Center for Building a Culture of Empathy

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Culture of Empathy Builder:   Thich Nhat Hanh



 Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France, travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. Wikipedia



Thich Nhat Hanh on Compassionate Listening - Oprah Winfrey Network
Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says listening can help end the suffering of an individual, put an end to war and change the world for the better. Watch as he explains how to practice compassionate listening.


"Oprah: The case is the same for deep listening, which I've heard you refer to. 

 Thich Nhat Hanh: Deep listening is the kind of listening that can help relieve the suffering of another person. You can call it compassionate listening. You listen with only one purpose: to help him or her to empty his heart. Even if he says things that are full of wrong perceptions, full of bitterness, you are still capable of continuing to listen with compassion. Because you know that listening like that, you give that person a chance to suffer less. If you want to help him to correct his perception, you wait for another time. For now, you don't interrupt. You don't argue. If you do, he loses his chance. You just listen with compassion and help him to suffer less. One hour like that can bring transformation and healing. 

Oprah: I love this idea of deep listening, because often when someone comes to you and wants to vent, it's so tempting to start giving advice. But if you allow the person just to let the feelings out, and then at another time come back with advice or comments, that person would experience a deeper healing. That's what you're saying.

Nhat Hanh: Yes. Deep listening helps us to recognize the existence of wrong perceptions in the other person and wrong perceptions in us. The other person has wrong perceptions about himself and about us. And we have wrong perceptions about ourselves and the other person. And that is the foundation for violence and conflict and war. The terrorists, they have the wrong perception. They believe that the other group is trying to destroy them as a religion, as a civilization. So they want to abolish us, to kill us before we can kill them. And the antiterrorist may think very much the same way—that these are terrorists and they are trying to eliminate us, so we have to eliminate them first. Both sides are motivated by fear, by anger, and by wrong perception. But wrong perceptions cannot be removed by guns and bombs. They should be removed by deep listening, compassionate listening, and loving space. "

 Conversations on Compassion with James Doty, MD, and Thich Nhat Hanh
"The Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education (CCARE) is honored to host a discussion with Thich Nhat Hanh about his life experiences and the role compassion has played throughout them. Thich Nhat Hanh is an internationally renowned Zen master, prolific author, and teacher on the subjects of peace, mindfulness, and meditation. He became a monk at the age of sixteen and went on to help found the "engaged Buddhism" movement. His life's work has been dedicated to "inner transformation for the benefit of individuals and society" and he was nominated by Nobel Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967."

Compassion Benefits

  • makes us feel better.

  • lowers our blood pressure

  • makes us  a deep level of happiness

  • increases our life span

How did you overcome fear?

  • Buddhism has ways to learn awareness

  • see the suffering and want to do something

  • use Buddhism  to solve problems

What about getting overwhelmed with suffering?

  • lose hope

  • need way to handle your own suffering

  • learn to suffer less with mindfulness

    • relaxation

    • walking meditation

    • generate joy and happiness

    • get into the present here and now

    • get in contact with the pain within yourself

    • love yourself - compassion

    • suffering - happiness - compassion

  • non-violence - do not suppress

    • a person suffers and doesn't know how to deal with it

    • understand your own suffering, begin with yourself,

  • compassion can not be by itself - needs the suffering

Not running away from the suffering.
How to practice mindfulness?

  • courage to go back to ourselves, to our suffering

  • we cover up the suffering

  • have a community of practice

  • embrace your suffering

  • compassion fatigue - run out off compassion, need to nourish yourself

  • get in touch with the body in the here and now - to get the  nourishment

  • Compassionate listening for groups in conflict

    • talk about your suffering

    • triggers

    • correct the wrong perceptions of the other

    • see other suffers as well

    • dialog removes fear

    • reconciliation

  • Mindfulness to bring you back to yourself

    • various mindfulness practices

    • a merging in true love - inclusiveness - no discrimination

    • an opening of the hearth

    • a big compassionate heart embraces all

Q and A

  • Compassion may seem weak, especially for men.?

    • compassion is very powerful

    • various compassion benefits

  • Blessed to be in your presence?

  • ..

  • How to extended compassion to violent people?

    • root of war is fear

  • How to extended compassion to those I can not understand, bigoted?

    • sit down together - help these people

  • Friend who is depressed, has compassion fatigue?

    • need a community of practice, people to support them

    • various practices mentioned to restore themselves, breathing, looking at suffering



Practising Listening with Empathy,
by Thich Nhat Hanh
23 APRIL 2014

"Each person is an island. If no one has the capacity to listen to another person, everyone feels very alone.

  • You get sick.

  • No communication is possible.

  • You cannot tell anyone about your pain.

That is why psychotherapists have become important in our society. They are supposed to be people who will sit and listen to us. The first task of psychotherapists is to sit quietly and listen; they are not supposed to talk back. If they argue with us, if they talk back, then they are not psychotherapists. We don’t need them and we will not pay them! I need you to sit and listen. I don’t need your advice. I don’t need your condemnation.

The psychotherapist should practise listening with empathy. The question here is: Is the psycho­therapist happy or not? If she or he is filled with internal formations, then even if he pretends to sit quietly to listen to you, he will not really be listening and you will not feel relieved. That you can see very well.

When someone is truly listening,you feel it; and when someone pretends to listen,
you know.
Psychotherapists, therefore, are those who have to practise, first. They are supposed to be bodhisattvas helping others, but in order to be able to listen, one should empty oneself; one"




Without fear, we are able to see more clearly our connections to others. Without fear, we have more room for understanding and compassion. Without fear, we are truly free. Thich Nhat Hanh

We are here to awaken from the illusion of our separateness.
Thich Nhat Hanh

You can practice deep listening in order to relieve the suffering in us, and in the other person. That kind of listening is described as compassionate listening. You listen only for the purpose of relieving suffering in the other person.
Thich Nhat Hanh