New Year Message from Thich Nhat Hanh

“The New Year is a great opportunity to begin anew. Because many people look at the new year, the year to come, with hope. “I will do better next year,” you promise yourself…Of course we have made mistakes. Of course we have been not very skillful. Of course we have made ourselves suffer. Of course we have made the people around us suffer. But that does not prevent us from beginning anew and to make things much better next year, or even the next moment.

We should look at our suffering in such a way that the suffering can become a positive thing. Of course you have made some mistakes. You have been unskillful. All of us are the same. We always make mistakes. We are very often unskillful. But that does not prevent us from improving, from beginning anew, from transforming. The Buddha said that if you have not suffered, there is no way you can learn. If the Buddha has arrived at full enlightenment, that is just because he had suffered a lot. The suffering was the path that helped him to arrive at full enlightenment, at full compassion, at full understanding.

If you want to go to the Buddha, you need your suffering. Because if you do not know what is suffering, then there is no way you can come to the Buddha. You have to come to the Buddha with all your suffering. Suffering is the path. By true suffering you can see the path of enlightenment, the path of compassion, the path of love. According to the teaching of the Buddha, it is by looking deeply into the nature of your sorrow, your pain, of your suffering, that you can discover the way out.

If you have not suffered, you can not go to the Buddha. You have no chance to touch peace, to touch love. It is exactly because of the fact that you have suffered, that now you have an opportunity to recognize the path leading to liberation, leading to love, leading to understanding. Don’t be discouraged when you see that in the past you have suffered and you have made other people suffer. If we know how to handle the suffering, we will be able to profit from our suffering. It is like an organic gardener. If she knows how to handle the garbage, she will get a lot of compost for the growth of her vegetables and her flowers. It is with the compost of the suffering that we can nourish the flower of understanding, of peace, of love. That is why we have to learn how to manage our suffering, how to cherish, how to preserve, how to transform our suffering.”

From Dharma Talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on December 28, 1997 in Plum Village, France

About Steven Goodheart

"I have made a ceaseless effort not to ridicule, not to bewail, not to scorn human actions, but to understand them." Spinoza

8 Responses to “New Year Message from Thich Nhat Hanh”

  1. Like an organic gardner—oh yeah. Thank you for this post. It lightens my heart this day. Yes, I NEEDED this! The universe ‘provides’.

  2. Hi, Steve,

    I’ve been away in Florida, using my mother’s dial-up (talk about suffering!), and haven’t done much posting/commenting as a result. So I wanted to say hello, and happy new year to you.

    I think a lot about suffering lately–mainly about its virtual absence in my life over the past year or so. I used to have so much pain in my life (although, looking back, it was nothing compared to what many others go through), and I thought I needed antidepressants, alcohol, etc., etc. Now it all seems so foreign. I’m not bragging or gloating; it’s just that sometimes I worry that perhaps I’ll lose touch with the concept altogether and not be able to understand others’ suffering. So far, however, that hasn’t seemed to happen–if anything, I think I might be able to feel it more keenly (I often start to cry when I read the news headlines, etc.), but also understand its source much more easily. Then the challenge becomes not becoming frustrated because I can see the cause and the way out of a person’s suffering, but I can’t just grab them by the hand and get them out of it. (I guess I learned during my days as an AIDS counselor that trying to “force” someone to do what I think is “good for” him or her can cause great damage too.) So, as always, your posts help me in remembering to simply slow down and just look and feel and wait for the opportunity to offer the kind of help that a person REALLY needs–not MY solution, but the solution that comes from a much wiser source.

    Did I really just ramble that much again?! Sorry!


    • Thanks, Nancy, and a hello and happy new year to you too. Yes, using a dial-up after DSL or cable modem is indeed suffering! 🙂 Hope you had a good visit.

      Thay’s (the affectionate name students give Thich Nhat Hanh) helpful words notwithstanding, the absence of gross suffering in our lives is a very good thing indeed, and one would hope to see this change with spiritual growth and progress, however modest. (It’s always a risk, when taking an excerpt from a teacher or dharma source, that one conveys a lop-sided picture of the teaching…..what Thay says here is not at all at odds with your experience, actually.)

      Given what you’ve been through, I doubt if you would truly lose touch with what suffering’s all about. Actually, like you, I’ve found that as I’ve been able to transform my suffering, I’ve become more compassionate, and more tender-hearted, but in a good, non-mawkish way. The Tibetan part of the Buddha’s family have a lot to say how gaining freedom, a sense of “emptiness,” as they would put it, doesn’t mean we become aloof and lose compassion. They insist that the highest enlightenment is a wedding of compassion and emptiness….I hope to write about this some time this week, actually….

      What you say at the end of your comment is especially important, I think, because we may well see how another is entangled but it takes real wisdom to how, and indeed, if, to say anything. The “right” thing at the wrong time can actually set another back, or make them reject something that, at a later and better time, they may well embrace.

      Great to hear from you, as always,


  3. Hey Michael J! You’re most welcome, and a happy new year to you, to me, and to all of us, through the path that leads to the end of suffering through compassion to our suffering!

    Looking forward to our communion in the months ahead,


  4. What a wonderful way to greet a new year, a new you, a new me.
    Never thought suffering could offer so much.

    (Did I just say what I thought I said? ‘…suffering…offer[s] so much?”)
    Well, any one along this path knows what I mean. Any one else is welcome to find out.

    thanks, buddy.

    michael j

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