Scratching the Itch: Getting to the Root of Our Suffering

Author: Ronald Hanh Niêm Hirsch

ISBN 978-0-9883290-4-1 (softcover)

ISBN 978-0-98832-905-8 (eBook)

105 pages


Much of the teaching many Buddhists receive doesn’t really get to the core of our suffering. After years of practice, nothing much really changes. As the 17th century Zen Master Benkei said, “the feeling I get is that of scratching an itchy foot with my shoe on. The teachings don’t strike home to the center, to the real marrow.” Scratching the Itch: Getting to the Root of Our Suffering seeks to do just that.

Scratching the Itch is based on teaching received from two Vietnamese Zen monks. They faced the power of our ego…the source of all our suffering…head on and urged us to surrender our ego to our true Buddha nature. Recognizing the difficulty of doing this, they developed a rigorous teaching, which I explain and expand upon in light of my personal practical experience of walking the path. The resulting teaching I call “The Fourfold Path to Freedom.”

While enlightenment may not be a very practical goal for most of us walking the Buddhist path, attaining a state in our practice that is close to enlightenment…and experiencing the peace and contentment that flows from that state…is a goal that every person committed to the path can attain.


Ronald Hanh Niêm Hirsch has walked the path of Buddhism for more than 15 years now. Along the way, he has had good fortune to have had some powerful teachers who opened many gates for him. His Zen practice follows no particular lineage but reflects the teachings of his Vietnamese and Korean Zen mentors. Hirsch has had a varied career as a teacher, legal aid lawyer, survey researcher, nonprofit executive, composer, writer, and volunteer. He is the author of We Still Hold These Truths, acclaimed by James Fallows, National Correspondent, The Atlantic, as “a systematic and serious effort to make the [presidential] debate as clear and valuable as it can be…the questions he is asking are the right ones for the public this year.” He grew up in Reading, Pennsylvania and resides in upstate New York.

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