From ‘Conclusion’, in “The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion: Commentaries in the Prajnaparmita Diamond Sutra”, by Thich Nhat Hanh

The Big Bell at Upper Hamlet, Plum Village


We often forget that the human being is a creature that evolved from animals, plants, and minerals and that humans appeared only recently in the evolution of life on Earth. When we think we have the right to do anything we want, and that other animals, plants, and minerals are only the means for us to get what we want, then we have a very wrong notion about what it is to be a human being. We haven’t understood that humans are made of non-human elements; that is the true nature of the human being. We need to remove the barrier between human beings and the non-human elements […] As human beings are made of non-human elements, so living beings are made of non-living beings.

Part of our misperception about how to help protect living and non-living beings comes out of the way we look at our own lives. We think our life span is seventy, eighty, or one hundred years. We think we exist from the time we’re born to the time we die, and that this is our life span. […] The notion of life span has to be removed in order for us to see that reality is free from all notions, including the notions of birth and death, being and nonbeing, and so on. The notion of life span is the basis for all the other notions. So if we look deeply into life span, we discover that this is only a manifestation. If we get caught in our perception, in the form, then we miss the whole thing. We’re not seeing reality as it is: free from birth and death, coming and going, same and different. Our life span is not limited by time.


We are made of elements that are not us. When we look deeply, we see the many elements that brought us into being. There are the many genetic elements we received from our parents, grandparents, and ancestors. There’s our society, our traditions, the nation we live in, the people around us, our economic situation, and our educational background. When we see all these things, we see the many non-us elements in us. So we feel less judgemental and won’t tend to criticize ourselves so much.

[…] When our true mind can see there is no difference between self and other, then we’re a bodhisattva, a fully awakened person. But usually, it’s our deluded mind that’s in contact with the appearance, creating a wrong perception. Deluded mind is based on ignorance, avidya. When we’re in this mind, many afflictions manifest. Greed, anger and ignorance cloud our perception so that when we’re in contact with something, we can’t see its real nature, and so we create an image of it. Therefore, when we’re angry or upset, we’re upset at our image and not the thing in itself.

We have the tendency to blame the other person. But if we look deeply, we can see that the many elements in him that are not him. Then we can see why he behaves as he does, and we can accept him more easily and start to find a way to undo the difficulties and make peace. We can see that the other person has acted in such a way partly because of us. We have to see how much responsibility we have for the manifestation of that behaviour and how much responsibility the other person has. When we look into ourselves and into the other person, we see then nonself elements in ourselves and in the other person.


There are people whom we tend to think of as “bad”, bu we’re also responsible to a certain degree for their actions and behaviours. If they’re caught by drink or drugs, if they’re caught up in crime, then we’re also responsible, because we have organised society in such a way and taken care of our young generation in such a way that they turn to drugs, alcoholism or crime. They may live in an environment in which people are violent, unkind, self-centred. If we had been born into such a situation, we would be exactly like them. If we look into those whom we think of as bad and see that they are us, they are our responsibility, then we will be able to love them and help change society.

In the Diamond Sutra, the Buddha doesn’t call anyone a bad person even though they’ve behaved badly. So there is love, there is deep understanding, there is no discrimination, no blaming. We know that the person who is doing something wrong is ourselves.”

From ‘Conclusion’, in “The Diamond that Cuts Through Illusion: Commentaries in the Prajnaparmita Diamond Sutra”, by Thich Nhat Hanh

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