One of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today, poet, and peace and human rights activist, our teacher Thay Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in 1926 and became a Buddhist monk at the age of sixteen. His life has since been dedicated to the work of inner transformation for the benefit of individuals and society.In Saigon in the early 60s, during the Vietnam War, Thay founded the School of Youth Social Service, a grass-roots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. Rallying some 10,000 student volunteers, the SYSS based its work on the Buddhist principles of non-violence and compassionate action. Despite government denunciation of his activity, Thay also founded a Buddhist University, a publishing house, and an influential peace activist magazine in Vietnam.

After visiting the U.S. and Europe in 1966 on a peace mission, he was banned from returning to Vietnam. On subsequent travels to the U.S., he made the case for peace to federal and Pentagon officials including Robert McNamara. He persuaded Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to oppose the Vietnam War publicly. Dr. King later nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thay also led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.

Bell Tower

In 1982 he founded Plum Village, a Buddhist community in exile in south France, where he continues his work to help refugees, boat people, political prisoners, and hungry families in Vietnam and throughout the Third World. He has received recognition for his work with American Vietnam veterans, meditation retreats worldwide, and his prolific writings on meditation, mindfulness, and peace. He has published some 85 titles of poems, prose, and prayers, with more than 40 in English, including the best selling Call Me by My True Names, Peace Is Every Step, Being Peace, Touching Peace, Living Buddha Living Christ, Teachings on Love, The Path of Emancipation, and Anger.

On November 11, 2014, a month after his 88th birthday and following several months of rapidly declining health, Thich Nhat Hanh suffered a severe stroke. Although he is still unable to speak, and is mostly paralyzed on the right side, he has continued to offer the Dharma and inspiration through his peaceful, serene and valiant presence.

Thich Nhat Hanh is currently residing at Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam where he ordained with his teacher when he was sixteen years old. He has expressed a wish to stay there for his remaining days. He comes out regularly in his wheelchair to visit the temple altars and to lead the sangha on walking meditation around the ponds and ancestral stupas. Thay’s return to Từ Hiếu has been a bell of mindfulness reminding us all of how precious it is to belong to a spiritual lineage with deep roots. Whether we have attended a retreat, or simply read one of Thay’s books or watched a talk, and have been touched by his teachings—we are all connected to this ancestral stream of wisdom and compassion.

Adopted from Parallax Press and Plum Village website