Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh spoke of perceptions when I went to listen to him in London on my birthday in October 2000, and what he had to say has stuck with me all of these years. He said that we see everything through our perceptions, and they are nearly always wrong.  This was brought home to me again  when reading Byron Katie’s work. The first question she says to ask about anything we are facing is ‘is that true?’ It is amazing how many thoughts can float through our minds each day, and when the question ‘is that true?’ is asked, the answer is ‘no’.

~ gill

The following is from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
by Thich Nhat Hanh

Our perceptions are conditioned by the many afflictions that are present in us: ignorance, craving, hatred, anger, jealousy, fear, habit energies, etc. We perceive phenomena on the basis of our lack of insight into the nature of impermanence and interbeing. Practicing mindfulness, concentration, and deep looking, we can discover the errors of our perceptions and free ourselves from fear and clinging. All suffering is born from wrong perceptions. Understanding, the fruit of meditation, can dissolve our wrong perceptions and liberate us. We have to be alert always and never seek refuge in our perceptions.


Good Spiritual Friend

“A good spiritual friend who will help
us to stay on the path, with whom we can
discuss our difficulties frankly, sure of
a compassionate response, provides an
important support system which is often
lacking. Although people live and practice
together, one-upmanship often comes between

A really good friend is like a mountain
guide. The spiritual path is like climbing a
mountain: we don’t really know what we will
find at the summit. We have only heard that
it is beautiful, everybody is happy there,
the view is magnificent and the air unpolluted.
If we have a guide who has already climbed
the mountain, he can help us avoid falling
into a crevasse, or slipping on loose stones,
or getting off the path. The one common antidote
for all our hindrances is noble friends and
noble conversations, which are health food for
the mind.”

~ Ayya Khema

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Being Nobody

By Ajahn Sumedho

Now how many of you feel you have a mission in life to perform? It’s
something you’ve got to do and some kind of important task that’s been
assigned to you by God or fate or something. People frequently get
caught up in that view of being somebody who has a mission. Who can be
just with the way things are, so that it is just the body that grows
up, gets old and dies, breathes and is conscious? We can practice,
live within the moral precepts, do good, respond to the needs and
experiences of life with mindfulness and wisdom – but there’s nobody
that has to do anything. There’s nobody with a mission, nobody
special, we’re not making a person or a saint or an avatar or a tulku
or a messiah or Maitreya. Even if you think: ‘I’m just a nobody,’ even
being a nobody is somebody in this life, isn’t it? You can be just as
proud of being nobody as of being somebody, and just as deluded
attached to being nobody. But whatever you happen to believe, that
you’re a nobody or a somebody or you have a mission or you’re a
nuisance and a burden to the world or however you might view yourself,
then the knowing is there to see the cessation of such a view.

Views arise and cease, don’t they? ‘I’m somebody, an important person
who has a mission in life’: that arises and ceases in the mind. Notice
the ending of being somebody important or being nobody or whatever –
it all ceases, doesn’t it? Everything that arises, ceases, so there’s
a non-grasping of the view of being somebody with a mission or of
being nobody. There’s the end of that whole mass of suffering – of
having to develop something, become somebody, change something, set
everything right, get rid of all your defilements or save the world.
Even the best ideals, the best thoughts can be seen as dhammas that
arise and cease in the mind.

Now, you might think that this is a barren philosophy of life because
there’s a lot more heart and feeling in being somebody who’s going to
save all sentient beings. People with self-sacrifice who have missions
and help others and have something important to do are an inspiration.
But when you notice that as dhamma, you are looking at the limitations
of inspirations and the cessation of it. Then there is the dhamma of
those aspirations and actions rather than somebody who has to become
something or has to do something. The whole illusion is relinquished
and what remains is purity of mind. Then the response to experience
comes from wisdom and purity rather than from personal conviction and
mission with its sense of self and other, and all the complications
that come from that whole pattern of delusion.

Can you trust that? Can you trust in just letting everything go and
cease and not being anybody and not having any mission, not having to
become anything? Can you really trust in that or do you find it
frightening, barren or depressing? Maybe you really want inspiration.
‘Tell me everything is all right; tell me you really love me; what I’m
doing is right and Buddhism is not just a selfish religion where you
get enlightened for your own sake; tell me that Buddhism is here to
save all sentient beings. Is that what you’re going to do, Venerable
Sumedho? Are you really Mahayana or Hinayana?’

What I’m pointing to is what inspiration is as an experience.
Idealism: not trying to dismiss it or to judge it in any way but to
reflect on it, to know what that is in the mind and how easily we can
be deluded by our own ideas and high-minded views. And to see how
insensitive, cruel and unkind we can be by the attachment we have to
views about being kind and sensitive. This is where it is a real
investigation into Dhamma.

I remember in my own experience, I always had the view that I was
somebody special in some way; I used to think, ‘Well I must be a
special person.’ Way back when I was a child I was fascinated by Asia
and as soon as I could, I studied Chinese at the university, so surely
I must have been a reincarnation of somebody who was connected to the

But consider this as a reflection: no matter how many signs of being
special or previous lives you can remember or voices from God or
messages from the Cosmos, whatever – not to deny that or say that
those things aren’t real – but they’re impermanent. They’re anicca,
dukkha, anatta. We’re reflecting on them as they really are – what
arises ceases: a message from God is something that comes and ceases
in your mind, doesn’t it? God isn’t always talking to you continuously
unless you want to consider the silence the voice of God. Then it
doesn’t really say anything does it? We can call it anything – we can
call it the voice of God or the divine or the ringing of the cosmos or
blood in your eardrums. But whatever it is, it can be used for
mindfulness and reflection – that’s what I’m pointing to, how to use
these things without making them into something.

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Knowledge and Wisdom

There is a difference between knowledge and wisdom.
Accumulating facts and ideas and so on is knowledge.
Understanding this knowledge is wisdom, and is totally
unrelated to whether someone has a lot of book learned
knowledge or a little. It is as mistaken to assume a scholar
could not have realized as it is to believe a ‘dullard’
as in the Joseph Goldstein story, or someone like Hastamalaka
could not have realized. Each have their own
advantages and disadvantages along the way, their own
salvation to diligently work out.

The ‘unlearning’ that people like Idries Shah talk about
does not mean to become an intellectual jelly, with mush
for brains. He was rather intelligent himself, and very
learned. As was Rumi, and Hafiz and many others. The
challenge for those blessed with intelligence is to utilize
it in a way which helps and not hinders spiritual realization,
to let go of the idea that intelligence will necessarily help
them, or makes them superior. But nor is it wise to look down
on the learned and intelligent and judge them as having only
accumulated useless knowledge. Hafiz himself could recite
the entire Qur’an, and we really are way off when we find
ourselves judging the spiritual state of others.

Something else to ponder on this topic: if there were not
people who devoted their lives to learning, to accumulating
knowledge, we would not have the Bible, the Qu’ran,
the Buddhist scriptures and may other spiritual works. We
would know nothing of the life of Jesus or the Prophet or
Buddha, as these were all memorized by scholars and
written down at a much later time, often hundreds of years
I leave you with the idea that if we are feeling superior
about something, such as judging for ourselves that if
someone is knowledgeable they are per se unrealized, we may
like to open our minds a little, and allow for another
possibility. We could at least suspend judgement, as
judging others is usually a much less fruitful use of
our time than our own practice can be in helping us to
see we are off. And when we do this we are no different
to the intelligent brothers who dismiss the dullard in the
Goldstein story – just doing the same thing in reverse.

With much metta to those who are intelligent, those who
are not, those who are learned, those who are not, and
those who see no difference between the two and those
who do!

Gill Washington

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