August 26, 2010

5 recent quotes from Thich Nhat Hanh in today's Guardian

thich nhat hanh, order of interbeing, walking meditation

In the current issue of Tricycle, contributing editor Andrew Cooper recounts his travels with Thich Nhat Hanh, the much beloved Vietnamese teacher, poet, peace advocate and environmentalist. Cooper's view is unique; charged with attending Thay, as he is called, on an early visit to the United States, Cooper offers an up-close-and-personal view of a man who changed—in fact, helped to shape—Buddhism in the West. Today's Guardian features a nice piece on Thay on the occasion of his visit to Nottingham, where he led nearly 1,000 people in walking meditation (above). Here are five outtakes:

1. "The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilizing ourselves with over-consumption is not the way."

2. "We should speak more of spiritual pollution. When we sit together and listen to the sound of the [meditation] bell at this retreat, we calm our body and mind. We produce a very powerful and peaceful energy that can penetrate in every one of us. So, conversely, the same thing is true with the collective energy of fear, anger and despair. We create an atmosphere and environment that is destructive to all of us. We don't think enough about that, we only think about the physical environment."

3. Thay talks about capitalism as a disease that has now spread throughout the world, carried on the winds of globalisation: "We have constructed a system we cannot control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims."

4. "Without collective awakening the catastrophe will come," he warns. "Civilizations have been destroyed many times and this civilization is no different. It can be destroyed. We can think of time in terms of millions of years and life will resume little by little. The cosmos operates for us very urgently, but geological time is different.

5. "One Buddha is not enough, we need to have many Buddhas."

You can read the full article here. For more on Cooper's article—and to get a better idea of his rare perspective—click here.

Photograph © Frank Schweitzer

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mahakala's picture

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ushaa's picture

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celticpassage's picture

Great statements containing nothing new coming from a celebrity. All of this is well known by anyone who pays the slightest attention to life.
It's still amazing that people ooh and aah over the wisdom of celebrities when they actually are saying nothing. But doesn't Thay make quite a bit of money selling books in a capitalist system (which I would also say contains nothing new)?

marginal person's picture

In an economic system where money is everything, the things you can't put a price tag on have no value. The economic system we have will destroy the earth with a yawn. It's a system based on the idea that my greed helps everyone. Greed is the "sacred hunger".

Dominic Gomez's picture

Buddhism is common sense. It also accords with the times and cultures in which it is practiced. Mr Hanh's platitudes may have more relevance if he is mindful that most Westerners learn about Buddhism because of the accessibility to it due to modern technology and education readily available in a capitalist economy.

Danny's picture

And then capitali$m makes a commodity of everything. Just have a look right there next to our comment$...

marginal person's picture

So Mr. Hanh's statements are not relevant because he doesn't give credit to capitalist societies for helping people learn about Buddhism?
Also I would encourage you to think a little about what constitutes a platitude.

Rob_'s picture

Buddhism spread and flourished in many countries without the aid of "modern technology and education readily available in a capitalist economy". There's that more "ancient" technology called books, and also teachers from Asian nations emigrating to Western nations.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Of course. But Western capitalism (which Mr. Hanh is specifically referring to) was historically unknown in those countries. What people did suffer from though were the consequences of the 3 poisons innate in all human beings (including Westerners): greed, belligerence and ignorance.

Rob_'s picture

Than why bring up some vague, silly notion of capitalism making it possible for Buddhism to migrate to Western nations?

Dominic Gomez's picture

How else would the post-Medieval West have more easily learned about the outside world (and Buddhism) if not for capital-driven projects (e.g. exploration, technological development, scientific research, etc.)?

Rob_'s picture

So what kind of capitalism we talking about? We could probably have a good long discussion about these "capital driven projects". Most of that was driven by greed and a desire to exploit and dominate other peoples. Is this the type of capitalism you hold near and dear to your heart?

I believe you give too much credit to capitalism as a reason for Buddhism's spread in the West. There are many past societies that we wouldn't categorize as capitalist that did a very fine job with education. At least for it's particular time in history. Many that for centuries were far ahead of anything the West had to offer.

Of course, the greater interaction between societies coupled with technological progress has speeded up the transfer of knowledge. But don't forget the painful price of the past.

Capitalism like any ism can have it's fairly benign ideals. I'm not one to over-generalize and simply say that this big thing called "capitalism" is immoral. But certainly many of us can see some of it's glaring faults as it is manifested in the real world.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Capitalism driven by greed and a desire to exploit and dominate other peoples is what Mr. Hanh is referring to. From such exploitative behavior arose the inventiveness that led to modernism, and the West's discovery of Buddhism in that manner (rather than through a mutually beneficial exchange of culture and ideas).

Rob_'s picture

Those are my words, not Hanh's. We played a similar game a while back when you kept telling me, "zen says". How about stop re-contextualizing others words, and stop making claims as to what a particular tradition, "says". These are your interpretations.

And even if we take that as his meaning, I can't quite fathom your points of lauding capitalism against this specific definition you now give.

"if not for capital-driven projects (e.g. exploration, technological development, scientific research, etc.)"

Quite simple and sanitary.

I think any yokel wouldn't have a problem with your interpretation of what Hanh says, so what was your point? I think you make things up as you go along.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Hanh states, "We have...a system (capitalism) we cannot control. It imposes itself on us, and we become its slaves and victims." The irony is that dramatic scientific, technological and educational progress in the West was possible because of a capitalist system. And progress in such fields hastened the West's eventual encounter with Buddhist thought, which addresses the innate human greed that underlies capitalism.

marginal person's picture

Ideas have always traveled from culture to culture, long before "capital driven projects" were even dreamed of.. Just think how Christianity was spread throughout the world prior to industrialization.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Pre-industrial religious conversion often relied more on authoritarian force than compassion.

marginal person's picture

To imply that capitalism deserves some credit for the spread of buddhist ideas in the west is like saying the exploitation of children during the industrial revolution made it possible for labor laws to be enacted.

Dominic Gomez's picture

Not capitalism per se but certainly the technological, educational and cultural advances made possible by profitability.

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seedoubleyou's picture

Thay's messages are fantastic, particularly in relation to the poison of capitalism. I remain hopeful that his words stretch beyond Buddhist circles and to the ears that need to hear.

W.Hummel's picture

The "poison" of capitalism? Isn't the "poison" our ignorance and forgetfulness, not the idea or fuzzy notion of "capitalism"?

Rob_'s picture

It's not fair to pigeon hole "capitalism" through the lens of one event, but there are some concerns. Remember that Wall St. collapse that happened just a few years ago? Nothing fuzzy about that.

Danny's picture

Yes, Rob, you are correct. There are indeed some very unfuzzy concerns regarding the obscene injustices--the absolute oppression of billions-- due to capitalism. One doesn't have to search very hard to find the gaps and contradictions. What do we say about the fact that the assets of the 200 richest people are larger than the combined income of the poorest 2.4 billion on the planet?