Buddhist philosopher, teacher and author, Thich Nhat Hanh (釋一行) recently passed away at the age of 95. A Mahayana practitioner from the Plum Village Tradition, named for the monastery he founded in Paris which introduces elements of Therevada and Zen Buddhism with practices of mindfulness, he spent his life as a peace advocate.
He was exiled from Vietnam in the 1960s for his opposition to the war, and was nominated by Martin Luther King Junior in 1967 for the Nobel Peace Prize.
This exile was to last for 39 years, most of which he spent in France, establishing dozens of monasteries.
Born Nguyen Xuan Bao on October 11, 1926 in Hue, he entered a Zen monastery at 16 and was ordained in 1949. He then began writing and rankled feathers in his pushes for a more unified Buddhism, eventually being removed from classes he was teaching at Pagoda’s in Saigon mid-session due to his controversial ideas.
He received a Fulbright Scholarship and studied in the United States, studying at Princeton and going on to lecture at Columbia. Upon his return to Saigon, in what was then Southern Vietnam, his ideas for unification and pacificism, even with the Viet Cong insurgency, irritated the Southern government.
He wrote a work titled “Vietnam – the Lotus in the Sea of Fire” about his five proposals for the US in regards to Vietnam, sealing his fate. These controversial ideas included that the US, firstly, form a responsive government, cease air strikes in the North, ensure that military operations be purely defensive, fully withdraw its forces, and pay for reconstruction.
For the remainder of the 1960s, he mostly remained in the United States and met Martin Luther King Junior, urging him to take a stance on the Vietnam War, leading to King publicly questioning its utility.
When South Vietnam fell, the communist regime also labelled him a traitor, banning his books and exiling him permanently, and he remained abroad until 2005, spreading his ideas about the accessibility of Buddhism and its connection to the physical world and our bodies, and about mindfulness in religion and life.
He published more than 130 books in his lifetime, and is one of the most prolific and notable thinkers in modern Buddhism.