This year’s New Year’s Eve talk in Upper Hamlet, Plum Village, France was offered by Brother Pháp Hữu. Below I’ll touch on some points that stood out to me as well as summarize his invitations for us as we enter this new year of 2023.
Brother Pháp Hữu first encountered Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thầy for short) and the Plum Village community as a 9-year-old when he traveled from Canada to Plum Village France in 1996 with his father and sister. He ordained as a novice monk in 2002 and has been the abbot of Upper Hamlet since 2011. He became a dear friend to Thầy and was often by Thầy’s side as an attendant. Currently, Pháp Hữu co-hosts the podcast, The Way Out Is In. He enjoys a good veggie burger, is a very heart-felt friend, and he will school you on the basketball court 🙂.
The talk was on the surface simple and easy to digest, and it was full of golden nuggets to take into the new year.
Outline of the talk:
- 5:00-15:00 – Opening, introduction to Namo Avalokiteshvaraya – Chant of Compassion
- 15:00-36:45 – Chanting Namo
- 36:45-41:00 – Mindful Movement
- 41:00-1:37:45 – Talk by Brother Pháp Hữu
An Opportunity to Heal
Throughout the talk, Pháp Hữu frequently used the word opportunity. I love his use of this word. It feels so asset-based to recognize what opportunities exist to help balance out how frequently I recognize possible challenges in my life (negativity bias at it again!). It’s exciting to think about possibilities!
He pointed to several practices that we can nourish in ourselves for healing. I think many folks have had a challenging 2022 as we continue to navigate and recover from a world-wide pandemic. I am certainly taking this moment to check in with myself to see what opportunities I can find now and in the future for healing and recovery.
Listening to the Namo Avalokiteshvaraya Chant of Compassion is one such opportunity. In this live-streamed talk, we were invited to offer love, compassion, and tenderness to our suffering and the suffering of others while 50+ monastics chanted together. Pretty powerful practice.
Grounding in our non-self elements
Following the chanting, Pháp Hữu led a few mindful movements and then as he began the main portion of his talk, he introduced mindfulness and the buddhist concept of emptiness.
He reminded us that when we meditate, and we look deeply into our body, we can see that we are made up of many non-self elements. We cannot “be” by ourselves alone. We are connected to the air, the trees, the sun, the tea we drank this morning, the food we ate today, even our parents and all the ancestors who came before us both in our blood and spiritual family. He reminded us that:
we are a continuation of lifetimes
Without the sun, our earth would not be able to sustain life. The trees help to provide us with oxygen every day. Our parents came together to provide the conditions for us to be alive. Our friends and teachers have had a strong influence on us throughout our life. When we look deeply, we can see that without these non-self elements, we would not be who we are today.
Pháp Hữu discussed his feeling of connection to Thầy when he chants with the monastic community. We can see in these moments that he is a continuation of Thầy, Thầy is one of his non-self elements, and I am grateful for that.
I find it so grounding to connect with the nourishing non-self elements in me. I can feel solid when I connect with Mother Nature and the earth. It brings a smile to my face to recall the many friends and teachers that I have connected with throughout 2022 and my many years prior.
I’d encourage you, dear reader, to think about some non-self parts of yourself that make you who you are. You may find that, like me, there are some ones that aren’t so nourishing and others that are very nourishing. When you have capacity, get to know the ones that can be a challenge, and when you want some nourishment, get in touch with the healing non-self parts.
End of year reflection: in 2022, what have I been cultivating in myself?
Brother Pháp Hữu invited us to reflect on what we have been cultivating in ourselves in 2022. He asked:
Have I taken the opportunity to listen to myself?
He guided us through the practice of seeing what “nourishes” our happiness and what “nourishes” our anxiety and stress. We can see what “food” we might be habitually feeding these and make choices from there. We can develop understanding and see the path of transformation. Once we see the path, we don’t necessarily transform right away – we need reminders to help us continually be aware of these alternate habits that we want to develop as part of that path.
Pháp Hữu shared a personal example of a habit he sees in himself. He shared about his habit of rushing that he sees is linked to a childhood desire to be seen and heard. A root of this was coming home from school as a kid and not being able to spend time with his parents because they were busy with work to support the family. In many ways, Thầy was like a parent for him (he did ordain when he was 13!) and so in this year, when Thầy has passed away, this habit of rushing is strong for Pháp Hữu. I really appreciated this personal and vulnerable sharing from him.
As this new year begins, Brother Pháp Hữu, whose dharma name translates as “Dharma Friend”, also invited us to reflect on our friendships. He encouraged us to connect to those with similar aspirations as ourselves and to have gratitude for the gem of friendship.
I think this is one of his ways of continuing Thầy. Thích Nhất Hạnh was a community builder and was a great friend to many. I think if I ask myself, what brings me joy in my life, I can say that friendship is in the top of the list.
Pháp Hữu reminded us that:
We have love in us
In friendship, “there is love, understanding, and acceptance”. He invited us to recognize our “teaching body”, which is our presence in a space and with others. He reflected that sometimes our presence is actually louder than words, and that we transmit this to others. By developing mindful habits, we can transmit solidity and love to our closest friends.
I think that anyone who had the opportunity to be in the presence of Thích Nhất Hạnh would agree that the teaching body can be quite “loud”. In the few fleeting moments I had in close proximity to Thầy, it was what stood out to me about him the most. I remember standing in a parking lot once, chatting with some monastic friends, and when Thầy simply walked by us, his calm and solid energy was like a pebble dropping into a calm lake – it rippled outwards all around him. I think this is something we can develop in ourselves.
Applied Practice: New Year’s Invitations
As the talk concluded, Brother Pháp Hữu encouraged us to reach out to a loved one, to a friend, and express the 4 mantras:
Darling, I am here for you.
I know you are there, and I am very happy.
Darling, I know you suffer.
Darling, I suffer. Please help.
He explained each one beautifully and reminded us that it actually takes a lot of courage to offer ourselves in this way – to be vulnerable with our loved one. In this new year, he invited us to take an opportunity to re-create connection and to nourish friendships. To read more about the 4 mantras, see this translation of a dharma talk by Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Pháp Hữu also invited us, as we connect with ourselves, to recognize:
One habit that we would like to transform (that can cause some suffering)
One good habit that we can nourish in ourselves (that brings happiness)
After listening to his talk, I identified two habits of my own and wrote a few sentences in dialogue with them. I’d encourage you, dear reader, to do the same if you like.
- To my habit of avoiding/pushing away my stress and difficulty: I know you are there for a reason and that you have helped me lots in my life. I love you and I am here for you. Sometimes you continue to manifest in me, and that is ok. I will support you, and we can take care of the fear together.
- To my habit of embodying child-like joy: I aspire to nourish you in all kinds of life circumstances – in my approaches to myself, to others, and during all kinds of life events. Together, we can be curious, kind, inclusive, and joyful.
The dharma talk discussed in this post was given by Brother Chân Pháp Hữu on December 31, 2022 in the Upper Hamlet of Plum Village, France. It was delivered to the monastic and lay community of practitioners present at the monastery in the hall, and it was live-streamed on the Plum Village YouTube channel. There are plenty of other Dharma talks on the Plum Village YouTube channel, and there are other upcoming live-streams. I knew this specific talk was scheduled because of an instagram post by @phaphuu.
As always, please leave a comment or message me. I’d love to hear from you.