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BOOK REVIEWS


From The Asian Reporter, V15, #25 (June 21, 2005), page 15.

Zen master offers concise advice on how to handle intense emotions

Taming the Tiger Within:

Meditations on Transforming Difficult Emotions

By Thich Nhat Hanh

Riverhead Books, 2004

Hardcover, 295 pages, $19.95

By Dave Johnson

"When we understand that we cannot be destroyed,

we are liberated from fear."

-- Thich Nhat Hanh

For those who havenít been introduced to Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master who can trace his lineage back 2,000 years to Buddha himself, Taming the Tiger Within is a good place to begin a spiritual friendship.

For those who have read and been inspired by any of his over 100 books, this latest publication will serve as a compendium of examples of his calm, sensible, and enlightening advice.

Distilled from the pages of these popular texts, Taming the Tiger Within is a handbook of concise commentaries one can use to cope successfully with the inevitable onslaught of three basic human emotions: anger, fear, and love.

If you have no difficulty diffusing anger, if you find it easy to conquer your fears, and if you are blessed with love unblemished by complications, then Godspeed and read no further. But if you are like the rest of us, and could use help in any or all of these often volatile arenas, then I recommend this book. Itís a user-friendly collection of meditations, analogies, reflections, and down-to-earth techniques for transmuting these powerful emotions from destructive and obstructive to happy, peaceful, and productive states of being.

One of this volumeís design features that really works for me is that the text is not a sea of gray pages with wave after wave of obtuse metaphysics. Perhaps Iím lazy, but if I have trouble understanding three out of four paragraphs in a spiritual treatise, I shift my attention to a detective novel or take a walk by the river. In Taming the Tiger Within, each page is a generous swath of white space with a sentence or a paragraph in center field.

For example, Thich Nhat Hanh offers a simple way to deal with those lurking demons of fury, rage, annoyance, and resentment:

Recognize and embrace your anger when it manifests itself.

Care for it with tenderness rather than suppressing it.

He reiterates this thoughtful approach to subsuming oneís ire in a folksy metaphor that anyone can grasp:

When you cook potatoes, you need to keep the fire going for at least fifteen or twenty minutes. You cannot eat raw potatoes. In the same way, you have to cook your anger on the fire of mindfulness, and it may take ten minutes or twenty minutes or longer.

Turning to fear, the philosopher states succinctly that "No fear is the ultimate joy. When you have the insight of no fear, you are free." He explains that if we let go of the notion of existence, then we can let go of fear. And to place his advice in the context of everyday life, he says:

We cannot enjoy life if we spend a lot of time worrying about what happened tomorrow. We worry about tomorrow because we are afraid. If we are afraid all the time, we cannot appreciate that we are alive and can be happy now.

In the last pages of this book the author talks about love, that mysterious sentiment that inspires great art, music, literature, and a reason to venture into the unknown. Hereís a comment that I really like:

A real love letter is made of insight, understanding, and compassion. Otherwise it is not a love letter.

Thich Nhat Hanh doesnít bother to offer specific advice to the lonely or lovelorn in this meditation of difficult emotions. He leaves that to newspaper columnists. Instead, he entwines love with all-encompassing compassion ó always an appropriate stance particularly in these dark days of war, ethnic cleansing, and pandemic disease.

All the suffering of living beings is our own suffering. We have to see that we are they and they are us. When we see their suffering, an arrow of compassion and love enters our hearts. We can love them, embrace them, and find a way to help. Only then will we not be overwhelmed by despair at their situation. Or our own.

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in 1926 and was ordained a Buddhist monk at age 16. Quickly recognized as a prolific and influential scholar, author, and theologian in Vietnam, he inspired the movement known as Engaged Buddhism and co-founded the An Quang Buddhist Institute. Later, he started the Forest Monastery of Phuong Boi and was appointed editor-in-chief of the periodical, Vietnam Buddhism.

Now recognized throughout the world as a Zen master, peace activist, humanitarian, and author of over 100 books, Thich Nhat Hanh divides his time between Vermont and France.

To buy me, visit these retailers:

Powell's Books

  Amazon