Graphic #2_Ep 67

The Way Out Is In / Stepping into Freedom – Live Recording with Q&A Session (Episode #67)

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 67 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.

This inaugural live recording of the podcast was made in London, England, on April 5th, 2024, before a sold-out audience of more than 400 people. For the first half of this episode, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach/journalist Jo Confino explore what it means to step into freedom in the light of Buddhist teachings, drawing on insights from the life and teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, and including much needed practical steps which can be applied to our daily lives. Their conversation touches upon the pressure of perfection; layers of freedom; the best time to make a decision; experiencing gratitude; true happiness; vulnerability as an expression of love; working with the feeling of ‘not enough’; and much more.

The second half of the episode consists of a live question-and-answer session, with questions from the audience covering a wide range of topics: ways to embrace suffering; compassionate sharing; ending wars by cultivating peace; the joy of missing out; cultivating aspirations; empathy and mindfulness; and more.  

And this time you can even enjoy two short meditations guided by Brother Phap Huu.

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 


Stepping into Freedom: An Introduction to Monastic Buddhist Training 

‘Cong Phu Journal – Everything You Need to Know About the Practice Notebook’

Old Path White Clouds: Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha 

Rains Retreat 

Christiana Figueres 

Dalai Lama 

World Wildlife Fund


“We’re all looking to feel free, to be ourselves, to find happiness, to be recognized, to love and be loved. It’s at the core of our deepest aspiration in life. And yet, oftentimes, we don’t feel like that. We feel disturbed in our mind; we suffer from anger or frustration; we’re too busy; we have many obligations in our lives; we’re constantly bombarded with news and social media. And so we experience a dissonance between this wish to be free and our everyday lives.”

“Practicing mindfulness is, first, a practice of mere recognition, to call our habits by their name and to recognize the sources of energy that emerge in us. That, already, is the first step towards freedom. And freedom is a continuous energy and a continuous insight that we are cultivating. Thich Nhat Hanh was very firm when he said we all have the ability to have freedom, but here freedom doesn’t come from outside in, but is what we cultivate from the inside.” 

“Thay wasn’t ever using the war to affirm who he was. He was free from that. And that is something that I still aspire to walk towards. And when we talk about cultivating, it is very practical; it’s not just a mindset. Mindset is like a will – but, for us, aspiration has to go alongside action. So, very concretely, in the Plum Village tradition of Buddhist practice, in all of our Dharma, we have to engage in everyday life.” 

“Thich Nhat Hanh was once asked, ‘What’s the difference between Buddhism and engaged Buddhism?’ And he said, ‘If Buddhism is not engaged, it’s not really Buddhism. That’s just philosophy.’”

“I practice to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion. That is a choice we have. So, if we recognize this glimmer of life, this glimmer of a moment that we can make into a moment of freedom, we have freedom. And then we don’t just stop there; Engaged Buddhism is a continuous journey.” 

“Smiling is an act of peace.” 

“Why are we meditating? It’s not to run away; meditating is to be present. And if we allow ourselves to be truly present, we start to see ourselves more clearly; we get to identify the energies that pull us away from our freedom.” 

“Each and every one of us is a flower in the garden of humanity. And a garden that is very diverse is beautiful; it’s colorful and it offers its uniqueness, its different cultures, its different understandings.”


Dear friends, welcome to the latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is In. And today we are presenting the inaugural live podcast that we recorded in London before a sell out audience of more than 400 people. And, we chose the topic stepping into freedom, and it was just such a lovely event because normally Phap Huu and I are recording in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Sitting Still hut in Plum Village, and it’s just the two of us with a sound engineer looking out over the forest. And this time we were in a packed hall in central London, and it was just so wonderful to interact with a live audience. And half of it is around talking about what it means to step into freedom. But more importantly, we left half of the episode for live question and answers. And we hope that in the questions that you also see yourselves and can learn something as we both did. We hope that you enjoy this episode, and soon we’ll be returning to our normal schedule, sitting in the Sitting Still hut, looking out over the forest, being quiet and being peaceful.


The way out is in.


So, dear friends, welcome to the inaugural live recording of the podcast. The Way Out Is In. I am Jo Confino. I work at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.


And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plum Village tradition. And dear friends, to begin, I would like to invite all of you to breathe together with the two of us. So allow ourselves to just relax our shoulders, having our feet firmly on the ground, resting our hands, our arms. There’s nothing to do, nowhere to go. And just be mindful of our body weighted, seated on the chair. Don’t think about the breath, just feel the breath. As you breathe in, I know this is an inbreath. As I breathe out, I notice this is an outbreath. Inbreath. Outbreath. Breathing in, I fully take refuge in my inbreath. From the beginning to the end. Breathing out, fully one with outbreath. From the beginning to the end. Breathing in, connected to my body. Breathing out, connected to this community. In, body. Out, community. Thank you so much, dear friends, for breathing together.


Thank you, brother. That’s calmed my nerves. So the practice does work. And they’re laughing at my jokes already. So, brother, normally we record our podcasts in the Sitting Still hut, which is the tiny wooden hut of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in Plum Village. And it’s in the middle of the forest so we look out over the beautiful Dordogne countryside. And it’s just the two of us. And it’s… Now we are on the road, we’re in London. We’re in front of a sellout audience of more than 400 people in central London. How does that feel? And why is that important? Do we care?


It feels so wonderful just to be in the presence of so many people. I feel very honored, to be honest. And, I was nervous, but, as I heard Thay’s voice, the way out is in, just coming back to the present moment. And there’s nothing to be afraid of.


Yeah, great. So, when we were invited to come to London, we were asked what topic to do on to choose. And straight up in my mind came stepping into freedom. And you, in a very Zen way, just smiled at me and I took that to be yes. And it’s too late to change our mind. But, when I think about it, the reason that just came straight to mind, because I think that’s so much at the core of what we’re all looking for. We’re all looking to feel free, to be ourselves, to find happiness, to be recognized, to love and be loved. It’s like at the core of our deepest aspiration in life. And yet, often times we don’t feel like that. We feel disturbed in our mind, we will be suffering from whether it’s anger or frustration. We’re too busy. We have all our obligations of life. We’re constantly bombarded with news and social media. And so we have this real dissonance between this wish to be free and our everyday lives. So I think it’d be really good this evening just to explore that, explore… So that we sort of, in a sense, connect people’s everyday lives with the practice of how we’d be free. So, in the light of the Buddhist teachings and also of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, it’d be great to start off with just saying what is freedom from this perspective of Buddhism?


When I started to be trained as an aspirant, an aspirant is somebody who has the aspiration to be a monk or a nun. We are given a book, and the book is called Stepping into Freedom. And the practice of mindfulness is at the core to touch our inner freedom. And freedom is always freedom of what? Just like when we practice mindfulness. I know mindfulness now is a very popular buzz word and everybody like wants a certificate of mindfulness. So I had a friend who came to a retreat for eight days and she keep asking me, where’s my certificate? And I said, you’re not free yet. You got to come back only when you are free I’ll give you a certificate.


Sounds a bit like a cult to me.


And part of the practice of mindfulness is to touch inner freedom. When we speak about freedom, our teacher always relate it to true happiness. For Thay, happiness has to have the layer of freedom in it. And happiness is to be alive. Happiness is to know that I have a body. I can feel my body, I have aspiration, I have things that I need to do for myself, for my family, for my community, for everyone that I love and for the world. But the foundation of our action, where is the energy coming from? So when we don’t practice, we have many sets of habitual energies that we have received. When we are born into this life, we have a whole package of seeds that we inherit. Seed here is like emotions, feelings. And some of them, they are from our parents, from our ancestors, from our parents’ love. We are taught love the moment we manifest. But then we are also inheriting their pain and their suffering, their experience. And when we are living, we may not even know why we have a particular tendency. So mindfulness, to practice, is first just a practice of mere recognition, to call our habits by its name and to recognize what are the sources of energy that comes in us. And that already is the first step towards freedom. And freedom is a continuous energy and a continuous insight that we are cultivating. And our teacher is very firm when he said we all have the ability to have freedom, but here the freedom is not from outside in, but the freedom is what we cultivate from inside out. And I believe him, and I trust him because he went through so much suffering. If any of us have dived into the history of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, he went through two very intense war, the French colonization and then the American War or the Vietnam War. But in Vietnam, we call it the American War. And he had to embrace all the pain, all the suffering. And he could have been trapped by all that pain and suffering. But I remember my first time meeting him in 1996. I was just eight years old, my dad took me to Plum Village for the first time, and I remember Thay walking into the hall and everybody stood up to welcome him. And just his steps. As an eight year old boy, I was like, this man is free. Like his steps, it was almost like he’s floating. And later on, I read more about him before he was my teacher. And in my head I said, if anybody can be angry, he should be angry, because he was exiled from his own country. If anybody who should be suffering and in pain, it’s him. A lot of his own students were killed unjustly. And there’s still so much pain and suffering that is represented in the next generation that he is embracing and caring for. But here, he can smile. He can still generate love. He can still be so present and not be attached to the war. He wasn’t ever using the war to affirm who he is. He was free from that. And that is something that I still aspire to walk towards. And when we talk about cultivating is very practical. It’s not just a mindset. Mindset is like a will. But for us, aspiration has to go along with action. So very concretely, in the Plum Village tradition of Buddhist practice, all of our Dharma, we have to engage it in everyday life. Our teacher was once asked, what’s the difference between Buddhism and engaged Buddhism? And he said, If Buddhism is not engage, it’s not really Buddhism. That’s just philosophy. And he once said this, not to tickle any philosophers in this hall, but he said, I blamed the philosophers for making Buddhism more complicated. But freedom is not a notion. It’s not an intellect only, but it is something to realize in each and every one of us. We take an example. We all have a routine in the morning, how we wake up, whether we reach for the phone right away or we take the first step and we realize as we get up of our bed and we realize waking up this morning, I have 24 brand new hours. And I practice to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion. That is a choice we have. So if we recognize this glimmer of life, this glimmer of a moment that we can make it into a moment of freedom, we have freedom. And then we don’t just stop there. It’s a continuous journey for us, engaged Buddhism. It’s wonderful to have the ability to have moments of sitting in stillness, 30 minute, 45 minute or even ten minutes. But if we don’t have that pleasure, even just seven minutes with a cup of tea, can we truly just have that cup of tea. Can we just be? That is the freedom that we are cultivating here. And it sounds very simple, but to apply it on a daily basis, it’s a whole determination as well as diligence, and that can also replace different habits. So in our practice of mindfulness, freedom is to be free from the energies that are pulling us towards the past, and energies that are pushing us towards the future, but also energy that keeps us floating around in the present and to have an anchor to ground ourselves. And we are all allowed to think. I know there is sometimes a view that, you know, Zen meditation, we don’t think, and we are only in the now. And Plum Village practice is only about smiling. But why not? Why not? Why not smile? Smile is…. Thay once said this, smiling is already an act of peace. And I’ve walked the streets of London. I smiled to everyone. Some people didn’t know what to do. There’s like, What does this monk want from me? And there was this particular person just kept staring at me. So I went and I just smiled back, and it shocked the person. But there are, for me, it’s just like to have this freedom, to be able to walk freely in the street of London has been 22 years of practice. I had a lot of complexes growing up and adorning myself with disrobe and shaving my head and walking this path. Sometimes we call it, we are going against the stream, the stream of the norms. Right? And we, as monastics, we give up our possessions or our aspiration to have a job, a family, etc. but we are seeking a deep freedom in our action. And when I was still a novice, I, whenever I walked the streets of Bergerac or Sainte-Foy-la-Grande, I felt very, very afraid. So I wasn’t free because I was so scared of people’s perception about me. And so in the practice we start to see our own inner fears. And so the present moment allows me to touch the inferiority complex. I’m in fear in this inferiority complex. And how do I liberate myself from this? And that’s a journey that I have to take and the courage I have to give myself to embrace, to recognize, to hold and to be authentic. And the freedom here is to give us also authenticity. We can find ourselves at a conference, which I was just at a conference in Paris. It’s the first time I had to represent the community to give a keynote speech. So there was so much pressure that I gave myself. And the moment I recognized, just be you. Just go up there and flip the calligraphy, just like what I did, and it’s okay. And then, when you’re up there, you just give the best you can with freedom. And then after that started to become relevant. Broter Phap Huu can you do this? Can you do that? Can you interview here? Can interview there? And a part of me was the pride, the ego, the manas was coming up, was like, oh, I can get people’s… I’m starting to gain a reputation da da ra ra. Then your mind goes on and on and on. And I was losing my freedom. So 22 years of practice. Right? Don’t think that after 22 years, you stop practicing. This is when you apply. Oh, what is manifesting? What is coming up? And I gained my freedom. I said, No, today I gave two talks already. That is enough. And you’re not allowing yourself to be pulled away, to be dragged, because we’re in it for the long run. So this is just a glimmer of my own personal practice with discovering my inner freedom. But how it connects directly to everyday practice, what we need to develop the foundation, for us to cultivate that freedom in the way we sit, in the way we are present. We speak a lot about true presence in the practice of Zen or the practice of meditation. Why are we meditating? It’s not to run away. Meditating is to be present. And if we allow ourselves to be truly present. We start to see ourselves more clearer. We get to identify the energies that pull us away from our freedom.


So thank you, brother. So I just want to pick up on one thing you said, which you said, you know, after my two talks, I know that’s enough. I’m enough. And I want to pick up on that, because in my experience, a lot of people don’t feel they’re enough. And so they’re always looking outside of themselves to grasp something that will help them to feel that they’re good enough. And I very rarely have a bath, but when I was in London, there’s hotel, and there’s a bath, and I thought, oh, I’ve got to have a bath, because actually we’re about to do a podcast. I need to think, what is freedom for me? You know, what actually is freedom? And what came up as I lay there was it’s attending to my pain. It’s actually just saying, actually, I have a lot… in my life, I had a lot of suffering and a lot of pain, and if I don’t attend to that, I’m a victim of my pain and suffering. And if I’m a victim, I am going to be looking outside of myself for something to grasp on to that says, oh, if I only do this, if I only achieve that, if only people think of this of me, then I will be enough. But we know that the way out is in. So, what is the way that we help ourselves to feel that we genuinely are enough? Because when we love ourselves that we can truly love another person, and when we don’t love ourselves, we don’t truly love, we don’t really have the presence to love another one. So how do we start to work with this feeling? I’m not enough.


That’s a big question.


I know, I just get to ask the questions. It’s great. What’s the answer?


This summer, last summer in Plum Village, I had an opportunity to sit with 60 something teenagers. And I asked them all, which one… How many of you feel like you’re never enough? And 9/10 of the room all raised their hand. And here we can see something very common, which is the ability to come home and just to look at ourselves and accept ourselves. It’s a journey inwards to understanding our own suffering. And in the understanding of our suffering, we can start to recognize that we’re also not just suffering. I know a lot of times we hear about Buddhism of suffering, suffering, suffering. But, you know, that’s the one thing that aligns and unites all of us because part of the package of being a human is suffering. But the other end, which Plum Village is also very famous for, is we talk a lot about happiness. And in our modern times, the advertisement, the social media, the things that we are told to receive in the future, it’s a promise to feel enough to feel good about ourselves, to then be embraced and recognized and so on and so on. But like many friends, even if you receive a status and you’re praised, you’re loved. But once the screen is off, and once you’re sitting on the sofa alone, you’re once again with the emptiness inside of not feeling enough. And this emptiness is not the Buddhist emptiness. So here, in our Dharma, Thay speaks about the simple joy that we can recognize in our life. I love this phrase, he said that all of us, we are a flower in the garden of humanity. Each and every one of us is a flower in the garden of humanity. And a garden that is very diverse is beautiful, it’s colorful, and it offers its uniqueness, it’s different cultures, it’s different understandings. And a lot of us, we were that fresh flower. Maybe as a child. Every time the children come to Plum Village, it just gives this life force of youth and freshness. And a lot of us, we forget to tend our own garden. And we forget to tend the flower that is present in us, and we allow the demand and the expectation to remove us from the simple joy in our life. And so here, when the way out is in, we just start to come back. And it’s not about the thinking, it’s the feeling. Like you’re feeling your breath, you’re feeling that you are here. You start to look at your own life. This is a homework that you can offer yourself. What are the things that are supporting you in this moment? You start to identify them. We all were given this task as a young novice or an aspirant. We call it a Cong Phu book. And Cong Phu doesn’t mean martial arts, Cong Phu actually translates as practice. And even martial arts is a daily practice. So meditation is a daily practice. Recognizing our inner happiness is a practice. And the first step in meditation is to see that we are enough. Sometimes we just have to say it. When I would walk the streets and these nerves would kick in, and I start to understand my habit, I look down, I don’t want to look at anybody’s face. And I would tell myself, it’s your right to look up. You have the right to look at people. And you even have the right to smile. So these trainings are very simple. But they start to become my own strength. It’s a foundation of freedom that I am building for myself. And as we start to come home to ourselves, not only do we touch the flowers in us, but we also start to see the weeds. We start to see the dead leaves, or the dead flowers that are in our own garden. But our art as a meditator is we don’t look at compost as something negative, but we look at it as an ingredient to keep tending and nourishing the field, the grounds. And so if we are able to cultivate and care for our joy and happiness, now we will also receive the ability to look at our suffering, and not to be afraid of our suffering. And to really start to accept it and see that this is also a part of me. And that already is freedom. When you start to accept all, these are some of the suffering that I have received, and these are some of the suffering that I have created. But in this present moment which embraces the past, which the present moment, it is building and cultivating the future, you have an opportunity. This is the key to freedom. The key to the present moment. This year, the monastics in the Rains Retreat, we were relearning our teacher’s teaching on ethics because our practice, a practice also has to have ethics. And he said this, he said that the practice of mindfulness is our key to free will. He said, I may be the first person to say that mindfulness is free will, because once you start to have the awareness as a foundation of your body, speech and mind, which are our three actions that we are generating and offering, they become our legacy. So our free will is to shine the light on how do we want to produce our thoughts, how we want to produce our speech, and what kind of actions are we cultivating so that it becomes an impact? So coming home, the word home here doesn’t hold us in a country, a house, but home here is the present moment. Home here is wherever you go, you can have freedom. And this is also what we called our mobile spiritual dimension. So for us, a spiritual dimension is not on a cushion. A cushion is very supportive, in a monastery is great, and we are able to cultivate this freedom. But meditation should offer us flexibility and freedom to be in all situations and still hold that freedom.


Thank you, brother. I want to come back to time, because while we talk about the present moment, we also have a life span. And in my last sort of interview with Thich Nhat Hanh, he said, if I live for another 100 years, I could focus on one of my calligraphies and still learn more and more. So mindfulness is often seen these days as a tool. And as you said, start off by saying, you know, eight days, I’m a mindfulness instructor and I’ve done it. My experience of the paht is it is a lifetime path. It’s not something that can be rushed. It’s not something that is going to happen tomorrow. It’s like a slow accumulation of wisdom. But a lot of people want instant noodles. They want it to work now, and they want it to be proof that actually this is going to help me. So, and I remember Thay, I remember once actually asking the most senior Western sister in Thay’s tradition, I said, Doesn’t Thay get bored with saying the same thing over and over again to you? And then don’t you get bored with Thay saying the same thing over again? And she said, but we keep forgetting and we need… Are we actually practicing? So I just want… Well, the present moment is here. I want to just talk about time because freedom, I want it now. But freedom is something that is generated throughout our life. So can you talk a little about that aspect of it and not that need for it to be, if it hasn’t worked after two weeks, it’s not going to ever work for me and I’ll find something else.


Yes. Deep Buddhism, which our teacher emphasized that that’s what we practice. And he said that, the teachings of the Buddha and the practice of the Buddha, of Buddhism, should be beautiful at the beginning, in the middle and in the end. What does that mean? That means even as we just start to meditate, we can already touch insight. That insight is not something that is promised 20 years later. Enlightenment is not promised 100 years later. Enlightenment is also what are we being enlightened from? What are we awakening from? And that’s why we have to understand the practice of meditation. Sometimes we, in Vietnamese and Chinese, we would call it a path, because the path is continuous. Because as long as we are alive, we’re walking this path. And there’s a lot of, I think, misunderstanding that, once you gain something, even insight in meditation, you’ve accomplished something. You’re done. And I can share with all of you that I had the greatest honor of being my teacher’s personal assistant. And I’ve watched Thay grow as a teacher. When I first came in, we were the first group of young monks and nuns. We were called the six baby monks and nuns. Very naughty, very naughty. What we would do, we would sit in a circle at meetings and we would tie the robes of our brothers to each other, so that when they stand up and turn to bow, they would pull each other. This is… Like one time we got so in trouble because of this. But we had to be, we had to live our youth. Right? We were… I was 14 years old and others were 15 and 16. And at that time, like Thay was starting to have a very large community of monastics. So his journey of a teacher was expanding and he was super strict. If you came in late for his Dharma talk, he would stop the Dharma talk and he would look at the door and say, who’s late? Announce your name. So you just want to dig a hole and hide for the next month. But through the years of him having more and more monastics, I saw his tenderness and his love and his compassion being more as his way of guiding us. And Thay was a very attentive teacher, so he would, through his bread and butter, which is awareness, he would be able to know which student needs sweetness and which student needs the Zen stick. So some students, if they’re too smart, then they will take advantage of kindness. So Thay would have to be stricter. But if some students, they’re very vulnerable, they’re very fragile, Thay would use love and kindness. And there is some in between. So Thay would be ninja mode so. But… And a part of it I got to see and understand the journey of life through my teacher. And not only did his way of training started to evolve, but also his teaching started to evolve. And if any of you wants to read a book on the Buddha’s life, I highly recommend Old Path, White Clouds, that’s a book that he handwritten himself of the life story of the Buddha. And in 2013, I was walking with him in Upper Hamlet, at the stone building, where he wrote the book. And he paused. And he said, Phap Huu, if I was to write it now, the book would be even better. Because I have learned and grown as a teacher, and because part of Buddhism is that we start to touch the inner teacher in us. And the Buddha was not a perfect human being, and one of Thay’s greatest aspiration was to make the Buddha human again. Because as Buddhism became a religion, sometimes we look at the Buddha as a god. But for us, the Buddha is a teacher. And because he suffered and transformed his suffering, all of us who are human beings, we also have Buddha nature in us and the freedom in us that we have to touch and cultivate. And this is just one example. I like to share a direct experience with Thay, which is even our teacher who has the label Zen master can even see that he can grow. He can continue to, his insight continues to flourish through direct experience. So when we talk about time and so on, the present moment allows us to be the best version of ourself in that moment. But as we continue to grow and evolve and our insights will continue to grow, and for us to not be attached to that even insight, we have to be free from that. This is a challenge. We think insight is, you know, the third training, mindfulness, concentration, insight. Why do I have to throw insight away? It’s because it’s like if we’re climbing up a staircase and if we’re at floor number six, but floor number seven is right there. You have to have the courage, and you have to have the ability to let go of what you know now, and you have to take that step to the next step. In order so new insights can grow and manifest. And the idea that we practice and we don’t suffer anymore, I was also caught in that view. And for my first years of training, my birth name was responsibility. My parents gave me that name, so I’m already a very strict person. So when I started to get training, I wanted to be perfect. And I gave myself that pressure. And by year five, I met my first crisis. I said, What the heck am I doing here? Why is my head bald? Why is my head bald? Why am I wearing this brown robe? There’s so much temptation outside. And I still have so many difficulties. It’s not working. That mind started to, that perception started to kick in very strongly. And it was the teenagers that saved me. They were the bodhisattvas that helped me overcome my crisis. And during the teen retreat that we offered, a teenager, before she left, she shared to the whole group is that whenever I have difficulties, I just can be grateful that I have monks and nuns that are my friends, and I feel already at ease. And those words became an anchor for me. I said, Phap Huu, you don’t need to think you have to be great. Just being a monk, you’re already offering somebody happiness. Simple as that. And then, you’re 16, this close to this disrobing. And at that time, the grass that is greener on the other side, my mind was so attached to that. And what happened in that moment is my own self, I blocked everybody from me. My own community from me. I closed my heart. And, luckily, one brother, he asked me, What is going on with you? And I said, Brother, it’s not working. I’m still suffering too much. And he said this, and it really woke me up, he said, It’s because you’re practicing that you can suffer. It’s because you have mindfulness that the suffering is coming at you so that you can learn to embrace it. Stop hiding from it. And in that moment when I accepted that I was suffering, and I accepted that I’m not a happy monk, my heart started to open and the two words, please help, were so hard to say. But it was those two words that opened the door of my own pride so that… Some of my brothers and sisters are here, they had tea with me, and they watered my flowers. They reminded of the goodness that is there. So when you’re going down, this rabbit hole of deep suffering, be very mindful of our pride. Be very attentive to what we are cultivating in our minds and what we are closing off to the support that can be there. And so, for me, suffering and freedom also goes together. I can be free in suffering. I can still be free while I’m suffering. And I don’t have to wait to the end of suffering to be happy. And Christiana Figueres, she once told us that, actually, this is what we have to be able to do, or else there’s no chance for our sustainability in our well-being, because we are going to embrace and meet a lot of suffering. But our responsibility, each of us, our responsibility, is still to touch the freedom and the courage that I can still smile, even in the midst of the storm.


Thank you, brother. And, you picked up on vulnerability. So I just want to focus on that in a bit because you talked about pride. Because pride is like shields up. It’s actually a defense mechanism. And vulnerability often people see as a weakness. They say is, you know, we have to show our perfect faces to the world, on social media and to others. We can’t admit to being weak or being uncertain because, actually, then people will think we’re not up to it, whatever that means. But actually vulnerability is an extraordinary power and strength. And in all the work I’ve done, and in group work, when one person shows vulnerability, it gives permission for everyone to start opening up. And so people feel freedom is actually often they mistake it for protection, that I’m more free if I’m defended, protected, I’ve got a safe space and I don’t let anyone in. But, actually, vulnerability starts to break that down. Obviously it has to be… Can’t be naivete. We have to look after ourselves. We have to create healthy boundaries, and we’ve talked about this before. But the power of vulnerability is that it shows our tenderness, shows our heart. It shows that we’re not perfect, and we accept that rather than hide it away, we offer it as a gift. I just want to sort of… Is there anything you want to pick up on? Just that the power of being open and the conditions that are necessary for that. Because one of the things in my experience of Plum Village is people come and the reason they transform in the moment we have these moments of deep understanding is because they feel safe. And when they feel safe and held, they feel at home. And when we feel at home, then we trust. And when we trust, we can be vulnerable. So the conditions need to be there to be vulnerable. But actually that is often done in community.


Yeah. Well I think you gave the answer already.


Okay. Next question.


But I think we can associate it to the practice of mindfulness.




Because awareness is to feel. Awareness is to honor what is in the present moment. And vulnerability is a part of it. Grief is a part of it. And I also learned so much from when I can be vulnerable with myself, such as when I can know that I have limits. There are things I can’t do even though I want to have all the answers, but there are moments I just, brother, please be compassionate on me, I don’t know. And leadership, I think we have this… our civilization, our times, we give it a coat as, you know, somebody who knows all the answer. Like always solid, no emotions and just action. But I think that’s such a wrong perception. And I think that that particular guard is actually just, we’re just hiding from our own self. And the more that we hide from our self, the more we will disconnect. I think vulnerability is one of the bridges that allows us to be human. It allows us to feel one another. It’s just like, if I suffer and I can share that, then you know I’m not perfect and you can accept me. And then you can also feel that we’re not alone on this path together. And so vulnerability becomes a great strength. But we shouldn’t also be attached to vulnerability. So everything… there’s a middle way. This is very important in Buddhism. The Buddha has shared that we shouldn’t be too extreme and we shouldn’t be too loose, like a musician. When we are tuning an instrument, if the string is perfectly tuned, it will play the melody it needs. But if it’s too intense, it was snap. And if it’s too loose, it would never offer anything beautiful. And so the middle way to what we apply our vulnerability, we have to shine that light also. We shouldn’t also use vulnerability to gain something also, right? So there’s always an ethics to it, a right mindfulness to it. So much later in 2014, our teacher used the term a lot right mindfulness because there is wrong mindfulness and there’s wrong concentration and it’s wrong insight. And so there is right mindfulness and there’s right concentration and right insight. So there’s also right vulnerability. But here I think that in our times vulnerability is not really giving permission to be expressed. And I think looking back at my own journey, yeah, you know, when Thay died, when our teacher passed, I think the whole community, we needed to cry. And I remember the live stream, like a lot of us were very open to our tears. And in a lot of the comments were like, aren’t you guys not supposed to feel? Wait, why are the monastics crying? Aren’t they Zen masters? Aren’t they able to control their emotions? And I think that’s also a wrong perception because we’re all humans and through vulnerability, through grieving is an expression of love. Sometimes vulnerability is an expression of love to our self. So the vulnerability is to see and feel and to also honor what needs to be there. Only when we honor it can healing take place. Can transformation be part of the journey of mindfulness.


Thank you, brother. Just to get practical for a moment. So one of the things that I think holds Plum Village together, of course, all the practices, all the trainings, and freedom is also just seeing, experiencing that a lot of gratitude, actually, because when we held tightly and we’re suffering, we think that everything’s about us. And when we have gratitude, we open ourselves up to the world. And in a sense, all the Plum Village teachings are about gratitude. And so my gratitude for the food, gratitude for each other. And I’m just wondering if you can talk a bit about, just from a practical basis, because often people are very attached to their suffering. And actually the practices are not just one practice that release us, but this sort of sense of gratitude for life that helps us to sort of open up our hearts, open up our minds, and actually see that we are interare with everyone. So given, you know, that the heart of Thay’s teachings are about interbeing, how does interbeing relate to freedom?


So if we are familiar with interbeing, we will know what it means. But if we are not familiar with interbeing, this is the insight that everything is interconnected to each other. Just like when we look at our own selves, we think we have a self, which is true. So Buddhism does a lot of contradiction, just FYI. So there is a self, but the self can touch the non self. And the non self teaches us that I cannot be here if my parents weren’t together. I cannot be here if my parents didn’t suffer and go to a retreat. And I cannot be here if none of you are here. I cannot be here without the sun, the environment, and so on and so on. So when we look deeper and deeper into our self, we can touch the deep wisdom that we are not alone, and this can also be a support for our own journey of I am enough because if you are there, everything is there. And so interbeing, when practiced on a daily basis, very practically, life becomes a miracle. And life is a wonder. And it comes down to the essential simplicity of life. So in life we have the mundane, the day to day, you know, eating, walking, conversation, connecting. But how are we eating? When we’re eating the food, do we touch interbeing? We can all be a poet and see the sun, the rain in this bread. Thay has that calligraphy, the whole cosmos is in this piece of bread. And if you can just eat mindfully like this, you start to also have a deep relation to the environment. And by having a connected relationship to the earth, we fall back in love with the earth. And as we are in love, we want to care and hold and protect. So interbeing becomes not just a theory, but a direct experience. And by interbeing the gratitude of life continues to show up. But are we mindful enough to recognize that? Are we mindful enough to see that this is a happy moment. Right? Or are we just caught in our radio station? And that’s why to have this anchor of coming home to the bod, for us, we use the mindful breath. Whenever we hear the phone, we practice breathing. That’s really our training. It’s made the podcast.


And what a beautiful sound.




It’s just like the birdsong in Plum Village.


And so pausing, moments of pause like this can also just remind us that life is beautiful. And like I said, even within pain and suffering, life can still be beautiful. And so the gratitude it can rekindle the fire of life in us. And from time to time, we have to be skillful in our way of life. Right? When it’s too regular, be spontaneous, be an artist and remind yourself of the wonders of life. And that’s why, for us, a regular schedule is very important. But then from time to time, we have lazy day. Go and dance in the fields. Go, and, you know, the brothers just go have a picnic. Sometimes we would organize canoeing trips for the whole monastic sangha, 50 something canoes down the Dordogne river of France. And that’s meditation, because that is enjoying togetherness. So don’t forget to water the flowers that are also present in us. And then there are moments and we have to water our stability, the solidity, the mountain in us. And then there are moments when together we meet a difficulty. We need all our stillness to reflect on it. The stillness that offers the light of calm to see what is really there, and then the space that we can all generate inside of us to have freedom and to be open. Openness is a part of freedom. To have openness to cultivate that maybe my view is not the greatest view. And maybe other insight can help my worldview, become more compassionate. So openness is also another layer of freedom.


So, brother one, one of the things around, when I used to attend conferences, they always said they would be at the end of it, you know, or that part of it would be question and answer. And people would endlessly talk and then in the last five minutes, they would take one question. And I always thought that shouldn’t be like that. So today, this evening, we have decided actually that, half the time is us sharing, but then half the time is for questions, because actually you are the audience you are here to share and to learn. So what we are going to do now is we’re going to just stop this section, and Brother Phap Huu is just going to close this section with a short guided meditation just to bring us back to ourselves. But just before he does that, what we’re going to do is we’re going to have a microphone at the front here, which is coming very mindfully. That is the slowest microphone mover I’ve ever seen. Beautiful, thank you. And there’s going to be a microphone up there as well. And what we’re going to do is ask people just to come and line up behind each microphone and not to do that yet because we’re going to do the meditation. And then once we’ve done the meditation, Brother Phap Huu will just introduce what a Zen question and answer session looks like.


Sure. Yes. But let us enjoy breathing together.


Yeah, yeah.


Everything I said and Jo said, let it go.


What? He’s talking for himself. Stick with what I said.


In this moment, let us come together and breathe. It’s so wonderful to be 400 of us in this space and to enjoy the collective mindfulness. So as I breathe in, I feel my inbreath. As I breathe out, I feel my outbreath. If the breath is long, let it be long. If the breath is short, let it be short. Just accepting my inbreath and my outbreath. As I breathe in, I allow my breath to become deep. And as I breathe out, I allow my outbreath to become slow. Inbreath deep. Outbreath slow. As I breathe in, in touch with the calm that is present. I feel the calm inside of me. As I breathe out, there is ease in my outbreath. In, calmness. Out, ease. Breathing in, I offer myself a smile. Breathing out, freedom for the smile. In, smile. Out, freedom. Breathing in, in touch with the present moment. Breathing out, this is a wonderful moment. Present moment, wonderful moment.


Thank you, dear friends, for mindfully breathing together. I hope you enjoy that delicious silence.


Which is not going to extend into the Q&A.


No no no.


So as Brother Phap Huu just talks a little bit about what we’re going to do, what we really welcome is for you to come up to the microphone. Start coming to the microphone so we can use our time well. So anyone who wants to ask a question, please, just start to come to the microphone. But Brother Phap Huu, what makes a good question and answer session?


A good question is a question from the heart, a question that has to do with our happiness, our suffering, our practice. And a good question doesn’t have to be very long.


Great. And we’re gonna be helped by Tamsin who’s going to come back and just help just sort of run this beautifully. So, Tamsin, over to you.


I’m just feeling really relaxed at the moment. So, I’m just going to wait for people to join us. But essentially I want to make sure that we have an even number from upstairs as well as downstairs. But we might start with yourself.


And tell us your name first.


And I’m Gabrielle Walker, and I have had some wonderful experiences at Plum Village as you both know. Thank you so much. And thank you Brother Phap Huu, that was wonderful. And make me laugh and maybe think and maybe cry a little. So that is very typical of one of your experiences. Here’s my question. And it is from my heart, is something that we’ve spoken about before, but I’d love to hear more about it now. You spoke very beautifully about how part of your crisis came from the realization that even though you walk this path of mindfulness, you were still suffering, and that shouldn’t be right. And then the realization that being mindful was actually about looking your suffering in the face, not running from it, not turning from it, not living in the past or in the future so that you could avoid it, but really seeing it. But seeing it means that you have to do something, and it means that you have to hold it and be kind and be tender and be compassionate. And I wondered if you can talk a bit more about how to do that when you’re in that mindful moment, when you’re really there with your suffering, how do you hold it, how you’re kind to it, and how do you help it to dissipate?


Wonderful question. You can stay there. Yeah, yeah, yeah. I think, first, the mindfulness practice is, for me at least, my one of my habit I recognize is the first reaction is to run away from my suffering. So to just shine the light inside of me that I want to run. And that’s part of the flight that that is inside. And part of the anchor that I need to generate is my own presence for it, whether it is walking with it or writing to it. And how can I communicate to my suffering? This is the question that I invite all of you to look at. How can I communicate to my suffering? Because there’s a tendency to say, oh no, no, it’s too much and I want to run. Or let me just do this so that you don’t have to be a source of energy now. And we can become very good at that. I was really good at that. Even working, I can serve the community. I can go in the garden and just, I don’t know, start weeding and even that becomes a distraction. But I can bring the suffering into the action. So for myself, I know when the suffering is very present, sitting is not good because it becomes too overwhelming for me. So I would start to move my body, whether it’s going for a walk in nature or it’s playing sport, going for a jog, so that I can just feel and know that the suffering is there. And part of my deeper work with it is to write about it. And I would be able to identify the source of that pain. And sometimes it’s in the level of the mind, of the thinking, perception, or sometimes it’s in the body. Like, one of my natural reaction is I would just hide from people. And a part of me is just to know that that tendency is there and take that child, that suffering child. For me, it’s a seven year old. That’s when I was bullied. So I call the name of the seven year old the inferior fear that comes up very strongly. And I would take it on a journey, and I would let that child live the present moment and let the present moment teach that it has other ability to see clearer, to understand. And meditation is to have understanding. So when suffering comes up, take care of it like a child. And don’t think that one session is enough. It’s a continuous journey. And even just before coming up here, I felt like an idiot, to be honest, when I hit this Be still and heal calligraphy. And I was just like, oh my goodness, so embarrassing. And I was standing behind this curtain, I was like, Phap Huu, you idiot. And all of the inferiority complex has come up, so it’s still there. But now I can just say, it’s okay. You can show up and speak some wisdom later, and people forget about that. No, I’m joking, but, it’s just… it’s befriending it. Befriending it and allowing it to journey with you. And Thay really emphasizes, Don’t forget, even in the suffering, don’t forget, don’t forget to nourish the happiness. Because the happiness is also healing the suffering without doing anything. It’s like when we do physiotherapy, if we’ve ever had any injury, sometimes the doctor tell us to strengthen other part, and by that it is healing what is wounded. So to shine enough light to the suffering, to know our limits in the suffering, sometimes that baggage is not going to go anywhere. Is it, oh, I know you’re there. It’s okay. In the next week or month, you can invite it and to show it the wonders of you. And then there are moments when it’s banging on the door as as a carer we can invite. And then, other moments when we we’re taking care of the joy and happiness and just living our aspiration, it is healing that suffering too. And some suffering, they become a companion. And it’s not a negative thing. It allows us to feel and to have empathy and to be understanding to others. So look at suffering also in the light of friendship. Thank you.


And also just to add, in my coaching practice most people think their suffering is by themselves alone, that everyone else seems to be fine. And actually suffering is collective. And also that suffering is showing us something that needs to be healed. So rather than hiding away from it, when we actually face it and say, what is this suffering showing me? What is the part of me that I need to focus on so that I can heal? And then as Phap Huu says, you know, we befriend it and I use this image of, you know, like a mouse, you know, in a dark room and suddenly you see this… you know, there’s a lamp and you see this terrible shadow of a monster on the wall, and you just want to run. But actually, if you face it, it’s often a little mouse in front of the light that’s casting this great shadow. But often our suffering is exaggerated by us trying to run away from it because we make it bigger than it is. And the longer we run away from it, we must, we assume, oh, it must be… it’s going to overwhelm us. But when we face it and when we share it, it’s collective. And by sharing it. And this is the vulnerability, by then opening up to our suffering, we help other people to feel safe in their suffering. And if we’re all hiding away our suffering and all feeling it, we’re going to be overwhelmed, then actually we’re creating a collective overwhelm.


So in the context of that, you talked about vulnerability…


Just just to say we’ve got a lot of people behind you.


My one very quick comment is that by knocking that over, I have friends who work with actors and actresses who say that they often deliberately trip at the beginning to show vulnerability and make everyone love them.




So that’s what you did.


Thank you, Gabrielle.


Can I invite our friend who’s upstairs to ask your question?


Hello. Thank you both for a fascinating talk. My name is Sam Fitz. I just had a question, brother. You touched on insight how it’s important to let go of insight. And I just wondered if you could say a bit more about what that means in practice. Is it a question of sort of trying to start fresh each time and not assuming you know the answers? Is it kind of taking your insights with a pinch of salt? How do you go about that on a practical level?


Very recently, I’ve touched my overwhelming-ness of being Brother Phap Huu in the Plum Village community and I thought I know everything and I… Like after Thay had a stroke in Plum Village, I had to step up a lot for the community in operation, in organizing, in teaching, and so on and so on and so on. And I became… The insight for me was, this is how I can attend Thay. And a lot of people are like, Phap Huu, why aren’t you with Thay? I’m like, no, no, this is how I’m going to give for Thay’s legacy. And I became really good at it. And I became part of the Plum Village system. And I started to recognize that I’m losing my own inner freedom of being. And I was only being there because of expectation. I was only being and doing because of demands and a part of my own daily life wasn’t coming from my heart, wasn’t coming from my heart of service. And that was very frightening to acknowledge. And it was very difficult to accept because there was a part, last Rains Retreat in a meeting we had, I touched my limit and I almost cried in front of the whole community. And I realized that what I was holding on to was my own blockage of me just being. And what I’m learning now is to, for myself in this moment, I need to unlearn the day to day, the what I’m very good at because… And it comes very practically when I’m interacting with my brothers and sisters, I react really quickly. When they ask me a question, I want to give them an answer right away. And I don’t give myself time. I don’t give myself space, I don’t just listen. I’m listening to give a response. I’m not even listening to my own community. So the insight that is insight of knowing that I need to listen deeper. I need to slow down. And that slowing down is to what’s the immediate action that I had from the crisis of Thay having a stroke became a deep part of my identity, and so that for me, that was my insight. I need to put into action what what my heart of service is. But now it has become my own prison, in a way, it locks me away from my joy, and therefore I’m touching now, generating, cultivating my own inner heart of service. There are moments I touch it, there are moments I don’t, and there are moments when I have an insight, I would double check, is this autopilot or is this something that is genuinely coming from my practice? And because, you know, we do work with like emails, messengers, and we’ve created a habit among all of us is that we need to answer each other right away. Right? And if you don’t answer me right away, then that means you’re ignoring me. And we’ve created this intense habit. And I also have it when somebody doesn’t answer me and I go, maybe they don’t love me anymore. But to start to have also practice is like, if it’s a deep question, you know, give myself time, give myself space to really answer from the heart. And so a part of insight is just, it’s just understanding. It’s that supporting you in this moment? If that insight is holding you from being present and from learning, then let’s look at that insight. And sometimes that insight will come back five years later and will be a support. So there’s always, there’s another saying is that nothing is lost. So don’t think we lose anything. So we’re not just getting rid of it, it’s not gone. It’s still a part of our life experience. But in the present moment, maybe that knowledge itself is holding us back. That tendency that has supported us now doesn’t support us anymore. And that’s why our practice is so present moment centered. And it’s very difficult. It’s easy language, but it is to be here to know what are the things I need to let go. What are the things that is holding me back? I hope that helps. Thank you so much.


And just to add one word to that. What has helped me so much is the deep understanding of impermanence in Buddhism that actually the only purpose of an insight is, in a sense, to give rise to another insight. Because what we’re doing through life is going ever deepening. And if we say, oh, I’ve had the insight, you know, and the Dalai Lama also said, you know, it’s really important if you have a deep, profound spiritual experience, just let it go. Because if you don’t let it go, actually what you’re doing is the opposite of Buddhism, which is you’re attached and you’re clinging. And then often that creates pride. I’ve had this wonderful spiritual experience, which probably most of you haven’t had. And actually I’ve had this really deep insight into the meaning of life, which you probably haven’t had. And that becomes a block. Whereas, you know, there are endless insights, endless deepening of life. You know, that is the journey of our whole lifespan is to deepen understanding and to slowly come back to wholeness and come back to a sense of being at home. And at any point if you say, right, that’s it, then actually, you’ve just stopped the process of life. Thank you.


Thank you.


Dear Thay, dear friends, thank you for the talk. And you’ve got me at the point when you said, we’re all flowers of the garden of humanity. You got me there.


Well done, Phap Huu.


And I laughed at your jokes.


You’re hired.


So I suffer when I read the first mindfulness trainings and my sangha can vouch for that. I can’t finish reading it after the first sentence, I’m in tears. And also, I’m enraged when I read another mindfulness training that says standing against oppression. And, I’m really seeking, I’m asking for help. And the vulnerability in me is asking for help. And I’d really like to hear from Plum Village, who is my sangha, like what your position is on Gaza. Because I am suffering and I know I’m talking for many other people… I’m part of a sangha. I belong to sanghas, and so I’m here an interbeing person.


Plum Village and Thay, Plum Village was manifested as one of the flowers as the mud of war. And, our teacher, the foundation of his teaching and his being has always been nonviolence, has always been for the cessation of suffering and the killing. So where we stand is the path of peace and nonviolence. And in what has been happening in the Middle East, of course we want the bombing to stop, the killing to stop. And we believe in communication and dialog. As we know that wherever there is conflict and destruction, the killing, the killing, the war, it only creates more generational trauma and pain and suffering. If we can call for a ceasefire and agree to dialog and to have understanding and to touch the pain and suffering, this is what we would pray for. As we in the past, when Thay was still alive, our practice is to bring healing in the present moment to even all of us who are not a part of the war, indirectly, but we are interbeingly suffering altogether. And the practice that I am doing on a daily basis is also to transform the rage in me. Because that rage can also become an element of war. So the practice of peace and nonviolence is not only a practice that is what is happening in Gaza, in the Middle East, but is the practice for all of us walking this earth. Because our teacher once said, as even if we are to send all of the bombs and the nuclear weapons to the moon, but we don’t transform our hearts, we don’t cultivate nonviolence, we’re still going to find ways to kill, to take and to destroy. And very recently, I’ve been reading the book Love in Action. That was the book Thay wrote directly for war veterans. Thay wrote this book for American soldiers that came to Vietnam. And one of the messages to help cultivating this insight, it’s the flower of humanity. It’s because we’re not seeing each other as flowers of humanity in this garden, we see that this is my land, this is my religion, this is why… and our mind can create any reasons. But for us to come home to, to touch the interbeing of suffering, this is for me, what I pray for. When Thay was asked, during the Vietnam War, what do you want the most? He said, I want the bombing to stop. I want the killing to stop so that there can be understanding. So that there can be a communication and dialog to see what is really happening. And I know that the voice… we may think that our voice doesn’t matter, but when we are walking the path of practice and walking the path of nonviolence, if we are to show up at a protest, it is to walk for the peace of both sides. The the pain and the suffering like it’s collective. It will look in one direction, but at the deep core, we know there are pain and suffering, some is much more heavier, much more intense. And we don’t ignore that. And we don’t try to spiritually bypass and say we’re all interbeing and so on. No, no, no, we have to recognize what the real pain and suffering is and to call it. But we also have to understand on the other side of the pain and the suffering. And this is where when Thay was asked during the Vietnam War, which side are you on, Thay, the North or the South? Because Vietnam was split into two. Thay said, I don’t take sides. The path I walk is still the path of nonviolence. And that’s for both, because these are brothers killing each other, sisters killing each other. So for me this will always be in my foundation wherever there is this kind of conflict. This is what I pray for. For understanding and for the dialog, to see the pain and to see the interbeing of one another. And this is where we feel that if there are any of us who have this impact and influence to call on for compassionate listening. Compassionate sharing. And give peace a possibility. However long the war happens and the killing happens, that’s however long we need to continue to share and understand. So for us, this is why the path of practice is an ongoing path of nonstop cultivating peace and transforming the heart. Thank you.


May I invite our friend upstairs to ask a question?


Thanks for today. It’s been great. My name is Jack. I didn’t know what the topic of today would be, but when I got here, I found it really ironic because I quit my job like, a few days ago, so I feel pretty free. And a couple of days after I did that, I was actually on the phone to my mum, who’s in Australia, I’m from there. And she’s a very resilient person, but she just broke down and was crying about her situation and I feel really free, but my loved ones are not in the same position and I feel like, my parents worked really hard to give me freedom, and gave up theirs. So now that I feel free, how can I help them feel free in the sense that I feel it? And how can I deal with the conflict that I have and enjoying my own life, but also wanting to help them?


When I wanted to be a monk, my mom was very angry, and was very scared. And as she should be, a 13 year old boy moving to France. Yeah, that’s a crazy, that’s a crazy aspiration. And I felt free. I felt very free. First of all, it is your parents’ responsibility to worry, and you have to accept that. And you just allow your parents to be your parents. That’s their freedom that they should have. And for you, who has now experiencing freedom for how many days?


I’m still working there for…


Three days. And you say so that I can live my own life, your your own life is not your own life. Yeah. Your own life, your happiness and your joy and your deep looking for what is next for you will also be theirs. And so just to also just honor and know that your parents’ reactions is normal, is natural. And for you, how can you continue to show them that you have the clarity and the calm and the direction that you would like to take to share with them. That I will walk in a way, and I will do what I need to do to keep giving to a job, society, etc. etc. I don’t know what path you are embarking on, but you continue to cultivate that freedom in you. And maybe now, because you’re free, you can spend some more time with your parents. And you can show them that in the freedom that you have that you are still there, you’re present. And maybe it’s something that they’ve never experienced. Like if my parents have never experienced the freedom to choose what they want. Of course, that’d be hard for them to understand my choices. And give time to express, to explain through your presence, but not like, not pushing them and their worries away. Say, mum, don’t worry. No no no. Thank you for worrying, mother, but I want to share with you why I quitted. So my journey of monastichood, you probably heard this in the podcast, for those of you who listen, the biggest challenge and test is to go home and let your parents be your parents with you. Because in our own insight we want them to experience the same insight. They can’t. Because that is your insight. But what you can offer them is your kindness, your generosity from freedom, your love, your presence. And your acceptance of how your parents are. I hope that helps. It’s not a direct answer, but I hope that help.


And also I would say to know what freedom means for you. Because is it freedom from something or freedom towards something? Because it’s really important to sort of, you know, in Plum Village we talk about having an aspiration about what is it that you really want from life? What is it that you really want to be in service to? Because freedom can sometimes be a constraint, paradoxically, because we feel so free, but then we don’t know what to do with ourselves. And I think it’s really, really important to have a sense of direction of travel, that it’s freedom towards creating something. Because one of the things I learned is that commitment is freedom, because that’s when we think freedom is we can do whatever we want now. I don’t have a job, but I can do whatever I want to do. I’m free. I can stay in bed or half the day I can go out, I can do this, I can do that. But that often leads to a sense of loss of freedom, that actually freedom is a commitment. And when we commit to something, then we are free to focus our energy, to really give ourselves to something fully. So I think it’s really good to understand what really freedom means to you and whether you’ve deeply understood that for yourself.




Try to step up to the microphone.


Hello. Thank you for such a wonderful session this evening. My name is Lily Lee and my mom first took me to Plum Village when I was four years old, so I will be forever very grateful for that. You mentioned about the grass being greener on the other side, which really resonated with me. I find it very hard often to make decisions both at work and at home, and I often find myself worrying afterwards about the decisions I’ve made. And maybe I could have done something different, taking a different path. I maybe, yeah, had different outcomes. But I find that this often weighs me down quite a lot, and I don’t feel so free. So my question is, how do you go about making decisions in your daily life while still feeling that sense of freedom and not weighing you down?


Do you want me to start, brother?


Go for it.


When I work with people, one of the things is about that no decision is right and no decision is wrong. Because as soon as we create, put ourselves in the horns of, you know, we’re caught, there’s a phrase caught on the horns of a dilemma. If I do this one… you know, and I used to have this for the job. On Monday, I would say, oh, I should leave my job because it would be this, and then I’ll be free to do that. And on the Tuesday would be but this job is safe and actually I really like the people. And then Wednesday would be yes, but… What I helped was to get through that dilemma is in a sense similar to what I was saying before, is to know what your path is to know what you would like to create in your life. Because we often use the dilemma to actually attack ourselves and to feel that actually we’re less than or we’re not good enough. And oh, maybe I should have done this decision because then that would have happened. But actually, we don’t know what’s going to happen. We sort of… There’s something about taking a step forward and then allowing life to show up, because we’re not in control of life. You know, life is about trust. Life is about saying, actually, I’m going to give my best to this and I’m going to step forward. And even if it’s not, that doesn’t seem like the best decision, actually, we don’t know if it’s not the best decision, because three years later, we may look back and say, oh my God, at the time it felt like a terrible decision, but as a result of that, it led me to this. So there’s something about trust and there’s something about saying, actually, what is it I want to give to life? And often what you do when you’re caught with a dilemma is if you go beyond the dilemma, often one of the options will just fall away and one will be attracted towards the light. So don’t get caught at that place. Walk through that to your path.


And I would like to add is, I know, as youth, we have a lot of FOMO, fear of missing out. Let’s change it. Joy of missing out. And what we’re in to truly just be there. And a part of our mindfulness practice whenever we are making a decision, I think you can have a few guidance for yourself. Like, will this decision allow me to see the unknown? Allow me to grow? Or will it empower me for what I need to do? And like Jo said, every decision we make, there’s a sacrifice of something else. And that’s a part of it. And that’s the part of letting go of something else so that we can be fully present for the decision that we’re going to make. And the great thing about it is every day we can make a new decision, hopefully. On bigger decisions, on bigger decision, my golden rule is I don’t decide when I’m very emotional. So when I wanted to disrobe, I was very emotional. And I know that that decision, if I take it, I won’t be with a clear mind. It is being channeled by all of my emotions, which then activates all of my perceptions and my radio station up here. And especially when you’re negative, you want to lean towards an excuse. So that’s why allow yourself to settle. Give yourself time just to feel. And you can feel. We have intuition. But we also shine the light of mindfulness, our awareness towards the intuition, whether it is the decision that will allow us to feel most present. And this you have to check in with yourself. And a part of our own journey of mindfulness is knowing ourselves, what gives us joy and what doesn’t. And very practical, at the conference, they had a dinner on the boat of the Paris, and there was going to be dancing. There is going to be… And of course I knew I’m not going to go there, because that’s not my scene. That’s not my happiness. That’s not my joy. So also to know what it is that will bring you joy. Of course, I had FOMO that like, oh, all these other people are going to show up. But then when I checked in with myself, I said, If I’m stuck on that boat for two hours and I’ve had enough, either I’m going to jump into the river and swim to the shore, or I’m just going to sit in the corner and suffer. So I outweighed it and said suffering was more. So I was like, so I make the decision I’m just going to stay home and rest and be more present for the next day. So every choice that we are presented, we can check in and a lot of the time our fear of missing out or our if I show up I’m good enough, will play in. So be mindful of our craving. What is it that is pulling us there?


Yeah. And one bit of advice, actually, that I was given when I was at the Guardian. At one point I was thinking of leaving, and I went to see the person who trained me up as a coach, and then he sent me to the person who trained him up as a coach. And I told him that, you know, I was in this dilemma of should I leave or should I stay? And he said, in this situation, the most important thing to recognize is the difference between what you love and what you’re good at. Because often we get stuck because we’re offered something, say, oh, I’m capable of doing that. I have the quality to do that. I’ve been trained to do that. I’m good at that. And then we get stuck in that. But the question to us is but do I love that? And if we stop loving it, then it’s maybe time to stop doing it.


Thank you.


Thank you.


We have space for maybe 1 or 2 questions. So I’m going to invite our friend in the balcony to ask the next question. I invite you to stay. And I’m really sorry, but I’m going to invite everyone else to take a seat.


Is there any way to shine a little light so we can see the face of our friends up there? If not, it’s okay. There you go.


We spoke a lot today about the principle of presence and of acceptance. So I want to ask, how do you balance aspirations or dreams or hopes that you have for yourself, for the principle of acceptance and being in the present moment?


Can you repeat that?




Can you hear me? Is that better?


That’s better.


Perfect. So we studied a lot today about the principle of acceptance and being in the present moment. So I wanted to ask, how do you balance being aspirational, having dreams, hopes for yourself with the principle of kind of acceptance, of being in the present moment?


I don’t see anything wrong with being in the present moment and aspiring for the future and having an aspiration. So for us, we have to cultivate an aspiration. It’s part of our fuel. It’s part of our energy to continue to walk the path or to do what we need to aspire to. So for us, aspiration is also daily food. What is it that I am cultivating so that I can offer so that I can transform, so that I can do for the community or myself? So the only thing is to also be open to the growth of aspiration. So we may aspire something today, but as we are progressing and we are developing, maybe at one moment we will have new aspirations and to have space for those new aspiration to also come into play. Yeah. Maybe I’m not understanding the question fully if there is… If it’s contradicting the present moment and aspiration…


So I think it’s because, you know, if you kind of have the principle of acceptance, you’re not wishing for things to be different, you’re kind of happy with the fact that you’re not happy, you’re accepting where you are. But if you have dreams and aspirations, you are… you may be wishing for something to be in a certain way in the future, or aspiring for things to be in a different way in the future. So that balance between accepting where you are and aspiring or hoping for more in the future, which may be different to where we are in the present moment…


Can I share… So much of this comes to attachment, comes down to attachment. Because we can have an aspiration for something but we can hold it lightly. So, you know, Thay talked about, you know, if you have an aspiration, that you think your happiness depends on getting a PhD, and then you work for all these years and you get that PhD, and then you find, well, actually, that wasn’t really where my happiness lay. And so we have this idea of an aspiration that it will give us something in the future, that if only I attain this aspiration, then I will be happy, then I will be successful, then I can relax, then I can start to enjoy life. And I think that an aspiration, in a sense, is just a North Star is just saying, actually, in my deepest sense of being, in my heart, I do have a dream. It’s important we have dreams. It’s important we have a direction of travel. It’s important that we look forward to life and that we have a sense of what will give us deep joy and happiness. But also it’s about letting that go and not believing that that is the answer. Because as soon as we believe that’s the answer, then we block out everything else from taking place. That impermanence is that your aspiration may change in a year. And that’s okay. But if we get fixated with something, I use the metaphor of a racehorse going around a track, and what they do is they put blinkers on their eyes so that they can’t see from left to right. So all they’re doing is running around the track as fast as possible, because of course, if they saw that there was a whole meadow of beautiful flowers to the left or a beautiful mare to the right, or whatever, you know, that they wouldn’t want to just run round that track as fast as possible. And what we do in this life often is we fixate on something. We believe that this will be it, and then we just chase after it. And what we tend to find it is whatever we’re chasing after is, in a sense, chimera, that once we think we’ve got it, we realize actually happiness is not based there. So I think there’s a balance between being in the present moment and the mindfulness of knowing actually, in this moment, this is how I am. I want to move towards this but at any point that aspiration can change so they are not incompatible with each other. We can have both, but not to be attached to anything. Brother?


Does that answer?


That is perfect. Thank you.


Thank you.


So if I may ask our last question to be asked.


Hi, thank you for this experience. My name is Bernadette. What you said about suffering really resonated. I’ve felt suffering throughout my life. And something someone said related to the mouse in the darkness, which is we have to walk into the darkness with curiosity. And I wanted, with my question, to expand about what you discussed with vulnerability and mindfulness, because I do believe it opens the space for connection. And I feel at this time in the world it’s ironic because we’re as connected as we are disconnected. And my question is about mindfulness and empathy, because with what you said about grief as a form of love, I feel with myself I can be too empathic. And there is so much pain in the world, and I feel I can take on too much suffering from those I love. And if you could speak to empathy and mindfulness. Thank you.


Beautiful question. Thank you.


Thank you for having the capacity to also embrace other people’s pain. And here the only encouragement I would have is to shine the light of your capacity and when there’s too much, when it overwhelms you. And it can also make you drown and not be able to touch the wonders of life and the joy that is also present. And I shared this because I was able to witness this in Thay. As a teacher, he embraced without discrimination all the pain and all the suffering. But he had also a way to direct that pain and suffering so that it doesn’t just bottles up in here. And also to know when is enough, because we know that if we are already mindful and have empathy, then we are already very well connected. But when we allow that connection to be too much, then we then start to disconnect from ourself. So the middle way we have to have, I always say you have to have a pulse on your own capacity, and any capacity is already good. There’s no… We’re not here to… The mindfulness practitioner is not here to compare who can hold more suffering and who cannot. That is discrimination. That is not our practice. That’s judgment. And so our practice as a collective, when we can together hold the pain and suffering, then we are offering to the world an opportunity to see and to feel and to transform. And then on the individual basis, when there’s too much for you, you can generously give yourself space and time to nourish yourself, because suffering is always going to be there. And suffering is something that when we move on from this empathy, we can also see it as an ingredient to understand and for teaching and for growth, then we are transforming the suffering. But if we’re only taking in the suffering to feel, that becomes a trap. A practitioner has to take in the suffering, embrace, be, but also help transform it to channel it. And in 2008, Vietnam kicked all of the monks and nuns of Plum Village out, and they did it very violently. And there was a lot of fear and pain in our community. We were very helpless because we were all abroad. And I was able to witness Thay suffering. As a teacher, he felt responsible for 400 of those students that have given up their life to be monastics. And in this moment, bandits were coming in, government officials were accusing, were shouting, were cussing, were cutting off electricity, were doing everything to get rid of us. And we acted nonviolently and at one stage we all agree we have to leave. But in that intense moment of pain that Thay was holding, I was able to walk with him. And he was channeling all of those energies and tension in him. He took refuge in nature. So when you feel all of this tensions that are present, we have to call on our awareness to channel that. So we invite ourselves to go for a walk so that we are inviting our pain and our feelings to be, to take root in the earth. And from being with the pain and suffering, he started to understand why does this is happening. And later on he transformed these unknowns or these feelings of pain into beautiful letters, and later on became part of the monastic will on how we are to behave in… And how are we to cultivate in such crisis, and how we face such violence. And he took all that pain, and for him, as a writer, he channeled all that into writing. So each and every one of us, we can find our creativity, our way to channel our pain, to channel our compassion. Because we have to have compassion to feel angry. We have to have compassion to feel suffering. But we don’t allow it to just stay at anger and suffering, but it can then be transformed into action. So know your balance, holding, embracing, but then transforming. And when this is too much, know that is not yours alone, the suffering is not yours alone, it is collective. And have that insight, or else it will overwhelm us and we will drown in it. And I don’t want you to drown in it. You have that smile there, we need that smile also.


Okay. Can I just say, just sitting here looking at you, I have a lot of love for you in this place. It’s a place I know well. And it’s taken me many years to work with it in a way that Pha Huu describes to find a place where I can be with it and not overwhelm with it, but also not turn away from it. And I remember I wrote a piece for The Guardian more than a decade ago. I attended an indigenous leaders sort of circle of grief, and it was the grief of all that had been lost by that peoples and their culture. And it was on the day that the World Wildlife Fund had created that annual report of the sort of loss of biodiversity. And it was at the point, I think, where 60% of all sort of life on the planet had been destroyed in the last 50 years. And I wrote a piece saying, is it possible to feel all the pain in the world and not be crushed by it? And what I learned in that indigenous circle was the power of grief, that actually, if we truly are able to grieve, then actually the pain passes through us and we transform it through our grief and also recognize that we do it in community, we can’t do it on our own. And the reason I came to move with my wife next to Plum Village three and a half years ago is because of the power of community to hold pain and suffering in such a delicate, generous way that the pain and the suffering can be released slowly. And, you know, when I was young, when I was growing up, I felt I was sitting at the edge of an ocean of sadness. And when I was very young, I thought it was all my own sadness. And as I grew up, I realized, actually, it was the sadness of the world. It was the collective sadness. And I was sitting at the edge of that ocean, and I realized that there was a part of it that was calling me to it. And I liken it in a sense to in the Greek mythology, the sirens, who would sing these beautiful songs and call the seafarers to turn their ships towards the shore, and they would be dashed on the rocks and they would all die. But there’s a part of us that is also attracted by the pain, because it’s like a tuning fork to our own personal pain. So the collective pain is also our personal pain, and our personal pain is also the collective pain. And the way I perceive it now, after all these years, and this is what we’re talking about, you know, this is the practice, not… this is life. This is the journey of life. That now I’m more able to sit on the edge of that ocean of sadness and to hear the cries for help, but not feel drawn to join it and not feel that I need to turn away from it, but to be present for it. Because actually our presence for pain is the healing. You know, the whole point of Plum Village is about presence. You know, Phap Huu has presence, Thay, Thich Nhat Hanh had deep presence and that presence was holding space. It’s not doing anything, but it’s holding the door open. That’s what the great bodhisattvas see. It’s like, if someone is in hell, firstly, they don’t want to be told how wonderful they are, because then they feel even more in hell and they don’t want to be there on their own, because that is a lonely, dark, miserable, painful place. But to sit with someone in their hell and just hold their hand and to know it, you don’t have to do anything else, but just to know it and be present to that person is the healing for that person and for yourself. So I would say what you have is a very wonderful gift. But it’s only a gift if you are able to contain it. And I learned early in life that without a container, we can’t hold the pain. But we actually have to, you know, in the most powerful container is a crucible made of porcelain. It’s the finest material. It can crack very easily, but if it’s… But it can hold deep heat, deep pain. So if you’re able to develop your container, that you can hold your own pain and you can hold other people’s pain, then that’s all you need to do. You don’t need to do anything else. And that is a life mission. But it’s a beautiful, beautiful mission because you can be present for other people in their pain, and