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The Art of Power

The Art of Power
by Thich Nhat Hanh
New York, NY: HarperOne, 2008
218 pages
Reviewed by Laurie Basile, MATS

In October 2006 I attended a talk in Paris, France given by Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist Zen master, peace activist, and scholar. Facing a thousand people he talked calmly and clearly about anger and reconciliation. Reading his book The Art of Power I felt as if I was again sitting in his presence, while this time listening to him speak about power. In the same personal, gentle way that he speaks, Hanh writes about a countercultural view of power.

Usually we think power comes to us through such things as fame, success, military might or political control. And, we tend to use power to control situations or dominate other people. But for Thich Nhat Hanh, true power comes from within us: "You can have faith in the basic goodness, the basic beauty, and the basic truth that is in you. You have to go back to yourself and discover it. It is your own ground of being. It is the basis of your true power" (106).

Hanh explains how the Four Noble Truths, the Five Spiritual Powersand the Five Mindfulness Teachings train us to use our power to pay attention to each moment. The result is freedom from wrong perceptions and an end to suffering. Weaving his teachings with personal examples and anecdotes he shows how each of our acts and intentions plays its small but significant part in the evolving consciousness of the world and the struggle for lasting peace. Many refreshing connections are made between his theories and current world situations such as the war in Iraq, global warming and financial crisis.

This book is written for anyone interested in furthering their personal power, social activism, collective awakening, or spiritual growth. By offering a general overview of spiritual development along with practical suggestions supporting that development The Art of Power is a gem for spiritual directors of any persuasion. One appendix is a manual on concrete practices such as Mindful Breathing, Mindful Eating, Mindful Walking, Sitting Meditation, Calming Strong Emotions, and Stress Management. The other is an account by Patagonia’s founder Yvon Chouinard describing his understanding and experience of spiritual power in the business world.

Although what Hanh has written in The Art of Power is exceptionally clear and extremely important in these unstable global times, what stays with me most is the presence which energizes and animates his words. This presence speaks louder than his words, and reverberates within me. I think this is ultimately what is depicted in The Art of Power—that being is more important than doing and once we grasp the power within us, our work, whatever it is, becomes effective.

Laurie Basile, MATS, is a spiritual director and retreat leader currently living in Paris, France. Besides walking the Camino de Santiago from Vézelay, France to Santiago, Spain she gives monthly workshops on spirituality. She received her Master of Arts in Transforming Spirituality from Seattle University in Washington, USA.

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