Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is widely regarded as one of the great
spiritual teachers of the 20th century.
Thây was born in 1926, in Nguyen
Xuan Bao in central Vietnam, and he felt drawn to monkhood even as
a child. Aged 16, he entered Tu Hieu monastery and received the name Thich
Nhat Hanh – Thich is
pronounced “tik” and is a family name that monks and nuns assume upon ordination.
It does not, as commonly supposed, mean venerable or reverend. The name Thây
– pronounced “tie” – means teacher
and is commonly used by his students.
In the monastery, he underwent a thorough training in Zen and
the Mahayana school of Buddhism. His teacher was a 41st generation Lin-chi (Rinzai)
Master of the Lieu Quan School of Vietnamese Buddhism. Thây received full ordination
in 1949 and a year later he co-founded the An Quang Temple in Saigon. In 1956
he was appointed editor-in-chief of Vietnamese
Buddhism – the periodical of the All Vietnam Buddhist Association.
In 1959 Thây left Vietnam to study Buddhism at Columbia University
in New York. But he was summoned to return home after two years to assist in
the Buddhist peace effort. During the next few years he founded La Boi Press,
and established Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon as well as the
School of Youth for Social Service. This movement trained groups
of Buddhist peaceworkers in rural areas. Increasingly it was oppressed by both
sides as fighting in the Vietnam war escalated. In 1964 Thây founded the Tiep
Hien Order (The Order
of Interbeing) based on the principles of Engaged Buddhism which emphasises social
responsibility and peacework.
After a lecture tour of the US and
Europe in 1965 Thây found himself exiled from Vietnam. Only in recent years has he been allowed to return to his homeland to visit and offer teachings. He settled in Paris and established
the Buddhist Peace Delegation. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by
Martin Luther King Jr in 1967. In the early 70s the Sweet Potato Community was
founded at a small farmhouse near Fontvannes outside Paris. Later, in 1982,
needing larger premises, the community moved to Plum
Village in south-west France and it has continued to grow steadily. Since
1983 Thây has travelled widely, offering lectures and mindfulness retreats in
many parts of the world, especially in the US and Europe. He has published many
articles, poems and books on Buddhism, peace and related themes. He speaks fluent
English and French as well as Vietnamese.
Thich Nhat Hanh's teaching is based on conscious breathing and being fully
aware of the present moment - the only moment in which we really live and in
which joy is possible. This allows us to discover that: "There is no way
to happiness - happiness is the way".
Through the practice of meditation in every day life, and by showing compassion
to all living beings, peace becomes possible within ourselves and extends to
everyone we touch.
Thich Nhat Hanh has explained his practice in many books including: "The
Miracle of Mindfulness", "Touching Peace", "Living Buddha,
Living Christ", and "Peace is Every Step".