Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

And then, a new experience


This happens again and again.

A word, a phrase, I have heard hundreds of times, in dharma talks, and so on. Read hundreds of times, in sutras and other texts. This word, today, is “stream.”

Again and again, I have remembered the words of Plato, quoting Heraclitus:

“You could not step twice into the same river.”

Again and again I have heard that life is a stream — the world that is true, all existence, and each sentient being is an ever-flowing stream. We are not the same from one day to the next, from one moment to the next. And I have known, for a long time, that my understanding of this truth is only, was only, an intellectual understanding. I knew I had not attained it, although I believed it, and my mind, my mind understood it.

And then today, thanks to a little text in a magazine (shown above), it entered into me with enormous clarity. I understood it for the first time. It was crazy — I cannot explain exactly how it was different, but it was — so very, very different.

And it lasted only moments. Some moments. I’m left with a kind of vestige of that realization. I am more than I was before, but I am not the same as I was in that moment.

“… I shall liberate them all. And though I thus liberate countless beings, not a single being is liberated.

“And why not? Subhuti, a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a being cannot be called a ‘bodhisattva.’ And why not? Subhuti, no one can be called a bodhisattva who creates the perception of a self or who creates the perception of a being, a life, or a soul.”

— The Diamond Sutra, part 3 (p. 3 — trans. Red Pine, 2001)

I have meditated on this again and again, again and again. Today, for a moment, I attained it.

Now, back to work.



Walking the Eightfold Path


Well. Hello. It’s been a while since I posted here.

This summer I was lucky enough to attend two long teaching events, one with the Dalai Lama in Washington, D.C., and one with Thich Nhat Hanh in Vancouver, Canada. In both cases, much of the teaching centered on the Noble Eightfold Path.

These teachings inspired me to read a deeper explanation of the Path. I searched online and found  this:

The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Access to Insight, 16 June 2011.


Bhikkhu Bodhi is an American by birth and a Buddhist monk in the Theravada tradition. He has an earned doctorate in philosophy and studied Buddhism in Sri Lanka, where he was ordained as a novice in 1972. His book In the Buddha’s Words: An Anthology of Discourses from the Pali Canon was recommended to me by a respected Buddhism scholar.

I think I would like to write some posts about what I am learning from this wonderful, free online text. I am not sure whether I would have appreciated this text a few years ago, when I was just beginning to practice. When I was starting out, I found these lists that are so common in Buddhist teachings to be kind of intimidating. Am I supposed to learn these by heart? I wondered. They seem so redundant. Why are there so many lists? Why do they all say the same things?

This summer I felt like I had traveled in a big, long circle and come around to the start of it again, standing in the same place as before — but everything looked different now.

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:

Right view is the forerunner of the entire path, the guide for all the other factors. It enables us to understand our starting point, our destination, and the successive landmarks to pass as practice advances. To attempt to engage in the practice without a foundation of right view is to risk getting lost in the futility of undirected movement. Doing so might be compared to wanting to drive someplace without consulting a roadmap or listening to the suggestions of an experienced driver. One might get into the car and start to drive, but rather than approaching closer to one’s destination, one is more likely to move farther away from it. To arrive at the desired place one has to have some idea of its general direction and of the roads leading to it.

Reading that, I understood the circular interconnection of the Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path for the first time. Or maybe I already understood it, and as I read, I saw my understanding for the first time.

Right View — the first item on the list of eight in the Noble Eightfold Path — is the beginning and also the end. It is equivalent to the Four Noble Truths. In other words, if you have Right View, it is because you have attained the truth of each one of the Four Noble Truths. What used to bother me was that the fourth one of those is the Noble Eightfold Path. A Western mind can feel frustration right at the outset when confronting this.

Bhikkhu Bodhi wrote:

In its fullest measure right view involves a correct understanding of the entire Dhamma (Dharma) or teaching of the Buddha, and thus its scope is equal to the range of the Dhamma itself. But for practical purposes two kinds of right view stand out as primary. One is mundane right view, right view which operates within the confines of the world. The other is supramundane right view, the superior right view which leads to liberation from the world. The first is concerned with the laws governing material and spiritual progress within the round of becoming, with the principles that lead to higher and lower states of existence, to mundane happiness and suffering. The second is concerned with the principles essential to liberation. It does not aim merely at spiritual progress from life to life, but at emancipation from the cycle of recurring lives and deaths.

Once I began to meditate on this difference — between the mundane or simple Right View one needs to get started on the path, and the supramundane or complex Right View, which is associated with Wisdom (that is Buddhist Wisdom, with a capital W) — I saw how the teachings about the Four Noble Truths given by great teachers such as the Dalai Lama and Thich Nhat Hanh are truly “a finger pointing at the moon” (to repeat one of those oft-repeated lessons).

When I heard a teaching about the Four Noble Truths, often I would feel a bit disappointed. I already know this, I thought. I was hoping for something different, something new.

Never fail to listen with your full attention.


The Noble Eightfold Path: The Way to the End of Suffering, by Bhikkhu Bodhi. Published by Access to Insight, 16 June 2011.

There is something you can do


There’s a documentary video about Thich Nhat Hanh, called “Peace Is Every Step.” In it, the Zen master tells a story about an American veteran of the Vietnam war (there are a lot of Vietnam veterans in this video). The former soldier suffers a lot because of terrible things he did during the war. One memory in particular is tormenting this Vietnam vet — the image of five children who died because of his actions. He cannot get the five children out of his mind, more than 20 years later.

Thich Nhat Hanh told him that many children die every day. Some die because of the lack of one single pill. Some die from hunger. You could save five children, he told the former soldier. Why suffer so much about children who have already died, when instead, you could save children who are alive today?

You cannot bring back those five children from many years ago. They are dead. That is in the past.

But you can do something today. Right now. You can make a difference in the lives of other people. And if you did, you would lessen your own suffering as well.


Cause and effect



This comes from Thich Nhat Hanh’s wonderful biography of the Buddha, Old Path, White Clouds:

“Bhikkhus, there is the concept of death because there is the concept of birth. These wrong views are based on a false view of the self. There is a false view of the self because there is grasping. There is grasping because there is desire. There is desire because one does not see into the true nature of feelings. One does not see into the true nature of feelings because one is caught up in the contact that takes place between the sense organs and thier objects. One is caught up in the contact that takes place between the sense organs and their objects because one’s mind is not clear and calm. One’s mind is not clear and calm because there are drives and impulses. These drives and impulses are due to ignorance. These twelve links of the chain of existence are connected to each other. In each link, you can see the other eleven links. If one link is missing, the other eleven will be missing” (pp. 410-411).

These are also known as the 12 links of dependent origination. Understanding this, we understand the cause of suffering. Understanding the cause of suffering, we understand how to end suffering.


Where is your mind today?


In March 2007, Thich Nhat Hanh made his second trip back to Vietnam, his home country, since leaving in 1966. According to a BBC report made at that time, the Zen master said:

“Today, people’s minds are on stocks and news headlines. They no longer have time to take care of themselves or their loved ones. And even though they have lots of money, they aren’t happy.

“I’ve met many millionaires. They’re not happy people.”


The ox and the oxherd


That’s a water buffalo, not an ox, in the photo. It reminds me of Svasti, the buffalo boy, in Thich Nhat Hanh’s Old Path, White Clouds.

… the ancient masters devised a way to explain Zen using ox-herding pictograms, which represent ten stages of self-discovery and the pathway to enlightenment. The interpretation of each of the pictures only becomes apparent once a student has passed the stage which the picture represents. All students are unique and may require more time at any given stage. … In the true spirit of Zen, the pictures attempt to explain what cannot be explained.

The ox represents the mind or the self, ego, or pre-conditioned responses. The ox herder is the practitioner attempting to understand his or her nature and, therefore, his or her mind. Throughout the series these two entities slowly merge together until they eventually become one with each other.

From: Guiding a student’s mental development from white belt to Shodan and applying Zen principles into karate and life, by Nicholas Lukich, 3rd Dan Shito-Ryu, and Jason Armstrong, Ph.D. and 5th Dan. Found at Zenguide.com.

See > The 10 Ox Herding Pictures (with brief explanations, in English)