Oprah: Do you do the same thing with all food?
Nhat Hanh: Yes. We have silent meals eaten in such a way that we get in touch with the cosmos, with every morsel of food.
Oprah: How long does it take you to get through a meal? All day?
Nhat Hanh: One hour is enough. We sit as a community, and enjoy our meal together. So whether you are eating, drinking your tea, or doing your dishes, you do it in such a way that freedom, joy, happiness are possible. Many people come to our center and learn this art of mindful living. And go back to their hometowns and set up a sangha, a community, to do the same. We have helped set up sanghas all over the world.
Oprah: A sangha is a beloved community.
Nhat Hanh: Yes.
Oprah: How important is that in our lives? People have it with their own families, and then you expand your beloved community to include others. So the larger your beloved community, the more you can accomplish in the world.
Nhat Hanh: Right.
Oprah: On the subject of community, let’s go back to 1966. You were invited to come and speak at Cornell University, and shortly after that, you weren’t allowed back into your country. You were exiled for 39 years. How did you deal with those feelings?
Nhat Hanh: Well, I was like a bee taken out of the beehive. But because I was carrying the beloved community in my heart, I sought elements of the sangha around me in America and in Europe. And I began to build a community working for peace.
Oprah: Did you feel angry at first? Hurt?
Nhat Hanh: Angry, worried, sad, hurt. The practice of mindfulness helped me recognize that. In the first year, I dreamed almost every night of going home. I was climbing a beautiful hill, very green, very happily, and suddenly I woke up and found that I was in exile. So my practice was to get in touch with the trees, the birds, the flowers, the children, the people in the West—and make them my community. And because of that practice, I found home outside of home. One year later, the dreams stopped.
Oprah: What was the reason you weren’t allowed back in the country?
Nhat Hanh: During the war, the warring parties all declared that they wanted to fight until the end. And those of us who tried to speak about reconciliation between brothers and brothers—they didn’t allow us.
Oprah: So when you were a man without a country, you made a home in other countries.
Nhat Hanh: Yes.
Oprah: And the United States was one.
Nhat Hanh: Yes.
Oprah: How did you meet Martin Luther King?
Nhat Hanh: In June 1965, I wrote him a letter explaining why the monks in Vietnam immolated themselves. I said that this is not a suicide. I said that in situations like the one in Vietnam, to make your voice heard is difficult. Sometimes we have to burn ourselves in order to be heard. It is out of compassion that you do that. It is the act of love and not of despair. And exactly one year after I wrote that letter, I met him in Chicago. We had a discussion about peace, freedom, and community. And we agreed that without a community, we cannot go very far.
Oprah: How long was the discussion?
Nhat Hanh: Probably five minutes or so. And after that, there was a press conference, and he came out very strongly against the war in Vietnam.
Oprah: Do you think that was a result of your conversation?
Nhat Hanh: I believe so. We continued our work, and the last time I met him was in Geneva during the peace conference.