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The Art of Power by Thich Nhat Hanh

"To me a civilised society is one where people have the time to live their daily lives deeply, to love and take care of their family and community" writes Thich Nhat Hanh in his book The Art of Power.

The cover slip says "Power is good for one thing only: to increase our happiness and the happiness of others. Being peaceful and happy is the most important thing in our lives and yet most of the time we suffer, we run after our cravings, we look to the past or the future for our happiness".

The world renowned Vietnamese monk lays out five spiritual powers: faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration and insight. Under each of these he explains how they work as powers. However, none of these tools are like new apps that you can purchase and install for your hand held device. They are gained by practice, by constant mindfulness. And after the discipline we must learn how to handle power skillfully through cutting off our cravings, offering love and cultivating insight.

None of this is new. It's as ancient as the Buddha himself. Sound as the teachings of Jesus, the leadership of Moses and the courage of Mohammed. It's not rocket science; the lessons are not difficult to read, and you don't have to have an Einsteinian IQ to understand. Also there are many popular books about power that offer similar teachings. They are saying that true power comes from within, and if we practice what they preach, we shall be powerful and happy. Every generation has great thinkers and great teachers, capable of imparting the power of their knowledge on the rest of us.

Are the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, Simone Weil, Martin Luther King, Jr., Pema Chodron, Eckhart Tolle, the Dalai Lama - simply new ideologies that could turn against the humanity it proposes to revere, if they suddenly possessed hegemonic weapons?

Why is the measure of power in our current world most noted in terms of its ability to control through death and destruction?  Why do right wing political campaigns appear to win on the premise that fear works? How is it that power, as we have learned it, turns people and institutions into monsters?

Why are some of us, so impressed with this kind of power? Why are we fascinated with violent entertainment, weapons of destruction, and demogogic leaders? Why do we feel such overwhelming despair for the future of our species' reliance on systems of destructive power then go shopping at Costco for large packages of bathroom tissue?

Well, at the moment, with my limited insight and knowledge, I would guess that it takes less effort to avoid self-interrogation, and so we do what is safest.  In this way we enable bullies, we support systems of oppression. And then to feel good we access whatever is closest: food, drink, gadgets, entertainment, and look for marginalized scapegoats to blame. We become addicted and consequently, inevitably blinded by our addictions.

For me, the difference between the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh and the ideologies that "eat life", is that teachings revere life and ideologies exploit it. Ideologies were once the teachings of an enlightened mind, but they became institutionalized and then invested with interests who change the teachings for profit and personal gain.

Ultimately it is up to us how we investigate, probe, question and interrogate all the information that competes for our attention. The way of moving forward without causing more pain in this world is through love and hope, and the understanding that even though I am not in control of the world, I am part of its desire to thrive.


  1. wow janet!!! i am so impressed with your writing and your love love it...thanks for sharing!!

  2. I'm enjoying receiving your posts-especially this one. Inner power developed from deep concentration &/or meditation can be seen in Durer's "St.Jerome in his Study" Because of his translation of the Hebrew and Christian scriptures, we have obtained some wisdom. From Rembrandt's "Visitation", we have gained the deep message of enlightenment from the darkness. It is quiet and small, but strong! Each of the arts transmits power in every great work, whether it be dance, visual art, music, literary arts, or mixed or multi-media. The clues are first: concentrate deeply and lengthly. Ask many questions of yourself and the creator of the work, sleep on the questions, let yourself suffer and laugh. Ultimately, you will find the messages about inner power in those works you encounter. The more encounters you have, the more inner power you will have, and you will find peace. This has been my experience.

    1. yes great art of all branches comes from that power within and I was very happy to read Thich Nhat Hanh's book. When I feel anxious and worry about the state of our political world I find comfort in the art of others.


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