Thich Nhat Hanh, the revered Zen Buddhist monk who helped pioneer the concept of mindfulness in the West and socially engaged Buddhism in the East, is dead. He was 95.
The death was confirmed by a monk at the Tu Hieu Pagoda in Hue, Vietnam, who said Nhat Hanh, known as Thay to his followers, died at midnight Saturday morning. The monk refused to be named because he is not authorized to speak to the media.
A post on Nhat Hanh’s verified Twitter page attributed to The International Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism also confirmed the news, saying: “We invite our beloved global spiritual family to take a few moments to be quiet, to return to our attentive breathing as we together hold Thay in our hearts. “
Born as Nguyen Xuan Bao in 1926 and ordained as a 16-year-old, Nhat Hanh distilled Buddhist teachings on compassion and suffering into easy-to-understand guidance throughout a lifetime dedicated to working for peace. In 1961 he went to the United States to study and teach comparative religion for a time at Princeton and Columbia universities.
For most of the rest of his life, he lived in exile in Plum Village, a retreat center he founded in the south of France.
There and in conversations and retreats around the world, he introduced Zen Buddhism, in its essence, as peace through compassionate listening. Quiet and steadfast in his brown robes, he radiated an atmosphere of vigilant, entertaining calm, and he sometimes shared the stage with the somewhat livelier Tibetan Buddhist leader Dalai Lama.
“The peace we seek cannot be our personal property. We need to find an inner peace that enables us to become one with those who suffer and to do something to help our brothers and sisters. , that is, ourselves, ”wrote Nhat Hanh in one of his dozens of books. The sun my heart.
After surviving a stroke in 2014 that made him unable to speak, he returned to Vietnam in October 2018, where he spent his final years at the Tu Hieu Pagoda, the monastery where he was ordained nearly 80 years earlier.
Nhat Hanh threw himself into anti-war activism after his return to his homeland in 1964, when the Vietnam War escalated. There he founded the Order of Inter-being, which advocates “committed Buddhism”, dedicated to non-violence, mindfulness and social service.
In 1966, he met with American civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. in what was a remarkable encounter for both. Nhat Hanh told King that he was a “Bodhisattva”, or enlightened being, for his efforts to promote social justice.
The monk’s efforts to promote reconciliation between the US-backed South and communist North Vietnam impressed King so much that a year later he nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In his exchanges with King, Nhat Hanh explained one of the rare controversies in his long life of advocating for peace – over the burning of some Vietnamese monks and nuns to protest the war.
“I said this was not suicide, because in a difficult situation like Vietnam, it is difficult to hear its voice. So sometimes we have to burn ourselves alive for our voice to be heard, so it’s an act of compassion that you do, the act of love and not despair, “he said in an interview with US talk show host Oprah Winfrey. “Jesus Christ died in the same spirit.”
Sulak Sivaraksa, a Thai academic who embraced Nhat Hanh’s idea of socially engaged Buddhism, said the Zen master had “a little more than most monks and had been more involved in social justice.”
“In Vietnam in the 1950s and 1960s, he was very vulnerable to young people, and his community was in revolt, in crisis. He was really in a difficult position, between the devil and the deep blue sea – the Communists on the one hand, the CIA on the other. In such a situation, he has been very honest – as an activist, as a contemplative monk, as a poet and as a clear writer, “Sivaraksa said.
According to Nhat Hanh, Buddhism means being awake – aware of what is happening in one’s body, emotions, mind and in the world. If you are awake, you can do nothing but act compassionately to help alleviate the suffering you see around you. So Buddhism must be committed to the world. If it is not committed, it is not Buddhism. “
Both North and South Vietnam prevented Nhat Hanh from returning home after he went abroad in 1966 to campaign against the war, leaving him, he said, “like a bee without a beehive.”
He was first allowed back into the country in 2005 when the Communist-led government welcomed him back in the first of several visits. Nhat Hanh remained based in the south of France.
The dramatic return seemed to signal a easing of control over religion. Nhat Hanh’s followers were invited by the abbot of Bat Nha to settle in his mountain monastery, where they remained for several years until relations with the authorities began to sour over Nhat Hanh’s calls to stop government control over religion.
In late 2009 to early 2010, Nhat Hanh’s followers were thrown out of the monastery and from another temple where they had sought refuge.
Over the course of nearly eight decades, the teachings of Nhat Hanh were refined into concepts accessible to all.
To cope with life’s storms and realize happiness, he always advised an attentive “return to breathing,” even while doing routine chores such as sweeping and washing up.
“I try to live every moment like that, relaxed, staying peaceful in the moment and responding to events with compassion,” he told Oprah.
Nhat Hanh moved to Thailand in late 2016 and then returned to Vietnam in late 2018, where he received traditional medical treatments for the aftermath of his stroke and enjoyed “tours” around the temple area in his wheelchair, according to Buddhist online LionsRoar.com Newsletter.
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It was a quiet, simple end to an extraordinary life, a hero in line with his love of taking joy from the humblest aspects of life. “No mud, no lotus,” says one of his many short words.