Thich Nhat Hanh, Larry Ward and Cheri Maples —
Mindfulness, Suffering, and Engaged Buddhism

Zen master and poet Thich Nhat Hanh was forcibly exiled from his native country of Vietnam more than 40 years ago. We visited the Buddhist monk at a Christian conference center in a lakeside setting of rural Wisconsin. Here, Thich Nhat Hanh offers stark, gentle wisdom for living in a world of anger and violence. He discusses the concepts of "engaged Buddhism," "being peace," and "mindfulness."

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is a Vietnamese Zen monk, poet, and peacemaker. He cofounded the An Quang Buddhist Institute, the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Vietnam, and Plum Village, a Buddhist training monastery in France. He is the author of many books, including Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation, and Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals 1962–1966.
photo by Paul Davis

is co-director of the Lotus Institute in Encinitas, California and an ordained Baptist minister. He also owned a management consultant firm for Fortune 500 companies.

is a licensed attorney and consultant on justice and community corrections. She was ordained as a dharma teacher by Thich Nhat Hanh in 2008.

Poems You Heard and Others You Didn't

"Walking Meditation with Thich Nhat Hanh" by Tess Gallagher

The incomparable poet remembers a quiet walk with Brother Thay.
Photo by Paul Davis

"For Warmth" by Thich Nhat Hanh

The poem first recited by Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnamese and then by Krista in English during the show.

Selected Audio

Mindfulness of Anger: Embracing the Child Within

A 2003 dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hanh during a morning meditation session at The Green Lake Conference Center in Wisconsin.

About the Image

Exiled Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh attends the film Buddha during the 59th International Cannes Film Festival on May 22, 2006 in Cannes, France.

Photo by Peter Kramer / Getty Images

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I was doing the dishes on the morning I heard the program, Saturday morning, WNYC 93.9 NYC. I listen to SOF program often. I just want to say that the story about the man who placed flowers on his grieving father's doorstep -- until eventually the widowed man emerged one day, really moved me to tearfulness. How the son reflected on perhaps if he had not been exposed to the teachings of THN, might have just said " forget you.." if confronted with his father's self-imposed isolation during grief.

This may seem ridiculous, but I had just rather harshly disciplined the younger of our two dogs for an infraction and thought, man had I heard not just the story of the one man, but the voice of Thay -- it was so clear, I might have not let myself be so blind and unthinking in my anger at the dogs actions.

It is not only that incident, but the simple word "mindfulness" and the descriptions of walking meditation being bolstered by an accompanying child; all in all it was a very powerful and informative program and I am now hungry to learn more about this man, who sadly, I have not heard about before!

Thank you very much, it was a real -- in my eyes and ears -- a radio triumph. Sunshine, M.

Today , I road my bike a long way , longer than I ever have in the past.
While riding , i realized that i had entered a zen state . I was only riding my bike , I wasn't thinking about the kids ,wife , mother , work
just breathing , when I did wander into work , the world , the lakers
without thinking i went right back to breathing and pedaling .
My father passed earlier this year, I miss him . A notion entered my possibly oxygen deprived head , that I should take a detour and go see my mother. It ws good, it isn't always. Then I drove home listening to your show and it all made sense. I keep finding myself drawn to budhism
and Viet Nam.

I am sharing this site with my son's ,wife and friends .

Thanks I was really touched by this programming , I am grateful for beach traffic in los angeles.

Rich

Go Lakers

The pleasant anecdotes on mutual understanding and peaceful resolution of conflicts ignore an important fact: over the centuries since the Battle of Marathon there have been a series of epic struggles which no pacifist could stop and without the efforts of comparatively few people the present world would be quite different. For over 2000 years the little flame of democracy has be threatened by often overwhelming forces and in Churchill's words "on agate edges turns the world." If a Union cavalry general had not recognized the importance of holding the high ground at Gettysburg, there would have been two countries...neither strong enough to win either world war last century. A marine officer during the Viet Nam War told me something that has a Zen ring: "Peace is a delicate flower growing out of the barrel of a gun...and when everything is calm...you don't see the gun." (photo: I'm on the left with Elias Zerhouni (recent Director NIH))

thich nhat hahn knows quite a bit about being in war - if you know his story, such as rebuilding a bombed villages for the fourth time, while "taking care of my anger" - he was in the midst of the killing and war - and being an officer in a war requires clarity and mindfulness even more to check against excesses.

while what is said above is undoubtedly true given the level of consciousness prevalent at that time, surely today we can look at these issues differently. we have 'progressed' greatly since the days of yesterday and primarily in the understanding we have embedded in our consciousness by such teachers as Thay, the Dalai Lama, and those non-buddhists like ML King, and Bishop Tutu. When we look at the idiocy that started the first WW and its ending with the establishment of the League, we failed the world mightedly when the League members did not march in right at the outset when the Germans under Hitler moved into that disputed territory in France, the Sudetenland and Austria. We know what companies from the 'west' were in business with HItler and we also know what efforts were being made to spin the facts to incite the population of Germany. Despite this we continue to allow the same nonsense to take place and we actually don't hold those responsible despite all that we are fully aware of today. Thay's message that there is no 'us and them', there is no 'good and bad' and other examples of dualistic thinking is timely and on a day like today, Remembrance DAy here in Canada, i urge all to reflect just a little deeper and not to endorse the level of consciousness that existed in the past and which fortifies countries like the USA in their obscene spending for weapons of destructions while fighting internally over the funding for a policy of reasonably priced health care for the unfortunate ones in their midst. so when reflecting on the conflicts of the past, look deeply and within 'the other' one can clearly see oneself and ask oneself when you this is seen whether your cell in the body of life is going to repeat the cancerous level of consciousness present all too completely in the past from days long before the Battle of Marathon. and please, please, it was the combined efforts of many around the world which defeated the forces amassed by Hitler and his minions, not just the forces of the USA.

There have certainly been many great battles. However, there have been many thousands of times more battles and wars that have faded into insignificance in our public memories. The greatness that persists is mostly a function of what comes after the battle, not the battle itself. Most great human achievements can only emerge when life is no longer defined by which side you are on. And among those achievements is the beginning of an understanding of how peace can be encouraged. World Wars 1 and 2 offer almost trivial examples. Punishment of the losers after WW1 led quickly to another war. Though often clumsy, efforts at mutual understanding after WW2 have so far kept the major players out of direct conflict. As the Buddha said: "Hatred has never been ended by hatred, hatred can only be ended by love".

Listening to Thich Nhat Hanh brought me back to the Buddist reading and practice I had been doing in the early 90s, before my children came into my life. I had dropped it, but kept the books on the shelf. I was reminded what it felt like to see the world through the eyes of compassion and how to deal with anger. I felt my own heart start to soften again. I know I will return to my practice again starting in the now. Thank you so much for this.

thich Nhat Hana is wonderful. I just bought his book (FEAR). This is helping me with my life. Thank you, Thich Nhat Hana.

I found Mindful of anger: Embracing the child within very enlightening. When someone makes me angry I will be mindful.

After listening to the audio conference with Nhat Hanh I realized that many leaders could learn a lot about how to avoid wars and maintain peace in their countries. Hanh believes that proper techniques of communication are important and using the proper techniques can avoid wrongful deceptions. I myself as many often desire the comfort of peace and non-suffering. Nhat teaches us that we as people need to understand the life of suffering and embrace it. Suffering teaches how to be happy and compassionate,

I would like to visit the place and practice mindfulness and also work there to make a living.

The teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh are a blessing to the world. With every breath, I see his smile and then I smile and smile some more...

Ms. Tippett:
Thank you so much for the amazing interviews you share. You are a real treasure.
P. Williams

I always stop whatever I'm doing to listen to these informative, healing, moving, worthwhile broadcasts! Thank you!

It's interesting that of the eight "Pertinent Posts" on this page about Thich Nhat Hanh, three are about Buddhists who were born Jewish but had weak (or non-existent) Jewish educations when they were young: Sharon Salzberg, Adam Yauch and Sylvia Boorstein.

Great master Zen

On Sunday night I was returning home to Los Angeles from Thich Nhat Hanh's Mindfulness Retreat at the Magnolia Grove Monastery in Batesville, Mississippi, trying to maintain a mindful presence as I navigated through airports in Memphis and Houston. My flight was delayed so by the time I got to my car at LAX it was almost 9:00 p.m. As I drove home, I turned on NPR and the universe was speaking to me. Krista Tippett came on the air and talked about being the the presence of wise human beings. I, of course, was thinking about Thich Nhat Hanh and, as it turned out, she was too.

Thay and his teachings are gifts to the world and I encourage everyone to read his books, listen to his talks and attend a retreat. The theme of the Mississippi retreat was "Healing Ourselves is Healing the World." How can I describe the retreat? We laughed and we cried. We walked and we sang. We listened to Thay and we listened to our hearts. Our spirits were nourished. We came together as one.

Enjoying everything! Especially walking meditation.

Love to see this wonderful man!

I love learn everything from the best ways from Buddhist. Thank you

Thank you
Nalinrat

Thanks KT I needed that

When life can be lived by doing our best for others more blessings come. We don't always see blessings for what they are, yet they still effect us.I have the feeling that we aren't supposed to know of every blessing that effects us, it would be very complicated and consuming. Being thankful for all blessings is important.

I have rarely been so affected by a radio/podcast piece in my life. I have had the great pleasure of getting to know several monks of both Catholic and Buddhist backgrounds and have learned much from those encounters, however, listening to the philosophy of Thich Nhat Hanh moved me. I was uplifted by the message of Thich Nhat Hanh of using the dualities of life, embracing both the garbage and the flower as necessary parts of life and the human experience.

He teaches that suffering is the key to enlightenment, that without suffering, we are unable to harness compassion and understanding and that he believes that suffering must continue into the next life.

It is this, almost enthusiastic, embrace of suffering that was so fascinating to me. The philosophy that suffering is the key to enlightenment and the ability to understand and communicate with each other that rang so true to me. I have used the same explanation with those I have counseled about their own sufferings, but not nearly so elegantly and it is a beautiful way to look at the world in contrast to a religion like Christianity which views suffering as the result of sin and failure and as a punishment, and thus focuses on overcoming the suffering as a way to leave suffering behind rather than embracing suffering as something that exists to help us reach the ultimate enlightenment.

I understand there are significant cultural differences when trying to compare the foundations of a Western religion like Christianity with an Eastern religion like that of Thich Nhat Hanh. In my travels in the East, I have noticed a much greater sense of community over self, which I think contributes to the espousal of embracing suffering and how it contributes to compassion and enables more effective communication. However, I have seen how Christianity has brought together the workings of many different religions in their development and I think there would be a lot of benefit to applying the message of Thich Nhat Hanh with the words and works of Christianity.

I fully appreciate the view about the substantial cultural differences when trying to make an unbiased comparison between the foundations of Western vs Eastern religions. Both have their place in this wonderful world of ours and from my own Christian point of view, always admired the pure simplicitity of Eastern religions linked to Budhism, Taoism and other similar ones.