On the ‘Continuation’ of Master Thich Nhat Hanh
I am a continuation, like the rain is a continuation of the cloud.
— Thich Nhat Hanh
In his 95 years on earth, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh probably did more to spread the message of mindfulness than anyone else in the contemporary world. I have long admired him and embraced his teachings on leading a life enhanced by mindfulness. Though Thich Nhat Hanh approached mindfulness from a Buddhist perspective, his teachings resonate far beyond the confines of religion.
One of the first monks to ride a bicycle, Thay (teacher), as he was affectionately called, forged a legacy for himself as someone who transcended the longstanding dichotomy between religious and lay people. He believed whether or not one practices a religion or a form of spirituality, the fact that we are all human means we all have the same potential as seekers of mindfulness. As seekers of wellbeing.
We can find peace, mindfulness and spiritual enlightenment outside the church, the temple, the mosque, or the synagogue. We can find it in our everyday actions. In the simple chores that we do. In riding a bike. In reading a book. In helping a friend. In the simple act of being. To quote Thay himself, mindfulness is always mindfulness of something:
So, mindfulness of sadness, mindfulness of joy, mindfulness of anger, mindfulness of drinking, mindfulness of walking, mindfulness of breathing, mindfulness of cooking; mindfulness can be practiced at every moment of your daily life.
A life well lived
Thay entered a monastery at age 16, in 1942. Several of his brothers did the same. From behind the walls of the monastery, he witnessed the Japanese occupation of Vietnam (1940-45), the catastrophic 1945 famine, and the Vietnam War (1955-1975). Profoundly impacted by the ravages of war and natural calamities on his country, he made a plea for peace in his ‘Buddhist Proposal for Peace’, published in Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire (1967) — one of a hundred books he is credited with authoring. Thay wrote that he felt an obligation to work actively in his home country’s effort to escape destruction in the intense power struggle between capitalism and communism. It earned him a nomination for the Nobel Peace Prize that same year, and exile from Vietnam for 39 years.
This was only the beginning of what would become a long career marked by a gentle, humble, soft-spoken man’s desire to help the world through decades of crises, pain, and the search for happiness, both global and individual. Always true to his pacifist principles, he was called “an Apostle of peace and nonviolence” by Martin Luther King, Jr.
Thay’s desire to help was never for posturing or grandstanding, but out of a genuine love for humankind. He ended up settling in France with a community of like-minded thinkers and spiritualists. Together, they founded Plum Village, a monastic farmstead in the Dordogne Valley in the southwestern part of the country. The first of many such projects, it offers an environment of wellbeing where people can learn to live in harmony with one another and with the planet.
He went on to establish schools all over the world, teaching mindfulness to children and adults, and traveled far and wide to take his principles and training wherever he could. His mission to democratize mindfulness through education inspires my own quest to democratize Wholistic Wellbeing.
It is precisely this openness to others, this passion for bringing peace to the world, this refusal to guard his knowledge and desire to share it with people from all backgrounds, that make Thay such a hero.
I join the mindfulness community in mourning his peaceful passing — or as he would call it, ‘continuation’ — at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam on January 22. May his soul and his wisdom live on forever.
Time is not money. Time is life. Time is love.
— Thich Nhat Hanh