Book Review: Work by Thich Nhat Hanh

Reviewed by Erica Taraporevala



Title: Work: How to Find Joy and Meaning in Each Hour of the Day
Author: Thich Nhat Hanh
Publisher: Aleph

Work, by Thich Nhat Hanh, presents me with a unique dilemma. The book is simple, complete and powerful, so much so that  adding words to describe it seems to be at odds with the intent and energy of this book. How does one review and do justice to deep simplicity?  Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of a Bodhisattva named Never Disparaging, who had made a vow to go to every person and tell them, ‘I don’t dare to underestimate you. You have the capacity to become a Buddha, a person with great awareness and compassion.’ This is all Never Disparaging did. He did just that irrespective of whether the person was rich or poor, educated or uneducated, a butcher or a farmer, a vagabond or a king. Some people thought he was mad, a simpleton, and left him alone and some thought that he was making fun of them and beat him up. Never Disparaging, however, continued his work till the end of his days.  It seems to me, that this book continues to do the work of Never Disparaging.

Right Livelihood is one of the main tenets of Buddhism, where one engages oneself in work that nurtures our ideals of compassion not only for ourselves and our loved ones but for all humanity and all sentient beings.  The reality of our times is that we live in a dog-eat-dog world and most businesses and jobs reflect this philosophy. We find ourselves spending most of our waking hours struggling just to survive.  What I liked about this book is that this reality about our working lives, the struggle that the layman must face is acknowledged, embraced and recognized as the hallowed practice ground. The author follows us around gently as we rush through our day, brushing our teeth, gulping down breakfast, packing kids off to school, negotiating our way through irate and rash traffic on our way to work, facing impossible time lines, working with disgruntled co-workers, getting back home, finishing up chores, getting the children to complete their homework and flopping into bed. At each step the book offers simple non-intrusive, and enjoyable gathas that do not consume time. These tools and insights truly give us the power to bring peace joy, compassion and meaning into these real-time moments that our lives are made of. This book works for all, whether you are a butcher, a teacher, an arms dealer, an accountant or a monk.

As we move through the pages of this slim book, we gain tools to ride out the storm of our personal working lives efficiently and come back home to our true selves. In the process, we become instrumental in doing our real work in this life time, which is to bring about a collective healing transformation and awakening for our own well being and for the sake of our planet.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a universally revered Zen Master, a spiritual leader, a poet and peace activist. He has influenced millions of people across the globe through his secular teachings, including great minds like Martin Luther King Jr., who called him an Apostle of peace and non-violence, to the humblest of laymen, this grateful reviewer included.

Born in Central Vietnam in 1926, he entered the monastery at the age of 16 and was ordained a monk by the time he was 23 years old. A teacher to the core, he has taught and spoken in universities across the globe and written more than 100 books.

Exiled from his home in South Vietnam for his peace activities in war time Vietnam, he became one of the co-founders of Plum village in France, which under his tutelage has become the largest and most active Buddhist monastery in the west.

Today, at the age of ninety-one, though suffering from the effects of a severe stroke and mostly paralysed on the right side, he continues to lead the community in Plum Village with his compassionate and mindful presence.



Erica Taraporevala is a rolling stone and is quite happy to have gathered no moss!  She has been a systems analyst and software professional, a home schooling mother, an environmental activist, a writer and  an editor. Her current passions include storytelling and the study of folklore and mythology. She lives in Pune with her husband and old dog Cuddles.