Welcome to 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 creating more happiness and joy in our lives.
Meet your hosts, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and lay Buddhist practitioner and journalist Jo Confino, as they introduce themselves and share their aspirations for this series. In this episode, they discuss choosing the title and its meaning, the art of calligraphy, the work of the Plum Village zen monastic community, discovering the practice of mindfulness in the tradition of Plum Village, and their first encounters with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay).
Brother Phap Huu also shares stories from his seventeen-year period as Thay’s personal attendant, and glimpses of life in the monastic community. You’ll also hear a short history of Thay’s early years as a monk in war-torn Vietnam, his travels to other parts of the world, and how he joined forces with civil rights leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. to call for global peace, and started “the beloved community.”
Phap Huu remembers his first encounter with the mindful art of calligraphy, how the title of the podcast was inspired by a calligraphy, and Thay’s fondness for this art.
Jo shares his first experience interviewing Thay, an unexpected introduction to mindful walking, how he truly came home to the here and now during his Plum Village visits and retreats, and why he currently resides in the vicinity of the monastery, in the south of France.
The episode ends with a guided meditation 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
Plum Village Community
Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation
Parallax Press – Publishing House
Tu Hieu Pagoda – The Root Temple
The Hero with a Thousand Faces
The Hare and the Tortoise
“One Buddha is not enough.”
“‘The way out is in’ is telling us that a lot of the answers that we are looking for actually begin from within us.”
“The great mystery is to explore within to find the answers, because we now have come to a place in society where we recognise that this is a dead end and actually we are not going to progress as a civilisation or be at peace with ourselves or with nature if we don’t actually go deep into ourselves for the answers.”
“There’s only one style of walking in Plum Village and that is mindful walking, and mindful walking is to enjoy each step.”
“If we know how to suffer, we will suffer much less.”
Welcome to the first episode of the podcast The Way Out Is In.
I’m Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And welcome to the first episode of The Way Out Is In. And in this episode we’re going to be talking about the meaning of the way out is in and about Thich Nhat Hanh and the Plum Village monastic Zen community. Also, at the end, we’re going to have a special guided meditation by you, Brother Phap Huu.
The way out is in.
So, Phap Huu, why don’t we introduce ourselves? Why don’t you go first?
Hello, friends, my name is Brother Phap Huu, who it translates as Dharma Friend. I am a Zen Buddhist monk in the tradition of Plum Village under my teacher Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh. And I have been a monk since I was 14 years old and I am now living in the Upper Hamlet in Plum Village with my community. And we’re just like everyone, in the midst of a pandemic. And we’ve been practicing with, uh, with each other and how to nourish ourselves, take care of our difficulties, take care of the fear, the anxiety. And through this, we had the idea of creating a podcast to share our experience in our life in the monastery and how we apply the practice to the suffering that comes to us in our daily lives. That’s who I am. And Jo, can you introduce yourself?
Yes. So my name is Jo Confino. I currently live a stone’s throw away from Plum Village and I’ve been a journalist for the last 40 years, focussing mainly on business and finance. I was Wall Street correspondent for The Daily Telegraph. I was an executive editor at The Guardian. And then the last five years I was on the senior leadership team of the Huff Post in New York. And the reason I came to live right next door to Plum Village is because this is the place where I truly came home to myself. This is the place where I found a sense of real happiness and serenity and the practices of Plum Village have been really key to bringing more happiness and joy and understanding to my life. And and so this podcast is a sort of great way, in a sense, to share the joy and happiness I’ve had through the teachings and spread it, because I think that’s one of the things Plum Village is here to do. Isn’t it, Phap Huu?
It’s correct. We are here to share what we practice in our daily life. And our purpose of creating this podcast is also to let the listeners from all around the world have a glimpse of the life of monks and nuns in the community, as well as to hear our stories of how we let go of our ambitions of the world and devote ourselves to a path of understanding, awakening, love, compassion, and to put it more simply, just to become nicer people, nicer human beings.
Yeah, and it’s a great way of putting it. I was thinking because in Plum Village you sometimes talk about what is your aspiration, which is what is your intention in life. So I was thinking about my intention for this podcast, and it’s really for me about saying how do we live a good life? How do we live a better life? You know that that the most of us live very, very busy complex lives, are often dealing with very difficult situations. But actually there’s always a way through. And and so for me, this is about how do we share and support people in finding a path through life in a way that brings them balance and allows them to generate more compassion, more love, more understanding, because that’s what we need in the world.
Yeah, I totally agree. And today we still face so much discrimination and so much fear and anxiety and so much violence in the world. And no matter where we are living, we all suffer together. When we see this kind of news, we hear these reports of discrimination, racism and we can see that we all suffer, but our teacher teaches us, but if we know how to suffer, we will suffer much less. And that’s why I feel like having a chance to look at the suffering together through this podcast, we can find a way out of a difficult situation.
Yeah. So this podcast series is called The Way Out Is In. And we’re going to, you know, jump into that in the next segment. But I think essentially it speaks a great truth that that is through our suffering that we find answers. And I was just having a conversation with someone today and he was saying is through collapse, through divorce, through problems in life, we would not wish them on ourselves. But actually, they are always opportunities to find a deeper sense of who we are and how we respond to that. So I think that’s one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s great teachings, is about sort of actually if you sit well with your suffering, you get great insights.
That’s very correct. And I, I always remember one of my teacher’s teaching to us that we don’t discriminate between suffering and happiness. We have to see the interconnection between the two. If we look at a flower and we see its beauty, but we know the nature of impermanence, which is one day it will become garbage, it will become compost. But if we know how to take care of that compost, it will become a flower again. So in this light, we can see suffering as an ingredient that can help us learn, can help us look deeply to overcome that suffering, for it to become wellbeing. It can be peace. It can become happiness in our daily life. And it can just be understanding, learning, looking deeply from our suffering will give us this kind of insight.
Yeah. And just finally, I think one of the great things about this series is that, you know, I feel very fortunate because every year I’ve been coming to Plum Village and having this deep experience of what it’s like here. But for most people in the world, they can’t come here. And I think one thing about the pandemic is that what it’s shown up for Plum Village, is actually you can reach out in new ways and reach people. And so I think one of the things I would like this series to be is that that at the end of it or during it, people will say, actually, I’ve been in Plum Village. You know, it’s not just I’m listening to podcasts, but I have this sense of feeling and a response that that I’m part of this community, because I think one of the things about the Plum Village tradition is it’s about community.
And one of my hope for the podcast is to be able to invite different members of my community so that we can hear their stories, hear their experience. And for all of our friends listening, Plum Village is international community. And the foundation of our community are the monks and nuns who live and train here 24/7. And most of us devote our whole life towards this path. And in this community, we have over… residents in Plum Village, over 160 monks and nuns. And that’s a lot. And that’s a lot of beautiful characteristics, uniqueness and different walks of life that have come together to Plum Village. And for me, that was one of the most interesting aspect when I first came to Plum Village, even though Plum Village is close to Bordeaux, south of France. But when you come to Plum Village, you see this international community of many friends from so many different parts of the world, so many different cultures. But you get to see that they all come with an aspiration of wanting to understand and learn the practice of mindfulness, which is the practice of awareness. And coming to Plum Village you have a chance to meditate, a chance to learn about the way of taking time to enjoy a step, taking time to sit, taking time to eat, and which we call sitting meditation, walking meditation, eating meditation, and uniquely just living in the community you have a chance to be exposed to so many walks of life. And I think that’s also one of the uniqueness of an international community. And if you are open, you get to hear so many stories, see so many experiences, and then learn from so many sharings from monks, nuns and of all the lay friends that come to Plum Village.
Yeah, this is such a rich tradition. And that’s why I’m looking forward to this, because actually I… We can just go on endlessly because there’s so much to learn. And one of the things that I’ve always been most impressed with Thich Nhat Hanh is about his… the way he’s developed this whole idea of engage Buddhism or applied Buddhism, which is that this is not about learning to sit for the sake of sitting, but this is learning to be more present, more engaged, more involved in order to help the suffering in the world. And we know that Thich Nhat Hanh has been absolutely engaged in some of the key issues, in fact, being way ahead of the key issues around things like the environment, things around science and Buddhism. You know that there’s such a rich tradition and it’s all about saying, actually, this is not just about learning for the sake of it. It’s learning in order to be better people ourselves, in order to make the world a better place.
Yes. And I hope that in this podcast, we will get to also explore the life of Thich Nhat Hanh, my teacher, our teacher, because that will allow us to see how he was able to master the practice in order to share it to the world. And one of his sharing that really stayed with me is that… we call our teacher Thay, it means teacher in Vietnamese. So from time to time, you hear we address Thich Nhat Hanh as Thay and that’s who we are speaking about. So Thay would say that throughout his life he has had many teachers, but one of the teachers that taught him the most is suffering. And through suffering, he was able to find the practices that can really help us in the present moment. And it’s not about devotional practice or wishing to reach enlightenment, but it’s a practice that we can use and cultivate so that we can master our mind, be aware of our emotions, our feelings, and be capable of understanding what is happening right here, right now, inside of us and around us. And these are some of the ingredients that have come together to make the teachings of Plum Village, which we call it applied Buddhism, engaged Buddhism.
Yeah. In fact, I remember when I went to Bhutan, I went to Bhutan thinking, this is the very heart of Buddhism, I’m at the source. And when I met one of the senior lamas there, he was saying that they were getting actually some of the Plum Village monastics to fly to Bhutan from the Hong Kong, a sort of meditation centre, because the monastics in Bhutan were up in the mountains, they didn’t want to come down, they didn’t want to speak to young people about the problems they were facing. So they were actually bringing the Plum Village monastics all the way from Hong Kong to work with the young people. And in Bhutan it was very devotional, the Buddhist was very devotional. But I didn’t feel the essence. And I think one of the things that I think is so profound about Thay’s teachings is he knows deeply the teachings he studied all his life, but he brings it into a very, an enormous simplicity. It’s not a simplicity and naïve simplicity, but just a purity, an essence that allows anyone to actually grasp it and then practice it. It’s just an extraordinary way that he has.
Yes, I think when we become monastic, one of our biggest aspiration is to relieve suffering, is to help people suffer less. And if we find ways through the Dharma, the Buddhist teaching that helped us relieve our own suffering, it’s only natural that we want to be able to offer that to many other people in the world. But what is unique about Thay is that he didn’t only think about the monastic community because not everyone will become monks and nuns. Let’s just face it, right. It’s not easy, but we see that the monastic community cannot also be the only light of the world, they’re not the only ones who should be striving for enlightenment and happiness and peace and love. Actually, our world needs a Buddha everywhere. One of our teacher’s famous quote is “one Buddha is not enough.” We all have to wake up. We all have to realise that we have that capacity to be more loving, to be more compassionate, to have more insight in our daily life. And that’s why, as he developed his practise and as he began his career as a teacher, he saw that if I am able to help myself because I have this seed of understanding, of insight, mindfulness, concentration in me, then every single person also has those seeds in them. And I would just help them recognise to sit in them and let them grow those seeds in their mind, just like a gardener. And I think this is very unique and this is something that helps all walks of life. See that even if you’re not Buddhist, you can practise mindfulness, because mindfulness is awareness, and one of the core teachings of Plum Village is the awareness of mindful breathing. And Thay says if you’re alive, you’re breathing. And if you are breathing, then you have the right to practise mindfulness. And I really like this approach and this guideline because it is all about openness to be free from views.
So, Brother Phap Huu, before we dive into the reason we’ve called this podcast The Way Out Is In, you know, some of our listeners will know of Thich Nhat Hanh. He’s one of the most well known Zen teachers of the last century, but just tell us a bit about who Thay is.
Thay is a very gentle man. Thay became a monk at a very young age also. He joined the monastic path when he was only 16. And one of his aspiration to follow this path was… He grew up during a time of war. And during that time it was the French war when Vietnam was at war with France. And around him was so much war, violence and there wasn’t so much peace. So he used to tell us one of his first condition to seek spirituality was one day he saw an image of the Buddha on a magazine. And the artist was really good because he was able to transmit the energy of peace in this drawing. And around Thay were people who were angry, violent, in despair. So when a young child sees an image like that, it gives a very strong impression. So through that magazine cover, he wanted to become someone who is able to have that peace in his daily life. And so when he seek the path of becoming a monk, he went to the temple… It’s called Tu Hieu pagoda and is still there today and is considered like our root temple because that’s where our teacher ordained and began his novice trainings. And through his upbringing as a monk after the French war, then came the Vietnam War, which in Vietnam they call it the American War. And once again, the country was faced with destruction, violence, killing, so much suffering. And he had an aspiration that I am also part of this country, but I would not take up arms, I will not join the north or the south. I don’t want to contribute to killing. I don’t want to contribute to violence. And Thay asked, but what can I do as a young monk? What can I do to help my country? So Thay met up with a lot of young monks and nuns who were very confused because of the war and wanted to know how we can contribute to peace during this time of turbulence. And he also was giving teachings at that time to many communities, especially at temples. And he was a very bright young monk who had new ways of sharing the Dharma, which was very untraditional at that time. And so he had a very strong following of young practitioner, both monks and nuns, as well as lay people who are normal people. And he had the aspiration that spirituality doesn’t just belong in a temple. It is a way of life and it can be shared for everyone in the world. And then he started to cultivate and to teach how to sit, how to walk and how to have a peace of mind during this turbulent time. And then he started a community for young people who would come together and they would go to villages in order to rebuild villages and communities that were being destroyed by the bombs and the guns. And through this, he slowly started to build a following and a community. And later on, the war escalated and he had the aspiration to call for peace around the world. And through this action, he went to travel in America as well as Europe, and he went to many conferences to share about the war and why we have to bring an end to the war. And through this journey, he met Martin Luther King Jr., which they had an amazing connexion and through the stories which I hope we can go into later on, which I think will bring a lot of insight to the community, because one of the things that they both connected on was to help change society. We cannot do it alone. We need a community. And in the Buddhist language, we call it a Sangha. And Martin Luther King Jr. called that kind of community the beloved community. So throughout his teaching, a lot of the times he would refer to our community also as the beloved community to honour that friendship he has had with Martin Luther King Jr.. So Thay, when I met him as a young person, my first time meeting him was when I was nine years old, my first time to Plum Village. And I just remember this gentle man wearing a brown robe with a bald head. But there was real peace that was around him. And whenever I had the chance to walk close to him or sit close to him, I just felt so at peace. And I think this is something that was very common amongst the experience of many people who had the chance to be around our teacher. And I think it’s because of all the suffering that he went through, that he was able to cultivate stability and cultivate understanding so that peace is always present in him. And our teacher Thay, he is someone who is very engaged with the changes of the world. And because he’s so engaged, he’s always finding ways to share the Dharma, share the teaching so that it is appliable for today’s day and age. And I think this is one of his wonderful characteristics that help make the Plum Village teaching and mindfulness become more and more approachable to today’s suffering.
And one of the things, Brother Phap Huu, which I’m really looking forward to this podcast series is to hear many of your stories because you were you’re not just… you are also a simple monk and you have been Thay’s attendant, personal attendant for, I think, 17 years or so. So just give us… We’re going to keep coming back to this, hopefully, but just give us a flavour, just give us a sense of what it was like to be so close to him.
Thank you, Jo. Yeah, this is one of my greatest blessing in my life which was having a chance to be Thay’s personal attendant, which is like an assistant, a support. And it’s actually part of the monastic training. We have a chapter in our novice training, which is learn to take care of your teacher. And so we all had a chance to be his attendant. It was almost like a rotation. And we are trained before the day comes for us to attend Thay. And some people, they look forward to it because they have a chance to be close to a Zen master. And some people are very afraid because Thay is a Zen master and he’s very mindful and he’s very… He has this air around him, which is like which tells us that there’s a certain way that we can cultivate ourselves so that we can be more mindful and enjoy life much more. And if we don’t have that capacity, it can bring fear in us because we may feel we’re being judged by our teacher and so. But for me, I also had that fear on my first day. I didn’t know what Thay would think about me, if I’m doing my task correct. And so and so. And so I had this whole perception. But the reality of it was Thay is so kind. And I think a lot of people only know him through books or see him through Dharma Talks on YouTube, or if you had the chance to be in a retreat, you see him on the podium giving, offering a Dharma Talk. And when he’s in that position and giving a teaching, you can clearly see a teacher. But a lot of people don’t get to experience Thay kind of like behind the scene. And one of the uniqueness of Thay is he’s very normal and he’s very gentle, but he’s very present. And when you’re very present the way he is, you can feel in the gentleness there is stability, there is strength, there is awareness. And that’s power. That really helped me understand that the daily practice can become such a powerful energy. And so one last thing I would say that I benefit a lot from being around him, I didn’t have to put an effort into being mindful or put an effort into learning to be aware. When I’m around him I’m just in the zone of awareness.
And I’m one of the things my experience of Thay’s and the reason I think people trust him so much is because he embodies what he says. You know, there are so many people in the world who might say the right thing or what you consider to be the right thing, but you don’t truly feel it or there’s often a gap. I know sometimes I say things and there’s a gap between what I say and what I might be feeling underneath. But with Thay, it’s like I have never experienced him other than who he truly is. And I think, you know, one of the things in this age of information and disinformation and celebrity and gossip, et cetera, et cetera, is that it’s hard to know who or what to trust and with Thay I’ve always known that what he says is who he is and who he is, is what he says. And that, for me, is to deeply trust and have faith.
Yeah, Jo, I think it will be interesting if you can share your first experience in interviewing him, because that’s how we first connected. And this was like way back in 2010. I think it was
in Nottingham, England.
Exactly. And as part of his attendant, our task is to filter who he has scheduled and who he meets, his interviewers, etc. And we have also a strict policy in keeping the time, his time schedule. And we’re always mindful of how much energy he’s putting out through the day because his schedule of teaching is sometimes very packed. And I think I remember meeting you in Nottingham and you were coming up and I said, Jo, you only have 15 minutes for this interview, but of course, it wasn’t 15 minutes. Why don’t you share a little bit about that?
Well, I you know, I thought I was meeting the Mafia boss, to be honest, because it was my first experience of any form of Buddhism, actually. And I remember I was told to wait at some street corner and someone would come and pick me up. And this bright, shiny English nun came and sort of brought me up and escorted me. And Thay was staying in a house across the fields because it was on the campus at the university. And she said, follow me. And I started talking to her and she said: walking, no talking. In other words, when we walk, we walk. When we talk, we talk. And I was like, wow, what’s all this about? So we marched in silence very mindfully to the house. And then I wait outside and I think you come out and say, you know, you have fifteen minutes and then I’m invited in. And it felt like the sort of the money counting operation of a mafia team because there was Thay sitting there completely like the boss, and there was all this business around him of all these monastics doing stuff. And yet Thay was sitting there absolutely, you know, serene and stable. And I thought, wow, this is… I’m meeting the boss. And then, as you say, I mean, just during the interview, I think it is exactly what you said, his presence. You know you’re not in the presence of a normal human being or in the presence of someone who is in the flow, who is present to life and as you say, it’s hard, you know, I’m finding it… You know, this is a podcast, we’re supposed to be using words, but it’s hard at this point because it’s hard to describe it apart from to say I recognized who he is. And I got it, you know, and after that point, I thought, you know, I want to be part of this, I want to deepen my understanding of this community because it’s got something to offer me.
I did make you tea, right?
I can’t remember. I can’t remember them. When you’re meeting the Mafia boss, you have to, you know, you don’t focus on anything else. But, brother Phap Huu, we were thinking about the name for this podcast, and we both sort of really felt very quickly upon The Way Out Is In. And and that is… So Thay is very well known for his calligraphies, which are sort of very, very profound. And The Way Out Is In is one of his calligraphies. But before we sort of go specifically into the meaning of that, can you just tell us about calligraphies? What’s all that about?
Calligraphy is a form of art, and it is it takes you into a place where you have to be mindful of every action because you want to be able to contribute and piece of art that can be offered to someone or it could be a reminder. And in our form of calligraphy, in the Zen tradition, in a lot of monasteries is a part of training of the mind and the body as one. And if you ever have the chance to pick up this hobby or this art, you will see at the beginning, it’s much harder than you think because the brush itself is soft. But when you place your brush with the ink on the piece of paper in your mind, you want to create something. But in reality it comes out maybe something very ugly or something that you’re not very proud of. And so I started to train in this, too, because our teacher did so much calligraphy. And one of my task is to help him prepare the ink, to help him prepare the paper. And I will stand behind him to watch him do calligraphy. So I started to have a liking to it, too, because I also felt peace during this moment that you’re creating. And the first time I did it, I remember how disappointed I was because I have seen Thay do it hundreds of times and I can say in theory I get it, but in reality it’s not what it is. And so I started to see that to practice this is also an art of learning to let go, let go of your expectation, let go of what you want. And like you said, we have to learn to be in the flow. And the more you do it, just like the practise at the beginning, it can be difficult. But the more you do it and do it, you cultivate a skill and it becomes more natural. And so calligraphy is a way of also quieting the mind. The more busy your mind is, the art itself will be less profound. That’s my own experience. It might be different for other people. And Thay’s practice in doing calligraphy is to put his teaching into a few lines so that people can bring it home. And Thay would say: it’s like having a piece of Plum Village in your home and every time you walk past it is a reminder for you to come back to your practise. So calligraphy is an art, it’s a reminder and it’s our way of seeing, it’s also a piece of Thay, as a piece of his teaching that he has transmitted to us. And so when we both were looking for a title and we both said the way out is in, we both clicked and we both said, yes, this is going to be the title of our podcast.
Yes. I don’t want to just talk a little bit about what that meaning is for you.
Yeah. That phrase the way out is in. Is that the definition of meditation? Because the two wings of meditation… The first wing is learning to stop, learning what some of you may know it as Samatha. But stopping here doesn’t mean physically stopping. It means stopping from our mind, running after a desire, stopping ourselves from being angry all the time, stopping ourselves from all these habits that bring us suffering. So to meditate it means to learn to have time to cultivate ourselves and able to be in the present moment. And to be in the present moment, we have to learn to bring our mind home to the body, so that stopping. And a second wing of meditation is looking deeply: vipassana. And sometimes we can see as insight. And if we stop, our mind would settle, and then we can have a chance to see things more clearly, see things that are happening inside of us and understand it more. Know what are the roots of this thought? What are the roots of this feeling? And at the same time, when you see it, you understand it more, then you have some clarity. And sometimes it can be seen as an insight and a fruit of our deep looking. So a lot of the times in the world, we run after happiness and we see it as something outside of us, or we’re looking for a way out of a situation and we look for it outside of us. We might want to find the reason outside of us in order to blame, etc.. It’s very natural. It’s a very natural tendency. We all have it. But this phrase the way out is in is telling us that a lot of the answers that we are looking for actually begin from within us.
So you’re much more profound than me, because my experience is… When you look at, you know, the whole of society and all the challenges we face, whether it’s climate change, biodiversity loss, it’s about social injustice, that all comes from a system, a Western based system that is based on trying to find happiness through gaining things outside of ourselves. So fame, status, money, sex, all those things are things that are outside of us that we think are going to make us happy. And actually, what we realise is that actually the place we are at in society now is actually the result of that thinking, which is actually… If I get a better job, if I get more money, if I have a more beautiful wife, if I have a younger husband, if I… whatever it is, they are fake ways of finding happiness. And I think the reason is is because people are scared of their suffering. I think with a loss of a sort of a religious or spiritual framework to many people’s lives, all we are left with to fill our sort of gaping hole of sort of desire and suffering is to is to embed ourselves in consumption. And the result is that the future of humanity is literally at risk. And I think we’ve got a place in society where we realise actually the way out is not out. But actually we have to see the world with very new eyes, very fresh eyes. And that is to recognise that, as you say, that we have to look inside of ourselves. I remember there’s a book called The Hero with a Thousand Faces and is by a very famous author. And he looks at all the myths of the world and sort of pulls them down to sort of the story of the hero. And so there’s this whole book about this heroic journey. And then his last page, he said, you know, for most of the history of humanity, people explored outside themselves to find the answers to life, you know, whether it’s the 16th century explorers going out in their boats to find new worlds. And he said this era, the only way is in. The great mystery is to explore within to find the answers, because we now, I think, have come to a place in society where we recognise that this is a dead end and actually we are not going to progress as a civilisation or be at peace with ourselves or with nature if we don’t actually go deep into ourselves for the answers.
Yeah, and I think the more we understand ourselves, then the more present we will be in, the more profound we will be. And when we are more present, then our contribution will be more profound. And I think this is very important and it’s very hard to also understand if you don’t have a practice or if you don’t have those with experience to share with you the way out. And a lot of the time I have experienced in my monastic life, you know, people may think that, you know, we just look at a wall all day or in the forest and just contemplating the trees and growing vegetables. You know, we do some of that, but actually, the reality of our community is we are very engaged and we have a lot of organising to do. We host a lot of retreats and a lot of people. And I always joke that when there’s people there’s suffering, so when there’s people, there’s always going to be situations that we have to be able to handle. And in my practices is that you can never expect a perfect retreat. You can never expect a perfect environment, even though we want that. But the reality tells us differently. But how you take care of the situation is, is what you gain.
Yeah. And it’s also challenging this crazy way of life, isn’t it? I mean, it’s like what you describe is, you know, often we’re trying to.. we’re trying to be solution orientated, we’re leading very busy lives, we want a fast answer. Let’s find the answer now. Whereas actually often, you know, it’s a bit like the story of the the hare in the tortoise. The hare runs off at a huge pace. You think, well, the hare is going to win the race because the tortoise is just plodding along. But actually, the hare runs out of speed, runs out of puff and stops. And then while he’s resting, the tortoise who’s going very slowly, just sort of walk slowly past. And so that’s also another aspect of the way out is in. The way out is to often, paradoxically… that you go faster if you slow down. And actually Phap Huu, which reminds me that this seems to be one of the things about Thich Nhat Hanh which you’ve experienced and I think lots of other people have said is that Thay walks so mindfully and slowly, but seems to go so fast. And you have a story about, I think, when he was in a supermarket once or something. And just tell us about that, because that is also the way out is in.
Yeah. So Thay always teaches us like whenever we have a chance to walk, that’s a chance to practice walking meditation. So he usually jokes with us… Actually not joking, instructs us and it’s a teaching itself. He said there’s only one style of walking in Plum Village and that is mindful walking and mindful walking is to enjoy each step. It’s really to learn to be on the planet. One of my experience I had with Thay… As one of his key attendants, we would travel with him when he goes on teaching tours and we would travel and we would stop through many airports. And I remember one time we had a transfer and I think it was in Italy. And as we got off our plane and we were walking to our gate and we arrive close to our new gate and suddenly the announcement says this gate is being changed to the next and another letter of the gate, and it means it’s quite a distance. And at that moment, we knew that it was boarding and we were late. And Thay looked at all of us and he said, it’s time to run. And we all with Thay were running. And, you know, I had a backpack, his carry on, my carry on. And we were just running through, sprinting through the airport. I think it was quite a sight because wherever he went, he would bring his community, about 20 or 30 monastics to support the retreat. So could you imagine 20 to 30 monastics in baldhead with brown robes sprinting through the airport? And that moment, Thay would say: this is being mindful that we will be late, so we have to run.
It’s funny you were mentioning about him sitting and walking because one of the times when I interviewed him for The Guardian, I said, Thay you know, there’s so many things to be done in the world, you know, how do you stay stable and how do you cope? And he said, I have learnt to do one or two things very well, he said, actually, I have learnt to walk and I have learnt to sit, and that is everything, that’s enough. And I remember thinking in the back of my mind, I was thinking, yeah, right. You’re the Zen master. You’ve got, you know, hundreds of thousands of followers around the world. You’ve got monasteries all over the world and you’re telling me actually what you’re good at is sitting and walking. And of course, when I reflected on it, I thought, oh, yeah, he’s right, because actually the basis of everything he’s created is his sitting and his breathing and his mind for walking. And actually that is the basis of everything. And if he hadn’t focussed on that, then actually all this extraordinary, you know, Parallax Press is publishing house, everything he’s created wouldn’t actually exist.
Right. I think another thing that I’ve learnt when being with Thay was learning to be comfortable in the present moment. And that is a skill, that is like years of practice, because whatever situation we were in, I always felt Thay was comfortable in that position because he knew how to sit, he knew how to walk, and he knew how to handle that moment. And so you always felt safe. He always felt security, always felt stable, even though you’re meeting turbulence. But it’s OK because that’s going to be a way out and it starts with him being in the present moment. And I think that is why we would like to call this podcast The Way Out Is In.
Great, wonderful. Brother, we’ve talked a lot about leading busy lives and you’ve talked about bringing us back to the present moment and finding our stability. So how about you showing us how it’s done, giving us a short meditation.
I would love to do your friends, whether you are listening to this as you are sitting on a train doing dishwashing, whatever you are doing, just gently become aware of your in breath and outbreath. Just bring your mind. Become aware of the breathing. We can say gently as I breathe in. I know this is an inbreath. As I breathe out. Recognise, this is your outbreath. Breathing in. Breathing out. We don’t have to force our breath to be long or short, if it is short, let it be short. If it is long. Let it be long. What is important is that we are connected to outbreath. So breathe in. You are aware this is my inbreath. Breathe out. I am aware this is my outbreath. So simple, so easy. As you breathe in. You can feel the breath coming into your whole body. Nourishing every cell in your body. As you breathe out, allow yourself to relax with the outbreath. In, I’m nourishing my body. Out, I feel relaxed. Whatever our mind is thinking of. Just gently remind it, let it know that I am focussing on my inbreath. I’m focussing on my outbreath. If it helps, you can put your hand on your abdomen, your tummy. As you breathe in, you can feel the breath, your tummy rising as you breathe in. Your tummy falling as you breathe out. You don’t have to think about the breathing. You can feel it. Breathing in, my abdomen is rising. Breathing out, your abdomen is falling. Naturally rising. Naturally falling. Now, let us bring a little attention to our body. We call this mindfulness of the body. As I breathe in, I bring awareness to my body. Let us start from our forehead, our eyes, our cheeks, our lips. We can offer ourselves a smile. We are not smiling for anyone, we are smiling to ourselves, allowing us to be in the present moment. And bring awareness to our shoulders. If there’s tension in the shoulders, you can relax the shoulders. Aware of our two arms, our hands, fingers. If there’s any tension in our hands, arms, just let go. Let the arm rest, let the hand rest. Breathing in. Give a little gratitude to our hearts. It is beating day in, day out to pump blood. Grateful for our heartbeat. Breathing out, I smile to my heart. Now we bring awareness to our health, our two legs, our feet walking every day for us, letting us see the many places that we arrive at. Give it some love, give us some care. If there’s any tension, any pain, give it our care, our love, our gratitude. Thank you, my body allowing me to be healthy. Allowing me to experience life. Breathing in, my mind is in my body. Breathing out, I am fully present in the here and the now. Breathing in, this is the present moment. Breathing out, this is a wonderful moment. Even if there’s noise around me, there’s distraction around me. But I am present for me, my body, myself. I am here, I am aware that life is around me and inside of me. Breathing in, I am grateful for life. Breathing out, I smile to life. Thank you, friends, for practising with us. I hope this guided meditation has allowed you to touch a little peace in the present moment, wherever you are.
Yeah. Thank you, brother. I did touch a little piece, so that was wonderful. Thank you.
I hope this podcast has offered you some insight into the practice and has given you some more understanding of how we can see spiritual practice in our daily life.
And to all listeners, please join us for our next episode. And we’re going to talk about the art of impermanence, that everything changes. And just as a reminder, you can find us on many platforms. You can find us on Spotify, on Apple podcasts, on YouTube, and, of course, on the wonderful Plum Village App.
And this podcast is only possible thanks to Plum Village and thanks to the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation and to all of you who are listening with us. Thank you very much.
Thank you so much. And be at peace and go well.
The way out is in.