Two Good Questions for Thay

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Dear Still Water Friends,

During retreats with Thich Nhat Hanh practitioners have the opportunity to ask him questions publicly about the issues that deeply trouble them. A good question, a question from the heart, Thich Nhat Hanh explains, benefits the whole community.

This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will have the opportunity to watch a video from 2006 in which Thich Nhat Hanh responds to two very sincere questioners.

The first questioner, a young woman, very much wanted a partner with whom to share her life. “The ache of this pain is so deep that it sometimes physically hurts. … I don’t know what to do with the heart ache.”

In replying, Thich Nhat Hanh asks the young women to change her focus from what she is not receiving to what she is able to give:

We are looking for some one who can show us that they understand and love us. Suppose there is such a person. But first we have to ask the question: whether we are capable of generating understanding and love? Are we capable of offering them what they need and what we need? This is the real important question. If we are not capable of generating understanding and love, nothing will happen.

If she could do that, Thich Nhat Hanh suggests, her “worry and fear about being loved and loving another person will not be there. You will feel wonderful right away.”

The second questioner, a middle-aged man, was confused by Thich Nhat Hanh’s recommendation that we “look deeply” into our suffering. His way of looking into his fear or anxiety was to explore their initial beginning in his early life. However, he could not get down to the deepest levels, which involved pre-verbal emotional learning. He was stuck. “What is looking deeply exactly? It is used so much. It is hard to know what it is.”

Thich Nhat Hanh replies that in the tradition of mindfulness "looking deeply" is to find the roots, the origin of something. Looking deeply is to understand why things are the way they are.

Then Thich Nhat Hanh explores the genesis of suffering with the questioner, helping him to see how a spiritual approach to looking deeply might focus on existential misunderstandings:

Our anger, our fear, our despair, are born from our wrong perceptions, by our notions of being and non-being, coming and going, arising and falling. But if we practice looking deeply, we find that these notions cannot be applied to reality. And we can touch our true nature, we can touch the ultimate dimension, which will bring about non-fear. We have to trust on the insight of no-birth and no-death. Then, joy becomes possible at every moment of our life. It is a pity that many people do not have the time to practice looking deeply. Practicing looking deeply they can acquire true joy and non-fear. And with non-fear, every moment of our daily life becomes enjoyable.

You are invited to watch the video with us this Thursday and to join us in reflecting on the questions and the answers. Do they touch on issues that are close to your heart?

Also, two reminders of other events happening soon:

  • Paul Wapner invites the Still Water community to "an amazing talk on whales, consciousness, and environmentalism" this Friday evening, April 1, 8 to 9:30 pm, at the Takoma Park Municipal Building Auditorium. Jeff Warren, a science writer and consciousness theorist, will offer a multi-media presentation on inter-species relationships and what it feels like to be a whale. For more information, contact Paul at

Warm wishes,

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher