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A Zen Teacher Responds to Children’s Fundamental Questions About Life


Thich Nhat Hanh, the famous Buddhist teacher, offers children beautiful responses to the great questions of life.

The wise have given some of their finest definitions to that which is essentially abstract or difficult to explain. Among the most elegant literature is that which illustrates some mathematical, metaphysical or spiritual concept, because those huge themes require, paradoxically, a simple and almost transparent translation. They require a lightness that allows us to understand the most abstruse concepts even by means of a metaphor of intuition.

But achieving that simplicity in the explanation of big themes is one of humans’ trickiest tasks. And this is what in large part the Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh has done, and who is such an important figure in the West. With each conference, commentary or book, he has given the world a new, fresh and candid way of understanding spiritual practices.

In Is Nothing Something? he responds to questions he was asked by children regarding concepts such as love, fear, mindfulness and solitude. Questions that are as old as the sky and have the magnitude of humanity itself. “What must one do when one is sad?” and “Why does the world exist? and “Why do I feel lonely?” are some of the questions that Nhat Hanh responds to, demonstrating that one does not need to be complex in order to be meaningful, and perhaps, entirely the contrary.

In the Buddhist tradition of Plum Village, founded by Thich Nhat Hanh in Bordeaux in 1982, children have always had a special place. There are practical classes, conferences and activities designed specially for them, and this book compiles the monk’s direct experiences with his pupils. And Is Nothing Something? is beautifully illustrated by Jessica McClure, and which secured its inclusion in the list of the books that all children should read.

At the end, the Zen monk reminds us that one does not need to know all of the answers to the most important questions in life. One must simply be satisfied to live in the here and now by feeling time in our breathing and in our bodies, and which is something that many people, throughout their lives, never learn to do. And if one can work that out from childhood, life will be lighter and more joyful.


What is mindfulness?

Mindfulness is energy. This energy helps us enjoy what is happening right now. Mindful energy can bring us a lot of joy. It helps us suffer less and learn from our suffering. A good way to get some mindful energy is to close your eyes and breathe easily. Just pay attention to your breath. If you can enjoy your in-breath and out-breath, you are creating mindful energy.

What should you do if someone feels bad and you want to comfort that person and make him or her feel better?

One of the simplest and most loving things you can do for someone who feels bad is just to be with them and breathe with them. You can say, “I am here for you.” You are offering your presence, which is the most wonderful gift you can offer another person.

What do you do when you’re scared?

Usually, when we’re afraid, we try to run away from whatever scares us. When I am scared, I breathe deeply and calm myself. I try to stop my thinking and just breathe. This always helps me. Every time I have an upset stomach, I fill a hot water bottle and I put it on my stomach. In five minutes, I feel much better. My mindful breathing is like a hot water bottle for my mind. Every time I apply mindful breathing to my fear, I get relief.

Is nothing something?

Yes. Nothing is something. You have an idea in your head of nothing. You have an idea in your head of something. Both are things that can create either suffering or happiness.

Why do I sometimes feel lonely and that no one loves me?

Sometimes the people around you are distracted and may forget to express their love. But if you feel like no one loves you, you can always look outside at the natural world. Do you see a tree out there? That tree loves you. It offers its beauty and freshness to you and gives you oxygen so you can breathe. The Earth loves you, offering you fresh water and delicious fruit for you to eat. The world expresses its love in many ways, not just with words.

How can I love someone who likes different things than me?

To love is to discover. If you keep on loving another person, you will keep discovering wonderful things about that person. You can enjoy the differences because it would be boring if everyone were the same. Even if the other person has a quality that doesn’t seem lovable, you can practice loving that person anyway, just as they are, and not how you wish they were.

What should I do when I feel sad?

A wonderful thing to do is smile at your sadness. This is a very simple practice but it has a great effect. Your smile is like the sunshine. There can be sunshine with the rain. You can smile and cry at the same time and it will be like you are making a rainbow.

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