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Shambhala Sun | January 2014

EXCERPT

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. 

—ANDREA MILLER

 

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.




See the full interview in the January 2014 Shambhala Sun magazine. To see what else is in this issue, click here.

Photo (detail) by Darren Wagner


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