Thich simply means “teacher”. Nhat Hahn’s friends and students use the Vietnamese word Thay’ to honor the Thien Buddhist Master.
Born in Vietnam in 1926 he has personally experienced the horrors of three wars, been exiled from his home, and has suffered persecution for his belief that only through love and compassion can we avoid war. He devoted his life to Buddhism at the age of sixteen when he entered the Tu Hieu Pagoda. There he learned the compassionate teachings of the Buddha and the meditative power of Thien (Zen).
Nhat Hahn came to America in the early 1960s to attend Princeton University. His studies in comparative religions had a profound effect. He came to understand that the parallels between Christianity and Buddhism were numerous and strong. Among the more than one hundred books of fiction and philosophy and poetry he has authored, two speak to the religion’s similarities. “Living Buddha, Living Christ”, 1995 and “Going Home, Jesus and Buddha as Brothers”, 1999 published by Riverbend Books show the depth of his belief.
He returned to Vietnam during the war. Nhat Hahn pioneered the idea of Engaged Buddhism’ during those years. He encouraged Buddhist and non-Buddhist to actively and non-violently engage in civil disobedience. Forming the School of Youth for Social Services he sent out young people to help refugees, rebuild destroyed villages, and work toward an end to the war. His tireless attempts to foster peaceful relations within his country and among his divided people earned him censure from the government. The non-communist and communist governments exiled him for undermining the war effort on both sides.
Thich Nhat Hahn led the Vietnamese Buddhist Delegation at the Paris Peace Talks. Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Martin Luther King said, “Thich Nhat Hahn 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.”
Active at the age of 81, Venerable Nhat Hahn conducts retreats for American Vietnam War Veterans, members of the psychiatric professions, environmental activist and children. He founded Plum Village in France and the Green Mountain Dharma Center in Vermont, USA. Both places he calls home.
Mindfulness training is at the heart of his teachings. To be in the moment, to be mindful of every action or inaction you take will bring an understanding of the interconnectivity of all things. He presents a series of Gathas in his book “Present Moment, Wonderful Moment”. They are mindfulness verses to recite when accomplishing daily tasks.
Thich Nhat Hahn’s writing is clear, concise and accessible to everyone. Every word and phrase communicates with compassion. “The Heart of Buddha’s Teaching”, 1998, Broadway Books, is an excellent introduction the teachings of the Buddha and to Thich Nhat Hahn’s own teachings of Mindfulness.
Thich Nhat Hahn’s precept of Engaged Buddhism’ is a major component of Western Buddhism. His calming smile and positive outlook prove that suffering can be overcome. People of all faiths and beliefs can learn from his lectures and books.