Thích Nhất Hạnh, born 11 October 1926 in central Vietnam, is an expatriate Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, and peace activist. He joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16, studied Buddhism as a novice, and was fully ordained as a monk in 1949.
In the early 1960s, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services (SYSS) in Saigon, a grassroots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centres, and resettled families left homeless during the Vietnam War. He travelled to the U.S. a number of times to study at Princeton University, and later lecture at Cornell University and teach at Columbia University. His main goal of those travels, however, was to urge the U.S. government to withdraw from Vietnam. He urged Martin Luther King Jr. to oppose the Vietnam War publicly, and spoke with many people and groups about peace. On January 25 1967, in a letter to the Nobel Institute in Norway, Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Thich Nhat Hanh led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks. Exiled from Vietnam for many years, he has been allowed in recent years to visit and lead retreats.
One of the best known Buddhist teachers in the West, Thích Nhất Hạnh’s teachings and practices appeal to people from various religious, spiritual, and political backgrounds. He created the Order of Interbeing in 1964, and established monastic and practice centres around the world. He offers a practice of mindfulness adapted to Western sensibilities and has provided us with a version of the Five Precepts (common to all Buddhist traditions) called the Five Mindfulness Trainings, that is a list of ethical guidelines (these are not commandments). Currently, his home is Plum Village Monastery in the South of France and he travels internationally leading retreats and giving talks. He coined a term translated into English as “Engaged Buddhism” – see Glossary for more information.
Thích Nhất Hạnh has published more than 100 books, including more than 40 in English. He also publishes a quarterly Dharma talk in the journal of the Order of Interbeing, the Mindfulness Bell. He continues to be active in the peace movement, sponsoring retreats for Israelis and Palestinians, encouraging them to listen and learn about each other. He has given speeches urging warring countries to stop fighting and look for non-violent solutions to problems; conducted a peace walk in Los Angeles in 2005, and again in 2007, attended by thousands of people; and urging support of the demonstrating monks in Myanmar.
The Community of Interbeing UK website has more information about Thich Nhat Hanh and the Order of Interbeing. Go to www.interbeing.org.uk/about/ and follow the links on list on the right of that page.