Thich Nhat Hanh on... / Accepting Ourselves and Being Partly Right

Thay teaches us how to put the sixth of his mantras of true love, “You are partly right”, into practice.The six mantras of true love consist of offering true presence (1. “I am here for you”, 2. “I know you are there and it makes me happy”), being there for their suffering (3. “I know you suffer”), knowing how and when to ask for help (4. “I suffer, please help”), sharing the joy of a good relationship (5. “This is a happy moment”) and graciously receiving praise or criticism you may not necessarily agree with (6. “You are partly right”).He emphasizes that self-acceptance will also lead to the happiness of the people around you.

If we can accept ourselves, Thich Nhat Hanh teaches, seeing who we really are, it will be easy for us to accept other people and see who they really are. But if we cannot accept ourselves, we will not be able to accept other people.

Many of us find ourselves hard to accept. We have the complex of inferiority and we get angry with ourselves. When we cannot accept ourselves, how can we accept other people? And if we can’t learn to accept each other, we can’t live in harmony and happiness with each other.

We need to realize that we all are streams of continuation, made up of both weaknesses and talents passed on to us by our blood ancestors. When we know this we can practice acceptance wholeheartedly. We tend to get angry at ourselves for our shortcomings but by practicing mindfulness, we are able to develop our talents and learn ways to gradually transform our weaknesses. 

At the same time, when someone gives us praise, we can say “You are partly right. Because in me there are many positive things, certainly. But you should also know that in me there are also weaknesses and shortcomings. So your praise is only partly right.“ In this way, we will remain humble.

“And if we can’t learn to accept each other, we can’t live in harmony and happiness with each other,” Thay says.

The following is excerpted from a talk given by Thich Nhat Hanh on Jan 15, 2012.


Be beautiful, be yourself!

Not a Separate Self: We Are a Stream of Continuation

There’s not a separate self. There’s no self, there’s not a separate self-entity, but only a stream of continuation. [We] look at ourselves as a river, as a continuation of all our ancestors, our parents, and grandparents – not a separate self. We are our ancestors, we are our grandparents, we are our parents.

Self-Acceptance: The Insight That Brings Understanding of Others

We have to learn to accept all the positives and negatives in that stream of continuum. Like a river which has its water coming from many creeks and waterways. Sometimes we see as the river flows, one side is clear water, and another side, muddy water. We have to accept both. Because the streamlets that enter the river are like that, the river will be like that. We accept. We accept both the good and bad in the stream.

If we have a body that’s healthy and beautiful, don’t pride ourselves on it. Because it belongs to our ancestors, not us. If we have several shortcomings, a few bad habits, they’re also transmitted to us by our ancestors. Don’t get caught in a separate self, and then get angry with ourselves, “Why am I like this?” Because the more important thing is acceptance.

Don’t get caught in a separate self, and then get angry with ourselves, “Why am I like this?” Because the more important thing is acceptance.

Once we can do that, the relationships between us and other people will naturally become better. Because when we look at someone, we also see they do not have a separate self. They are but a stream of continuation. If they have such and such talents, it’s because their ancestors have transmitted those to them. And if they happen to have shortcomings, or such and such negative seeds, it’s also because their ancestors have transmitted those to them. We have to accept that person as they are. Don’t demand them to be different. What matters most is to have this insight within us always. When we have this insight, our eyes will naturally show our acceptance. “Dear brother, I accept you as you are.” “Dear sister, I accept you as you are.” And when we look at them this way, it’s the eyes of understanding and compassion. Because understanding is compassion. If we can look at someone with the eyes of acceptance, the other person will suffer much less.

All leaves are beautiful in their own way

Don’t let other people’s praises or criticism make you suffer.

Practicing the Sixth Mantra

The sixth mantra that we can practice with in silence also protects us. The mantra is, “You are partly true. You are partly right.” So when we get criticized by someone, we have to base our view on this insight to be able to say, “He is partly right. Only partly right. He has not seen the other part of me.” That person has only seen part of you, not the totality of you. It’s the truth. How can we see the totality of the other person when we even haven’t been able to see the totality of ourselves? So living in a Sangha, we should have this kind of humility in us.

When they compliment us, it’s partly right. And when they criticize us, it’s also partly right. Because all of us have weaknesses, and all of us have talents. Don’t let other people’s praises or criticism make you suffer.

Transformation through Mindfulness Practice

We have to have aspirations. The aspiration to build up and transform. To build up the positive currently flowing in that stream of continuum, and to transform or purify the elements that are negative in us. 

Admitting that to myself doesn’t mean I’m powerless. With my practice of mindfulness, I can develop these talents in me. With the practice of mindfulness, I can learn to transform, bit by bit, little by little, these weaknesses in me. These two practices go in tandem. That’s what we do for ourselves in terms of helping ourselves, practicing for ourselves.

Once we can do that, the relationships between us and other people will naturally become better. Because when we look at someone, we also see they do not have a separate self. They are but a stream of continuation.

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have wishes for them. We have wishes for them the way we have wishes for ourselves. We wish that person will develop what’s good and virtuous in them and possibly transform several shortcomings in them.


The original talk was given in Vietnamese, and this English translation is kindly provided by translator Nguyễn Thị Ngân Tuyền (Living Dharma of the Heart).

You can find the English translation of the talk here.

You may also enjoy watching a talk on the Six Mantras of True Love by Sister Dieu Nghiem (Sister Jina)


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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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