Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, revered throughout the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on the art of mindfulness, which have reached a global audience of millions. He has published more than 100 books on topics as diverse as ecology, politics, consumption, relationships, cultivating peace, community building, and global ethics (including Miracle of Mindfulness, The World We Have, Anger, Savor, and Creating True Peace). He has also published poetry, children’s stories, meditation manuals, and radically modern commentaries on ancient Buddhist teachings.
This gentle monk from Vietnam was called “an apostle of peace and non-violence” when nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr. The New York Times has described him as “second only to the Dalai Lama” among Buddhist leaders influential in the West. Thich Nhat Hanh’s key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment, instead of getting lost in the past and in the future. Dwelling in the present moment, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, is the only way to truly develop peace, both in oneself and in the world.
Today, Thich Nhat Hanh is the spiritual head not only of his lineage within Vietnam, but also of an international Engaged Buddhist community of over 700 monks and nuns, and tens of thousands of lay practitioners, who apply his teachings on mindfulness, peace-making, community-building, and serving society in their daily lives. Thich Nhat Hanh and members of his community offer these teachings all over the world—on campuses, at community centers, at outdoor gatherings—and at Thich Nhat Hanh’s global practice centers.
THE VIETNAM WAR AND THE BIRTH OF ENGAGED BUDDHISM
Born in central Vietnam in 1926, Thich Nhat Hanh became a novice monk at the age of sixteen. During the Vietnam War, monastics were confronted with the question of whether to adhere to the contemplative life and stay meditating in the monasteries, or to help those around them suffering under the bombings and turmoil of war. Thich Nhat Hanh was one of those who chose to do both, and in doing so founded the Engaged Buddhism movement, coining the term in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire.
His life has since been dedicated to the work of inner transformation for the benefit of individuals and society. From 1962-63, Thich Nhat Hanh studied and taught at Princeton and Columbia Universities, returning to Vietnam to continue his peace and social work. In 1964 he founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon and in 1965 he founded the School of Youth and Social Service, a grassroots relief organization that trained 10,000 young volunteers in Buddhist principles of non-violence and compassionate action. Despite government denunciation of his activity, Thich Nhat Hanh also founded a publishing house and an influential peace activist magazine in Vietnam .
In 1966, Thich Nhat Hanh held a press conference in Washington, DC to present a five-point peace proposal to end the war. Because he dared to call publicly for a cessation to hostilities, he was immediately banned from Vietnam, beginning an exile that was to last forty years. While in the U.S., he met with Martin Luther King, Jr. and called upon him to speak out against the war. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, and became an outspoken critic of the war himself.
In exile, Thich Nhat Hanh continued to travel widely, spreading the message of peace, lobbying Western leaders to end the Vietnam War, and leading the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks. Amidst his peace activism, he continued to teach, lecture, and write on the art of mindfulness and ‘living peace.’
BUILDING A MINDFULNESS MOVEMENT
In 1982, Thich Nhat Hanh founded Plum Village Practice Center in southern France, where he continued his social work and began to teach the thousands of people who were drawn to his teachings. Under his spiritual leadership Plum Village has grown from a small rural farmstead to what is now the West’s largest and most active Buddhist monastery, with over 200 resident monks and nuns and tens of thousands of guests every year. In the last ten years Plum Village has opened monasteries in New York, California, Vietnam, Paris, Hong Kong, Thailand, Mississippi, and Australia, and Europe’s first Institute of Applied Buddhism in Germany.
In 2008, Thich Nhat Hanh launched Wake Up, a worldwide movement of thousands of young people training in the practice of mindful living, and in 2010 he launched an international Applied Ethics program to train teachers to teach mindfulness in schools from Europe to Asia to the Americas.
Thich Nhat Hanh, now in his 87th year, continues to lead meditation retreats on Applied Buddhism worldwide, including special retreats for teachers, families, businesspeople, politicians, scientists, psychotherapists, police officers, and even for Israelis and Palestinians.
In September 2001, just a few days after the collapse of the World Trade Center, he offered comfort to New Yorkers and addressed issues of non-violence and forgiveness in a memorable speech at Riverside Church in New York City. In September 2003 (and again in 2011) he gave a retreat for U.S. Congressmen and Congresswomen. In October 2006 he addressed UNESCO in Paris, calling for specific steps to reverse the cycle of violence, war, and global warming. In 2007, Thich Nhat Hanh was a keynote speaker at UNESCO’s International Wesak celebration in Hanoi, and in October 2008 he addressed the Opening of the Parliament of India. In 2009 he addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Melbourne, and in 2012 was invited to offer his message of compassion and non-violence at both the UK Parliament in Westminster and the Northern Ireland Assembly in Stormont.
Today, Thich Nhat Hanh continues to write extensively and create new calligraphies, and regularly gives public talks and leads retreats in Europe, Asia, and North America, including at his practice centers in California, Mississippi, and New York.