Contemplation and Resistance: A Dialogue Between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan

Source: WIN magazine, vol ix, nr 17, June 4, 1973, pp. 4-10

What follows is the slightly edited transcript of a conversation recorded in Paris January 4 between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan, the one a Buddhist monk and Zen master, the other a Catholic priest well known for animosity to draft records and for failing to report for imprisonment on schedule.

The conversation occurred in the midst of the American Christmas bombing offensive; the cease-fire hopes that had flourished for months seemed shattered in the ruins of Bach Mai hospital in Hanoi. Dan arrived in Paris less than two weeks after his brother’s release from prison and after extensive involvement in a vigil against the renewal of the war that occurred on the steps of St. Patrick’s Cathedral in New York (the Cardinal was away at the time visiting troops).

Through their poetry and their shared commitment in nonviolence, the two had known each other for some years, but the experience of living, talking and cooking together for several days, particularly at such a discouraging moment in time, seemed to make possible a kind of understanding and rapport of a very rare order. Finally it seemed it could do no violence to their fragile exchange to turn on the tape recorder.

A great deal is missing from the transcription — not in words but most of all in the silences between them. Between Dan’s opening comments and Nhat Hanh’s first response was a silence that seemed ten minutes long, a complete stillness in which it was easy to hear the slight noise of the Sony tape recorder. Silence remained enough a part of the conversation to make of both of them honorary Quakers or Trappists or similar sorts of heretics in this noisy, clock-centered world.

A note about Thich Nhat Hanh: He is chief of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation, a group established in Paris by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam to represent the Church and its membership during the course of the peace negotiations. In effect the delegation represents the nonviolent movement of Vietnam, which is largely Buddhist in its composition.  Nhat Hanh is one of the principal living poets of his country as well as the author of numerous books on Buddhism and Zen. Among the WIN articles that touch on the Vietnamese pacifist movement and Thich Nhat Hanh are “Buddhism’s Quiet Search for Peace” (9/15/72) and “Only the Rice Loves You” (12/15/72). The Unicorn Press (Box 1469, Santa Barbara, Calif. 93102) has published a collection of his war-related poetry called The Cry of Vietnam as well as some of his other writings in various issues of their annual journal, Unicorn. The Hoa Binh Press (Cathedral of St. John the Divine, 1047 Amsterdam Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10025) has published a play-meditation by Nhat Hanh called The Path of Return Continues the Journey, translated and with drawings by Vo-Dinh and with an introduction by Dan Berrigan. (If funds can be raised, the Hoa Binh Press will publish a book of Nhat Hanh’s called Keys to Zen, written for Western readers, this fall. Ed Guinan of the Community for Creative Nonviolence has included a chapter by Nhat Hanh, “Love in Action,” in a newly-published anthology called Peace and Nonviolence (The Paulist Press, Paramus, N.J., $4.50). And finally, there is a  book of Nhat Hanh’s called Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire (Hill & Wang, N.Y.) that I believe is still in print.                                                  —JIM FOREST

DAN BERRIGAN:  We are sitting in seriousness, very quiet in spirit, thinking of all our friends across the world and wondering perhaps if we could take up themes like the meaning of a movement which will have some roots, tradition, staying power and especially what it means to have a movement which is not just driven mad by politics and tending toward violence. We’ve all seen too much of that. But in many ways the Buddhist and Christian traditions can meet around these great themes of compassion, a sense of one another, and also a different sense of time, perhaps, a longer, deeper sense of time.

When we were in prison I believe we had a very different sense of time, too. It was closer maybe to the truth.

NHAT HANH: We tend to imagine that the lifetime of a person is something like using your pen in order to draw a line across a sheet of paper. A person appears on this earth and lives and dies. And we may think of the life of a person just like a line we trace across a sheet of paper. But I think that is not true. The life of a person is not confined to anything like a line you draw, because being alive you do not go in one direction — direction of the right side of a piece of paper, but you go also in other directions. So the image of that line crossing the sheet of paper is not correct. It goes in all directions. Not only four or eight, or 16, but many, many. So if we can see through to that reality, our notion of time will change. That is why in meditation you can feel that you are not traveling in time but we are, we are in eternity. We are not caught by death, by change. A few moments of being alive in that state of mind is a very good opportunity for self purification. Not only will it affect our being, but of course it affects our action — our non-action.

DAN: Part of the difficulty it seems to me is determining the right action and the right moment, or the time for non-action. And yet for most of our people this is a question that never really arises except through political discussion. And I think it is part of the larger difficulty with life itself which has to do with the question of why live and why grant life, and why not cut off life…and why is life valuable. And once that is placed in question, once the value of life is not deeply understood as beyond discussion — then it seems to me it is impossible to act rightly. It’s as though one were to say, since we’ve put everything in question, the question of how to live from day to day becomes grievous, almost impossible to deal with. And since it is impossible to deal with the question, one evades it and after a while it’s “too much”, and so one finds ways of not dealing with it. From day to day. By drugs or despair, or, as they say, cop outs — various kinds — including religious kinds, too. So one gives up on the struggle to find the norm of existence which will allow one to stay with the struggle for a long, long time. For all his lifetime. And within that lifetime, to be harmful to no one, including oneself. It seems to me to require a very deep, deep life in God, and constant discipline of appetite and senses and curiosity and perception of events and politics, all of this. And for this our culture has not prepared us, as we understand now after ten years of the Vietnam War. The people who can attain this sense of life are very rare. We may think at times that we have religious revivals or that people are following one way or another way or seeking a deeper meaning that the culture allows. But most of it ends nowhere — ends nowhere. So in our culture the religious feeling or discovery most often tends to be another way of avoiding the grievous questions of life. People go to church to forget, and others stay away from the church to forget. And no other solution helps!

NHAT HANH: They want to forget because they are tired. They have no courage to face the daily serious problems. Maybe first they start by courageously facing these problems. But they cannot stand the struggle for a long time. That is why they try to forget. And the problem is how to make ourselves strong enough in order to be able to bear these problems and not escape them. In that respect I think (according to my experience) it is not the quantity of action that is important but the quality. When I feel that I am serene, calm, happy, I am sure that whatever I do will result in good fruit. But sometimes problems present themselves to me with such intensity that I feel I cannot deal with them at the same time. A common example of this is that we read newspapers every day and follow every detail and spend a lot of time doing that. But from time to time we stop reading … we find ourselves in a situation where we cannot read these papers. Sometimes for three months! And after these three months we read a paper and find that not much has changed. Our not reading the paper for three months didn’t do much damage to us.  So maybe because we are invaded by events and problems — all of them urgent — we find we aren’t strong enough to withstand them. So maybe some arrangement is needed so that we can nourish ourselves with a spiritual dimension — vitalities — so that we can be more effective. Less problems, more effectiveness.

DAN: It seems to me this is one way of trying to put the great, great difficulty of our culture, which of course is so terrifying in the world, as we learned from the Vietnam War. But at the other end of our culture it is all this youth and good will and striving which is quite a mix, as we learned from very harsh experience over ten years. To bear with the dislocation of one’s life and court rooms, and long trials, and prison, and underground, and separation from one’s family and friends; the bearing of all this is the real ingredient of change.  But we learned that to be able to do these things is very rare. Some of us were generally despised by the others in ’65, ’66. To be non-violent was foolish, it wasn’t fashionable. To stand trial and to go to prison was absurd. This was not the movement; the movement was to take revenge and to be violent and to take up arms. And we saw all of that come and go. Our group, the Catholic resisters and other friends went through all this; we lost the respect of many young people. And then it all came back! We’re in the second turn of the cycle, the second decade now. ’70 opens another kind of understanding; they have seen everything else disappear and we are the only ones who are still there. In late December of ’72 after the bombing was going on for ten days, in all of New York City we were the only ones who were standing. We and the young people who had been in prison were the only ones who were still there saying no, saying no, talking to people and preparing literature and still hopeful — still a sign of hope. I guess this is not much, but it’s something: a way of trying to declare that you cannot imitate your enemy and turn into a friend. And that when you imitate the enemy you become the enemy too. So if you’re going to be violent in some movement you might just as well join the army and kill the Vietnamese — because it all comes to the same thing. But this is very difficult for us Americans to understand.

NHAT HANH: And yet that is the most basic problem. I see in your action and in the actions of friends of yours that movement toward awakening. And I think that is most important. Because the problem is to work toward that kind of awakening, and then everything will follow. If people are not awake, then you cannot do anything. The problem is not the one force opposing another force to gain ground on this earth, but the problem is awakening — opposing forgetfulness — which is the fruit of many sins, many crimes. People who kill people, who commit crimes do so not necessarily because they are cruel or evil by nature, but because they forget. They are not conscious of what is going on around them — and even inside themselves. So I can describe the type of movement I see in your action. It can be called an action toward the awakening of the consciousness, the heart of man.

DAN: I hope so. I think back to what you spoke of earlier, that kind of frenzy for events, starvation for news day after day. People want to absorb this incredible chaos and bloodletting and violence. And that is what induces forgetfulness, even though it pretends to awaken. The ideal person (according to this scheme) is one who knows all the events and reads all the papers. And yet very often he is the one who is least conscious of what is really happening to people, and least conscious of himself.

NHAT HANH: That is very true. Because someone might read the papers because he cannot stand just being somewhere, not doing anything. So he is not eager to be aware of what is going on, but wants to fill himself with something so that he does not face that emptiness, that loneliness in himself.

DAN: It’s interesting, too, the connection between machinery and consciousness in this regard. The machine in the West offers an omnivorous metaphor, an example of how human beings should act — efficiency, and results, and impact and all such obsessions of consciousness. In all this, the difference between the effective machine and the consciousness of a human being  just gets lost. The two tend, in effect, to merge.  So after a while, as we learned in the last decade, those who have authority in the government have no other way of experiencing their consciousness except through the machine, that is, the bomb. The only way of being in authority in the world is to have command of a machine, which is to say, have command over life and death. And there comes to be no difference between the launching of the bombs as an ordinary method of consciousness and the consciousness itself.  So to reverse all that, to find ways of reversing all that, or as we said in Catonsville, of saying no to all that, is a very grievous and difficult thing. I can’t really express how the machine has won over consciousness and claimed it — captivated it — until (as Ellul says) the “order of necessity” is in command. We believe that “violence is not necessary.”  But from the point of view of metaphysics, violence is the only thing necessary. Violence is the order of necessity itself. And to step aside from necessity into freedom is to step into non-violence — because that is the only way of freedom.

NHAT HANH: Violence destroys consciousness.

DAN: Yes, but that presupposes a sense of inwardness — a sense of oneself — because the machine is totally outside itself. The machine has no consciousness at all and destroys consciousness to the degree that it wins. Someone said recently that sanity is right conduct in the world. But this is only one way of putting it, because sanity is also right conduct in oneself. And requires an inside and outside both — a rhythm set up.

NHAT HANH: The machine of violence destroys consciousness because it creates fear, it creates despair, it creates all sorts of feelings and sentiments that destroy the human being. And nonviolent action, of course, should oppose the machine of violence, and by that same reason it has to oppose any thought, any feeling that condones the use of this machine.

DAN: So in a time when a machine is claiming its victories over men and women, it seems to me that contemplation becomes a form of resistance — and should lead to resistance in the world. And this to the point where one cannot claim he is in touch with God, and still is neutral toward the machine, toward the death of people. I mention this because this also is not clear, and in the derangement of our culture we see that people move toward contemplation in despair — even though unrecognized. They meditate as a way of becoming neutral — to put a guard between themselves and the horror around them, instead of allowing them to give themselves to people and to hope, instead of presenting something different, something new, to suffering people. We have a terrible kind of drug called “contemplation”. The practitioners may call themselves Jesus freaks or followers of Krishna or Buddha; they may wear robes of some kind, be in the street, and beg, and pray, and live in communes, but they care nothing about the war. Nothing about the war. And they talk somewhat like Billy Graham; “Jesus saves”. That is to say: it’s not necessary to do anything. So they become another resource of the culture instead of a resource against the culture.

NHAT HANH: Also on the subject of meditation, I think most of us have been touched profoundly by our situation, the reality in which we live, and many of us need a kind of healing. A number of people, including myself and many of my friends — we need a little bit of time, of space, of privacy, of meditation, in order to heal the wound that is very deep in ourselves. That does not mean that if sometimes I am absorbed in looking at a cloud and not thinking about Vietnam, that does not mean that I don’t care. But I need the cloud to heal me and my deep wounds. Many of us are wounded, and we understand and support each other in our need for healing.

DAN: I used to think in prison that to write poetry or to read poetry together was resistance. They were trying to make it impossible for anybody to feel good about things, about nature, about himself. It was very strange. But we found ways of expressing the fact that one could grow in prison — or could deepen his life in prison. On Sunday we would gather and read poetry, which we had written or read during the week. And we’d discuss that. Most of the prisoners wouldn’t understand. “How can people do this?” “Why are they so foolish?”… because everybody was so sad and down and complaining and circling his little cage of private sorrow and loss and anger. And here we were, reading poetry. It was a deep way of saying that we were not who they thought we were. And we were not what they were trying to make us into. And we were going our own way, we had our own community; we had something left over for one another. There were a hundred ways of making this known.

But when I came out of prison it seemed to me very important that one realize that the same struggle went on and that life outside was draining one, too — of any poetic sense, of any gift to others — and that this never stops. So that to look at the cloud is still a way of resisting. Another way.

NHAT HANH: Our Vietnamese friends have recently been discussing the death of Thich Thanh Van, the director of Youth for Social Service in Vietnam, who was killed in action. You know, my friends disagree as to how Thich Thanh Van will be after death. One friend said, “Well, he has been too long in this world and he has done his best to show his concern to his fellow humans — so I hope that he will be in the land of Buddha now, and flower.” But another friend disagrees. He said, “I don’t think that Thich Thanh Van will enjoy sitting on a lotus flower near the Buddha. I think that he will be back here — in this very land in order to continue.”

In Buddhism we talk of reincarnation, but this discussion has a more poetic than theological nature. Another friend said Thich Thanh Van is not one. He is neither one nor many. Not one, or two or three; he will be back in this land, but not in the form of one person. He may be in the form of a tree that would grow on this destroyed land despite the chemical poisons. He may be a bird. He may be present among us right at this minute.

So this kind of discussion went on concerning the coming back of Thich Thanh Van. It was very interesting.

I was a teacher of Thich Thanh Van when he was very young. And many of my young students of many years ago have died in the war. It’s unbelievable to think that I’m still here, that I’m still alive. They died at the age of 20, 25, 28 — and I’m 46, and I’m still here, alive. It seems to me something very absurd.

One day I came to the office in Paris by subway and suddenly I touched the seat in the subway to check it, to see whether it is real or not. I did it almost unconsciously. I touched it, I felt it, to be sure that it is hard, that it is real. And it felt hard, it felt wooden all right — but I was still not sure that it was real. I know at that moment I was not alive, because I did not feel reality. So that night I thought more about it and remembered that earlier that morning I had seen a picture in the International Herald Tribune — a picture of young Vietnamese who lay dead beside each other. Young Vietnamese of both camps. They were about 15 or 16 years old. And the picture showed them lying very quietly beside each other. No quarrel, no fighting, no noise. Absolute silence.  That’s what I see. And I ask myself if these young boys have really seen what life is. Have they been able to feel the fact that they are there in this life — the consciousness of being alive or not.  I thought of myself. Many times I felt myself lost in life. I was not really alive. And yet I have had a chance, through meditation to understand these things.

How could these people feel that they had been alive even once during their 14, 15 years? That is what brought me to touch the seat in the subway.

I confess that if I think too much about Vietnam, I will die. I cannot stand it. That means I am still not strong enough to face reality 24 hours a day.

DAN: This is all of us, though in varying degrees. Just before I came to Paris, we lost our dear friend Rabbi Heschel, who was with us in the beginning and who was going to meet with Philip and me about a trip to the Pope over the war question. One hour before we were to meet, his daughter called and said, “We just found my father dead.” I rushed over and there he was, very gently sleeping. I thought that he had died very nobly because the spiritual meaning of his death was that he was a casualty of the peace — not the war, but of the peace — and that he died of grief. He died of his tremendous anguish which I think a religious Jew is so capable of, someone who prays and believes so deeply. Since I came out of jail we had extraordinary exchanges about faith and about peace. One of his last efforts was to welcome Philip out of jail. He made that long trip, though he was very ill. I have since thought how few in our country have had the privilege of dying so completely a peacemaker as that man. There are many worse ways of dying than the way he died. Because I think he was one who knew, as you say, what it was to live. It is a very strange paradox, but I think that he knew so deeply what it was to live that he died of it. He died of his sense of life. And that was a resistance, too.

NHAT HANH: One of the things I have thought very much about is the notion of the effectiveness of nonviolent action. Perhaps some studies should be done concerning that problem — how it is that one action may have a decisive effect only 2,000 years later. At the time of Jesus nobody could predict the impact of Jesus in the 20th century. Many people blamed him and misunderstood him in his lifetime. The same thing has happened with other great human beings in our history. That is why — concerning the problem of effectiveness — we should open a kind of perspective, by study, by meditation, by other means, in order to show ourselves and our friends that our action will surely bear fruit. As for me, I have the conviction that not a single act of ours will fail to bear fruit in the future. Even so, in the nonviolent life (I almost said movement! — but movement is smaller than life) so in our nonviolent life many times I get discouraged. I have to confess it. But when the fruit of a person’s action became clear, I was encouraged again. I think all of us have had such experiences. This is why I believe that if each of us possessed that conviction — that any action in the right direction and rooted in humaneness will bear fruit — then I think we will have enough patience, tenacity, and perseverance to go on with our nonviolent life, our nonviolent movement.

It is easy to say this, but it is less easy to practice! And we need, very much need the support of our friends. Even one friend in the most difficult periods. You see, at the time when you are very discouraged and a young man comes and asks you how hopeful is the perspective of peace, you cannot tell him that you are completely discouraged.  That would kill him. So you kind of tell him a lie. You say, “Don’t be discouraged — I am not discouraged.” That is a lie all right. A real lie. But you are forced by this situation to tell the young man that you are not discouraged. Especially when he has committed the error of believing in you as a friend and as an elder.

DAN: The one question these days in the U.S., you know, among good people is, “What can we do; where can we go; how can we pick things up; how can we move?” The unspoken part of that question is a sort of depression, discouragement of spirit. And sometimes you can’t say anything by way of answer. You can’t say; we should do this, we should do that. That’s no answer. Because that gets nowhere. We’ve tried all this you know. I find the best thing you can say is to suggest something about the Vietnamese people. One says, “Well, I don’t know what one can do and I’m not here to give answers or provide tactics, but I can suggest that if the Vietnamese people can keep going, so can we. And if they can suffer this way, we can suffer a little — which is nothing compared with what they are enduring. And in that way you get a better perspective maybe — for people.”

You know, this isn’t much! Very little. It’s something we are going to have to deal with for a very long time. My own feeling is very strong that it will be important for the people who have been through the rigors — some rigors — of the past, like prison or whatever — that they must show that this can be borne with — that this small possibility can be tolerated. We’ll have to show that kind of steadiness of spirit that you speak of. And perhaps sometimes it’s necessary almost to be harsh with people and to say, “Did you ever think that the despair you speak of is a luxury, that it keeps us from doing real work? And that some of us don’t have time for it? And our discipline forbids it?”

People get very uneasy with this. But I think for us — this is not to speak for the Vietnamese people at all — but for us there is a great deal of self-indulgence in this despairing talk. It doesn’t come about in the people who have gone through a great deal. It comes about in those who have gone through very little. Usually! Those who have been through something in America are able to keep going pretty well. Which is not to say you don’t have very bad times. But it’s very interesting to analyze the people for whom peace or normalcy are quite unexamined — they’re the ones who are most subject to despair. That is to say they really look forward to the end of the war as a way of regaining everything they’ve always had. And the only real meaning of the war for them is that their ordinary comfort and well-being are interfered with. It is not that people are suffering or that people are dying, but that their good life is being interrupted.

Something has happened to interfere with their good life, their success, their uninterrupted comfort. To help them deepen a sense of what is really happening is a very slow thing, you know. For instance, the kind of people who passed us by the thousands on Fifth Avenue last week. For them it was faintly annoying that we were standing on the steps of Saint Patrick’s Cathedral with signs saying, “It is criminal to keep silent in times like these.” That was an interruption of their shopping, their dreams, their illusions about life, their well-being, all the rest. You could see their anger was not about the war. Their anger was that we were standing there.

But for us to stand there was so little a thing! This is what you do! You try to do something and be modest about it.

NHAT HANH: This is the work of awakening people, a work that is important. For despair is very bad. You see…sometimes there is something very close to despair, but it is not despair yet. When first we heard of the bombing of Vietnam and the destruction of Hanoi and the Bach Mai Hospital and things like that, we were so discouraged. After so much hope — then this. All of a sudden you get a kind of feeling that is very close to despair. The effect of that feeling is that you weep, and you want to turn to America to say something in anger, like “You are barbarous!” But is it good to say so? Is it good to say something in anger? This is not a profitable action. But the appropriate thing is to write to friends over there and to say, “We are suffering; we are weeping.” That is the only thing we feel we can do in a situation like that — and that is more important than to issue a communiqué saying that you condemn the bombing. That is the kind of thing you should do, too, though we have done many things like that.  But as you said, we cannot afford to be discouraged. Discouragement causes big casualties in our life, our movement — so we stand against it and continue. It’s the only way.

JIM:  Dan pointed out that many people in the American movement come to a stage of near despair. And sometimes the only factor that makes it possible to keep from complete despair is our perception of the Vietnamese people. I myself am oftentimes nourished by memories of experiences with you, Nhat Hanh. I’m getting my hope from you; I’m getting my hope from certain Vietnamese efforts, in a sense from all Vietnamese efforts. But where do you get your hope from?

NHAT HANH: Before I say something about that, I will say something about our fellow countrymen in North Vietnam. They always say that they are ready to go on — but of course they feel like us. They suffer very much. They are human beings. And they wish the war to stop as soon as possible. Just like us. But in their position they have to say what they have been saying. So it is necessary to see in them human beings, complete human beings like us.

The way I tell that young fellow that I am not discouraged — it is the same problem. Of course, we hope, we have hope all the time. Because the moment you lose all hope, you die. It’s very simple. You die. You die right away. You might kill yourself or you might not — but you die right away. Now for the last ten years I have always hoped that the war would end in the next few months. I have never thought that the war would be prolonged for more than six months. Because that idea would kill me. In that kind of suffering situation, you hear many rumors about a possible cease-fire, a possible settlement. And you believe them with all your force and strength. And you are ready to believe the most absurd rumor about peace.

I remember in one conversation saying, maybe there is no hope. It’s illusion. Maybe we are clinging to illusion to live. Perhaps we should discuss whether there is a difference in nature between hope and illusion. We aspire for peace — do we live in illusion? And those who are conducting the war — maybe they are living in an illusion too, otherwise how could they give us such a war? They must think that they are doing something good, something that we need. And their conviction is so strong that even if we have cried out for ten years, it is not enough. They are not able to listen, to understand. So the problem of illusion, I think, is another dimension of our problem.

DAN: Maybe it’s not even to the point to draw very clear lines between hope and illusion except in a broad sense. An illusion, it seems to me, can never lead one to a long term courageous dedication to people — whereas if one’s life is hopeful it can. There are certain questions like that I don’t even feel like getting precise about because it won’t help me. There are many illusions in my life, absurd illusions, and yet they are mixed up with something no so bad, you know! So I feel, well, try it all!

Whereas I know that those who claim authority over us are ruled by the kind of illusions that are lethal, absolutely deadly. Illusions about power and ego and blood and superiority and racism and violence — all that terrible mix that produces the machine. But that has nothing to do with me or my friends.

Let me give you an example of an illusion that I refuse to give up. I just like it too much. When I was in prison I had an illusion — just before I went, but stronger in prison — that my order, the Jesuits, were changing in a very good way. Especially the younger people. I thought that they were becoming much more conscious and passionate about war. And then I came out and found almost nothing. Very little. And I found hundreds who were unchanged.

Part of what I am trying to grope toward in my case is the difference between being in a family and being outside a family. When you’re outside the family you can judge the family very harshly, perhaps even very accurately, I don’t know — but when you’re within the family you feel very differently. You feel that even illusion is better than divorce. I have another feeling too: one is not ruled so much by the question of needing something. It’s a question of where you go. And there are not many places to go which would be equal to one’s own tradition, one’s own background.

NHAT HANH: I understand that quite well, perhaps because of the same kind of experience. If you cut yourself off from something — a tradition, a community — the hope of things will be lost. Right at that moment. So it is not a problem of a word or a term — it is the problem of life. And that problem of being simultaneously inside and outside yourself is a very wonderful idea. Not an idea, but a way of life, a way that can retain one’s self and the link between one’s self and the other part of one’s self.

DAN: This was very much a part of the style of Merton — the inside/outside. And it had very rich consequences, I think. For him and for others. He used to say that he would never become a monk again, but now that he was a monk that he would be a monk. Absolutely. Yes.

JIM:  A man playing hide and seek with tradition.

NHAT HANH: Anyway, being a monk or not being a monk — that is not the problem. The problem is the way you are a monk or the way you are a non-monk. I think if we greet events that way, we can master the situation.

In China they tell the story of a man who suddenly lost his horse. He was sad and he wept about it. But a few days later the horse returned with another horse. So the man was now very happy. His loss turns out to be lucky. But the next day his son tried out the new horse and fell and broke one leg. So now it is not good luck anymore, but bad luck. So he deserts the other horse and takes his son to the hospital and is content with what he has. So they say, if you greet events with a calm mind, then you can make the most of these events for the sake of your happiness. That’s not me, but the Chinese! (Laughter)    END

[With thanks to Anne Fullerton for transcribing this text from a fuzzy PDF scan of the Win article.]