Thich Nhat Hanh, monk, Zen master and activist, dies at 95
Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk who was one of the world’s most influential Zen masters spreading messages of mindfulness, compassion and non-violence, died on Saturday at his home in Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, In Vietnam. He was 95 years old.
Death has been announcement by Plum Village, his organization of monasteries. He suffered a severe brain haemorrhage in 2014 which left him unable to speak, although he could communicate through gestures.
A prolific author, poet, teacher and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from Vietnam after opposing the war in the 1960s and became one of the leading voices of a movement he called of “engaged Buddhism”, the application of Buddhist principles to political and social reform. .
Traveling extensively on lecture tours in the United States and Europe (he was fluent in English and French), Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tik nyaht hahn) had a major influence on Western practices of Buddhism, urging to adopt mindfulness, which his website describes as “the energy of being aware and awake in the present moment.”
In his book “Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life”, he wrote: “If we are not fully ourselves, truly in the present moment, we miss everything”.
His following grew as he established dozens of monasteries and practice centers around the world. The original plum village near Bordeaux in south-west France is the largest of its monasteries and is visited by thousands of people a year.
In 2018, he returned home to Hue, central Vietnam, to live out his final days at Tu Hieu Temple, where he had become a novice as a teenager.
Thich Nhat Hanh rejected the idea of death. “Birth and death are only notions”, he writes in his book “No Death, No Fear”. “They’re not real.”
He added: “The Buddha taught that there is no birth; there is no death; there is no coming; there is no departure; there is no same; there is no difference; there is no permanent me; there is no annihilation. We just think there are.
This understanding, he wrote, can free people from fear and enable them to “enjoy and appreciate life in a new way.”
His connection to the United States began in the early 1960s, when he studied at Princeton University and later taught at Cornell and Columbia. He influenced the American peace movement, urging the Reverend Martin Luther King Jr. to oppose the Vietnam War.
Dr. King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, but the prize was not awarded to anyone that year.
“I personally know no one more worthy than this kind monk from Vietnam,” wrote Dr King at Norway‘s Nobel Institute. “His ideas for peace, if implemented, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”
Thich Nhat Hanh was born Nguyen Xuan Bao in Hue on October 11, 1926. He joined a Zen monastery at age 16 and studied Buddhism there as a novice. Upon his ordination in 1949, he took the name Dharma Thich Nhat Hanh. Thich is an honorary surname used by Vietnamese monks and nuns. To his followers he was known as Thay, or teacher.
In the early 1960s, he founded Youth for Social Services, a local humanitarian organization in what was then South Vietnam. He rebuilt bombed-out villages, established schools, established medical centers and reunited families left homeless by war.
Thich Nhat Hanh began to write and speak out against the war and in 1964 published a poem titled “Condemnation” in a Buddhist weekly. It reads in part:
He who listens, be my witness:
I cannot accept this war.
I could never I never will.
I must say it a thousand times before I am killed.
I am like the bird that dies for its mate,
letting blood flow from its broken beak and crying:
“Be careful! Turn around and face your true enemies
— ambition, violence, hatred and greed.
The poem earned him the label “anti-war poet” and he was denounced as a pro-communist propagandist.
Thich Nhat Hanh took up residence in France when the South Vietnamese government denied him permission to return from abroad after the signing of the Paris Peace Accords in 1973.
He was only able to return to Vietnam in 2005, when the communist government allowed him to teach, practice and travel around the country. His anti-war activism continued, and during a speech in Hanoi in 2008 he said the war in Iraq was the result of fear and misunderstanding in which violence was fueled by herself.
“We know very well that airplanes, guns and bombs cannot remove misperceptions,” he said. “Only loving speech and compassionate listening can help people correct misperceptions. But our leaders are not trained in this discipline and they rely only on the armed forces to eliminate terrorism.
In 2013, during one of his many visits to centers of influence in the West, he spoke at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, bringing his message of silent contemplation to the forefront of the digital age to high energy.
“We feel like we’re overwhelmed with information,” he told the assembled workers. “We don’t need so much information.”
And he said, “Don’t try to find the solution with your thinking mind. Non-thinking is the secret of success. And that is why the time when we are not working, this time can be very productive, if we know how to concentrate on the moment.