So I got an email this morning from Lion’s Roar magazine. Part of the subject line was “Thich Nhat Hanh on ‘Growing Together’.” I clicked on that title in the email and it took me to the article itself.
It’s an introduction Mr. Hanh wrote for a book titled Love’s Garden: A Mindful Guide to Relationships by Peggy Rowe Ward and Larry Ward.
The introduction is full of fortune cookie type advice on how to have a mindful romance. “Beauty and goodness are always there in each of us.” “You have two gardens: your own garden and that of your beloved.” “We have to learn the art of creating happiness.”
There’s a massive audience out there for this kind of goop. I’m sure it will bring loads of money into Plum Village. Which is fine. We all gotta make a living somehow. If I was able to churn out this kind of stuff, maybe I’d do it too. I’m not even kidding. If I could do that I might not have to run unsuccessful fundraisers to start a center.
I’m sure the book will make some people feel good. Maybe they’ll take Mr. Hanh’s advice and it’ll help their marriage and that will be nice. Maybe some people will find Mr. Hanh’s advice just makes them feel inadequate for not being able to see things that way and they’ll get a divorce instead, and that will be sad. You never know how someone’s gonna take what you write.
But it begs the question; What does a guy who has been celibate his entire life know about romance? Probably as much as I know about lifelong celibacy. Which is not to say you can’t know anything at all about stuff you’ve never done. Often you can know quite a bit. But whatever you know, you only know from a distance.
To be sure, there are often advantages to knowing things from a distance. Never having been caught up in the emotional heat of a romantic relationship may give Mr. Hanh a unique and useful perspective. Yet there’s nothing in the introduction that indicates Mr. Hanh is offering his advice from that standpoint.
On the contrary, it makes me think of that line from David Bowie’s song Space Oddity, “The papers want to know whose shirts you wear.” The song is about an astronaut named Major Tom. Instead of asking him about outer space, the press back down on the ground asks inane questions about shirts. As if, by virtue of being famous, one suddenly becomes an expert on everything.
Just like Major Tom, Thich Naht Hanh is a big star because he is very good at one really specific thing. And that’s what we do with big stars who are experts at their chosen thing. We want to know whose shirts they wear. As if the key to their achievements is their shirt. I’m wearing an Underdog T-shirt today, in case you were wondering. Try wearing one and you too may become a minor writer about Buddhism!
In the previous installment of this blog I wrote about how I’d never done a 90-day meditation retreat. Elsewhere I’ve written that I’ve never committed to full-time monastic practice. The closest I’ve come so far has been 6 weeks at Tassajara and even that was during their summer guest season rather than during a meditation intensive. I spent more time serving food to rich people than meditating.
My teacher, Nishijima Roshi, had a very different view of what being a monk means than Thich Naht Hanh does. “Monks and nuns in the Plum Village tradition are celibate and make a life-long commitment to the community,” says the Plum Village website.
Yet Nishijima Roshi said that retreats lasting more than three days removed a person too much from what he called “daily life” and strongly advised his monks against participating in such practices, let alone making lifelong commitments to monastic communities. Instead, he wanted his monks to integrate their practice fully into their daily lives in the work-a-day world. I remember him being very displeased when a student of his announced he intended to devote his life to running a Buddhist center.
Nishijima’s was such a very different way of defining what a monk is that I still wonder if it’s even proper to call myself a monk. I do call myself a monk sometimes because I believe in Nishijima’s approach. Yet I hesitate because I know that using the word “monk” to describe myself might give people the idea that I’ve got a very different history than I actually do. Which is why I write so much on this blog and in my books about what I’ve actually done, the jobs I’ve held, the romances I’ve been involved with and all that.
In the comments section to my previous post, “french-roast” wrote about his experiences in 25 years of doing lots of long Zen meditation intensives. He spoke of the states of bliss that developed in those retreats and said, “But there is also something ‘wrong’ with this ‘state’ of bliss; you cannot allow this ‘state’ to be disrupted, and can be very nasty if someone comes around disrupting you, quite fast you can burst into anger.”
That, I think, is why Nishijima cautioned his monks against long-term practice. It’s my observation that the longer you cloister yourself away from “daily life” the harder it is to make the transition back. Of course I make this observation the way Thich Naht Hanh makes observations about romantic relationships, as an outsider.
Even so, I’ve seen this kind of stuff happen again and again when I’ve visited Zen places all over the world. You always have to transition back into the so-called “real world.” Even people who try to maintain lifelong monastic commitments can’t completely avoid encountering the “real world.”
To me, this is highly significant. I mean spiritually significant. Cosmically significant. To me, it says that my (our) real work is in that so-called “real world” — false and deluded as it so often is. To get all super spiritual is to shirk our real duty. Nishijima described one person he knew of who did that as “gleefully fleeing from reality.”
What I see with people who spend too much time in monastic settings is that they can get really blissed out and seem kind of cosmic and spacey, maybe even happy in a sort of goofy, glassy-eyed way. But at the same time, the more bliss-y and “spiritual” they get, the softer, weaker and gooey-er they seem to get in the areas of dealing with normal life. It’s like what happens to our feet in modern cultures.
When I lived in Africa as a child I knew lots of Africans who went shoeless pretty much all the time. Their feet were tougher than shoe leather. We more modern folks (for want of a better term) have very sensitive soft feet. Whereas those Africans I knew could walk across broken glass without much trouble, we can’t even stand to step on a pebble because we’re too sensitive.
This is fine as long as you can always wear shoes. And we’ve built up a society where that’s possible. So it’s not a major issue. But we have not built up a world yet where the kind of overall super sensitivity — both physical and emotional — one develops in a cloistered monastic setting is possible outside the confines of a monastery (or sometimes even inside). So people who spend too much time in such settings can become too weak to survive without tremendous help from the rest of us.
That, I think, can become a serious problem. The monastic can end up being a burden on society. Perhaps s/he can also contribute and thus make up for it. But not everyone who becomes a monastic is also able to translate that experience into something useful to others. If they can’t, they may end up as just a very blissed out drain on the rest of us. In which case I don’t see being a monk as that much more beneficial to society than being a strung-out heroin addict surviving on public assistance while refusing to give up smack.
Sure, such a person is a little bit more beneficial than a junkie, but not by much as far as I can see. The real point of monastic life, in my outsider opinion, is to leave monastic life.
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February 28, 2016 Houston, Texas Houston Zen Center
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Every Monday at 8pm there’s zazen at Silverlake Yoga Studio 2 located at 2810 Glendale Boulevard, Los Angeles, CA 90039. Beginners only!
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Plenty more info is available on the Dogen Sangha Los Angeles website, dsla.info
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I could say 20 things on this, but I will try to stay on topic. After 30 years of practice while raising kids I started to get a break, when I looked at some deeper study options the requirements were out of my reach, mostly based on retreat time. Don’t get me wrong, I have loved the little bit of retreat time I have had but I am not planning on 30 days at any point. I have kinda struggled with that but you helped me clarify even more. I have had really incredible practice by being in the world. I get sometimes pissed off that this practice is not valued as much as retreating from the world. So now I see this booming popularity in education for mindfulness work and I am going to jump in, not because I don’t have qualms about McMindfulness but because it is going to be happening anyway and I want at least skilled people doing it.
Supporting a monastic, I think I have mentioned this before (and I don’t really share with the other students who work with her) but it is a huge job to make this lifestyle work in this world. We have a board and a non-profit and a lot of people who are volunteering time to just take care of her. She is very sweet and that isn’t the problem just that it is taking a huge effort by a lot of people to support this.
Sensitivity is a big issue for me. I set a meditation goal last month and reached it, and was pretty sensitive to my normal world. It was rather uncomfortable, I have no idea why people are so into increasing empathy. As someone sensitive my whole life I would love to have an off-button. There are jerks out there who are insensitive so the encouragement is like the relationship encouragement, be sweeter and more spiritual and handle it that way. Sometimes telling someone off and taking a strong stand is the best thing we can do for ourselves, and not being so understanding and ‘spiritual’.
Well sometimes I wish I lived in California, cuz I would like to be your friend (not in a creepy stalker way okay)
I think that one has to answer the question for oneself, whether living a monastic sort of life is running away or not. For me at the point I am on my path, it seems like running towards. Participating in this so-called real world, feels like I’m squandering my life. I feel that a monastic life is void of the distractions that we all use to escape being present.
It’s interesting that you mention this with regards to Thich Nhat Hanh.
A lot of people with previous meditation experience who come to Plum Village, or to a retreat in the Plum Village tradition, gets annoyed with the relative lack of meditiation practice during the retreat. At PV it tends to be limited to one-two hours in the morning and one hour in the evening of formal sitting. Compared to a japanese zen-style retreat, that’s nothing!
My current understanding is that when Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village monks talks about mindfulness, they are really sincere about it being the main practice. Interacting with others, working, walking, talking, everything with the intention to practice mindfulness. Given how busy plum village can be, it’s not terribly far from living the everyday life, albeit in an environment where everyone is trying to be good, and without the “distraction” of romantic relationships.
I’ve found that the effect from such types of retreats is more subtle, but more long-lasting and easier to integrate when i return to the daily grind, than the effect of more intensely meditation-focused retreats. Mr Hanh and Nishima Roshi might have been more in agreement with each other than you think.
Maybe so. Maybe so.
The most difficult thing for me is the transition between sleep and waking up- that dreamy state of metaphor and the reality of the-dogs-need-to-go-out and I-need-to-use-the-bathroom type of stuff. I am certainly a beginner in meditation, and this is the thing that stops me up. I am wondering about the methods of transition between practical life and the so-called contemplative function. Any advice from anyone? thanks-
I love this post, very thought provoking. Thank you Brad x
Um, didn’t you cut and paste part of your comment on the last post into part of this post? Or am I seeing double?
I had the same reaction, and (answering for Brad), that comment inspired a whole new post! Maybe that was necessary for folks who only read the posts and never the comments…but for those who read both, we are seeing double – OMG!
I do that sometimes. I recycle! It’s good for the planet!
I thought Brad’s response in the last comment thread was particularly good, in context. Strong prose there and here.
Very interesting to hear about the retreats at Plum Village. I wonder, what do folks do the rest of the time (when they’re not sitting formal meditation)?
The emphasis on mindfulness, I’m getting better at accepting that, but only the particular version of mindfulness that Gautama said was his own way of living, and only to the extent that the particular setting up of mindfulness that he spoke of can just happen in the natural rhythm of things.
For me, the Plum Village retreat schedule is more conducive to the “just happens in the natural rhythm of things” part.
I have no idea what I should say about your recent comment. I would tend to agree with what you are saying about monastic life.
First I am not a monk, I had what I see as a serious quest, Who am I, What am I, what is death, etc. … I have never really like Zen, I have always dislike doing zazen, even less doing those long retreat. But I did those for 25 years, I sat every week days in the morning for at least 2 hours without interruption, but never during weekends, I also did a lots of those retreats. I am not a vegetarian, I eat meat, drink wine, a good scotch once and a while, was a smoker until two years ago, enjoy sex, even extra marital sex, but please don’t tell my loving wife. There is a lot that I could say about those retreats, but I do not have the time to do so now. Morning sitting is quite different from 3, 4, 5, 7 days retreats, especially 7 days. Morning sitting is more cozy, more pleasing, ‘smooth sailing’. Retreats is where the serious ‘work’ starts, it is a furnace, especially those of 7 days, what fuels the furnace is my/our bullshit, the more bullshit you have to burn the more the furnace fire will be intense, I had plenty of that bullshit and still do. At the end of a sesshin, we gather for supper, where we can talk to each other, the reason for this is to come back to ‘real’ life. How can I describe ‘properly’ what happens during and after those sesshin? I will try my best, it is strange, first, and I truly do not want to romanticize what I am going to say; it is the sesshin that grabs you, most of the effort that I did during a sesshin consist of effort of resistance to this being grab by the sesshin itself. Right from the beginning, we are whole and complete, nothing is missing. Why then do I suffer, what is this suffering, in particular why do I suffer even more intensely during sesshin? Because ‘Buddha nature’ manifest itself at the very beginning of an authentic and serious practice, a sesshin is the full and immediate manifestation of Buddha nature, even in a 2 days sesshin, even in a 30 minutes sitting, altough much less apparent and intense. Contrary to what most think, we resist this ‘Buddha nature’ (I truly do not like this phrase), all our effort are effort of resistance away from this ‘B’ nature (Ah, that is much better). And you thought that you were seeking to become enlightened, no fucking way, all you do is to attempt at all cost not to be ‘B.’ nature, and keep your little miserable, fearful sense of self, until you simply let go of this effort of resistance.
As you persevere in doing those horrible sesshin, a few things may or may not happen, well no, they always happens, but few are really aware of those happening. Progressively the background of your being will become silent, still, calm, blissful to some extent, even if in the foreground there is intense conflict. One may ask how could that be, how could I sense such peace, such bliss, and at the same time experience intense conflict? Well, don’t ask me, I do not know the answer, but that is the way it is, the more light, the more darkness. At one ‘point’, this silent, blissfull background shifts into foreground, and what was conflictual foreground shifts back background. And now, I can be very upset and scream at my wife and feel intense peace, love, bliss at the exact very same time. It is not one or the other, drop this either this or that. I am a compassionate, loving, kind, horrible son of a bitch.
You know, many who does sesshins, including 7 days sesshins can actually daydreamed from the very beginning until the very end. They are very easy to spot, they have a smile on their face, you know, the kind of smile that stink very badly. Those who did work we can also quite easily spot; they are in a state of shock, but so happy to finally be over with this hell…..until the next time.
This whole thing about 30 minutes or 14 hours * 7 days needs a lot of nuances.
One thing that I can say is that we all tend to dream/daydream, some can spend 2 days, 3 days, 4 days daydreaming, even 7 days, but I would think that it is much more difficult to maintain this daydreaming for 7 days than it is for 3 days.
But again the nuance is this; I have met remarkable men and woman who have never did a single sesshin, and only did morning meditation.
I also have practice with people who did maybe as much sesshin as I did, but kept on daydreaming sesshin after sesshin even after 25 years.
Why? I have no idea.
Maybe the thirst for truth makes all the difference.
“Right from the beginning, we are whole and complete, nothing is missing.”
This of course applies to those “daydreaming sesshin” as well, yes?
Those who sit “correctly” in your (and Brad’s) opinion with the “thirst” realize this wholeness or completeness, with nothing missing, and those who “daydream” don’t? I’d be interested in how you manage to read others minds and suss this out, mate, sounds like a particularly subjective observation.
Why is one who sits sesshin one way or the other somehow “better?” As you imply?
This is very good, however… I can relate:
“It is not one or the other, drop this either this or that. I am a compassionate, loving, kind, horrible son of a bitch.”
From my mumbles (sorry humble) understanding; What does the word tatagatha ( maybe not the right way of spelling that word) mean? I have heard that it means ‘come to’ or ‘coming to’, you do not come to ‘something’. You do not come to ‘Oh, wow, I have come to this realm where all is whole and complete’. This coming to is ‘it’. Another way of looking at this, is simply to say that you make use of the ‘mind’ in a different way. In a non-discriminative way. And it is not either this one or that one, it is ‘another’ way of using this exact same mind, it simply gives a difference perspective on ‘things’, a wholly way. Dream and daydreaming seems to me to be the activity of the discriminative way of using the mind. The good thing about this ‘other’ way of using the mind, is that it tends to melt down the daydreaming activity and thus some delusional thinking, the bad thing is that it is not really a fully functional way of being in the more or less consensual (some call it ‘real’)world, you need to be able to discriminate between a train and a tree, (I like to hug trees, not so much trains, especially if they are on the move). Again, it is not a question of this mind or that mind, or this way or the other.
If it’s neither “this mind” or “that mind” I still don’t get why you insist on making a distinction between “daydreaming activity and thus some delusional thinking” and any other “kind” of thinking, or non-thinking.
It’s all the same thing, the same playing field, this mind, this marvelous wish-fulfilling jewel . Making distinctions between one and the other is just using logic to try and explain or define the ineffable is all the lila, the play of consciousness.
Well, everything is perfect and complete in the funny sense that opposites such as perfect or imperfect, complete or incomplete do not apply. Since the person seeing this is in a positive state of mind, “blissed out” as it were, the positive terms are used instead of the negative.
Daydreaming and delusion are also perfect and complete. But they are not useful to the aspiring practitioner, who needs a concentrated and alert mind to pierce through the dualisms they are trapped in.
Jinzang, that pretty much goes without saying but you did it anyway.
It’s such an elitist, subjective assholish thing to assume you know that other people -in sesshin or not- are “daydreaming” or “delusional” while you are doing it “right.” Most of the time, it’s the exact opposite of what is happening, you’re only deluding yourself, ie; “I’m getting something out of this… why are those people wasting their time?” I can see it happening at Brad’s retreats with the folks who sit thinking they’re better than those who go hiking or whatever. At least that’s something external that they can point to, not a state of mind, which, the last time I looked, is an intensely personal, private thing. I was just calling FR out for the bullshit and he knows it.
I actually think he had a lot of interesting things to say about his experiences otherwise.
And besides all of that, who is to say one person’s “delusions” are not another person’s “enlightenment” or even their very own?
Thanks for the compliments (elitists, subjective assholish….), I would take away the word elitist, but certainly would keep ‘subjective asshole’ as a pretty good way of describing myself. That being said, you do have a point, how do I know (or pretend knowing) the most inner mind state of some people? I don’t, you only ‘know’ this as you actually speak to people. Which I do. And you are right in feeling that it could be pretentious for me to think that way. I have (how could I say this without being a subjective asshole bullshitter once more) a sense of discernment. Mahayana insist on the awakening of prajna, which you could translate as depth, wisdom, (and/or subjective asshole), etc.. This prajna is highly dynamic, Manjusrhi sword is a metaphor for this prajna, it cuts in one, not in two, it is what I call discernment. And as I actually speak to people, you immediately ‘feel’, sense, discern, the depth of the person you talk to. There are multiple and endless layers of understandings, some very superficial and some much deeper. And if after 25 years of intense practice the person in front of you still talk in terms of energy, soul, ghost, ufo, well, what can I say, I usually shut the fuck up, but do feel this person has some more work to do. A lot of what this practice is about, has to do with examining our beliefs system, absolutely everything we take for granted must be probe very carefully. If I tell you, there is no practice, and no Zen, no depth, no wisdom, no attainment, what does this tells you? There is no Zendo either, never has been, (they all belong to a world view, a way of looking from and at a world, take it away, what is left?) How are you going to answer? Furthermore, if you start talking about it, I would tell you, please, show me, show me is concrete, talking about it is abstract. What are you going to do? Now are all ‘answers’ equally valid? That is a good question, each and everyone of us have their own set of answers, those can remain relatively unchanged for a whole lifetime, as you probe into your beliefs (or world views), I would expect that at one point or another that some change appears into them, some will be modified, some will be completely overturned, etc.. you will be on the move. This practice should put you on the move. If you come ‘here’ to practice Zen, this will be a complete waste of time, because that would tell me that you have some idea of what this zen is all about, and what you will be practicing will be your pre-conceived ideas (answers) of what this zen is or ought to be. What kind of practice would that be? Well, I would call this bullshit practice. Awaken the mind in such a way as it rest on absolutely nothing at all. No practice, no Zen, no world, and of course no bullshit, of which I still have a long way to go in order to arrive at this no-bullshitting.
“Maybe the thirst for truth makes all the difference.”
This thirst would be the delusional, daydreaming mind, the desire for “enlightenment,” and with hard looking into/finding original mind unclouded by concepts and delusions, no matter how this occurs, in sesshin or following any established path w/w/out a teacher, etc., outside looking at the sky, however one might get back to it, to realize this is the yin to the thousand things considered “daydreaming” and “delusional” yang.
In other useless words, the “thirst” the “bullshit” and everything else we want to discard is essential to the process of understanding original empty nature, and once it is realized settles and finds its place in the grand mix of no self/self.
When we disparage the particulars (especially without compassion in judging other’s lack of “thirst” etc.) we only show our lack of understanding the whole enchillada. When other thirsty one’s words evoke empathy, connection, and have drunk our fill, we are sitting in Manjushri’s diner, having had our Mexican dinner, enjoying pie ala mode.
I love the post. Meditation or monasticism should not be goals by themselves. They are only ends to a mean.
After sesshins, either two days or weeklong, I feel always a bit overwhelmed by my ‘normal’ surroundings. I know I shouldn’t enter a super-market after a weeklong sesshin due to heightened sensitivity. However, I must to get me some food. I find that coming to terms with my surroundings after the sesshin is the real practice. It is learning to deal with heightened awareness without being a spiritual asshole.
I hardly ever have much insights during meditation; It´s mostly outside meditation that I gain the usefull insight. In meditation the insight is only some “new” thought. Outside the meditation it can be put to practice and make a difference.
We have, in France, and even geographically near to Plum Village, a Zen center whose director I dub the “Devadatta of modern times”. The guy smokes hash, but has his junior students buy it for him instead of himself mingling with the wrong crowd. He advocates a “stronger” Zen which results in people being extremely stiff, both literally and metaphorically speaking, in their practice, and has fostered people breaking out (schismatics) from their dojo if the majority wouldn’t agree to have him as exclusive master.
This kind of person is typically the counter-example of what Zen ought to be. So, between the wishy-washyness of what you read in TNH’s things and that kind of exaggeration which looks to me to be like what Jehova’s Witnesses would be to Catholicism, I think there must be a middle term… 🙂
….. What Zen ought to be, fait partie d’un rêve, ça n’existe pas un Zen pure.
Tente de le voir comme une pièce de théâtre, une mise en scène, avec parfois un décor exotique. Certains savent que ce n’est que du théâtre, d’autres non. De temps en temps surgit de remarquables metteurs en scène, et le ‘Zen’ renaît, mais de ces temps-ci, c’est un désastre complet partout à travers la planète. Sauf à quelques exceptions près, comme ici, où une recherche honnête et sincère semble progressivement se dessiner. L’attitude est beaucoup plus importante que le contenu.
Just for the record, there’s a book by Thich Nath Hanh in which he writes about his love for a young nun, in Viet Nam, so even if he is very far from being a pick-up artist, he seems to have lived (and suffered) an actual love story, like almost everybody else…
Oh really? I’m surprised. That’s very cool.
(Just for the record: I actually like Thich Naht Hanh. What I’ve read of his books are generally very good. I just see a tendency to get a bit Hallmark Greeting Card-y.)
I imagine being celibate doesn’t necessarily preclude falling in love.
“I imagine being celibate doesn’t necessarily preclude falling in love.”
Uh, no. That’s like saying that being a virgin precludes sexual desire. Which, yeah, obviously not.
Thomas Merton fell in love with a young nurse a couple years before he died, and he’d been celibate for something like a quarter century at the time. He was by no means a mushy-headed or superficial person, yet his journals from that period are full of the sort of silly nonsense that people in love always blather on about. What is this impulse to discount “romance” as somehow being “unrealistic”? It’s a real as any other part of human existence. It’s just when we become fixated upon that part of life at the exclusion of everything else or obsessed with maintaining the enchantment attendant upon the early stages of a romantic relationship that trouble starts to brew.
And there are probably a lot of people who enter the monastic/cloistered life – or any sort of religious practice – looking for just that. That is, a means of generating a state of constant enchantment in which any unpleasant or frightening circumstances they meet with just bounce right off them without leaving a bruise. Maybe Thich Naht Hanh falls in that category. I don’t know, I’ve never read any of his books. Regardless, I do think that sort of attitude a sorry excuse for true spirituality. But one does not need to become an anchorite or column sitter to fall into that trap. I don’t even think the anchorites and column sitters are more likely to fall into that trap. Far as I can tell, plenty of people living in the “real world” are looking for exactly that sort of earthly paradise. The difference is, most of them aren’t willing to put significant time or effort into achieving it.
Which raises the question of weather or not any notion of paradise, earthly or otherwise, is compatible with a genuine spiritual life at all. I would actually say yes… well, at least I hope so. But I do firmly believe that the road to that destination is mostly through the desert. The issue is not so much weather makes the assay in “the world” or outside of it; there’s more than one way to skin that cat and what is appropriate for one person may be disastrous for another. The issue is weather one mistakes whatever pleasant watering holes he encounters along the way for his true destination – or accepts them as an adequate substitute (If every other sentence in Thich Naht Hanh’s published work sounds something like what Brad’s quoted here – then yeah, maybe he does fall into that category).
Whether, not Weather!!! (there’s a slight difference…)
The greatest composer of the 14th century, Guillaume de Machaut, (who was the first to carefully record his complete works — on paper, that is) was an old cleric who fell in love with a young noble woman, and wrote hundreds of sublime poems for her, which he put in music, just for her. And I’m pretty sure it never went further (for a whole bunch of reasons)
I should lead a happy life,
if only you truly realized
that you where the cause of all
Lady of cheerful bearing,
pleasing, bright and pure,
often the woe I suffer
to serve you loyally
makes me say ‘alas!’
And you may be sure
that I can in no wise
go on living like this, if it lasts
For you are merciless to me
and pitilessly obdurate,
and have put such longing
into my heart
that it will certainly die
a most dismal death,
unless for its relief
your mercy is soon
(those interested, try it: “Je vivroie liement” on YouTube)
Whether, not Weather!!! (there’s a slight difference…)
Yes, I know. I made a mistake. Not the first time and probably won’t be the last. But I openly acknowledge my linguistic offenses if that makes you happy.
As the commenter above says, sometimes Thich Naht Hanh’s gooier stuff is like Hall Mark cards. That, I can take or leave.
What does it sound like in Vietnamese, though? One thing you lose when you work in your second (or is it his third?) language is nuance, and when you lose nuance with Zen, compassion and meditation, you lose the grit of every day life, which I take it is the point here.
I’m working my way through Thich Naht Hanh’s commentary on the Diamond Sutra, and I find it instructive and not particularly mushy. I’m no expert, though.
Finally, the argument about which is better, contemplation and detachment or activity in the world has been going on in the west for as long as people have been thinking about the best way to live one’s life. I imagine that’s true for many other (all?) cultures. Seems to me that this is one place where pluralism makes sense: some people need to sit still more, some less, some all the time, some practically never, right? All the dangers of reification and attachment exist everywhere, no?
I have to do it, even if I sound like a prig. I found the “Mr. Hanh” formulation culturally insensitive. Brad, you’re not the New York Times, which famously wrote a story about “Mr. [Meat] Loaf.” Why not refer to the guy by his name? I appreciate your enmity for all things exploitative, but I don’t think this particular bit of derision in this particular piece was warranted.
YMMV, of course. I’m not going to argue about it.
Actually I do not know what to call Thich Naht Hanh for short. It gets tedious to keep typing out Thich Naht Hanh all the time. I feel like calling him “Thay” is just for people who are his students. So what should I call him?
I think Pat may be pointing out that it is disrespectful to refer to Thich Nhat Hanh as “Mister” Hanh when his appropriate form of address should be “Doctor” Hanh.
I believe his complete and official name and title is “His Supreme Holiness Doctor Alan Thich Nhat Jessica Hanh Solo Gambolputty-de-von-Ausfern-schplenden-schlitter-crass-cren-bon-fried-digger-dangle-dungle-burstein-von-knacker-thrasher-apple-banger-horowitz-ticolensic-grander-knotty-spelltinkle-grandlich-grumblemeyer-spelter-wasser-kurstlich-himble-eisen-bahnwagen-guten-abend-bitte-ein-nürnburger-bratwürstel-gespurten-mitz-weimache-luber-hundsfut-gumberaber-schönendanker-kalbsfleisch-mittleraucher-von-Hautkopft of Ulm”, but I could be mistaken.
Generally safe to add “Venerable” or “Ven.” to an ordained Buddhist’s name, just to stave off any thought of disrespect, Ven. Brad.
TNH’s American monastery, Blue Cliff, is coincidently in the same Town of Shawangunk as Dharma Drum Retreat Center, and the two places have cordial ties. We even have handout sheets for cab drivers with directions to Blue Cliff, as people often just say to go to “the Buddhist monastery near Pine Bush” and end up at DDRC. Dharma Drum’s Chinese and American monks refer to TNH as “Thay.”
I know what you mean, though. I don’t feel right in referring to Chogyam Trungpa as “Rinpoche,” though I have considerable respect for him.
I suppose I could call him Ven. or whatever. Nishijima used to address emails to me as “Ven. Brad Warner.” I hated it!
I feel like I have no real right to call him “Thay” the same way I have no real right to call Trungpa “Rinpoche.” Like you need to really study with someone before you start using those kinds of terms of address. I wouldn’t feel right calling someone “sensei” unless I was actually their student. Otherwise it feels kind of like ass-kissing to me.
I do wish someone would tell me what it’s proper to call Thich Naht Hanh when you don’t feel like writing Thich Naht Hanh over and over and over.
Like I said, our monks, who are sticklers for protocol, refer to him as “Thay.” I feel respectful enough calling him TNH, which includes the initial for “Thich,” which is the Viet for “monk,” I think, and appropriate address, like “Bhikkhu Bodhi.”
Hi minkfoot, Actually, “Thich” means that he is a member of the Shakya (Shakyamuni Buddha) clan; all Vietnamese monks and nuns take the name upon ordination. Thay simply means teacher and all Vietnamese monks and nuns can be called “Thay” (nuns are often called Su Co). In Vietnamese, the last name comes first, so instead of Mr. Hanh, it would be Mr. Thich (either sounds goofy, though). I’m with you, I usually just type TNH when I don’t want to write out the whole name; in person, I would say “Thay tu.”
I look to Kobun, and how at the close of a seven-day sesshin at Jikoji, someone asked him if had pain or numbness when he sat. He said no, and this was his third seven-day sesshin in a row. Seiza was painful for him, he said, but not the lotus.
He said, “Take your time with the lotus.”
The way I figure it, if I sit with pain and numbness, I need to take a little more time with the lotus.
Gautama said that each of the meditative states was marked by some kind of happiness (MN I 398-399, Pali Text Society Vol. II pg 67-69). If I sit sesshin and I’m unhappy, I might as well not be there– that’s my opinion. So far, I come up thinking I might as well not be there, most of the time.
I’ve met some teachers from Japan who I thought were the essence of grace, and like the one Jiryu Mark Rutschman-Byler described, they had an amazing presence. I practiced judo at UCSC when the 6th-dan high school champion of Japan was joining the practice; talk about grace in motion. In Japan, they train hard, and the implication is that the hard training under a master is necessary to progress.
But I think of the Americans who tried the hard training (and some who suffered injuries), and for the most part I don’t see any evidence that the hard training made them better able to teach Americans (and in particular, me). Meanwhile, I see some evidence that the things I write about are useful to me, both in sitting the lotus and in just walking around. Maybe I just haven’t met the right teacher.
Wish I could come and sit with you and yer gang, Spanky, up in the hills; oh well.
It really all comes down to “how you carry your unified heart.”
“It’s a swing from the bling, and a bang to the left.”
idk what to say, you make a valid point in some ways…like, take sesshin for example. it’s my opinion, that you have to sit for long periods of time to get blissed out. and yet, it doesn’t necessarily take long periods of time to get blissed out. and then there is the question of what good is that bliss? well, how do you gain understanding and compassion without experiencing It? typically, you can’t unless you are really really removed from “all of this.” which again, shouldn’t be a problem. “who has bound you?” right? well…yes and no…
as a monk, how much of the world can you take on, and churn into enlightenment? you say it requires a zendo, and you can’t raise enough coin, is that not an obstacle? is money not an obstacle? and yet for the enlightened, mountains and rivers are not obstacles. even after they return to being just mountains and rivers. right? not exactly.
they say buddha doesn’t really arrive until a time of crises.
They also say ‘if you meet a Buddha on the road, kill him’, I truly understood those words only recently.
i’ve heard cloistered monastics say that “we turn each other around(from Buddha, from the PureLand.)…i gave that a lot of thought….it’s true and not true.
i disagree with the idea that we are all already enlightened. we all have the potential for enlightenment. sometimes that enlightenment shines through before the “big enlightenment” when a person realizes there really is no such thing as enlightenment. and that real exemplification of enlightenment is leading others onto the “buddha path”(like, making the world a better place to live in relation to dharma, as opposed to say something like a caste system idea of dharma.) …but i don’t think that anyone turns us around, i think we turn ourselves around. i think we do that because we are human. getting turned around, and untangled from stupidity, seem to go hand in hand…enlightenment and stupidity go hand in hand. may be just like being a lonely god, and dumb pleb go hand in hand.
idk…it’s like ping pong to me. i almost feel that like, on hand you need cloistered monastics. on the other, you need lay-monastics…sometimes i think that lay-monasticism should be more an exemplification of how to be a good lay-person. how to be a good lay-person, seems to depend upon what kind of engagement reclusive cloistered monastics can drum up.consider all the work the ancient cloistered monastics did, for lay-monasticism to exist.
idk..how much suffering can you handle in the sahaworld, and how much enlightenment can you churn out? how much of the relative can you transcend into the understanding of the absolute until you want to blow your brains?
how much of the absolute, can you churn into the relative? before you need a punching bag?
the thing that sticks out in my mind these days, in relation to lay-monastic vs cloistered monastic…
a potential buddha has to abandon everything, to become a kinetic buddha. this is fact. fact that no one prove l0l! none the less…kinetic buddha doesn’t stop moving. even after a kinetic buddha has experienced that blissed out state, It has now come into existence, and cannot be killed off until the body dies. because it’s now kinetic, it can propel the motion of other potential buddhas into becoming kinetic buddhas. buddha keeps moving, even after stillness of the body dying.
but how do you do enough housekeeping to attain a Puremind, as to experience that? how do you cast off all these afflictions? when constantly bombarded with afflictions, afflictions from work, afflictions from your wife/girlfriend/sex buddy etc…AFFLICTIONS ARE ENDLESS. how do you cast them off?
i appreciate your point of view, and sticking your neck out on the subject.
if i were a cloistered monastic, i would hate to be a rice sack, or a clothes hanger. and i get your point on a lot of it. i agree too, how can all beings entre the PureLand, if all the enlightening beings are removed far far away in the god realm?
and at the same time too, it seems like cloistered monastics have a stronger dharma because they dwell closer to the Absolute. they dwell closer to the Sukhavati/PureLand. they have better medicine for us humans and our hungry ghosts that are continuously doggin’ us. and yet, sometimes that medication is way too strong for us plebs.
it seems to me, that cloistered monastics, after a certain period of time, are let free to entre the sahaworld and create more buddhas and patriarchs. that makes sense too. that is creating a PurLand(s).
i was chewing on this idea that if you cultivate a heaven elsewhere, a PureLand elsewhere, that is a different type of cultivation than Nirvana….a cloistered monastic told me what his teacher,VM Hua said all the time. that on one hand, “it’s like this.” on the other, “it’s like that.” it’s like min by min…it seems to be like this with all things, and i knew that already, i just wasn’t prepared to accept it because i had been turned around so many times that i had become like spinning top….i am like a spinning top.
we get so distracted in the sahaworld, we forget the great experience of the great matter of escaping birth and death.
we entre deathlessness, and then we forget about it, because we are so easily turned around.
gradual enlightenment, is very real. we really are that stupid.
One Day as Lion
“In war, truth is the first causality.” Aeschylus
A monastic can leave a monastery, but does It leave home?
It’s easy to say, “According to conditions, we do not change. Not changing, we accord to conditions.” But can you do that?
I accept that we are by-products of cause and f(x), but I also accept that we can rise above that. Just as much as I have to accept that I am failing miserably at it.
In coming and going, I never leave home!
A zen story I like much is about Eshun (http://www.101zenstories.org/tag/eshun/). For me, it is about distinction between the dream of love (desire) and love itself.
When and how do you act?
I’m living full time at a monastery now and the monks in this tradition also stress the importance of training in normal, every day life and being useful or helpful.
To me that raises the questions of what normal is and what it means to live a normal every day life and also makes me wonder how we define what (and for that matter who) qualifies as useful and it even goes beyond monastic or non-monastic.
Is a sports star (or better yet, the owner of the team) living an ordinary life?Are they useful? What about someone with Alzheimers who needs constant care? Or to go back to monastic life, does living a ordinary life mean a monk should live life the same way everyone else does (and come to think of it, ‘everyone else’ is a pretty vague definition when you look at the demographics even just of North America)
And how important are answering those questions when it comes to my own personal life and the way I lead it?
I’m not asking any of this to be clever. I really don’t have any answers. Exploring the questions though is showing me a lot about my own beliefs, and that’s been valuable for me.
Nobody here said that it is abnornal, as if living in a monastery was a disease or some highly dysfunctional ‘thing’. What some meant by ‘normal’ is simply the way that the vast majority of human being living on this planet do, as layman, a non-secluded life. In my personal opinion, monasteries are completely useless.
One thing that I am sure of, is that a ‘spiritual’ practice can lead a person to become highly dysfunctional, when for example, you seriously start to loose your temporal and spatial referents, and you have no idea if it is 6 am or 6 pm, and that you loose your sense of localization (where you are) and/or what you are, you can become highly disoriented, and highly dysfunctional. I have experience all those first hand, and it took me a while to get back to ‘normal’ (consensual world). I also remember when I started to have ‘gaps’, as people were talking to me, or even as I was doing the talking, I had ‘gaps’, ‘nothing’, ‘void’, as if I had completely lost all awareness, all contact with the ‘outside’ world, I did not even had any kind of awareness that I was. Those could last a few second to a few minutes, especially after sesshin, as I went back into the ‘real’ world, I could have those for days, on multiple occasion. And the people around me would tell me later that it was as if I was not there at all. On many occasions, I would hear people talk, even understand clearly what was being said, but could not pin down who was doing the talking, even when I was doing this talking, there were no ownership whatsoever, and without ownership, there was no way by which I could know from where, or from who this talking came from. In brief; what is good in a ‘spiritual’ life is not necessarily good in the/a ‘normal’ life and vice versa. And yes, if you continue to far into this direction, you will become a burden to everyone.
You hear some times that you are one with all there is, it is all one! Well, as an experience it is ok, but do not make it last too long, or too often, twice as I was driving I became the world, in particular the road I was driving on, there were no ‘me’/car/driver, only the road, I became that road, fortunately for me, nothing unfortunate happened, I still had just enough of a ‘mind’ to stop the car and let the experience pass by. Lucky that I did not kill anyone. It is terrific when it is with the sky, birds or trees, but roads?
What I see now as the or a consensual world is not to be rejected at all, yes it is a consensus, yes it is an illusion, but it is a functional illusion which has more or less value and validity according to the context, beyond which, it means absolutely nothing. Without it we are simply lost, disoriented, dysfunctional. I hear people once and a while talk about the profound non-local nature of reality, well, try it, experience it for a while, I think it helps in seeing the importance of localization, even if it is illusory. You do not have to reject the dream, you do not have to wake up outside the dream (and you can’t), but to it.
Just so that you know, I do not take any drugs!
I have had a similar experience in the car, when my daughter was very young taking her to pre-school, driving very fast on the freeway. I had no context for it, and called it being completely “in the moment.” It was terrifying afterward, but fascinating inside “the moment,” and much as you described it above. After that I noticed gaps, too, that lengthened into another “reality” altogether where I am in that place and able to function as well. I dissolved into it, “in the world but not of it” as the Sufis say, but of it as well, I find…That’s where I find myself right now writing this, doing anything. Pretty much lost to describing anything, really, who am i? where is this? etc. That “thirst” that drove the religious quest dissolved in the process of searching for it. And yet of course the labels are still there, and they are useful as you say, a convenient (most of the time) way to navigate. When I work with people -my job is to counsel people on the infinite questions that arise in old age and to help them access whatever resources are available- often I am not aware who is talking, what is going on, a kind of “watcher” sees whats happening but not judging, just observing. It is apparent that I am working with the labels, like now, commenting here, but the “moment” is truly timeless, I could be a baby or an old man dying, impossible to tell and really superfluous as everything is just as it is. I have no practice other than this anymore.
“you seriously start to loose your temporal and spatial referents”-
As anybody who follows the comment threads on Brad’s blogs knows, I write about equilibrioception, proprioception, and graviception a lot. Could it be that you are exercising these senses to exhaustion, sometimes?
“To unfurl the red flag of victory over your head, whirl the twin swords behind your ears— if not for a discriminating eye and a familiar hand, how could anyone be able to succeed?”
For me, there’s a lot of work in unfurling; maybe someday my teeth will align from the start, instead of at the close.
“Bite through here”, said Yuanwu.
”Could it be that you are exercising these senses to exhaustion, sometimes? ”
The senses themselves? No, never. It is my whole being that is exhaust especially after the third day of a 7 day sesshin, I think it is Dogen who said that life is exertion.
As usual, nothing here is really one side or the other. Take zazen for example, many learn the technique of zazen, breathing, posture, concentration, contemplation, samadhi, etc, many become expert in the technical aspect of zazen. Secondly, as we do zazen, we tend to think that there is a direction within this doing zazen. And so as we practice zazen, we actually think that we meditate, that we know what we are doing, implicitly or explicitly. When both the technical aspect and the direction we were taking collapses as we do zazen, we are left with nothing, with a deep sense of not knowing what we are doing as we do it. Zazen itself ‘should’ be transcended, this zazen as we conceived it, whatever technique, subtle or gross, whatever direction you think you are going explicitly and implicitly ‘should’ eventually collapse. This includes all our nice theories concerning what is or is not zazen. When zazen itself is transcended, there is no more zazen, no direction, no possible way of describing what happens. And that includes equilibrioception, proprioception, and graviception. If there is something, absolutely anything as you practice on the mat, then it tells me that you are in the technical aspect of zazen, but not in zazen. I am not saying that you should not ponder and write about these thing, you should, but not on the mat. If you do this on the mat, then your practice become what you imagined this practice to be. I enjoyed ideas a lot, reading, pondering, creating world made up of words ideas, having insight, etc. But not on the mat. I never try to find a solution to a problem on the mat, for those problems themselves dissolves entirely. It can be really scary for many, this complete openness has nothing at all to show for itself, it is empty, real beyond any doubt, it is the face of death. Honestly, what good would it be to practice the same technique all your life? Even if you get occasionally something out of it?
I get absolutely nothing from my practice, and that is where its real value reside.
Is it one thing when you are on the mat, and another when you are off, then?
I hear what you are saying, and your description of the exhaustion that occurs in both respects is good. However, at what point do you decide that exhaustion has been pursued to the point of ill? At 7 days? at 43? At 6 30-minute sittings plus yoga (probably not)? At 14 50-minute sittings for 43 days? Do you sit without sleep all 7 days, like that one gentleman in Japan?
I admit that stretch and the exercise of the faculties, both of which occur involuntarily in the sitting, are the stuff of which we are made. I may be pursuing paper dragons, but I think I’m looking for something that’s the same on the mat and getting up from the mat and off the mat too. It’s just how I’m wired.
The foundations of the ancient city will do just fine for me. Owing more than we can repay, that will never do; let’s throw ’em over!
I do not decide at what time I truly felt exhausted, simply felt at some point that I cannot continue, it is just too much. For years, in every single sesshin that I did, even 3 days sesshin, there was a time when I used to say to myself, ‘this is too much, I cannot take anymore of this ‘shit’, I must get out of here and quit’, which I actually did twice, right in the middle of the sesshin. There is no fix day or time when those thought would happen, but in longer sesshin, this would happen around the third day. I have some theory why this is the case, off the mat of course, it had to do with the sense of self who does actually (should?) takes a beating during those sesshin. In my nice of the mat, little theory, I remember that I had a lot of pity for that ‘self’, self pity is very corrosive within the context of a spiritual practice, it took many years to erode that self pity. Once it is kind of ‘under control’, you can then fully engage into your practice. The sense of self, number one value in life, is no other than itself, its sole purpose in life is itself. I do think that it is hard wire within ourselves. We see this self as a thing in itself, whose sole purpose in life (and for some even beyond life) is itself. Have you ever tasted a Sauterne wine? It has a unique taste, an incomparable sweetness to it. It is a late vintage wine, which mean that they let the grape rot, they call it noble rot, and only when it is completely rotten, they pick it up. It is this rot that produce this unique taste. It is the same with the sense of self, you sense the sweetness, the greatness, the importance and uniqueness when it is completely rot. A sesshin, like many difficult situations in life, will tend to have some impact on this sense of self. In a sesshin, the intoxicating substance (sense of self) is being fed to you as it is being pull out of you, you could see this as a detox center, for those who are very badly addicted to their sense of self. This exhaustion has to do with the sense of self ‘feeling’ it is under severe threat of being dissolve. Anyway, that is my ‘off the mat’ nice little theory. I do not feel exhausted because I concentrate on my eye balls (which I don’t) it has absolutely nothing to do with a spiritual practice, and serve only as temporary entertainment for beginners zen practitioners, like the hara, the breath, etc. You have to give them something for a while to distract them from their usual distraction. I always build my foundation on quick sand, making sure that they will collapse sooner than latter.
Off and not off the mat. If I start to write about this, I fear that I would have to appropriate myself Brad’s blog for a few months, which I will not do, out of deep respect to him. Because few here would accept what I would say about this, and we would have to fight an insult each other for quite a long time. Briefly, there is and must be a difference, by difference, I do not mean a split or opposites. ‘State’ of bliss, unconditional love, can put you in deep shit!
Welcome to french-roast detox center!
And for those whose meditation cushions and mats don’t provide enough detox, there’s always the 12-Step group “Selves Anonymous” where the addicts stand up one at a time in front of a group of other addicts and proclaim “Hi my name is French Roast, and I am a self addict”.
Rest of speech: “I tried meditation for many decades but was only fooling myself – frequently lapsing into daydreaming and mental re-constructions” (Other addicts nod knowingly at this statement). “I’m here to surrender myself to a Higher Power, as I now realize how futile my own efforts were and how powerless I truly am in the face of this crippling addiction”.
I definitely think it was the straightforwardness of Soto Zen, and the emphasis on meditation, the ideology of lay-monasticism, that helped me understand the Huiyan. When I first started listening to Huiyan, I was lost.
I don’t think it can be said that lay-monastics , are not monastics…But at the same time, I don’t know what traditional monastics do.
I can’t say that one is better than the other.
But, I can be honest about it.
maybe we could have our own booth next year at the ‘Conscious Life Expo’.
“Selves Anonymous detox center”
I couldn’t get through the entire thread of comments, but I can help by clarifying the “Thich Nhat Hanh” name issues. In Vietnamese, last names come first, followed by first name and what we call middle name. So, although I couldn’t find Brad’s middle name, it would be like calling him Mr. George (I think that’s a good middle name: Bradley George Warner – sounds like a WWII general). Anyway, it would technically be Mr. Thich, but that sounds pretty goofy. All Vietnamese monks and nuns are “Thich” as their last name, since it refers to the Shaka clan, which monks and nuns join when ordained. “Thay” simply means “teacher” (roughly), so calling him Thay is like calling a Japanese teacher Sensei – I call the abbot of our temple “Thay tu” – so Thay is not an affectionate name for TNH used by his students.
I do find it interesting that you think TNH could not understand what it is like to be with another person, so shouldn’t weigh in, when he’s been with his senior monastics since the early 60’s – he’s been in a relationship, albeit platonic, but I’m sure not always easy, with Sister Chan Khong as long as you’ve been alive, so I think he does have some insight.
I think Kodo Sawaki said “If you’re not careful, you’ll become famous”. I always took that to mean if you’re talking about some dharmic thing and it sounds too good, you’re describing it wrong. Popped into my head while reading this.
TNH is kind of a fake. Charles Prebish, the Buddhologist, once asked officially where he derives his authority from (in fact, no one has proof of it). You may call him Xuan Bao Nguyen, that is his real name, and thus he is registered e.g. as a co-owner of EIAB (“Europäisches Institut für Angewandten Buddhismus”), his multi-million seminar centre in Germany. During the Vietnam War he was a supporter of militant groups surrounding Thich Tri Quan (http://www.vietnam.ttu.edu/star/images/041/04109128007.pdf).
You will find two books by the former police chief of Hue, Lien Thanh, in the US describing the installment of communist cadres in monk robes and their role in massacres.
For TNH’s relationship to Chan Khong (Cao Ngoc Phuong) you may ask around in Vietnamese communities. I was told that both were married in Vietnam and have a son together (and I hope that someone will publish an official evidence). Plum Village has never denied it when I asked for a statement. To believe that TNH’s and Chan Khong’s communion was just platonic sounds anyway ridiculous to me.
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