Ask Thay: Answers from Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

Beloved teacher and Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was the founder of the International Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism – where mindfulness is the basis for offering practical help. As such, Thay would spend hours answering questions on highly varied topics in front of audiences from around the world – children, adults, and new and old practitioners alike. 

Question-and-answer sessions are at the heart of public Plum Village retreats, and we are lucky to have many of those conducted by Thay on tape. In the coming months, we’ll share some of these gems on the Plum Village App and the app’s YouTube channel. 

Below, we have selected two answers (transcriptions along with the original videos) to give a taste of these public events: lively, relaxed, but infused with wisdom. 

In the first session, Thay replied to a practitioner who wanted to avoid doing too much and becoming overwhelmed. In the second, he answered a young boy who wanted to know how to avoid getting so upset as to hit someone.

How to avoid doing too much

Perhaps you know the meaning of my name, Nhat Hanh. It means “only one thing to do”.

Just do one thing that you like the best. And you should enjoy doing that – whether gardening, or taking a nap, or cooking a dish. You have to put all your mind and body into it and enjoy it. And that will help you to maintain health. You don’t have to worry about that. 

But if you want to do many things at the same time, you cannot enjoy anything at the same time; just focus on one thing, one object. When you walk, do not think, just enjoy walking. That is what I do.

When you sit, just enjoy sitting. When you wash the dishes, enjoy washing the dishes.

It’s wonderful to be alive, to be standing there and washing the dishes. The water that you use to wash dishes has come from far away; it’s a miracle. And every moment of your daily life can be a happy, wonderful moment. In that way, the depression cannot come back.

If you know how to live in such a way, every minute is to enjoy. But how can you enjoy many things at the same time? It’s impossible. 

Suppose you are eating and watching television at the same time; you are not concentrating on either the food or the television, so the pleasure cannot be real. So mindfulness, concentration brings a lot of pleasure and happiness. 

Please remember.

Watch the video here:

 What to do when you get very upset

All of us get upset from time to time and sometimes there is violence in us; we want to hit because there is anger, irritation, violence in us. And if you do, then you create chaos, you cause suffering to yourself and to others; that is why you need to practice. That is why you have to come to a retreat and learn how to be peaceful and not to suffer if you’re upset, feel angry, and want to hit… Everyone has to learn that.

You are upset because you do not have enough peace in you; you have confusion in you, you don’t have peace. You have anger, violence, you want to hit. And as a good practitioner we know that, to be in control, we don’t want confusion and violence to take over us. And we can practice breathing in and out deeply in that moment. And while breathing in, we just pay attention to our breathing in: ‘Breathing in, I’m really breathing in.’ And when I breathe out, I am really breathing out.

And if we breathe like this a few times, you come down and you know that hitting or saying something strong will cause you to suffer more, and make the other person suffer. So breathe in and out and just think of your breathing in and out; don’t think of anything else. It will surely help you to be less upset and help the violence in you to subside.

In us, there are many good things, like love, gentleness, joy. We should allow these things to come up more than anger, violence. So breathing in and out is a way to say, ‘Dear violence, dear anger, I know you are there. Don’t do anything.’ Allow your friends love, joy, and understanding to come up. And that is the miracle of the practice of mindful breathing. 

So all of us, no matter how old, should learn breathing. Breathing can calm down our anger, transform our violence. And after having breathed in and out a few times, you might be able to smile. And when you smile, you have won a victory. You have won victory over your anger, your violence. And the victory is not only for you, but for the person you want to hit. You win for both of you; that’s what the Buddha said: ‘We have to win for both, not only for ourselves but for the other person too.’ 

Victory for both – that is our practice. And that can be done with deep mindful breathing. Remember. 

Watch the video here:

➛ Watch this space on the Plum Village App for similar videos
➛ Watch this space on the Plum Village App’s YouTube channel.

☁️ As has been the case with Buddhist teachings for millennia, there is no charge for the Plum Village App and its digital content. However, if your means allow, please consider offering a donation to support our small team’s continued work on the App.



  1. Hello my name is Quang Sunyana and I am a Zen Buddhist living in Canada. Your Plum Village App is fantastic and I can use it anywhere I am on my phone which is wonderful. I can’t think of anything you can improve. It’s wonderful the way it is and I Thank you with my heart for this gift.

  2. Thank you so much for this wonderful app – here is an abundance of soul food. So needed in our world today. May Dharma resound for the benefit of all.

  3. This Plum Village App carries lot of resources to help us to be mindful.It is nicely designed , simple and user friendly. I come from Theravada background but this app provides clear instructions to enhance mindful living for anyone from any background.The features such as meditation timer and mindfulness bell are great tools that encourage mindful living in the busy world. Please use the App and see for yourself. THANK YOU.

  4. Thank you for these tools. I wonder if you could help answer a question. I struggle so much with the idea – with knowing – that so much animal cruelty exists in our world- all animals, of course, but especially as we view dogs as pets in Canada, I am deeply saddened to know there is a dog meat trade in other parts of the world. I feel terrible enough for our farm animals. I don’t know how to manage this – I can’t end their suffering, but not thinking about it feels awful in a way as well – my not thinking of another’s suffering is not helping either. How do I use mindfullness in respect to the suffering of other beings?

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