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. Andy
    Andy March 12, 2012 at 1:54 pm |

    @Alan: Okay that's at least an answer even though it doesn't actually help me.

    So everyone tries different stuff out while sitting, without getting any even roughly detailed instructions and you never know if you're doing it right or just wasting your time forever?

    So "doing zen"="trying to find out what it is, and since no one will ever till you (probably no one knows), you'll never know if you actually do anything that's zen or just anything.

    Take care,


  2. alan sailer
    alan sailer March 12, 2012 at 2:27 pm |


    Once again, there is no answer to your question and it's really is a great question.

    As far as I can tell, zen is not about answers.

    It's more about the questions.

    Dogen's Fukan-Zazengi is the most detailed and best description of how to "do" zazen.

    I have listened to experienced Soto teachers describe how to sit zazen.

    And you are not going to get any more detailed or better description than the Fukan-Zazengi.

    The only way to find out for yourself whether you are "wasting your time forever" is to sit zazen.

    And answer the freaking question for yourself.


  3. Andalleny
    Andalleny March 12, 2012 at 2:35 pm |

    How do you "waste" time?

  4. Andy
    Andy March 12, 2012 at 3:00 pm |

    @Alan: Thanks again for your suggestions.

    I can understand that I have to try Zazen to understand what it is. It's the same with any activity right? If I want to know what Sex is, I have to do it and see for myself. If I want to know how it is to drive a car I have to do it myself.

    But to actually drive a car when I start I have to get some instructions, otherwise there's a big risk that I'll get into an accident or damage the car. Now with Sex we might discuss if instructions are needed or not…but I guess you know what I mean 😉

    For me "Zazen" is something I'd like to try but to do so I need some confidence that I'm actually doing "Zazen". My guess would be that sitting there in the posture and daydreaming as I'd probably do since that's what I do most of the time, is probably not what Zazen is about.

    Now as I mentioned in his Video on Youtube (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FHO5telIRKo) Brad says after claiming that there is no goal, that "what we're trying to do in zen is to get very, very deeply into what is here and what is now".

    Okay sir I say, I want to try this. But how do I do that. I've looked up that Fukanzengi you wrote about but it was even more puzzling to me, it seems to be written in a language I do not understand even though it's translated in english. I wonder if anyone of you guys can have a clue what the guy who wrote it meant…at all?! Maybe you can guess but hey…it's full of weird words and sentences 😉

    So how do I "get deeply into the moment"? I don't even understand what this could mean to be honest. Get into the moment? What moment? It's over when I recognize it already, isn't it?

    So how the heck do I do that Zazen to get deeply into this moment?

    Take care,


  5. Zazen
    Zazen March 12, 2012 at 4:14 pm |

    Give it up, kid, go back to the whiz bang bells and whistles world of video games. Zen's not for wimps.

  6. alan sailer
    alan sailer March 12, 2012 at 4:48 pm |


    You, like me and probably most of the people who start zazen want to figure out what it's all about and how to do it right.

    And you can't do that.

    All you can do is sit and try to pay attention.

    If you loose attention, notice and correct your posture.

    And sit some more. Until the time you set is up.

    Dogen's instructions on the physical part of practice are crystal clear. You should follow them carefully.

    As far as the daydreaming, if you find that you are daydreaming, notice that. If you find you are bored, notice that. If you find you are sad, notice that.

    Get the pattern?

    It's insanely easy to describe but horribly difficult to do, in my experience.

    And finally, not to be rude, but I am not a teacher. Not even close.

    If you are serious about practicing zen, a teacher is really important.


  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 5:28 pm |

    Dude, quit asking silly questions. You're looking for an answer that you're not going to get.

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 5:58 pm |

    "I'm typing things for the ppl doing a documentary about me. I'm pretending to write my blog."

    – Brad Warner, via TWITTER

  9. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 6:22 pm |

    Well that certainly explains the past two posts!

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 6:29 pm |

    I haven't read all the comments here–I don't have the time!
    Maybe someone else already pointed this out…

    as far as the argument 'transcribed, edited talks as somehow being 'easier' than writing a book' goes:

    perhaps, Brad if you gave talks you might be able to transcribe and edit them and parlay them into a book

    nothing wrong about your eclectic discursive verbal presentations after sitting, in fact, quite good.

    definitely your responses to questions–hands down, exceptional. Maybe make a book of questions and answers….

    but your talks now…
    well, THATS why you have to write your books…

  11. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 7:24 pm |
  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 12, 2012 at 7:38 pm |


  13. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 12, 2012 at 8:51 pm |


    Mark here. Yes, you already have practiced zazen, doing nothing.

    My favorite Zen teacher said, "take your time with the lotus". He wasn't particularly speaking to me, but he wasn't really speaking to anyone else, either. I took my time.

    When you sit, the thing that corrects your posture is your ability to feel referred sensation throughout your body, and the sense of place you have connected with that. That's why it's doing nothing; you don't get to correct your posture either.

    And you've already done it, even to the point of absorption, when you're not doing nothing anymore. Am I right? Where is that, right before absorption?- nowhere doing nothing, and somehow everyone else is there. My take. I have had people who gave and gave in my life, but no teachers per se, I guess I'm too thick-headed. Good luck.

  14. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 12, 2012 at 10:11 pm |
  15. Andy
    Andy March 13, 2012 at 2:21 am |

    @Alan: Thanks again!

    Okay those comments:

    "All you can do is sit and try to pay attention."

    "As far as the daydreaming, if you find that you are daydreaming, notice that. If you find you are bored, notice that. If you find you are sad, notice that."

    make things much more clear to me. So it's "choiceless awarenss" what you're practicing in zazen. You don't pay special attention to anything like the breath/body sensations etc. but instead keep an open awareness of what's going on, whatever it is.

    That's what in other traditions is called "mindfulness practice" btw. At least it's one way of mindfulness practice. But usually in those traditions you start with paying attention to your breath or your thoughts for example and then when slowly extend it unless you can do it choiceless 😉

    Take care,


  16. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 3:45 am |
  17. Guido Fawkes
    Guido Fawkes March 13, 2012 at 4:08 am |

    I can see all 266 (and counting) comments with no problem. It might be a good thing if some noob trolls cannot.

  18. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 5:30 am |

    Brad; the Sarah Palin of Zen.

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 6:03 am |

    The only way to get past 200 is to make a comment it seems. Whackity. I guess that ensures more "hits" for the blog.

  20. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 8:03 am |

    Brad; the Sarah Palin of Zen

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 8:22 am |

    Dalai Lama is manifestation of chen rezig bodhisattva of infinite compassion naturally there is a "magic mojo" around him.


  22. jeff asbed
    jeff asbed March 13, 2012 at 8:46 am |


    I highly recommend that you disable, if you're able to, the ability for people to post comments anonymously. It really does bring out the cowards. Some of these commenters need to get a life. Even a bad life would be a step in the right direction.

  23. Fringo Regwully
    Fringo Regwully March 13, 2012 at 8:51 am |

    But maybe this is the bad life we're looking for?

  24. charlie crew
    charlie crew March 13, 2012 at 11:09 am |

    who am i

  25. Manny Guy Fawkes Yermum
    Manny Guy Fawkes Yermum March 13, 2012 at 12:11 pm |

    "The only way to get past 200 is to make a comment it seems. Whackity. I guess that ensures more "hits" for the blog." – Anonymous

    Wrong again, but keep trying.

  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 12:14 pm |

    Being nice is good. Being nice for the sake of appearing nice is a dangerous path.

    Anger is a poison. Being angry from time to time is largely inevitable. Being angry and acting on it is a dangerous path.

  27. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 1:06 pm |

    Well, Manny, that was the only way I could get past the 200 comment mark into the next 75 comments. Why is that? So I guess that means you are the one that is wrong, again.

  28. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 1:52 pm |

    Click on the title of the post: "Who is…". After the post at the beginning of the comments, click on "newest" on the right of the page.

    Path of anger post guy…. thank you _/|_

  29. angry path guy
    angry path guy March 13, 2012 at 2:48 pm |

    "Click on the title of the post: "Who is…"

    Now where in the Using-This-Blog- Manual (or anywhere else)does it say "click on the title of the post?"

    Was this intuitive thinking, or just a wild stab in the dark let's see if THIS shit works kind of idea?

  30. Manny Guy Fawkes Yermum
    Manny Guy Fawkes Yermum March 13, 2012 at 2:56 pm |

    "Well, Manny, that was the only way I could get past the 200 comment mark into the next 75 comments. Why is that?" – Anonymous

    The error in your statement occurred when you referred to "the only way" to see the latest comments. It might be the only way that YOU could figure out but it's not "the only way", the simplest way or the best way. You're still wrong and you still haven't figured it out. Keep trying.

  31. Manny Guy Fawkes Yermum
    Manny Guy Fawkes Yermum March 13, 2012 at 3:07 pm |

    I forgot to mention the other error in your statement, "I guess that ensures more "hits" for the blog." I have not see any evidence that Brad is scheming to increase the traffic or the comments on his blog by "hiding" the comments after the 200th. I see evidence that the Blogger software is sometimes a little odd and that you can't figure out an easier way to see what you want to read.

  32. boubi
    boubi March 13, 2012 at 3:24 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  33. boubi
    boubi March 13, 2012 at 3:25 pm |


    there's synergy with SG etc etc

  34. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 4:53 pm |


  35. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 6:30 pm |

    Do you want to get well?

    Ok, then just live with this moment.

    I don't give a $%^$%^& whether the sunrise is beautiful or if mindfulness is in the way.

    Right and wrong are both pesky gnats.

    Just live with this moment.

  36. Charlie Crew
    Charlie Crew March 13, 2012 at 7:36 pm |

    Who am I

  37. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 13, 2012 at 7:38 pm |


  38. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 5:48 am |

    287 comments and I can't read any past 200. At least I can take comfort in knowing that 85 of them were by mysterion.

  39. Many Guys Fuck Your Mom
    Many Guys Fuck Your Mom March 14, 2012 at 6:55 am |

    IMO Anonymous comments clutter and degrade this blog much more than Mysterion.

  40. Laurent
    Laurent March 14, 2012 at 6:55 am |

    "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?"

    —There is the real question!
    Who im I? I don't really know!
    In France, where I live, there are new zen masters.
    They make all they can to have importants fonctions to administrate buddhism and have politic power.
    And as I know some people I most have known doing samu in the kitchen or in the dojo, than in great reunions of big chiefs, I sometimes know how they respect or not people…and often they treat them as their object. In the name of zen!!
    A friend told me that an old disciple, one night, was with the "claquettes" to sound the time of going to bed. Some of these new masters were there drinking at the bar…perhaps quite drunk.
    The person told them that it was a problem if they did not go, because they were influencing all the people around because or their fonction.
    they answered : "but, here it's La Gendronnière!".
    Then for new masters, what is a zen temple is principally a place for drinking as much as you want.
    I think if they are master, perhaps of they reduce a temple to a bar, then if they are officially masters, they are just an image of master, that most of people believe to be true.

    But I found another master, he told us: "when i'm alone in the mountain, in the temple, doing zazen and samu, all is quiet. I don't want to much people, our practice is not to be seen, it's to disappear."
    Not much people know him. But when we practice rohatsu sesshin, we are 8. During is life he knew Kodo Sawaki, and all those who brought zen in occident, he knew lots of people, he has nothing to prove and to be impressed by.
    But his practice is just to shut up and sit. But sitting ourselves and the whole universe too.

    then, what is the master? Who is the master? What is the disciple? Who is the disciple?
    What is to teach the way to somebody?

    who are we? Who im I??

  41. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 14, 2012 at 7:23 am |

    Maybe it's just this good strong coffee talking but I think that was a very erudite, Laurent. Thank you.

  42. A-Bob
    A-Bob March 14, 2012 at 7:27 am |

    Hi Harry, Your criticism of Brad is troublesome because you are doing something very similar yourself even tho you might doing it from the position of higher consciousness learned through scrupulous practice.

    So I see some irony in your criticism of Brad's criticisms like you see in his. I am also aware that I am criticizing you now..

    But, and I have a very big but here, I am doing so from a position of extreme metta which I've achieved from commenting on countless Youtube videos.


    CAPTCHA : isibudi giesibi : I kid you not

  43. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 14, 2012 at 8:24 am |

    A-Bob: Is this one yours? "Bold gal with a cute brain?"


  44. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 9:14 am |


  45. proulx michel
    proulx michel March 14, 2012 at 9:16 am |

    Andy: the part about monitoring your posture and your breath is essentially what to do when you notice you have drifted in one direction (daydreaming) or another (sleepyness). And observing your posture means observing your breath, because it is part of it all.

    Just sit. Give yourself some stretching techniques training so that your hip joint becomes more flexible and your knee caps don't take too much strain. Beware of canting forward while thinking you are sitting straight up. When sitting, try stretching your spine upwards: "your head touching the sky and your knees digging in the ground".

    And don't bother too much about "succeeding". Whenever you can, try to participate in a sesshin (a zen retreat).

    That's about it all.
    Ah! Don't worry too much about a good lot of the commenters…

  46. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 12:22 pm |


  47. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm |


  48. Damien Thorn
    Damien Thorn March 14, 2012 at 12:48 pm |


  49. 299
    299 March 14, 2012 at 12:57 pm |


  50. 300
    300 March 14, 2012 at 12:59 pm |


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