The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy, and Liberation

by Thich Nhat Hanh

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With poetry and clarity, Thich Nhat Hanh imparts comforting wisdom about the nature of suffering and its role in creating compassion, love, and joy – all qualities of enlightenment. 

In The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching, now revised with added material and new insights, Nhat Hanh introduces us to the core teachings of Buddhism and shows us that the Buddha’s teachings are accessible and applicable to our daily lives.

Covering such significant teachings as the Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path, the Three Doors of Liberation, the Three Dharma Seals, and the Seven Factors of Awakening, The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching is a radiant beacon on Buddhist thought for the initiated and uninitiated alike.

“Thich Nhat Hanh shows us the connection between personal, inner peace, and peace on earth.”
– His Holiness the Dalai Lama

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781101905739
Publisher: Potter/Ten Speed/Harmony/Rodale
Publication date: 07/22/2015
Sold by: Random House
Format: NOOK Book
Pages: 304
Sales rank: 72,970
File size: 2 MB

About the Author

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, poet, and peacemaker who was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize. The author of many books, including Living Buddha, Living Christ, he lives in France in the monastic community known as Plum Village and lectures and gives retreats regularly in North America.

Read an Excerpt

Entering the Heart of the Buddha

Buddha was not a god. He was a human being like you and me, and he suffered just as we do. If we go to the Buddha with our hearts open, he will look at us, his eyes filled with compassion, and say, "Because there is suffering in your heart, it is possible for you to enter my heart."

The layman Vimalakirti said, "Because the world is sick, I am sick. Because people suffer, I have to suffer." This statement was also made by the Buddha. Please don't think that because you are unhappy, because there is pain in your heart, that you cannot go to the Buddha. It is exactly because there is pain in your heart that communication is possible. Your suffering and my suffering are the basic condition for us to enter the Buddha's heart, and for the Buddha to enter our hearts.

For forty-five years, the Buddha said, over and over again, "I teach only suffering and the transformation of suffering." When we recognize and acknowledge our own suffering, the Buddha--which means the Buddha in us--will look at it, discover what has brought it about, and prescribe a course of action that can transform it into peace, joy, and liberation. Suffering is the means the Buddha used to liberate himself, and it is also the means by which we can become free.

The ocean of suffering is immense, but if you turn around, you can see the land. The seed of suffering in you may be strong, but don't wait until you have no more suffering before allowing yourself to be happy. When one tree in the garden is sick, you have to care for it. But don't overlook all the healthy trees. Even while you have pain in your heart, you can enjoy the many wonders of life--the beautiful sunset, the smile of a child, the many flowers and trees. To suffer is not enough. Please don't be imprisoned by your suffering.

If you have experienced hunger, you know that having food is a miracle. If you have suffered from the cold, you know the preciousness of warmth. When you have suffered, you know how to appreciate the elements of paradise that are present. If you dwell only in your suffering, you will miss paradise. Don't ignore your suffering, but don't forget to enjoy the wonders of life, for your sake and for the benefit of many beings.

When I was young, I wrote this poem. I penetrated the heart of the Buddha with a heart that was deeply wounded.

My youth
an unripe plum.
Your teeth have left their marks on it.
The tooth marks still vibrate.
I remember always,
remember always.

Since I learned how to love you,
the door of my soul has been left wide open
to the winds of the four directions.
Reality calls for change.
The fruit of awareness is already ripe,
and the door can never be closed again.

Fire consumes this century,
and mountains and forests bear its mark.
The wind howls across my ears,
while the whole sky shakes violently in the snowstorm.

Winter's wounds lie still,
Missing the frozen blade,
Restless, tossing and turning
in agony all night.l

I grew up in a time of war. There was destruction all around--children, adults, values, a whole country. As a young person, I suffered a lot. Once the door of awareness has been opened, you cannot close it. The wounds of war in me are still not all healed. There are nights I lie awake and embrace my people, my country, and the whole planet with my mindful breathing.

Without suffering, you cannot grow. Without suffering, you cannot get the peace and joy you deserve. Please don't run away from your suffering. Embrace it and cherish it. Go to the Buddha, sit with him, and show him your pain. He will look at you with loving kindness, compassion, and mindfulness, and show you ways to embrace your suffering and look deeply into it. With understanding and compassion, you will be able to heal the wounds in your heart, and the wounds in the world. The Buddha called suffering a Holy Truth, because our suffering has the capacity of showing us the path to liberation. Embrace your suffering, and let it reveal to you the way to peace.

The First Dharma Talk

Siddhartha Gautama was twenty-nine years old when he left his family to search for a way to end his and others' suffering. He studied meditation with many teachers, and after six years of practice, he sat under the bodhi tree and vowed not to stand up until he was enlightened. He sat all night, and as the morning star arose, he had a profound breakthrough and became a Buddha, filled with understanding and love. The Buddha spent the next forty-nine days enjoying the peace of his realization. After that he walked slowly to the Deer Park in Sarnath to share his understanding with the five ascetics with whom he had practiced earlier.

When the five men saw him coming, they felt uneasy. Siddhartha had abandoned them, they thought. But he looked so radiant that they could not resist welcoming him. They washed his feet and offered him water to drink. The Buddha said, "Dear friends, I have seen deeply that nothing can be by itself alone, that everything has to inter-be with everything else. I have seen that all beings are endowed with the nature of awakening." He offered to say more, but the monks didn't know whether to believe him or not. So the Buddha asked, "Have I ever lied to you?" They knew that he hadn't, and they agreed to receive his teachings.

The Buddha then taught the Four Noble Truths of the existence of suffering, the making of suffering, the possibility of restoring well-being, and the Noble Eightfold Path that leads to well-being. Hearing this, an immaculate vision of the Four Noble Truths arose in Kondañña, one of the five ascetics. The Buddha observed this and exclaimed, "Kondañña understands! Kondañña understands!" and from that day on, Kondañña was called "The One Who Understands."

The Buddha then declared, "Dear friends, with humans, gods, brahmans, monastics, and maras as witnesses, I tell you that if I have not experienced directly all that I have told you, I would not proclaim that I am an enlightened person, free from suffering. Because I myself have identified suffering, understood suffering, identified the causes of suffering, removed the causes of suffering, confirmed the existence of well-being, obtained well-being, identified the path to well-being, gone to the end of the path, and realized total liberation, I now proclaim to you that I am a free person." At that moment the Earth shook, and the voices of the gods, humans, and other living beings throughout the cosmos said that on the planet Earth, an enlightened person had been born and had put into motion the wheel of the Dharma, the Way of Understanding and Love. This teaching is recorded in the Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dharma (Dhamma Cakka Pavattana Sutta).2 Since then, two thousand, six hundred years have passed, and the wheel of the Dharma continues to turn. It is up to us, the present generation, to keep the wheel turning for the happiness of the many.

Three points characterize this sutra. The first is the teaching of the Middle Way. The Buddha wanted his five friends to be free from the idea that austerity is the only correct practice. He had learned firsthand that if you destroy your health, you have no energy left to realize the path. The other extreme to be avoided, he said, is indulgence in sense pleasures--being possessed by sexual desire, running after fame, eating immoderately, sleeping too much, or chasing after possessions.

The second point is the teaching of the Four Noble Truths. This teaching was of great value during the lifetime of the Buddha, is of great value in our own time, and will be of great value for millennia to come. The third point is engagement in the world. The teachings of the Buddha were not to escape from life, but to help us relate to ourselves and the world as thoroughly as possible. The Noble Eightfold Path includes Right Speech and Right Livelihood. These teachings are for people in the world who have to communicate with each other and earn a living.

The Discourse on Turning the Wheel of the Dharma is filled with joy and hope. It teaches us to recognize suffering as suffering and to transform our suffering into mindfulness, compassion, peace, and liberation.

1. "The Fruit of Awareness Is Ripe," in Call Me By My True Names: The Collected Poems of Thich Nhat Hanh (Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1993), p. 59.

2. Samyntta Nikaya V, 420. See p. 257 for the full text of this discourse. See also the Great Turning of the Dharma Wheel (Taisho Revised Tripitaka 109) and the Three Turnings of the Dharma Wheel (Taisho 110). The term "discourse" (sutra in Sanskrit, sutta in Pali) means a teaching given by the Buddha or one of his enlightened disciples.

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The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching: Transforming Suffering into Peace, Joy and Liberation: The Four Noble Truths, the Noble Eightfold Path and Other B 4.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 15 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As a beginning student of Buddhism I find this book most helpful. The book contains a wealth of basic information on the essential Buddhist teachings, clearly presented. The author's style reflects the compassion and intellect of the Buddha. I continue re-reading this book, as a resource to clarify questions which come up in other books on Buddhism.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This book is beautifully written. It is concise and the concepts clearly and logically explained. It neither preaches nor condescends. As I study and meditate on the teachings I find a bit more beauty, color and happiness in everything.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I bought this book because I was interested I the Buddhist religion. As I read this book I found out that it is not a religion, but a grouping of teachings to free your mind. You are not meant to blindly believe what you are told, but to ask questions so as to have a deeper understanding. I highly recomend this book. It is easy to read & follow as well.
mamksm More than 1 year ago
If you have never read a book by Thich Nhat Hanh you would truly benefit by doing so. I am a practicing Presbyterian, but Buddhism interests me as well. He compares Christianity with Buddhism in several of his books. This book will help you to understand as do his others, that we are in control of our suffering.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is an exceptional book by any standard. Universal, expansive in scope, it hits the heart of the human condition in an uncommon and beautiful way. Not just for novice Buddhists, it speaks to anyone with a heart and a conscience, transcending religion, politics and other boundaries to living a life of purpose and meaning.
MirandaRyan More than 1 year ago
Wonderful book! Follow these steps and feel the difference. So nice to have these essential life teachings available for us in the west!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I am a high school sophomore and I chose this book for my research project. As I am a person who was a Buddhist and as an international student who learned English as a second language, I really recommend this book. After I read this book I realized that there are so many things that I just heard about and a lot of new things that no one even taught me before. It is kind of interesting to learn somethings new from a book, not from others. I found this book is easy to read even if it was a doctrine of the Buddha that might get a little confused. The only problem for me is that there is just a few of the Buddha biography and that I can’t know what his early life was like. I would like to recommend this book to anyone who is interested and what to do the research about the Buddha and his teachings. You will be able to know more detail about his teachings and a few of his biography and you will know a lot of things you might not have known before. I wish that the author could do part II about Buddha’s early life. It would be interesting from the start to the very end of the book.
BruceAF More than 1 year ago
The book is way of Mediation for all who want to have inner peace. The four noble truths are for all people even for all faiths! The author wants all to be enlightenment. The cover states " transform suffering into peace, joy, and liberation. " it is for all! please enjoy
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I think this is a remarkable book; well worth time spent reading it. So well written with clear information on Buddhist basics. I always recommend to anyone interested in Buddhism and looking for a good place to start. Sure wish the publisher would ePublish this book! I think Thich Nhat Hahn is a wonderful teacher.
MaggieMGarcia More than 1 year ago
Thay has an amazing way to write, It's so easy to understand even for people with no knowleged about buddhism, I highly recommended this book, I'm sure you'll love it.
Wonderfool on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I'm currently only about a third of the way through, but so far this book is beautifully written. Thich Nhat Hanh writes in a clear yet elegant way that is very helpful in comveying a basic understanding of some of the Buddha's core teachings. I bought this on recommendation from a fellow Buddhist and will definitely be looking into more of his work. I would recommend this book to anyone who, like me, is starting out in Buddhism or who just would like to learn about the basics. This is one of the few books that I'll likely go back and read multiple times.
Essa on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
An excellent and very enjoyable introduction to basic Buddhist teachings by noted Zen master Thich Nhat Hahn. The book is as pleasurable to read as it is enlightening---the author's encouraging, joyful style reads easily and sometimes gives the impression that he is right there with you. The material in the book can, in my view, be understood and appreciated by people of any religion (or none).
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This was my first excursion into Buddhism. It was great at explaining at a beginner's level but some of the book was outside my comprehension. That was probably more about me though than the author.
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