Apparently, author Thich Nhat Hanh is a renowned Zen Master who was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr. I didn’t know any of that when I began listening to an audio production of his latest book, The Novice: A Story of True Love, so this was my introduction to the spiritual scholar and peace activist. This unique, slim volume retells an ancient Vietnamese folktale as a parable about finding peace and joy in life.
Kinh Tam, a beautiful young woman from a well-regarded Vietnamese family, wants to please her parents by following tradition and marrying a local young man, but she has been drawn to Buddhism since she was a child. At that time, however, only men were allowed to become monks in Vietnam. She eventually makes the difficult decision to leave her family, disguise herself as a male, and join a Buddhist temple.
There, she finds happiness and peace, learning about Buddhism and becoming a cherished member of the temple and its local community. All of that is threatened, however, when a local woman falls in love with Kinh Tam and, in an attempt to draw her away from the life of a monk, accuses her of fathering her child, unaware, of course, that Kinh Tam is really a woman. Kinh Tam must choose whether to reveal her secret and give up the life of a monk or accept the punishments of the temple and the community for supposedly breaking her vows.
As Kinh Tam suffers from one injustice after another, she bears them with grace, continuing to lead an exemplary and happy life, filled with peace, love, and forgiveness. Her trials and responses are a lesson to readers on how to accept and live with our own suffering and injustices in a life of joy and peace.
I really enjoyed this book; it was unlike anything I have ever read before. I know very little about Buddhism – only what I learned from Toni Bernhard’s wonderful book, How To Be Sick – but its tenets make sense to me and feel right. Our family has certainly had its share of suffering these past ten years (three of the four of us have chronic illnesses), and these lessons of finding joy in a life of suffering reflect the kind approach I have discovered myself. And, I just enjoyed listening to this beautifully told folktale. Anyone interested in spiritual pursuits will enjoy this insightful little book.
Listen to a sample of the audio book.