Thich Nhat Hanh, one of the great Buddhist masters of our time, dies at 95

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and founder of the Engaged Buddhism movement, died today in his home country of Vietnam. He was 95 years old.

Photo courtesy of Plum Village.

One of the great Buddhist masters of our time, Thich Nhat Hanh died today at Tu Hieu Pagoda in Vietnam, the Buddhist temple where he was ordained at the age of sixteen. Following his stroke in 2014, he had expressed a desire to return to his homeland, and in October 2018 he returned to his home temple. He spent the last years of his life there surrounded by his close disciples and students.

The International Plum Village released a statement on Nhat Hanh’s passing:

The Plum Village of Committed Buddhism International Community announces that our beloved teacher Thich Nhat Hanh passed away peacefully at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam, at 00:00 a.m. on January 22, 2022, at the age of 95. We invite our global spiritual family to take a few moments to be still, to return to our conscious breathing, as we carry Thay together in our hearts in peace and loving gratitude for all he has offered the world. More official news will be coming soon. Please sign up for email updates here: https://bit.ly/3fJx7pd

Nhat Hanh, affectionately called “Thay” by his students, has often been referred to as the “Father of Mindfulness”. In his 95 years, he has had a global impact as a teacher, author, activist and founder of the Engaged Buddhism movement. His simple yet profoundly profound teachings have led countless people to a life of mindfulness, joy and peace.

Nhat Hanh suffered a cerebral hemorrhage in November 2014 and spent four and a half months in a post-stroke rehabilitation clinic at Bordeaux University Hospital. He returned to Plum Village in France, where his health made remarkable progress and he was able to enjoy being “in nature, enjoying the flowers, listening to the birds and resting at the foot of a tree”.

In 2016, two months after his 90th birthday, Nhat Hanh expressed a desire to travel to Thailand to be closer to his native Vietnam. He spent nearly two years at the Thai Plum Village. In October 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh traveled to Vietnam to spend the rest of his life at his root temple.

Nhat Hanh was born Nguyen Xuan Bao in Hue, Vietnam in October 1926. Interested in Buddhism from an early age, he entered the monastery at Tu Hieu Temple in Vietnam at the age of sixteen. There he worked with his main teacher, Zen master Thanh Quy Chan That. In 1951, Nhat Hanh was ordained a monk after receiving training in the Vietnamese traditions of Mahayana and Thien Buddhism. It was then that he was given the name Thich Nhat Hanh.

As reported by Lindsay Kyte for The lion’s roar in “The Life of Thich Nhat Hanh”, Nhat Hanh was sent for training at a Buddhist academy but was unhappy with the curriculum, wanting to study more modern subjects. He left for the University of Saigon, where he was able to study world literature, philosophy, psychology and sciences in addition to Buddhism. He then began his activist work by founding La Boi Press and Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon. He also founded the Youth School for Social Service, a neutral body of Buddhist peace workers who established schools, built health clinics, and rebuilt villages in rural areas.

Nhat Hanh accepted a scholarship to study comparative religion at Princeton University in 1960 and was later appointed a lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia University. He was fluent in English, Japanese, Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali and English.

By 1963, a US-backed military coup had overthrown Diem’s ​​regime, and Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam to continue launching nonviolent peace efforts. He submitted a peace proposal to the United Buddhist Church (UBC), calling for a cessation of hostilities, the establishment of a Buddhist institute for the country’s leaders and the creation of a center to promote social change. non violent. The founding of the Engaged Buddhism movement was its response to the Vietnam War. Nhat Hanh’s mission was to address the suffering caused by war and injustice and to create a new strain of Buddhism that could save his country. In the formative years of the Committed Buddhism movement, Nhat Hanh met Cao Ngoc Phuong, who would later become Sister Chan Kong. She hoped to encourage activism for the poor in the Buddhist community and worked closely with Nhat Hanh to do so. She remained his closest disciple and collaborator for the rest of his life.

In 1966, Nhat Hanh returned to the United States to lead a symposium at Cornell University on Vietnamese Buddhism. There he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and asked King to speak out against the Vietnam War. Dr. King granted the request the following year with a speech questioning America’s involvement in the war. Soon after, he nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. “I personally know no one more worthy of [the prize] than this nice monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if implemented, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity,” he wrote.

In June of that year, Nhat Hanh presented a peace proposal to Washington urging the Americans to stop bombing Vietnam, stressing that he and his supporters did not favor any of the warring parties and only wanted peace. In response, Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam. He was granted asylum in France, where he became chairman of the Vietnamese Buddhist delegation for peace.

Nhat Hanh was the head of the Order of Interbeing, a monastic and lay group which he founded in 1966. In 1969 he also founded the Unified Buddhist Church, and later in 1975 formed the Sweet Potato Meditation Center southeast of Paris, France. As the center grew in popularity, Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong founded Plum Village, a vihara (Buddhist monastery) and Zen center in the south of France in 1982. In 1987, he founded Parallax Press in California, which publishes his writings in English. He established Deer Park Monastery in Southern California, his first monastery in America, in 2000. Since then, numerous Dharma Centers across the United States, serving tens of thousands of lay students, have were created as part of the Order of Interbeing.

After negotiations, the Vietnamese government allowed Nhat Hanh, now a well-known Buddhist teacher, to return to Vietnam for a visit in 2005. He was able to teach, publish four books in Vietnamese, travel the country and visit his root temple. Although his first trip home was controversial, Nhat Hanh was allowed to return in 2007 to support new monks in his Order, hold chanting ceremonies to heal wounds from the Vietnam War, and lead retreats for groups of up to 10,000 people.

“We measure the greatness of spiritual teachers by the depth, breadth and impact of their teachings, and by the example their lives give us. By all these measures, Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the foremost spiritual teachers of our time,” writes The lion’s roar editor Melvin McLeod in his introduction to The Thich Nhat Hanh Pocket.

During his lifetime, Nhat Hanh wrote more than 100 books, which have been translated into 35 languages, on a wide range of subjects – from simple mindfulness teachings to children’s books, poetry and essays. scholars on the practice of Zen. His most recent book, Zen and the art of saving the planet, was published by HarperCollins in October 2021. Its community consists of over 600 monastics worldwide, and there are now over 1,000 communities of practice frequented by its devoted sangha across North America and Europe.

It is estimated that Nhat Hanh created more than 10,000 calligraphy works in his lifetime, each sharing simple and unique messages: “Breathe, you are alive”; “Happiness is here and now”; “Present moment, wonderful moment”; “Waking Up; The Snow”; “That’s it”. His life itself was meditation in action, creating peace with every step.

In a community newsletter, Plum Village shared that starting Saturday, January 22, the global community is invited to come together online to commemorate the life and legacy of Thich Nhat Hanh. Plum Village will broadcast five days of practice and ceremonies live from Hue, Vietnam and Plum Village, France. More details can be found on their website.

“Now is the time to return to our conscious breathing and walking, to generate the energy of peace, compassion and gratitude to offer to our beloved Master. This is a time to take refuge in our spiritual friends, our local sanghas and community, and each other,” writes Plum Village.

In his book, At home in the world, published in 2016, Nhat Hanh spoke about his inevitable death. He wrote:

This body of mine will disintegrate, but my actions will pursue me… If you think I am only this body, then you haven’t really seen me. When you look at my friends, you see my suite. When you see someone walking with care and compassion, you know they are my continuation. I don’t see why we have to say “I’m going to die”, because I already see myself in you, in others and in future generations.

Even when the cloud is not there, it continues as snow or rain. It is impossible for the cloud to die. It can become rain or ice, but it cannot become nothing. The cloud does not need to have a soul to continue. There is no beginning or end. I will never die. There will be a dissolution of this body, but that does not mean my death.

I will continue, always.

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