Thich Nhat Hanh’s Preferred Name for God

One of Thich Nhat Hanh’s favorite teachings was that experience must trump dogmas in religion.  We must get out of our heads and into our hearts (without, of course being anti-intellectual). 

Communion. Photo by Jackson David on Unsplash

This is what I understand spirituality to be: It is the experiential side of religion.  “Taste and see that God is good,” says the psalmist.  Wisdom comes from such experiential tasting.  The word “wisdom” comes from the word for “taste” in both Hebrew and Latin.  Tasting is not done vicariously.  One tastes for oneself; or does not.

And this is why the mystics are so important, for they are “heart specialists,” and lead us back to our hearts. And to wisdom.

TNH puts it this way: All notions applied to the phenomenal worlds…are transcended.  The greatest relief we can obtain is available when we touch the ultimate, Tillich’s ‘ground of being.’  Life is no longer confined to time and space. 

Tillich, however, got this term from Meister Eckhart who often talks about “God’s ground and our ground.”  TNH did not know that. 

Says Thich Nhat Hanh: God as the ground of being cannot be conceived of.  Nirvana also cannot be conceived of.  If we are aware when we use the word ‘nirvana’ or the word ‘God’ that we are talking about the ground of being there is no danger in using these words.

“Connection to the Infinite within” Image by Tumisu from Pixabay

TNH reminds us “the ultimate dimension of reality has nothing to do with concepts.” You cannot just describe what apple juice tastes like—you must drink it.  Things “can only be encountered by direct experience.”   

The notion of God as “Ground of being” is deep within the Christian mystical tradition.  One reason TNH is so partial to this phraseology is that it erases the many projections we put onto God.  Eckhart was keenly aware of this issue when he says, “I pray God to rid me of God.”

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, pp. 46f.   

See also, Matthew Fox, Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God…Including the Unnameable God, pp. 5-8, 18, 15, 34, 66f.

To read the transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Thich Nhat Hanh at festival in Da Nang, Vietnam, April 2007. Photo by mettabebe on Wikimedia Commons.

Queries for Contemplation

Do you pray God to rid you of God?  What gods do you pray to be rid of personally?  And socially?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

Naming the Unnameable: 89 Wonderful and Useful Names for God …Including the Unnameable God

Too often, notions of God have been used as a means to control and to promote a narrow worldview. In Naming the Unnameable, renowned theologian and author Matthew Fox ignites our imaginations by offering a colorful range of Divine Names gathered from scientists and poets and mystics past and present, inviting us to always begin where true spirituality begins: from experience.
“This book is timely, important and admirably brief; it is also open ended—there are always more names to come, and none can exhaust God’s nature.” -Rupert Sheldrake, PhD, author of Science Set Free and The Presence of the Past

Responses are welcomed. To add your comment, please click HERE or scroll to the bottom of the page.

Share this meditation


Daily Meditations with Matthew Fox is made possible through the generosity of donors. Please consider making a tax-deductible donation

Search Meditations





Receive our daily meditations

8 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh’s Preferred Name for God”

  1. Avatar

    Sometimes, I find, that God uses the situations that unfold within our relationships of interacting with one another, to rid ourselves of something we must let go of, in order for our heart to expand… without you having prayed for this at all. Personally, this past summer I encountered one such sacred moment, although at first I didn’t experience it as such… this came later through reflection and contemplation. The immediate experience was extemely painful and very confusing.

    What the Holy Spirit was encouraging me to rid myself of was certain ABSOLUTES that I had ATTACHED to particular words, that involved some very core foundational pieces with regards to my faith. These were forgiveness, truth-telling and responding to one’s conscience. The attachment of absolutes that I had, regarding these, was that I perceived that others, from other faiths understood the meaning and value of these, the same why I did. This however, was not the case. What made this experience all that much more painful and confusing is that this exchange of dialogue was with three people whom I have had an intimate and personal relationship with for 30 years. Suddenly I felt as if I never really knew them at all, and I also felt alone and completely misunderstood. This then led to painful confusion and self doubt, as well as alot of tears.

    In retrospect, I realized that I needed to rid my mind of these rigid attachments of absolutes in order to expand my heart, in my learning to accept, that each person has their own experiences and their own way of defining and giving meaning to these things, and that no one way is the only way of value. As hard as this ridding process was to go through, it not only expanded my heart, but it also increased my understanding and perception, moving me beyond the limitations of my own previously held attachments to absolutes. As well, it actually deepened my relationship with these very important people in my life.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, I have become fluent in the language of a number of faiths. I have done this through studying for years a faith and then being initiated into it. And so though I was ordained as a United Church of Christ minister, I also took refuge in the three jewels of Buddhism, and was an initiated witch, studied Kabbalah and other deeply ecumenical things. It seems you have had difficulty when dealing with those who don’t hold the same beliefs as you–as we all do. And you have answered this yourself in the words: “I realized that I needed to rid my mind of these rigid attachments of absolutes in order to expand my heart, in my learning to accept, that each person has their own experiences and their own way of defining and giving meaning to these things, and that no one way is the only way of value.”

  2. Avatar

    I am reading Tao of Thomas Aquinas. I understand that Mister Eckhart studied under Thomas and yet his Sermons have deep Spiritual significance. that involve the Heart and are explained so well by Mathew Fox. Although Aquinas was a great intellect I wonder about his value in affairs of the heart and if there are any will they add to the value of Eckhart . I am pleased to find TNH in the Meditations. I gravitate to “the ground of being” as a spiritual expression of my home, the place where I belong.
    The Meditations touch on many religions and their benefits only many of these these references don’t seem to support the single experience of “ground of being”. I need to pursue experiences of the heart and therein the ground of my being and it’s unifying benefits. I don’t need to journey down too many tributaries especially those of the Bible and become distracted and confused. Suggestions are welcome.

    1. Avatar

      Meister Eckhart wrote from personal experience and deep familiarity with his spiritual Path, and described the mindframe of a mystic in daily life situations. He tried to train people how to think and live the mystical life. But his ideas were not entirely original. He freely drew on prior mystics for his information on how to become a mystic and how to live in alignment with the mystical Path. One of his main sources (and the source for many other Western mystics) was Plotinus. His Enneads are in the distilled format of logic and philosophy, but Eckhart echoes much of what Plotinus teaches in a more user-friendly way. Plotinus describes the Path in an abstract form; Eckhart unpacks it and demonstrates it in a form that expresses and emphasizes its deepest zen-like, non-dualistic aspects. If you want to see the mystical Path of Unification in its original form, read Plotinus. To read about the Path in its variety of religious interpretations and to learn their versions of the Path, seek out its teachings in the many religions it flows through. Eastern Orthodox Catholicism continues to teach their form of it. Sufism teaches an Islamic form. Judaism has its own form. Hinduism has several forms. Daoism has its own version. Seek out their literature, delve deep into what they’re saying (not just the surface forms of individual religious terminology), and listen with your heart.

    2. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Donald, You write, “Although Aquinas was a great intellect I wonder about his value in affairs of the heart.” Matthew had that concern as well when he wrote in the Introduction to his book, SHEER JOY: CONVERSATIONS WITH THOMAS AQUINAS ON CREATION SSPIRITUALITY, “Is he to be remembered solely by an academic elite who specialize in obscure rationalistic nit-picking?” But after having written some 25 volumes with an average of 650 encyclopedia sized pages, near the end of his life he had an experience that rendered him mute, with his last words being, “All I have written is as so much straw!” To me that sounds like, among other things, a “broken heart.” And as to comparing Aquinas with Eckhart, it would be like comparing apples and pears–like my grandfather used to tell me, “They’re the same, only different!”

      You also say, “The Meditations touch on many religions and their benefits, only many of these these references don’t seem to support the single experience of ‘ground of being.'” All religions speak a language of metaphors, and metaphors are not the same as the reality. They are only ways of touching the edges of reality. And “Being” is one of the hardest concepts to get a hold of. Just think of books like Heidegger’s, BEING AND TIME or Sartre’s BEING AND NOTHINGNESS. Try reading those, and see if they help you understand “being” any better…

  3. Avatar

    I try to be open in my heart to God’s Living Spirit of Divine Love~Light~Life in the Sacred Presence and Process of the Eternal Present Moment through contemplative faith/prayer of learning to quiet my mind through daily silent prayer. This spiritual faith and discipline is not easy because the old, conditioned ego mind stubbornly and unconsciously resists this purification, healing, death, transformation, rebirth process… This is why faith and grace of the Divine Love and Presence within and among us is so important, even among the silence, mystery, and even the suffering of life’s experiences….

Leave a Comment

To help moderate the volume of responses, the Comment field is limited to 1500 characters (roughly 300 words), with one comment per person per day.

Please keep your comments focused on the topic of the day's Meditation.

As always, we look forward to your comments!!
The Daily Meditation Team

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Join us in meditation that supports your compassionate action

Receive Matthew Fox's Daily Meditation by subscribing below: