Sunday Dharma: Thich Nhat Hanh “You are your father”

A somewhat different take on fathers and sons for this Father’s Day, an excerpt from a dharma talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on May 10, 1998  in Plum Village, France:

We know that the core of the Buddha’s teaching is non-self. This is something people find very hard to accept, because everyone believes that there is a self, and you are yourself, you are not the other person. But with the practice of looking deeply, we see things differently.

You see yourself as a person, a human being; you say that you are not a tree, you are not a squirrel, and you are not a frog. You are not the other person. That is because we have not looked deeply into our true nature. If we do, we will see that we are at the same time a tree. It is not only in our past lives that we have been a tree or a rock or a cloud, but even in this life, in this very moment, you continue to be a tree, you continue to be a rock, you continue to be a cloud. In fact you cannot take the tree out of you, you cannot take the cloud out of you, you cannot take the rock out of you., because if you could, you would no longer be there as yourself.

In the Jataka stories it is said that in past lives the Buddha had been a squirrel, a bird, deer, an elephant, a tree. It’s very poetic, but it does not mean that when the Buddha was a human person living in the city of Sravasti, he was no longer a tree, a rock, a deer. He continued to be all of these. So when I look into myself, I see I still am a cloud, not only during a past life, but right now.

There is a lady who wrote a poem about her husband, who is a student of mine. That student of mine is very fond of my teaching. And she said, “My husband has a mistress, and his mistress is an old man who sometimes dreams of being a cloud.” I don’t think that description of me is correct, because I am not dreaming of being a cloud—I am a cloud. At this very moment you could not take the cloud out of me; if you took the cloud out, I would collapse straight away. You cannot take the tree out of me; if you did, I would collapse. So looking deeply into our true nature, we see that what we call self if made only of non-self elements. This is a very important practice, and it does not seem as difficult as we may imagine.

So you are the son, but you are not only the son, you are the father. If you take the father out of you, you collapse. You are the continuation of your father, of your mother, of your ancestors. That is non-self. Son is made of father, and father is made of son, and so on. And the practice is that every day we have the opportunity to look at things in such a way–otherwise we live in a very shallow way, and we don’t get to the heart of life.

A young man may say, “I hate my father. I don’t want to have anything to do with my father.” He is very sincere, because every time he thinks of his father, anger is coming up. It’s very unpleasant, so he wants to separate himself from his father, and he is determined to do so. But how could such a thing be possible? How can you take your father out of you? The hard fact is that you are your father. It’s better to reconcile with your father within. There is no other way out. You can behave like that when you believe in the reality of self, but the moment that you see the true nature of self, you can no longer behave like that. You know that the only way is to accept, to reconcile and to transform. You know that it is the discrimination, it is the ignorance in you which has caused the suffering.

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2 thoughts on “Sunday Dharma: Thich Nhat Hanh “You are your father”

  1. OK, so, there is no self. And forgive me for blundering around the Dharma like a bull in a china shop… If there is no self – and I’m taking it this is a correct interpretation of the Buddha’s teachings – then what the hell was Chih-i thinking when he came up with Ichinen Sanzen – which appears to be analysing something that doesn’t exist?! I’m sure one day I will look back at this and laugh…

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