Thich Nhat Hanh

The teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh

Who is Thich Nhat Hanh?

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Buddhist monk who was born in October 1926. He has written extensively and taught pupils from all over the globe in what is known as the Plum Village Tradition of Buddhist thought, of which he is a leading exponent. Originally from Vietnam, he entered his local monastery at the age of 16, where he studied Mahayana Buddhism as well as the Vietnamese Thien tradition. In 1961, he moved to the United States to teach Buddhist principles at the universities of Princeton and, later, Columbia. He learned several European languages and began to get involved in various peace movements associated with the growing war in his home country. By 1966, he had helped to set up the so-called Order of Interbeing, a community of monks, nuns and laypeople drawn from all over the world, much of which was devoted to teaching mindfulness training. After Saigon fell to the North Vietnamese forces, Thich Nhat Hanh was not permitted to return to his homeland, and he settled in France, living at the Plum Village Monastery, a place which was in alignment with his ideas of Engaged Buddhism.

What is Thich Nhat Hanh best known for?

As well as his work establishing the Order of Interbeing, Thich Nhat Hanh is best known for his peace activism, especially advocating for the victims and displaced people of the Vietnam War. He joined forces with many Christian, Jewish, Hindu and Muslim leaders to call for the end to human trafficking later in life and was a correspondent with Dr Martin Luther King during the civil rights campaign he led. However, it is for his books, most of which are devoted to mindfulness and other aspects of Buddhist teaching for which he is more revered.

When did Thich Nhat Hanh return to Vietnam?

Although he was not allowed to go back to Vietnam in the 1970s, Thich Nhat Hanh was eventually able to return in 2005, following some prolonged negotiations with the authorities there. Still a campaigner, he continued to teach during his trip there. Indeed, he annoyed the government at the time by writing in the name of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, something that was illegal at the time.

How is the health of Thich Nhat Hanh?

Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a brain haemorrhage in 2014 when he was in his later 80s. Despite this setback, he has continued to travel between Buddhist communities in the East and West to teach even though his speech became impaired.

What will be the legacy of Thich Nhat Hanh?

A more widespread understanding of Engaged Buddhism, which brings together both Mahayana and Thien forms is one of the chief legacies of Thich Nhat Hanh. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967 for his peace activism during the Vietnam War. Thich Nhat Hanh has been the subject of several documentaries and even a graphic novel. A lifetime devoted to peace and mindfulness, especially teaching its benefits to others is what he will be most remembered for.

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In the past, any definition of spirituality would have been very tightly correlated with certain religious beliefs that focus on the godliness or spirit within people. In other words, spiritual people would have been seen as devout, pious and concentrated more on sacred or metaphysical matters than earthly ones. These days, however, a more extensive definition of spirituality is accepted, which includes broader traditions that lead to personal growth. Examples of this could be, the sort of inner journey that many people take from meditative practices and non-religious activities like transcendentalism and perennial philosophy.
The concept was first pioneered by the sociologist Max Weber and is, therefore, sometimes referred to as Weberian social action to distinguish it from other theories that lay behind social behaviours. In sociology, an action is a behaviour or an act that is carried out by an individual. Such individuals – or agents, as they are more often called – do not behave in a social vacuum without reference to any other person. As such, Weber argued, actions must always be seen from the social point of view. A social act could consequently be seen as any type of act that a human being does which takes account of other people, whether this is a conscious thing or not. Anyone who interacts with other people in any way, therefore, could be carrying out some form of social action.
In short, mindfulness is the ability to pay proper attention to the here and now. Psychologists usually describe it as living in the present moment, with less emotional energy being expended on things that have passed or which may – or may not – occur in the future. Various techniques are used by people to achieve a greater level of present-moment living. In most cases, modern methods for achieving mindfulness are based on Buddhist concepts, such as sati. In large numbers, people practise mindfulness by meditating and paying more attention to positive things in their lives to reduce stress. These mindfulness-based stress reduction (MBSR) techniques which have a proven scientific effect.
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