Effort, Aspirations

Thich Nhat Hanh is quite literally a tree hugger.  He embraces trunks, he caresses bark, he bows to roots and touches the soil.  Thich Nhat Hanh is a person who loves trees.

One time, one of his most beloved arboreal friends, a linden tree at Plum Village, got caught in a storm and was nearly destroyed.  Thich Nhat Hanh writes,

When I saw the linden tree after the storm, I wanted to cry.  I felt the need to touch it, but I did not get much pleasure from that touching.  I saw that the tree was suffering, and I resolved to find ways to help it.

When we resolve to help, we cultivate aspirations for the well being of others.

Buddhist culture seems full of these aspirations, no? Here’s a beautiful version — a poem by Rev. Zenju Earthlyn Manuel, based on the Metta Sutta — that my friend Anastasia posted on Facebook today.


Aspirations for a better world, for more well being. Yes.

But that’s not the whole story. Returning to the tale of the ailing linden in Plum Village, we find:

Fortunately, our friend Scott Mayer is a doctor for trees, and he took such good care of the linden tree that now it is even stronger and more beautiful than before.

A doctor for trees! We need aspirations, yes, and we also need effort and know-how!

To be a teacher and not join in struggle is a pedagogical contradiction.

Professing to care — even caring — is only part of our mission. An important part, yes, but I think that engaged Buddhism (loosely defined) might really benefit from some deep conversations about whether and how we are joining in struggle strategically and accountably. We actually want to heal this tree! (Slash society.) Is that going to happen through kinder capitalism? Is it going to happen through lifestyle activism, recycling our way to salvation? Is it going to happen by taking over the factories, the farms, the hospitals, demanding that we run them ourselves for people not profit, and then defending them from owners/capitalists who try to repossess them? Do we want a welfare state or no state at all?

We may share hopes for universal well-being, but how can we work together to make that happen if our efforts are at odds with each other?

Thich Nhat Hanh points to this effort/aspiration combo when he says,

We may need a doctor or a nurse to help, but we also need compassion and joy for the wound to heal quickly.

For emphasis in the engaged Buddhist context, I’d flip that around and say, “We may need compassion and joy, but we also need doctors and nurses.”

2 thoughts on “Effort, Aspirations

  1. Freeman February 9, 2016 / 6:54 pm

    I’d like to find out more? I’d want to find out more details.

  2. Toby November 8, 2022 / 1:32 pm

    Great reead thankyou

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