Biography — Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh
Monday 2 May 2016
Biography - Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh
Often referred to as the most beloved Buddhist teacher in the West, Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings and practices appeal to people from various religious, spiritual, and political backgrounds. Nhat Hanh offers a practice of "mindfulness" that is beneficial for people of all faiths, by helping us resist and transform the speed and violence of our modern society. His life and teachings have deeply influenced millions of people, including scores of luminaries in different fields: politician Jerry Brown, civil rights champion Martin Luther King, Jr., eco-activist Joanna Macy, and Catholic mystic Thomas Merton - to name a few.
Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced "tik not hahn") was born in central Vietnam in 1926 and joined the monkhood at the age of 16. In Saigon in the early 1960’s, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services (SYSS), a grass roots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. Rallying some 10,000 student volunteers, the SYSS based its work on the Buddhist principles of non-violence and compassionate action. Despite government denunciation of his activity, Nhat Hanh also founded a Buddhist University, a publishing house, and an influential peace activist magazine in Vietnam.
Thich Nhat Hanh has been living in exile from his native Vietnam since the age of forty. In that year of 1966, he was banned by both the non-Communist and Communist governments for his role in undermining the violence he saw affecting his people. A Buddhist monk since the age of sixteen, Thay ("teacher") as he is commonly known) earned a reputation as a respected writer, scholar, and leader. He championed a movement known as "engaged Buddhism," which intertwined traditional meditative practices with active nonviolent civil disobedience.
This movement lay behind the establishment of the most influential center of Buddhist studies in Saigon, the An Quang Pagoda. He also set up relief organizations to rebuild destroyed villages, instituted the School of Youth for Social Service (a Peace Corps of sorts for Buddhist peace workers), founded a peace magazine, and urged world leaders to use nonviolence as a tool.
Although his struggle for cooperation meant he had to relinquish a homeland, it won him accolades around the world. When Thich Nhat Hanh left Vietnam, he embarked on a mission to spread Buddhist thought around the globe. In 1966, when Thay came to the United States for the first of many humanitarian visits, the territory was not completely new to him: he had experienced American culture before as a student at Princeton, and more recently as a professor at Columbia.
The Fellowship of Reconciliation and Cornell invited Thay to speak on behalf of Buddhist monks, and he offered an enlightened view on ways to end the Vietnam conflict. He spoke on college campuses, met with administration officials, and impressed social dignitaries. The following year, Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the same honor. Hanh’s Buddhist delegation to the Paris peace talks resulted in accords between North Vietnam and the United States, but his pacifist efforts did not end with the war. He also helped organize rescue missions well into the 1970’s for Vietnamese trying to escape from political oppression. Even after the political stabilization of Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh has not been allowed to return home.
The government still sees him as a threat — ironic, when one considers the subjects of his teachings: respect for life, generosity, responsible sexual behavior, loving communication, and cultivation of a healthful life style.
He has written more than one-hundred titles, including books of prose, poetry, and prayers. Most of his works have been geared toward the Buddhist reader, yet his teachings appeal to a wide audience. For over the last two decades, Thich Nhat Hanh has visited the United States every other year; he draws more and more people with each tour, Christian, Jewish, atheist, and Zen Buddhist alike. His teachings and philosophy is not limited to preexistent religious structures, but speaks to the individual’s desire for wholeness and inner calm.
In 1993, he drew a crowd of some 1,200 people at the National Cathedral in Washington, DC, led a retreat of 500 people in upstate New York, and assembled 300 people in West Virginia. His popularity in the United States inspired the mayor of Berkeley, California, to name a day in his honor and the Mayor of New York City declared a Day of Reconciliation during his 1993 visit. Clearly, Thich Nhat Hanh is a human link with a prophetic past, a soft-spoken advocate of peace, Buddhist community, and the average American citizen.
Here is an inspiring poem by Thich Nhat Hanh. May it help to bring peace to all our hearts.
Kiss the Earth - By Thich Nhat Hanh
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Bring the Earth your love and happiness.
The Earth will be safe
when we feel safe in ourselves.
Selected Books - Thich Nhat Hanh
Living Buddha, Living Christ
Buddha and Christ, perhaps the two most pivotal figures in the history of humankind, each left behind a legacy that have shaped the lives of billions of people. Thich Nhat Hanh has been part of a decades-long dialogue between these two great contemplative traditions. In a lucid, meditative prose, Living Buddha, Living Christ explores the crossroads of compassion and holiness at which the two traditions meet, and reawakens our understanding of both.
Peace Is Every Step
In the lovely Peace Is Every Step, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how to make positive use of the situations that usually anger us. Red lights and traffic jams, says Mr. Hanh, can be signals to call back our true selves. Peace lies all around us, he teaches, and can be brought back to mind with the simple act of consciously breathing, smiling, and quieting our minds.
In Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as Brothers, Thich Nhat Hanh celebrates the life-affirming roots of two disparate spiritual traditions. While Living Buddha, Living Christ further opened the door to dialogue between Christianity and Buddhism, Going Home takes us on a journey into the practice. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, "We practice in such a way that Buddha is born every moment of our daily life, that Jesus Christ is born every moment of our daily life."
No Death, No Fear
In No Death, No Fear, Thich Nhat Hanh explores traditional myths about how we live and die, and shows us how to come to terms with the true nature of our existence. If we realize that there is no death, we will be released from fear. With deep knowledge and expertise, Thich Nhat Hanh offers us in his book a fresh perspective on living a life unfettered by fear.
OTHER BOOKS :
Thich Nhat Hanh : Essential Writings (Modern Spiritual Masters Series)
Anger : Wisdom for Cooling the Flames
Be Still and Know : Reflections from Living Buddha, Living Christ
The Blooming of Lotus : Guided Meditation for Achieving the Miracle of Mindfulness
Breathe! You Are Alive : Sutra on the Full Awareness of Breathing
Cultivating the Mind of Love : The Practice of Looking Deeply in the Mahayana Buddhist Tradition
The Diamond That Cuts Through Illusion : Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Diamond Sutra
For a Future to Be Possible : Commentaries on the Five Mindfulness Trainings
The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching
The Heart of Understanding : Commentaries on the Prajnaparamita Heart Sutra
The Miracle of Mindfulness: A Manual on Meditation
Old Path, White Clouds : Walking in the Footsteps of the Buddha
The Path of Emancipation: Talks from a 21-Day Mindfulness Retreatp
The Present Moment
Present Moment, Wonderful Moment : Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living
The Sun My Heart : From Mindfulness to Insight Contemplation
The Sutra on the Eight Realizations of the Great Beings
Teaching son Love
Thundering Silence : Sutra on Knowing the Better Way to Catch a Snake
Touching Peace : Practicing the Art of Mindful Living
Transformation at the Base: Fifty Verses on the Nature of Consciousness
The Raft Is Not the Shore : Conversations Toward a Buddhist/Christian Awareness (with Daniel Berrigan and Robert Ellsberg)
Mindful Living : A Collection of Teachings on Love, Mindfulness, and Meditation (audiotape set)
Mindfulness and Psychotherapy (audiotape)
Additional Biography of Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh
One of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today,
poet, peace and human rights activist, Thich Nhat Hanh has led an
extraordinary life. Born in central Vietnam in 1926, Nhat Hanh was ordained
a Buddhist monk in 1942, at the age of sixteen. Just eight years later, he
co-founded what was to become the foremost center of Buddhist studies in
South Vietnam, the An Quang Buddhist Institute.
In 1961, Nhat Hanh came to the United States to study and teach comparative
religion at Columbia and Princeton Universities. But in 1963, his
monk-colleagues in Vietnam invited him to come home to join them in their
work to stop the US-Vietnam war. After returning to Vietnam, he helped lead
one of the great nonviolent resistance movements of the century, based
entirely on Gandhian principles.
In 1964, along with a group of university professors and students in
Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh founded the School of Youth for Social Service,
called by the American press the “little Peace Corps,” in which teams of
young people went into the countryside to establish schools and health
clinics, and later to rebuild villages that had been bombed. By the time of
the fall of Saigon, there were more than 10,000 monks, nuns, and young
social workers involved in the work. In the same year, he helped set up what
was to become one of the most prestigious publishing houses in Vietnam, La
Boi Press. In his books and as editor-in-chief of the official publication
of the Unified Buddhist Church, he called for reconciliation between the
warring parties in Vietnam, and because of that his writings were censored
by both opposing governments.
In 1966, at the urging of his fellow monks, he accepted an invitation from
the Fellowship of Reconciliation and Cornell University to come to the U.S.
“to describe to [us] the aspirations and the agony of the voiceless masses
of the Vietnamese people” (New Yorker, June 25, 1966). He had a densely
packed schedule of speaking engagements and private meetings, and spoke
convincingly in favor of a ceasefire and a negotiated settlement. Martin
Luther King, Jr. was so moved by Nhat Hanh and his proposals for peace that
he nominated him for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize, saying, “I know of no one
more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam.”
Largely due to Thich Nhat Hanh’s influence, King came out publicly against
the war at a press conference, with Nhat Hanh, in Chicago.
When Thomas Merton, the well-known Catholic monk and mystic, met Thich Nhat
Hanh at his monastery, Gethsemani, near Louisville, Kentucky, he told his
students, “Just the way he opens the door and enters a room demonstrates his
understanding. He is a true monk.” Merton went on to write an essay, “Nhat
Hanh Is My Brother,” an impassioned plea to listen to Nhat Hanh’s proposals
for peace and lend full support for Nhat Hanh’s advocacy of peace. After
important meetings with Senators Fullbright and Kennedy, Secretary of
Defense McNamara, and others in Washington, Thich Nhat Hanh went to Europe,
where he met with a number of heads of state and officials of the Catholic
church, including two audiences with Pope Paul VI, urging cooperation
between Catholics and Buddhists to help bring peace to Vietnam. In 1969,
at the request of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, Thich
Nhat Hanh set up the Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.
After the Peace Accords were signed in 1973, he was refused permission to
return to Vietnam, and he established a small community a hundred miles
southwest of Paris, called “Sweet Potato.” In 1976-77, Nhat Hanh conducted
an operation to rescue boat people in the Gulf of Siam, but hostility from
the governments of Thailand and Singapore made it impossible to continue. So
for the following five years, he stayed at Sweet Potato in retreat –
meditating, reading, writing, binding books, gardening, and occasionally
In 1982, Thich Nhat Hanh established Plum Village, a larger, thriving
retreat center near Bordeaux, France, where he has been living in exile from
his native Vietnam. Since 1983 he has traveled to North America to lead
retreats and give lectures on mindful living and social responsibility,
“making peace right in the moment we are alive.” He has offered retreats for
Vietnam veterans, mental health and social workers, prison inmates,
ecologists, businessmen, police officers and members of Congress. In 1997,
Nhat Hanh founded the Green Mountain Dharma Center and Maple Forest
Monastery in Vermont. In 2000, he founded Deer Park Monastery in Escondido,
California. He has ordained over two hundred monks and nuns from different
parts of the world. In addition, 230 lay practice communities practicing in
the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh meet regularly throughout the United States
and around the world.
Since his days in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh has been a leading proponent of
“engaged Buddhism,” a way of life and a spiritual practice that works
actively in the world to relieve suffering. Nhat Hanh continues his work to
alleviate the suffering of refugees, boat people, political prisoners and
hungry families in Vietnam and other Third World countries. He has been
instrumental in initiating the declaration, by the General Assembly of the
United Nations, dedicating 2001-2010 as the “International Decade for a
Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World” (Resolution
A/RES/53/2519/111998). He collaborated with the Nobel Peace Laureates in
drafting the “Manifesto 2000,” with six points on the Practice of Peace and
Non-violence distributed by UNESCO. In December 2000, Thich Nhat Hanh was
invited to give a lecture at the White House World Summit Conference on HIV
and AIDS. He has also been invited to speak at The Gorbachev World Forum and
the World Economic Summit in Davos, Switzerland.
Thich Nhat Hanh has received recognition for his prolific writings on
meditation, mindfulness, and peace. He has published over 85 titles of
accessible poems, prose, and prayers, with more than 40 of those works in
English. His best-known books include Peace is Every Step, Being Peace,
Touching Peace, Call Me by My True Names, Living Buddha, Living Christ,
Teachings on Love, and Anger.
Now seventy-seven years old, Thich Nhat Hanh is emerging as one of the great
teachers of our time. In the midst of our society’s emphasis on speed,
efficiency, and material success, Thich Nhat Hanh’s ability to walk calmly
with peace and awareness and to teach us to do the same has led to his
enthusiastic reception in the West. Although his mode of expression is
simple, his message reveals the quintessence of the deep understanding of
reality that comes from his meditations, his Buddhist training, and his work
in the world.