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“People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.” Thich Nhat Hanh  

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the best known and most revered Zen masters alive today. He is best known as the originator of the term Engaged Buddhism, which he described in his best selling book “Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire” and for founding Plum Village in the South of France. He is also a teacher, a poet and constant activist for peace in the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh  Early Life

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Thich Nhat Hanh at a talk

Born in 1926 in the village of Quang Ngai in Southern Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh embarked on his spiritual journey when he entered the monastery at Tu Hieu temple, which is located near Hue. While he was there he studied Zen and Mahayana Buddhism. It was in 1949 when Thich Nhat Hanh was ordained as a monk.

Work with School of Youth for Social Services

Thich Nhat Hanh was made editor in chief of the journal “Vietnamese Buddhism” in 1956. In the following years he would found a Buddhist University in Saigon. He also began his work as a social reformer and peace activist during this period forming the School of Youth for Social Services. Amongst its many works SYSS went into the rural areas of Vietnam and built medical clinics and schools. SYSS also helped to rebuild the villages that had been destroyed as a result of the devastation of the war. While the organization did much to help the people of Vietnam, it was unpopular with the government at the time.

Petitioning for Peace

In 1966 while Thich Nhat Hanh was visiting Europe and the United States, he was banned from re entering Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh continued to petition leaders in the United States, including Robert McNamara, for peace in Vietnam. The most influential of these meetings was with Martin Luther King Jr, who he convinced to oppose the war in Vietnam. Thich Nhat Hanh would go onto lead the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.

Founding Plum Village

In 1982 Thich Nhat Hanh, along with other Vietnamese Buddhists, formed Plum Village in the South of France. From Plum Village Thich Nhat Hanh would continue his work as a monk and as an activist for peace. He worked to help the many refugees, boat people and political prisoners that resulted from the Vietnam War. Thich Nhat Hanh’s work extended beyond only Vietnam however, he also sought to end suffering through out the third world.

Thich Nhat Hanh Work as a Writer and a Teacher  

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Thich Nhat Hanh returns to Vietnam

Thich Nhat Hanh also became a very prodigious writer, producing over 100 different works on meditation and peace. The central concept of all of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work is that by practicing mindfulness we are able to live in the present moment. When we do this we can achieve peace both inside of ourselves and in the world as a whole.

In 2005, Thich Nhat Hanh was finally allowed to return to Vietnam, were he could teach and release four of his books in Vietnamese. He was also able to revisit Tu Hieu temple, where he first began his spiritual journey. Thich Nhat Hanh lives in Plum Village to this day, where he continues to write, meditate and teach.

Thick Nhat Hanh what a story! I first came across Thick Nhat Hanh through the book peace is every step, I highly recommend it to anyone.