Who is Thich Naht Hanh?


Two days ago I put up a piece here called “Thich Naht Hanh is Wrong.” It was a deliberately provocative title. I said in the comments to that piece that the title was meant to ask, “Who is Thich Naht Hanh?” Someone said that smelled like fresh bullshit to him. I’d like to ask that guy, “Then who is Thich Naht Hanh?”

Some folks got upset that I was being disrespectful to a man who has dedicated his life to bring peace to the world. But was I? If I had any reason at all to believe that Thich Naht Hanh would ever see what I wrote, then possibly. Although even then I’d say “disrespectful” was not the right word. But let’s get real here. Thich Naht Hanh will never see what I wrote about him.

So who was I being disrespectful to?

Who is Thich Naht Hanh?

A few people got bent out of shape that I said I believed that Thich Naht Hanh did not write his own Twitter posts. It turns out I was right. He doesn’t. His Twitter profile says, “My twitter account is managed by senior students, both monastic and non-monastic.” He probably didn’t even write that!

I’ve also been told by people who seem to know what they’re talking about that Thich Naht Hanh doesn’t write his own books. His talks are recorded and transcribed. Then senior students edit them into books, which Thich Naht Hanh approves before publication. Of course the covers of these books simply say “by Thich Naht Hanh.”

Ask anyone who writes for a living what they think of that sort of thing and I guarantee they’ll get a little wrankled by the idea. Writing is hard work. People who claim to be writers but don’t actually do the work annoy those of us who really write our own stuff. It’s not a big deal. But it irks me enough when I see this very common practice that I like to point it out. I would guess that about half of the “authors” whose books are shelved near mine at your local Book Barn “write” their books in pretty much the same way. I don’t think it’s disrespectful to say this. I think it’s truthful.

Who is Thich Naht Hanh?

One commenter said, “Brad is a wannabe Zen master who is envious of the big boys in the Buddhist world. It’s so obvious: His passive-aggressive sleight-of-hand barbs at Dalai and Thich betrays a desire to be the ‘bad boy of Buddhism’. Grow up, Brad.”

Envious of the “big boys in the Buddhist world?” Moi? Not really. Rather I am amused by the idea that there is a class of people we can call “big boys in the Buddhist world.” Zero Defex, the hardcore band I play bass for were not envious of the “big boys in the rock and roll world.” Rather, we found them boring and wanted to provide an alternative. While we might have wanted to be a bit more popular than we were, we certainly did not want to be among the “big boys.” That would have run completely counter to what we were trying to accomplish. Part of being an alternative to the big rock bands involved staying small. I feel pretty much the same way now about the “big boys in the Buddhist world.”

The idea that the “big boys in the Buddhist world” are somehow qualitatively better teachers than the less well-known ones is a very troubling notion to me. And I’m not talking about myself as an example of one of the less well-known teachers. I’m starting to fear that my growing popularity is making me ineffective as a teacher.

The rise of this new class of Mega Masters troubles me. Such teachers cannot possibly have direct contact with the massive numbers of students who claim them as their teachers. I met some people once who talked about feeling some kind of magic mojo when the Dalai Lama walked by them thirty feet away, deep in a crowd of fawning fans, surrounded by secret service guards. Such fantasies are extraordinarily damaging.

It’s precisely the same kind of thing a fan feels when he gets to be near a celebrity he admires. I know I felt it when I got to meet Gene Simmons of KISS in person. But I didn’t add to that feeling some kind of weird idea that my being in proximity to Gene Simmons conveyed some sort of spiritual shaktipat, or that I got a big ol’ ZAP of pure Zen energy or some such nonsense. When Genpo Roshi charges suckers $50,000 to have personal contact with him you’d better believe he’s implying that some of his supposed enlightenment will rub off when they’re close. I’m not sure I want any part of what rubs off of Genpo Roshi, though!

When I said in the comments that Thich Naht Hanh is no more a simple wandering monk than Bruce Springsteen is a blue-collar working man, some people pointed out that I have an image as well. Why Mr. Holmes, your powers of deductive reasoning are astonishing! Of course I have an image! So do you. So does everyone.

Who is Thich Naht Hanh?

Is it you? Is it your image of Thich Naht Hanh that I’ve disrespected? If so, why does that bug you? Is it you that I’ve disrespected? Who are you?

These are important questions.

Someone in the comments section seemed worried that maybe I had some inside dirt on Thich Naht Hanh. He asked, “Do you know of Thay’s actions that bring him into disrepute?” The answer is no. I do not. As far as I’m aware Thich Naht Hanh is a totally scandal-free guy. But I don’t know that much about him.

Suffice it to say, I am not trying to imply that Thich Naht Hanh is a disreputable teacher who should not be trusted. He seems like a decent guy. I like most of the quotes I see from his books. Even the quote I criticized last time might be fine in context. It might be fine as it is, too. But we all need to be careful how we take things.

Even when someone says something 100% true, sometimes you need to question it. Because your interpretation of what was said may not be correct. It’s not the fault of the speaker when his words are misconstrued. Everybody’s words are misconstrued. Misconstruing what we hear people say is what we human beings do. This is why we have to be careful.

Jeez, there was even a commenter on my previous blog posting who thought I said that Hitler and Charles Manson were enlightened beings! I never said that Hitler and Charles Manson were enlightened beings. But I can’t shut up forever just because some doofus might misconstrue the things I say. As Katagiri Roshi pointed out, “You have to say something.” And most of the time what you say will be completely misunderstood.

So I stand by what I said before. Thich Naht Hanh is wrong.

But who is Thich Naht Hanh?

380 Responses

  1. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 10, 2012 at 7:34 pm | |

    teacher
    lineage
    community

  2. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 3:43 am | |

    "If, by trying to understand the truth, you dispel the misunderstandings of some people and thereby some philosophies are damaged – that cannot be taken as criticizing the views of others."

    Candrak?rti

  3. Max Entropy
    Max Entropy March 11, 2012 at 3:45 am | |

    Tourists invited to visit Buddhist temples in Orange County (Upstate New York)
    http://www.recordonline.com/apps/pbcs.dll/article?AID=/20120311/NEWS/203110320

  4. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 6:33 am | |

    who are you?

    you are an arbitrary name and number subject to CONTROL.

    decent buddhists have lost;
    asshole kshatriyas have won.

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 6:55 am | |

    "Old Boy" stalking prey
    He's Wile E. Coyote
    Go Brad, Go! Meep Meep!!!

    -BOI

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 7:42 am | |

    Brad should apologize to Thich Nhat Hanh

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 7:46 am | |

    Apologize? He's too hardcore to apologize.

  8. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner March 11, 2012 at 9:59 am | |

    It was you saying in so many words, "I could make a lot of money with my writing if I wrote more crap."

    I used to believe that. But I've since discovered that co-called "selling out" is much more complicated.

    I deliberately tried to "sell out" for a brief period in the 80s. I was sick of being a starving musician and wanted to be a musician who could afford better than Taco Bell.

    Yet every attempt I made at "selling out" turned out not only to be lousy in artistic terms but also failed to make money.

    So I do not believe I could make a lot of money writing crap. If I did I'd probably write crap under a pseudonym or something. I wish it was that easy.

  9. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner March 11, 2012 at 10:02 am | |

    Brad should apologize to Thich Nhat Hanh

    For what?

  10. tzb
    tzb March 11, 2012 at 10:45 am | |

    I like the meditative guys. Only a view words you do not like and all the Thich Nhat Hanh and other guys start to run around like chickens imagining a hawk on the horizon.If the sentence "Thich Nhat Hanh is disrespectful then there is something wrong. I prefer to life in a world with free discussion and with people who do not need to be offended by such little things.I´ve seen Bhuddist monks in Tibetean monastries who discuss more free and much more harder than this. If Thich Nhat Hanh has to defend himself by all of you he will call. But I think he does not need your arguments.So keep cool. Where is your open mind of a member of a free society?

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 12:22 pm | |

    can't see any comments past 200 this new format and captchas sucks.

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 12:52 pm | |

    Im a newbie as far as twitter is concerned and Buddhism, meditation and all but about 6 weeks ago I also decided to follow Thich Naht Hanh. Anyway and after a few tweets from both him and some others I decided very early on it was a whole load of crock…im shocked that someone like yourself also had the same views. Not that the man himself is full of crock but what is being passed as his views is a whole load o crock! Maybe the students or whoever they are feel obliged to post something…I sometimes feel like I have to speak at meetings in my work but sometimes I say things that are just what people want to hear rather than what needs to be said if that makes sense…sometimes if you have nothing to add of any value don’t add anything…silence is just as, if not more powerful than a whole load o crock…that sunrise thing…I read that post and I was on the train that morning trying to read my book but the sun was blinding me so much I actually moved to another seat just so I could continue with my reading. Everyone loves a beautiful sunrise but normally its when there is sporadic cloud cover and the sun is just coming up and it taints the clouds red, then orange then white and when the sun finally comes over the horizon its time to look away as everyone knows they cannot look the sun direct on.
    I also feel its very sad that some people have taken your comments about Hitler and the Charles guy way too far…im not claiming to know much but unfortunately no matter what anyone thinks…hitler was me and im Charles whats his face…one thing I do get is that im part of the whole shebang whether I like that idea or not, all branches on the tree as it were…I know I have a lot to learn, ive only been studying it a few years and I don’t like agreeing with people…in fact its my job to find flaws in peoples thinking but I somehow completely feel the same way you did about Thich Naht Hanh comments that morning…never mind im sure ill find something I can disagree with at some point…but thought i should share my comments as I feel the same way you do. Maybe there are others out there that should do my job as they are quite good at disagreeing just for the sake of saying something when nothing really needs to be said.

    Kind regards
    Tracey

  13. newbie
    newbie March 11, 2012 at 2:25 pm | |

    What a load of crock!

  14. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 11, 2012 at 2:40 pm | |

    The scale of the universe interactive:

    http://apod.nasa.gov/apod/ap.html

    Fun!

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm | |

    I told you Brad is too hardcore to apologize. Don't waste yer time..

  16. Andy
    Andy March 11, 2012 at 3:54 pm | |

    Hey guys,

    I stumbled over this blog and have one simple question.

    What is this Zen-Stuff for? I know that some buddhist guys claim that it's to become enlightened/happy/free from suffering/a better person etc. But this zen stuff sounds like it has just no purpose. Is it like nihilism, you guys just decided to do nothing but sit around like stones?

    I really don't get it, please enlighten me!

    Andy

  17. Bernard
    Bernard March 11, 2012 at 4:05 pm | |

    You described it pretty well, Andy. There's nothing to it.

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm | |

    Zen, for me, is a way to discuss Brad Warner's penis size. I bet it's long and thin, something along the lines of 11 inches long and thin as a pencil.

    Your opinions?

  19. Jinzang
    Jinzang March 11, 2012 at 5:13 pm | |

    Brad says something mildly critical of TNH and some people go apeshit. And not those people I would expect, the loyal supporters of TNH.

    I do not understand this.

  20. Jinzang
    Jinzang March 11, 2012 at 5:16 pm | |

    What is this Zen-Stuff for?

    Arguing and pretending you're superior to others.

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 5:20 pm | |

    YOU FUCKING IDIOTS!

    I have written probably 90% of the "angry, pro-TNH" posts for the last two articles that Brad has written. I've posted my comments in various stages of sobriety, and I've intentionally changed my writing style for the posts.

    This place is a shit sty. I'm just trying to perk things up a bit.

  22. Andy
    Andy March 11, 2012 at 5:22 pm | |

    Ok guys I just found this video of Brad explaining Zen-Meditation: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHO5telIRKo

    But that just confuses me a lot more. His point first is that there is no goal. Then he explains why there is no goal But then says something like "what we're trying to do in zen is to get very, very deeply into what is here and what is now".

    So he says there is no goal and then says that the goal is to get into what is here and now. But he doesn't say how to do that. By sitting in that weird posture and thinking about what might be going on tomorrow at work?

    Or does he simply mean to be mindful of whats going on while sitting still, to be aware of it? But if so why doesn't he simply say so? I mean that wouldn't be limited to sitting in a weird posture right?

    Hope for answers, maybe Brad if you have a minute…otherwise I'll just get more people guessing I Guess ;)

    Andy

  23. Chad Warner
    Chad Warner March 11, 2012 at 5:24 pm | |

    Andy,

    Go fuck off. There's your dharma for the day.

    If you think you're going to get neat, satifying answers and we're all going to leave here feeling better that you learned something and understand us just a little bit more, then you're fucked in the head.

    Go do something constructive, boy.

  24. Tad Warner
    Tad Warner March 11, 2012 at 5:27 pm | |

    Go sign up at Treeleaf, Andy. Google, "Treeleaf Forum," and sign up there. Jundo Cohen is the main teacher of that sangha. It's a well-respected place that embraces people who want to delve a little more deeply into this stuff.

    Best wishes and….. GASSHO! :) :) :)

  25. LEARN SOMETHING MEANINGFUL
    LEARN SOMETHING MEANINGFUL March 11, 2012 at 5:31 pm | |

    It seems to me that many people in Zen Practice have come to confuse "being present/mindful in the moment" (for example, "when drinking tea, just drink tea" … a sometimes appropriate and lovely way to experience life) … with "being at one with the moment" (allowing and merging with conditions of life "just as they are"). The two are not quite the same, and are often confused, and the latter is much more at the heart of this Shikantaza Path …

    Yes, I believe that there are times to be "mindful" … and there are times not. Sometimes when I eat, I just eat … when I sip tea, I just sip tea … when bowing, just bowing … fully absorbed in that action. A wonderful, insightful practice. When doing one thing, just do one thing with all one's body-and-mind.

    At other times, I just grab a sandwich and a coke while reading the newspaper and thinking about the job I have to do. That's life too. Nothing wrong with it.

    (I do not know where the idea started among some folks that the 'goal' of this practice is to live the first way every moment of every day. That would be pretty awful (if not harmful) to live like that all or even most of the time. What's wrong with also sometimes reading the paper, thinking about work, while grabbing a quick sandwich? There is a place for all of that.)

    Further, people get even more confused about "mindful" in Buddhism because the word is used in a couple of distinct ways.

    Another, rather different meaning of "mindful" often found in Buddhism is to develop awareness of the "mind theatre" running constantly in our heads (developing the ability to identify the thoughts and emotions that play through our heads, and how they create our experience of "reality" … e.g., "now I am temporarily sad" "now I am reacting with anger") That is a wonderful, insightful practice too … very very important … but I caution against thinking that you must or can do that 24/7.

    In my view, the heart of this Practice is merely "being at one" with self-life-world just as it is … dropping the resistance, barriers, separation between our "self" and all the circumstances in which that "self" imagines it finds itself in … until even the walls between "self" and "life-world" (or self and itself) soften or even fully drop away …

  26. LEARN SOMETHING MEANINGFUL
    LEARN SOMETHING MEANINGFUL March 11, 2012 at 5:32 pm | |

    So, for example, when drinking tea, just do that and fully allow that. When grabbing a sandwich while reading the paper and thinking about your annoying co-worker in the office, just do that and fully allow that (and fully allow the craziness in the newspaper and your annoying co-worker too).** When you kid plops in your lap during Zazen, just do and allow that ( http://www.shambhalasun.com/sunspace/?p=16432 ) When temporarily falling into sadness or anger, just do and allow that (although remember that "mind theatre" and see if you truly need to be that way, and seek to be not that way if you can). When overwrought with life for a moment, just do that and fully allow that (remembering in the back of your mind that the clear, boundless blue sky is behind the clouds of thought and emotion even when momentarily covered over). When suffering with old age and sickness of ourself or someone we love (as was discussed on another thread today), just do that and fully allow that.

    In my view, all of the above together is truly balanced, "mindful" living.

  27. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 11, 2012 at 7:10 pm | |

    227

    ATTENTION !!!
    ATTENTION ?
    attention
    attention

    A-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-t-TENSION!

    is that what you meant?

    Mindfulness = "Attention Tension"?

  28. Anonymous's Mom
    Anonymous's Mom March 11, 2012 at 9:16 pm | |

    201

  29. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 11, 2012 at 9:37 pm | |

    @Andy- "what is this Zen-stuff for?", it's for those moments when you have nothing to do.

    How are you at doing nothing?

    If you find yourself doing nothing, then you know what Zen is about.

    My opinion.

  30. Andy
    Andy March 12, 2012 at 1:55 am | |

    @Mark Foote: Well actually I spend quite a lot of time hanging around doing nothin. So if that's Zen I know it quite well!

  31. Arhat Aryashakya
    Arhat Aryashakya March 12, 2012 at 2:29 am | |

    Do not attempt to take charge of the order of Bhikshus!

  32. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 6:07 am | |

    Andy is an insincere troll.

    Sit Down and Shut Up.

    Zen.

  33. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 7:20 am | |

    Anonymous is a sincere troll.

  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 7:24 am | |

    The Buddha is a used tampon.

  35. Zenophobe
    Zenophobe March 12, 2012 at 7:25 am | |

    Is the image of Thich Nhat Hanh in my head more or less valid than the image of Thich Nhat Hanh in Thich Nhat Hanh's head?

  36. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 7:33 am | |

    Nhat.

    Nhat.

    Nhat.

    Just remember "N" hat.

    Like those crooked baseball hats that "N's" wear all the time, even when they're not playing baseball.

  37. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 7:36 am | |

    "There's someone in my head, but it's not me." Floyd Sensei

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tRBz2VbSN8g

  38. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 9:02 am | |

    WHO IS THICH NAHT HANH?

    It turns out I was right.
    Thich Naht Hanh is wrong.

    Thich Naht Hanh is wrong.
    It turns out I was right.

    It turns out I was right.
    Thich Naht Hanh is wrong.

    Writing is hard work.
    Who are you?

    Thich Naht Hanh is a totally scandal-free guy
    But I don't know that much about him.

    Thich Naht Hanh is a totally scandal-free guy
    But I don't know that much about him.

    Thich Naht Hanh is a totally scandal-free guy
    But I don't know that much about him.

    Writing is hard work.
    Who are you?

  39. Harry
    Harry March 12, 2012 at 9:38 am | |

    201?

  40. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 9:47 am | |
  41. Harry
    Harry March 12, 2012 at 9:50 am | |

    Brad's at his best when he's criticising the delusion that he knows best: His own, that is.

    It's all too easy to see the faults in others, and to ascribe these faults to our own pathological denials of our own delusory tactics. I know, I'm an expert at that.

    His criticisms of Genpo and TNH ring hollow to me because he's not doing it from the position of what he's learned about himself in practice… he's not bringing his practice to bear on it. This is not unusual because, really, sitting zazen is the easy part in many ways. Bringing the view of sitting into other areas of our life and realising the implications of it in our life as a whole is not the easy bit. Unfortunatley, where there is a 'just sit and everything else will take care of itself' assumption involved, the tendency can be to avoid or neglect bringing the view of zazen into the areas of our life where we are all to comfortable… our little opinions of ourselves and others, and ourselves vs others, and all that. I'm an expert at such avoidance too.

    Just sayin'. I don't expect it'll win my any popularity contests. Keep it real on da streets.

    Regards,

    Harry.

  42. Andy
    Andy March 12, 2012 at 9:55 am | |

    Uhm okay so far most answers I got were something more or less like "fuck off". I wonder why that is, is that the zen way of answering questions? Or are you just having some fun here? Maybe my questions stupid or somehow insulting you? Did I say something wrong?

    I'm really just curious guys :(

    Andy

  43. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 9:56 am | |

    It's all too easy to see the faults in others, and to ascribe these faults to our own pathological denials of our own delusory tactics.

    yep. sign me up too. this reads like the DNA of a troll.

    Brad has more than a bit of troll in him.

    Makes sense. This comments section is total Troll Hollow :)

  44. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 9:58 am | |

    Antsy what city do you live in?

  45. St. Patty
    St. Patty March 12, 2012 at 11:01 am | |

    Allo 'arry,

    In the spirit of keepin it real on da streets, why, oh why, with my holiday coming right up and all, are you making fun of our cherished Irish heritage with your Mr. Potatohead avatar? is this some kind of sick joke on our people? Fie on ye.

  46. Harry
    Harry March 12, 2012 at 11:12 am | |

    Dear St. Pat,

    I'm the snake that you missed, begorrah.

    Regards,

    H.

  47. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 11:36 am | |

    Brad Wraner is wrong.
    Who is Brad Wraner?
    Who is Brad Wraner?
    Who is Brad Wraner?
    Who is Brad Wraner, Really?
    In sum, Brad Wraner is wrong.
    Anyway, who is Brad Wraner?

  48. St. Patty
    St. Patty March 12, 2012 at 12:22 pm | |

    Ah, you old adder, I can tell you're not of the family of Finn.

  49. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 12:32 pm | |

    Should Teachers Challenge Students Beliefs ?

    In a recent article for Inside Higher Ed professor Boghossian of Portland State University (Oregon) sketches his position that professors should have a primary goal of changing students beliefs if those beliefs are false and seek to replace those beliefs with true ones. He asks, “Should professors attempt to change students’ beliefs by consistently challenging false beliefs with facts?”

    audio/mp3 interview with professor Boghossian at Philosophy News

    http://www.philosophynews.com/post/2011/12/05/Interview-with-Peter-Boghossian.aspx

  50. alan sailer
    alan sailer March 12, 2012 at 12:47 pm | |

    Andy,

    At the risk of sounding like I can answer your question, I'll try and answer your question.

    In the school of zen that Brad practices, there is no answer to your question.

    You have to find the answers, if any, by yourself.

    "But he doesn't say how to do that." as you put it, is a great question.

    Now it's your job to answer it.

    Cheers.

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