3 Lessons from The Art of Living | Thich Nhat Hanh
Not sure if it is just because I’m just having “one of those weeks” or COVIDepression finally caught up with me, I felt very sluggish and anxious for the past few days. I constantly worried about different aspects of my life such as my finance, my career, etc. Amid all the uneasiness, I decided to pick up this book I bought a while ago. I heard of the author Thich Nhat Hanh as a famous monk, but I didn’t expect much from this merely 200-page book. Contradictory to my preconceived notion, this is one of the most insightful and calming books I have ever read. There is so much wisdom on life packed in this book that I had to constantly pause and ruminate on the lessons. After I adopted those lessons, I saw a dramatic increase in contentment and calmness in my daily life. I see this book as one of the books I will reread many times in the years to come.
Who Should Read It: anyone who is feeling anxious or just wants to appreciate life more
1. The concept of Inter-Be
This is the most central theme throughout the book. For starters, inter-be is the insight that everything in the world exists interdependent of each other. For example, a flower is not a flower without non-flower elements like water and mud. In other words, a flower cannot exist as a flower in itself but co-exist with other elements in the cosmos. The same idea applies to humans. In western cultures, we are taught that each one of us is an individual and a separate being. However, this is not true. Our flesh is made of the foods we consume and our thoughts are made of the experiences we grew up with. Without any of the non-us element, we cannot be ourselves. In addition, we are also a convergence of our ancestors and our offsprings. If we look into our palms, we can see the palms of our parents and grandparents, as well as the palms of our children and grandchildren. We have the entire cosmos within us. We contain physical and spiritual non-human elements as well as the past, the present, and the future at the same time.
The idea of Inter-be can bring comfort to those who lost their loved ones. According to the conservation of energy, energy cannot be created nor destroyed, only transferred from one form to the other. The same applies to humans. When our loved ones pass away, their physical body becomes ashes and other elements that constitute the world. Their spiritual body still exists in the form of memories and thoughts. Every action or thought we have is in some way the continuation of their action and thought. In other words, people do not die, they just live in some other forms.
Another reason to adopt the idea of inter-be is so that we have more compassion. The modern world is full of conflicts and individuality. People stop listening to each other because they feel they are different from each other. The best way to remedy this problem is first to recognize how similar we are. We are composed of similar elements of the cosmos except certain circumstances may induce different thoughts into people. When we see people suffer in the world, we become those who are suffering: we are the orphans, we are the homeless. When we have differences with others, we should understand where they are coming from, and understand what circumstances that make them seem different from us. Once we understand that, we realize we are not so different after all.
2. The Power of Aimlessness
The modern world is saturated with the combination of consumerism and romanticism that make us believe that “we must have X to be happy” or “without Y we are miserable.” The constant desire to obtain something makes us constantly pursue things that not meaningful to us but make us look good. Our idea of happiness is what keeps us from being happy. Just like how I felt prior to reading this book, I wanted this and that, and worried about what I might accomplish or not. However, we “inter-are” the present. Without the present, we are not us. It is easy to dwell ourselves on the Internet, or our craving, or constant work, so that we can keep ourselves busy and not have to confront our emptiness. To solve this problem, the best thing is to recognize and accept our suffering.
Just like traveling, we usually enjoy the best sightseeing on our way to a destination. Aimless is not without a goal. Instead, our goal is not our destination, each step we take toward the goal is the destination.
3. Recognize our Impermances
We will not walk or think the way we are now five, ten, or thirty years from now. We might not like it but it is the reality. On one hand, once we recognize and accept this fact, we will cherish every moment and take care of our bodies. On the other hand, our impermanence might be a blessing in disguise. We can image our relationship with others as a seed. If we nourish it, it will grow into tall trees. As time goes on, weeds might grow around the tree and start to take away its nutrients and make it wither, meaning relationships deteriorate. Thanks to impermanence, nothing stays constant forever, we can always clean out the weeds and rekindle our relationships with that person.
Thank you for reading my summary. If you enjoy it, feel free to check out my other book reviews at https://jackyangzzh.medium.com/