Thich Nhat Hanh
Thich Nhat Hanh is an expatriate Vietnamese Zen Buddhist Monk who is a teacher, author and peace activist. Nhat Hanh (Thich is a title used by all Vietnamese monks and nuns, identifying them as part of the Shakya Buddha clan) was born on October 11, 1926 and joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16. He was ordained as a monk in 1949.
Thich Nhat Hanh began the activism that would eventually lead to his exile with the founding of the School of Youth Social Services in Saigon, a relief organization that rebuilt villages bombed as a result of the Vietnam War. It also helped to set up schools and medical centers and resettle families. During this time, he traveled to the United States frequently to study and teach at Columbia University as well as promote peace. He spoke to many people about peace and urged Martin Luther King to publicly oppose the war. (King nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.) Exiled from Vietnam in 1973, he established the Order of Interbeing, a monastic and lay group teaching mindfulness practice, and has subsequently founded monastic and practice centers around the world. He makes his home in Plum Village Monastery in the south of France, where he has established also the Unified Buddhist Church.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s main teaching is a practice of mindfulness adapted to Western sensibilities. From his home in France, he travels internationally to speak and give retreats, and he is the author of more than 100 books. He also continues to be active in the peace movement, sponsoring retreats for Israelis and Palestinians, and giving speeches urging non-violent solutions. In 2005 he conducted a peace walk in Los Angeles that was attended by many people. That same year, Nhat Hanh was allowed to return to Vietnam, with a subsequent trip in 2007.
Thich Nhat Hanh is beloved not only for his speaking and teaching, but his many books, which include, Peace is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life, Being Peace, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Fragrant Palm Leaves: Journals, 1962-1966, No Death, No Fear, and Anger, to name a few.
“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. If we really know how to live, what better way to start the day than with a smile? Our smile affirms our awareness and determination to live in peace and joy. The source of a true smile is an awakened mind.” This quote from Nhat Hanh’s book Peace is Every Step affirms the guiding principles of mindfulness, his teachings, and life at Plum Village. There, and at his other centers, followers of Nhat Hanh engage in the activities of day to day life much the same as in the outer world, but they everything is done in the spirit of mindfulness. In practicing this together as a community, mindfulness becomes more joyous and relaxed.
An epic feature film about the life of the Buddha, based on Thich Nhat Hanh’s book, Old Path, White Clouds, is in production, and on September 11, 2006, Nhat Hanh and the Dalai Lama spoke with the Hollywood community about the need to present the film so that the audience’s consciousness will be uplifted and turn to mindfulness.