We are happy to announce a new series which will soon be added to the Plum Village App. After the nourishing Earth Seeds series, filmmaker Wouter Verhoeven, of Evermind Media, returns to the Plum Village App with a range of video tutorials about basic mindfulness practices. These videos have been made in collaboration with Deer Park Monastery, a North American monastery in the Plum Village tradition, as guided by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh.
We spoke to Wouter to find out more:
I think the timing of this series could be quite revealing. Can you share a bit about its inception?
It was not me but dharma teacher Brother Phap Luu, from Deer Park Monastery, who came up with the idea to create tutorials about the basic mindfulness practices. Brother Phap Luu – his name translates as ‘Dharma Stream’ – is also the monastic who initiated and technically implemented sharing dharma talks online via YouTube, which started in the year 2008, I believe.
The new tutorials we created, and offering the dharma online in general, are an expression of Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision of creating an online monastery. It is a great expression of compassion. Knowing that there is a lot of suffering out there in the world, the natural reflex of Thay was always to find ways to help relieve it. A monastic community of hundreds of monastics, although all Avalokiteshvaras with thousands of arms each, still can only do so much.
Thay repeatedly said: ‘The 21st century should become the century of collective awakening’ – but how to bring about this collective awakening? One way to reach out to more people is by using the world wide web, sharing the Dharma via websites, YouTube, Plum Village App, etc. This way, the monastery spreads in all directions, surpassing time and space. The monastery has become portable via mobile phones. Besides this: COVID has shown us that the internet is not only helpful, but even vital for the community to survive, to connect, and to thrive.
As the project was initiated by the monastics of Deer Park Monastery, there was great support, naturally. We have been working together in a beautiful and fruitful way. The tutorials were recorded during the Rains Retreat of last winter, a time of focused concentration and practice. Back home, in the Netherlands, I worked on the editing of these tutorials and guidance videos for about six months.
What was the bigger context? Who are these new films aimed at?
The fact that Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was still teaching the very basic mindfulness practices of breathing, walking, eating, etc, at a very advanced age, shows the importance of the practice. As we all know, mindfulness is not something we can learn from books; mindfulness is something we have to do! Actually, without the practice, as Thay said, we would have nothing, and we would have nothing to give; we would just fall back to our old unwholesome habits, creating suffering for ourselves and others. So, to practice is essential. We have to practice mindfulness on a very regular basis to truly integrate it into our body system and our mind.
And as not everybody is able to travel far – and regularly – to a monastery or a practice center, we have created these tutorials to support practice at home. With the help of these new tutorials, people can practice right where they are, individually, or collectively with a sangha. The monastery comes to your home, so to speak.
Whenever practitioners need a reminder, a refreshing of the practice, or some extra guidance, they can watch the tutorials. The intention is that the tutorials work on two levels: through the concrete guidelines shared by the monastics, but also through the mindful atmosphere these videos breathe. Watching them is part of the practice already.
The tutorials are meant for beginners and for more experienced practitioners alike.
How many films are in this series? Why and how did you pick these particular practices and topics?
We start the series with eight tutorials about basic mindfulness practices, and four extra guidance videos. In any retreat schedule at a Plum Village monastery you find: walking meditation, eating meditation, total relaxation, mindful breathing, dharma sharing, noble silence, etc. That is the very basics. So, tutorials about these basic practices are included in the first series. We also included a tutorial about the Five Mindfulness Trainings. It seemed important to me to explain to newcomers that – unlike the words suggest – they are a collection of short texts that can guide us towards a more ethical and balanced way of life. Where the Five Mindfulness Trainings can be found online is also shared in the tutorial.
Besides the first eight basic tutorials, we recorded a few extra guidance videos, among them a general orientation to the practice by senior dharma teacher Brother Phap Dung, and two videos recorded with long-time practitioners, sharing about a regulated nervous system and about the challenges and fruits of the practice.
This first series is just a start. Next year we will add tutorials about sitting meditation, working meditation, inviting the bell to sound, how to handle strong emotions, and more.
Although viewers of the tutorials can now easily practice at home, everybody is encouraged to find a sangha, a local community of practitioners. Because, with friends, the practice is more powerful, and, at the same time, more joyful.
On behalf of the monastic Deer Park community, I want to say to everybody: thank you for practicing. Your practice is a gift to the world. Together we strengthen our love, our peace, our freedom, and our happiness, shaping a more beautiful world. All in the spirit and vision of our beloved teacher Thay.
Enjoy your practice!