Thich Nhat Hanh seems to deny a major teaching on dukkha/suffering common to both Theravada and Tibetan teachings -- the idea of all-perasive suffering ("the suffering of composite things",samskara dukkhata)-- found in many places in the Pali and Tibetan canons. Below are some excerpts. A link to the whole chapter is at the end.
I think his interpretation may well reflect a misunderstanding of all-pervasive suffering -- it does not deny joy; it simply says the only lasting happiness comes from addressing conditioned existence in general (or emptiness/shunyata and inherent/intrinsic existence in Mahayana terms); it cannot be found by only addressing worldly suffering directly.
Or maybe I am misunderstanding him. But he is pretty emphatic, even to the point of implying that the Pali Canon was corrupted to reflect this teaching before it got written down. He also suggests removing dukkha from the Three Dharma Seals/Marks, replacing it with nirvana (rather than just adding nirvana to make four seals, as is usually done)
My questions -- does this reflect Zen teachings in general, or is it limited to Thich Nhat Hanh and/or some schools? If some Zen schools or teachers do teach all-pervasive suffering, can someone point me to references? I'd also be interested in other Zen teachings that reflect Thich Nhat Hanh's strong objection to the doctrine of all-pervasive suffering.
The following quotes (with my emphasis added) are from Chapter Five, "Is Everything Suffering?", from The Heart of the Buddha's Teaching, by Thich Nhat Hanh,
Since the Buddha said that the First Noble Truth is suffering, many good students of the Buddha have used their skills to prove that everything on Earth is suffering. The theory of the Three Kinds of Suffering was such an attempt. It is not a teaching of the Buddha.
The first kind of suffering is "the suffering of suffering" (dukkha dukkhata), the suffering associated with unpleasant feelings, like the pain of a toothache, losing your temper, or feeling too cold on a winter's day. The second is "the suffering of composite things" (samskara dukkhata). Whatever comes together eventually has to come apart; therefore, all composite things are described as suffering. Even things that have not yet decayed, such as mountains, rivers, and the sun, are seen to be suffering, because they will decay and cause suffering eventually. When you believe that everything composed is suffering, how can you find joy? The third is "the suffering associated with change"(viparinama dukkhata). Our liver may be in good health today, but when we grow old, it will cause us to suffer. There is no point in celebrating joy, because sooner or later it will turn into suffering. Suffering is a black cloud that envelops everything. Joy is an illusion. Only suffering is real.
This dialogue is repeated in many sutras:
"Monks, are conditioned things permanent or impermanent?"
'They are impermanent, World-Honored One."
"If things are impermanent, are they suffering or well-being?"
"They are suffering, World-Honored One."
"If things are suffering, can we say that they are self or belong to self?"
"No, World-Honored One."
By the time the Buddha's discourses were written down, seeing all things as suffering must have been widely practiced, as the above quotation occurs more frequently than the teaching to identify suffering and the path to end suffering.
The theory of the Three Kinds of Suffering is an attempt to justify the universalization of suffering. What joy is left in life? We find it in nirvana. In several sutras the Buddha taught that nirvana, the joy of completely extinguishing our ideas and concepts, rather than suffering, is one of the Three Dharma Seals. This is stated four times in the Samyukta Agama of the Northern transmission. Quoting from yet another sutra, Nagarjuna listed nirvana as one of the Three Dharma Seals. To me, it is much easier to envision a state where there are no obstacles created by concepts than to see all things as suffering. I hope scholars and practitioners will begin to accept the teaching that all things are marked by impermanence, nonself, and nirvana, and not make too great an effort to prove that everything is suffering.