Thích Nhất Hạnh

In this Vietnamese name, the family name is Thích. According to Vietnamese custom, this person should properly be referred to by the given name Nhất Hạnh.
Thích Nhất Hạnh

Thich Nhat Hanh in Paris in 2006
Religion Thiền Buddhism
School Linji school (Lâm Tế)
Founder of the Order of Interbeing
Lineage 42nd generation (Lâm Tế)
8th generation (Liễu Quán)
Other names Thầy (teacher)
Born (1926-10-11) October 11, 1926
Huế, Thừa Thiên-Huế Province, Vietnam
Senior posting
Based in Plum Village
Title Thiền Sư
(Zen master)
Religious career
Teacher Thích Chân Thật

Thích Nhất Hạnh (/ˈtɪk ˈnjʌt ˈhʌn/; Vietnamese: [tʰǐk ɲɜ̌t hɐ̂ʔɲ]; born as Nguyen Xuan Bao [1] on October 11, 1926) is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist. He lives in Plum Village in the Dordogne region in the south of France,[2] travelling internationally to give retreats and talks. He coined the term "Engaged Buddhism" in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire.[3] A long term exile, he was given permission to make his first return trip to Vietnam in 2005.[4]

Nhất Hạnh has published more than 100 books, including more than 40 in English. He is active in the peace movement, promoting nonviolent solutions to conflict[5] and he also refrains from animal product consumption as a means of nonviolence towards non-human animals.[6][7]


Buddha hall of the Từ Hiếu Pagoda

Born as Nguyễn Xuân Bảo, Nhất Hạnh was born in the city of Huế in Central Vietnam in 1926. At the age of 16 he entered the monastery at Từ Hiếu Temple near Huế, Vietnam, where his primary teacher was Zen Master Thanh Quý Chân Thật.[8][9][10] A graduate of Báo Quốc Buddhist Academy in Central Vietnam, Thích Nhất Hạnh received training in Vietnamese traditions of Mahayana Buddhism as well as Vietnamese Thiền and was ordained as a monk in 1949.[3]

In 1956, Nhất Hạnh was named editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism, the periodical of the Unified Vietnam Buddhist Association (Vietnamese: Giáo Hội Phật Giáo Việt Nam Thống Nhất). In the following years he founded Lá Bối Press, the Vạn Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon, and the School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS), a neutral corps of Buddhist peaceworkers who went into rural areas to establish schools, build healthcare clinics, and help rebuild villages.[2]

Nhất Hạnh is now recognized as a dharmacharya (teacher) and as the spiritual head of the Từ Hiếu Pagoda and associated monasteries.[8][11] On May 1, 1966 at Từ Hiếu Temple, he received the "lamp transmission", making him a dharmacharya, from Zen Master Chân Thật.[8]

During the Vietnam War

In 1960, Nhất Hạnh went to the U.S. to study comparative religion at Princeton University,[12] and was subsequently appointed lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia University.[12] By then he had gained fluency in French, Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali, Japanese and English, in addition to his native Vietnamese. In 1963, he returned to Vietnam to aid his fellow monks in their non-violent peace efforts.[12]

Nhất Hạnh taught Buddhist psychology and prajnaparamita literature at Vạn Hanh Buddhist University, a private institution that focused on Buddhist studies, Vietnamese culture, and languages.[12] At a meeting in April 1965 Vạn Hanh Union students issued a Call for Peace statement. It declared: "It is time for North and South Vietnam to find a way to stop the war and help all Vietnamese people live peacefully and with mutual respect." Nhất Hạnh left for the U.S. shortly afterwards, leaving Chân Không in charge of the SYSS. Vạn Hạnh University was taken over by one of the Chancellors who wished to sever ties with Thich Nhất Hạnh and the SYSS, accusing Chân Không of being a communist. From that point the SYSS struggled to raise funds and faced attacks on its members. The SYSS persisted in their relief efforts without taking sides in the conflict.[3]

Nhất Hạnh returned to the US in 1966 to lead a symposium in Vietnamese Buddhism at Cornell University and to continue his work for peace. While in the US, Nhất Hạnh stopped at Gethsemani Abbey to speak with Thomas Merton.[13] When Vietnam threatened to block Nhất Hạnh's re-entry to the country, Merton penned an essay of solidarity entitled "Nhat Hanh is my Brother".[13][14] He had written a letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965 entitled: "In Search of the Enemy of Man". It was during his 1966 stay in the U.S. that Thích Nhất Hạnh met with Martin Luther King, Jr. and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War.[15] In 1967, Dr. King gave a famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, his first to publicly question the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.[16] Later that year, Dr. King nominated Thích Nhất Hạnh for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. In his nomination Dr. King said, "I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity".[17] The fact that King had revealed the candidate he had chosen to nominate and had made a "strong request" to the prize committee, was in sharp violation of the Nobel traditions and protocol.[18][19] The committee did not make an award that year.

Nhất Hạnh moved to France and became the chair of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation.[12] When the Northern Vietnamese army took control of the south in 1975, Thích Nhất Hạnh was denied permission to return to Vietnam.[12] From 19761977 he led efforts to help rescue Vietnamese boat people in the Gulf of Siam, eventually stopping under pressure from the governments of Thailand and Singapore.[20]

A CIA-document from the Vietnam War has called Thích Nhất Hạnh a "brain truster" of Thich Tri Quang, the leader of a dissident group.[21]

Establishing the Order of Interbeing

Nhất Hạnh created the Order of Interbeing in 1966. He heads this monastic and lay group, teaching Five Mindfulness Trainings and the Fourteen Precepts. In 1969, Nhất Hạnh established the Unified Buddhist Church (Église Bouddhique Unifiée) in France (not a part of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam). In 1975, he formed the Sweet Potatoes Meditation Center. The center grew and in 1982 he and his colleague Chân Không founded Plum Village, a vihara and zen center in the Dordogne in the south of France.[2] The Unified Buddhist Church is the legally recognized governing body for Plum Village in France, for Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York, the Community of Mindful Living, Parallax Press, Deer Park Monastery in California, Magnolia Village in Batesville, Mississippi, and the European Institute of Applied Buddhism in Waldbröl, Germany.[22][23]

He established two monasteries in Vietnam, at the original Từ Hiếu Temple near Huế and at Prajna Temple in the central highlands. Thích Nhất Hạnh and the Order of Interbeing have established monasteries and Dharma centers in the United States at Deer Park Monastery (Tu Viện Lộc Uyển) in Escondido, California, Maple Forest Monastery (Tu Viện Rừng Phong) and Green Mountain Dharma Center (Ðạo Tràng Thanh Sơn) in Vermont both of which closed in 2007 and moved to the Blue Cliff Monastery in Pine Bush, New York, and Magnolia Village Practice Center (Đạo Tràng Mộc Lan) in Mississippi. These monasteries are open to the public during much of the year and provide on-going retreats for laypersons. The Order of Interbeing also holds retreats for specific groups of lay people, such as families, teenagers, veterans, the entertainment industry, members of Congress, law enforcement officers and people of color.[24][24][25][26][27] He conducted a peace walk in Los Angeles in 2005, and again in 2007.[28]

Notable students of Thích Nhất Hạnh include: Skip Ewing, founder of the Nashville Mindfulness Center; Natalie Goldberg, author and teacher; Joan Halifax, founder of the Upaya Institute; Stephanie Kaza, environmentalist; Chân Không, Dharma teacher; Noah Levine, author; Albert Low, Zen teacher and author; Joanna Macy, environmentalist and author; John Croft, co-creator of Dragon Dreaming; Caitriona Reed, Dharma teacher and co-founder of Manzanita Village Retreat Center; Leila Seth, author and Chief Justice of the Delhi High Court; and Pritam Singh, real estate developer and editor of several of Nhất Hạnh's books.

Return to Vietnam

Thích Nhất Hạnh during a ceremony in Da Nang on his 2007 trip to Vietnam

In 2005, following lengthy negotiations, Nhất Hạnh was given permission from the Vietnamese government to return for a visit. He was also allowed to teach there, publish four of his books in Vietnamese, and travel the country with monastic and lay members of his Order, including a return to his root temple, Tu Hieu Temple in Huế.[4][29] The trip was not without controversy. Thich Vien Dinh, writing on behalf of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (considered illegal by the Vietnamese government), called for Nhất Hạnh to make a statement against the Vietnam government's poor record on religious freedom. Thich Vien Dinh feared that the trip would be used as propaganda by the Vietnamese government, suggesting to the world that religious freedom is improving there, while abuses continue.[30][31][32]

Despite the controversy, Thích Nhất Hạnh again returned to Vietnam in 2007, while two senior officials of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) remained under house arrest. The Unified Buddhist Church called his visit a betrayal, symbolizing his willingness to work with his co-religionists' oppressors. Võ Văn Ái, a spokesman for the UBCV, said "I believe Thich Nhat Hanh's trip is manipulated by the Hanoi government to hide its repression of the Unified Buddhist Church and create a false impression of religious freedom in Vietnam." [33] The Plum Village Website states that the three goals of his 2007 trip back to Vietnam were to support new monastics in his Order; to organize and conduct "Great Chanting Ceremonies" intended to help heal remaining wounds from the Vietnam War; and to lead retreats for monastics and lay people. The chanting ceremonies were originally called "Grand Requiem for Praying Equally for All to Untie the Knots of Unjust Suffering", but Vietnamese officials objected, saying it was unacceptable for the government to "equally" pray for soldiers in the South Vietnamese army or U.S. soldiers. Nhất Hạnh agreed to change the name to "Grand Requiem For Praying".[33]


In 2014, major Anglican, Catholic, and Orthodox Christian leaders, as well as Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist leaders, met to sign a shared commitment against modern-day slavery; the declaration they signed calls for the elimination of slavery and human trafficking by the year 2020. Nhất Hạnh was represented by Chân Không.[34]


In November 2014, Nhất Hạnh experienced a severe brain hemorrhage and was brought back to a hospital.[35][36] After months of rehabilitation, Nhất Hạnh was released from the stroke rehabilitation clinic at Bordeaux University Hospital. On July 11, 2015, Nhất Hạnh was flown to San Francisco to speed his recovery with an aggressive rehabilitation program through UCSF Medical Center.[37] He is at present back in France since 8 January 2016.[38]


Thích Nhất Hạnh in Vught, the Netherlands, 2006

Thích Nhất Hạnh's approach has been to combine a variety of traditional Zen teachings with insights from other Mahayana Buddhist traditions, methods from Theravada Buddhism, and ideas from Western psychology to offer a modern light on meditation practice. Hanh's presentation of the prajnaparamita in terms of "interbeing" has doctrinal antecedents in the Huayan school of thought,[39] which "is often said to provide a philosophical foundation" for Zen.[40]

Nhất Hạnh has also been a leader in the Engaged Buddhism movement (he coined the term), promoting the individual's active role in creating change. He cites the 13th-century Vietnamese king Trần Nhân Tông with the origination of the concept. Trần Nhân Tông abdicated his throne to become a monk and founded the Vietnamese Buddhist school of the Bamboo Forest tradition.

Names applied to him

Nhất Hạnh at Phu Bai International Airport on his 2007 trip to Vietnam (aged 80)

The Vietnamese name Thích () is from "Thích Ca" or "Thích Già" (釋迦), means "of the Shakya clan."[8] All Buddhist monastics in East Asian Buddhism adopt this name as their surname, implying that their first family is the Buddhist community. In many Buddhist traditions, there is a progression of names that a person can receive. The first, the lineage name, is given when a person takes refuge in the Three Jewels. Thích Nhất Hạnh's lineage name is Trừng Quang. The next is a Dharma name, given when a person, lay or monastic, takes additional vows or when one is ordained as a monastic. Thích Nhất Hạnh's Dharma name is Phung Xuan. Additionally, Dharma titles are sometimes given, and Thích Nhất Hạnh's Dharma title is "Nhất Hạnh".[8]

Neither Nhất () nor Hạnh ()—which approximate the roles of middle name or intercalary name and given name, respectively, when referring to him in English—was part of his name at birth. Nhất (一) means "one", implying "first-class", or "of best quality", in English; Hạnh (行) means "move", implying "right conduct" or "good nature." Thích Nhất Hạnh has translated his Dharma names as Nhất = One, and Hạnh = Action. Vietnamese names follow this naming convention, placing the family or surname first, then the middle or intercalary name which often refers to the person's position in the family or generation, followed by the given name.[41]

Thích Nhất Hạnh is often referred to as Thầy "master; teacher" or as Thầy Nhất Hạnh by his followers. Any Vietnamese monk or nun in the Mahayana tradition can be addressed as "thầy". Vietnamese Buddhist monks are addressed thầy tu "monk" and nuns are addressed as sư cô "sister" or sư bà "elder sister". On the Vietnamese version of the Plum Village website, he is also referred to as Thiền Sư Nhất Hạnh "Zen Master Nhất Hạnh".[42]

Awards and honors

Nobel laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.[17] However, the prize was not awarded to anybody that year.[43] Nhat Hanh was awarded the Courage of Conscience award in 1991.[44]

He has been featured in many films, including The Power of Forgiveness showcased at the Dawn Breakers International Film Festival.[45]

Nhất Hạnh, along with Alfred Hassler and Chân Không, became the subject of a graphic novel entitled The Secret of the 5 Powers in 2013.[46]

Thich Nhat Hanh has been chosen to receive 2015’s Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award.[47]


See also


  1. Ford, James Ishmael (2006). Zen Master Who?: A Guide to the People and Stories of Zen. Wisdom Publications. p. 90. ISBN 0-86171-509-8.
  2. 1 2 3 "Religion & Ethics - Thich Nhat Hanh". BBC. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
  3. 1 2 3 Nhu, Quan (2002). "Nhat Hanh's Peace Activities" in "Vietnamese Engaged Buddhism: The Struggle Movement of 1963-66"". Reprinted on the Giao Diem si. Retrieved 13 September 2010. (2002)
  4. 1 2 Johnson, Kay (16 January 2005). "A Long Journey Home". Time Asia Magazine (online version). Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  5. Samar Farah (April 4, 2002). "An advocate for peace starts with listening". The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  6. Joan Halifax, Thích Nhất Hạnh (2004). "The Fruitful Darkness: A Journey Through Buddhist Practice and Tribal Wisdom". Grove Press. Retrieved 3 December 2013. Being vegetarian here also means that we do not consume dairy and egg products, because they are products of the meat industry. If we stop consuming, they will stop producing.
  7. ""Oprah Talks to Thich Nhat Hanh" from "O, The Oprah Magazine"". March 2010. Retrieved 3 December 2013.
  8. 1 2 3 4 5 Dung, Thay Phap (2006). "A Letter to Friends about our Lineage" (PDF). PDF file on the Order of Interbeing website. Retrieved 23 November 2014.
  9. Cordova, Nathaniel (2005). "The Tu Hieu Lineage of Thien (Zen) Buddhism". Blog entry on the Woodmore Village website. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  10. "Thich Nhat Hanh". Published on the Community of Interbeing, UK website. Archived from the original on January 2, 2008. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  11. Mau, Thich Chi (1999) "Application for the publication of books and sutras", letter to the Vietnamese Governmental Committee of Religious Affairs, re-printed on the Plum Village website. He is the Elder of the Từ Hiếu branch of the 8th generation of the Liễu Quán lineage in the 42nd generation of the Linji school (, Vietnamese: Lâm Tế)
  12. 1 2 3 4 5 6 Miller, Andrea (September 30, 2016). "Peace in Every Step". Lion's Roar. Retrieved October 2, 2016.
  13. 1 2 Zahn, Max (September 30, 2015). "Talking Buddha, Talking Christ". Tricycle: The Buddhist Review. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  14. "Nhat Hanh is my Brother". Buddhist Door. May 1, 2011. Retrieved October 1, 2015.
  15. "Searching for the Enemy of Man" in Nhat Nanh, Ho Huu Tuong, Tam Ich, Bui Giang, Pham Cong Thien". Dialogue. Saigon: La Boi. 1965. pp. 11–20. Retrieved 13 September 2010., Archived on the African-American Involvement in the Vietnam War website
  16. Speech made by Martin Luther King, Jr. at the Riverside Church, NYC (April 4, 1967). "Beyond Vietnam". Archived on the African-American Involvement in the Vietnam War website. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  17. 1 2 King, Martin Luther, Jr. (letter) (January 25, 1967). "Nomination of Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize". Archived on the Hartford Web Publishing website. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  18. Nobel Prize Official website "Facts on the Nobel Peace Prize. "The names of the nominees cannot be revealed until 50 years later, but the Nobel Peace Prize committee does reveal the number of nominees each year."
  19. Nobel Prize website - Nomination Process "The statutes of the Nobel Foundation restrict disclosure of information about the nominations, whether publicly or privately, for 50 years. The restriction concerns the nominees and nominators, as well as investigations and opinions related to the award of a prize."
  20. Author and date unknown. "Thich Nhat Hanh". Article on the Integrative Spirituality website. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  21. The Vietnam Center and Archive: "Situation Appraisal of Buddhism as a Political Force During Current Election Period Extending through September 1967"
  22. "Information about Practice Centers from the official Community of Mindful Living site". Retrieved 9 March 2013.
  23. webteam. "About the European Institute of Applied Buddhism". Retrieved 18 March 2013.
  24. 1 2 "A Practice Center in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh".
  25. "Colors of Compassion is a documentary film". Retrieved 11 March 2013.
  26. "Article: ''Thich Nhat Hahn Leads Retreat for Members of Congress'' (2004) Faith and Politics Institute website". 2013-05-14. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
  27. Frank Bures. "Bures, Frank (2003) ''Zen and the Art of Law Enforcement'' - ''Christian Science Monitor''". Retrieved 2013-06-16.
  28. ""Thich Nhat Hanh on Burma", Buddhist Channel, accessed 11/5/2007". 2007-10-20. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
  29. Warth, Gary (2005). "Local Buddhist Monks Return to Vietnam as Part of Historic Trip". North County Times (re-published on the Buddhist Channel news website). Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  30. "Buddhist monk requests Thich Nhat Hanh to see true situation in Vietnam". Letter from Thich Vien Dinh as reported by the Buddhist Channel news website. Released by the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor, 2005. 2005. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  31. "Vietnam: International Religious Freedom Report". U.S. State Department. 2005. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  32. Kenneth Roth; executive director (1995). "Vietnam: The Suppression of the Unified Buddhist Church". Vol.7, No.4. Human Rights Watch. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  33. 1 2 Johnson, Kay (2 March 2007). "The Fighting Monks of Vietnam". Time Magazine (online version accessed 3/7/2007). Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  34. "Pope Francis And Other Religious Leaders Sign Declaration Against Modern Slavery". The Huffington Post.
  35. "Our Beloved Teacher in Hospital". Retrieved 12 November 2014.
  36. "tricycle: Thich Nhat Hanh Hospitalized for Severe Brain Hemorrhage". Retrieved 13 November 2014.
  37. "An Update on Thay's Health: 14th July 2015". Plum Village. Retrieved 14 July 2015.
  38. "An Update on Thay's Health: 8th January 2016". Retrieved 11 March 2016.
  39. McMahan, David L. The Making of Buddhist Modernism. Oxford University Press: 2008 ISBN 978-0-19-518327-6 pg 158
  40. Williams,Paul. Mahāyāna Buddhism: The Doctrinal Foundations 2nd ed.Taylor & Francis, 1989, page 144
  41. Geotravel Research Center, Kissimmee, Florida (1995). "Vietnamese Names". Excerpted from "Culture Briefing: Vietnam". Things Asian website. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  42. "Title attributed to TNH on the Vietnamese Plum Village site" (in Vietnamese). 2011-12-31. Retrieved 2013-06-16.
  43. "Facts on the Nobel Peace Prize". Nobel Media. Retrieved August 13, 2012.
  44. The Peace Abbey - Courage of Conscience Recipients List Archived February 14, 2009, at the Wayback Machine.
  45. "First line up". Dawn Breakers International Film Festival (DBIFF). 5 December 2009. Archived from the original on 10 March 2012. Retrieved 13 September 2010.
  46. Sperry, Rod Meade (May 2013), "3 Heroes, 5 Powers", Lion's Roar, 21 (5): 68–73
  47. "Thich Nhat Hanh to receive Catholic "Peace on Earth" award". Lion's Roar. Retrieved 2015-11-09.

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