My Teachers: Thich Thien-An

We all know, of course, that we owe our bodies to our parents, though we rarely think about it.  When I buried my parents I thanked them for my body, but I don't do that every day. When I meditate I recall my debt to my teachers and I thank them every day. 

We Buddhists know that a basic principle of Buddhism is the law of dependent origination. Sometimes it is said that the Four Noble Truths are the basic teachings of Buddhism, but they are really an expression of dependent origination:
Suffering depends on the causes of suffering.  
The cessation of the causes of suffering depends on the eight-fold path.

My maturing spiritual self depends on the kindness and the instruction of my teachers.  It is that simple.  Since what I write on this blog comes from this maturing self, I thought it appropriate to share my gratitude on this blog.

My first Buddhist teacher was Thich Thien-An.  I took his class on Buddhism at UCLA in 1966, when he was a new immigrant from the turmoil of the Vietnamese war. Quickly I began to practice Zen meditation with him at his apartment in Westwood.  I remember being under the impression that if he had not left Vietnam he would have been assassinated.
Thich Thien-An some years after I sat zazen with him

I only remember two things from his instruction.  The first was his face when he settled into zazen --- profound peace. I wanted that. 

The second thing I remember was a story he told. If two people were to walk outside some night, and the first asked the second, "Where is the moon?", the second would point to it; "There." Naturally the first person would look at the pointing finger and then at the moon to which the finger pointed.  "Wouldn't it be foolish," said Thich Thien-An, "to look at the finger and forget to look at the moon?" He meant that we should not get so hung up on the teachings which point to liberation that we forget to practice liberation.

I may forget to practice liberation but I never forget that story, and I share it with all my own students.  That is one of the ways I can repay his kindness for setting my foot on the path of the Buddha. 

I had to walk that path for many years before I began to wonder why the first person would even ask, "Where is the moon?" Wouldn't it be obvious? The moon light of our Buddha self shines day and night, yet we do not see it.  So we ask our teachers,  "Where is the light?  Please show me the light." 

We humans are so confused we can't even see the moon.


  1. Very helpful. Thanks to you and to your teachers.

    1. Sorry, but I can't stop editing my posts after I publish them. Books have better closure.

  2. Finally the spiritual adventure tales you've been sharing with your companions on the path and your students, are taking form on the page. I'm grateful beyond words! Blessings on the creative writing path!