Insights about Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Art of Power (I)

These days I have been reading the book The Art of Power (here), written by Thich Nhat Nanh. The author is a Vietnamese Buddist Zen master, poet, scholar, and peace activist. The title is intriguing: what can we do to acquire power? Why is power an “art”?

In this book, the author argues that true power comes from within ourselves, not from external inspirations, support, or authority. Those who are constantly looking for help from others are indeed not confident enough. They cannot acquire true power, and they are weak in the face of difficulties in their lives. The true strength lies in ourselves, in our state of being. In my life I have encountered several people who are radiant and inspiring. I feel their presence has added meaning to my life. They possess power. But they didn’t ask for it. When you have faith in yourself, and you treat others with compassion, power will follow you.

We are all craving for power. Nevertheless, power alone cannot make us happy. Here I mean “power” by the external things people go after — money, fame, political power, and so on. What matters to us is not what we get but why we want to get it. A wholesome motivation is the key to happiness in any career. If you want to be an economist because you see the suffering of the poor and want to seek ways to improve their lives, you are not alone. You are fulfilled in that the community is always by your side. You are not afraid of anything, because you know you are on the right path. You just keep going.

In Buddism there are five powers which are the foundations of real happiness: the power of faith, the power of diligence, the power of mindfulness, the power of concentration, and the power of insight. The word “faith” is probably better to be translated into “confidence”. Don’t let fear stand in our way. Having faith in ourselves is essential to discover a better self. Among the powers I have found “mindfulness” easily ignored in our lives. Here in Hong Kong, people are so used to the fast pace of life that they sometimes forget the simplist yet nicest pleasures. When they’re drinking tea, they’re drinking problems, they’re drinking projects. They are not enjoying the state of being.

Some might argue that we can be more efficient in multitasking. Yes, in a mechanical way. You might complete more tasks, make more money, but you are not “mindful” enough. To be “mindful” is to invest one hundred percent of yourself into what you are doing, whether it is managing a business, having afternoon tea, or reading a book. Will it decrease your efficiency? I would say no. It raises the quality of your work, and the extent of your pleasure. You attain a sense of fulfillment and you are proud of your work.


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