Sister Linh Nghiêm’s interview

1. The purpose of the Wake Up movement is to give young people tools to make the society healthier and more compassionate. Do you have any words of encouragement for us?

Sister Linh Nghiem: Last night I’ve just made an explanation about Thay’s calligraphy that writes “Wake up” because lay friends were making a calendar for the new year. And I could only write three sentences, only 30-40 words. I only thought about the Wake Up movement. I wanted to write how to put on the first page of the year that makes young people come to the Wake Up movement or have that Wake Up movement mentality or Wake UP movement spirit. And the first thing I said that “Waking up to the new day with breathing and smiling is the source of love and compassionate energy!”. So I think when we are able to wake up, really wake up every morning and come back to our breathing and smiling is already a very good start for the young people, because sometimes we party so late, so we woke up so late. But when we wake up we can always remember to breathe and to smile, and with that energy together with youth energy. It always gives you such a heathy waking up. Healthy day, good day. And I think to build a healthy and compassionate society is simple like that.

When we are able to ourselves do little thing every day with the energy that’s in touch with love and compassion, with the energy that’s in touch with mindfulness in us, with the energy that’s in touch with the awakening inside of us. And I think simply just by getting up and remember to breathe and to smile. That already helps a lot because that energy will bring a lot of awareness in us. Nowadays people live so much in forgetfulness and live so much being overwhelmed or being carried away by the energy of the majority that tends to have anger, craving, discrimination, despair, or boredom. But we ourselves can cultivate that source of mindfulness energy, the source of awareness. And we feel always alive in us. We always feel awake. And when we feel alive in us, we always have bright eyes like young people always have bright eyes. When we’re young we always have bright eyes because we see everything so beautiful and we see everything with a lot of hope, a lot of inspiration. And we always see everything very new. We don’t have so much thing we carry inside of us. We don’t have so much perception, our attitude that makes us judging or reactive or make us think so negatively and make us feel despair.

So I think when young people can come together and just have a chance like this, enjoy the tea, enjoy the strangeness, chocolate, the brotherhood and sisterhood, and the nature. And we’re able to share something from our heart. Or go for a walk in the nature, or practice sitting together, practice sharing together, singing together. Just by nourishing the good seeds. That already gives a good environment. When we have a good environment that’s just people with good energy coming together that bring a lot of good feeling inside. Feel at ease, feel love, feel understanding. That’s already wake up. And it’s not so difficult. I don’t see it so difficult. We just need only a few people, and just come together with that kind of heart. And naturally things just appear. When people with good hearts, a lot of love and understanding come together, you’ll always have a good thinking together, conversation, and you always find things that you can just be together or do together and bring happiness. So we need that so much in the society, instead of going and doesn’t know wake up and feel bored. Don’t know what to do today. Don’t know where to go. Or just go and consume, shopping, or buy things, eat, and not really nourish us. But if we’re young people we already see the past, we already see the environment, we are relieved in the good environment. We can share that. It’s a gift to the society.

2. From your point of view what is the best way for us, the monks and nuns to reach and help the young people in the Wake Up movement?

Sister Linh Nghiem: I think when young monks and nuns can come together, work together happily in harmony, they can see a lot of love of the brotherhood and sisterhood. That’s the best way. That’s the best way because as a young monk or nun they already practice and already happy and fresh. That’s already a beautiful gift for the young people. But when many of you like that come together and do something also very relaxed, very joyful, very harmonious with a lot of love like brothers and sisters in the same family. And I think it will be very powerful in whatever we do together like that. It already gives hope to the young people outside. And they already feel very good, very warm, very happy, just to be in the circle of the group like that.

So I think coming back to our practice and always nourish our happiness, our love, and harmony among each other. That is the best way for the monastics to offer because it’s not easy to find the young people to decide to become monks or nuns at young age. That’s already a miracle for some of them to see that. It’s already very inspiring. It’s not easy to see that there’s a place where young people can come together and live in their ideal, live according to their inspiration, according to their mind of love that they want to offer to the world. And when they can… also see that there are young people who ordain and live happily together and they can do something together. That’s very warm, filled with a lot of love and compassion and harmony in the group. I think that’s very inspiring for the young people.

3. Very meaningful. The grand problem of young people is caught easily to strong emotion and some even committed suicide. Could you tell us what did you do when strong emotions come up in you?

Sister Linh Nghiem: I remember to come back to my breathing. That’s what I do. Very deep breathing into my stomach. I …. Sometimes… when I’ve just ordained, sometimes when strong emotion come up then I have no more energy I would lie down and I put my hand on my stomach. And all I do is just breathe. I just breathe with my belly. Breathing in I know my belly rising, breathing out I know my belly falling. And at that time so many things still going on in your head. And all your body very exhausted, but I just stayed there and continue to breathe like that. Sometimes I turn on the chanting of “Avalokiteshvara” to ask for the energy of Avalokiteshvara inside of me and around me to help. Sometimes I breathe and I recollect the energy of my teacher, the energy of my ancestors, all my ancestors to help and support. Coming back to breathe and stay at the belly. It’s like our teacher always say that you go down to the root of the tree when the storm is up there. It’s like when you have strong emotion, it’s another storm. It’s a kind of emotional storm.

Instead of staying up at the top of the tree and you will be flown away. It means that if I still continue to think or to go to carry on those sadness or despair or anger, then I will be blown away and I will be carried away with all these thoughts and can’t find the way out. You feel like you come to the deadline. And naturally when you’re like that you feel so much despair, sadness, and your mind, you don’t know the way out. So, it’s easy to come up the idea of suicide. Because you thought at that moment you don’t have enough mindfulness to see things clearly and you thought the best way is just to kill yourself, so that everything ends. But we know that it never ends.

Sometimes I get my sister hold my hand and I think that living in the Sangha can help a lot. To be in the Sangha it helps because sometimes when you’re in that energy you’re in that mode that state of emotion by yourself you can’t and if you also don’t know the practice well you’re not strong enough. By yourself is not enough mindfulness energy to hold you. You need a Sangha, friends, holding your hand. To be in the environment that has a lot of mindfulness energy.

Sometimes I put the hot water bottle on my tummy because when you have heat on your belly, physiology in your body all the blood is drawn here it’s easy to focus. Because in that moment it’s very difficult to focus, very difficult. And that’s why, especially if you’re young and you don’t have a Sangha it’s more difficult. Because sometimes it will take may be 1 hour before you really can stop all these things in your head. But you have to keep doing. And when it’s so serious I use that hot water bottle. It helps me to focus more. Because my mind wants to focus, but I also use hot water bottle so my body helps me to focus because all the blood. it’s hot there so all the blood is drawn there to that spot so it’s easier. But you know when the young people don’t know the practice yet and not strong enough, it’s so easy to forget. Forget to breathe. So easy to forget the breath, even sometimes you know. That’s why we have to start to practice today and make it becomes a habit. And second thing you need a Sangha. To have a group of friends who can remind you, who can help you, and who can see that you start to get despair. And the friends invite you to practice with by going for a walk, in touch with the beautiful nature, or just sitting there to enjoy tea and breathe together, or lie down and do total relaxation.

Total relaxation is a wonderful practice. When I first time practiced I did total relaxation all the time. I slept a lot. And it became a habit. So when I felt exhausted with strong emotions come up, naturally I do total relaxation. But when we live in society when we’re young it’s not easy. So that’s why you need to build a group of friends who understand and do the same things, to know how to go back to the root of the tree. And if you don’t have good spiritual friends, you won’t get worse because when you feel despair you want to kill yourself, then maybe you don’t know how to help yourself. So, firstly is the practice of the belly breathing. Second the Sangha, a group of good friends, spiritual friends.

Sister Linh Nghiem: I have told you that sometimes I also have strong emotion, boring with which we can see in what happen in sangha. I felt sad and I tried to take care of them, watered the capacity. I really like when Thay gave a “Question and Answer” session for the monastics in the Deer Park Monastery in which questions had been made by Br Phap Dung, Sr Thoai Nghiem, Br Phap Niem, Br Phap Luu. The quality of that program was so good in which brothers and sisters asked a lot about the sangha, living in the monastery and practice. Thay taught that all problems can help you dwell peacefully. Besides, when you feel sad, have unpleasant or anger or despair, or boredom, they are a shore of sadness that make you feel unhappier. It is not easy to continue to build a sangha. What I practiced was acceptable. I knew that I have unpleasant feeling inside. I felt dissatisfied with that situation. My ideal did not like that. I couldn’t accept. I wanted it would be a sangha ideal which I had ever expected. And when I looked at the eliminate of the sangha, I couldn’t agree with that situation like that. I denied that I was unhappy. But when I looked deeply, I saw that everyone also wants to be an ideal of the sangha. Nobody wants sangha to be sad or go down. Everyone wants sangha to be more and more stronger. And everyone has done their best. Finally, I accepted.

That was the best thing I could do. Excepting acceptance, what you can do? At that time, I felt good and was happy again. I didn’t feel bored, angry, unpleasant anymore.

Thay had taught that there were conflicts in our hearts. If I can’t take care of that matter, of my body, how I can take care of sangha because you are an element of supporting in sangha. I don’t want to be a person who make it is not good. If I still want to build an ideal of sangha, I have to transform that by accepting and then we have insight. When we have insight, we will be free and we can get energy again. We start slowly from where we are. That is how you can build your patience because you can embrace your feelings and improve the situation and people slowly. Therefore, I have to wake up in order to feel young.

4. Many people believe that tomorrow the guideline will be strict and maybe prevent them from being happy. What do you want to say about it? It is not easy for the young people to accept it? What can you share your experience about this matter? What do you think about religious teaching?

Sister Linh Nghiem: When I was young as a teenager, I studied in the catholic school with many masseurs. They were very strict. I was a rebel. Because I felt so strict so I was looking forward the own identity. The young people used to do against the others’ require. At the year of teenager, they want to be free and do anything they want. They don’t want the other order them for doing this, doing that, can, can’t,… So, I rebelled. When I grew up, I went to America and studied more about education, nature of the young people, children. I studied more about myself and I respect myself at that time. I feel sorry for my teacher because they didn’t know how a teenager is, how to teach and how to help the young people. They don’t understand the teenager, young people. At that time, they need more encouragement.

While the teachers say no in the very strict way, we can use more the guideline in direction to solve that matter. Turning it to the positive way and avoiding using “do not do this, can’t do this!”. We should use the way which Thay taught us already. When your family has children in the years of teenager, we should apply regularly the method of flower watering to them every week. Like a tree grows up, we need to find out their talent to water flower. That’s why I say it is wonderful. How wonderful it is when sangha can help us and give us the inner peace training in such a way that it is very easy to understand and take care of them by not using the restriction such as “do not do this, do not do that!”. It is more just to be aware. Next work is sharing about the mindful practice in breathing. The moral guideline we have is very clear in Buddhism. We call them as the five mindfulness trainings. The especial thing is practicing of mindfulness. With only practicing the mindfulness of breathing but it is very concrete. Because sometimes you say breathing but you will ask: Breathing for what? When I fell in love, I didn’t know what to do, I didn’t know what I should decide in following him or going to school. It was very real in my life. And what can breath help you to do with it and to solve it? That’s why the Buddha for the lay people to practice the five aspects in their life. With aspect, you are aware of suffering that if you have sexual relationship without love, true love or a long-time commitment, you can suffer because you don’t have mindfulness. We must have true love, understand the true love, practice. In order to know being aware of happiness, the others’ happiness, how to help the others happy, offer the happiness, share the joy together, release the suffering and have no discrimination. Do all aspects with the true love. And we need to learn when you follow someone, you have no base of this practicing the true love. And sometimes you do something wrong, when it becomes an accident, it may not helpful. So, we must practice the mindfulness. It has been aware of the happiness. Do you like to bring the happiness to the other people? That’s why this kind of moral guideline we say which likes to the five mindfulness trainings. The practice of mindfulness is very concrete in practicing of love and compassion. It is not practice of being strict, rude, cute, judging, bad, good, evil, right or wrong, black or white. We just practice of awareness. The practice of awareness will become an energy of mindfulness. Because mindfulness means being aware of something. You are really aware of what happen and when you really aware, you will know that: Ah! Do this, do that, you should do or should not do. And that is the moral guideline.

5. You’ve shared about the importance of sangha building. Then, what is the benefit of practicing with the group. Can you share in detail and clearly for the young people can understand and receive it?

Sister Linh Nghiem: Practicing with sangha is a survival as a monastic and practioner, a happy person. When you don’t have sangha to practice with, it is not easy for you to continue to practice, to continue to get in touch with happiness, love, compassion. You can’t do it by yourself. You need to come together and be supported together. I think that sangha building is not difficult because the nature of human beings is they like to come together, make group together. The young people like to make friends. So the nature of young people and human beings are getting together and have good friends. But the point is how to take them together and how to be together? That’s a point which young monastics, we get in touch with the happiness, being together. We can share practice with them, make questions and share from your hearts. Sharing how we can take care of our happiness or difficulties when we meet and the way we practice together. When one person feels happy naturally, we want to share with others. The happiness like water which is so fresh and rise up and to drink in the vast, the container. It’s natural used to build us even though you don’t want to share. Actually, you will share just by your happiness, your freshness. Many young people have good hearts, help the world, preserve the world, change the world, they will restore a lot of energy. How can you be in touch with their energy of love and compassion. From one, two, three groups together. We have so many young people come to practice with us in Thailand already. So we have good condition like last time we went to BIA for the mindful day, there were 40 people who were under 40 years old came to practice mindfulness with us in that afternoon. So, when we have a retreat, we need 2 or 3 young monastics. We just sit and help them to grow. Because they are the ones who you want to build a sangha among themselves. Thanks for all, Wake up spirit, our penetration, our aspiration. These questions are also help me a lot, make me feel younger. Thanks for your interview to me!