The Way Out Is In / The Practice of Gratitude (Episode #66)

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

This time, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach/journalist Jo Confino talk about the practice of gratitude and its power to shine a light in even the darkest circumstances. Their conversation touches on many aspects of gratitude, from the way it has been viewed in Buddhism since the days of the Buddha, to gratitude for life, gratitude as a gift and a rebalancer, and gratitude even when things don’t go well.  

Brother Phap Huu further talks about nourishing our deep connection to interbeing; opening our hearts to suffering; loneliness in the monastic community;  gratitude for the Earth, all living beings, and (even) minerals; the feeling of ‘enough’; the Cong Phu Sheet; and more. And why is gratitude a such a difficult practice, even when there are many opportunities to apply it?

Jo delves into daily practices of gratitude; coming back into balance; Christmas presents and meaninglessness; approaches to economic development in Bhutan; and more. 

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

Co-produced by the Plum Village App:

And Global Optimism: 

With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:

List of resources 

The Way Out Is In live recording 


Old Path White Clouds 





The Alchemist 

Dharma Talks: ‘The Three Doors of Liberation or the Three Dharma Seals’

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


‘A Teacher Looking for His Student’ 

Brother Bao Tang (Brother Treasure)

Gratitude for the Four Elements (short audio meditation by Brother Phap Dung)


“When we really touch the present moment with the deep insight that ‘what I have here is enough’, we start to touch freedom. But a lot of us are afraid to come home to ourselves. And the whole art of meditation is learning to come home.”

“Gratitude is a practice and a muscle that we need to develop. Because if we have a practice of gratitude, then being grateful is going to flow much more easily.”

“There is a lot of suffering today, but if we focus solely on that suffering, we may also lose the light. Therefore, gratitude becomes a light that we want to protect, to give us hope, to help us know why we are doing what we’re doing, for the activists to know what they are protecting, for the people who are calling out injustice to be grateful that, as human beings, we can use our voices to speak about suffering.”


Dear listeners, before we start this week’s episode, we want to let you know that we are going to be performing our first ever live podcast recording in London on the 5th of April at the Conway Hall. And if you’re around, we would love you to come and join us and take part. Our topic actually is going to be stepping into freedom, and we’re also going to be doing a live question and answer session. If you would like to buy tickets, you can find them on We’ll obviously put the link onto the show notes. We would love it if you came and supported us. We are normally, as you know, recording in Thich Nhat Hanh’s very intimate Sitting Still hut where we may have 1 or 2 guests. And now we’re going to have up to 400. So come and smile at us and support us, and we will smile back. Hope to see you there.


Dear listeners, welcome back to this latest episode of the podcast series The Way Out Is in.


I am Jo Confino, working at the intersection of personal transformation and systems evolution.


And I am Brother Phap Huu, a Zen Buddhist monk, a student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plum Village tradition.


And today, dear listeners, we are going to be talking about the power of gratitude to shine a light even in the darkest of circumstances.


The way out is in.


Hello everyone, I am Jo Confino.


And I am Brother Phap Huu.


And today we are going to be talking about gratitude and I want to start, brother, so… The person doing our sound recording today is Brother Niem Thung. And brother is here… Over the last two years has always done the recording perfectly, and he does it so well that in a sense, I sort of just take him a bit for granted. And today we started recording. And then after five minutes, Brother Niem Thung found out that he’d failed to put the cable into the machine. So while we were talking, it wasn’t recording properly. So what that’s brought up for me is actually it’s brought up my gratitude for Brother Niem Thung that even though, that at the moment something’s gone wrong and I could be irritated and think, well, you know, that’s we got to start again, and that’s a bit of a hassle. But actually what it’s done is the opposite, which has actually made me realize how many times he’s done it beautifully and how we’ve never lost a recording. So Brother Niem Thung, who is sitting next to me, right now I have gratitude for you. Even though you screwed up.


And I’m grateful for the way we all reacted, which was no problem, we would just take another take.


So, Brother Phap Huu, let’s talk about that, because here’s an example where it’s not gratitude for something that’s gone well, but the gratitude sometimes comes in our suffering or when things aren’t going well.


Yeah. It just shows that we’re all human beings and it’s okay to make mistakes. And, like you said, like how grateful we are to have somebody do the sound for us. And none of us here doing this podcast is being paid. It’s really coming from the service of the heart as well as the aspiration in order to share the teachings and our experience in Plum Village so that everyone around the world can receive these teachings and bring them home to their own place. So gratitude in Buddhism, it has many layers to it. And the first layer that I always associate myself to is love. I know love can be a very big word, but for myself, Buddhism is the teaching of love, which is the teaching of gratitude. All of our Dharma for us to put into our daily life, it will all arrive at a thread, a foundation of love, happiness and gratitude because our teachings of mindfulness is to transform suffering. The teachings of the Buddha it originates from suffering and in his practice of discovering what we call Dao, which is the way, gratitude becomes a thread in it. Because for us to even walk a path of spirituality, we have to have so many conditions to support us. So in Buddhism, a lot of our practices, it always points towards the direction of gratitude of life, because so many of us are living today, but we don’t have the capacity to really be in touch with life. So we lose gratitude. We take for granted the most simplest things that is present in us as well as present around us. So the first actions that we all are taught to apply when we come to Plum Village is coming home to the breath. Sometimes our teacher will say, we come home to the breath. And that is insight, when you can be in touch with your breath because you know you are alive. So therefore, when you are alive, all possibilities are there. And that is a gratitude. And when you start to shine this light of mindfulness around the present moment, let’s say our own physical body, this is meditation, being aware that I have good eyesight, that I am able to see all the texture, all the colors, to see my loved ones, to see the unknown, to allow us to grow. That is gratitude. I have lungs that are still healthy, allowing me to breathe. My two arms, my two legs. And we can do a whole body scan. So there’s so many qualities of practice in that very moment, we are learning to come home to our body, which may be our body is calling and beating like ringing a bell of mindfulness for us to come home to take care of itself. And when we do take care of ourself, we start to be more attentive to the pain, the sore, the aches, the stress, and even deeper into the mental formation, recognizing our own feelings. Maybe it is a feeling of abandoned, loneliness, or just overwhelm. And suddenly we can have a sense, I need to come home to take care of myself. And that can give us gratitude to ourselves that we have this ability, to know that we are here, and we know that we have to take care of ourselves in order to keep loving, in order to keep giving. And so the thread of gratitude is a meditation that each and every one of us, we should be able to generate, particularly whenever we feel dull or we feel like, lazy, as well as maybe boredom start to come in and then it ripples into not being satisfied with life. And so if we look at it just like that is very negative. But if we shine the light of mindfulness to it, then we can invite ourself to then look inwards. What are the things that are happening for me now that I can be grateful for? And it’s very tied, it’s tied to one of the teachings of the Buddha which the Buddha has taught us, is that each and every one of us, we should have the ability to come home to the present moment and understand that we have the capacity to generate a happy moment. And the word happiness here it may sound like hippieish or woo woo, or like something very simple. And the traditional phrase of it, it goes […] I have the ability to dwell happily in the present moment. When I first started, as a young novice monk, our teacher would teach this phrase maybe, I don’t know, ten times per month. And so we would hear it so many times, almost like it becomes a mantra. And my understanding of that phrase was very shallow at the beginning because I was very goal orientated. And so we’re trained like this, right? Like you want to do your homework to get an A plus. So then you think that the A+ equals happiness. And so I applied that to my own practice, and when I heard this phrase dwelling happily in the present moment, because the word happiness for me is also very big. And I do want to be able to arrive to happiness. But I thought that I have to practice very diligently, very hard. I have to strive so that I can transform all my habits. I can understand all of the suffering that I have in this moment, the suffering that I have received from my ancestors. And then I have to be a better person. I have to be more fresh, be more solid, be more spacious, be more friendly. And so I started to have so many to do lists, and then I can be happy in the present moment. But that is a very shallow understanding of this phrase. And as we practice and learn deep Buddhism, even suffering is a teacher in life. So as a practitioner, our gratitude even crosses to the shore of suffering. When we learn from our suffering, we can be grateful to it. And I had a moment of deeper understanding when in a Dharma talk, and I was sitting in the first row of the teachings. And Thay would… Sometimes it’s very intimidating to sit in the first row because Thay is very directly in front of you, and he’s very engaging in his talks, like he would look at the audience and he would even approach us as he’s walking. And Thay has this ability, which is his presence is so strong that when he looks at you, it seems like he sees right through you. So it’s really scary. But for whatever reason that day, part because I didn’t want to fall asleep in my in the Dharma talks, I sat in the front row. And that day Thay gave a teaching on happiness and suffering, and Thay said that I would never want to send my students, my children, my spiritual children to a place where there’s no suffering. We all have an idea like the kingdom of heaven or the pure land of the Buddha, is a place where only happiness exists, only gratitude exists. But if that place that is so, let’s say pure, then we can never understand deeply the world. Because understanding is gratitude. Understanding is love. Understanding is happiness. Understanding is compassion. And what is understanding in Buddhism? Understanding suffering. Understanding the quality of happiness that we can learn to generate. And when Thay said that phrase, I would never send my students to a place where there is no suffering. There was almost like a relief in me. Like there was a permission that it’s okay to suffer. And from that moment on, I started to open my heart more towards my pain and suffering. And, the experience that that I’ve had, because a suffering is almost like it’s like a scar that you want to hide. And we all give ourselves a lot of different personas and maybe we want to be perceived in different way. So we want to mask and hide things. And here we can even learn to smile to the pain and suffering. And a smile can be a smile of gratitude. And one of our first practices in the day, the gatha, the line that we would recite the moment we wake up is waking up this morning I smile. 24 brand new hours are before me. So right away the way we start our day is to generate the awareness that I’m alive, I smile. I have 24 brand new hours before me, so I would like to share that all practice of meditation and Buddhism it has the ingredient of gratitude in it, and the gratitude is also very organic in us. This energy, we like to speak about qualities of, or we call them seeds in us, sometimes in terms of energy. Like when we are excited, there is a source of energy that allows us to be joyful. When we are being inspired there is motivation. We call that the bodhicitta, the mind of love. And so gratitude is also a very strong energy in us. And our teacher, he always reminds us to come home to the gratitude for monks and nuns, because we cannot be a monk and a nun, just purely because of our aspiration. There’s many conditions that have arrived for us to be here. So in our tradition, we have four particular gratitudes that we would like to share our merit towards. And the word merit is a very technical Buddhist term, and I know we have it in English also the word merit, but we see that all of our action leads to merits. And merit is also our karma, it’s like our mark that we leave behind. And when we do something that offers us and others a lot of joy and happiness, there’s a saying in Buddhism, we say we are creating a lot of good merit. And the beauty that Thay teaches in terms of merit that I’ve learned is not for you only, but the merit, it transcends time. So the merit is also transmitted to the future generation as well as the merit is to heal the past. So like when we become a monastic, we know that we are here thanks to the many good seeds that have been sown in us, so that in my lifetime I have all this merit to meet the Dharma, to meet a teacher, to have friends on the path, and then to be supported. All of these conditions have to come together for me to even embark on this path. So Thay said, remember these moments. So when we become a monastic, that day of ordination, or like your first time in Plum Village, you can only arrive to the practice for the first time once. And it’s almost like the honeymoon phase that becomes a beautiful foundation that we can return to. And for us, the beginning of our journey, when we bow our heads and take the vow to become a monastic, in the ceremony, the first actions that we do is our teacher would invite us to all stand up, and then he would recite these lines in gratitude to my parents who have given me life. I touched the earth and we all touched the earth. And when we touch the earth is a prostration, it’s very humbling. So we are lowering and bending our whole body to touch the ground, our forehead is on the earth, is on the floor. And it’s a moment of humility that is generated. And in terms of the formality of it, the formal actions, we would join our palms. And in our tradition it represents body and mind united. And then we would first bring our palms towards our forehead. And in Asia, our tradition, we always see that our ancestors are placed at our head. So we’re inviting all of our ancestors to be there with us. And then we bring our palms to the center of our chest, heart level. So we’re inviting our ancestors to be there with us in this moment. And as we’re touching the earth, all the generations are touching the earth. And so in this moment when we bow down, it is an expression of deep gratitude. And very recently, we just hosted the holiday retreat, and I met a wonderful man from London, and he shared with me that he… This is his favorite New Year’s Eve ever experienced in his 60 years. But he said one of the most difficult practice, though, was the touching of the earth to parents because his parents didn’t offer the love and didn’t offer the support that quote unquote, a normal child would want for their whole foundation of a human being, from birth to childhood, which then can allow them to understand what caring is. But he said that luckily in the teachings that… he understands that we are also the continuation of our parents. And so when he was touching the earth, he said that, I know that I didn’t receive the love that I needed, but I will give myself the love that I need now in this community, in this moment of practice. And by doing that, I am caring for you also. And when he shared that to me, I had goosebumps because it was so genuine and it was so raw for him. And he expressed in a way that, if it wasn’t for Plum Village, maybe he would never have that kind of thought towards his parents. And he was reciting in the time that we’re touching the earth, he was like, at least you gave me life, at least you gave me life, at least you gave me life. So I share this because I know that not everyone have loving parents, and that’s a fact. But in our practice of deep understanding, even though our parents may not be the role model we wanted, but it is thanks to those conditions that we are here. So the gratitude that we can generate in that moment is gratitude to life. So we can even say even to Mother Earth, which is like a mother, and father, son that gives us energy to survive today. So the first gratitude is towards our parents. And even some brothers and sisters in our community, they’ve expressed that their parents were like their aunts and uncles that help them become good human beings. So some of them shared, when they touched the earth, they would divide some of their energy, a moment to gratefulness that they’re here thanks to biologically their parents. But the love and the real care and the tenderness of a parent, it can be seen in different people. So we don’t have to be so attached to just our biological parents. And in that practice is also just acknowledging one of our roots, which is our parents. And then the second gratitude is to teachers who have shown us how to understand and love. And in terms of Buddhism, we always use the language spiritual teachers. But I think teachers today, if there is love and care, that’s already spirituality for me, because there is a tenderness and there is an understanding and a generosity that is present. And for myself, every time I touch the earth in this gratitude, of course, I’m grateful to Thay, who is my root teacher that shaved my head and gave me so much courage and compassion and peace. But it wasn’t only Thay that contributed to my upbringing as a monk. Now I have had, like, I don’t know, four official mentors. But we also have like many underground mentors, like we have some role model brothers and sisters that they might not even know that they meant a lot to us. And then, you know, Jo, you are one of my mentors, one of my teachers too. You know, and I think of like so many of the conditions that that I’m still meeting today that are still teaching me. So that’s what the practice will never become boring. If you have the lens of refresh, renew and present moment. And the third one, which I think is our favorite because it has both of our spiritual names, which is to friends. Friends that have supported us, guide us and become a rock for us in moments of suffering. And I remember when we touched the earth to friends, when we’re all in prostration, a lot of the time Thay would repeat it so that we invoke this gratitude towards those conditions. And he would always say how grateful to all the friends who support us in the most difficult moments. We all have many layers of friends. You know, we have childhood friends, we have school friends, then we have spiritual friends, and then we have right… you know, those ones who you just like you are… there’s so much understanding there. And sometimes we use the language our soulmates. And we use this in English, this language, and whenever I know in a worldly terminology like soulmate, we think of a lover. But even in friendship, there is love, in friendship there is a lot of care that needs to be done for that friendship to maintain so that the friendship can continue, because in one of the layers of friendship, there has to be understanding. And when you meet someone who just knows you and accepts you, I think like that is a feeling that can allow you to feel whole. And in Buddhism, the Buddha emphasized a lot on friendship. That’s why he built a community. The first thing the Buddha did after he was enlightened was he went to look for his friends. So as Siddhartha, as Siddhartha was still embarking on the path of searching for enlightenment, he met many spiritual teachers, and he had particularly five friends who joined him. And at one point they abandoned him because he gave up the practice of asceticism. And they all felt that he betrayed the path. But he had a different understanding to it. And in that moment, you know, I’m sure as a human being, he received their energy of like, judgment and criticism, the way they looked. Because in Old Path White Clouds, like Thay describes it, like, they felt betrayed by him because he’s eating now, he’s drinking, he’s looking for quote unquote, comfort. But the Buddha, he wasn’t a Buddha yet, but as Siddhartha, he said that I need to… I need to go and really support my body. That was his understanding of the middle path to start to I have this body is so precious I can’t deprive it, I can’t suffer like this, to a gift because I’m here thanks to my parents. Right? And when he became enlightened, the first thought he had was to seek his five friends to show them the way. And in a very famous conversation, I think, with Ananda, one of the Buddha’s most wholehearted attendants, one of the favorites. So very interestingly, you know, even the Buddha had favorite students. And this is, maybe some people will not agree with that because there’s like, but the Buddha’s enlightened then, you know, he overcomes all of these norms of emotions and feelings. But in sutras, you know, you can see that there were students that the Buddha really admired and even respect, like Shariputra and Maudgalyayana, when they passed away, the Buddha was deeply sad because all of his students were his friends also. And in this conversation, I think Ananda… Sister True Dedication spoke of it in the last podcast, but Ananda said something, asked the Buddha like in the path of practice, is it important to develop friendship? And the Buddha said, friendship is the whole path of practice. We have to have friends to support us on the path. And this is a really interesting insight because I want to speak on it because of our modern time when it comes to leadership and it comes to success, even in spirituality, there’s a lot about oneself, is a lot about individualism. And Thay, our teacher, really wanted to help our community as well as our present moment society to go back to the deep insight from our ancestors about community living, about community wisdom, about friendship. And I think only in the last 60 years or so, like this real… Or 100 years, this concept of leadership is you can do it by yourself, you know, and this image of mostly men, very strong, very firm, no emotions, you know, can handle and tackle anything. And I think that’s a really wrong view that has made us a little bit ignorant, egotistic, of course, dare I say. And because of these energy, it even cuts us off from our friends. So the third one, very deep, and I think we can dive deep after I finish on the fourth one, because my Dharma name is Phap Huu, which means True Dharma Friend. And yours is?


Spiritual Friend of the Heart.


Look at this.




That’s probably why….


That’s why we’re sitting here.


That’s why we’re sitting here. You know, dear friends, this is my first time knowing Jo’s Dharma name.


It’s only taken 17 years.


Yes. And then coming to the fourth one. So we go, now we go above and beyond and it is in gratitude to all beings in the animal, plant, and mineral worlds that supports life. And we pay our homage to that. And we can say to the whole cosmos, to the whole universe, to Mother Earth, even our rock, we are grateful for. And that is to nourish our deep connection of interbeing.


Thank you, brother. So what that makes me think about is that there is a tendency for people to focus on what’s going wrong in their life and to feel overwhelmed by the negative things. And it’s often, it can be just 1 or 2 things that are negative, but that we can feel that we get stuck in those and that we become, we fret about them, etc., etc. but actually, there’s so many things to be grateful for. And, you know, one of the things I loved about Thay was he talked about having gratitude for not having a toothache. So non toothache, because when we have a toothache we really suffer. So actually there’s so many conditions in life to be grateful for. As you say, we can see, we can hear, we can breathe. For many of us, we have shelter, we have food, we have friends, as you say. So what do you think it is about us that finds it so difficult to really be able to just effortlessly go into this gratitude, but would rather actually find problems in the world and find reasons why we’re not enough, and reasons why someone who we counted as a friend did one thing wrong and then we think that they’ve betrayed us, and we often find so many ways to stop the flow of gratitude. And I’m just wondering what it is you think is going on there. What why is this such a difficult practice where there’s so many opportunities to practice it?


I think you touched on it in the question when it’s about enoughness. Brother Bao Tang, Brother Treasure, just made a… just wrote a song. It’s a very beautiful song about loneliness because in one of his class for the monastic, we divide it into three groups, and we all had a choice of topic and we all decided to speak on loneliness. All three groups.




Independently. So, dear friends, even as monastics, we still have a deep void from time to time that we are still caring for, a loneliness that is present. And as we have learned from the teachings on manas, which is not knowing enough, ignoring, suffering and wanting and grasping. And it’s very connected to love as well as survival. And a lot of times, our whole journey as a human being is to understand the quest of what is love. I’ve so many people have asked me this and I’ve had to reflect on it multiple times. And sometimes I have like the simplest answer. And I said, well, love is that you know you are enough so you can stop running. And the Buddha and Thay and many great teachers of our time try to remind us that stop running, stop looking for who you want to be outside of you. Thay even has a calligraphy stop running, you look silly. I don’t know if you’ve seen this one. I love this one. Stop running, you look silly. And this running is not about like going towards an aspiration, but this running is running away from ourself, running away from our suffering. And I feel because in our modern time, we are bombarded by so much information, so much image and projection of what is perfect, social media, movies, films, images. And when we look back at ourself, we don’t have these things and therefore it makes us feel we are deprived and therefore we start to embark on a journey of success or of conquering, taking over. And I think when we really touch the present moment with deep insight that what I have here is enough, you start to touch freedom. And a lot of us are afraid to come home to ourself. That’s where it begins, though. And the whole art of meditation is learning to come home. And a lot of us are still in this process. We’re still in this journey. Sometimes we’re in our home, but then we’d like to leave and we wander again. Thay has a poem about the wanderer to say that we all have this, this wandering seed inside of us that doesn’t know the wonderful conditions that are present. And he even wrote a poem called […] The Teacher Looking for You to help you to find yourself. And so we can start to look in history and to see that our society and our human search is always a journey outwards, but then it always arrives back inwards. One of my favorite books, I’m sure many of us have read The Alchemist, when at the end of his journey, it’s what he was looking for is where it began. But sometimes we need to take that journey, and we can become even grateful for the hardship, the journey that we need to embark on. And so what I would say why is so hard is number one is because we may not yet have the ability to come home to oneself. We don’t know what the feeling of enough is. I look back at my own childhood, you know, the first thought that I had to be successful is just to have a lot of money. Because I felt that we didn’t have enough. We were poor. My parents worked two jobs. There was so much to strive towards. And then the complexes that come with that. You know, in school, you’re hiding, you know, our poverty, you know, we’re hiding even my own roots, my heritage, my Vietnamese culture. And so, like this search that that we’re looking for something to be felt whole. But we don’t know what it is. And my parents so much loved and cared for me, but I didn’t have the saying, like, you’re enough. Don’t try to be somebody else. I wasn’t taught that at the early age. So then my consciousness only is looking for something outside of me. So I’m in search mode. I’m in mission mode. And therefore gratitude was very rare because I wanted something to be grateful for not knowing that the coziness of a family it’s more than enough. So what the Dharma has allowed me to really touch is this precious present moment where sometimes the most simplest atmosphere, feeling a cup of tea, a walk with my brothers and sister. Sometimes just walking silently with 800 people in a retreat. It’s so simple. But when you go back into society, not many people are walking like that. So then the simplicity in our life becomes the moments that allows us to feel full the most, hold the most. And therefore gratitude becomes more alive for us. Rather than searching for it, gratitude is very present when you meet great friends, right? And I know it is so cheeky and it’s kind of like it’s so cringy even to say but like sometimes, like when we’re going to meet each other and we’re coming from different countries, it’s like, what do you want? Right? Because like we’re taught in society, if we love somebody, we buy them a gift, right? And so many times people ask me, like, Brother Phap Huu, what can I bring for you? And I literally have no idea. And I just say, just your presence would be more than enough. And as I say it and I get like a little bit like itchy goosebump because it’s like, so cringy to say that, but that’s the truth. That’s the truth. It’s like when you’re with those who you feel embrace you feel, you’re understood, you feel love is just like, don’t need anything else.


Well, thank you, brother. And one of the things that I’ve learned is that gratitude is a practice, and that it’s a muscle that we need to develop. Because if we actually have a practice of gratitude, then it’s going to flow much more easily. And I know that sort of with Paz and I, you know, we don’t remember it all the time, but we do our best to have a daily practice of gratitude and we’ll say, you know, what are the three things today that you have gratitude. And as you say, the things that come out, you know, are no big things. I have gratitude for the fact that actually we had a great breakfast, gratitude for the fact that we’re had a chance to go on a long walk again. I have gratitude because actually, even though it’s cold, I’m sort of dressed, and I feel cozy, warm. It’s never actually that complex, but it is a practice. It is something that… And, you know, when I work with people around coaching, you know, sometimes I’ll suggest people get a cookie jar. And when they’re feeling very low, you know, they’re finding life difficult is just to write down what they have gratitude for every day and actually watch that jar fill up. And there was one person I worked with who, at the end of the year, literally emptied the whole jar and read them all out. So can you talk a little bit about just… you know, why practice is so important?


Yeah. Practice is reminders for us. We do have a very concrete practice in our Dharma doors. One of the Plum Village Dharma doors is having we call it a Cong Phu book. And when you hear the word Cong Phu, you think of martial art, but what it translates to it means practice, daily practice. And our teacher would encourage us to sit down on a blank piece of paper and write down the conditions that have brought us here. And then present moment, the conditions that are nourishing us now. And then one time he even asked us in your community, how many friends do you have? The friends that you would want to build another monastery with? And then what are the aspirations? What? What is making your heart sing in this moment? Why are you a monk? Why are you a nun? Why are you doing what you are doing? And so this practice is very simple, but when you do it with full mindfulness you do have to be very genuine and very honest to yourself. So gratitude the practice to touch it there has to also be honesty in it because we can, you know, how are you? Oh, I’m fine. You know, I’m great. But when we talk about practice, it’s really about shining the light of mindfulness, which has right mindfulness is honesty. And we have to be able to name the quality stuff out there for us. And when you have this muscle of gratitude strong enough, like how you, how we mention when suffering comes, we don’t allow suffering to totally take over. We still have another muscle to still hold and to our well-being. And the joy and the happiness can also compensate the present moment suffering. There is a lot of suffering today, and if we just focus fully in the suffering, then we also may lose the light. So therefore the gratitude, it becomes this light that we want to protect, to give us hope, to know why we are doing what we’re doing, for the activists to know what they are protecting, for the people who are calling out injustice to have the gratitude that as a human being, we can use our voice to speak about the suffering that is present. And there is that light, that fire, we use fire a lot in Buddhism as a metaphor because it can be transmitted. And also gratitude, it can be transmitted to one another. It is contagious in a way. When you’re with somebody who is so grateful for life, who doesn’t demand for anything more, who is not needy, who is not selfish, that that quality of present affects you, and you get to receive this quality of being that knows what is enough, that knows how to look at a flower and cry. We actually have, a brother, one of our most senior brothers, who wasn’t ordained by Thay but came to our community and he was the first abbot of Deer Park […] Venerable […] As a Zen master also. And there is a story that Thay told of him to us is that one day he was walking in the fields in Upper Hamlet, and he saw a dandelion. And he knelt down and he just started crying because he saw the beauty of the cosmos that was present. And is something as simple as this wonder of life, we all have many wonders of life around us, but a lot of us were searching for that mysterious future, that kingdom of heaven, that pure land of the Buddha, projected towards the future. Maybe when we die, but our practice is very present moment of focus because the present it threads the past and it is carrying the future. And so in the present moment, if we can touch this wonder of the dandelion like a Zen Master Thay […], then we know why is so important to take care of this planet, of our actions, of the way we consume. And gratitude, if we have enough of gratitude, we are already much more happier. And in the second mindfulness trainings in the five mindfulness trainings, there’s a sentence that it always strikes me that happiness is an attitude. It’s not about receiving or having more, but it’s an attitude. So if we have enough gratitude, our happiness will always be present. And I think during my years when I was with Thay, he always had gratitude. There were so many times that he would be grateful for his student. And through the years, Thay learned to express more his gratitude. In our Asian culture, I think our generation is much different now because there’s a multicultural transmission that we get to learn through the internet and just being able to understand more profoundly about different cultures, but back in the days, Iike, in Vietnam, we don’t say, I love you. We don’t give hugs. You know, it’s not something that we do as our expression of love, but our way of love was more like, I know you’re hungry, so I’m going to cook your meal. Or sometimes it’s like, even like, I love you, therefore I need to help you. And sometimes, like, I need to correct you, is because I love you. If I don’t love you, I won’t say anything because I don’t care about you. But it’s so important to have the ability to express our gratitude now. And, yeah, through the years, like Thay, he would like from time to time, he would just give his students hugs, you know, and the young monastics who were coming in very early age, like 16, 17, 18, 20, 25 ish from time to time, Thay would hold hands of the monks and nuns during walking meditation. And it was very beautiful because Thay, he’s a teacher that is very in tune to the psychological experience of his students also. So there are students that he knows that didn’t have the tenderness of their parents, so Thay would hold their hands for walking meditation. And it’s a very simple act, but it’s very impactful. I remember some brothers and sisters sharing like, I would never imagine, as a grown up, having somebody hold my hand so tenderly. And it’s like a balm through the scars and the pain of a child that that has witnessed and experienceed. I receive sometimes, you know, some very wonderful, just words of thank you from Thay. And for me, as an attendant, you know, my mind’s like, that’s my job, Thay. You know, that’s why I’m here, that’s what I’m supposed to do. But it is through this expression that we also know that what we are doing have meaning to somebody. So I think not only do… we are practicing gratitude for oneself, but we also need to practice to offer gratitude to others because that can water the seed of goodness in them so that they know that their action means something.


Beautiful, brother. And I think it’s worth differentiating between, you know, some people might mistake gratitude for I’m really glad, thank you so much for making me wealthier. Thank you so much for being there for me because that allowed me to do this, allowed me to do that. So gratitude can have a selfish quality. And of course, we’re talking here about gratitude for life and gratitude as a gift, as something that’s a wave of… that it has happiness and joy and it has love. It’s like it’s a wave of full of meaning that we offer. And I want to specifically come back to the fourth one, brother, about gratitude for the Earth, all living beings and minerals. And whenever I hear that, I sort of love Thay even more because it’s like it takes us into that zone of that we so often have gratitude for things almost that that are like us or that remind us of ourselves. So things with maybe human characteristics, so we might like an animal because in a sense reflects something. Or we might like a tree because the tree reminds us of our strength or that we provide refuge. So often we have gratitude for things that we think reflect who we are. But having gratitude for the minerals of the Earth, which I would say that 99% of the world’s population or higher. Would not in their life or in their sphere of understanding, would say, I have gratitude for minerals.




So I’d love to just talk a little bit about that because I think there’s something really… it takes us beyond this idea of I have gratitude because it’s reflecting something back to me.


Yeah. This gratitude, it allows us to really practice the non-self teachings in Buddhism. The Buddha teaches us that we can only be us because we are not us. And what does that mean? It means that no matter how great we are, no matter whom we are, the title we hold, and so on, if we remove all of the conditions, even the minerals, we can’t exist. And this practice and this teaching is to allow us to, first of all, touch humility as human beings. Be humble. Nature is very humble. There’s harmony. And the most destructive element of our Earth is human beings, because of our greed, because of our extractive nature, because of our also love to violence sometimes. I am also, yeah, I remember as a child, like loved killing insects. And Plum Village definitely changed that, taught me very differently about feelings, because we think that these animals are this insect, don’t have feelings, and therefore we can be so cruel. And this insight when it comes to even the minerals, we know that there are things that we can’t see with our own eyes. But as a biologist or a scientist, you know, they have microscopes and we can see the many factors that are working together for something just to be. And when we touch this gratitude, it is to you’re paying even homage to the things that we don’t know that are there supporting our life. And in a way, is to be open, to touch the openness in you. And I feel that, especially in the West, like we’re so like, if that doesn’t exist, we don’t think about it, it’s not true. Right? And there’s some things, and that we’re learning from our ancestors and we’re learning from our elders from our indigenous leaders that sometimes there are things that we can’t see, but we can learn, we can, even from nature, we don’t see it. But there are meanings to the way things shift, you know, and there are meanings to the way nature expresses itself if we know how to listen. And so, in a way, all of our technologies that we have been able to establish in our modern world sometimes is very dry and dead. And therefore we also become very dualistic. So this insight that even the minerals is something to respect is to understand deep teachings of interbeing, interconnectedness. And it is expressed through our practice. If I invite you to read the gathas that our teachers have written, all of the gathas that goes around our daily life, like even when we turn on the top of… when we turn a tap and water flows, Thay said, you know, in his time, he had to go to the well every day to collect water. And the first time that water came through a tap, it was like a miracle. And so he wrote a gatha for that. And every gatha has gratitude in it. Even the first step we take there’s a gatha, I know I have to walk on the earth, and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t remember it word by word, but the essence of it is as I walk on this earth, I may crush a worm, an insect, and I pray that if I do that because I cannot see it, I pray that this insect will be reborn again. So every practice, every action that we do, the gathas that Thay writes, it all has a thread of respecting life, which is gratitude. So this fourth one, it speaks on the respect of life, the respect that is, the conditions that are all supporting us.


So, brother, to give you an example, a few years ago, when I was at the Guardian, I was invited to Bhutan to help chair a conference on economic development. And I’d been to many business conferences over the years, which were all about how to make as much money as quickly as possible. And it was all about profit maximization and about how quickly companies could grow, etc., etc.. And then I went to Bhutan to this economic conference, and the first session that I moderated was about fruits and nuts in the forest because they, because Bhutan is largely forested and it has… and they were looking for how can they bring more money to develop the country and poverty. And the whole discussion was around how to balance the needs of the animals living in the forest who need to eat the fruits and nuts, and what the human extraction could be and how to ensure that the animals didn’t suffer from this. And I remember I came out of that thinking, wow, you know, if everyone thought that way, if everyone thought, you know, what is the balance? Then it would transform the world. And then I went to the next session was around, soil. And because there was increasing thought that they should use sort of pesticides and stuff. And the whole conversation was about how to protect the life of the soil, which is an example of what you’re saying, because no one can see the life in the soil, but we know it’s there. And the whole conversation was, well, if we bring in pesticides, we will diminish the life in the soil, and then we’ll end up using more pesticides. And the whole conference was around being in balance, was around saying actually there are human needs, but also there are the needs of the animals. And there’s the needs of everyone. And actually, how do we make that work? So there is a way, but we need to come back into balance, I think, brother, because so much of the extraction is based on, as you say, not feeling enough, not being enough, whereas gratitude is like a great rebalancer.


Yeah. And I think hopefully there are those who are city planners and architects listening to this podcast. I think in cities, because all around us are like tall buildings and skyscrapers and there’s not enough nature, so the idea of, like, to respect minerals… And we know that the outside impacts the inside. And I think that our modern times, we really have to rethink of what modernization means. And Thay says like in the 21st century, a modern home should have a breathing room. Right? A modern home should have places where we can hang plants, be reminded of our connection to the environment. And I think that gratitude, we all want it. I know when we feel grateful, we feel so complete. And so, how do we also schedule our day so that we can also have gratitude present for us, whether it is a moment of a walk in nature, whether it is to be with those that we love, or the mantras that we can tell our loved ones. I know you are there and I’m so happy. A hug, sharing a meal and telling our partner how grateful we are that they cooked this meal. So it’s just like the simple, the simplest actions that we can do is all present in us. And the market expresses it very differently than like, oh, buy this for them to express your gratitude. Right? So, you know, this, in the last two years in Plum Village, France, we used to have a tradition of Secret Santa, and it was a way to express our love for one another and to also have moments that we can just connect to brothers and sisters we don’t know through the Secret Santa, but in the last two years we decided to stop doing that because it gravitated towards consumption. You know, sometimes Thay would even tell us, oh, just go out there and get a rock.


Wrap a rock.


Wrap a rock, you know. Or he would say, make something that’s very meaningful. But not all of us have craft skills and like, who are good builders or so. And in the last two years, when we stopped giving presents, I feel that the Christmas that we have together it’s more about presence, it’s more about showing up for one another and spending that time or sometimes, it’s my own mind, I’m like, okay, I’ll give my time to you. It’s a very horrible habit, I’m still transforming, and just to be there, because these are the moments that I know I’m very grateful for. So I feel like this collective awakening that I believe that has already started can also start to change in the way of being. And our consumption is a big part of our climate crisis.


I saw… I have a… This brings up a very strong memory for me, brother, the family Christmases when I was in the UK, and there were all the children came together, and there was one year where, where people, the children were opening a present. And before they even looked at it, really, they wanted to open the next one. And it became, the word I would say is obscene. It was obscene, actually, because there was no gratitude, there was grasping, there was competition, looking at who got what, why didn’t I get that? Why is it? And of… There’s this economic disparity with the family, so some of the kids were getting something very sort of large, others were getting something smaller and that year we just stopped it. And we just put a, we just said, okay, let’s, you know, buy yourself one present on behalf of the family, and this is the amount of money, it’s the same for everyone. And because actually it was, it created meaninglessness rather than meaning. And it was just… And one of the things I really like, my youngest son, whenever it’s his birthday or Christmas or whatever… I say, Isaac, what can I get you? And he said, dad I don’t need anything. And in my stupidity, because I’m still stuck in this thing of well I say, well, Isaac, but you must want something because, you know, I’d like to buy you something. And he says, dad, there’s nothing I need. And I have so much respect for that because that is from a place of humility, it’s not from… Because there are so many people that would be asked that, and even if they don’t really want something, they would say something because they want to accumulate something. And it’s just, there’s no gratitude in that. There’s just grasping. Brother, one thing I just… You started out saying friendship. So we both have friendship in our Dharma names. So let’s just explore that a bit. What do you mean by, what is friendship? What is true friendship? Because, you know, there are many levels of friendship. There’s acquaintances, people we meet every so often, and then they’re people that, you know, if they were in trouble, we’d give up whatever we were doing and just be there for them.


Let’s save that for another podcast. I really think that’s a whole episode. And it’s something very close to my heart, actually.




Friendship. And I haven’t, yeah, I have a real aspiration on putting something together about friendship.


Right. Okay. So dear listeners, this will come in the future. And brother, anything else that you want to share?


I think the last thing is just to remind us that gratitude is not about something outside of us, and it’s a practice that can allow us to not take this present moment for granted. And I, every time I’m able to come home to the present moment and feel that, oh, you know what? Everything that I could have been, I’m grateful that I’m here. I am who I am in this present moment. A lot of us can beat ourself up with, like, the past, like, oh, if only I made that decision, if only I made that choice at that time. But where we are, it’s all the conditions that allow us to have this understanding, this present moment, and nothing is lost. And gratitude tells us that we are made of not us elements, and the future is also still there. And to have gratitude for that ability to be present, to nourish our ancestors inside of us, to take care of our descendant in the present moment by the gratitude we have, because the gratitude that we can cultivate and generate becomes a transmission, it becomes a teaching for the next generation, or else we will continue down the road of consumerism, as well as destroying one another and destroying our planet.


Thank you, brother. And just finally, from my perspective, so we sit here, this is episode 60 something. And so I, you know, it’s very difficult to know what comes across through a microphone, but, I just want to have gratitude for this moment, brother, with you. Because I think sometimes we go deeper than other times. Sometimes when I listen to you, it’s like I’m into a deeper space. And so today is one example of that where I’m sitting here and I just feel this sort of deep sense of quietness, this deep sense of that you’re in your presence, that you’re not remembering something or you’re not this, you’re not distracted, you’re not this, you’re that. But actually, what you’re sharing is a transmission, is a teaching. And so, in this moment, I want to express my gratitude to you for as you started this episode by saying, you know, you are the abbot, you know, you’re busy, you have many, many things to do, and yet you’re sitting here, around the kitchen table in Thich Nhat Hanh’s hut, sharing deeply from your heart and from your experience and from your love. And I feel that. And I guess that the people listening to it will feel that too. But it’s like the whole atmosphere in this hut, for me, it’s like, it’s just all the ions have settled, you know, there’s just everything is at peace in this hut right now in a way that is not always the case. So it’s good to have you here today. So thank you, brother.


Thank you.


Now, what we often do not always, but often is, at the end of our conversation is to have a guided meditation. It’s a chance to let go of everything that’s been spoken and to say, actually, that is now already the past. And what is, what has gone into your system and, the Dharma rain, what has settled in, has settled in, what isn’t needed will flow away. And we come back to this moment and a chance to settle and be present and to hear the dulcet tones of Brother Phap Huu gifting us a short meditation.


Dear friends, I invite you to find a seat or even to stand still or even lay down. And whether you, whether you are sitting on an airplane, on a train, on the bus, on your couch or on the ground, just start to feel the weight of our body sinking. We want to sit a little bit upright, our head, neck and back, all aligned, resting our two hands and arms either on our lap or whatever comfortable position that we can find ourselves to allow the muscles to just arrive to ease. And I invite us to acknowledge our inbreath and outbreath. Just calling it by its name. This is inbreath. This is outbreath. Be gentle with the breath. If it is long, let it be long. If it is short, let it be short. We don’t have to force the breathing, just becoming one with it. And as we breathe in, we follow and dwell in our inbreath from the beginning to the end. And as we breathe out, we follow, we dwell in our outbreath from the beginning to the end. Full refuge in inbreath, full refuge in outbreath. As we breathe in, allowing our breath to become more deep. And as we breathe out, allowing it to become more slow. Breathe deep inbreath. Slow outbreath. And as we breathe in, let us become aware of our body. As we breathe out, we are grateful to our body. In. Aware of body. Out. How grateful it is to have a body. Breathing in, aware of the stillness that is present, that we have cultivated. Breathing out, I am grateful for my capacity to be still, to be present. Aware of stillness in presence. Grateful for this capacity. Breathing in, I offer my awareness to the whole cosmos, Mother Earth, to the animals, plants, and the minerals. All of this condition. Breathing out, I’m grateful I’m not a separate self. I touch interbeing, interconnectedness. Breathing in, I visualize and see this community sangha of the podcast breathing with me. Breathing out, I’m so grateful for every member that is present, that is listening, that is aspiring to bring mindfulness into our daily life. Aware of the family of the podcast, grateful for everyone present. Breathing in, I’m grateful for this inbreath. Breathing out, I smile to this outbreath. Grateful for inbreath. I smile a smile of gratitude.


Thank you, friends, for joining and practicing with us, and we’ll see you next time.


Dear friends, we hope you’ve enjoyed this episode. You can find all previous episodes of the podcast on the Plum Village App, on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, and any other podcast platform you use. If you like what you’re listening to, then please subscribe to The Way Out Is In podcast on the platform of your choice. And it’d be lovely if you feel, you want to leave a review, so that other people can find us.


You can also find all previous guided meditation in the On the Go section of the Plum Village App. And this podcast is co-produced with Global Optimism and the Plum Village App with the support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you feel inspired to support the podcast moving forward, please visit And we want to express our gratitude to our friends and collaborators. Today, Brother Niem Thung, our sound engineer; to Clay, aka the Podfather, our co-producer; to Cata, our co-producer of the podcast also; to another Joe, our audio editing; to Anca, our show notes and publishing; and to Jasmine and Cyndee, our social media guardian angels.


See you next time.


The way out is in.

/ Register

Hide Transcript

What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

00:00 / 00:00
Show Hide Transcript Close