An Interview with Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh

20 03 2012

Early in my college experience I became aware of the thought provoking teachings of  Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Vietnamese  Zen Buddhist master, an author, poet and teacher.   Having published over 100 books and having been featured in many films,Thich Nhat Hanh is an extremely important figure in the ongoing development of Western Buddhism and likewise in the growth of  Buddhism throughout the world.  In 1967, he was nominated by Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize.  He continues to this day to advocate for peace and write extensively about ways to reduce anger and fear both in the world and in our own lives.

My initial introduction to the work of Thich Nhat Hanh came through way of a meditation audio tape entitled “Touching The Earth” which generally focuses on gratitude, mindfulness and coming to peace with some of life’s difficulties.  I don’t remember where I picked it up but I have always had a copy close at hand since initially listening to it.  This sometimes poorly recorded talk and meditation inspired me so much at the time that I began making copies for many people I thought might find it beneficial.  I remember listening to a portion of it with my brother while we were driving one night.  After listening to the main section of it, he said that in minutes what he had heard was more powerful than anything he had learned through our many years in Sunday school and in church.  I agreed that much of what a person could benefit from spirituality and emotionally could be found here on this short tape.  It encapsulated so much into a very short mindfulness mediation.  Years later I would buy it on CD and mp3 just so that I would always have it nearby .  This work (and a few others) became the initial jumping off point for me into the world of Buddhism.  And in more recent times I have enjoyed his very voluminous biography of the Buddha as well as his books on Christianity and Buddhism and the power of prayer.  The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh are timeless.  They  are far reaching over broad spectrums of people with diverse beliefs, backgrounds and experiences.  I find them truly relevant in helping to solve some of the most vexing problems of today.

It is with this in mind that I reached out in early February to the students of Plum Village in southern France where Thich Nhat Hanh resides when he is not traveling , in hopes that they would help facilitate a short interview with him on the proper mental states of eating and dieting.  I recently received word by email that the students had brought my questions to their teacher  and had transcribed Thich Nhat Hanh’s answers for me.  I am very thankful for their willingness to do this for me.  The following is a selection from that communication.  (Some very minor edits have been performed for continuity purposes and greater ease of comprehension) :

JS: I have recently adopted a plant based diet as a way of trying to naturally reverse some health problems.  Historically I have had a poor diet and an unhealthy lifestyle.  When eating, what should be my proper state of mind?

TNH: We are very happy to read and to know your effort to live healthier.  When we eat here, we maintain our mindfulness, in contact with the people around.  (We) eat in such a way that the happiness and joy can be maintain(ed) during the whole time of eating.   We also eat in a way so we can build brotherhood and sisterhood, to nourish our ideal of serving all living beings.

JS:  Are there any other eating practices at Plum Village that westerners could adopt?

TNH: We would like to invite you to come and eat with us, this is the best explanation we can give you.

JS: When faced with a seemingly insurmountable challenge (in my case losing a tremendous amount of weight) how is it best to proceed? (Here I was again thinking of mental states but perhaps my question was not worded artfully enough and so I was given a literal answer which is still very good advice and probably timely considering my fixation on losing weight as quickly as I can)

TNH: Corcerning loosing weight, likely we need to do it slowly so the body will adapt to it slowly.  If you do it too quick then it will create a shock for you(r) body.


Reflecting on the answer to the first question has been interesting.  I think of how often I consume food just to consume it.  The monks at Plum Village though see it as an opportunity to “break bread” and be present in community with one  another.  I think that here in the west we often miss out on a lot of that.  I think of  my own meals and how I am often not fully present with those around me.  With the exception of going out to lunch with my brother once every month or two, every single lunch at work is a working one.  When I work late, the dinners are this way too.  When I work early, so are the breakfasts.  These are solitary experiences, spent in front of a computer monitor, often not giving much thought to what I am eating or how I am eating it.   For meals at home, you can frequently find me on my smart phone or with my head buried in a magazine or newspaper.  Even as I type this, I have eaten my dinner alone at the computer.  Not only alone, I have yet again failed to concentrate on eating at all but rather on typing.  Not very mindful, yet done while typing an interview about being more mindful.  Ironic.  It reminds me of the ancient saying “ideas like a horse and a mind like a monkey.”  Habits are hard to break….

Well now I need to figure out how I’m getting to France.  How amazing would that be?

Many thanks to Thich Nhat Hahn and the monks at Plum Village for their time and wisdom.  What a great honor and joy.

The CD/mp3 of “Touching the Earth”can be found through Sounds True or itunes among others.  I can’t recommend it enough. Thich Nhat Hanh’s books can be found at booksellers everywhere.



9 responses

21 03 2012
Anne Foster Coleman

Invite you to eat with them! Can you imagine? I think the whole philosophy is fascinating. Mindless eating had become so ingrained in my daily life (busyness, kids, etc.) that it was hard to move past and start paying attention to what I was doing to my body.

Oh, and concerning an insurmountable task – there is no such thing! I’ve found what I learned in 12-step programs many years ago works best – a day (or moment) at a time.

You’re doing great and I loved reading this!

21 03 2012

Thanks! I plan on figuring a way out to get to France eventually. You don’t get an offer like that every day.

I think what you say about mindless eating is so true. It’s endemic for many of us. I also agree about what you said about insurmountable tasks. When stepping back and looking at the big picture it can be overwhelming. But to break it down, pound by pound, day by day , meal by meal – it becomes possible.

21 03 2012

How do you eat an elephant?……

Mindless everything is what we all are doing.

I had a philosophy professor tell me to focus on the number of chews for each bite..not only spiritual, but the physical aspect of it makes you full much faster

21 03 2012

And it also makes the meal much more enjoyable. Sometimes I eat something and don’t even really recognize how it tastes.

21 03 2012

Reblogged this on westsideluxeliving.

21 03 2012

Thank you!

22 04 2012
The Circle of Interconnection « Namaste Consulting Inc.

[…] An Interview with Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh ( Rate this: Share this:FacebookRedditDiggEmailTumblrPrintStumbleUponPinterestTwitterLinkedInLike this:LikeBe the first to like this post. […]

27 04 2012
Listen: To Something New. . . « Namaste Consulting Inc.

[…] An Interview with Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh ( […]

27 04 2012

Thanks for reposting!

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