Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh

The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching

“All of us suffer from injustice and intolerance. Instead of being brothers and sisters to each other, we aim guns at each other. When we are overtaken by anger, we think that the only response is to punish the other person. The fire of anger continues to burn in us, and it continues to burn our brothers and sisters. This is the situation of the world, and it is why deep looking is needed to help us understand that all of us are victims.”

Yesterday, I finished reading The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thich Nhat Hanh. I found it helpful in two specific ways. First, Hanh does a commendable job of explaining the tenants of Buddhism and its history, including the historical splits and how the different regions took different approaches to the faith/philosophy following the Buddha’s death. Second, Hanh spends a lot of time emphasizing what is important to practitioners of Buddhism, especially mindfulness and The Middle Path. He often clarifies what Buddhism is versus what it is not, in particular noting where Buddhist teachings have been misapplied or misunderstood.

For someone who is new to Buddhism, this book is really an excellent and helpful starting point. I won’t say I understand most of Buddhism, yet. In fact, a lot of the the different components, like The Four Noble Truths, The Five Precepts, and The Eightfold Path, are still pretty confusing to me; however, the book did help me understand these principles on a basic level, to get an idea of the way forward and the general attitude/practice. If nothing else, it provided me with a great deal of impetus for learning more and a number of ways to pursue that learning, whether that be direction to specific texts or guidance to a way of being in and interacting with the world.

It’s hard to review religious texts, but I’m approaching Buddhism more as a philosophy than a faith. It’s different from Taoism, for example, in that there’s no specific expectation of an after-life, deified salvation, or reincarnation, for example, which separates it from a lot of similar religions. Instead, it’s a guide to living peacefully and with kindness, to finding wholeness and balance, and to helping others live their best lives as well. I think this is why the philosophy is resonating so loudly with me; for a long time, I’ve been agnostic who is simply trying his best to be a kind person that lives up to his potential, finds inner-peace, and helps others succeed whenever possible. Buddhism is interesting because it is a similar philosophy, with the strength and community of thousands of years and millions of people supporting it.

I will say, this book seemed to get repetitive after a while, partly because I started to become confused about the more technical teachings. They all seemed similar to me, and I had a difficult time understanding when/how each of them was supposed to apply or be applied. In treating this book as a primer, though, I have to say I am impressed, and I’m eager to read and to learn more. The best parts are Hanh’s personal stories about Vietnam. When he speaks in his own voice about his own experiences, it is beautiful. Hanh has a great deal of texts to his name, covering a variety of topics, and I think it will be beneficial to read specific books about specific ideas, now that I’ve read an overview of Buddhism generally. It might help me connect the dots a little more. To this end, I’ve purchased and will be starting LIVING BUDDHA, LIVING CHRIST, next. I have the 20th-Anniversary edition, and I look forward to beginning it tomorrow.

I’ve also downloaded the free PLUM VILLAGE app for my phone. Hanh’s Plum Village is an actual Buddhist colony (is that the right word? See, still much to learn), and the app provides meditations, songs and chants, lectures based on user’s questions (e.g. “Can we be mindful in a competitive environment?”), readings, contemplations, practices, resources, etc. It’s a really wonderful resource.

Notable Quotes

“Your purpose is to be yourself. You don’t have to run anywhere to become someone else. You are wonderful just as you are.”

“Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything – anger, anxiety, or possessions – we cannot be free.”

“Anxiety, the illness of our time, comes primarily from our inability to dwell in the present moment.”

“The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don’t wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy.”

“Usually when we hear or read something new, we just compare it to our own ideas. If it is the same, we accept it and say that it is correct. If it is not, we say it is incorrect. In either case, we learn nothing.”

“All of us suffer from injustice and intolerance. Instead of being brothers and sisters to each other, we aim guns at each other. When we are overtaken by anger, we think that the only response is to punish the other person. The fire of anger continues to burn in us, and it continues to burn our brothers and sisters. This is the situation of the world, and it is why deep looking is needed to help us understand that all of us are victims.”

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