I have tremendous respect for Thinh Nhat Hanh and his work as a peace activist. I’ve learned to calm myself and connect with my interbeing (Tiep Hien) through his Being Peace. The book is an eye-opening reading for me, especially when we’re in the world full of temptations, because it taught me to appreciate my presence and to live life one day at a time. I was so impressed with his teaching that I have wanted to learn more. I began to read his other books, but disappointed by the same concepts, only different stories. His simple writing style becomes a drag to read, and his idea gets unreasonable to the point where I begin to doubt his credibility.
On the subject “We Are What We Eat” in his Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames, he talks about the food that we eat contains anger. For instance, cows raised in small barns are filled with anger because they are trapped; therefore, when we eat them, we inherit their angriness. His point is interesting, but I am not sure how realistic it is. As someone who loves his pho (Vietnamese noodle) with a side dish of uncooked beef, I guess I consume kilos of madness on top of mad cow disease. But I doubt that my anger will subside if I stop eating like a cannibal. Let’s assume that he is right on “we are what we eat,” how would he explain the angriness from people who don’t even touch meat? I know quite a few women who eat only the greenest vegetables and the freshest tofu, yet I can’t even believe the words that came out of their mouth or their evil intention. I am sure we all know someone with those two qualities.
Another disappointment with Anger is when Thich Nhat Hanh switches to fictional writing. In the tale of “David and Angelina,” he writes, “[David] was a lonely person. He did not have friends. Often he did not go to the campus cafeteria. Instead, he stayed home and ate instant noodles. You may have already guessed that David is Asian.” Besides the stereotype that only Asian people eat instant noodles, his setting is problematic. David is a college student in America, which is more or less closer to a modern society, yet Thich Nhat Hanh tied it into a fantasy world. I just could not read on when the beautiful Angelina comes to life from a painting that David has been obsessed with ever since he bought it from the market. This is not Weird Science, and I didn’t know Thich Nhat Hanh could write cai luong (Vietnamese opera).
I am in no way attempting to disrespect someone who works hard all his life to bring the world some peace. I guess it’s the evil in me, from eating too much angry food, drinking too much inflamed liquid, and listening to too much evil music like jazz and hip-hop, that fuels the flames instead of cooling them down when reading Anger. I know I am going straight to hell when I die, and it’s not so hard to tell. In fact, the mental life I am living in isn’t better than hell; therefore, I admire Thich Nhat Hanh, and wish I could be as spiritually free as he is.