Todd Bitterman 
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Re: “The Gentle Thich Nhat Hanh

I am passionate follower of Thich Nhat Hanh, I have read many of his books, all of which have lessened the stress and anxiety of my life, and given it more purpose. However, I'm think Thich Nhat would strongly disagree with your article calling out the Dalai Lama as partially straying from pure Buddhist practice, or as the lesser man than he.

A base tenet of Thich Nhat Hanh is not to be dualistic, not to see things as good and bad, or black and white; as you seem to do with capitalism, corporations and Mr. Loeb. The Dalai Lama is also great because he is able to have compassion for all, and sees all fellow humans as doing their best, shaped by their environment and the beliefs of those who have been around them. So Thich Nhat would not have any less veneration for Mr.Loeb, American Express, or capitalism than he would for the Pope, the Red Cross, or communist socialism; all are just different manifestations of one whole, each manifestation had to be what it had to be! His goal is to lessen delusion, increase the awareness that we are all brothers, and thus lessen violence and injustice in the world.
Not accumulating wealth while others are hungry is of course a massively subjective recommendation that each person will measure differently, and part of the good message is to tolerate others. I would say you are wealthy if you are able to hire servants to cook for you, serve you, and clean up after you, aka going out to dinner, even once a month. Some would define it as a certain brand of car, size house or bank account. One thing we are instructed not to do by good spiritual teachers like Thich Nhat , is to use our own personal definition to turn our nose up at someone else whom we may deem as greedy. The internal psychologic impetus for that is making our own ego feel better by comparison, as it is anytime we speak ill of others. Thich Nhat would never say that the hierarchy of love he has for his followers lines up along the list from those with the smallest bank accounts to those with the largest. What matters is the compassion for others in each person's mind, and if their subjective measure of 'greed' and 'wealth' is kept in line with great compassion for others, that is all that matters. Even a molecule of antipathy for Mr. Loeb, of whom you and I have only superficial knowledge, would not be tolerated by Thich Nhat. Furthermore, he does NOT advocate shedding all possessions and being stoic, contrariwise, just like the Buddha, he advocates the 'middle way'; and hence this is subjective and subject to individual freedom.
Furthermore, accumulating individual wealth is usually not at the expense of, or causal of, another’s poverty. This is key. It is usually the result of a free market system with some good degree of respect for the rule of law, or mechanisms to mitigate corruption, combined with checks and balances against a too large central power that would otherwise accumulate all wealth, like a king, or all powerful totalitarian government. Add talent and good work ethic to that fertile soil and you often get wealth. Poverty is more often the result of lack of a free market secular economy and a too powerful corrupt ruling class or oligarchy. So accumulating individual wealth itself does NOT cause others to be poor or hungry, and giving it all away often simply temporarily helps a few people living under a bad economic system, while permanently siphoning it off from the effective economic system.
How can anyone be faulted for saving the amount of money they judge a safety net? One has to have some assurance of being able to have shelter and eat, as their job is not 100% assured, and they will have to stop working someday. It is very hard for the average human to have a clear crisp sense of the suffering of others far away through the lens of pictures and video. We have deep love for our family right in front of us all the time; and saving or acquiring things for their happiness and security is a powerful natural instinct. The greatest people on Earth are perhaps those than can poignantly feel the suffering of others who are far away, but those who don’t have as much of this great talent can still follow pure Buddhist philosophy in their own path. Furthermore, in our country, despite politicians who spin things to the contrary to get votes to put them into power (simple math, most voters are not super wealthy), any person earning a high salary in America can feel good in the mathematical fact that the vast majority of services our society provides are paid for by the tax revenue from the 'wealthy'. The non-partisan widely acclaimed Pew Research group shows the mathematical proof of how silly the main anti-capitalist argument in America is, that "the rich don't pay their fair share of taxes", the facts are AMAZING:
http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2015/03/24/high-income-americans-pay-most-income-taxes-but-enough-to-be-fair/ft_15-03-23_taxesind/
Too bad there is no intelligent debate among our politicians; facts don't seem to matter these days.
So, you have done something very non-Buddhist; you have let your obvious dualistic views tilt an article away from the good things about Thich Nhat, to speak negative about the Dalai Llama in your over- simplistic view of capitalism. Thich Nhat would not approve I think, and I suspect you have not read any of this books. He would laugh and then gently scold anyone trying to tell him that he is 'better' than the Dalai Lama. You have clearly personally categorized capitalism and Dan Loeb in the 'bad' category, and try to sneak that in your article, as if no one will notice, or you want to project with haughty condescension that any intelligent reader of this must already know and agree that capitalism is the antithesis of Thich Nhat and Budddhism. Wrong in full. Neither of those two great minds categorizes people or systems as good or bad, and in fact such categorization is the root of much suffering in their view. Thich Nhat sees delusion, greed, and anger as leading to injustice, and with compassion tries to enlighten us against those.
Do not toss out capitalism in the waist bin of your 'bad' category. No system is perfect utopia. But compare the suffering of the poor and their quality of life in any capitalist country vs. any socialist one. Study Cuba and Venezuela, and countless others, all of them if you have time. The safety net is of horrible quality, basic goods are not available to many. Corporations have horrible aspects, but also employ huge numbers, provide great services and life-improving products we all use every day, and donate massive amounts to charity. Specifically, how does American Express, ‘deprive others of the chance to live’, as your article suggests? Please answer that otherwise libelous implication of your article. Just about all of the great advances in medicine were seeded by huge risk of capital by investors whom you may slander as ‘greedy’. But without those wealthy risk takers, zero people would be getting modern medicines for cancer and other diseases, despite the constantly improving lack of universal access to such treatments. Research the myriad of amazing advancements far underway in many venture capital firms that may end may terrible diseases and you will feel a great thrill for the future. I can give you many examples. They outnumber government sponsored such projects exponentially.
Show me any country without a stock market in which there is not horrible poverty, worse than in the USA, and I will give you a Nobel prize. It doesn't exist. ‘Inexplicably cozied up to Wall Street’ is the statement of someone stereotyping everyone in a huge complex system as a bad. Wall Street can also be seen as a mechanism for one to slowly funnel some of their earnings to buy companies as an investment for the future, delaying consumption/buying goods in the present, such that they can someday retire on the appreciation of that investment. All the while, their stock purchase will be providing capital for a company to hire more workers and improve their services and discoveries. Meanwhile we can pass laws that make companies treat people and the Earth fairly. Go to Greece, or ANY country where anti-Wall Street philosophy has administrated the economy and you will see mass unemployment and a middle class standard of living far below the poverty level in America. If I am missing a country without an active equity investment structure that has a good average standard of living and social safety net, please let me know. Your world view is oversimplified as either/or, you have been listening to some in the politician class, whose words are crafted only to get votes from the masses, not to make intellectual correct points for historians, philosophers, deep objective thinkers, and economists.
Capitalism, synonymous with individual freedom, and with our individual diversity of luck, skill and work ethic, is the only system compatible with individual human dignity. I would make several modifications such that it becomes long term focused and does not harm our environment; but don't throw out the baby with the bath water. You're missing a thousand gradations below the simplistic black and white delusion on the surface. No one 'controls' all the money. Countless billions are sitting in banks waiting to be loaned to start businesses, billions are printed every year that can be claimed by anyone; no one 'controls' all the money. Yes, we should limit how much a corporation can donate to a campaign, since right now we have a political system of cronyism and bribery; but that is part of the gradations and modifications that are available, it does not mean we enslave ourselves to socialism. Socialism is the exact way ant and bee colonies are arranged, and it is incompatible with individual human freedom and diversity. In reading your piece, I appreciated the interjection of personal politics into a biographical sketch of who I consider of the, if not the, greatest man in modern history in Thich Nhat Hanh. Many of your readers may have seen right through that, and I believe it lessened the esteem of your publication as a result.
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with respect and best wishes,
Todd

Posted by Todd Bitterman on 12/17/2015 at 12:42 PM

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