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Book Review: "How to Love" and "True Love" by Thich Nhat Hanh


I’m going to slow things down here a bit from porn and vibrators to talk about Buddhism!

Well. Sort of.

I’m writing today about two books by Buddhist Monk ThichNhat Hanh. “How to Love” and “True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart” are two tiny books with profound lessons in love.

Yes, it’s true. Buddhist monks are celibate and depending on how closely you follow the tenets of Buddhism, sex is considered an attachment that you must release in order to reach enlightenment. However, as a lay practitioner of Buddhism as well as a sex blogger, I definitely think there is great wisdom to be found in Buddhist teachings that can help you have better relationships (and sex).

First off, these books discuss love in a very broad sense. The relationships Hanh writes about could be you and your beloved as in a spouse or significant other, but can also include relationships with your family, friends, acquaintances, and even compassion for strangers.  

The first book, “How to Love” (2015) is 125 pages in an itty-bitty trim size (4 inches by 6 inches). This book includes simple but touching illustrations by Jason DeAntonis. This book is not broken into traditional chapters. Each page is a paragraph on a topic such as “Loving Mindfully,” “Finding Home,” and “Opening the Door.” These may be short, but there is a deep wisdom in these lines. They can be used as meditations or a prompt for journaling. Many of the topics do include thoughts on sex and intimacy.

The second book, “True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart” (2004) is 108 pages and a slightly larger trim size (4 inches by 7 inches). This book is set up with seven chapters. These include, “The Four Aspects of Love,” “Being There When Someone is Suffering,” and “Deep Listening.”

Both of these books are concise, so an avid reader could finish both of these in one day. However, the essence of the matter is to not rush through, but digest and reflect upon the ideas. I found the simple nature of the prose was incredibly striking. You read a few lines and you are left with a feeling: that feeling may be happiness and content, reflecting an area of your life that is fulfilled. The feeling may be one of longing or hurt, emphasizing a place in your life that needs to be nurtured.

I understand that some might find the simple language and spiritual tone to be a little too “hippie woo-woo drum circle.” I know I usually read edgy, academic prose on radical aspects of sexuality, so stopping to read a book telling me to water my beloved like a flower is a bit of a gear-shift. But I am better for reading these books, and I will go back and reread them to reflect and journal because the teachings are important and valuable to me.

I give “How to Love” a higher recommendation over “True Love” simply because I feel it stays on track better for the reader. While awareness of attachment is important in relationships, “True Love” meanders a bit far in this discussion and ventures away from discussing love directly. “How to Love” remains on task throughout.

If you are looking for a simple reflection on love, sex and relationships, I encourage you to take a break from the busy world and meditate on one of these titles, or check out other books by this author or other Buddhist writers.

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