The Earth Seeds is a series of interviews featuring Plum Village monastics. By focusing on mindfulness, our relation with Mother Earth and the climate crisis, it opens a rare conversation about the many ways a spiritual practice can help us through the common crisis.
The interviewer is Wouter Verhoeven, a filmmaker from the Netherlands and a mindfulness practitioner in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh. Since 2013, Wouter has been making films with the monastic Plum Village community of wisdom – a collaboration which led to the creation of Evermind Media, in order to share Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness teachings through films. In the face of today’s global and personal challenges, these teachings are needed more now than ever before.
The interviews and theme
The Seeds interviews are part of the Wake Up Earth retreat film project (an Evermind Media production), which will result in two films: The Way Out (2018) and the currently-in-production Children of the Earth. Realising their deep value, Evermind Media decided to share these interviews independently, as bonus videos, on their website.
Each of the six available interviews (which range from 30 to 50 minutes in length) have been cut into an easily absorbed, bite-size format, with each video focusing on one aspect of the overarching climate-and-mindfulness subject matter.
From greed and ignorance, to reverence, drinking tea, the healing beauty of compassion and taking care of suffering, these short videos, infused with wisdom, are friendly teachings easy to integrate into even busy schedules.
We recommend initially watching the videos, rather than just listening, as the leafy green branches rustling in the background add an extra layer of peace and hopefulness to the conversation. In addition, the physical presence of the monastics enhance a sense of community and togetherness in our common existential crisis.
At the heart of the questions in this series is Mother Earth and the root causes of the climate and ecological crisis. The answers encapsulate Buddhist wisdom, as well as personal perceptions, understandings, and reactions to this ultimate of crises – which everyone is experiencing, whether we are aware of it or not. The conversations go beyond the indisputable scientific facts by looking at the triggers of excessive consumption in humans, the causes of our estrangement from nature, gains and losses for our spiritual existence, and other aspects to help us grasp the problem from a spiritual, but grounded perspective.
Between the techno-optimists and the doomers, there are those trying to be the change they want to see in the world. This series is less about ‘fixing’ a problem and more about the much-needed narratives of continuation. It creates the conditions for deep and careful listening, and addresses how the practice of mindfulness – the practice of coming home to the here and the now – can be essential to understanding and dealing with the crisis, both on a personal and a global level. By helping us transform ourselves and the societies we live in, we can protect the Earth together.
Meet the monastics
The monastics interviewed are experienced Dharma teachers, but also have direct, strong relationships with climate activism. Two of them were even climate activists before becoming monastics.
Brother Chan Phap Lưu
Brother Phap Lưu was ordained as a novice monk in 2003, received full ordination as a bhikshu in 2006, and became a Dharma teacher in 2011. A graduate of Dartmouth College in the United States, he previously taught English. He has been active in the Wake Up movement for young people and is involved in the Happy Farm (combining organic farming, community living and the mindfulness practice in Upper Hamlet). His home is Deer Park Monastery.
Read more about his life story here.
“We need to learn how to be happy with what we have, with how things are right now, and look deeply into this collective craving for more” – Brother Phap Luu, Happy and Free
Sister Hien Nghiem
Sister Hien Nghiem (Sister True Dedication) is a British disciple of Thich Nhat Hanh. After graduating from Cambridge University, where she studied history and political philosophy, she went to Plum Village, aged 21, seeking answers to the big life questions which university hadn’t provided.
For three years prior to her ordination in 2008, she worked for BBC News in London. She has also curated London Mindfulness Hubs, and organized mindfulness retreats and events for tech companies, journalists, business people, politicians, environmental activists, and university students.
The sister currently resides in Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, dividing her time between guiding younger monastics, editing books by Thich Nhat Hanh, and serving as the village’s international digital communications director.
“Each of us are agents of consumption; that is one of our biggest actions in relation to the Earth. And when we can fulfill ourselves by dwelling happily in the present moment, when we can fulfill ourselves with healthy relationships, when we can fulfill ourselves with our own compassion for ourselves, we won’t need to be excessive consumers” – Sister True Dedication, A Sustainable Heart
Brother Chan Phap Dung
Brother Chan Phap Dung was ordained in 1998 as a member of the “Apple” family at Plum Village, received full bhikshu ordination in 2001, and became a Dharma teacher in 2004. From 2001 to 2010, he was the abbot of Deer Park Monastery in California. He received a professional BA in Architecture from the University of Southern California, and worked as an architect/designer before becoming a monk. Due to Brother Phap Dung’s passion for restoring connections with Mother Earth, he is involved in the Happy Farm, and represented Plum Village at the pivotal COP21 climate conference in Paris.
Read more about his life story here.
“Suffering can be the greatest teacher, so learning how to suffer, learning how to be with your anger and your strong emotions is a first step. Stopping and recognizing these things, and embracing them like a mother with a child is a very important step; from that, healing is possible” – Brother Phap Dung, On Taking Care of Suffering
Brother Chan Phap Lai
Brother Chan Phap Lai was ordained as a novice monk in 2002 in the “Bead Tree” family, received full ordination as a bhikshu in 2006, and became a Dharma teacher in 2010. While working as an ecologist in Scotland, he realised that living in a community is one of the most sustainable ways of living. He has been actively involved in bringing Plum Village practices into education through the Wake Up Schools initiative.
Read more about his life story here.
“We need to find ourselves in a relationship with ourselves, with nature, with each other, returning to a respectful, loving relationship. And it’s so natural, it’s so easy, but it takes this practice of stopping and allowing the connection that is already there to come back to us” – Brother Phap Lai, Re-connect
Brother Kai Li
Brother Thay Seck Kai Li was ordained in 1989 under Thera Boon Kheng at Ang Hock See Temple in Penang, Malaysia. Beginning in 1999, he travelled to Myanmar/Burma and Korea to receive training from the highly respected Venerables Pa-Auk Tawya Sayadaw and Chanmyay Sayadaw, and in 2010 came to Plum Village for the first time to practice with Thay and the Plum Village community. Since then, he has returned to Plum Village several times, often staying for the summer months and always offering deep insight with a bright smile and light-hearted humor.
“Understanding and love: these two things can change the fear in us, because with lack of understanding fear arises, but with understanding love may arise. Then the love can overcome the fear” – Brother Kai Li, Fear
Br. Troi Nguyen Luc
“To me, love is understanding and no separation between Mother Earth, myself, and us. That also means understanding ourselves. We want to love Mother Earth, we need to understand Mother Earth, but that means we also need to understand ourselves, to understand that we are really not separate from her” – Brother Troi Nguyen Luc, Understanding
This series is not just for the environmentally minded, it’s for anyone looking for the path home to individual and collective peace and happiness. The Earth Seeds series has become one of the most beloved on our platforms; you can see why for yourself.
➛ You may also be interested in reading Brother Phap Dung’s reflections on the Paris Climate Conference.