Welcome to episode 59 of The Way Out Is In: The Zen Art of Living, a podcast series mirroring Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s deep teachings of Buddhist philosophy: a simple yet profound methodology for dealing with our suffering, and for creating more happiness and joy in our lives.
In this episode, Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and leadership coach and journalist Jo Confino discuss conflicts in our world. They focus on the war in the Middle East, through the prism of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings, which remain so relevant in the current moment.
Exploring Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings in relation to conflict, pain, and the path to peace, the presenters investigate ways to not take sides during a conflict, and how Thay managed this during the Vietnam War; deep listening, holding space, and transforming the conflict in us; keeping communities together; cultivating nondiscrimination; walking the path of love and understanding in times of war; and gratitude.
Brother Phap Huu further shares around Thay’s legacy of dealing with conflict and the joint retreats he organized for Palestinians and Israelis in Plum Village; ways to show love for humanity; right action and enabling healing in the present moment; the importance of small acts of kindness; our own true presence of peace and nondiscrimination.
Jo also opens up about what it feels like to go through a “period of deconstruction”; being the child of refugees and the deep connection this can create to generational trauma; dealing with the tensions created in organizations by global conflicts; and fear, and how to not be consumed by despair, but, instead, how to feel it in order to transform it.
The episode ends with offerings of gratitude and a short meditation 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
A Cloud Never Dies
Peace Begins Here
Calming the Fearful Mind
Love in Action
Peace Is Every Step
The Way Out Is In: ‘War and Peace (Episode #24)’
Dharma Talks: ‘Right View: Understanding the Roots of Our True Happiness’
“Thay went through the Vietnam War, or as it is known in Vietnam, the American War, and was constantly under pressure to take sides. And he refused to take sides and advocated for peace, knowing that violence does not end violence, that war does not end war, that killing does not end killing, and that all it creates is generational trauma.”
“Thay’s foundation of action was peace, and his foundation of action came from true love and deep mindfulness. To be aware of the suffering, to listen to the suffering, and to look deeply at the suffering will be the way out of the suffering.”
“What you can offer is your true presence of peace, your true presence of nondiscrimination, and your true presence of courage to show up where it is needed.”
“Thay did not take sides; he took nonviolence as the path and peace as the path. So the voice that we speak, that we use, the actions of body, speech, and mind, is to generate and cultivate peace inside, to bring peace around us.”
“Thay always spoke about cultivating inner peace in order to touch true love inside, because love reminds us of our human nature, of our humanity. If there is love in us, there is love in others. If there is suffering in us, there is suffering in others. So these practices are to go deeper, to see the interbeing nature of all that is happening in the here and now.”
“When somebody kills somebody, they are also killing themself. They’re killing a part of humanity.”
“Thay said, ‘If you ask me what we want in Vietnam, we want the bombing to stop. We want the fighting to stop, the killing to stop, because only when we get it to stop can we start to listen deeply, to listen to the suffering that is happening and not be carried away by views and ideology that are probably not even true, that are probably based on greed and fear.’”
“We have learned that the quality of our actions really matter. If we want a world of care, then love and compassion has to be the fabric of every moment. What we do every day is of cosmic importance.”
“We need to make room for more than one truth.”
“Stop the killing. Stop the bombing. Cease fire. I think that these are the main messages and calls for action that I am seeing across the world right now in protests. And this happened also during the Vietnam War. And this is also a way of showing love for humanity. And I feel that if we are taking actions to stop the killing, to stop the bombing, to cease fire, that is the course of right action. Like Thay said, ‘As a monk, I am not to go down the path of being a politician. But where there is suffering, I need to shine my light.’”
“Sometimes, it’s powerful just to breathe together and acknowledge we’re all going through something.”
“If we are to walk the path of peace, the peace has to be cultivated inside. So the way we show up has to be the peace.”
“Anger is not a bad thing. Anger is a bell of mindfulness, a feeling that we experience. But we need to invite peace to hold and embrace anger. Because if we walk with anger, that can lead to destruction. But anger is like a bell of mindfulness that tells us that this is not right, this is injustice. But we also have many other emotions and feelings that are more wholesome, which lead down the path of peace. So we have to invite those energies up to accompany anger and not let it be alone. And so the walk is also peace itself.”
“I remember Thay saying that he would walk so slowly that he created traffic jams in the march, but he was so committed to that because that was his voice. This is what peace is. It’s to be the peace, the transformation inside.”
“I have a lot of gratitude, because it’s the most important thing in times of pain or suffering or despair to have a light to see in that darkness.”
“Not all the darkness in the world can put out the light of a single candle.”
“People don’t dare to listen. That is the problem. They don’t have the capacity and the courage to transform their own suffering, to truly look at the discrimination that is present inside of them. And that’s why meditation is so scary, for some, because you are learning to look at yourself and to really accept yourself. Acceptance is the first path of transformation. Once you accept that, there’s transformation already in action.”
“There is a transmission through actions of kindness, of love and care, that we may not see the fruit of right away. And the fruit of it, for Thay, which he transmitted to us, was that every action counts and not to feel powerless. But every action that we can generate to offer to our loved ones, our community, our nation, the world, starts with each breath, each smile, each loving thought, each prayer, understanding, courage to hold, courage to speak, courage to shine the light. Where there is ignorance, you have to shine the light.”
“Once the deep listening and loving speech happens on both sides, the heart starts to connect and the heart starts to open. Once the heart starts to open, once the heart connects, we have a bridge of communication. And therefore reconciliation is already happening, just by listening.”
“What can I do? What I have to do in my current state is to transform the seed of discrimination in me, to transform the fear and the violence inside of me. That is my responsibility.”
“Even if you only have five minutes, that five minutes is for you to cultivate peace so that it contributes to the peace of the world. And if you live for ten years, it is your responsibility to cultivate peace for those ten years so that it starts to transmit that culture into our way of being. And however many years you have, that is your responsibility. That is your practice: transforming war, the wars that have not yet broken out.”
Dear friends, welcome back to this latest episode of the podcast 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, student of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in the Plumb Village community.
And brother, we’re back.
I know, it’s been a long time.
It’s been probably 5 or 6 weeks and we’re back in the Sitting Still hut of Thich Nhat Hanh, in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village, in the southwest of France. And we’re sitting around Thay’s kitchen table and it’s good to be back, brother, and good to see you.
Likewise. It’s very cozy right now.
Very cozy. It’s been raining here constantly in a way that we’ve never experienced. And so it’s nice just to be inside, cozy, dry and not to hear the howling of the wind. And in one sense, brother, the the weather is quite apt for this conversation because we’ve been going through nonstop rain and storms, which is in a sense, I think what’s been going on in the world as well. And we’re going to be using this episode to explore the teachings of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh in relationship to conflict, pain and the path to peace.
The way out is in.
Hello everyone. I am Jo Confino.
And I am Brother Phap Huu.
And brother, in the last month, of course, we know that there’s been this terrible conflict in the Middle East. And so I think we felt it would be important to explore this, what’s been going on in the light of Thay’s teachings, because, of course, Thay went through the Vietnam War, or as in Vietnam is known as the American War, and was constantly under pressure to take sides. And he refused to take sides and advocated for peace, knowing that violence does not end violence, that war does not end war, that killing does not end killing, and that all it creates is generational trauma. So I think today is a chance to sort of see how Thay’s teachings are so relevant in this present day and age where there’s often so much conflict in the world. So brother, do you want to just maybe talk, before we talk about the sort of the conflict itself just talk about Thay’s legacy of dealing with conflict and war, which in a sense was the place where he actually found his deepest understanding of life, I think.
On reflection and on being with Thay, his foundation of action was peace, and his foundation of action comes from true love and deep mindfulness. To be aware of the suffering, to listen to the suffering, and to look deeply at the suffering and looking deeply at the suffering will be the way out of the suffering. And his meditation was to help shine the light on the conflict and on the suffering that is present. And like you just mentioned that more killing and more bombing doesn’t help anything. It only contributes to more death and more suffering and generational trauma. And the healing that is needed, one thing that I would say that Thay was able to do was also to bring the healing in the present moment of the current situation. So as a Buddhist monk, he looked deeply and he asked himself, What can I offer in this moment? And what you can offer is your true presence of peace, your true presence of nondiscrimination, and your true presence of courage to show up where needs to be showed up. He did not take sides, but he took nonviolence as the path and he took peace as the path. So the voice that we speak, that we use, the actions of body, speech and mind, it is to generate and cultivate peace inside to bring peace around us. And the practice is to come home to oneself, first of all, to acknowledge the suffering within us. How can we not have suffering when there is so much pain and death and injustice that is going on right now? And I am sure that this this sense of anger, of sadness, of injustice, of despair and even hopelessness is shared throughout many of us. It’s not mine alone. It’s not yours alone. It is a collective shared emotion and experience in this very here and now. And as a practitioner, all of us who practice mindfulness, or practice meditation, or any spiritual practice, we are not to bypass it with just taking care of our peace. But it is first and foremost to hold the suffering that is present. And I look back at my own practice in this moment is recognizing the violence and the anger that is present in me, because I am also a child of parents who were part of the war and had to flee the country and went through their own journey and transmitted their own suffering and trauma to me. And one thing that I always recognize whenever violence breaks out is violence in me also breaks out. And for Thay, I also know that he’s somebody who’s so peaceful, my time with him, but this was much later on, and I would say he transformed so much through his practice. But I am sure as a young monk himself, he also had to reflect and stop and to take care of all of the emotions that are present, because emotions is an expression of what is happening in the here and now. And Thay always spoke about cultivating inner peace in order to touch true love inside, because love reminds us of our human nature of our humanity. If there is love in us, there is love in others. If there is suffering in us, there is suffering in others. So these practices is to go deeper, to see the interbeing nature of all that is happening in the here and now. And when we look at the conflicts that are in the Middle East right now, it is so clear that there are sides that are very dogmatic and there are sides that see that extinguishing the other side is our happiness. And in Buddhism, that is wrong view because that is a view of discrimination. And that is a view of good and bad. But right view in the insight of Buddhism is freedom of all views. And Thay’s word for it is interbeing because if I suffer the other also suffers. If the other is dying, I am dying also. When somebody kills somebody, they are actually also killing themself. They’re killing a part of the humanity. And as a teacher, as a monk, Thay reflected on the karma through continuation of the journey of actions. And the pain of Vietnam during the war, was brothers killing each other because of ideologies from the West. And when we finally look back at the fight for freedom, it was just bringing more destruction. The fight for peace was bringing more killing. And I remember in the documentary on YouTube that we uploaded after 100 days of Thay’s passing, A Cloud Never Dies, and in a very short clip, a young Thay was interviewed and Thay said, if you ask me, what we want in Vietnam is we want the bombing to stop. We want the fighting to stop, the killing to stop, because only when we get to stop can we start to listen deeply, to listen to the suffering that is happening and not be carried away by views and ideology that is probably not even true, is probably based on greed and fear. So our practice and Thay’s teaching grew from the deep source of suffering is very fundamental but very difficult. And it’s so simple to say here is to stop and listen to each other. But it’s very hard to listen to each other when there’s conflict. So the first part of our practice is returning home to oneself. Both sides need to stop and to hold the pain that is present. And to acknowledge the pain and is to identify and call it by his name, recognize the generational fear from the terrorist attack, recognize the suffering that is present. And once you start to see that you have these pains and these fears that has been transmitted to you, then it is so evident that the other side also have pain and fear. And we start to remove our intentions of action from fear. And if it is true that we want to bring reconciliation, it doesn’t take weapons, for reconciliation it takes understanding. And understanding takes the capacity to hold space, to just sit together and to listen to each other. Listen in a way to see, to hear what is being said and what is not being said. And that is our free will. That is mindfulness. If we allow the mindfulness to truly shine through. And the work of Thay in that present moment of the war was to remind everybody of the human nature, of humanity’s action to support each other. To build community was number one, to bring joy and laughter again. He built a community with young activists, people who didn’t want to take sides and just wanted to help the suffering, introducing music, writing poetry. Poetry becomes a channel to transform the pain, the grief as well as to remind of the simple beauty of the sunrise, the sunset, the trees that are not burning, the flower that is so rare but is blooming there while bombs are being dropped. The laughter of a child should be a bell of mindfulness, of telling us to stop the killing, to listen to the future. Because the children’s are our future. And this is all in action of mindfulness. It is not to take sides, but to take the side of action of true peace, an action of true presence. And to remind that hope is in the action, is in the presence, and hopelessness can lead to deep despair and a dark tunnel. And listening to Thay’s story and his courage he had was to show that there’s another way of being, a way of being to not be overwhelmed by the despair and by the violence. And this takes deep courage to not take sides. This takes deep courage to speak out against the war, to present himself as a monk. And to say that as a monk, I am not to become a politician, but as a monk, I must speak about the suffering that is present. And the suffering becomes the compass for us to find a way that leads to peace and reconciliation. But the suffering doesn’t drown us. So the suffering guides our action to bring the relief out of suffering, to transform suffering and to change suffering. And this is the important part, is not to drown in it. And in the present moment, I am sure many of us are feeling very overwhelmed, very hopeless. And we may think that our voice doesn’t matter. But every voice matters in this moment. And every showing up of presence, whether at protests or at a holding space where we listen to each other, to grieve together. It all has a cosmic effect collectively, because there’s inner war in each of us. And that was something that I recognized in myself before entering into the Rains Retreat. It was so hard to come into our annual Rains Retreat of deep practice with a sense of joy because there was so much pain and there was so much despair and suffering. And the night before the opening ceremony, I usually always give a speech, and in the past few years, my direction of speech was to bring remembrance to the legacy of our teacher and the agency that he gave us to be his continuation and to walk the path that he has offered us with our two steps, with our own breath and not to just idolize Thay and try to be him. But in this present moment with the war that has manifested, I couldn’t sleep that night and I started a draft. And at one point, I just let it go and I just said, just let my store consciousness cook it. And I woke up really early in the morning, so probably just like three hours of sleep. But I sat there and I just realized I’m not trying to impress anybody in this moment and just to be true to my raw emotions. And so what I wrote down was, you know, in this moment, the emotions that are presents are sadness, suffering, anger, injustice, grief, and a sense of powerlessness. And I think powerlessness was like very crippling to me. And it touches my inferiority complex and like the idea that, what can I do to such a great suffering? And I’m sure many of us who are listening probably also went through these emotions. So a sense of powerlessness with the wars that are happening. I recognize the seeds of violence and past fear have been touched. And I know that these feelings are not mine alone, but shared by many around the world in this very moment. But nevertheless, it is my responsibility that I have to practice to transform the war and conflict that is also present in me, that is touch those seeds in me right now. I will practice to transform the sadness into energy of inner peace, joy, love, so a smile can still be born on my lips, and made this energy travel far and wide until it reaches the pain and tears of those who are suffering. Let us not take it for granted what we have in this moment, for those of us who are not caught in war and conflict, but because of interbeing, we know that the suffering is not theirs alone. It is also ours. Let us not take it for granted and truly cultivate our mindfulness of body, speech and mind. We have learned the quality of our actions really matters. If we want a world of care, then love and compassion has to be the fabric of every moment. What we do every day is of cosmic importance. With this insight, I make a commitment to continue to cultivate nonviolence inside of me. So the practice of nonviolence it is not a one time realization, it is a continuous practice that we have to cultivate again and again and again, because by doing this, we are also sowing the seed of nonviolence into the future by just our own presence. We have to take care of also the war that has not broken out yet. So in the three times of our practice, the three times naming the past, present and future, it is of everybody’s responsibility to hold and acknowledge the emotions and feelings that we are going through and have mindfulness of it, hold it, be present with it, and help transform it. And this is a work for the past, the present, because even though we are not in the war, we don’t want to contribute more violence to what is already happening. And then at this very moment, our action is is sowing seeds for the future. Through this practice it is the action of interbeing, so deep listening and loving speech and holding space is so crucial. If you are to ask what Plum Village would advise on both sides is to hold space to listen. And before listening to the others, we have to listen to ourself first, to our own community, to also hear our community, what our community wants and needs. And the people in power are definitely not listening to their community, but are being carried by their views, their dogmatic views. And this is where it is also bringing so much suffering in the world. And no matter how many wars we go through, looking at all the history books, we still make the same mistake and is also because of the dualistic view of what belongs to us. And the view of discrimination still becomes our foundation of action. And right mindfulness is the mindfulness to transform our seeds of discrimination, and this touches on nations, religion, ethnicity. And I recently read a quote of Thay, somebody posted it on online. It was a question to Thay, would he… What would he choose, Buddhism or peace? And Thay’s respond is I would be ready to sacrifice Buddhism. And the one that asked the question was very shocked. But Thay said, but I thought it was quite plain that if you have to choose between Buddhism and peace, then you must choose peace. Because if you choose Buddhism, you sacrifice peace, and Buddhism does not accept that. Furthermore, Buddhism is not a number of temples and organizations. Buddhism is in your heart. Even if you don’t have any temple or any monastics, you can still be a Buddhist in your heart and in your life. So our, I would say Thay’s view was very clear, it was peace. And the path of peace became his foundation of action and became his fuel of energy and his courage of not fear.
So, brother, thank you for that, I was going to say deep teaching because I think it is a deep teaching. And I wanted… You started off by saying, you know, the importance of sharing and listening to our pain, and I sort of want to take this opportunity maybe to share my pain with you because I’m sitting here listening to you and I feel exhausted and I feel heavy and I feel… I described it to a friend yesterday, I feel like I’m a woolen jumper and someone has taken the yarn and has been pulling and pulling and pulling it and I’ve been unraveling. And now I feel I’m just a sort of mass of yarn on the ground and the jumper has sort of disappeared. So I feel I’m going through a period of deconstruction. I wouldn’t say collapse because collapse is a very, is a very dramatic word. I didn’t feel I’m collapsing, but I feel I’m going through deconstruction. And the reason is because this conflict is very close to me. So we did a recording a few months ago when… the outset of the Russia invasion of Ukraine. And that is a conflict that I recognize is sort of, you know, hundreds of thousands of people have been dying there. And it’s causing extraordinary pain and suffering, but I have not felt it deeply, if I’m honest. I felt it, but it hasn’t gotten to the core of me. But this conflict has gone to the core of me. And I’ll explain why. So… and we’ve discussed before, I am also the son of two refugees. So my mother was the only member of her family to escape from the Holocaust in Germany. As a 14 year old took a train on her own to London to escape. And on my father’s side, my father’s family were forced to flee Bulgaria because of persecution. And on my father’s side, they’re Sephardic Jews. So my family in history has been expelled and forced to leave from Spain and then travel through Europe and ended up in Bulgaria. And my mother’s family had been in Germany for hundreds of years in peace and then suddenly suffered this terrible sort of destruction along with so many Jews. And my mum and dad met at the BBC in London during the war. My father was sending broadcast to Bulgaria, and my mother was working in the German section. And in 1947 they went to Palestine, as it was then, to start a new life… to find a place where they could be safe. And then immediately entered another war, which was the 1948 war of independence. And they were forced to leave four years later because my eldest brother was deeply autistic and there were no medical facilities. So they came back to the UK to seek treatment, which is why I was born in the UK rather than in Israel. And what’s come, you know, the personal thing that’s come up, which you’ve already mentioned, but which I’ve just felt so deeply, is the generational trauma. And I know that Thay’s teachings are very much about, and what I’ve learned so much and is so missing in the West is the importance of our ancestors and our lineage. And I’ve always known that what had happened to my parents, but I had never really deeply associated with my life in a direct sense. And what’s come up is a recognition that actually what this has generated is fear, actually. And this sense of actually the world is not safe, and I am not safe. And at any point it may not be safe anymore. And I realize that as a child, you know, and what had happened to them was not really talked about when I was young. It was later on in life, but not when I was young, was that I realized that actually I took on this sort of persona of trying to fit in because actually I didn’t really feel I fitted in. And at the time, you know, when we’re children, we don’t have this sense of generational pain or how things get passed through, trauma gets passed through the DNA. And actually the first moment where I ever felt safe was when I came to Plum Village the first time. And when Thay asked me, you know, how the last two weeks have been, and I said, they’ve been the best two weeks of my life because for the first time I feel I’ve come home to myself. So what’s come up for me from this very personally is just this deep connection to generational trauma. And it’s really sort of affected me deeply in the sense I’m feeling more nervous and I’m seeing how that energy is creating lots of little things going wrong in my life beyond that, where things are just going wrong and difficulties are showing up. And I’m just really associating that sense of as I feel low and as I feel discombobulated and confused, that actually how that leads into all other aspects of my life. So that’s one thing. I haven’t slept much. I’ve slept properly through the night 3 or 4 times in the last sort of month. So I’m feeling very tired. And I remember on the second day after the October the 7th attack, I sort of woke up and I was feeling such agony, and I asked myself, why am I feeling so much pain? And what came up was because this is my people. And then I thought, if these are my people, who are the other people? And so what it brought up was this deep sense that actually what the pain was doing was associating with the fact that this is my people, this is and therefore, by its nature, the other people therefore didn’t count as much. And so I sort of really felt that sense of but everyone’s my people. But actually and these are my people. And I’m feeling a lot of pain about that. I’ve also been sort of really understanding the proximity issue. So when I was trained as a journalist in my postgraduate training course, we were taught this thing called the hierarchy of news. And it was basically that if you have an individual who’s living in a village in Essex, in England, so in the countryside, that they went like 500 people dying in a ferry in Bangladesh equals, for this one person living in this little village in the middle of nowhere in England, so to hear about 500 people dying, Bangladeshis dying in a ferry accident equals 100 people in India dying in a train accident, which equals ten people dying in a coach crash in Germany, which equals two people dying in a car accident, car crash in London, which equals a cat stuck up a tree in this village and the fire brigade having to go and save that tree. So in other words, for that person, a cat stuck up a tree is the same in their mind as 500 Bangladeshis drowning. And it really… And I’ve really felt that because, as I mentioned, the Ukraine Russia conflict brought up a lot of sadness and upset, but because this is so close to me, the pain is so much greater and it’s been helping me to connect to others pain in a deeper way. Because actually, I’ve been thinking how many millions and millions of refugees there are in the world that have been forced to flee and are in countries where they don’t feel at home, where they do feel discriminated against, where they don’t feel safe. So actually, the fact that I’m in pain myself has actually allowed me to connect more deeply to the pain of other people in the world. And it’s so hard not to take sides, brother, because, you know, for me, sort of Israel, with all its faults and that’s not getting into the politics because of the politics drive me nuts. And what has happened it fills me with deep, deep pain. But for me, Israel is a place where the first time I went there when when I was living in the UK, you know, at school during the main religious assembly, I was always in a side room with a few Jewish people in the room, and I always felt very much in the minority. When I went to Israel for the first time, like the bus conductors were Jewish, and the person serving you in the shop was Jewish. And it was the first time I’d ever felt I was in a society where I wasn’t the excluded one, where I felt I was part of something. And so I sort of have this deep wish for Israel to prosper. And I’ve seen, you know, such deep pain. And I saw my father’s pain at the, you know, he died 35 years ago, but seeing him through the two wars, the 67 one, the 73 one, and just seeing his deep sadness of this inability for two peoples not to be able to sit with each other and to understand each other and that, you know, he died 35 years ago. And I’ve just seen that separation grow and grow and grow. And it fills me with exactly what you were saying, but it does fill me with some despair and some questioning because I know that if a Palestinian and an Israeli were to go on holiday and not know one was not to know the other was a Palestinian, Israeli, and they were to sit down and have a conversation, they would probably get on famously. They would probably have so much in common because there’s so much in common between us. And I even saw that when I was working at The Guardian where people, and I saw that the journalists were very arrogant and sometimes would treat the facility staff like the cleaners without respect. And I always hoped… Why would you treat them with disrespect? Because they’re cleaning your toilet so that you can do your journalism. And if they weren’t there and all the toilets were backed up or the lights went on or the computers weren’t working, you wouldn’t be able to produce the news. And so I saw this sort of mad hierarchy. Why do the journalists think they’re better than other people? Because everyone there was working towards one aim of bringing news. No one was not part of that. And so I just feel this extraordinary sadness that there’s this separation, this lack of proximity, that because these people do not know each other, how easy it is when we don’t know people to judge them and to have a view on them and to demonize them. And, you know, I remember once when I was in New York and I went to an evening where there was a peace organization in Israel and Palestine called Roots. And there was a right wing Israeli rabbi and a Palestinian activist who were working together. And the rabbi started off by saying, he said, you know, he was American by birth, he said, I came to Israel because I wanted to do God’s work. You know, that for me, this is not the West Bank. This is Judea and Samaria, this is the biblical home I’ve come here to do God’s work. And he had never met a Palestinian. And then through a series of events, he met up with this Palestinian activist who was talking to many, and the Israeli rabbi said, you know, tell me about you. He said, I am here to do God’s work. God gave us this land and I am here to do his work. And the rabbi said at that moment, he said he realized that I have my truth and he has his truth. But those, you can’t separate them out, that actually we need to make room for more than one truth. That actually we can’t if I’m right, I have to make you wrong. And actually, life is complex, and actually, there’s a way to coexist. And there’s this sense that if people were to just come together, that they could, you know, and this is true of us in relationships, if we come together and are truly present for each other, we can create beauty and we can create extraordinary wonderful world where there is peace and people do care about each other and people are able to stop othering, you know, and don’t have to feel better about themselves by making someone else feel worse about themselves. And yet, brother, I was reading Thay’s book Calming the Fearful Mind, which he wrote after 9 11 and the terrorist attack then. And it’s such a beautiful book and… brother, about, you know, violence can’t solve violence. That, you know, we need to sit down, deeply listening to each other. He talked for the creation of a sort of international council of sages so that we could listen to each other’s pain, because when we listen to each other’s pain, what arises but compassion and love and tenderness. But reading that book, I did hear a moment of despair because I said to myself, I agree with everything Thay is saying. But is it naive? Is it really possible? Because as you said, you know, we just keep repeating the same madness time and time and time again. And each time we repeat the madness, actually, as you say, it makes it worse for future generations because it builds pain upon pain upon pain, which actually makes the pain far greater whereas we’re not… And so, you know, there was that just one wonder in me questioning me… that I truly believe that this is the path. I truly believe the only way we’re going to solve these crises in the world is through love and compassion and to deeply listen and to tend to our own suffering and the suffering around us. And I asked the question, is it possible? Is it really possible when we got all the added trauma now of climate change and the polycrisis where people are being stressed out with weather patterns, changing, extreme weather, more people on the move, more people forced to leave their homes, etc., etc.. You know, is there a moment where we can see the truth of what’s needed rather than go into fear and separation and protection and scapegoating?
Oh, sorry, brother. Thank you. So that was a lot, but… And thank you for hearing it. And it is a question, actually.
Thank you, Jo, for being so raw and honest and transparent on the podcast and knowing that this will go into the world. And…
You never told me that.
And just letting it go, letting it be what it is. My response to that would be it is possible if we give it a chance. If we look and we see our course of action, we never give peace an opportunity. We only call for peace when violence and destruction starts to happen. Our human nature is to destroy, to take what we want and to dehumanize whatever we want to take from. And we create a story for ourselves, our community, our nation in order to overcome our seed of love. So we want to mask it. And so we are dehumanizing ourself in these particular moments with these decisions that we make. But have we ever as humanity, as nations, ask for a deep listening session for an ongoing, deep listening session for however long wars take that’s how much more we need to sit and practice and to recognize that our existence can exist with others and is not only when we destroy the other can we exist. And this particular view has been passed on from generation to generation to generation. And the ones who have been shining the light, that there’s another way, there’s not enough. And people don’t dare to listen. That is the problem. They don’t have the capacity and the courage to transform their own suffering, to truly look at their discrimination that is present inside of them. And that’s why meditation for some it’s so scary is because you are learning to look at yourself and to really accepting oneself. Acceptance is the first path of transformation. Once you accept it, there’s transformation already in action. And we get despair because we don’t see leaders and we don’t see communities with that insight. And just like we have this little gem and we want to share it, but nobody wants to hear it because in their view, there’s a quicker way, which is just to destroy and to take and to punish. And we create ideology. We create views, we create reasons. And therefore, we use that as our foundation. And I truly believe if we do allow nations, communities, people with different views an opportunity, a real process of listening and sharing, there will be changes. There will be insight. We will be able to touch the interbeing, which is the beauty of diversity, which is the beauty of cultures, the beauty of different music, different languages, different heritages. If anything, if we just start to see humans as the garden of humanity, we start to change. We start to tend to that garden. We start to care for that garden. We want these gardens to continue to flourish. But here we are. We create barriers. We create borders. And we think our garden is more important. And we want to destroy other gardens in order to just plant our gardens. And as we know, this only creates more suffering. And the suffering is not just to humans, it is to our planet also, it is to Mother Earth that has been giving and giving, and we keep destroying and destroying. And is that concept that the land is for us to take. And as we have been practicing deep ecology with the work we’ve been doing with climate activists, with Thay’s teaching on the Earth is not outside of us, the Earth is us. So when we are destroying to take, we are also destroying what is there already. So this is where we have to not give up in the hope. And I remember that story that Thay reminded us that we have to keep trying. If we don’t try, we allow the suffering and the violence to win. And that story was Thay and his young community was helping villages to be rebuilt. And there was one particular one that was just getting bombed again and again and again. And by the third or fourth time, Thay mobilized his activists to go and to help rebuild. One of his young students looked at Thay with despair and said, Thay, is it worth it if we know the future, which is it is going to be bombed? And I remember Thay explaining to us that in that moment, Thay also touched deep despair and he really had to come back to his breathing and to feel the feelings and then to also have the insight. And his insight was, yes, we have to go because it is our action that represents loving care. It is our actions that represent hope that there is still humanity. Even though this village is being bombed, we’re still going to show up to help the helpless. And Thay was explaining that in a Dharma talk, saying that those little moments are like lights that can shine through the darkness, like the little stars when it’s super dark is the little stars that shine bright. And these little actions, you cannot underestimate them. There is a transmission through actions of kindness, of love and care that we may not see the fruit of it right away. And the fruit of it for Thay, which he has transmitted to us, was that every action counts and not to feel powerless. But every action that we can generate to offer to our loved ones, our community, our nation, the world, it starts with each breath, each smile, each loving thought, each prayer, understanding, courage to hold, courage to speak, courage to shine the light. Where there is ignorance, you have to shine the light. So when we look at it as a result, like to look for the end game right away, which is like once we do a deep listening, things will end, that is where we will fall into more despair. But if we give it a real chance, a real opportunity, it would lead us humanity into the capacity of deeper love and deeper understanding. And I remember Thay having a deep wish to create more communities where a different side can come and practice first for like five days. No discussion yet. Really taking care of oneself, coming back to their humanity. And then you talk about the suffering. And as you know, in Plum Village, we have led retreats for Palestinians and Israelis in Plum Village, we’ve held space for groups. And the first week was just practice. And we had to be very mindful, very skillful, and the two groups would sit in their groups to feel the community, to sense that community and sense that safety. And together as separate groups to listen to each other, to share the experience, to breathe together, to eat together. And as they are practicing in their group, they are seeing the other group practicing also. So they are getting to see also the kindness and the beauty, the humanity. And the community, we just held space for that. We are also them in this moment practicing and our practice was still mindful breathing, mindful walking, presence, space and also nondiscrimination, really cultivating that together. And by the second week, at one point when we felt it was ready, we invited both sides to sit together. And we invite one side to share about their suffering in a way to not blame, but this is the experience, this is our suffering as a truth, as this is what we go through. And other side just listen, not to interrupt and just to offer presence to see the person as they are. That alone is very powerful. And when one side is finished, the other side shares and this side listens. And what already is happening there is transformation because we start to see each other as one family, family of humanity. And suffering, suffering does not discriminate. We all suffer not because we are of a different religion or… As human beings we have to suffer, is a part of life. But we forget that we are… We sometimes we think we are the only one that is suffering. That is where ignorance is born. Greed and the wish to conquer and the wish to create safety. But we forget that the other suffers also. And once the deep listening and loving speech happens both sides, the heart starts to connect and the heart starts to open. Once the heart starts to open, once the heart connects, we have a bridge of communication. And therefore reconciliation is already happening just by listening. And at the end of this retreat, our friends always come up as one group and they make the commitment to create sanghas and practice in their countries. And that’s why in the past years, we continue to go to the Middle East to offer retreats as well as bringing different groups from the Middle East to Plum Village to take part in retreats and to take care of oneself. And I had friends from Palestine in my Dharma group in the last two years. And how wonderful it is to hold space and to offer kindness and offer presence for our friends. And when I am with our friends from the Middle East, we just see that all of us, we just want to be seen. We just want to be heard. We just want to be loved. And we also want to offer that. And when there’s a place to offer it, we can offer it fully. But of course, when we are always under fear, our action becomes colored by fear which creates violence, creates discrimination, creates separation. So this is… These wars and these breakouts are really big bells of mindfulness for humanity and for all of us that are present today. And my encouragement, and I reflected this a lot and I asked What can I do? And I said, What I have to do in my current state is to transform the seed of discrimination in me, to transform the fear and the violence inside of me. That is my responsibility. And this is our responsibility. And there is a book that I would encourage all of us to read, it is called Love in Action, and it is written by Thay, and it was Thay’s refraction and teachings of his practice during the war, the Vietnam War. And there’s a page, a passage that Thay wrote there is even if you have five minutes, that five minutes is for you to cultivate peace so that it contributes to the peace of the world. And if you live for ten years, it is your responsibility to cultivate peace for that ten years so that it starts to transmit that culture into our way of being. And if you have however many years you have, that is our responsibility. That is your practice already of transforming war, the wars that have not yet broken out. And me and Brothers Spirit, we read that passage as we were preparing for a talk and a session with a different group. And those words of Thay was like a Zen stick. It was like, now where you are, what you have, don’t take it for granted. Your responsibility is by transforming to not create more wars and wrong perceptions and views of discrimination. So we all have a lot of work to do and we have to give peace a real chance. And there are ways of peace. And it doesn’t look as glamorous, but in our retreats that we’ve experience, when people come together and drop their ego, pack it at a parking lot, doesn’t carry their bag, the ID, what they represent, and just them, just who they are. And some of the sharing from the great leaders that come to Plum Village, what they’re touched by is the smiles that they get to see is very genuine. And I have to admit, I’ve lost my smile for the last few weeks also, and I’ve been reflecting on where has it gone. And it’s been buried by the pain and the shared grief and shared suffering in this present moment. But I feel it is my responsibility to still cultivate that smile. And this smile is a smile that there is life here and that there is work of peace here. As we just a few months ago, we talked about a war somewhere else. And here we are, a war in the Middle East. And we know that it can happen again and again and again. So all of us who are walking the path of love and understanding, we have to take our responsibility in transforming these seeds that have been passed down to us. And that is also where hope is born, by our practice and commitment.
Thank you, brother. And what it brings up for me is, I think one of the things that has helped me in the last month is Thay’s calligraphy, which says, Don’t just do something, sit there. And I feel what I’ve been doing is just sitting with this pain and not trying to make sense of it, not trying to resolve it, not trying to project it, but literally just sit in it and just feel it fully. Just feel this pain of my ancestors. Feel my pain. And to recognize that in collapse there is renewal. You know, that metaphor I used about myself, I saw in myself, about the jumper turning in just a pile of yarn on the ground. That pile of yarn now can be knitted into something else. And that feeling that this deconstruction I’m feeling is in service to this work. It’s not just to sort of say, Oh, well, I’m okay, these are problems elsewhere, but in this deep connection to this pain is to fully feel it and not to be overwhelmed by it in a way that makes me sort of incapable of response. And I, you know, I am touching this despair in it. And I recognize the importance of touching the despair, because that in the despair is the way through. And if we aren’t prepared to go to the despair, you know, most people don’t want to go to the despair because they feel they’ll be destroyed by it or they’ll feel they’ll be lost in it. And I think I’ve got enough knowing in me to know that it’s important to go to the despair, not to wallow in it, not to be consumed by it, but to feel it. Because it’s only when we deeply feel this that we can connect to other people’s deep pain. And brother, I have another question for you. And what I am hearing from people is this is, this conflict is also creating an enormous amount of conflict within organizations. So, I mean, I’m focused on the climate and sustainability space within a lot of climate organizations. It’s creating a lot of disharmony, people attacking each other, people not listening to each other. I facilitated a group for young people who work in the climate space, a week or so agom and, you know, there’s this feeling of firstly being overwhelmed by the pain, but also a sense of, not in this group, but elsewhere, of right and wrong. That actually if you say nothing, if you just sit with it, then you’re complicit. Whereas in fact, we know this is an extraordinarily complex… it’s very simple, but actually it’s also extraordinarily complex. And yet people are being pressurized to take a side. And if you don’t go on one side, then you’re wrong. And, you know, there’s someone I know who is not from Israel, but has been living there for a while, and some of this person’s friends have been saying they’re complicit for the fact they’ve lived in Israel. You know, they’re complicit in this. So what it’s creating is not only the conflict in the Middle East, but actually it’s generated an enormous amount of conflict around the world. And a lot of people, I think, are not recognizing that they’re touching their own pain, but they’re taking a side and, you know, they’re doing exactly what Thay recognizes, creates more disharmony. So I’m just wondering, if we can maybe spend a little bit more time on talking about how not to take… What it is to take a side and what it is not to take a side, and how Thay handled that. Because I think a lot of people are feeling very, I’m not sure of the word confused, but are in pain and feeling that they have to act in one way or another, that to be in the center is complicit and is wrong.
Yeah. I’m not too knowledgeable with all the different… When we say taking sides, what does that exactly mean? But…
Well either sort of, either the Palestinians are right or the Israelis are wrong, Israelis are wrong and the Palestinians… You know, it’s just that people feeling that they’re on one side or another. I’m just wondering how we stay in the center.
Stop the killing. Stop the bombing. Cease fire. I think that is the main messages and sides or the main calls of actions that I am seeing going across the world right now, the protests. And this happened also during the Vietnam War. And this is also a way of expression in order to show the love for humanity. And I feel like if we are taking actions to stop the killing, to stop the bombing, to cease to fire, that is the course of right action. Like Thay said, like I am, as a monk, I am not to go down the path of being a politician. But where there is suffering, I need to shine my light. And I feel that what you shared already, it’s already echoed in my also reflection for everyone is to transform the conflict in them.
And it is because we don’t know how to hold it and how to communicate it, we look for a way to express, but because we haven’t also held our own anger and frustration, it comes out as a way of taking sides. And maybe that is not what we want, but it’s a way of expressing suffering. And recently, about ten days ago, I also held a space for a group for an hour. A team that has gotten to know Plum Village and for their community was exactly what you explained. There’s a lot of despair. There’s a lot of confusion, a lot of them not knowing how to react also. And that itself is also crippling. And we let them through guided meditation just to breathe first and just to remember that they have a body. Remember that they are a human being and they have to take care of themselves. And through our session, normally we would offer some encouraging words and so on, a mini Dharma talk, but myself and Brother Phap Linh, Brother Spirit, we felt it wasn’t necessary and we just created a space so that everybody can share from the heart what is going on for them. And using I, like this is what I am experiencing, this is what I am going through. So it is an invitation for everybody to express and not to find an answer because sometimes maybe it’s not the moment to find an answer. First of all, it’s just to see and recognize. And so we held a space so that those who are ready to share from the heart what is going on for them. And they are a team. And many of them was the first time they get to hear from each other’s experience. And it’s just that process of seeing that we’re all going through something. Understanding is born, compassion is born, and suddenly we removed the concept of what side are you on because you’re suffering. There’s pain, there’s grief, I have pain, I have grief. Maybe I don’t yet have the words to share it yet, but thank you for sharing because that is exactly what I am going through. And we can hold our community together. And at the end, I just encourage the team, if possible, once a week just to have a circle like that and just to do a round of deep listening and holding space. And if there’s no sharing, just to breathe together, because in these moments, we also, what I was hearing was everybody was alone in their own suffering. And sometimes it’s just powerful just to breathe together and just acknowledge we’re all going through something. But we have each other, even if we’re a company. But we’re here. Aren’t we a community of humans? Let us hold space so that we can breathe together, look at each other and see that we are here. And as leaders, ask the question, What kind of support do you need? Can we listen? And I encourage them to be creative, maybe we have a board. And just to write down, we post anonymously what I’m going through just so that there’s a sense in the team that there are those of us who are holding these particular emotions or feelings. And it speaks to being seen, being heard, being held. And I feel like when we get into dispute about it, it doesn’t help. If we are to walk the path of peace, the peace has to be cultivated inside. So the way we show up has to be the peace. And I remember Thay sharing with us that many peace marches that he joined in the U.S. or other places during the war, there was more anger than peace. So anger is not a bad thing. That’s not what we’re trying to say here. Anger is a bell of mindfulness, is a feeling that we feel. But we need to invite peace to hold anger and to embrace anger. Because if we also walk with anger, that can lead to destruction. But anger is like a bell of mindfulness that tells us that this is not right, this is injustice. But we also have many other emotions and feelings that are more wholesome, and it leads the path of peace. So we have to invite those energy up to accompany anger and not to just let anger be alone. And so the walk is also peace itself. So I remember Thay saying that he would walk so slowly that he created traffic jams in the march, but he was so committed to that because that was his voice. This is what peace is. It’s to be the peace, the transformation inside. And I just want to express my deepest gratitude to all of our friends in the world that are joining the walks, the protests and showing up in order to speak the voice of love and humanity. And very grateful for your action and your courage and seeing that this is how I can contribute to show up and to encourage all of us when we join these calls for peace is to generate the peace inside of us also and to not think of it intellectually, but to apply it and to be it. And that is where the power of peace becomes unbreakable.
And in a sense, brother, we’ve been just discussing the four fold noble path, because it’s been talk about the suffering. We’ve been all about the causes suffering we’ve been talking about as a way to get through suffering, as a way to end the suffering, and there’s a route to do that. And I think in a sense, we’ve been deeply talking about that. And also to recognize all the many conflicts in the world. And we’re sitting here with brother named Twin, who is from Guatemala, who’s doing all the recording, and and he’s been in suffering because of what’s been going on in his country with the incoming president and facing all sorts of problems in coming to power and people trying to destroy democracy and hold on to power there. So so rather than I’m told, you know, you are going through your own suffering around your home country as well. And there are so many other conflicts going on in other parts of the world that we can attend to. And brother, finally, maybe because one antidote to despair is gratitude. So maybe we can end. And I’ve got a smile on my face. This is just by saying gratitude. I’m sort of I perked up a little bit more straighter, less slouching, feeling less heavy. But maybe we can offer a gratitude. And. And I’d like to offer gratitude to Plum Village. I’ve always felt since the moment I came into contact with Plum Village in Thai, that this is a point of light in the world and a sort of and it’s a sort of light of love and compassion and sanity and and that, you know, that there are beings who have lived on this earth through time, who have shown the way actually and have shown that there is another path. And and that path is worth walking because it is a deep and loving path. And I feel very fortunate in my lifetime to have met one of those beings and take that on. Who? Who I was able to fully trust with all my heart to offer him my tender heart because I knew it would be held with love and that there was no part of him that I couldn’t trust. So it’s like, you know, that sense of I could trust my life to him because I know he would hold my life in the same way he would hold his own, that there would be no discrimination in that. And for all the monastics who hold that light aloft and keep the flame burning, including very much you Phap Huu, and you, Brother Niem Thung. And I have a lot of gratitude because it’s the most important thing in times of pain or suffering or despair to have a light to see in that darkness. And it reminds me, I was… When I was growing up, above the fireplace in our living room my eldest brother, I think was my eldest brother had drawn a picture which was above the fireplace that was on a candle burning and surrounded by darkness and on the back it said, Not all the darkness in the world can put out the light of a single candle. And so I’m extremely grateful to Thay, in the dark place I am in, to see the light shining brightly into, to allow me to be in my pain and feel safe.
Thay heard you.
Thay heard because an umbrella just opened up automatically. So I have deep gratitude because it is a life raft for me.
And I would like to express my gratitude to you, Jo, for being a companion on this path together. And your friendship to me is so valuable. And a gratitude to all of the listeners of our podcast for supporting and understanding we did have to take a break with everything going on in our personal lives as well as our communities or workplace or the world, we all felt we needed some space to hold and to reflect and to look deeply and to fill our own tank with gratitude and energy before coming back to the podcast. And it’s so funny, I always… Sometimes I don’t know what’s going to happen in podcast like… Just for all you to know that me and Jo, we don’t really plan our podcast.
That’s an understatement. We have no clue what we’re going to be talking about.
But there’s a lot of trust and there’s a lot of trust in the unknown, and to trust the spiritual transmission that we have all received in our store consciousness. But every time we start the podcast and I know that many of you are listening, it makes my heart sing and it gives me a lot of energy. So thank you to all of you who joined this journey with us because it really is not ours alone and it really is a collective river that you all are a part of and you all contribute to this river. Even you may not know it, but you are very present. Because without you, we wouldn’t be here. So deep gratitude to all of you. Thank you so much.
Thank you. So, brother, sometimes traditions are worth maintaining. And I think this one is because after many of the podcasts you do a guided meditation which helps to settle us, to bring us back to the present moment, to allow us to connect to our bodies. And so it’d be wonderful if… because this felt like a, for me, a sort of deep contemplation just to be able to release the words now and release the emotions. And I think a guided meditation can allow us just to just come back and be present to this moment.
And dear friends, whether you are walking, running, jogging, sitting on a plane, sitting on a train, going for a drive, cleaning the house, just allow me to guide you in some mindful breathing. If you can stop and sit down, that would be lovely. Or you can just stay still and stay grounded on your two feet. Or even lay down and rest. But in this moment, I invite you to become aware of your body. Become aware of the weight of your body seated on the chair, the sofa, the cushion or standing firmly on our two feet, our whole back of our head, neck, shoulders, whole back, lower body laying on the ground. And just to surrender to the ground. Surrender to this present moment. As you breathe in, just acknowledge this is my inbreath. As you breathe out, just know this is your outbreath. Inbreath. Outbreath. Breathing in, you take full refuge in your inbreath. As you breathe out, you take full refuge in your outbreath. Following your inbreath, following your outbreath. Let the breathing be natural. If the breath is long, let it be long. If the breath is short, let it be short. Our awareness accompany our in and outbreath. Breathing in, I become aware of my body. Breathing out, I relax my body. Aware of my whole body, I relax my body. Wherever there is tension, just be kind. Smile and release the tension that is present. We don’t have to fight the tension. Embracing the tension with our tender mindfulness. Breathing in, as I am present, I am aware of the emotions that are present. Breathing out, I am there for the emotion. In. Present. Out. Embracing emotions. Giving space, accepting, honoring with mindfulness, I guide my emotions with my breathing. Breathing in, I also recognize I am much more than just one emotion. Breathing out, I am a wonder of life, a continuation of the path. A continuation in the present. And a continuation for the future. In. I am here, more than one emotion. Out. I interbe with the past, present and future. Breathing in, I recognize this peace that is present. Breathing out, I offer this peace to the world, to the suffering, to the darkness. Breathing in, inner peace. Breathing out, prayer to the world, to the suffering, to the wars, the darkness. Breathing in, I feel this collective breath of the whole community. Breathing out, I am one with this river of life. I am not alone. I share all that is shared and I transform for myself and for many. In. Connected. Out. One with the river.
Thank you, dear friends, for practicing.
Dear listeners, we hope that you’ve found some balm in this conversation. And to let you know, you can find all previous episodes of our podcasts on the Plum Village App and also on Spotify, Apple Podcasts and all other podcast platforms. If you like what you hear, it would be wonderful if you could subscribe to The Way Out Is In. And also maybe even leave a review so that other people can sense if this is also right for them or would be helpful for them.
And 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 by Global Optimism and the Plum Village App with support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation. If you feel inspired to support the podcast moving forward, please go to TNHF.org/donate. And we want to thank our friends and collaborators. Clay, a.k.a the Podfather, our co-producer; Cata, our producer; another Joe, our audio editing; Anca, show notes and publishing; Jasmine and Cyndee, our social media guardian angels; Brother Niem Thung on recording. And to all of you who support and listen to the podcast, thank you very much and see you next time.
Yeah. All the best. Bye bye.
The way out is in.