The Monastics on French Television: Part I

Plum Village monastics' sharing about Wake Up on France 2

On 24 May 2015, Brother Phap Luu and Sister Hai Nghiem were interviewed on French national television. They shared about the birth of the Wake Up movement, the meaning of Wake Up, the Wake Up manual, and how the movement can help young people with their lives.

The interview is in French and you can read the English translation below the video.

Presenter: Good morning and thank you for watching Sagesses Bouddhistes (Wisdom Buddhists). They are young; they are eager to spread the word about the benefits of Buddhism; they are very active. They are the members of the Wake Up movement, created by the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh about ten years ago. This movement is led by monks, nuns, as well as lay friends from Plum Village, a centre founded by Thich Nhat Hanh.

With this movement, it’s not you who’s going towards Buddhism, but Buddhism that comes towards you in your daily life, at school. It is strongly developed internationally and notably in the United States. This movement is making its way day by day in France. We will have two shows with many guests from Wake Up. This Sunday, we will discuss about the manifestation and objectives of the movement. Next Sunday, we will go deeper into the values, notably the Five Mindfulness Trainings transmitted by Wake Up. Today, we have the pleasure of having two members of Wake Up, Brother Phap Luu and Sister Harmony (Sister Hai Nghiem).

Brother Phap Luu and Sister Harmony: Good morning.

Presenter: Thank you for being with us today. Sister Harmony, you’re 32 years old. You became a nun, a disciple of the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in 2008, three years after you discovered Plum Village. You were a student, specialising in translation. You’re very invested in the retreats, notably in the young adults retreats you lead in Plum Village, southern France, as well as in Europe and even as far as Latin America.

Brother Phap Luu, you originally come from the United States. You were ordained as a monk, disciple of the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh in 2003. You have a Bachelor’s Degree in English literature and you taught English. You have taught the Dharma since 2011 in your country and in Europe, etc. You’re very active in Wake Up, the organisation of the retreats, and you also work for Wake Up Schools.

So we will begin a little bit with the history of this movement, how it was born, and what brought the Wake Up movement to life in Plum Village. Can you tell us about this, Sister Prune?

Sister Harmony: Yes, from what I understand, Thich Nhat Hanh (we also call him Thay) really had this desire for a long time. He was ordained very young. And when he was in Vietnam and there were many problems with the war, he set up The School of Youth for Social Service and this social work helped to rebuild the country. He also wanted to practice Buddhism and meditation, and he wanted a resource to balance all the work that was asked of them.

Presenter: So, this movement occurred about ten years ago?

Sister Harmony: After the development of Plum Village in France and in the West, there was effectively a big openness from young Westerners. There are more young people coming to the retreats. And Thay saw strongly a need for them to have a spiritual practice, not necessarily Buddhist, but something that will really help them with their difficulties.

Presenter: Maybe you can say in a few words who is Thich Nhat Hanh, Thay as you call him, Brother Phap Luu?

Brother Phap Luu: Our master, we study and practice with him. He’s very well-known in Vietnam for the reason my sister has shared. He did a sort of engaged Buddhism in Vietnam, which means we don’t stay in the monastery, but we help with the war and find ways to calm ourselves and help to calm other people. That’s why he wrote poems and a lot of books.

He tried to teach about Western culture in Vietnam for the monastics, so they could understand about science, etc. And then he was invited to go to the United States to become a professor of Vietnamese Buddhism. He began to talk about what was happening in Vietnam and he didn’t want the war there. It was too dangerous for him to return to Vietnam, so he was exiled here in France.

Presenter: So it was here in France, in Dordogne, where he founded Plum Village. Its particularity is to receive families for retreats, notably young people. If we can go further, where did this idea of Wake Up movement come from? Can you define the Wake Up movement, Sister Prune?

Sister Harmony: So in 2008, Thay had a deeper and clear vision for young people who are not in the practice. We defined this together with the young monks, nuns, and lay friends about what we wanted to do with this group of young people who not only come to the retreats, but who have to deal with their daily life, are in university, etc.

Presenter: Once they leave Plum Village?

Sister Harmony: Yes, how they can continue to apply these tools and transform their strong emotions, reconcile with their parents, their friends, work colleagues, etc.

Presenter: Just a little word on Wake Up, perhaps we will ask you (Brother Phap Luu) since you’re American. What does this name mean to you?

Brother Phap Luu: It means to wake up in the present moment. What happens inside ourselves, around us in the present moment. Our actions, the way we think, our speech, our bodily actions. How can we act with joy and freedom because many young people live in a world where there’s a lot of consumption that’s everywhere, and there’s a sense of slavery with our sight and hearing. To wake up means to be conscious of this situation and be more free in the present moment. The practice of breathing helps us to free ourselves.

Presenter: Yes, it’s this mindfulness practice that goes with meditation which Wake Up transmits to all the young people who are interested.

Sister Harmony: Yes, we are working on a Wake Up manual for all the young practitioners, in which we explain and offer all the practices of breathing, deep relaxation, eating mindfully, consuming in a way that’s more ethically responsible. So there are many groups in the world who share how they practice and how we can include this in the manual, so they can be touched and really have these tools.

Presenter: So, you’re working on this manual. Until now, it’s you as well who go out on the streets. How does this work? How do you do these activities, special operations in mindfulness? Can you explain further how this works?

Brother Phap Luu: Actually, if you look at the life of Buddha, he didn’t stay at home. He went into the forest, and he wanted to look at himself while doing these acts in the world. And look what was happening and why there was suffering. And that’s the practice of Wake Up. We don’t want you to stay in the monastery and play with the bell during rituals. We do that and it does help, but we can go to the universities and look within ourselves what’s happening. And share our experiences and practice with the young people.

It’s not just the monastics who do this, but many lay practitioners as well. They travel with us and we do Wake Up tours in England, the United States in many universities. We are invited by young people to help lead meditations, mindfulness, eating, breathing, walking meditation because when we are there present in a community, I think we see something similar like in Buddha’s time. It was like that with all the young monks and nuns who were there and inspired by the Buddha, and this is what we want to manifest here and now.

Presenter: So concretely, you go to young peoples’ meetings. How do you feel about them? They are in demand.

Sister Harmony: We are connected because we have the same difficulties, like personal relationships, parents, what kind of work we’re looking for and our career path, what direction to take for life. There’s really a feeling of connectedness, sharing and brotherhood and sisterhood. This is what nourishes the souls of young people who come to us, and for us, whom we meet. There’s really a beautiful and strong energy that’s developing.

Presenter: We can say that your group is growing, little by little internationally and notably in the United States?

Brother Phap Luu: Yes.

Presenter: And in other countries, Brother Phap Luu?

Brother Phap Luu: Yes, in fact, this brotherhood and sisterhood my sister has spoken about is very important and the practice of Wake Up to see that we’re all human beings. We all want to be loved. We all have our difficulties. When we travel like this, and even our community which consists of international monks and nuns, we are an example of what can happen in the world. To leave this link that divides us and see a deeper bond of brotherhood and sisterhood with brothers and sisters. This is a good aspect of Wake Up.

Presenter: You also teach mindfulness through the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Can you explain a little, Sister Prune?

Sister Harmony: The First Mindfulness Training is about compassion and respect for life. The Second Mindfulness Training is about true happiness, generosity, and not to accumulate possessions because there are so many people who are suffering and being exploited. The Third Mindfulness Training is about true love as a couple, responsibility with sexual conduct, as well as not to cause suffering and do all our best to prevent children from sexual abuse. The Fourth Mindfulness Training touches a lot of young people deeply. It’s the practice of loving speech and deep listening. It means a community that’s open, healthful, and full of compassion. The Fifth Mindfulness Training, we call it nourishment and healing. It’s the practice of mindful consumption and not to be lost in excessive toxic consumption. So this can help young people a lot when we practice.

Brother Phap Luu: And this practice of cultivating joy. It is to try to come from within yourself and not outside.

Sister Harmony: And each young person goes on their own path with these trainings. This means, we will never compare and say, Well, you practice like this, you’re stricter with this training, or this is better. No, each one has their path at their own rhythm, and we each have deep looking and wisdom with these trainings.

Brother Phap Luu: We say often to young people to review these trainings again. They find that they do things the same way. It means, that it comes from a deeper wisdom and humanity. It’s not just Buddha who did it. This is the foundation, but when we look deeply at these trainings, there’s a collective wisdom in there. When we practice, it brings us joy and happiness. This is the test that tells us this is right, the right wisdom.

Presenter: Thank you very much Brother Phap Luu and Sister Prune for this first programme. We continue exploring the Wake Up movement next Sunday with two other members of the community. While waiting, here are some suggested readings of the venerable Thich Nhat Hanh: Reconciliation: Healing the Child Within;Transformation and Healing: Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness; and Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.

This is the end of the first half of the programme and we’ll continue with the second half next Sunday.

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