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. Fred
    Fred March 14, 2012 at 1:45 pm |

    Andy, the best way to do Zen is by
    not doing.

    As for wasting time doing nothing,
    there is no time to waste. There
    is just now, right here.

    Your ego wishes to eat some Zen
    candy to get a zen high. Sit down
    and shut up.

  2. Anonymous Crybaby Noob
    Anonymous Crybaby Noob March 14, 2012 at 1:47 pm |

    I can't see any comments past 300!
    Waaa, waaaa, waaaaa!

  3. Fred
    Fred March 14, 2012 at 1:51 pm |

    " I don't want to much people, our practice is not to be seen, it's to disappear."

  4. Fred
    Fred March 14, 2012 at 2:04 pm |

    Thich Nhat Hanh:

    "We have our true person, but we don’t live with our true person, we don’t recognize our true person. We only live with the things we think are our true person. We live our whole life in this ignorance, thinking our feelings and our flesh are the sum total of our true person. Our true person has no position, is not inside or outside, is not tricked by birth and death, by coming and going, by having or not having, by what we do or don’t do. Whether we play chess, stay in bed all day, or meditate all night, this is not our true person.

    Our true person can’t be found by means of our intellect, our reasoning. On this pile of red flesh there’s a true person. Anyone who hasn’t seen this person: look carefully. Live mindfully."

  5. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 3:09 pm |

    I respect you, A-Bob, for speaking from on high (YouTube commenter). I have made quite a few YouTube comments myself and sometimes wonder, aloud, if I'm the new Christ figure for the 21st century. Having read your latest comment here, I'm starting to believe that you might be God.

  6. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 3:55 pm |

    Where are the other 100 comments?

  7. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 4:01 pm |

    Never mind, they weren't that great

  8. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 5:00 pm |


    A pill to make meat eating impossible? LOL

  9. Virginia
    Virginia March 14, 2012 at 7:03 pm |

    Who is Thich Naht Hanh? I dunno, but I think I'm Bansky.

    (interesting post, by the way. Raises some interesting questions (not meant in a critical way), such as, how do you reconcile your worries about being ineffective as a teacher as you get more popular with your worries about not making enough money?)

  10. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 7:17 pm |


  11. Kelsey Grammer
    Kelsey Grammer March 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm |

    How (many) ((parentheses)) (((can))) ((((you)))) (((((put))))) ((((((inside)))))) (((((((two))))))) ((((((((parentheses?))))))))

  12. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 7:28 pm |

    Are •you• 201 ??!!??

  13. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 8:50 pm |


  14. Sarah Palin
    Sarah Palin March 14, 2012 at 8:54 pm |

    If God didn't want people to eat animals, why did he make them out of meat?

  15. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 14, 2012 at 9:29 pm |


  16. Angulimala
    Angulimala March 14, 2012 at 10:28 pm |

    “Who is Thich Naht Hanh?”, is a hua-t’ou. The Chinese term Hua-t’ou can be translated as “critical phrase.” Literally it means the “head of speech” or the “point beyond which speech exhausts itself.” Ta-Hui promoted the practice circa 1139 CE.

    Unlike your band, Zero Defex, Ta-Hui warned of “Ten Defects” inherent in the Zen practice of hua-t’ou.

    You would be better suited, Brad, being called “The Teflon Zen Master”. You capitulate very little, if anything at all.

    My Master told me:
    “Do not engage in a chop fight with an opponent that is either too stupid or too arrogant to know when he has been bested. “

    Who is it that has replied to this thread?

    Don’t Know .

  17. Brad Warner
    Brad Warner March 15, 2012 at 12:25 am |


  18. Keyser Soze
    Keyser Soze March 15, 2012 at 4:10 am |

    Who is Keyser Soze?

  19. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 5:47 am |


  20. Farzad Jr.
    Farzad Jr. March 15, 2012 at 6:05 am |

    Hanging out online at 12:25 AM? That's pretty late for Zennie to be saying huh.

    New girlfriend Brad?

  21. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 6:11 am |


  22. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 7:14 am |

    Have online comment sections become 'a joke'?

    Not if they're on a Zen Blog!!

  23. boubi
    boubi March 15, 2012 at 8:01 am |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  24. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 8:10 am |

    Ni-de hua-t’ou shi hua-wei.
    Shi bu shi?

  25. HUA-T'OU
    HUA-T'OU March 15, 2012 at 8:13 am |


  26. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 8:30 am |

    Holy crap. I'm responsible for over 10% of the comments in this stream. Bye guys.


  27. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 8:31 am |

    Wait… ok, now I'm responsible for over 10%. Ok. Bye. Get enlightened!

  28. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 15, 2012 at 9:57 am |

    "the true man, breathing to his heels".

    "The real being, with no status, is always going in and out through the doors of your face." (Linji)

    Andy, you are in trouble now, man. I like the part about the stretch. If I had to say, I would confess to following the pivot of the hips and pelvis in one direction and of the sacrum in the opposite direction, some of the time. Near-pleasant sensations like stretch are just as compelling as near-painful sensations like stretch, as far as the location of mind. Who locates this mind?

  29. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 11:26 am |

    brad, have you been at a TNH lecture or event? i think it becomes very clear who he is, and what he means by mindfulness when you are with him, in his presence.

    the essence of his being/meaning is not conveyed through the words he speaks or writes/has someone write for him in his books. his essence becomes clear when you are with him.

    kind of like sex or yoga – unless you do it it doesn't make much sense to discuss it and tear it apart intellectually, for you to figure out what it is, what it feels like, how it contributes to your being.

    it feels like – this contributor not excluded – some of us have way too much time on our hands – and restlessness inside to even begin to understand buddhist meditation. it's practice, practice, practice and not discuss, discuss, discuss.

  30. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 11:50 am |

    Who am I ?

  31. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 15, 2012 at 4:04 pm |

    Weird thing about "discussion versus practice"- I was able to describe a practice of waking up and falling asleep in words, and a man in New York City was able to experience the thing I wrote about and fall back to sleep, seven nights running.

    Now, it's not possible to make oneself fall asleep or wake up, as far as I can tell. Not actually. Sort of like zazen, when Shunryu Suzuki says "only zazen can sit zazen".

    Yet maybe it's possible that words can do some good. What do you think?

  32. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 15, 2012 at 4:25 pm |

    Well, Mark, somebody, somewhere, sometime…maybe even me right here, right now..said:

    A writer doesn't want to be liked, he wants to be understood.

    IMO if your writing reached even one person, and he was able to benefit from what you suggested, then of course, that's a good thing indeed.

  33. Fred
    Fred March 15, 2012 at 4:42 pm |

    Words are reflections of what is,
    but they take you away from tathata

  34. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 15, 2012 at 4:52 pm |

    Borges called nouns abbreviations.
    I like that.

  35. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 5:01 pm |


  36. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 8:07 pm |


  37. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 9:10 pm |


  38. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 9:43 pm |


  39. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 15, 2012 at 10:41 pm |

    This comment has been removed by the author.

  40. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 15, 2012 at 10:52 pm |

    nouns as abbreviations, like that.

    I have a friend who passes along information on how pyschics receive their visions (as it were). They teach being open to seeing before words, before making sense.

    Dualism just means the mind is here, and the object of mind there. What if the mind moves, and the object of mind has a part in the placement? And the things that enter the mind before words, before sense, have a part in the placement?

    If I close my eyes, my mind doesn't seem to be in quite the same place as when my eyes are open. If I look to follow that sense of place from one instant to the next, I fall asleep or wake up as appropriate. This is also the practice of zazen, to me. Can it be taught this way?

    I can't avoid the sense of location, and I can't improve on it. It just is. The bottom falling out of the basket, as far as I'm concerned.

  41. Moni
    Moni March 16, 2012 at 2:03 am |

    Urghff this comment flow was massive. I hope, that it did not take your motivation Brad and the next post is coming soon:).

    About that e-publishing thing: what gniz was saying was only that, that even in this "business" there is best practices and if you follow them independent from the content you will succeed much more. Good cover, good price, good summary. Maybe you are not talented in marketing your own writing, but I think people who like you would help you for free to brush up your e-book portfolio a bit and help you. You inspire many people with your writing and make them think about nice stuff. I am sure, that people would be glad to brainstorm a bit and help you to make your portfolio a bit more organized. You are not a business person and you do not have to be, but if you already wrote those books and you are writing continuously it just do not make any sense to overlook these best practices on purpose, since you put some effort into writing those books anyways.

    Leonard Cohen is also asking money for his concert tickets, even though he is a zen-guy.

  42. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 16, 2012 at 4:32 am |

    Hi Mark. That's a variation on the old koan from Gateless Gate, right? The one with two blog commentors arguing is the flag moving or is the wind moving? no its the mind moving sez the Brad type dude behind them…

  43. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 16, 2012 at 5:55 am |

    All life is sex,
    and all sex is competition,
    and there are no rules to that game.

  44. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 16, 2012 at 6:40 am |


  45. General Specific
    General Specific March 16, 2012 at 6:46 am |

    Mr. Warner, tear down these Anonymous comments.

  46. Andy
    Andy March 16, 2012 at 6:51 am |

    @Mark: Why am I in trouble? I'm doing fine, thanks!

    Maybe some of you guys take that Zen-Stuff far to serious…I mean hey cmon! 😉

  47. Anonymous
    Anonymous March 16, 2012 at 7:11 am |

    Moni: I agree with you. But the main difference between Brad and the hugely talented Leonard Cohen is that Brad is primarily a Zen guy who has an interest in art, where Cohen is primarily an artist who has an interest in Zen. Their motivations are different.

  48. Fred
    Fred March 16, 2012 at 7:15 am |

    "Then who is Thich Naht Hanh?"

    Who is the Unborn and the Undead?

  49. Mark Foote
    Mark Foote March 16, 2012 at 7:52 am |


    Just kidding. For myself, I have an understanding of well-being, and "investigation" (to use the term from the classic description of the factors of enlightenment) kicks in when I sit the lotus- but describing the terms of my investigation seldom communicates anything to anyone. Your interest in setting up mindfulness and the various practices that have been described to that end shows that you have a healthy investigation yourself, IMO. It took me a long time before my investigation did me any real good, I guess that's what I was joking about by saying you "are in trouble now".

    The old story about the caterpillar and the toad, where the toad asks the caterpillar how it knows which leg to move next, and suddenly the caterpillar can't walk.

    Hey John- the mind and the flag, a good one! The sage points not only to the mind that moves, as it were, but to a relationship between that movement and a seemingly unrelated event. Reminds me that there are no unreleated events, when the placement of consciousness incoporates the phenomena of mind before words appear. Isn't that the message of pyschics and Zen-stuff-ers?

  50. john e mumbles
    john e mumbles March 16, 2012 at 11:39 am |

    You may recall my comment here on this blog, Mark, when you first posted the link to the Waking and going to Sleep essay. I mentioned how if you meditate before sleep and are able to suspend (by no means or will of your own of course) thoughts, empty the mind of the "inner dialogue" (although I would argue it is a monologue after all) images come rushing in. The trick, where some degree of effort must be expended, is to recognize -to become conscious of- the transition between this and dreaming. There is also a point when waking up where it is possible to distinguish between the dream and "waking up."

    Why do this at all? Because rather than arbitrarily separating consciousness into pieces just because you've been taught that "this is sleep, that is awake" you begin to see the flow and eventually see it all as one thing, that has no beginning or end, or even middle. With this knowledge, as Fred mentioned, concepts like "the Unborn" make a whole hella more sense.

    You bring that back to the cushion, and in my experience at least, your sense of time is infinite, you may sit for 15 min or two hours and not be able to distinguish between them.

    Of what value is this? None that I know of.

Comments are closed.