Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh is a prolific writer, with over seventy books to his name. ‘Your True Home’ is his latest: a compilation of 365 short teachings, one on each page.
The format means we can take the book’s subtitle ‘everyday wisdom’ literally, and visit the book daily for a nugget of this much-loved Buddhist teacher’s lore.
And nuggets they are, never taking up more than half a page in a book which has a short, chubby format to begin with (though too heavy to be pocket size – unless you have very big pockets).
Title: Your True Home: The Everyday Wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh
Author: Melvin McLeod (editor)
Available from: Shambhala, Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com Kindle Store, and Amazon.com.
The teachings fall into two broad categories: instructions and insights.
Day 144, for example, gives us a mindful breathing practice culminating in the lines, ‘Breathing in, I am aware of my body. Breathing out, I smile to my whole body.’
There’s an emphasis on positivity in Thich Nhat Hanh’s instructions. Our natural state is joy, he suggests, and we’d save ourselves a lot of trouble if we could appreciate that.
That emphasis isn’t there as strongly in his insight teachings. For example, on day 173: ‘When conditions are sufficient, something manifests. That is what we call a ‘formation’. The flower is a formation, and so are the clouds and the sun. I am a formation, and you are a formation.’
Similarly, on Day 62, he compares life to a kaleidoscope of changing patterns. ‘Should we cry every time one of these manifestations comes to an end?’
Core Buddhist tenets are being emphasised here: that life is contained in the present moment, and that the material world is constantly changing and unstable.
These truths may strike the reader as stark, presented as they are without back-up explanation. It makes the book an interesting mixture of comfort and challenge. Perhaps this reflects the two main practices within Buddhist meditation, Samatha (calming) and Vipassana (insight).
Editor Melvin McLeod is at pains to point out that the insight teachings are not ‘mere aphorisms to cheer us up or inspire us (though they do both). They are transformative insights and instructions, and we need to let them seep below the surface level of our intellect into our heart and guts, where wisdom gestates and real change happens.’
That would obviously be a fantastic outcome, but I’m not sure that reading this book on its own is enough to make it happen.
Having said that, who knows? Even if this is the only Buddhist book you ever read, bite-sized wisdom is a lot better that no wisdom at all. And even if we do take the teachings as aphorisms, at least they are thought-provoking ones.
Thich Nhat Hanh is sometimes criticised for endlessly presenting old teachings in new formats (and it’s possible to see this latest offering in that light, too).
But different formats undeniably make Buddhist teachings available and acceptable for the first time to a wider variety of people. Furthermore, re-presenting old ideas in new contexts can also be very powerful for those who are already familiar with them.
And so it is with ‘Your true home.’ While the meditation suggestions calm and focus us, the insight pages exert a ‘drip-drip’ effect. One day next year or in years to come (unlike a calendar, the pages are not dated, just tactfully numbered), we may read the right words at the right time and suddenly and unexpectedly recognize the living truth they are pointing to.
In the words of Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘When conditions are sufficient, something manifests.’ Putting the word out there in different ways is one method of helping establish them.