Monday, November 28, 2011

Thay is not special

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of those people who should be more famous. I’m not sure I can blame the American media for this. It seems to be his choice. I have mentioned him before. Recently he has discovered social networking and begun to put his talks on the Internet. After following this link, you can click on the “Plum Village Online Monastery” and find lots more. This link is not representative. I wanted to talk about one of his answers to the children’s questions.

First, who is he? He has been a Buddhist monk since 1949. In the 1960’s he worked to rebuild bombed villages in Vietnam. He travelled to the U.S. and urged the government to get out of his country. He influenced Martin Luther King, Jr. as heard in something else that should be more famous, his speech at Riverside Church. I won’t attempt to explain his theology. As with any theology it contains its own vocabulary and symbolism that can seem circular in short summaries.

What happens in the link video explains enough. These are questions from children who have just completed a retreat on his teachings. The giggles and gasps are typical when children ask their innocent but also unfiltered and direct questions of the master. I really like his practice of having questioners take a few breaths first and again after the question is asked. Such a relief from the news and talk shows of the West or even casual conversation where we expect instant answers and brief but well thought out statements.

The third questioner (about 25 minutes in) is a bit reluctant as kids often are and he has to be translated through a whisper to his mother as well as across the language barrier. He has just had some training and education and was probably told that it would make him wiser or smarter. He is asking about just what was it that he learned. What is it that makes him so smart and so wise.

Thich Nhat Hahn almost appears stumped, but this is his usual slow and thoughtful way of responding. In the answer he refers to himself in the third person, using a nickname form of his name. The answer is “…nothing special, Thay has no special talent.” And, “…if you want to practice, then you can do it.” The compassion in his face as he looks in the boy’s eyes demonstrates his sincerity. The laughter shows a bit of relief from the audience when Thay says, “Thank you! Good question!”

The next question, “Why do we have homework?” is the perfect ice breaker after that, and Hahn, “This question is too difficult for Thay. I will have my brother answer it.”

While looking for this video, I found another blog that has a similar answer from the Dalai Lama. I couldn’t find anything like this from the three major monotheisms.

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