Hello! In celebration of Thich Nhat Hanh’s upcoming birthday on October 11th, I’ve decided to share his story and basic teachings with you. His texts have changed my life. I hope they inspire a similar change in you.
Who Is Thich Nhat Hanh?
Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) is a Zen Master. He began studying as a monk at the age of 16 in his home country of Vietnam. He sought to restore Buddhism in Vietnam. While working towards this goal, he founded the Engaged Buddhism movement when war broke out in his home country. Thay eventually took his teachings elsewhere in 1961. He taught Comparative Religion at Princeton, After this, Thich Nhat Hanh began La Boi publishing house. It was a magazine that promoted peaceful activism. Due to his work around the world, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Thay for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. He was exiled from Vietnam that same year for his work. The exile lasted for 39 years.
Thich Nhat Hanh, however, did not stop working. He went on to start the Plum Village in the early 1970s. It is now one of the West’s largest Buddhist monasteries. He also started the Wake Up Schools program in Europe, America, and Asia. The program trains teachers on how to promote mindfulness in the classroom. In addition to these accomplishments, he has published over 10 books and has led events for members of the US Congress and the UK’s Parliament.
Thay’s health, however, began declining in 2014 around his 88th birthday. He suffered a severe stroke which has left him unable to speak and mostly paralyzed on his right side. Due to his condition, he retired to the Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam where he was ordained. He has decided to stay there for the rest of his days. He still performs walking meditation from his wheelchair.
What Is His Philosophy?
Thich Nhat Hanh’s philosophy revolves around active mindfulness which can only be achieved by existing in the present moment. Thay teaches his followers how to find peace in every step by promoting mindfulness. One of his most popular teachings is called “The Five Mindfulness Trainings.” It is based on Buddha’s Four Noble Truths and the Noble Eightfold Path.
The five trainings are summarized below. The summaries are courtesy of Plum Village.
1. Reverence For Life
“I am committed to cultivating the insight of interbeing and compassion and learning ways to protect the lives of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I am determined not to kill, not to let others kill, and not to support any act of killing in the world, in my thinking, or in my way of life. Seeing that harmful actions arise from anger, fear, greed, and intolerance, which in turn come from dualistic and discriminative thinking, I will cultivate openness, non-discrimination, and non-attachment to views in order to transform.”
2. True Happiness
“Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to practicing generosity in my thinking, speaking, and acting. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others; and I will share my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need. I will practice looking deeply to see that the happiness and suffering of others are not separate from my own happiness and suffering; that true happiness is not possible without understanding and compassion; and that running after wealth, fame, power and sensual pleasures can bring much suffering and despair. I am aware that happiness depends on my mental attitude and not on external conditions, and that I can live happily in the present moment simply by remembering that I already have more than enough conditions to be happy.”
3. True Love
“Aware of the suffering caused by sexual misconduct, I am committed to cultivating responsibility and learning ways to protect the safety and integrity of individuals, couples, families, and society. Knowing that sexual desire is not love, and that sexual activity motivated by craving always harms myself as well as others, I am determined not to engage in sexual relations without true love and a deep, long-term commitment made known to my family and friends. I will do everything in my power to protect children from sexual abuse and to prevent couples and families from being broken by sexual misconduct. Seeing that body and mind are one, I am committed to learning appropriate ways to take care of my sexual energy and cultivating loving kindness, compassion, joy and inclusiveness – which are the four basic elements of true love – for my greater happiness and the greater happiness of others.”
4. Loving Speech and Deep Listening
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful speech and the inability to listen to others, I am committed to cultivating loving speech and compassionate listening in order to relieve suffering and to promote reconciliation and peace in myself and among other people, ethnic and religious groups, and nations. Knowing that words can create happiness or suffering, I am committed to speaking truthfully using words that inspire confidence, joy, and hope. When anger is manifesting in me, I am determined not to speak. I will practice mindful breathing and walking in order to recognize and to look deeply into my anger. I know that the roots of anger can be found in my wrong perceptions and lack of understanding of the suffering in myself and in the other person. I will speak and listen in a way that can help myself and the other person to transform suffering and see the way out of difficult situations.”
5. Nourishment and Healing
“Aware of the suffering caused by unmindful consumption, I am committed to cultivating good health, both physical and mental, for myself, my family, and my society by practicing mindful eating, drinking, and consuming. I will practice looking deeply into how I consume the Four Kinds of Nutriments, namely edible foods, sense impressions, volition, and consciousness. I am determined not to gamble, or to use alcohol, drugs, or any other products which contain toxins, such as certain websites, electronic games, TV programs, films, magazines, books, and conversations. I will practice coming back to the present moment to be in touch with the refreshing, healing and nourishing elements in me and around me, not letting regrets and sorrow drag me back into the past nor letting anxieties, fear, or craving pull me out of the present moment. I am determined not to try to cover up loneliness, anxiety, or other suffering by losing myself in consumption.”
If you felt called to any of these truths, I encourage you to read Thich Nhat Hanh’s Peace Is Every Step. It’s a fantastic introduction to mindfulness. I read it in 2016, and have used it to help maneuver life ever since. I believe everyone can gain something by reading it. If you don’t enjoy books, check out Plum Village’s YouTube channel (here). One of my favorites is “A Cloud Never Dies.” You can watch it here.
If you take anything from this post, let it be the knowledge that you have infinite control over yourself. You can find happiness in sadness and peace during violence. You are infinite. You are never truly stuck. Treat yourself like the infinite being you are and life will start to make more sense.
With Infinite Warmth,
Victoria M. Galvan