Upon the occasion of his 95th birthday, Andrea Miller reflects on her time spent with Thich Nhat Hanh, sharing three interviews with the global spiritual leader, poet, and peace activist.
The last time I saw Thich Nhat Hanh was not too long before his stroke. It was in 2013, during his final North America teaching tour, and we were at Blue Cliff Monastery in the Catskills. When the retreat wrapped up, I stayed to interview him, and we talked about many things—his family, karma, the key to happiness, and more—then at the end, feeling a mix of sad and happy, I put my hands together in gassho. It was wonderful to connect with Thay, but I knew he was getting older and I wondered if I’d ever see him again.
Because of train time, I had to spend one more night at Blue Cliff. Almost all of the eight-hundred-plus retreatants had gone home, leaving only the monastics and lay volunteers, so the next morning we were a small group eating breakfast under a tarp. Admittedly, I wasn’t eating my corn on the cob as mindfully as I could have. But suddenly I was brought back to the present moment by the surprising sight of Thich Nhat Hanh crossing the lawn and coming toward us.
I was, after all, seeing Thay again!
I watched him as he moved from table to table, greeting people individually and smiling widely as children spontaneously hugged him. His attention to each person was touching. When he came to me, I felt self-conscious about my gnawed corn cobs, but he just patted me on the shoulder and asked about a book I was reading. Then he took his quiet leave, crossing back over the green lawn. Now five years have passed, and I’m still hoping to see him once more. But even if I never do, I know that he will continue in me. His insight and compassion.
Here are three interviews with him that we have published on our pages, including the one I did with him at Blue Cliff.
—Andrea Miller, deputy editor, Lion’s Roar magazine
In this exclusive interview, Thich Nhat Hanh reveals details about his family, sheds light on a little-known Buddhist master, and explains how — if you have mindful ears and mindful eyes — the Buddha is always teaching.
Andrea Miller: How do we find a positive purpose for our lives?
Thich Nhat Hanh: Everyone wishes to do good, because all of us have buddhanature. When you have found a way to do good, you are at peace with yourself and happiness becomes possible. But you have to use your own intelligence to find a way. The good way, the right way, is the opposite of the bad way. The bad way has been bringing you suffering. Instead of wrong view, you want right view. Instead of wrong thinking, you want right thinking — thinking with compassion and understanding.
When you look at the path that is not noble, you can see the other path. So looking into suffering, you see the way of happiness. That’s the teaching of the four noble truths. You don’t need to be a Buddhist to understand them. You just need to take the time to look into your own suffering and happiness.
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In this 2010 interview, Thich Nhat Hanh talks to Lion’s Roar magazine’s Melvin McLeod about true love, the benefits of suffering, and the insight that will set you free.
Thich Nhat Hanh: When you have mindfulness, when you have enough courage to go back to yourself and embrace the suffering in you, you learn a lot. By doing so, you transform your suffering. If you’re always trying to run away from your suffering, you have no chance to do that. That is why the Buddha told us to recognize the first noble truth, the truth of suffering, and to look deeply in order to discover the second noble truth, the cause of suffering. That is the only way the fourth noble truth, the path to transform suffering into happiness, can reveal itself. So we have to emphasize the role of suffering. If we are so afraid of suffering, we have no chance.
bell hooks meets with Thich Nhat Hanh to ask: how do we build a community of love?
Thich Nhat Hanh: We ourselves need love; it’s not only society, the world outside, that needs love. But we can’t expect that love to come from outside of us. We should ask the question whether we are capable of loving ourselves as well as others. Are we treating our body kindly — by the way we eat, by the way we drink, by the way we work? Are we treating ourselves with enough joy and tenderness and peace? Or are we feeding ourselves with toxins that we get from the market — the spiritual, intellectual, entertainment market?
So the question is whether we are practicing loving ourselves? Because loving ourselves means loving our community. When we are capable of loving ourselves, nourishing ourselves properly, not intoxicating ourselves, we are already protecting and nourishing society.