continuation of body, speech and mind. So that’s why when we first come to the monastery or a retreat, you know, we have to come back to fundamental practice. We have to come to learning to arrive and be at home in our body, at home in the present moment. Because only by being at home in the present moment can we really feel alive. And it can inform us of how we are being, how we are living. And by this we have a new way of seeing and a new way of doing so that our doing is not a mechanic, is not autopilot, is not in order to just arrive at the future and we are ready to forsake the present moment and not be alive, not be in the here and now and connected to the wonders of the present moment in the doing. So, first of all, my practice as a brother, as a monk, as also a doer is always coming back and checking with myself. What is the energy that is present in my being right here, right now? How was my sleep? How was my day yesterday? What energies am I carrying right now and how will that impact my team? My organizing team, my mentor mentee groups, my meetings that I’m facilitating. Because in the being it is channeling the doing. Right? So that’s why these moments of how do you apply this practice is like you have to come home and connect with yourself. What energies are coming up by listening to somebody share a viewpoint? You know, sometimes I listen and I’m just like so emotional and I just want to cuss, I’m just like, you have no idea what you’re saying. But of course, if I… Sorry. Yeah. Monks are human beings. So still practicing, still transforming our energies and of course, I don’t say… I keep it in here and I’m not going to say it because that will become action. And I’m going to transform that view and that energy in the present moment so that that my being is transforming. And I’m not going to contribute to this culture of aggression. So I’m here. I’m practicing. I’m engaging with my own energies, my own thoughts, my own reaction, and I’m transforming and I’m still listening with my whole being. And I’m like, ah, you’re angry, you are upset. You… I am emotional. And I’m going to care for that. I’m going to be present as I am listening, as I’m continuing to be doing. So by the presence is fundamental. But this is what you carry wherever you go. So, on a daily basis, even when you’re a Zen master like our teacher, every day you still have to cultivate your sense of being. We…. Our goal in life is to be more alive, is to be more present is to be more loving, is to be more compassionate, be more kinder in order to show up at our workplace, at the challenges, at the difficulty that life gives us. But our way of doing is different. And our well-being, that’s what shifts the system. That’s what shifts the culture. And when you have anger, anger can be a bell of mindfulness that tells us we see injustice, we see the suffering. And we can be with the anger. And the anger becomes a voice for us, to have empathy, to have compassion. Because compassion can also come from anger sometimes. It can come from what we’re seeing because it tells us that this is wrong. But in the being, in that moment, is if we allow anger to always be there and not transform, and not channel it to another energy, then we will become exactly that outer energy that have made us angry. So this practice is so deep and it’s so transformative of the three times of our ancestral lineage that we’re transforming as well as we are teaching in that moment. So there’s many bodies, like I mentioned, cosmic body, but our human body is a teaching body also. There’s an awakened body that we can bring up. We all have the nature of awakened, of enlightenment inside each and every one of us. So we can bring that body into the workspace, into the difficult situation and knowing that how we are going to react, how we are going to interact, how are we interacting, is it… Are we going to fight? Or are we freezing? Or are we going to run away? And all of this becomes a teaching moment to a whole generation. But if we be, and we know how to care for us, we have an anchor, we are calling the emotions. We’re using our ray of mindfulness to shine into this exact moment, into our own self and the situation around us. And we will have insight in order to know I need to act. But how am I acting? Is it coming from love? And do not think that we cannot be fast and we cannot be engaging strong in our action. But it’s how we are doing it. And do not also think that being soft is a weakness. I think sometimes being soft is the strongest impact. It’s almost like sometimes the silence is the loudest noise. The silence is the most powerful ambiance that we are offering in that moment. And so why not be soft? Why not be kinder? Because that softness and that kinder is very loud in a moment of big aggression, the kindness, the softness becomes a louder action because it is showing our humanity. It is showing our heart of love.


Beautiful, brother. Thank you. And, so I just want to come, because what I’m enjoying about what you’re saying is that, you know, often in our thoughts that all we’re bringing to work is our sort of actions and the way our mind is and our intellect. But actually we’re bringing all of our emotions and as you say, we’re bringing our physical body because that shows many signs of how we are on and that is also a sort of received by people in a very powerful way. So we’re bringing our thoughts into our work. We bring our emotions into work, bring our physical body. But you were saying we bring our cosmic body to work. And I’m just wondering, what does it mean to bring our cosmic body to work? How can we be aware of that? And what does that actually mean? Because what I hear you say it’s very helpful to expand our sense of who actually is showing up to work. There’s the part of us we think is showing up, and actually there are many other parts of us showing up.


Yeah, let me just go down the list real quick and then we can explore a little bit of the cosmic body.


Beautiful. Thank you.


So our teacher, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in one of his later book called the Art of Living, he writes on this that we have, we can see ourselves more than just this body. And that is also the insight that we are not just this particular self, we’re made of so many other bodies and conditions, and so is to touch our own interbeing nature inside of us. And interbeing it means that we cannot be by ourself. We can only interbe, therefore we are here. And the first body is the human body. We learn to care for it. We learn to be attentive to it. We learn to accept it. We learn to celebrate our body in whatever shape and form. And then we have a Buddha body. And this is important for us who are Buddhists, who sometimes we think like the Buddha is the ultimate teacher and we have also allowed our thoughts and our views to allow the Buddha to become a god. But the Buddha never wanted to be seen as that. And Buddha means awakened, an awakened person. And Buddha put awakening, all of us, we have that. And our teacher emphasizes on this again and again and again, because Buddhism is a path for becoming an awakened being that is, that has deep connection and has love inside of our own hearts. And the freedom that we get to be as a human being and to not be caught in boxes that we create for each other. And so our teacher emphasizes that all of us, we have a Buddha body. We have awakening inside of us. We just have to cultivate it. And there are moments that we’re not a Buddha. It’s okay. But remember that we have Buddha nature inside of us. And then to celebrate and to support that Buddha body we have a spiritual practice body. We have the responsibility to care for our spiritual dimension. And we don’t have to be religious to understand that we all have a spiritual connection. When we’re connected to Mother Earth is very spiritual. When we’re connected to the mountain, we can have a very spiritual moment with the mountains, the rivers, the tree, the ocean. And so the spiritual body allows us to be so deeply connected. And it humbles us that as a human being, I’m not the best. And there’s so much more condition that is out there supporting my life. And so the spirituality is an important element and an important foundation that we all have to invest in as well as celebrate and embrace and cultivate because it informs us of our awareness and our attention of how we are taking care of ourselves as well as the ones we love and the beyond. And then to support our spiritual body, we have a community body. So we have celebrated a lot individualism and, you know, success as an individual. But our teacher and the wisdom of the Buddha has saying that, no, we need community. We need support. We need friendship. We need those to tell us that we’re walking down a path of suffering to remind us, do not go there. So community becomes mirrors, become support. And in true friendship, we’re able to tell and to shared the most difficult and painful reflections in order so that we don’t walk down a path of suffering. And as we know, we’ve been learning, and I’ve learned so much from… when we’re looking at animals and looking at nature, how the roots of trees are deeply interconnected and nourishing one another, as well as when animals, they move together, they hunt together. It’s more impactful. Right? As well as we, as human beings, our nature is actually community. It’s only later that we’ve built, you know, all these boxes, that we’ve lost that touch and that wisdom. And then our body outside the body. Wow. That’s… I mean, we can go, like, for a few Dharma talks on, on the next four. So our body outside the body and I think I’ve touched on that already is the… that is more than us that is here. Our continuation body, and we speak a lot on this in Buddhism to understand that every action has continuation, and then to also know that we are a stream, we are a part of a stream of ancestral lineage, spiritual as well as genetic, and then of land continuation and environment, because we are also part of the environment, we’re not… The environment is not outside of us, and then we are separate, but we’re also a continuation of Gaia, of Mother Earth. And to have that deep understanding, we can feel less alone as well as we have the insight of responsibility. What is our continuation of every action that we are contributing and of what we are cultivating? And then arrives at our cosmic body. And then I just want to lean just… And then our ultimate body. And because in the cosmic body, we’re going to have the ultimate body, but we can go on on this or it becomes a four hour episode, but a cosmic body I think it embraces everything that I’ve just shared.


Yay! We’ve got there.


We’ve arrived there finally, because we had to talk about the other bodies in order to understand that we are the cosmos. And Thay has this calligraphy that, you know, that really informs us of deep interbeing. The piece of bread in your hands is the body of the whole cosmos. And that is for us to have a deep understanding that this piece of bread didn’t just come from nowhere, nothing. It’s all of this lifetime of the existence of time and space. And it’s a miracle to have this piece of bread. So be grateful. Hold it with gratitude. Hold it with reverence. Eat it with gratitude. Eat it with reverence. And now, looking back, at each and every one of us, we are more than this body. We also embody a whole cosmos. And this can inform us of so much. This can inform us that we can start to accept maybe not this physical body, but we can accept this cosmic body that can help us accept this physical body, can accept this continuation body. Because maybe our ancestors were not the greatest and they have created so much pain and harm. And so therefore we carry this pain and harm and we carry the suffering. But if we can see that we are also this cosmic body that is beyond time and space, we can touch the spiritual foundation in this cosmic body, and then we can touch the ancestral body, the community body, the Buddha body, then the human body. Then we’re also the ultimate body. It just allows us to connect deeper to ourselves in a way that allows us to not be caught in just this present moment. And I think, a lot of us who have shame with the body and shame with being alive, this can help us be free. And live deeply.


So, brother, this is very helpful in many ways. And what comes to mind, we so rarely think in these terms. So, a lot of, you know, there was someone I was coaching yesterday who said they were embarrassed. They devote all their time to their work and all their energy to their work and commitment to their work. And there’s so many people whose work dominates their lives. And I think what you just said is really helpful because shows such a breadth of actually is not just our mind that’s coming to work. It’s actually, there’s so much that is coming to work with us and that if we actually were to integrate all of that into our understanding that we would be unable to see work in the same narrow way as we currently do. And the reason work seems to dominate our lives is because actually we have a very narrow view of what life is all about. And so work becomes a very easy place for us to focus all of our attention. So I think that is brilliant, because I think if I were a younger man recognizing I was bringing my cosmic body to work with me alongside all these other bodies, that that would have given me a different relationship to myself into the work I do.


You are still a young man, Jo. Just putting it out there.


Thank you, Phap Huu. That’s very kind. I’m young at heart.


You’re young, you’re very young to the cosmos.


And brother, a couple of other things. I want to talk about doing the difference between doing what we love and doing what we’re good at. And I recognize this is with a big proviso, as you said, that sometimes there are many people in this world who are forced into taking on jobs that do not serve them well or may not serve society well, but that they need to put food on their table and they don’t necessarily have choices that other people have. So that is completely understood. And also there are people able to make choices. I learned, well, there was a moment where I was thinking of leaving the Guardian and had been offered a job with a large sustainability consultancy, how to act, whether to take this job or not. And I went to see the person who trained me up as a coach, and he sent me to the person who trained him up as a coach, and I met him on the North Terminal, Gatwick Airport in the Costa Coffee Bar. And I don’t remember much about that conversation, but I just remember one thing, actually, and he said, it’s really important at times like these that you know the difference between what you’re good at and what you love doing, because most of us fall into the trap that we take on roles because we’ve had experience of doing them, because we’re just used to doing that work, but often it’s not work we love. When I looked at the opportunity in the eye of leaving the Guardian, I realized that I loved the Guardian and that the other job I could have done, but it wouldn’t have brought me happiness. And that was partly because it came to the final point and I asked the question. I said, well, you know, actually, I currently do a four day week at the Guardian and I’d like to just talk about my work life balance. And I know the boss of the company said, well, there isn’t work life balance, there’s just work. And I thought, wow, you know, that is not going to bring my happiness. And there was another example for the Daily Telegraph in New York, over 35 years ago. And I was coming back to the UK and I had an offer either to go to a Sunday newspaper, it was actually the Sunday Express, sort of the job offer had a lot of stages, it was head of the business and finance section, it was head of the foreign affairs section, it was head of this section. It was a very senior position. Or there was a job at the Guardian, which was actually at a slightly lower level than I had been working with before I left for New York. And everybody was telling me, you know, you’d be mad not to take the job at the Sunday Express. And actually, why go to the Guardian? And actually, I remember flying back from London to New York and on the plane realizing actually, you know, the worst thing to do is make a decision based on status. And actually, where would I be happiest? And I knew that where I’d be happiest was at the Guardian. Because actually it was a place where I could give myself fully to it. The values were attuned. The sort of work I would do was, you know, I could commit to. So all that said, there is a big difference between going after status, going after approval, and being in touch with the things that we love the most. And I just wanted to sort of ask you a little bit about, you know, how you see that difference, how do we connect to what we love and resist the sort of the temptations of status and money and well, I’ve got the qualifications, so I should just do it?


There’s so many ways I can go in this. So I’m just trying to, like, I’m just trying to, like, check in with myself because, you know, I also had that question for my own career as a monk. And when I use the word career as a monk, for me, I stopped using that word a lot, even though sometimes in the Buddhist literature, the path of practice will become my whole career, but then the word career for me becomes a job and then it stimulates also the desire for position, the desire for recognition, the desire for power, etc. and etc.. And understanding that the insight of interbeing becomes very liberating in our training for this, because our teacher uses the image of a body and he says, each one of you in this community are cells in this body, and a body can only function healthy and well and active when all the cells are in harmony. And the cells love to offer its energy, its capacity in this understanding of its time, of what it can do. And it can also learn to accept its role and responsibility and love it, as well as knowing the impermanence nature of the body and of the cell. It also will grow and change and know how to adapt and how to be fully in its present moment. And so all of this is to say that this is why I like, I love our practice because it’s so practical is at the present moment. It’s like you have to know in this present moment what is your skill set? What is your greatest offering? What can I do now that is having a contribution to my community, my loved ones and then my own self in this moment. It’s like it took me a very long time to also love being an abbot, love being a facilitator. But then I was like, dude, I’m really good at this. Like I… And then I learned to celebrate it, right? It’s not then just a career, it’s not just then a job or is, I’m not caught by the label, but I can dance so well in this position, and I can move so well, and I can breathe through it so easily, and I can see the joy and the energy that we’re able to produce when these meetings can flow so beautifully, when there is real communication and there is listening happening. And so suddenly, I see myself, you know, in this moment. I’m good at this. And I’m going to celebrate it. I’m going to know that I’m good at this and I’m going to offer this. I’m going to serve from the heart in this talent that I have, in the skillfulness that I have. And so the doing, the loving, the being, they all become one then. And then there’s freedom there. Right? And then when there’s freedom and there’s love and there’s doing, there’s impact, there’s a celebration, that my view towards it changes. And then there’s moments in the community like monastic retreat. I’m like, put me in the cooking team. Let me just wash pots because that’s also, that was part of my training. That that was also from my humbling upbringing, that has informed me who I am. And I don’t ever want to forget that. And there are moments when I’m…. put me up for toilets, let me clean the toilets. You know, there were times when we had the dry toilets in Upper Hamlet and one of our new toilet blocks was being constructed, and the dry toilet means, like, you know, every day you have to take it out, you know, put it in the earth, put sawdust, you know, let the transformation of it have its process. And not many people were enjoying that, but I was like, dude, I’m in. I’m one of the members that like believed in this dry toilet system during that time. And I’m going to enjoy doing this because that was the present moment of what we needed. So even though I had aspirations, deep aspiration, it’s like, I know I’m not going to always be in the toilet. And I wanted to learn to also be a goodDdharma teacher and a good brother. But in that moment, I’m not being, I’m not being pushed away by my own thoughts of what the world has informed me. This is a low position, etc. etc. etc.. And you beat up yourself and you become angry, you become depressed because of what you’re not allowing yourself to arrive at, etc. etc.. So the doing, I’ve been so lucky like I’ve done almost every responsibility in Plum Village. Like we have… If you ever come to Plum Village and you can look at our list of responsibilities, I’ve done almost everything. The only one that I haven’t done is sound system in the community. But then through this dance and this thread, you also challenge, and you get to open yourself up to all these different roles. And then you also get to see where you can offer the most. And in Plum Village, you know, our teacher, he told the monks and nuns, he said, be free from this idea that you can only offer and have impact after ten years or 15 years or 20 years as a monk. The moment you are practitioner, whether you’re a monastic or not, the moment you’re practicing mindfulness, you’re contributing already. There’s impact already. Learn to be humble, to be open. But also as a member of the community, you have to know your responsibility. You can always use that humble card and not have responsibility and say, oh, you know, I just want to be humble. I just want to sweep the ground. It’s like, my brother, you’re an elder. We need to be an elder, to really practice and to be there to listen and to support us. And so it’s… I love this question because, and I love this deep looking at this livelihood, even from myself as a monastic, in the doing, like I’m embracing this busy Phap Huu because I’m thriving right now. Like I feel the busyness is a source of energy and it’s a source of offering too. And I can only be young for a period in my life. And then this can be a moment when it’s going to be different, and I’m going to have to embrace that difference. And knowing that position and knowing where my cell is growing into the body where I have to give. Right? So it’s a continuous deep looking. And part of it is like what you said, Jo, but I’m loving this and it’s not to be… This is when you have freedom. I’m loving this, I can be busy, I can be running, and then I can be very still. And I can laugh and joke at when I was angry and when I was upset. And I learned to just go and say sorry, I learned to be better the next day. And that makes life very beautiful, very dynamic and colorful. And I always joke with you, Jo, and you always say this and you always ask me, Phap Huu, what’s going on in the monastery? And I tell you and you always say, never a boring day in the monastery. I’m like, yeah, there’s 150 characteristics in our community, and to dance and to be and to do, sit and go up and down with all of these characteristics. It’s a great joy. And we’re not looking for a perfect body. We’re not looking for a perfect system. We’re not looking for a perfect community. And this is where there’s perfect in the imperfection. I can only be imperfect. And that is equally beautiful and wonderful. And feeling this wholeness of imperfection. Yeah.


Beautiful, brother. And I remember once when I interviewed Thich Nhat Hanh and I said to him, I said, Thay, to be really honest with you, I come here because of you. You know, because you’ve been through wars, you’ve had… you know, through this deep pain you have found an extraordinary path. I trust you because you’re going through, you’ve been through this process and come out the other side of that, you know, the way out is in. And I said, but why would I want to listen to these young monks who come to Plum Village and haven’t been that long in practice, you know, what have they got to offer? And Thay looked at me and said, whatever happens outside of the monastery also happens inside of the monastery. Brother, I’ve had a very big smile on my face while you’ve been talking. And part of the reason is because I feel exactly the same way. Because, you know, with my coaching work, you know, someone said to me, you know, do you feel depressed at the end of the day when you just listen to people’s problems? I said, no, I actually feel revived. I love the fact that I can be in deep connection and conversation with someone, and that person can bring up, you know, the most difficult issues they’re facing, and that I don’t feel it’s depressing and I don’t feel, oh my God, there’s no hope. And I don’t feel, oh my God, you know, is there any possibility of change? Because I can see within that person always the capacity for change. I can see with that person all the capacity to be beautiful. I can see within that person all the capacity to know deeply what it is that they can change and how that will affect them. Because the problem is that most people just don’t see how beautiful they are. You know, I can have someone who comes full of problems, and all I say is, I hear that and I recognize it, and I see the patterns that have created that and the depth of their kindness, the depth of their intuition, the depth of their wish to serve, etc., etc. And I’m just wondering if that is similar to you, because obviously when people come to Plum Village, they normally come because of their suffering normally. Some people will come because of an aspiration, but a lot of people, they suffer deeply. And I could imagine that constant suffering within the community could easily bring everyone down, but it doesn’t seem to. And I’m just wondering if there’s a similar experience amongst, you know, with you and the monastics about just when you hear someone’s pain is that you see beyond, something else?


I think, well, we’ve been trained to listen. Right? To listen to our own suffering. And sometimes it’s easier to generate compassion and kindness when we listen to other people’s suffering. So the listening of suffering, it just becomes this wonderful bridge of connection and feeling that we all go through suffering. We all have our ups and downs and it breaks… it helps us be free from this idea of like I’m going to train, even I’m going to be a meditator to never suffer again. I’m just like, mmm, you don’t really understand it because we’re always going to suffer. But how do we take care of our suffering and how do we practice with our suffering? And so when I listen to a lot of the suffering, it just, I feel more connected, actually. And I feel a lot of compassion and it informs me and it helps me practice more. And sometimes friends come with big questions and I don’t know the answer, but what I can do is just, that sucks, thank you for sharing. And I feel that pain. And let’s breathe with this and allow the Buddha body, the Buddha nature to cultivate an understanding and then find a way forward. You know, so it’s… When there is a practice of channeling is very important. Right? It’s like, yes, listening to the suffering is a big part of our practice, but there are other elements in our practice that it’s very important, that we are cultivating also. So, you know, we talked about a lot of spirituality and practicing and doing, but there’s also an element of the joy that we have to bring alive in our daily life. And the joy here, there’s many layers to looking at it. Yes, there are moments like, literally joy of just going to a park and sitting on a swing and being in touch with our child energy inside of us. And then just the remembrance of the wonder of life that is there, and to not lose touch of that, to not lose touch of the beauty of a connection, of a tree, of being able to play the guitar and sing, being able to, you know, cook a meal and just know that I am taking care of myself and being grateful for all the farmers, being grateful to all of the workers that have, you know, even packaged these cherry tomatoes for them to arrive at my house like, wow. You know, it’s just to not lose touch of that. So, there’s an element of also cultivating all these other qualities in order to continue to embrace the suffering and in order to continue to do this service. So our teachers also says, in the livelihood, don’t just think of the doing, but also think of the being in the element of also enjoying life, playing, having the time to celebrate the happiness that are present and then also embracing the openness to continue to learn, continue to study, continue to be curious of the world, be curious of oneself, be curious of a partner, be curious about our ancestors. And then the joy of practice, you know, and then the the doing of practice, the being of practice, the learning of practice. Yeah.


Beautiful. Thank you, brother. So this feels like a good moment to stop. And we have a tradition, not always, but sometimes to end with a short guided meditation so that people can let go of everything they’ve heard. If we can just come back to the present moment and, I don’t know if you have the capacity today to offer us a short meditation just before we end.


Of course. It’s time to be, people. So let us come back and enjoy a moment of practice together. So, dear friends, wherever you may be, if you’re sitting on a bus, sitting on an airplane, on a train, on a commute. If you’re going for a jog, going on a walk, doing the chores, whatever you may be doing, I invite you to be still, whether that is sitting or standing or laying down, and just start to beautifully celebrate your breath. Connect to that breath that is present for yourself. As you breathe in, know this is an inbreath. As you breathe out, know this is an outbreath. Let the breath be. It knows how to be. You don’t have to do the breathing. The breathing is there. If your breath is long, let it be long. If your breath is short, let it be short. As you breathe in, celebrate your inbreath. As you breathe out, celebrate your outbreath. In. Out. As you breathe in, become aware of your body. As you breathe out, relax the whole body. Allow your body to be there, to be present, to release any of the tension that has built up this tenderness, this love that we offer to our body allows us to be more in touch with the present moment. Breathing in. Aware. Feeling the body. Breathing out. Releasing the tension in the body. Breathing in. I smile to life. Breathing out. I celebrate this life. In. Life. Out. Celebrate. Breathing in. I care for my spiritual body. Breathing out. I cultivate presence. Stillness. Love. In this moment, empowering my spiritual body. Breathing in, I smile to my cosmic body. Breathing out, I am vast. I am open. I am spacious.


Thank you, dear friends, for practicing with us and for listening.


So dear friends, we hope you have found some value and enjoyed this episode. If you have and want to know more, you can find all the previous episodes of our podcast on the Plum Village App and also on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and all other podcast platforms.


You can also find all previous guided meditation in the On the Go section of the Plum Village App. The podcast is co-produced with 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, please go to and we want to thank our friends and collaborators. Our dear friend Clay, aka The Podfather, and co-producer. Our other Joe, our audio editing. Anca, our show notes and publishing. Jasmine and Cyndee, our social media guardian angels. And to all of you for listening and supporting us.


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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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