Remembering Thich Nhat Hanh

I first became aware of Thich Nhat Hanh through the writings of Thomas Merton and their joint opposition to the Viet Nam War in the decade of the 1970s. Merton and Thich Nhat Hanh considered themselves “soul brothers.” Here is a quote from one of Merton’s books in which he stated “Nhat Hanh is my brother.”

I have said Nhat Hanh is my brother, and it is true. We are both monks, and we have lived the monastic life about the same number of years. We are both poets, both existentialists. I have far more in common with Nhat Hanh than I have with many Americans, and I do not hesitate to say it. It is vitally important that such bonds be admitted. They are the bonds of a new solidarity and a new brotherhood which is beginning to be evident on all the five continents and which cuts across all political, religious, and cultural lines to unite young men and women in every country in something that is more concrete than an ideal and more alive than a program. This unity of the young is the only hope of the world. (Quoted from Faith and Violence, 1968.)

Thich Nhat Hanh (aka Thay) was forced out of Vietnam because of his opposition to the war. He later established Buddhist retreat centers known as Plum Village Practice Centers in France, Germany, Hong Kong, Australia, and the United States. During my 18 years of teaching courses in philosophy and comparative religion at San Jose City College from 2004 t0 2021, I had many Vietnamese students who also came to the US after the end of the Vietnam War. I included the writings and videos of Thich Nhat Hanh on “mindfulness” and what became known as “engaged Buddhism.” This type of Buddhist philosophy stressed the concept of “interbeing,” meaning that all forms of human and sentient life are interconnected and in need of each other. One of my students during the past two decades happened to be monk associated with a Buddhist monastery on Mount Madonna near Gilroy, CA.

I had the opportunity to spend a day at this monastery and experience the sense of joy and peace that was cultivated and modeled by Thich Nhat Hanh.

In 2014 Thich Nhat Hanh had a stroke that left him unable to speak for the rest of his life. His silence did not diminish his continued presence and influence in the interfaith peace movement that he had started many decades earlier with his fellow monk, Thomas Merton. It is appropriate that we can celebrate his life during the UN sponsored Interfaith Harmony Week from February 1 to February 7.

Gerald Grudzen, President
January 24, 2022

Image: Duc (pixiduc) from Paris, France., CC BY-SA 2.0 <https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0>, via Wikimedia Commons