Shambhala Sun | January 2014
You Have the Buddha in You:
An Interview with Thich Nhat Hanh
Throughout my retreat at Blue Cliff Monastery, I was curious
about the quaint little brown house, which the monastics referred to as Thay’s
hut. Finally, on the last day, I was invited inside and saw a cozy room
brightened with fresh orchids, an image of the Buddha touching the earth, and a
candlestick filled with white tapers and decorated with birds.
Thay was seated at a rustic table, low to the ground, and I
was ushered to a cushion beside him. During our interview, he revealed personal
details about his family, uncovered the remarkable history of a little-known
Buddhist master, and explained how—if you have mindful ears and mindful
eyes—the Buddha is always teaching. Partway through our conversation, Jo
Confino of the British newspaper The Guardian joined us, and the
conversation turned to how meditation practice can benefit business leaders,
organizations, and society.
As you read the interview, please keep in mind that there is
one thing that didn’t make it onto the page, and that is Thich Nhat Hanh’s
frequent, joyful smile.
What is the role of a teacher in spiritual practice?
A friend can be a teacher, a fellow practitioner can be a
teacher, and you yourself can be a teacher. A teacher is anyone who helps you
practice and find more freedom—even freedom from your teacher.
You have to be intelligent and not be dependent on your
teacher. If you follow him or her with blind faith, it’s not good. There is no
perfect teacher. You can learn the good things from him or her, and you can
also help your teacher to be better. Very soon there will be a teacher within
you, and you can follow that teacher.
So a good teacher is someone who helps you not depend on him
or her all your life. That is why the Buddha said before he died, “Go back to
yourself. Take refuge in the island within you.”
You are not lost when your teacher is no longer in human
form, because your teacher is always alive in you and in his disciples. When I
practice calligraphy, sometimes I invite my late teacher to join me, so as
teacher and disciple we do it together. Breathing in, half the circle.
Breathing out, the other half. When I smile, my teacher smiles.
I invite all teachers of the past to do a circle with me,
and I know that my hand is not my hand. My hand is also my father’s hand and my
mother’s hand. Sometimes I invite all my friends to do it with me, because they
are me also.
Photo (detail) by Darren Wagner