December 8, 2023


Connecting Asian writers with global readers

Book Review: Work by Thich Nhat Hanh

2 min read

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.

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