The Novice – a book review


A review of The Novice, by Thich Nath Hanh by Milan Buddha ‘Mad ‘ Ghosh.

“To continue the path to Enlightenment Kinh must suffer false accusations, physical hardship and public demolition without complaint, with absolute grace, astounding compassion and unwavering resolve. The Novice perseveres in the face of every challenge, ultimately Kinh Tam’s moving fate will transform lives and offer hope to us all.”

so says the review on the back cover. I found it to be one of those books that I couldn’t put down.. it was in plain English, and spoke to the heart, yet used the understanding of intellect too.

Kinh is a woman who dearly desires enlightenment, but in her part of Asia it is indeed a man’s world, and even the Buddhist establishment in monasteries is sexist, despite Buddha Shakyamunni’s welcoming an order of nuns. So she decides to cross dress as a man, shaves her head, and to behave like one. How she manages the lack of privacy in such a male environment is astounding. She is brave indeed just to do this.

So she gets into the monastery, but is accused, as a man, of sleeping with a woman by a jealous woman from a rich family who has fallen in love with her. Since the Buddhist vows of celibacy are taken very seriously, ‘she’ has broken the Pathimokha code. This is the code of ethical vows and living that monks must adhere to before entering the monastery. There is a trial of a kind, and Kinh is beaten with a bamboo cane, which splits, and shreds flesh, for lying in the abbots judgement. Despite this agony, she is nonetheless relentless in her pursuit of enlightenment, and does not reveal she is in fact a woman, because she could not then pursue enlightenment and would be thrown out of the monastery. The graphic description of this bamboo caning beating scene is particularly horrible. The rich girl’s mother is vicious, because out of that sleeping together there’s a baby but no father is there to nurture the child. The mother doesn’t know that Kinh is a woman, and believes her daughter’s hateful, jealous lies. It is a heart-rending scene.

Later Kinh meditates on the pain, the agony that the rich woman’s daughter must have felt out of her rejection of being in love with Kinh. She finds complete understanding, unconditional love, total compassion. She believes the rich girl felt devastated by her rejection of love, and holds no grudge. She further meditates and finds the mother is only protecting her daughter by a genuine belief that Kinh slept with the daughter – she is unconditional as any mother would be of her daughter. In fact Kinh finds in this unconditional motherly love, the attitudes of the Buddhas to all living beings, pure as a mothers, and so does not judge and forgives her too!

In the end the truth comes out, after Kinh has advanced in her spiritual carer towards enlightenment.

This deep powerful compassion of total forgiveness is shocking, awesome, amazing, it makes one feel that one’s petty resentments, angers and irritations are extremely small. She is like a Mandela or Gandhi, or a bodhisattva without bitterness at immense cruelty and deceit, or the damage a lie can do. It was this kind of attitude in others that made me a Buddhist. Buddhists only worship and practice what they see as the best in humans and bow down to that, cultivating a little more of the best. Such as the great generosity, magnanimity inspiration, the sheer spiritual work that Kinh sows

This is a book that made me cry, with tears of pain at cynical humanity, but more so with great joy; it me my spine tingle and my head burst with gratitude that people can be so marvellous, wonderful and powerful. I would recommend it to anyone willing to listen to its wise words, friend ,’enemy/foe’, ‘frenemy’, Margaret Thatcher, it’s worth its weight in gold; it displays courage wisdom and makes ones miseries worthwhile, and a little less.

here is a little taster from the book:

“Kinh Tam then quoted a section from a sutra in which the Buddha talks about putting a handful of salt into a small bowl of water. The bowl of water bill be too salty for a thirsty person to drink. If, however, one were to toss that same handful of salt into a river, the situation would be completely different. Although the amount of salt is the same, it cannot cause the river to become too salty, because the river is so immense and the water is in constant flux, day and night. Anyone taking a drink from the river would find fresh water and not be bothered by the addition of a handful of salt.

The Novice continued to share. . ”When we truly practice looking deeply, then we have a chance to understand better and to be more accepting. Our hearts naturally open up, becoming vast like the oceans and rivers. In understanding the sorrows and difficulties of others, we are able to accept and feel compassion for them, even if they have caused us difficulties, treated us unfairly, brought disaster upon us, or unjustly harassed us. Due to desire, vengeance, ignorance, and jealousy, people have made numerous mistakes and caused much suffering to themselves and others if we can comprehend this, then we will no longer condemn or resent others. As we become more inclusive, our hearts and minds will be at peace.”.

page 63 The Novice Thich Nhat Hanh Random Publishers



1 thought on “The Novice – a book review

  1. Hey Milan what a passionate book review, lovely pic of a happy Buddha. Very positive insight into Buddhism. I met a Buddha on the road to Wakefield yesterday! (really), big stone statue looking towards Leeds. Thanks for sharing the philosophy. 🙂


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