The Novice: A Story of True Love by Thich Nhat Hanh – I read this entertaining, educational, and inspiring parable (based off of the real life Vietnamese bodhisattva Quan Am Thi Kinh) in one day! It is an easy read that kept me turning the pages and left me wanting to practice more forgiveness, self-control, kindness, love, and compassion in my personal life. Talk about a transformative read!
“A bodhisattva is a great being, an enlightened being who is animated by the desire to help all beings suffer less and enjoy peace and happiness” (page 107). This is exactly what Kinh Tam, the main character in The Novice, did through her actions and how she lived her life.
There are spoilers ahead, but I do not give the whole story away.
Kinh Tam was a young woman who desired to live the monastic life in order to grow deeper in her faith—but in Tam’s culture, a woman’s role was to get married and raise a family. Also, in Tam’s culture and during her lifetime, temples for nuns (women) did not exist. Still, Tam was interested in Buddhism and wanted to practice this monastic lifestyle of great compassion and loving-kindness.
Tam’s opportunity to do exactly this came after her in-laws unjustly accused her of an offense she did not commit, then sent her away. Tam disguised herself as a man and begged the elderly abbot at the monastery to ordain “him” as a monastic disciple.
Kinh Tam’s knowledge, insight, and dedication to the Buddhist practice inspired everyone around “him.” Even villagers found peace in “his” presence. And no one suspected that “he” was really a woman.
A young maiden villager, Mau, fell in love with Tam. But Tam did not return Mau’s affection. This humiliated and angered Mau so much that when Mau became pregnant, she accused Tam of being the father of her unborn child. Of course, this was impossible, but Tam still did not tell anyone her true gender. Instead, when the village council questioned Tam, she denied being with Mau—the daughter of the richest family in the kingdom. Tam was repeatedly beaten for denying the accusation, but Tam did not plead for mercy because she loved her life in the monastery and did not want to have to give up her opportunity to grow deeper in her faith.
The abbot at the monastery asked the village council to have mercy and release novice Kinh Tam back to the monastery for further council. The council agreed, but the monastery received much ridicule from the townspeople for letting Tam stay. The townspeople believed Tam was lying about “his” transgression against Mau. Tam felt horrible about the monastery receiving unjust scorn because of “him” and decided to live in a straw hut outside of the monastery.
Months later, Mau abandoned her newborn baby on the temple’s steps. Tam knew “he” would be persecuted further for helping the abandoned child, but “he” felt compassion for the baby and decided to look after the baby and raise him.
This beautiful story does not end here. No, the lesson of this story follows soon after Tam has rescued the baby. But I want you to personally experience this story, so I will not spoil the ending. Instead, I encourage you to find a quiet spot to read this deeply engaging book. I know you won’t be disappointed.
Have you checked out my What I’m Reading page on my website? I list fiction and nonfiction books that have made an impact on my personal views and values, along with small reviews of each book and links to find out more about the books and the authors. I’d love to here what you are reading.