Thich Nhat Hanh and the ever-changing truth of truth

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen Buddhist monk, teacher and author from Vietnam who started a school in the early 1960s during the American invasion of Vietnam that set up orphanages, hospitals and places of refuge to help people left homeless, injured or orphaned by the war.

In the mid 1960s, Hanh traveled to the United States and urged Martin Luther King to speak out publicly against the Vietnam War. King finally did, and his speech is extremely powerful. It begins with this great line:

I come to this magnificent house of worship tonight because my conscience leaves me no other choice.

Hanh, for the record, was exiled from Vietnam in 1973 (I think for his involvement in the 1973 Paris peace talks, but I’m not sure), and ended up staying in France.

In 1967, Martin Luther King nominated Hanh for the Nobel Prize for Peace. The Nobel Committee did not offer a prize that year.

Anyway, here are some sweet words from Hanh:

All systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views.

Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints.

Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth.

Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to open yourself to reality and the world at all times.

There are actually 14 precepts from Hanh of what he calls Engaged Buddhism. In other words, at least on one level, anyway, to be active in the world and speak out against injustice.

Hanh started practicing Engaged Buddhism in the 1960s, with the Vietnam War, but credits a Vietnamese King (Tran Nhan Tong) from the 13th century with the founding of the idea. Tran Nhan Tong gave up his kingly position to become a monk, and began what was called the Bamboo Forest tradition, which continues today.

Those precepts are powerful and humbling, at least to me. Hanh himself says he can’t follow them perfectly, and the only way is practice and more practice. Interestingly, I had the rare opportunity to sit with a renowned swami in Udipi, India, and I asked him how one is to see the soul—the atma/the eternal aspect of an individual and the whole—in everyone. All he said was, “Practice,” with a glint in his eye. There must be something to intelligent and compassion-inducing ritual after all.

Incidentally, the Vedic idea of the atma or soul is quite different from most Buddhist practices.

Lots of love to you, and your eternal, shining, miraculous nature,

Pete xoxo


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