Welcome to episode four 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, presenters Zen Buddhist monk Brother Phap Huu and lay Buddhist practitioner and journalist Jo Confino are joined by special guest Zen Buddhist nun Sister True Dedication (Sister Hien Nghiem). Together, they address contemporary environmental crises and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s ethical framework of living, to help us reach a better future – as presented in his new book, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet.
The three further discuss Buddhist insights into the many existential crises faced by the global community; practical ways people can become empowered; not being overwhelmed by the suffering in the world, and how to work with our emotions to take positive action.
Jo recollects interviewing Christiana Figueres, the architect of the Paris Climate Agreement, including on how the practice of mindfulness was instrumental in her achievements, and the importance of deep listening in global talks.
Brother Phap Huu explains the insight of interbeing; the practice of gratitude; and shares about walking the (sustainability) talk in Plum Village; the ‘no car days’, shifting to veganism during a 800-people retreat, and starting a happy farm to become more self-sufficient and in touch with the Earth as a community of practitioners.
Sister True Dedication talks about editing Thich Nhat Hanh’s new book, Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet; the hardest part of working on a book; Thay’s involvement in the environmental movement since the early 1970s, as a pioneer of deep ecology; the importance of joy and vitality for facing hard times; falling in love with the Earth; accessing the insight of interbeing in our daily lives, and having fulfilled present moments; finding peace and equanimity in a suffering world; practicing deep truth; taking care of our despair.
Finally, the sister ends the episode with a guided meditation.
Co-produced by the Plum Village App:
And Global Optimism:
With support from the Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation:
List of resources
Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet
Sister Chan Khong
The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology
Other key books by Thich Nhat Hanh
The Diamond Sutra
Jo Confino interviews Christina Figueres
Paris Climate Agreement https://unfccc.int/process-and-meetings/the-paris-agreement/the-paris-agreement
Blue Cliff Monastery
“To be able to see heaven on earth is part of our mindfulness practice.”
“What we learn in this kind of spiritual practice is that it’s a very embodied, complete, fully human experience of what it means to be alive and to be on this planet.”
“If we allow ourselves to fall in love with the Earth, we will know what to do and what not to do to help. When there’s love, the possibilities open up right away. The priorities are clear; we would sacrifice anything for the one we love.”
“This [planet] is the source of all life, our shared home, a miracle in the middle of a very spartan cosmos. And we want to do everything to ensure that the Earth can have a healthy and beautiful future, and that humans can have a part in that.”
“Through the eons of history, everything comes into manifestation and everything passes. And that’s true of civilizations; civilizations rise and civilizations fall.”
“The environment is not outside of you; you are the environment. So interbeing, this insight, lets you see that the way we live, the way we are, is already a contribution.”
“It’s important to do one thing well, not to take on the whole weight of saving the planet on your own.”
“I have learned to sit well and walk well.”
“As children of the Earth, activists for the Earth, and as members of humanity, while doing what we can to save the Earth it is really important to not lose the present moment, because the present moment is life.”
“If we lose the present moment, we lose everything. The future is only made of the present moment.”
“The beauties of Mother Nature can nourish us and give us the strength we need to keep going, to find balance, and to sustain ourselves.”
“If we know we have done our part, made our contribution, and done our best, that is how we can have peace.”
“Thay once asked the question, ‘What’s the worst thing that can happen?’ And he said, ‘Your despair is the worst thing that can happen.’ We have to be vigilant against despair. We have to take care of our despair and metabolize it into the kind of action that can give cause for hope.”
“We want to transmit an energy of hope, of possibility, of living fully, and of fearlessness. These are the qualities that future generations will need. And it’s up to us to develop them now.”
“We look for our own happiness. We look for our own success. We look for our own pleasure. And therefore, we act in a way that only relates to our wellbeing; we don’t see how our action has an effect. But with the insight of interbeing, when you have awareness, when you have mindfulness, you start to see how what you consume has an impact on the earth.”
“The first thing to do with a meditative practice, a mindfulness practice – any kind of contemplative practice where we’re trying to see how we can help our beloved planet – is to come back to our body, a body that has come from the Earth, and to really touch what it means to belong to this beautiful realm.”
“One action contains thousands of actions within it.”
“The planet doesn’t need to be saved once. It doesn’t even need to be saved only in the next 10 years. It needs to be saved by countless generations for hundreds and thousands of years to come. So we need to discover truly sustainable ways of being with the Earth, and being with our human nature. Ways that don’t burn ourselves out, and don’t burn the Earth out, so that we can really find peace and simplicity in what we are doing, with a massive resonance across space and time.”
“This meditation is about facing something and then being with that fear, being with that grief, listening to it in our hearts, in our bodies. Not repressing it, not pretending it’s not there, but allowing it to be present, embracing it with the energy of mindfulness and compassion in order to metabolize it into not only a quality of peace, but a quality of action that can then follow.”
“It can seem paradoxical to accept the likelihood of a very bad end to our civilization in order to have the energy to take actions that will change that destination. It’s a strange reverse engineering, but it’s very powerful as an exercise and it comes from an original Buddhist meditation on contemplating our own impermanence.”
“Our next task is to see how we can make the book a force for change in the world, not simply something that sits on the bookshelf.”
“Whatever we can do about the future is rooted in the present moment.”
Hi, everyone, welcome back to the latest episode of the podcast The Way Out Is In.
I am Jo Confino
and I am Brother Phap Huu.
And in this episode, we got a special guest, Sister True Dedication, who spent the last two years editing a new book by Thich Nhat Hanh called Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet. And we’re going to be going into detail about the environmental and social crisis we’re facing and how Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh’s ethical framework of living can help us reach a new, better future.
The way out is in.
Sister, why don’t you just introduce yourselves and then we’ll say why you are here.
Well, hello, everybody. I’m very happy to join you, very happy to sit here with brother Phap Huu and with Jo, dear friends of mine and spiritual brothers on the path. And I’m just happy to be in your company, happy to have some time together and happy to explore whatever you’re going to ask me about, although I’m still not quite sure what that’s going to be.
Excellent. We’ll keep you on your toes. So, Sister True Dedication, the reason you’re here is because you have literally just this week finished editing Thich Nhat Hanh’s latest book Zen and The Art of Saving the Planet, which we all know is going to be a bestseller. And I want to just start by asking you a little bit about the history of Thich Nhat Hanh or Thay as he’s known, teacher. What can you just tell us a bit about his past in terms of the environmental movement?
Well, I think the word I’d probably use to describe our teacher’s involvement is as a pioneer of perhaps we could call it deep ecology or spiritual ecology. And since the early 1970s, he’s been really concerned for the situation of the planet. And in 1970, 1971, he understood it in terms of damage to the planet. That was already a time when there was deforestation, there was pollution, but it wasn’t much discussed. And we hadn’t yet had the first UN conference on the environment, that came in 1972 in Stockholm. And so he and his colleagues in the peace movement and the interfaith movement for kind of human human rights and social justice, I think their awareness of the environment was coming up in their peace work and their social justice work. And they really wanted to convene insight around the topic of the environment. And so they assembled a conference call, the Mentone conference, between 1970 and 1971. Over 2000 scientists gathered for the first time to try to start naming the suffering and the exploitation and the destruction and the damage that they were already witnessing then. And if you can imagine, even if we turn the clock back 10 or 15 years, we know how much the conversation has evolved just in the last decade or two. And if we try and imagine 50 years ago, it was so hard to be able to talk about nature and damage to nature in these terms and to talk about human responsibility, to change our way of living, to be able to help address the very real impacts that were already being identified by scientists, but maybe not at all in the collective awareness. So they were, Thay and his colleagues, very heavily involved in those early years. And one of the things I find most beautiful about that early involvement is they saw the need for this kind of spirit of togetherness across countries, across fields of expertize and really a sense of kind of human community building around our care for the environment. And so when we did have the Stockholm conference in 1972, Thay and Sister Chan Khong and their friend Alfred Hassler, they had found in an organization that they called the Great Togetherness Organization, and they had a kind of parallel civil society summit alongside the UN summit to really try to cultivate that sense of a collective human awakening that can transcend national boundaries that comes together, you know, in a joyous kind of cultural experience that’s really already, if you like, regenerative, although they didn’t have that term then. And I find that so inspiring that they already saw some of the solutions, the seed of some of the solutions that we’re now starting to see come forward as real ways out through the problem they were already experimenting with in the early 1970s.
Great. Thank you. So we’re going to come on to the book because we want this to be is very practical in the sense that people are feeling very disempowered. There’s a lot of feeling of grief at the state of the world that people feel they are powerless, they can’t make a difference. So we want to talk about how we work with our emotions in terms of the environmental and ecological crisis and also about how to take action. But before we do that, brother Phap Huu, I just want to ask you a bit about the Buddhist insights on this matter, because Thich Nhat Hanh often talks about the Diamond Sutra being the first, in a sense, teaching on deep ecology. Can can you just talk a little about, in a sense, the foundation of Thay’s teachings around this?
I think one of the insights that we get to learn in Buddhism is the insight of Interbeing, which is everything is connected. And this insight is very important because it helps us become involved in not just our own well-being, but to see the connection of the animals as part of our well-being, see the connection of Mother Earth, the planet, the environment, as also our well-being. A lot of the time, as human beings, I believe we become very selfish and we only… we look for our own happiness. We look for our own success. We look for our own pleasure. And therefore, we would act in a way that only thinks about our wellbeing, and we don’t see how our action has an effect. And with the insight of Interbeing, when you have awareness, when you have mindfulness, then you start to see how you consume has an impact on the Earth. So one of our practices that we remind everyone when they come to Plum Village is the practice of gratitude. Just like when we eat, if we are aware of what we are eating, not only is it something that we are feeding ourself, which is taking care of ourselves, but if we are choosing the kind of food that we are consuming that can also help bring compassion in our daily life to arise, when we choose a diet like vegetarian, you are more in touch with compassion in yourself. You nurture that seed in you. So suddenly the way you behave, the way you act also has an impact on the environment. And one of Thay’s sentence that he shared in one of his teaching that really left a mark on me is that the environment is not outside of you, you are the environment. So interbeing, this insight, lets you see that the way we live, the way we are, is already a contribution. So if we have this awareness with mindfulness, the awareness that we want to contribute to a more beautiful planet, it has to start with oneself and we don’t wait for other people.
Yeah, and Sister True Dedication, can you just sort of add also some more context to that, because there’s this idea that, as Brother Phap Huu said, that we are we are not separate from Mother Earth, we actually come from the Earth, we go back to the Earth. Every single brilliant person we’ve ever looked up to in the world has come from the earth. Can you just talk a little about our relationship to Mother Earth and how we can have… How that can change the way we see our connections?
So in our tradition, right, we speak a lot about mindfulness, and then we… It can be easy to think that we meet the Earth with our mind only or we meet the world’s problems with our mind only. And we only need to get the right solution or the right idea or that we kind of get very singular, I think, about the kind of solutions to the problem. And what we learn in this kind of spiritual practice it’s a very embodied, complete, fully human experience of what it means to be alive, to be on this planet. And we break out of solving the problems only with our frontal lobe. And in a way, it’s kind of counterintuitive, but the first thing to really do with a meditative practice, a mindfulness practice, any kind of contemplative practice where we’re trying to see how we can help our beloved planet is to come back to our body, to, as you say, a body that has come from the earth and to really touch what it means to belong to this beautiful realm. And Thay, Thich Nhat Hanh, he would often talk about it as, you know, we live in a beautiful heaven. We live in a wonderful… He would call it the most beautiful planet in the cosmos. Sometimes he’d even call it the Kingdom of God. To be able to see heaven on earth is part of our mindfulness practice. And the reason this is important is because it becomes a heart-centered solution rather than like a frontal-lobe solution to the problems that we confront right now. He went even further and he said if we allow ourselves to fall in love with the Earth, we will know what to do and what not to do to help. That suddenly when there’s love, the possibilities just open up right away. The priorities are clear. We would sacrifice anything for the one we love. And it’s not about, oh, well, I want to be able to have a 2000 mile flight, not a 1000 mile flight once a year or whatever. It’s… You don’t get so instrumental and sort of reductive about what you can and can’t do to save the planet. It’s like this is, as you say, the source of all life, our shared home, a miracle right in the middle of a very spartan cosmos. And we want to do everything to ensure that the Earth can have a healthy and beautiful future and that humans can have a part in that. I mean, it’s very interesting because Thay said the kind of destruction that is unfolding now caused by humans, in the long term, in the millions of years time frame, it may not be a problem for the Earth, but is a problem for humans and for the kind of future we want to participate in. So whether we are here is, you know, a successful species or not, but for sure, we will have our legacy… will be there in the future of the earth. So what are we going to do for this planet we love so much? And how can we realize how much we cherish the Earth?
So Sister True Dedication, I just want to talk a little bit about people who are feeling overwhelmed. I know a lot of people who are in the sort of climate movement who are just burning out because in a sense they feel that we’ve got a decade to save the world, that this is the most critical, decisive decade in human history, that we’ve got to do this radical change otherwise all is lost. What’s from your sort of creating this book and through your own sort of insights… How do we start to work with these feelings of, oh, my God, the world’s going to hell in a handbasket, there’s no hope and I’m lost?
Well, Jo, I wish we had all the answers. I wish we had all the answers. What we have is, you know, our teacher’s insight and some of our own lived experience. And for me, what I find powerful about the teachings that we’ve collected in this book is that whatever we can do about the future is rooted in the present moment. And this becomes really important because the feeling of overwhelmed is… it’s often anxiety based and therefore, you know, it really is future based. And especially, of course, when we think of these really tight deadlines, whether it’s five years, 10 years, 15 years, and how can we make this pivot? If the awakening is strong enough, the pivot can be immediate. So it is based on our rootedness and groundedness in the present moment, in the face of literally our daily decisions about our way of living, like brother Phap Huu just shared. Or how… What kind of livelihood are we going to have? You know, where are we going to invest our energy? It’s rooted in the present moment that we take all action. And this is also really connected to the self-care point, because, and we’re often reminded and our teacher would often remind us here in Plum Village, if we lose the present moment, we lose everything. The future is only made of the present moment. And as children of the Earth, activists for the Earth, as members of humanity, doing what we can to save the Earth is really important to not lose the present moment while we do so, because the present moment is life. And you could even say the present moment is already a gift from the Earth that we are wasting and peeling away if we are not really cherishing it. And it’s also exactly in the present moment that we can get that nourishment from nature, from the forests, the skies, the birds. The beauties of Mother Nature can nourish us and give us the strength we need to keep going and to find balance and to sustain ourselves. So the answer to the overwhelm question is, can I take care of this present moment? So people who are listening to this podcast, you know, whatever you’re doing is you’re listening. Is this… Are you able to take care of this moment, whether you’re gardening, cooking, doing the dishes, driving, whatever it is? Can you feel the presence of your body? Can you feel the presence of the planet? Is it in any way visible to you or are you in a tower block? Can you feel it just in the gravity underneath, wherever you’re sitting or whatever you’re doing? Like, can we feel the atmosphere? Like, how can we kind of open our awareness to have, like, really fulfilled present moments? And my own experience, because I also have had the feeling of overwhelm. It’s not that you enter the monastery and you and you don’t feel overwhelmed. We’re an engaged tradition and there’s a lot to do. And in my experience, it’s when I can arrive most deeply in the present moment and open up to the vaster space of the present moment and connect to the planet. Connect, as Brother Phap Huu was saying, to this spirit and truth of interbeing. And that’s what the book really explores in the opening chapters, is how we can access the insight of interbeing in our daily life. And that becomes the solid ground, the clear ground on which we stand to meet the overwhelm and to see, well, in this moment, what can I do? What is the right way to use my next five minutes? What is the right way to use my day or my afternoon? And that insight comes from this groundedness in the present moment. And Thay is very, very powerful message with all of our engaged work, as it were. And Thay would often ask this: how can we have peace? Because we never… In our lifetime are we going to be able to stop suffering in the world? Probably not. So how can you find this place of peace and equanimity with what’s going on? And Thay said, if we know we have done our part, if we know we have made our contribution and we’ve done our best, that is how we can have peace. I find that incredibly powerful and for me, that’s what kind of breaks through the clouds of overwhelm.
And sister, this is really interesting because I’m reminded of when I interviewed Thay once and I’m just remembering I asked him that question, you know, how do you stop being overwhelmed by all the suffering world? Because, of course, it’s not just the ecological and climate crisis, it’s the social injustice, it’s racism, et cetera, et cetera. And he said something, to paraphrase, he said, it’s important just to do one thing well, you know, not to take on the whole weight that it’s up to me to save the planet on my own. But he said… I said, well, well, you know, what do you do? And he said, well, I have learned to sit well and walk well. And I remember during that moment I thought, you know, what are you talking about? Well, you know, you’ve created this extraordinary influence in the world. You’ve set up monasteries all the world. You’ve created all these books. How can you just say, actually, all you do is sit and walk well. And then I sort of sat back afterwards and realized, well, actually, that is the heart of his practice. If Thich Nhat Hanh had not learned to meditate and not learned to come back to himself and not learn to be in the present moment, then he couldn’t have created all those things.
And these are the deep insights that, like the one contains the all. One action contains thousands of actions in it. And I think this kind of presence and centredness is so important for all of us to master in our own ways as a legacy for future generations, because it is as much our way of responding to the planetary crisis that we are transmitting to the generations that will follow us, as well as the solutions we actually achieve in our lifetime. So it’s so important that we find sustainable ways and it’s those sustainable ways that we’ll be leaving as a legacy for those who follow us, because we say this in the book also, the planet doesn’t need to be saved once. It doesn’t even need to be saved only in the next 10 years. It needs to be saved by countless generations for hundreds and thousands of years to come. So we need to discover ways, truly sustainable ways of being with the Earth and being with our human nature that don’t burn ourselves out, but don’t burn the Earth out, and that we can really find peace and simplicity in what we are doing and doing it well, like you say, with this massive resonance across space and time. I think one of the dangers often is we think if it’s too simple, it can’t be a real solution. And we think something needs to be global and complicated and we deny ourselves actually the chance to find this empowerment in actually how we’re living every moment of our day. And this is, I think, why ethics are so important as we find our way out through our interlocking crises right now, because the ethics are something we can we can all do every day.
And as we know, to change systems, people need to change systems are basically people in action.
And these ethics are really rooted in relationship. I think it’s really important to underscore we can have technological solutions. We can have political solutions. We can have economic solutions. You can have all of these solutions. But we’re humans that are connecting to other humans at work, in relationship, in families, in our daily life, intergenerationally between parents and children. And it’s our relationships that need to have more awareness, more love, more insight in them. And that’s what these point towards. And that’s why I have great faith and so much gratitude for our teacher for coming up with them.
And sister, can you just talk a bit about, you know, you spent the last year plus putting this book together. And so in a sense, you’ve really embedded yourself in Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and also in the issue itself. Can you just talk a little bit about what your journey has been like in writing the book? And also what are the insights you’ve garnered from really sort of really surrounding yourself and in this work.
A lot of coffee.
And a lot of coffee, thank you Brother Phap Huu. Yeah, there’s coffee. I felt like in the acknowledgments, I should say thank you for all the coffee farmers of the world who have fueled this book. I mean, it’s unusual, right, in the monastery, whenever we have projects on top of our daily community life and meditative practice and yeah, our very rich time as a community, and then having a book on top of it is an interesting challenge and it’s thanks to coffee that we can kind of realize it. And also it’s… I mean, I have to say, I mean, right, it’s a great honor and a privilege to be able to invest my hours and days in helping Thay to have the platform for his teachings and those of us that had a chance to be with him and learn directly here in Plum Village or on his tours or in his retreats and events around the world. Sometimes you can be in a meditation hall and you look around you like… There’s ONLY one and a half thousand people here. Or there’s ONLY 3000 people here. And Thay would just offer such incredible pearls of wisdom in these moments. And so I felt my job was kind of or maybe, you know, making the bouquet of flowers from all these incredible moments of his teachings in response to questions about the crises in society or for our planet. Some of the teachings were given directly with the intention for this book, which always has been envisaged as a book for the young generation. And Thay also had his own ideas for what we should be collecting and including in it. So it’s been quite an honor to find all these beautiful teachings, insights and to bring them together. I hope the book feels like a book that has love in it because I could feel Thay’s love coming through his teachings and just incredible gratitude and love coming up in my own heart to be able to to be in contact with these teachings and then to share them with others. So it was a real work of joy to do it and to bring it together. And as I think you both know, it was also… there was a painful part of this book, which is because I had to offer a small commentary. And part of the reason is because the world has just moved so rapidly on in the last even seven or eight years since Thay was able to give his last sort of live talks here in Plum Village in the summer of 2014. It was… I tried to be vulnerable on the page, but also honest and helpful. Time will tell if it’s been successful or not, I don’t know. But that was definitely the hardest, hardest part of the book. And I think now finally to say about making books, because it’s so easy and I think maybe I don’t know, in the publishing world, the business is making a book and selling the book. But for us, as a spiritual tradition, the book is just a vehicle that’s holding the Dharma and the teaching. And for us, the question is, will this book be a catalyst for change in the world? So in a way our task as teachers, as contemplatives, as engaged Buddhists, our task begins when the book becomes published, because then we want to support people to really bring these teachings into their lives, to practice the five mindfulness trainings, this kind of ethical code, and also to feel empowered to enact the kind of change in their own daily lives and in their choices that will really help the planet. So that’s our next task which is to see how we can really make the book a force for change in the world and not simply something that sits on the bookshelf.
Yeah, and one of the things, you know, these teachings aren’t like spirituality, which you do outside your daily routine. They actually infuse how we connect to life. And I remember when I was in Davos, I think three or four years ago, I interviewed Christiana Figueres, who was the architect of the Paris Climate Agreement and was able to bring 195 countries together in this sort of almost impossible task. And I always remember… I also, you know, how were you able to achieve this? And she said I was only able to achieve this through the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, that she was going through a very difficult personal crisis, as well as having to do this immensely complex task. And she said that Thay’s teachings gave her the strength, gave her the understanding, gave her the compassion, and gave her the tools actually to reach the agreement and one of the one of the things you mentioned earlier was about deep listening. And and I think one of the one of the magic ingredients she brought to the talks was not to try and convince everybody of what she thought was right, but to spend real quality time listening to people, listening to the countries of the south, listening to the developed countries, listening to everyone. What actually were they saying? What was underneath what they were saying? Because often what people say and what people mean are different things. And she said deep listening was actually one of the core aspects of getting the Paris Climate Agreement. Because when people feel heard, they feel, as you said, Brother Phap Huu, they feel understood, they feel respected. And even if they might not finally agree with everything that’s done by the very fact that people are given time and respect means that people find it much easier than to accept a result, even when it’s not exactly what they want.
Brother, what else would you like to say about how people can act and maybe even about just about Plum Village? So can you give us examples of monastery life? Are you walking the talk or are you just talking the talk?
I’m trying to walk the talk. And I think as a community, we are doing our best in our capacity. For example, every Tuesday is a no car day in the monastery. And this was introduced by our teacher in the early, I think, 2010ish when the awareness of global warming was light up and everybody was learning about it. And in the community, we also had to do a lot of studying in order to be up to date with the suffering of the world. And we were, as a community, were reflecting on things that we can do to also contribute… to not contribute more to global warming. And so in the community, every Tuesday, we decided that it is a no car day. So we tried to arrange our whole week so that on Tuesday we don’t have to go out of the monastery. That’s one thing that we are still committed to do except for emergency cases. The other thing is that as a community, we’ve also gone in the direction of being vegan. So whatever we serve in the sangha is vegan. And it’s a… It was a really funny story of how this came about in the sangha, because in 2009. Sister True Dedication is that right, 2009?
Wow. 2007, we were on a U.S. tour and I was his… I was Thay’s attendant. And every year, whenever Thay has a new a new direction for the community, he would write a letter to the sangha to explain and to share his insight and the reason why he wish for us to go in a certain direction. And that year he made a decision that the sangha would become vegan. And we were in the midst of the U.S. tour and it’s one of our biggest tours, teaching tour of our teacher within a year. And we were in New York City and… not New York City, New York State, you know, monastery, Blue Cliff Monastery. And we were about to host a retreat of 800 people. And the shoppers of the community just did the first the first shopping trip for 800 people. Could you imagine the amount of food we had to buy? And of course, at that time we were not yet vegan. So a lot of the breakfast food was milk, cheese and etc.. And that evening, Thay made that announcement that the community we are going vegan and this is to walk the talk, to be a contribution. And I remember what was really funny was the shopper was like, oh, my God, I just bought so much milk. I just bought so much cheese. And they went up to Thay, like, what should we do? And Thay looked at him, well, of course, return it. But the thing is, I don’t know if it was successful or not because I didn’t follow through, but like, you know, like with clothes, like you have like 30 day return policy. But I don’t think with food you could return it like that. But Thay said to go to the store and explain our situation and to share with them that we have just made this decision and that this is what… this is how we will be and please do our best to return the food. I don’t know if they were successful or not, but I’m still curious to this day. But that was also another very big shift that our community went into in order to have compassion for all the animals that produce milk, eggs, etc.
And each of the monasteries has its own farm. And I know the sisters in New Hamlet, one of the monasteries, make all their nut milks. And so there’s a real wish to become more self-sufficient.
Yes. And in almost every monastery in France, at least, we have… we call a Happy Farm. And this was a great initiative by… already in the monastery. Part of Thay’s vision of a monastery is to have a garden, is to see where the food comes from and to be connected to the food that you eat. And to also, because we are a retreat center, so we also wanted… want the people to learn about gardening, about food. And especially for the children, I always love watching the children in the farm showing them that you see that that potato right there in the earth, all muddy and stuff, that’s your French fries right there. And they’re all like… And you can see their eyes like glow and they’re all oh, my God, this is great, I get to be a part of this. And later on, when they eat the potato, they have this deep connection to it and they have a lot of gratitude and they see the interbeing between the Earth and them. And so at the beginning, we just had greenhouses that would grow all these vegetable. But then we wanted to be more self-sufficient, so then we dedicated more land within the monastery to create farms. And then we also to have programs for our friends to come and live with us for the year to help on the farm.
Yeah. And it was interesting because I had this experience, I think, two or three months ago where I was in a sharing circle and there was one of the lay practitioners who’s spending a year on Happy Farm. And sort of we were sharing about what, you know, what our aspirations are… about aspiration, what our wish was in the world. And I was talking about, you know, yes, I am involved in systems change and I want to act at scale and feeling all very important. And then went to the lay practitioner who’s working on the farm, and he said, well, my aspiration is to focus on growing beautiful vegetables for the community and that is my great wish. And it was such a powerful moment because it really brought me back to earth. Actually, everyone’s contribution is important. It’s not about, oh, I’m working internationally on all these projects, but it’s just that I’m giving my commitment, my energy, my time to make really high quality organic vegetables so that people eat well and that I stop contributing to the problems of the world like sort of pesticides, et cetera. And it was such… It really brought me back to earth about the power of just everyone’s actions. Sister, there’s something I just wanted to ask because it came to my mind. Before we go, just practically. One of the things Thich Nhat Hanh talks a lot about or has talked a lot about is about being at peace with the collapse of civilization, which is highly likely. He uses the metaphor of, you know, we’re literally eating our children or another one is he gives the illustration of a cage with chickens who are fighting with each other over the last grains of corn and not realizing that the butcher is coming to chop all their heads off. So he talks a lot about saying actually, you know, if we look through the eons of history, everything comes into manifestation and everything at some point passes. And that’s true of civilizations, that civilizations rise and civilizations fall. And I’m just wondering how, you know, it’s one thing to talk about, but when we actually look into the detail of that, that if this civilization falls, you know, you’re going to have hundreds of millions of people, if not billions of people on the move sort of going through intense suffering. You’re going to have living beings, thousands and thousands or millions of species going extinct. You’re going to have parts of the planet that become inhospitable to life. When we look deeply at the grief of that, how is it possible to be at peace with that and still, you know, still get up in the morning and still feel joyful, still feel able to contribute?
So thank you for this question, Jo. This meditation is included in the book, and it is a very powerful exercise in deep truth. You know, we are in the era of truth telling, tell the truth, listen to the truth, listen to the facts. And I appreciate Thay’s courage in pointing out that if we continue to go in the direction we are going in, that is the destination. As a meditative exercise this is specifically to face our fear. And the key point is that our fear may be silently driving us. We kind of have a hunch that that’s the case, but we don’t want to look at it. So Thay brings it front and center, I guess a bit like putting it’s like an ice bucket challenge… Empty a whole bucket of ice water on our heads to say, look, this is the truth. And if we’re in the business of truth telling, this is the truth we have to tell. This is the truth. As courageous practitioners of awareness, we have to stare it in the face and not be in denial about it. So this meditation is about facing something and then being with that fear, being with that grief, listening to it in our hearts, in our bodies, not repressing it, not pretending it’s not there, but allowing it to be present, embracing it with the energy of mindfulness and compassion in order to metabolize it into not only a quality of peace, but a quality of action that can then follow. And what Thay explains to us in the book is that when we can accept that that is likely, indeed, that is maybe even probable, we overcome the the obstacles to action because we have nothing to lose. We have nothing to lose. That’s one of the insights. Another insight is look at what we still have and are we enjoying it? Are we doing the Earth justice as one of her children, as one of her manifestations? Are we enjoying how the Earth currently is? Which is precious and impermanent. Who knows if there will be human eyes in even a thousand years to enjoy all this? So that’s also an invitation to enjoy it and savor it and generate action and insight now with the conditions that we have. But what’s really important about this meditation is that often it’s by avoiding denying or resisting what we’re most afraid of, that we sort of repress it. And our actions are not really borne of full awareness and insight. But when we can bring these things into the heart of our awareness, lean into that fear, take care of the grief, we then develop a kind of peace and acceptance. He compares it to that of a cancer patient who can finally accept that terminal diagnosis. There’s a kind of serenity and peace that follows, which has all the kind of qualities that we need for the action that we want to take. It can seem paradoxical because we accept the likelihood of a very bad end to our civilization in order to have the kind of energy to take action that will change that destination. So it’s a… It looks like it’s sort of a strange reverse engineering or something, but it’s very powerful as an exercise and it comes from an original Buddhist meditation on contemplating our own impermanence. Fear is driving humans day and night, and we have to be able to learn how to handle our humanness, how to handle our human fear so that our fear is not weighing us down. And we also have this in the book that one time Thay asked the question like, you know, what’s the kind of worst thing that can happen? And Thay was like, your despair is the worst thing that can happen. We have to be vigilant against despair. We have to take care of our despair and metabolize it into the kind of action that can give cause for hope. But everything we are doing in this present moment and our way of responding to this present moment, we already are building in the future into that. And we want our legacy also for future generations not to be one of surrender and, you know, giving up. We want to… We want to transmit an energy of hope, of possibility, of living fully, of fearlessness. These are the qualities that future generations will need. And it’s up to us to develop them now.
And sister, also it’s about being joyful, isn’t it? It’s like, if we want to create this regenerative world, if we want to create… bring into being this new paradigm, it has to have joy in it. Because if, you know, if we go in looking depressed and lost, how are we going to show that? And I know that one of… And I don’t know who said… Someone was interviewed a while ago saying if it was the last day of planet Earth, what would you do? And the person said, I would plant a tree. And I think that’s… there’s such a deep wisdom in that, that even if it was the last day on Earth, you would plant a tree, because actually that is life.
So I think the joy is really important. I’d almost use the word vitality. And I think planting a tree has that vitality because the joy is not a spiritual bypassing joy. It’s not a kind of let me have the joy so I don’t have to have the despair. But it’s an affirmation of life, force and delight in life, delight in togetherness as a species and in our interrelationship with all other species. For me, I just… For me, my kind of koan that I practice is the birds are still singing. I mean, the birds are singing so beautifully and, you know, that song is still there. And, you know, as humans, are we still singing our song? You know, what… Are we still making music? Are we still dancing? Are we still revealing the beauty of our vitality as part of this planet, this beautiful creation, manifestation? So I think it is so important to keep that positivity and vitality that has clear eyes with it. It’s not in denial. It’s life force, because celebrate life, because that is what is going on in this present moment.
Thank you, Sister True Dedication.
Wow. What an enriching session we just had. And dear friends, just like we do every podcast, this is that moment when we would like to invite all of our listeners to experience a little bit of meditation. So whether you are sitting at home, cooking, going for a walk, going for a jog, or on a commute, please allow yourself to come back to your breath to connect to your breath and experience mindfulness right here, right now. And in today’s session, we will have Sister True Dedication to guide us.
So first, I’d like to invite us all just to deeply arrive into our body. And notice any tension that might be there. Maybe our shoulders, we may like to roll them open and relax them a little bit. Check out our hands. Have they been fiddling with something? Is there any tension in our fingers? Even our face. I’m smiling to think of you all there, and I hope you can smile back very gently as you listen. And when we smile, all the muscles in our face have a chance to soften and to relax. And then taking a moment just to check in with what our body would like to tell us in this moment. Is there a place of our body that has some pain or tension perhaps? Our neck or even our jaw? How is our breathing? Is our breathing smooth and relaxed, or is it catching a little bit? Perhaps it’s a little shallow. And taking a moment to really savor a long outbreath. Allowing our lungs to completely empty. And then welcome a new breath in with a gentle smile. And on the next outbreath intentionally softening any part of our body that has some tension or resistance. Wherever it may be, and if you like, you can pick up a hand and place it there to help soften that part of the body. Breathing in, I am aware that I am alive. Breathing out, I smile to life within me and around me. I am alive, smiling to life. Following the breathing as it flows into the body. Welcoming the breath flowing in. And relaxing and easing as the breath flows out. In, life flowing in. Breathing our, relaxing into life. Allowing our breathing to become our anchor into this moment. Allowing our breath and our breathing to become our anchor into this moment. You may be aware of the breathing at the level of your nostrils, flowing in and out. Or perhaps through your mouth. Or even at the point of the chest rising and falling or are barely gently expanding and slowly contracting. And taking a moment to open our ears to any other sounds other than the sound of my voice that we can hear around us. What are those sounds telling us about life in our present moment right now? Life in our home, in our town or city, life in our garden, life on our streets. And taking a moment to allow those sounds to be there and to acknowledge our response to those sounds. They may have beauty, they may also… they may also carry something else within them. If it’s the sound of an engine or of a siren, we recognize that life has all these different aspects, and just take a moment to savor the manifestation of life in this moment. Breathing in, aware of the sounds of life all around me. Breathing out, I smiled to life with gratitude for life in all its manifestations.
Thank you, Sister True Dedication. Dear listeners, we hope you’ve enjoyed listening as much as we’ve enjoyed taking part. If you’d like to listen to other episodes of our series The Way Out Is In, you can find them on Apple podcasts, on Spotify, on other platforms that carry podcasts. And of course, on the Plum Village App. Sister True Dedication it’s been an absolute joy having you here. Thank you.
Thank you so much for letting me join you.
It’s a pleasure. And it’s goodbye from me, Jo Confino.
And from me, Brother Phap Huu.
The way out is in.