Before his death in 2022, Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh was regarded as one of the great spiritual teachers of our age. A monk since the age of sixteen, he responded to the war that enveloped his country by advocating for what he called “engaged Buddhism,” extending meditation and spiritual practice to social action to alleviate suffering.
In 1966 he traveled to the United States to promote peace. He befriended Thomas Merton, and Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. But as a result of his witness, he was not permitted to return to South Vietnam. His exile continued after the Communist victory in Vietnam.
Settling in Paris, he began to acquire an international reputation for his spiritual teachings, including the practice of “mindfulness,” a discipline of attentiveness to the present moment. He also promoted the Buddhist principle of “interbeing”—an awareness of the interrelationship between all things. For example, in contemplating an orange, we should see the sun, soil, and water that nourished it, the hands that picked and served it. He believed that peace in the world must be rooted in peace in ourselves, the fruit of daily, disciplined practice.
Nhat Hanh wrote extensively on parallels between the ways of Jesus and Buddha, and his wide audience and devoted followers were drawn from many religious traditions. After suffering a severe stroke, he was permitted to return to his old monastery in Vietnam, where he spent his remaining days. He died on January 22, 2022, at the age of 95.
“We don’t need to wish our friends, ‘Peace be with you.’ Peace is already with them. We only need to help them cultivate the habit of touching peace in each moment.” —Thich Nhat Hanh