Thich Nhat Hanh, is one of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today – as a result of his struggles to establish human rights and equality he has been living in exile from his native Vietnam since the age of forty. In 1966, he was banned by both the non-Communist and Communist governments for his role in undermining the violence he saw affecting his people.
A Buddhist monk since the age of sixteen, Thây (“teacher,” as he is commonly known to followers) earned a reputation as a respected writer, scholar, and leader. When Thich Nhat Hanh left Vietnam, he embarked on a mission to spread Buddhist thought around the globe. In 1966, when Thây came to the United States for the first of many humanitarian visits, the territory was not completely new to him; he had experienced American culture before as a student at Princeton, and more recently as a professor at Columbia. The Fellowship of Reconciliation and Cornell invited Thây to speak on behalf of Buddhist monks, and he offered an enlightened view on ways to end the Vietnam conflict. He spoke on college campuses, met with administration officials, and impressed social dignitaries.
The following year, Nobel Peace Prize winner Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the same honour. Hanh’s Buddhist delegation went to the Paris peace talks, which resulted in accords between North Vietnam and the United States, but his pacifist efforts did not end with the war. He also helped organize rescue missions well into the 1970’s for Vietnamese trying to escape from political oppression. Even after the political stabilization of Vietnam, he has not been allowed to return home.
Thây now lives in southwestern France, where he founded a retreat centre in 1982. At the centre, Plum Village, he continues to teach, write, and garden. Thay has written more than one hundred books of prose, poetry, and prayers. His popularity in the United States inspired the mayor of Berkeley, California, to name a day in his honour and the Mayor of New York City declared a Day of Reconciliation during his 1993 visit.
In 2005 he returned to Vietnam for the first time in 40 years. His inspirational life and work continues. In this interview he tells us a little about the power of compassion and loving-kindness…