Thich Nhat Hahn has taught meditation and life practice in 35 countries but his books are still banned in his homeland, Vietnam.
This serene 82-year-old is addressed as “Thay”, meaning ‘Teacher’ in his language. His name in Sanskrit would go ‘Shakya Eka Karma’ (Shakya One-focused Action). Hahn arrived in India this week for an extended tour and was received warmly by his over a 100-member Indian sangha, led by their dharmacharya, Shantum Seth.
Hahn’s admirers in India have increased steadily with Full Circle publishers printing his books in English for the Indian market since a decade, beginning with his Buddhacharita, called Old Path White Clouds(1991). He drew from 24 Pali, Sanskrit and Chinese sources for it. “It was winter and very cold and there was no heating where I was. I wrote with my right hand and kept my left over a lamp for a bit of warmth. But it gave me great happiness to write it,” says Hahn, a Mahayana Zen monk, who is one of the world’s most highly respected Zen masters. This Buddhacharita is written very simply and clearly as though for a child and encompasses Gautama’s life and teachings.
Says Hahn, of the religious discord in today’s world, “When you love something too much, you end up distorting it. But why was any holy book given out in the first place? It is like a finger pointing at the moon of Truth. But we stop our gaze at the finger and think that in itself is the Truth instead of what it points to.”
What if your heart tells you that Truth is bigger than how your priests interpret your particular holy book? But your head (your sense of identity and attachment to your family, culture and community) restrains you from acknowledging and acting on this heart-knowledge? “If you know the Truth, you don’t need the majority,” says Hahn gently.
So how may a person overcome anger both in daily life and about bigger issues? Says the Zen master, “Don’t deny your anger.
Treat it gently like how a mother enfolds a crying baby and soothes it so that it gradually stops crying. With your in-breath, say, “I am aware of my anger.” With your out-breath, tell yourself, “I am dealing with my anger.” After a few times, you will feel the knot loosen. Now say with your out-breath, ‘I am smiling at my anger.’ And let it go. It is daily practice.”