Thay's Most Challenging and Desperate Situation

At a Q&A session during Thich Nhat Hanh’s recent visit to Boston, I was given the opportunity to ask Thay a question. I inquired about the most challenging and desperate situation that he has faced during his lifetime, and how he managed to cope.



 “I think the worst thing that can happen to a person is despair.

Like in the situation of the war in Vietnam, people can easily become a victim of despair. During the war in Vietnam, we tried our best to practice mindfulness by helping people. We trained monks and nuns and lay practitioners, to have them rebuild villages that had been destroyed by the bombs. We tried to help peasants to heal and to continue to rebuild.

We didn’t want to take sides in the war. Our youth social service was supported by grassroots—the people. We knew it would be dangerous if we got money from the government, from this party or the other party, they would think of us as the enemies and they would kill us. In order to establish reconciliation, our voice was that we didn’t want war between people living in the same country. We wanted to stop the war. We wanted to lead the conversation to reconcile.

Many of us monks, nuns, and social workers were killed, just because of misunderstanding—wrong perceptions. And yet we continued to devote our energy. And when the war went on and on and on, when it didn’t seem to stop, people came to ask me, ‘Do you think the war will end one day soon?’

I saw their despair.

Nearby, there was a village…we helped them rebuild it when it was bombed. We rebuilt it, and it was bombed again. And then we built it for the third time, it was bombed again. And then we rebuilt it for a fourth time, and when it was bombed again, we were very close to despair. The social workers there asked whether we had to rebuild a fifth time. And we had to say:

‘Yes, we have to rebuild. Otherwise we will allow despair to overwhelm us. Despair is the most dangerous thing for a man, for a woman, for people.’

And that is the most difficult thing, to continue always. And that is why I told the young people that came to me that asked that question, ‘Dear friends, the Buddha said that everything is impermanent. So watch, it will have come to an end, one day.’

I tried to prevent despair from overwhelming them. It was very difficult, but we made it."