The University of Hong Kong has formally awarded Thay an Honorary Doctorate in recognition of his contributions to world peace and humanity.
Past Hong Kong University (HKU) Honorary Degrees have been awarded to Mother Theresa, Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi, and Bill Clinton.
Hong Kong comes to France
Due to Thay’s teaching schedule he was unable to travel to Hong Kong to receive the award, officially entitled “The Degree of Doctor of Social Sciences – honoris causa“. Undeterred, the Vice Chancellor and President of University of Hong Kong, Prof. Lap-Chee Tsui, along with Prof. Lee Chak-fan (Director of HKU SPACE and Honorary Professor of Department of Civil Engineering) and Prof. Michael Wilkinson (Professor of the Faculty of Law & the University’s official Public Orator) very generously flew to France to award the Degree to Thay, in person, at Plum Village on March 13. The ceremony was formally completed at HKU’s 190th Congregation in Hong Kong on March 18.
It was a special occasion for hosts and guests alike. There was a Formal Tea Meditation with Thay in the Still Water Meditation Hall of Upper Hamlet to welcome the delegation, and many moments under the spring sunshine to enjoy mindful walking and eating, and to exchange our hopes and aspirations for the future.
Build a community to realise your dream
The morning of the ceremony to confer the degree was full of peace, joy and warmth. Thay gave a beautiful Dharma Talk, followed by the conferment of the degree, which included Prof. Michael Wilkinson’s recommendation, and Thay’s acceptance speech. You can read a summary of the whole morning and listen to the mp3 at tnhaudio.org.
In Thay’s acceptance speech he expressed his deep gratitude for the award, and offered a special message of encouragement to the students of Hong Kong University and beyond:
This is the first thing I would like to propose to the young people of our time: If you have a dream, please build a Sangha, build a community in order to realise your dream.
And secondly, I would like to propose that our love should be directed to the whole planet, not only to our nation and people. I have learned that my home, my country is the whole planet earth. I do not limit my love to that tiny piece of land in Asia, Vietnam. I have a lot of transformation and healing just because I got that vision.
Your love may be still too small. You have to enlarge your heart. Your love has to embrace the whole planet earth and that is the love of Buddha, the love of great human beings like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa and so on.
There then followed a fascinating dialogue between Thay, the Vice-Chancellor and Professor Lee about how best to train the young generations to prepare for an uncertain future.
Plum Village is in Hong Kong
Thay has a deep connection with Hong Kong, and Hong Kong University in particular. Thay has been invited to Hong Kong to offer teachings and lead retreats in 2007, 2010, 2011 and 2013, including events training healthcare workers and teachers in mindfulness at Hong Kong University. In 2011 he opened The Asian Institute of Applied Buddhism at Lotus Pond Temple on Hong Kong’s Lantau Island.
The people of Hong Kong are very dear to Thay’s heart. At his public talk in 2013, which attracted over 10,000 people, he jokingly asked who would like to “be connected” to Thay, and the whole audience put up their hands. “You do not need a smartphone or Facebook account to be connected to me,” he joked. “Just enjoy taking mindful steps as I have taught you, from the metro station to your office. That is the deepest way we can be connected, as Teacher and student. And you can feel that connection right away.”
You can watch the full morning of events below:
Conferment of Degree of Doctor of Social Sciences (honoris causa)
on Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
by the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Hong Kong
at Plum Village Practice Center, France
13 March 2014
Acceptance speech by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh
Mr Vice-Chancellor, Professor Lee, Professor Wilkinson, ladies and gentlemen,
We feel very humbled and grateful that the University of Hong Kong has chosen to bestow on us this honour. Thank you very much on your love and trust. We are very glad to accept your act of brotherhood, loving kindness and generosity.
In fact, I am sure that you know that Plum Village is not only in France but everywhere. We have helped found thousands of communities of mindful living in the world. Plum Village is also in Hong Kong. You know that in Plum Village we do not operate as individuals but we operate always as a Sangha. So this honour I believe should go to every member of the Sangha, of the community.
In Buddhism, we practice the insight of no-self. And if we have been able to do anything to help the world, that is thanks to the Sangha as a community. Without the Sangha, nothing can be achieved. The Buddha after enlightenment, he knew that – that is why the first thing he did is to go out and look for elements of the community. The Buddha was an excellent Sangha builder. He knew that without the Sangha, the Buddha could not realise his dream of helping the world. And that is why he spent a lot of time building his Sangha. Right in the first year after enlightenment, he already had monastic Sangha of 1,250 monks and that continued to grow. And the King Prasenajit. During the last time he met with the Buddha, said that every time I see your Sangha have more appreciation and confidence in you, Lord Buddha.
When I met with Dr Martin Luther King in Chicago in 1966, we also discussed about the community building because Martin Luther King also knew that without the Sangha we cannot realise our dream. And instead of using the word Sangha he used the word ‘beloved community’. And the second time we met in Geneva we also discussed about community building and I was able to tell Martin Luther King that the people in Vietnam consider Martin Luther King as a great bodhisattva working for human rights, civil rights, social justice and so on. I’m very happy I had the chance to tell him that, because three months later he was assassinated and did not have the chance to continue his Sangha building. I was in New York when I hear the news about his assassination. I was sick because of that and I promise myself that I have to continue to build a Sangha for myself, for ourselves and for him also.
And what I would like to tell the young people is that even if they have a big dream, they need a Sangha, a community in order to realise it, if they believe the Buddha, if they believe Martin Luther King. The Sangha is a community where there is a brotherhood, sisterhood, harmony. And building the Sangha you have to devote a lot of time. A Family can be a Sangha, a university can be a Sangha. If there is brotherhood, mutual understanding, and love, we can achieve our goal and we can realise our dream. And that is why Sangha building is for everyone, even if you are a Director of a Corporation, you can transform your corporation into a Sangha where everyone learns how to generate a brotherhood, sisterhood, mutual understanding so that your corporation not only can make money, but also generate the energy of brotherhood and sisterhood mutual understanding compassion. We need businessmen and business leaders to do the work of Sangha building in order to make our world a better place to live.
Here in Plum Village, we are also a community of learning. What we learn here is about how to generate the energy of peace, the energy of joy and happiness in our body, in our feelings and emotions. We also want to learn how to handle the suffering in us because we know that if we can do that for ourselves, we will not make other people around us suffer and then we can help them to do the same. So here, teachers and students are learning together.
We want to build a Sangha and a good environment where people can be nourished and transformed and together we organise days of mindfulness, retreats of mindfulness in order to help people to come practice, transform, to suffer less and to taste the joy of life. A retreat of mindfulness can last six days, a week, two weeks, three weeks or three months. We can always see the transformation happening in our retreats and that is very wholesome of source of nutriment for us. So to generate the energy of peach, to generate the energy of joy and happiness in our daily life, to know how to handle our suffering and how to suffer less, how to make good use of our suffering in order to create happiness, in the same way you make use of mud in order to grow lotus flowers – this is our learning and our practice.
And that is why learning in the classroom is just one small part of our practice. We learn walking together, we learn to play soccer, basketball together, we learn to cook together, to organise retreats together, and during that time we create more brotherhood, sisterhood, harmony and peace, that will nourish us and nourish those who come and practice with us.
So that is the first thing I would like to propose to the young people of our time: if you have a dream, please build a Sangha, build a community in order to realise your dream. The second thing I would like to propose is that our love should be directed to the whole planet, not only to our nation and people. I have learned that my home, my country is the whole planet earth. I do not limit my love to that tiny piece of land in Asia, Vietnam. I have a lot of transformation and healing just because I got that vision. Your love may be still too small. You have to enlarge your heart. Your love has to embrace the whole planet earth and that is the love of Buddha, the love of great human beings like Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Mother Teresa and so on.
So please have a beautiful, happy Commencement Day in Hong Kong University.
Thank you so much again for your generosity, for your love and blessings.