Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh: Man of Peace

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh truly embodies ‘Living Peace’. He is a monk, poet, scholar, artist and best–selling author, and at the same time a pioneering community–builder and global spiritual leader. Every aspect of his life is ‘living peace’.

He has a lifetime of engaged peace work behind him: including calling for peace during the Vietnam War and rescuing Vietnamese Boat People in the 1960s and 70s and subsequently tirelessly working for the healing and reconciliation of all parties; addressing terrorism and violence in modern society at national and international levels; fostering reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians; and proposing radical steps for humankind to make peace with Mother Earth.

But what makes him such an exceptional ‘man of peace’ is the sheer scope of his contribution, through writings, teaching tours and retreats: his peace work has spanned more than fifty years and reached millions of people at all levels of society and in all walks of life – from politicians, businessmen and policemen to scientists, teachers and teenagers. His prolific writings have been translated into 32 languages in 35 countries on all continents, reaching millions across the world, from Europe and America to China, Russia, Korea and India.

He has not simply worked for peace, but has developed simple, joyful and immediately effective practices of peace, rooted in Buddhism and applied to the challenges of modern life.

And he has built living “beloved communities” (Sanghas) of monks, nuns, laymen and laywomen, a little bit everywhere in the world, who train in these practices of peace and share them with tens of thousands of people every year, use these practices to bring peace, love and understanding to all aspects of their life – in the family, in relationships, in schools and in workplaces. His practices have been applied to powerful effect in prisons, healthcare settings, council chambers and parliaments, and in conflicts between peoples and nations.

Thich Nhat Hanh himself truly embodies ‘Living Peace’
Thich Nhat Hanh’s lifetime of engaged peace work
a) Calling for peace during the Vietnam War
b) Rescuing Vietnamese Boat People in the 1960s and 70s
c) Tirelessly working for the healing and reconciliation of all parties
d) Addressing terrorism and violence in modern society at national and international levels
e) Fostering reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians
f) Proposing radical steps for humankind to make peace with Mother Earth

Thich Nhat Hanh: an exceptional man of peace
Thich Nhat Hanh’s “practices of peace”
Thich Nhat Hanh’s “living communities”of peace all over the world

1. Thich Nhat Hanh himself truly embodies ‘Living Peace’

He was called “An Apostle of peace and nonviolence” by Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1967, when King nominated him for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize: “Thich Nhat Hanh is a holy man, for he is humble and devout. He is a scholar of immense intellectual capacity. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”

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. “

Anyone who has met him, heard him talk, or seen him talk comments on his deeply tranquil presence and calm – combined with light energy and smile as innocent as a little child’s.

He himself lives all his mindfulness practices throughout the day. “Every step I take I take in mindfulness” he says. This is clear when you see him walk – peacefully, gently and joyfully. In his lectures he often describes how he brushes his teeth or washes the dishes with gentleness and mindfulness. His Holiness the Dalai Lama has said of Thich Nhat Hanh, “He shows us the connection between personal, inner peace, and peace on earth.”

For Thich Nhat Hanh, ‘peace’ is an active verb. It is an energy to be generated at every moment, and something to help others generate. It is a way of looking at the world, and responding to situations of the world.

Not only has Thich Nhat Hanh worked tirelessly to call for peace (see below), but he has responded peacefully even in moments where he has been personally challenged or attacked, verbally or violently.

Even during the Vietnam War, when several of his students were killed and a grenade was thrown into his own room Thich Nhat Hanh maintained, “The real enemy of man is not man. The real enemy is our ignorance, discrimination, fear, craving, and violence.”

When his monastery in Vietnam, Bat Nha, was shut down by the Communist Government in September 2009, and his 400 disciples forcibly dispersed and were prevented from practicing as a sangha in Vietnam, in breach of their human rights, he guided all his students to practice not only non–violence but also compassion for their oppressors, and in his public statements he too expressed compassion for the government while nonetheless exhorting the authorities to respect religious freedom.

He is famous for offering all over the world, with his monastic sangha, the “compassion chant” invoking the name of Bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara. Thich Nhat Hanh says both chanting it and listening to it is “a practice of mindfulness of compassion.” Listeners are deeply moved to experience the powerful collective energy of peace and healing.

2. Thich Nhat Hanh’s lifetime of peace work 

a) Calling for peace during the Vietnam War: During the wars in Vietnam, my friends and I declared ourselves neutral; we took no sides and we had no enemies, North or South, French, American or Vietnamese. We saw that the first victim of war is the person who perpetrates it.

In 1964, along with a group of university professors and students in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh, together with his senior students Sister Chan Khong and Sister Nhat Chi Mai (who immolated herself for peace), 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 rebuild bombed villages. Over 10,000 monks, nuns, and young social workers were involved in the work.

Thich Nhat Hanh, already a prominent writer and editor in Buddhist circles, called for reconciliation between the warring parties in Vietnam, and because of that his writings were censored by both opposing governments.

Throughout the 1960s Thich Nhat Hanh travelled across Europe and America to meet with politicians and spiritual leaders to call for peace in Vietnam, including US Senators and the Secretary for Defense Macnamara. After meeting with Martin Luther King, Jr. , leader of the US Civil Rights Movement in 1966, Dr. King publicly questioned U. S. involvement in Vietnam, and US public opinion began to turn in favor of ending the war. In Europe he met and worked with many Catholic peace activists and had two audiences with Pope Paul VI. Thich Nhat Hanh led the Buddhist Peace Delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969.

He was banned from returning to Vietnam as a result of these reconciliatory and nonviolent efforts. At a time when everyone in Vietnam was aligning with the North or the South, he refused to take sides, and so was attacked by all of them. “The warring parties all declared that they wanted to fight until the end,” he said in a 2010 interview. “And those of us who tried to speak about reconciliation between brothers and brothers—they didn’t allow us back”, he continued.

If you have experienced the suffering of war, you can recognize the value of peace. Otherwise, you don’t appreciate peace, and you want to make war. So your experience of the suffering of war serves as the background for your happiness about peace.

When I was a novice in Vietnam, we young monks witnessed the suffering caused by the war. So we were very eager to practice Buddhism in such a way that we could bring it into society. That was not easy because the tradition does not directly offer Engaged Buddhism. We had to do it by ourselves.

Thich Nhat Hanh is now widely recognized in the West as the original proponent of “Engaged Buddhism”, the practice of applying the insights gained from meditation and dharma teachings to alleviate suffering of a social, environmental or political nature. The term was first used in his book Lotus in a Sea of Fire published during the war. Thich Nhat Hanh says “All Buddhism is engaged” – meditation is about the awareness of what is going on – not only in your body and your feelings, but all around you.

b) Rescuing Vietnamese Boat People in the 1970s and 80s: In the 1970s and 80s Thich Nhat Hanh’s tireless peace work centered not just around calling for peace, but also efforts to rescue and support refugees fleeing the War in Vietnam. In a recent open letter to his students, Thich Nhat Hanh recalled one of his challenging moments:

In 1976, while directing the operation “Your Suffering is My Suffering” to save the boat people, I was discovered by the Singapore police and ordered to leave Singapore within 24 hours. They surrounded my office at two in the morning, came inside and confiscated my passport, saying that they would only return it to me when I left their territory. Meanwhile, the two boats Leapdal and Roland were full of boat people, and the plan to take them to Australia for refuge had been revealed by the press’s curiosity. The boat Saigon 200, which was responsible for providing water, food and medicine to the boat people, was also captured. Furthermore, a storm was raging out at sea, and the two boats full of our boat people (over 589) were not allowed to stop in the harbor to avoid the gale.

That night, I had the feeling that I was floating out there in the waves and the wind with all the boat people. I did sitting meditation and walking meditation the entire night to look for a solution. I had confidence in the Three Jewels, in the Sangha, and in the end, I found the solution. I waited until the morning to ask the French ambassador, Mr. Jacques Gasseau, to intervene with the Singapore government to enable me to remain for another ten days to complete the program. It was that night that I meditated on the Koan ‘‘If you want peace, you will be peace.” If we truly want peace, and then there is peace. Peace is in the midst of danger.

c) Tirelessly working for the healing and reconciliation of all parties: What is remarkable about Thich Nhat Hanh’s peace work is that it expanded far beyond his initial mission to bring peace to Vietnam and an end to the war. His efforts for peace soon embraced even the very people who had been bombing his homeland, as he worked tirelessly to bring peace, healing and reconciliation to all sides.

On his teaching tours in America, Thich Nhat Hanh held retreats for American Vietnam War Veterans, sharing with them his practices of mindfulness, understanding and love. Veterans continue to attend his retreats and share both their suffering and transformation.

On his return to Vietnam in 2005 after 39 years of exile, Thich Nhat Hanh brought the message: “There is nothing more important than Brotherhood and Sisterhood, not even Buddhism.” Above all, he took from the horrors of war the realisation that brother should not kill brother, not for the sake of political ideology, fanaticism nor religious self–righteousness.

The purpose of his 2nd trip to Vietnam in 2007 was to conduct Requiem Masses dedicated to all people who died in the war, regardless of which side they were on, or whether they were Vietnamese or Americans. The ceremonies were remarkable for their scale, for the fact that they were all victims of the war bringing together so many elements of Vietnamese society for the powerful experience of collective healing.

The ceremonies brought very deep healing to many people. All of these things show the power of the people; the power of humanity; the power of love. In Vietnam we clearly saw how true, spiritual power can move gently and peacefully to change a whole nation – yes; even a whole world.

d) Addressing terrorism and violence in modern society at national and international levels: Thich Nhat Hanh has been a consistent, outspoken and creative advocate of peace and reconciliation in addressing pressing questions of terrorism and violence.

In 2000, TNH collaborated with Nobel Peace Laureates to draft the UNESCO’s “Manifesto 2000,” with six points on the Practice of Peace and Non–violence, incorporating elements of his modern Five Mindfulness Trainings.

Thich Nhat Hanh is remembered in America for his moving address at the Riverside Church in New York City just a few days after the September 11th terrorist attacks. One audience member recalled, “It was a profound moment of peace and healing in a very turbulent time.” In his address, Thich Nhat Hanh exhorted Americans to recover their calm and lucidity so they “would know what to do and what not to do in order not to make the situation worse.” He even dared to encourage Americans to understand the terrorists, and to listen to them. America’s political leaders should ask the question, calmly and with clarity: “What have we done that has made you suffer so much? We want to know about your suffering and why you hate us. We may have said something or done something that gave you the impression that we wanted to destroy you. But that is not the case. We are confused, and that is why we want you to help us understand why you have done such a thing to us.” “I call this loving or gentle speech,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.

It is my deepest hope that our political leaders can make use of such instruments to bring peace to the world. I believe that using force and violence can only make the situation worse.

Two years later in 2003, while America was fighting in Iraq, Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to address members of the US Congress, offering a lecture and retreat. The events entitled “Leading with Clarity, Compassion and Courage” were attended, remarkably, by both Republicans and Democrats. Thich Nhat Hanh boldly and fearlessly addressed the issue of the Iraq War and violence in society, saying:

“Since September 11th, America has not been able to decrease the level of hate and violence on the part of the terrorists. In fact, the level of hate and violence has increased. We have to look deeply and to find another less costly way to bring peace to us and to them. Violence cannot remove violence—everyone knows that. Only with the practice of deep listening and gentle communication can we help remove wrong perceptions that are at the foundation of violence. Only the drop of compassion can put out the flames of hatred.” 

I do not accept the concept of a war for peace, a “just war,” as I also cannot accept the concept of “just slavery,” “just hatred,” or “just racism.”

In 2008, on a visit to India as a ‘Distinguished Guest’ of the government, Thich Nhat Hanh addressed the Opening of Parliament, making recommendations for improving the quality of communication between representatives. “Ten days later”, says Thich Nhat Hanh, “I heard that the President of the Parliament had set up a cross–party committee to address the question of deep listening and loving speech in the Congress”.

On the same trip, Thich Nhat Hanh was invited to be “Guest Editor” of the Times of India in New Delhi on Mahatma Gandhi’s Memorial Day, and wrote articles such as one entitled, “Only You Can Uproot the Terror Menace”.

In 2012 Thich Nhat Hanh addressed members of the UK House of Lords, and members of the Northern Ireland Assembly. Ireland’s Belfast Telegraph newspaper described him as “Transcending Politics: the Zen Master who brought an aura of calm to Stormont.” Government staffer Bridgeen Rea said: “It was another important step on the path to peace, an encouragement to work for peace inside ourselves and in our community, a significant day to build new dreams on.”

e) Fostering reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians: A remarkable contribution to international peace has been the reconciliation work between Israelis and Palestinians that Thich Nhat Hanh has guided at his Plum Village monastery in France.

“We have invited Israelis and Palestinians to Plum Village to practice with us. When they come they bring anger, suspicion, fear and hate, but after a week or two of the practices of mindful walking, mindful breathing, mindful eating and mindful sitting, they are able to recognize their pain, embrace it and find relief. When they are trained in the practice of deep listening, they are able to listen to others and realize that people from the other groups suffer as they do. When you know that the other side also suffers from violence, from hate, from fear and despair, you begin to look at them with the eyes of compassion. At that moment you suffer less and you make them suffer less. Communication becomes possible with the use of loving speech and deep listening. “

The Israelis and Palestinians always come together as a group at the end of their stay in Plum Village. They always report the success of their practice. They always go back to the Middle East intending to continue the practice and invite others to join them, so that those others might suffer less and help others to suffer less too.

I believe that peace negotiations should follow this pattern also.

f) Proposing radical steps for humankind to make peace with Mother Earth: Reverence and love for “Mother Earth” have long been a key element in Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings and teachings. In the 1970s, he helped organize one of Europe’s first ecological conferences. Now, with increasing ecological destruction and global warming, Thich Nhat Hanh has spoken out boldly in defense of Mother Earth, calling for a “collective awakening” to make peace with the planet, “our only home”.

In 2006 Thich Nhat Hanh addressed UNESCO, calling for specific steps to reverse the cycle of violence, war, and global warming. Since that day all his practice centers observe a weekly ‘No Car Day’. His Deer Park Monastery in California is powered entirely by solar panels.

It is possible for us to do something now, don’t despair. There is something we can all do. There is still a chance. Recognize that and do it and you will find peace. Don’t allow yourself to be carried away by despair.

In 2007, he announced that all practice centers and retreats in his tradition would be vegan, consuming no dairy or egg products,

… to help everyone become aware of the danger of global warming, in order to help save Mother Earth and all species. We know that if there is no collective awakening, then the earth and all species will not have a chance to be saved. Our daily life has to show that we are awake. 

In 2010 London’s Independent newspaper described him as a “green crusader”, saying his monastic order “is at the forefront of a grassroots green movement, attracting increasing numbers of people disaffected with modern living and looking for a greener, more sustainable future.”

He has said that we have to accept the possibility of the end of civilization, “You have to learn to accept that hard fact,” he told the UK’s Ecologist magazine in 2012. Only once we have overcome our fear, he argues, we will have the clarity and energy to act.

In 2011 he published a groundbreaking article, Intimate Conversation with Mother Earth, a moving and poetic call for us to see Planet Earth as a true wonder, a sacred mother, and as part of us humans – not merely an ‘environment’ outside of us. Only when we “fall in love with Mother Earth”, and experience that change in our own heart, he argues, will we truly awaken and know what to do and what not to do to protect her.

3. Thich Nhat Hanh: an exceptional man of peace

What makes Thich Nhat Hanh such an exceptional ‘man of peace’ is the sheer scope of his contribution, through writings, teaching tours and retreats: his peace work has spanned more than fifty years and reached thousands of people in dozens of countries, at all levels of society and all walks of life – from politicians, businessmen and policemen to scientists, teachers and teenagers.

Thich Nhat Hanh was a prolific and popular author of meditation handbooks, sutra commentaries and translations, poetry and children’s stories. He has published over 90 titles in English. His books have sold in the millions worldwide and have been translated into over thirty–five languages. Peace is Every Step, The Miracle of Mindfulness and Being Peace and have become classic texts of meditation and mindfulness.

According to America’s Public Radio, “Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most revered and beloved spiritual thinkers of our time—beloved by people of many faiths and none.”

Thich Nhat Hanh is an important voice on the international stage. According to renowned Tibetan monk and author, Sogyal Rinpoche: “Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most important voices of our time, and we have never needed to listen to him more than now.”

Thich Nhat Hanh first came to the West in 1961 to study and teach Comparative Religion at Princeton and Columbia Universities in America. Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching career in the West has spanned half a century, and he has travelled widely, offering public lectures and leading retreats, developing a huge following. Even at the age of 87 in 2013 he continues to keep an impressive schedule, invited around the world. He was once asked what he finds the most difficult in his life, and he said, “Saying No when a country invites us to lead a retreat.” Every year tens of thousands of people visit his practice centers in Europe, America and Asia for retreats or to participate in ‘days of mindfulness’. He is now often referred to as “the most beloved Buddhist Teacher in the West.”

In 2003 and 2011 he led retreats for members of the US Congress, and has offered special retreats for businessmen, law enforcement officers, psychotherapists, teachers, families, young adults, teenagers, and scientists (in 2006 and 2012).

London’s Independent newspaper described Thich Nhat Hanh in 2010 as “The Zen Master Who Fills Stadiums.” It is true that when Thich Nhat Hanh gave a lecture at the Hong Kong Convention Center in 2010, over 8,000 people, including many dignitaries, attended his talk. In March 2012, when he led a mass public sitting meditation in London’s iconic Trafalgar Square, 4,000 people participated. It was an unprecedented event in London’s history, in a public square usually known for noisy political protests and film–premiere fanfares.

In 2012 the Irish Times front page described him as “The Father of Mindfulness” in the West. Jim Yong Kim, President of the World Bank, in an interview upon taking up his post, said that Thich Nhat Hanh’s Miracle of Mindfulness is his favorite book.

4. Thich Nhat Hanh’s “practices of peace”

Not only has Thich Nhat Hanh worked for peace, he has developed simple, joyful and immediately effective practices of peace, rooted in Buddhism and applied to the challenges of modern life. He teaches mindfulness of breath and body in every activity of daily life, the practice of walking meditation collectively in parks or gardens, and the practice of sitting meditation with joy and ease.

We need to practice peace with our partner, children, friends, neighbors, and society.

Only this kind of practice will allow the flower of peace to take root in our families, in our communities, and in the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh recognizes the challenges, and malaise of modern life, and his practices address this. 

We have to reconsider our values in society and live a simpler life. People are getting busier and busier. We don’t feel comfortable, we don’t have space, we lack time. We may have more money than in the past, but we have less space and less happiness and less love. So we should have a revolution which must start with a collective awakening. We have to stop and look for another direction.

Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile.

Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment.

This simple exercise captures the essence of the practices of peace Thich Nhat Hanh offers to senators, businessmen, teachers, children and scientists alike. Everyone is invited to return to their breath and their body, to the present moment, in order to take care, first of all, of themselves.

Life is available only in the present moment. The past is gone, the future is not yet here, and if we do not go back to ourselves in the present moment, we cannot be in touch with life.

If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now.

The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it. What’s already available in the here and now is plenty for us to be nourished, to be happy. You don’t need to stress your mind and your body by striving harder and harder, and you don’t need to stress this planet by purchasing more and more stuff.

Thich Nhat Hanh says that “I have arrived, I am home,” is “the shortest and most important Dharma Talk I have ever given” – the practice of feeling at home, at peace, at ease within one’s own heart.

Thich Nhat Hanh emphasizes returning naturally to one’s breathing throughout the day, no matter where you are or what you are doing, whether you are walking from your car to your office, waiting in line, brushing your teeth or washing the dishes.

Peace is present right here and now, in ourselves and in everything we do and see. Every breath we take, every step we take, can be filled with peace, joy, and serenity.
Peace is your every breath.

Another hallmark of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching is the lightness, ease and joy he says we should bring to breathing, sitting meditation or walking meditation. “To breathe is not hard labor,” he says.

If you don’t find it pleasant to sit, don’t sit. Sitting should be pleasant. When you turn on the television in your living room, you can sit for hours without suffering. Yet when you sit for meditation, you suffer. Why? Because you struggle. You have to learn how to sit without fighting. In the teachings of the Buddha, ease and joy are elements of enlightenment. In life, there’s a lot of suffering. Why do you have to suffer more by practicing Buddhism? You practice Buddhism in order to suffer less, right? The Buddha is a happy person. When the Buddha sits, he sits happily, and when he walks, he walks happily.

“We have to walk in a way that we only print peace and serenity on the earth… Walk as if you are kissing the earth with your feet.” He has developed the practice of collective walking meditations, during retreats and special events, through gardens, parks or even city centers. He has led mindful peace walks for thousands in Paris, LA (2005), New Delhi (2008) and Rome (2010). In New York, he even invited followers to practice walking meditation through the subway.

His style of walking meditation has even been adopted in the US Congress. “I know some members of Congress who practice walking meditation on Capitol Hill,” says Thich Nhat Hanh.

One of them says that when he goes to the floor to vote, he always practices walking meditation, stopping his thinking completely. His office is very busy; every day he has to answer many questions, to deal with so many different things. So the only time during the day when he can really stop his thinking and get a rest is when he goes out to cast a vote. He focuses his mind entirely on his breathing and on his steps, not thinking at all, and he says it helps him a lot to survive the hectic life of a Congressman.

In recognition of the unique contribution his mindfulness exercises and training have made to medical science and health, Harvard Medical School University has awarded him the Institute of Mind Body Medicine Award – the first time the Buddhist teaching of mindful training has been recognized by the US medical profession.

Thich Nhat Hanh is always creating new and playful practices. In 2012, he invited practitioners to “Turn off Radio NST” – Radio Non–Stop–Thinking – while walking or eating in order to be fully present for every step throughout the day, or every mouthful of food.

“Peace in oneself, peace in the world.” Thich Nhat Hanh teaches that in order to take care of others, we first have to take care of ourselves; in order to be present for our loved ones we first have to be present for ourselves. He teaches people to use the tools of mindful breathing, walking and releasing tension in the body, and to look at themselves with the eyes of compassion. He teaches how each one of us can learn to generate a feeling of happiness; and how to handle a strong emotion. Together with his Senior Disciple Sister Chan Khong he has developed the practices of deep, total relaxation and touching the earth as tools to accept and embrace ourselves as we are. “Be beautiful, be yourself,” he says.

For decades Thich Nhat Hanh has been developing mindfulness practices adapted for young people. His groundbreaking manual for practicing mindfulness with children, ‘Planting Seeds’, was published in 2011. The same year he announced a new program to train teachers to offer his mindfulness practices in their classroom. The Hong Kong Under–Minister for Education attended his five–day retreat in Hong Kong in 2010, and Jerry Brown, Governor of California committed himself in 2011 to piloting Thich Nhat Hanh’s Applied Ethics program in Oakland’s public schools.

But what most endears Thich Nhat Hanh to his audience is usually his wise, tender and practical teachings on taking care of relationships. True Love and Reconciliation are two of Thich Nhat Hanh’s bestselling books.

The most precious gift we can give the one we love is our true presence.

We can’t say we love that person unless we’re truly present for them.

We live in a time when we have a very sophisticated means for communication, but communication has become very difficult between individuals and groups of people. Father cannot talk to son, mother cannot talk to daughter, and maybe husband cannot talk to wife. And Israelis cannot talk to Palestinians, and Hindus cannot talk to Muslims. And that is why we have war, we have violence. That is why restoring communication is the basic work for peace, and our political and our spiritual leaders have to focus all their energy on this matter. If they cannot communicate with themselves, if they cannot communicate with members of their family, if they cannot communicate with people in their own country, they have no understanding that will serve as a basis for right action, and they will make a lot of mistakes.

In 2011 Thich Nhat Hanh led a day of mindfulness for over 700 employees at Google’s Headquarters in Silicon Valley. His forthcoming book, Work (2013), presents a toolkit of mindfulness exercises to bring peace and harmony to the workplace.

5. Thich Nhat Hanh’s “living communities”of peace all over the world

Perhaps Thich Nhat Hanh’s greatest achievement has been the creation of ‘living communities’ of peace all over the world. It is Thich Nhat Hanh’s talent and success in community building that sets him apart from other peace leaders and spiritual thinkers. His communities embody his practices of peace and make them available to a vast audience across four continents. And it is these communities that will carry his legacy of peace long into the future.

Peace always begins with yourself as an individual, and, as an individual, you might help build a community of peace. That’s what we try to do. And when the community of a few hundred people knows the practice of peace and brotherhood, you can become the refuge for many others who come to you and profit from the practice of peace and brotherhood. Then they will join you, and the community will get larger and larger all the time. Also the practice of peace and brotherhood will be offered to many other people. That is what is going on.

Thich Nhat Hanh has ordained over 800 monastic disciples, who reside permanently as a sangha in practice centers in France, Germany, New York, Mississippi, California, Thailand, Hong Kong, Vietnam and Australia. His Plum Village practice center in France has the largest number of resident monastics of any Buddhist monastery in the West. Every year tens of thousands of people visit his practice centers and participate in days of mindfulness in his tradition.

Thich Nhat Hanh encourages lay practitioners to create their own sanghas, and to come together for days or evenings of mindfulness, to practice sitting meditation, eating meditation and walking meditation together. There are 400 such sanghas active in the US, and over 70 each in the UK, France and Germany. Thich Nhat Hanh sanghas can be found in almost every country of the world. His lay disciples have established practice centers in Italy, Germany, America, Canada and New Zealand. He has written practical manuals – Joyfully Together and Creating True Peace – on how to create and sustain happy practice communities.

At the heart of his students’ mindfulness practice are his Revised Five Mindfulness Trainings:

The five mindfulness trainings are a very concrete practice of love. In our tradition, the Buddhist tradition, we learn how to apply the trainings in our daily life. They are for action, not for speculation. You don’t just sign a petition; you make it into your life, your path. Then you are happy because you know that you have a path of understanding and love. Since you have a path of understanding and love, there’s no reason why you have to be afraid of your future anymore. 

These trainings, says Thich Nhat Hanh, “represent the Buddhist vision of a global spirituality and ethic,” the kind of global ethics that may be acceptable to people of all faiths and none. He presented the trainings in an address to the World Parliament of Religions on the 6th December 2009.

If we cannot take practical measures to bring about a global ethic of nonviolence, we will not have enough strength to face and deal with the difficulties we will encounter in this new century. We can do this. True peace is possible.

During the course of his teaching tours and retreats in the last ten years alone, Thich Nhat Hanh has personally transmitted the Five Mindfulness trainings to over 70,000 people, in a dozen different languages. Over 2,000 people, lay and monastic, have been trained and mentored to join the core community of his Order of Interbeing.

In 2008 Thich Nhat Hanh established the International Wake Up Movement for Young People (“Young Buddhists and Non–Buddhists for a Healthy and Compassionate Society”), active in Europe, Asia and America. The movement creates opportunities for young people to come together for retreats and days of mindfulness to train in Thich Nhat Hanh’s practices of peace. In the last two years experienced Wake Up practitioners have toured universities across the US, in the UK, Italy, Spain and Ireland, to offer mindfulness workshops, relaxations and mentoring to students and their teachers.

Wake Up is a community of young practitioners who want to help their society – a society overloaded with intolerance, discrimination, craving, anger and despair. Their practice is the Five Mindfulness Trainings, ethical guidelines offered by the Buddha – the most concrete practice of true love and compassion. They clearly show the way towards a life in harmony with each other and with the Earth. 

We may feel anger and frustration when we see the environmental degradation caused by our society, and we feel despair because as individuals we don’t seem to be strong enough to change our way of life. Wake Up offers us a way to pool our energy and act in synchrony. Let us get together and form a Wake Up group in our own town. Our collective practice will surely bring transformation and healing to individuals and society. 


Thich Nhat Hanh was once asked by a journalist if he had any final burning questions or issues in his heart. This was his reply:

My practice is to live in the here and the now. It is a great happiness to be able to live and to do what you like to live and to do. My practice is centered in the present moment. I know that if we know how to handle the present moment as best we can, then that is as much as we can do for the future. That is why I’m at peace with myself. That’s my practice every day, and that is very nourishing.

(Trích từ cuốn sách Thầy Tôi – Nhà xuất bản Trung Đạo xuất bản năm 2016)

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