Thich Nhat Hanh & Thomas Aquinas on Joy

As we all know, Thich Naht Hanh did not have an easy life.  The Viet Nam war was not easy for anyone in Vietnam and many suffered from the violent hostilities, whether northerners, southerners, soldiers, parents, children, monks or nuns.  TNH was forged by these conflicts and the depth of his response was revealed in poems like this that tell of compassion and in many ways echo Matthew 25: “What you do to another you do to me.” 

“Delight.” Photo by Jonathan Borba on Unsplash

He composed his own “I am” poem born of his suffering and experience of war.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear water of a pond,

and I am also the grass-snake who,

approaching in silence

feeds on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks,

and I am the arms merchant selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

In spite of suffering, there is also joy.

He comments that “this is something that children understand, namely “that the Buddha is in themselves.”  The result is joy.  A Buddha should be smiling, happy, beautiful, for the sake of our children….It is really beautiful to begin the day by being a Buddha.  Each time we feel ourselves about to leave our Buddha, we can sit and breathe until we return to our true self.  

Photo of Fr. Thomas Berry, “Geologian” taken from his website.

Thomas Aquinas, also not oblivious of suffering and evil, also emphasizes the joy of life.  He says, “Joy is the human’s noblest act.”  How is that so?  Because love and joy go together, “the only person who truly has joy is one who lives in love.”  This is because “love is the cause of joy,”–in fact, for him, the entire universe exists because of the divine joy.  “Sheer Joy is God’s, and this demands companionship.”  

Eco prophet Thomas Berry, who knew Aquinas very well and admired him deeply, picks up on this teaching when he says: “In the end, the universe can only be explained in terms of celebration.  It is all an exuberant expression of existence itself.”  

Are humans choosing celebration?  Love?  Joy?  Or something else.


Adapted from Matthew Fox, The Coming of the Cosmic Christ, pp. 231f. 

And from Matthew Fox, The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times, pp. 33-38. 

And Matthew Fox, Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality, pp.100, 116, 118, 120, 433.  

And Matthew Fox, Christian Mystics, p. 365.

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

Banner Image:  “Joyful Sunrise.” Photo by Austin Schmid on Unsplash

Queries for Contemplation

Do you see the universe as an “exuberant expression of existence itself?”  What difference does that make in your daily living? Is your deepest self smiling, happy, beautiful for the sake of the children?  Do you get glimpses at times that the universe was born of sheer joy? 

Recommended Reading

The Coming of the Cosmic Christ: The Healing of Mother Earth and the Birth of a Global Renaissance

In what may be considered the most comprehensive outline of the Christian paradigm shift of our Age, Matthew Fox eloquently foreshadows the manner in which the spirit of Christ resurrects in terms of the return to an earth-based mysticism, the expression of creativity, mystical sexuality, the respect due the young, the rebirth of effective forms of worship—all of these mirroring the ongoing blessings of Mother Earth and the recovery of Eros, the feminine aspect of the Divine.
“The eighth wonder of the world…convincing proof that our Western religious tradition does indeed have the depth of imagination to reinvent its faith.” — Brian Swimme, author of The Universe Story and Journey of the Universe.

The Tao of Thomas Aquinas: Fierce Wisdom for Hard Times

A stunning spiritual handbook drawn from the substantive teachings of Aquinas’ mystical/prophetic genius, offering a sublime roadmap for spirituality and action.
Foreword by Ilia Delio.
“What a wonderful book!  Only Matt Fox could bring to life the wisdom and brilliance of Aquinas with so much creativity. The Tao of Thomas Aquinas is a masterpiece.”
–Caroline Myss, author of Anatomy of the Spirit

Sheer Joy: Conversations with Thomas Aquinas on Creation Spirituality

Matthew Fox renders Thomas Aquinas accessible by interviewing him and thus descholasticizing him.  He also translated many of his works such as Biblical commentaries never before in English (or Italian or German of French).  He  gives Aquinas a forum so that he can be heard in our own time. He presents Thomas Aquinas entirely in his own words, but in a form designed to allow late 20th-century minds and hearts to hear him in a fresh way. 
“The teaching of Aquinas comes through will a fullness and an insight that has never been present in English before and [with] a vital message for the world today.” ~ Fr. Bede Griffiths (Afterword).
Foreword by Rupert Sheldrake

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11 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh & Thomas Aquinas on Joy”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, Your queries for contemplation today raise a number of questions. First you ask, “Do you see the universe as an ‘exuberant expression of existence itself?’” And to this a reply, “Yes” because Creation Spirituality, and my education at the University of Creation Spirituality, taught me this in that all students were required to take the class, “The New Cosmology.” In this we learned the new creation story from the big bang to evolution on earth, with our text book being, THE UNIVERSE STORY by Fr. Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme. And the difference it has made in my life has been in terms of my seeing myself within the new creation story, not apart from everything else in creation, but as an integral part of the whole–with my deepest self smiling, happy, beautiful for the sake of the children? And all of this brings with it sheer joy?–and I might add that, SHEER JOY was the perfect title for your book on Aquinas…

  2. Avatar

    To be honest, regarding joy, it’s kind of been this elusive thing to me. Not that I haven’t experienced moments of it… but often I think I take life, in general, way to seriously. Returning to playfulness has helped… whether it be wandering around in the beauty of nature… creating music… dancing… creating a piece of artwork… taking an adventurous trip… BBQ’s with friends. I often have to be reminded of the importance of simply playing… to return to my childlike nature. Perhaps having to grow up to quickly, due to my earlier childhood circumstances has something to do with this elusiveness of playfulness and joy… yet, when I do allow myself to embrace my inner child, I find that I am learning to rediscover and reclaim what I lost way to young.

  3. Avatar

    Today’s message concerning the connection between love and joy resonated with me and reminded me of the poetry of William Wordsworth who also connects the love and appreciation of nature to love and joy as does Thich Nhat Hahn in his poem about the toad and the snake. I particularly recommend the poems “Tintern Abbey” and “Intimations of Immortality Based on Recollections from Early Childhood.” Love, joy, the intuition of children–they are all present in so many great souls who have shared their wisdom with us.

  4. Avatar

    “The late Rabbi Zalman Schachter used to say, “There’s more good than evil in the world, but not by
    much.” I recall thinking that the promise in Genesis – darkness won’t overcome the light – should be modified to read – light will overcome darkness, but not by much. It seems like it is one thing to witness the power of the Light and another to witness periods of deepest darkness with humans slaughtering other humans and devastating the planet without a second thought. It seems like it is one thing to know that without darkness there would be no foil for the Light, and another thing to realize that hope must fuel our attempts to mitigate the darkness, in ourselves and the world/cosmos at large. It’s a daily balancing act to engage Christ/Buddha – to feel and express the JOY. And yes, SHEER JOY was also a hopeful revelation to me, along with MUSICAL MYSTICAL BEAR by Matthew and Brian Swimme.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Gwen, Rabbi Zalman Schachter’s quote that you site is a favorite of mine and Matthew’s–in fact I learned it from him…

  5. Avatar

    Even when I turn my computer’s volume button on high, I still have difficulty hearing Matthew Fox. I do not have a hearing problem. Could he raise the volume of his voice, please?

    1. Phila Hoopes

      Hello Laura,

      First, apologies for the delayed response!

      Thank you for reaching out about not being able to hear Matthew’s videos. This is an occasional issue, which is why we have set up both closed-captions and transcripts. To activate the closed captions, click the CC icon at the bottom of the video screen. To read the transcript, look in the endnotes for the line:
      To read the transcript for Matthew’s video teaching, click HERE.
      Click through the link and the transcript will display in PDF.

      Hoping this helps!

      Appreciation,
      Phila Hoopes
      Blog Coordinator

  6. Avatar
    Uma Laurie Bowman

    That “exuberant joy” can be seen in all animals, and in pets too. Take a look at a dog and you see how much they enjoy being alive! Animals absolutely love life, with euphoria and enthusiasm! Often times, they can be our teachers of joy.

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    “The Book of Joy” with the Dalai Lama and the late Desmond Tutu is a wonderful tribute to the sacredness of joy, especially in light of the great suffering that both endured. There is a birthday celebration where the Dalai Lama, whose religion forbids dancing, joined in the dancing, if I recall. They spent their time together laughing and joking. What a wonderful example for us all! I am not a scientist but imagine that the “Big Bang” was a celebratory fireworks display. I believe the universe is an exuberant manifestation of joy. It would be nice if humans would join in a bit more.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Sue, Thank for reminding us of THE BOOK OF JOY, and I like your take on the “big bang” as “celebratory fireworks display.”

  8. Avatar

    Thank you Matthew for your meditative reminder of the mystics and saints that have taught and exemplified in their lives that Christ/Buddha, that is the Divine Nature is within all of us, all creatures, all creation and the Cosmos (even quantum physics is discovering the interconnectedness of all energy, which spiritually we call Divine Love Energy). My favorite mantras/prayers to help me become aware of God’s Loving Presence on my contemplative spiritual journey with others are — “Loving~Wise~Creative~Peace~Justice~Beautiful~Joy~Oneness in the Sacred Process of the Eternal Present Moment…. “

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