Thich Nhat Hanh, pronounced Tik-N’yat-Hawn, is a Vietnamese monk of the Zen tradition of Buddhism, part of the Mahayana branch of Buddhism. I stumbled across him when studying Buddhism in around 2006 and over time I collected about 20 of his books, out of the many he has written.
One of several highly influential people I have encountered in my short life, who has shaped who I am as a writer and inspired me in ways few can. One of those profound human beings you’ve probably never heard of, who has effected this world in ways you can only dream of.
Born as Nguyen Xuan Bao in Hue, Vietnam on October 11, 1926 and later ordained at the age of 16, he has become a modern day legend in human rights the world over. First displaying his dedication to the practice he developed called Engaged Buddhism, when he chose to stay during the hell-fire of the Vietnam War, caring for the injured on both sides of the conflict. In 1966, while traveling abroad, both the Viet Cong and South Vietnamese political parties banned him from returning.
A spiritual leader, author, artist, humanitarian, and Nobel Peace Prize nominee, there are few people who can speak on matters of the heart and soul the way that Nhat Hanh has for the last 8 decades. A bright light, pure and unyielding, from a generation far stronger than my own. Humble, balanced and wise souls like him are what our world needs the most and yet has the least. His presence is only rivaled by that of Tenzin Gyatso, the 14th Dalai Lama of the Tibetan Buddhist tradition, a sub-branch of Vajrayana Buddhism.
In 2014, Thich had a stroke at Plum Village Monastery in southern France, a Zen Buddhist center he founded and had been living at since 1982. The stroke caused partial paralysis and he became wheelchair bound and unable to speak. In 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh was permitted to return home to Vietnam for the first time since 1966 to live out his remaining time in the land of his youth, the land that sparked his spiritual journey.
I find it deeply saddening that his remaining time in this world will be short. However, he will be leaving behind a phenomenal legacy that will carry on through his students for generations to come. Thich Nhat Hanh spent a lot of time and effort bringing Zen Buddhist practices to the West in a way that was practical and useful to our way of life.
Thich Nhat Hanh has been and will continue to be a strong spiritual leader.
A poem by Nhat Hanh:
Promise me this day,
Promise me now,
While the sun is overhead
Exactly at the zenith,
Even as they
Strike you down
With a mountain of hatred and violence;
Even as they step on you and crush you like a worm,
Even as they dismember and disembowel you,
Man is not your enemy.
The only thing worthy of you is compassion – invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face the beast in man.
One day, when you face this beast alone,
With your courage intact, your eyes kind,
Untroubled (even as no one sees them),
Out of your smile
Will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
Will behold you
Across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.
I will go on with bent head,
Knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road,
The sun and the moon
Will continue to shine,
Guiding my way.
– Thich Nhat Hanh
He wrote this in response to the 1967 executions of 4 young Buddhist monks, who had joined the School of Youth for Social Service in Vietnam during the war, an organization led by Thich Nhat Hanh that provided medical care to victims on both sides of the conflict.