While in the US, Nhat Hanh urged the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.to publicly condemn the war in Vietnam. In April 1967, King spoke out against the war in a famous speech at New York City’s Riverside Church. A Nobel Laureate, King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in a letter to the Nobel Committee that called the Vietnamese monk “an apostle of peace and nonviolence, cruelly separated from his own people while they are oppressed by a vicious war.” Nhat Hanh did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize: in publicly announcing the nomination, King had violated a strict prohibition of the Nobel Committee.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s anti-war activism and refusal to take sides angered both North and South Vietnam, and following his tour of the US and Europe, he was barred from returning to his native land. He was granted asylum in France, where he was named to lead the Buddhist peace delegation to the Paris Peace Accords. In 1975, Nhat Hanh founded Les Patates Douce, or the “Sweet Potato” community near Paris. In 1982, it moved to the Dordogne in southwestern France and was renamed Plum Village. What began as a small rural sangha has since grown into a home for over 200 monastics and some 8,000 yearly visitors. Always a strong supporter of children, Nhat Hanh also founded Wake Up, an international network of sanghas for young people.
After 39 years in exile, Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam for the first time in 2005 and again in 2007. During these visits, he gave teachings to crowds numbering in the thousands and also met with the sitting Vietnamese president, Nguyen Minh Triet. Though greeted with considerable fanfare, the trips also prompted criticism from Nhat Hanh’s former peers at UBCV, who thought the visits granted credibility to an oppressive regime. But consistent with his stand of many years, Nhat Hanh made both private and public proposals urging the Vietnamese government to ease its restrictions on religious practice.
Fluent in English, French, and Chinese, as well as Vietnamese, Nhat Hanh continued to travel the world teaching and leading retreats until his stroke in 2014, which left him unable to speak. But Nhat Hanh’s legacy carries on in his vast catalogue of written work, which includes accessible teachings, rigorous scholarship, scriptural commentary, political thought, and poetry. Beloved for his warm, evocative verse, Nhat Hanh published a collection of poetry entitled Call Me By My True Names in 1996. His instructive and explicatory work includes Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire, published in 1967, and such best-sellers as Peace is Every Step (1992), The Miracle of Mindfulness (1975, reissued 1999), and Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995).
In addition to his followers worldwide, Nhat Hanh leaves behind many close brothers and sisters in the dharma, most notably Sister Chan Khong. A longtime friend and activist in her own right, she has assumed a more pronounced leadership role in the sangha in recent years.
Fear of SilenceWhile we can connect to others more readily than ever before, are we losing our connection to body and mind? A Zen master thinks so, and offers a nourishing conscious breathing practice as a remedy.