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Thich Nhat Hanh: Peace and Prosperity


By Noah Robinson


    Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, peace activist, writer, scholar, and leader that began his journey to enlightenment at age sixteen. Throughout the years building a community of an excess of six hundred monks and nuns internationally, who have applied his teachings through many programs of schooling, business, and even systems of imprisonment. Rising from a young bhikshu in the mid-century 1900s he attempted to renew Vietnamese style Buddhism, mainly combining Zen and Mahayana styles of teaching. Going on to attend the university in Saigon, Princeton, and Colombia where he further developed his knowledge on teachings of peace and prosperity as well as the secular world.

    At the tide of the war in Vietnam Thich Nhat Hanh was called on to make a choice to stand against the injustices of his countrymen and women or to stay silent and walk robotically in a daily routine of holy duties absent from the plight of his country. Choosing to act on both choices he launched the Engaged Buddhism movement, in turn getting him exiled from both North and South Vietnam. He spent his time dedicating himself to the propulsion of transforming the inner being of individuals and its surrounding society. Traveling the world, orating to the masses, writing to touch all who yearned for knowledge he embodied loving communication throughout his literary works. Famously known for his poetry, Thich Nhat Hanh developed an overlapping theme of cultivating a healthy lifestyle through respect, generosity, and self realization that would in turn would project outward to those around you in order to be able to attain and sustain peace.

    Thich Nhat Hanh develops the concept of loving connections to create an understanding of how the world connects. His theory explains that love between beings develops a relationship of sorts, allowing even the most complex ideas and creatures to live in pure harmony. In Inter- relationship Nhat Hanh measures the intensity of the relationship between the souls in reference to the essence of nature:

You cultivate the flower in yourself
so that I will be beautiful.
I transform the garbage in myself
so that you do not have to suffer.
I support you you support me.
(LaTona, Brita)
The circumlocution emphasized in these few versus to show that one makes themself better within to allow those around them “rest” from the deadly bonds of pressure and sinful natures of others. When peace can be attained through all bodies, synergy can form between all people in all walks of life. If self-satisfaction is achieved, that person reflects welcoming and kind waves onto others to soften the brows and minds of despising peoples in a wildfire that spreads to achieve unchallenged peace. Not only does Thich Nhat Hanh touch on the inner balance that effects a mood or change, he pursues the physical aspect that “I am here to bring you peace/ you are here to bring me joy” (LaTona, Brita). Just by changing the way ones body acts and reacts to certain situations effects how one develops relationships with others. That from harsh words and spite, kindness and intentional generosity spews out. From which others grasp such actions and develop to act in the same manor, setting aside any hidden thoughts that may have risen in previous meeting or situations. The master of true happiness is oneself, and the only way to ensure complete happiness is to act outwardly towards others in support and love, forming a love connection that ensures peace.

    Being present in the moment is large piece of Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness teachings that implore all to take a step back from the worries and problems that they pursue to solve for the future. Exposing oneself to the brutal elements of a dying world and accepting that what goes on and effects one’s life plays a larger role. Jordan Bates critiques Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness teachings saying bluntly “If we are too attached to particular perceptions and opinions, we’ll fail to adequately open up to the thoughts and lives of others” (Bates, Jordan). It becomes hard to juggle between personal opinion and social opinion; the real answer is to keep one’s beliefs all the while allowing criticism. When one person learns to understand why or how another person feels boundaries can be broken down to come to a mutual understanding of opinions. A jetty of sorts, reaching out from both sides of the bay to come together to form a safe enclosure where the mind can run wild with ideas, without fear of oppression and backlash. Thich Nhat Hanh touches on the idea that:

We should enjoy our happiness
and offer it to everyone.
Cherish this very moment.
Let go of the steam of distress
and embrace life fully in your arms.
(LaTona, Brita)
Without letting go the troubles and heaviness created in one’s life it is almost impossible to let life in, to let love in. Once life can be embraced fully happiness seeps in, balance and peace is found and problems seem to see themselves out the door and out of ones life. Distress is the enemy of love; one cannot love with distress in their heart. That person’s trodden heart cannot take the extra weight of love; it diverts attention away from eternal joy and happiness. It is the ache where the only painkiller is acceptance and realization. Thich Nhat Hanh had a choice to make when war ravaged his country, to fight for peace with peace or to stand idle amongst those who let fear control them. He stood against the doubter and oppressors, throwing of the cloak of fear that weighed him down, knowing that he was not the only one being effected and something should be done for all. A divided country was a weak country, but a united country that stood together was a country that broke bloodlines. A country no longer sectioned by races and areas but one people, all underneath one flag where countryman and countrywoman faced no qualms. “Peace is every step. / The shining red sun is my heart. / Each flower smiles with me” (LaTona, Brita), every step away from anger and loathing brings one closer to peace. In every step forward peace becomes a reality where the sun can shines clear through the atmosphere with no smoke or gunfire to keep it from slithering through. Touching each and every flower that stands tall and opens wide to cast a “smile” at a world at peace, untouched by a heavy boot of a soldier or the ash cloud of a weapon constructed for harm.

    In another poem of Thich Nhat Hanh, it defines the plight of suffering. That in being an observer of atrocities one becomes the abuser and the victim. To stand and do nothing is to play both parts, that action is the only way to achieve a reaction. Juxtaposing his statements, Thich Nhat Hanh explores the idea in his poem “Please Call Me By My True Names,” that “I am the twelve-year- old girl, refugee on a small boat, who throws/ herself into the ocean after being raped by a sea pirate. And I am/ the pirate, my heart not yet capable of seeing and loving” (LaTona, Brita). When one does not act to help fix the problem they become a victim of the suffering, feel for those who suffer and become hurt indirectly. All the while they are also the oppressor for not acting against the injustice, letting it happen without a stir, no better than the person who does the physical action. Reverting back to Thich Nhat Hanh’s idea to live in the moment, acting against injustice that is happening at the time, and to not be absent in the moment. Fueled by love and want for equality and peace, living in the past or future only separates one another even further. Living in present all goals are equivalent, peace is sustainable. Thich Nhat Hanh embodied what he preached being “exiled from Vietnam after travelling outside the country to speak out against the war, and was influential in persuading Americans to turn against U.S. involvement in the conflict” (Reuters). As well as travelling to the United States, Thich Nhat Hanh was close friends with Martin Luther King Jr. and asked for his help in spreading word of the injustice and harm of the war in his home country of Vietnam. King spoke out to his followers to not support the war because of what great transgressions were occurring to the east. Through the actions of both King ad Thich Nhat Hanh, there was a great disapproval for the war in Vietnam and large revolt against U.S. involvement in any way, with groups that based themselves of peace, love, and happiness.

    Re touching on previous works, Thich Nhat Hanh defines self worth in a sense of being true to oneself and being happy with what one has and is able to wake up to each day. Treating “each moment you are alive…(like) a gem, / shinning through and containing earth and sky, / water and clouds” (LaTona, Brita). All things are made from this Earth and are loved by this Earth. Each day one can see another sunrise is a beautiful day to be alive, to learn that the most important thing in life is being thankful for what one does have and the power one is capable of using. That “it needs you to breathe gently/ for the miracles to be displayed” (LaTona, Brita), and the impact one has is a greater than ever imagined. Each day is a new gem, a new opportunity to make a change, to inspire the masses, to give back to those in need. The endless possibilities that lay ahead for a single person are endless. To have a love connection with others and to achieve peace, a love connection with oneself needs to be achieved first. Communicate love towards oneself; be proud of all you are, and all you can be. Love is the root of all things including hate, to hate, one needs to love something that goes against what they hate. Without love, the world is all but lost.

Works Cited

Bates, Jordan. ‘The 14 Mindfulness teachings of a Zen Buddhist Order| Refine The Mind.” Refine The Mind. Disqus. 19 June 2014. www.refinethemind.com/14-mindfulness- teachings-zen- buddhism/-. Accessed 05 December 2016.
LaTona, Brita. “Inspirational Poetry By Thich Nhat Hanh.” Inspirational Poetry By Thich Nhat Hanh, peacefulrivers.homestead.com/thichnhathanh.html. Accessed 01 December 2016.
Reuters. “Zen Monk and Vietnam War Critic Thich hat Hanh Suffers Brain Hemorrhage.” Newsweek. Newsweek. 5 Mar 2016. www.newsweek.com/zen-monk- and-vietnam- war- critic-thich- nhat-hanh- suffers-brain- hemorrhage-284317. Accessed 05 December 2016.

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