Powerful Compassion with Thich Nhat Hanh

Last week, Thich Nhat Hahn spoke to a sold out crowd at Stanford University as a part of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education’s (CCARE) Conversations on Compassion series.

Thich Nhat Hanh

I once heard Thich Nhat Hanh described as “a cloud, a butterfly, and a bulldozer.” Hearing him speak I couldn’t agree more. He is so soft, gentle, and egoless, yet surprisingly powerful. Here are some highlights:

  • “You don’t have to run into the future to find happiness.”
  • “Mindfulness holds suffering like a mother holding a baby without knowing what is causing the suffering.”
  • “Holding our suffering is like holding our own baby.”
  • “You cannot be; you can only inter-be.”
  • “The art of suffering goes together with the art of happiness.”
  • Tell your loved ones, “I know you are there, and I am so happy.”
  • The person who makes you suffer has a lot of suffering in him.

When they opened up the mics for Q&A, I happened to be sitting right next to one of the mic stands, so I got to ask the first question. I told Thay that being a man in Western culture I had been taught not to cry, to take advantage of others weaknesses in sports, and to never show weakness in business. My specific question was “how can we make compassion more attractive to men?”

Thay started his reply by saying that there must be a misunderstanding of what compassion is. “Compassion is not weakness. Compassion is powerful.” He then listed all the ways that compassion benefits the person being compassionate. “Compassion heals our bodies.” It makes us live happier lives. It is good for business. (I apologize for not having direct quotes, but Thay was staring at me while he answered the question, so I didn’t want to be rude and start taking notes.)

Then he said something that resonated with me, “Compassion protects us more than guns, bombs, or money.” He said that we often try to accumulate lots of money to protect ourselves from suffering, but money cannot protect us from suffering. Money can disappear in an instant. What I realized is that compassion is the true refuge from suffering in life.

I have been struggling to make money since losing my job in 2012, but now I realize that all the work I have been doing to cultivate compassion has brought me more than money can buy. I feel confident that compassion will protect me and my family from suffering in a way that money, guns, or insurance can never protect us. I am grateful for the present moment of taking in so much wisdom from amazing teachers. One day, I hope to spread these teachings with others.

Thank you for reading, smiling, and/or sharing.

Where do you seek refuge? Please share.

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