Happy Birthday to Thich Nhat Hanh & the Smallest of Meditations on InterBeing and It’s Near Enemies

Happy Birthday to Thich Nhat Hanh & the Smallest of Meditations on InterBeing and It’s Near Enemies October 14, 2019



I was rummaging around thinking it might be good to write something to post ahead of my disappearing into extended air travel beginning tomorrow and, as it happens with the international dateline, ending tomorrow. That double tomorrow will be the 16th of October.

As it happens its the anniversary of that day in 1946 when ten Nazis were executed following the main Nurenberg trial. I was looking at the list of the executed when I came on to Alfred Rosenberg.  A particular bit of nastiness, he was one of the principals in defining degeneracy, as well as articulating racial theories underlying the persecution and then mass extermination of the Jewish people under Nazi control.

He was also a noted anti-Christian as well as principal in introducing Positive Christianity as a state cult. The cult itself isn’t of any particular interest to me. But, there are aspects to its creation that are. One thing they used in establishing the cult was by appealing to the Higher Criticism as a justification for their “purification” of Christianity. No doubt this connection has been used and I see it being used in some future, or, well, perhaps contemporary disputes as a cudgel to beat progressivism of various sorts. Kind of in the way people take the most tenuous of connections to socialism in Nazi ideology as a way to condemn socialist principles. That’s something I’ve seen several examples of on the inter webs within the past couple of months. So, a real thing.

The connections, while slight, do exist. But, as polemical tools taking small truths to make large lies.

This touched me. It addressed issues I see going on all around us right now.

To move as close to a categorical assertion as I can, everything is multiple caused. There will be streams gathered into every river that are, in human affairs, ultimately contradictory and even antithetical. To miss that is to miss the forest for a couple of trees.

What I think we need to be watching for is another current, a strong one, and one we need to be very wary of in these increasingly dangerous times. And that’s the cooption of some good by some evil. Good and evil are strong terms. And one needs to be careful in a world where everything is a mix of this and that. But, we are looking at fundamental matters of our human organization, of how we will live as human beings.

Here I find myself specifically thinking about that term InterBeing.

As it happens today the Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh’s 93rd birthday. Of his many gifts to the world in his life time I believe the most profound is the term InterBeing, which he coined.

When I was young I genuinely felt we were at the dawning of a new age of hope and possibility. A walk down Haight street in San Francisco in the mid 1970s, where the hippie movement had become a dangerous and drug ridden corridor became a stark example that things were much more complicated, much more dangerous than I had understood.

Today I would say the dawning of hope and possibility rests with our ability to understand what that term InterBeing Points to.

And, now, today, where increasing parts of the world seems to be captured by ideologues and particularly various stripes of authoritarians, who promise much, but only deliver control, there are some small truths that can become such big lies that the world could be consumed.

They spread traps for the unwary.

My heart is in the spiritual quest, among the religions and their drive to dive to the depths of who and what we are. This is an extremely private matter.  And, it has social consequences, or, at least what I’ve found exploring the depths of my heart has revealed.

One of the principal threads of rising Buddhism in the West is the great insight of our interrelatedness. Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term “interbeing” to capture the mystery. In my view it is this teaching that can help not only each person to see the wonder of our multiple causal being, but also to point us toward a world where everyone is recognized as fully a member of the whole as everyone else.

And, it is so easy for there to be a version of this teaching adjusted for the use of one group or another to define out as well as in. I think about how the universalist message of the Christian church was turned into a state cult by the Nazis. I noticed at the end of the Wikipedia article on Positive Christianity how the “see also” section included a link to the contemporary Three-Self Patriotic Movement in China.

Small truths. Big Lies. A variation on what in Buddhism we sometimes call the near enemies. Here the truths are true. But, holding them in exclusion to others become something sad, and often, worse…

So, I think of how the song This Land is Your Land is used by nationalists and proto-fascists around the world.

The small truth is how important the individual is. The small truth is how precious our groups are. They are, of course, where we find our closest connections and most direct support. They are true.

But, then its easy, so easy to draw the line. And we all do it. And we always feel justified when we say, but they are not part of it. Whoever that “they” might be. I can think of a hundred exceptions rising in my heart.


Interbeing is everyone. No exceptions. It’s all or nothing.

Now this doesn’t mean there isn’t accountability. There are causes and conditions and we are responsible, as well as connected. This is something that cannot be ignored. But the worst perpetrator cannot be excluded. Held accountable, yes. Absolutely. But, excluded, no.

There can be no justice, there can be no peace, there can be no hope, if anyone is excluded.

He drew a circle that shut me out-
Heretic, rebel, a thing to flout.
But love and I had the wit to win:
We drew a circle and took him in!

The mystery of InterBeing revealed.

So, returning to that song. Just for a moment. What if it were not just a national anthem, but a call to every blessed person on this hurting world?

Then what?

What ears can hear this?

What hands can work from that place?

Perhaps a place that honors each thing, each community, and, sees who and what we really are…



Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment