An advocate for peace starts with listening

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen-Master, is leading me through a dark room in the Hynes Convention Center, empty except for a few tables and chairs. A couple of other monks and nuns are silently padding across the carpet. No one bothers to flip a light switch.

Thây, (for “teacher,” as his followers call him) takes a seat next to a tall window, under the faintest glow of dusk. “So we can have a bit of light,” he says.

To describe Thich Nhat Hanh’s manner as understated misses the point. Every word seems cautiously chosen, every bend of the wrist deliberate.

And when he talks about peace, people of all faiths and backgrounds listen – from world leaders during the Vietnam War to Israeli and Palestinian factions today.

Just minutes earlier, he was in a giant auditorium several floors below, kneeling on a stage before an audience of more than 2,000.

For nearly three hours, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about fear, anger, and hate. Addressing the crowd’s security anxieties following Sept. 11, he urged Americans not to let the media “water the seeds of fear.” He also asked the American government to act as a concerned older brother, “setting an example for other nations.”

The powerful effect of his words came at the end, when Thich Nhat Hanh invited questions from the audience. One woman approached the stage and shared that she had lost a sister in the World Trade Center attack. But “I have no anger,” she wanted everyone to know.

Thich Nhat Hanh is no newcomer to the crusade for peace. He’s a leader of “engaged” Buddhism, a style of Buddhist worship promoting nonviolent civil disobedience. In 1966, he was exiled from Vietnam for his antiwar efforts, including a relief group which brought aid to ruined villages. He then toured the globe on a peace mission.

During this time, Thich Nhat Hanh made several trips to the US and represented the Buddhist delegation in the Paris Peace Talks, prompting Martin Luther King Jr. to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize. In 1982, he founded Plum Village, a monastery in southwest France, which has since opened branches in Vermont and California. Thich Nhat Hanh, who has not yet returned to Vietnam because of safety concerns, divides his time between the Maple Forest Monastery in Vermont and Plum Village.

He’s also a prolific poet, fiction writer, and philosopher. His latest publishing venture, “Anger, Wisdom for Cooling the Flames,” was released last September.

The cornerstone of Thich Nhat Hanh’s ideas about peace – whether he’s talking about sparring spouses or warring nations – is compassionate listening. “Is there any politician that is willing to ask the other side: ‘What is the best way to ensure your safety?’ “

For some, it might be tempting to write off his comments as utopian musings. But Thich Nhat Hanh’s work is grounded in day-to-day life.

Last summer, he invited a group of about 15 Israelis and Palestinians to Plum Village. True to Zen form, no schedule of events or agenda was handed out to the newcomers. The leaders of the gathering didn’t even know how long the retreat would last.

But “that doesn’t mean we were not productive,” says Thich Nhat Hanh. Apparently, a warm dialogue eventually ensued between the guests, with one woman confessing that it was the first time she had allowed herself to believe in peace in the Middle East. A second group of Palestinians and Israelis converged at Plum Village after Sept. 11, and a third retreat is planned for early this summer.

Thich Nhat Hanh is clear that his is not the average definition of “intervention.” The challenge, he says, is helping people in places that know only violence to “taste something different.” It’s “creating a kind of setting, an environment, where people can realize they are all human beings.”

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2014


2013


2012

Beyond environment: falling back in love with Mother Earth

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh explains why mindfulness and a spiritual revolution rather than economics is needed to protect nature and limit climate change.


2011


2010

The Other Dalai Lama

Roger Tagholm visits Thich Nhat Hanh at home in Plum Village.

Exclusive interview with Oprah

In this penetrating and intimate long-form interview, Thich Nhat Hanh reflects on the beauty of the present moment, being grateful for every breath, and the freedom and happiness to be found in a simple cup of tea.


2008


2007

Burma’s Monks: ‘Already a Success’

The monk sat cross-legged in the Manhattan hotel room in augbergine robes on an aubergine prayer mat, a thermos of tea, his reading glasses and a book, Mindfulness in the Marketplace, arranged neatly by his side. Thich Nhat Hanh took time out from a U.S. tour to speak briefly with TIME...


2006

The Art of Prayer

Upon the publication of his book, “The Energy of Prayer”, Thich Nhat Hanh was asked by Publishers Weekly to answer ten questions about his teachings on prayer.

This Is the Buddha’s Love

The great Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh talks about non-self, interdependence, and the love that expands until it has no limit.


2003

Mindfulness, Suffering, and Engaged Buddhism

We visited the Buddhist monk at a Christian conference center in a lakeside setting of rural Wisconsin. Here, Thich Nhat Hanh offers stark, gentle wisdom for living in a world of anger and violence. He discusses the concepts of “engaged Buddhism,” “being peace,” and “mindfulness.”

Buddhism and the Badge

Thich Nhat Hanh was interviewed in Madison, Wis. during a five-day retreat for police officers and public service workers and their families. A live web chat accompanied the article (transcript available).


2002


2001

Message to Osama bin Laden: interview with Thich Nhat Hanh

Thay shares his thoughts on how America should respond to the terrorist attacks. This interview was published in From the Ashes: A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America (Rodale Press, Oct. 2001) What I Would Say to Osama bin Laden Thich Nhat Hanh – Interview by Anne A....


2000


1999


1997


1995

Interview with Ram Dass

Thich Nhat Hanh gave a keynote address at the Gorbachev World Forum, September 27-October 1, 1995 in San Francisco. During the course of the conference, he recorded this unusual interview with American spiritual teacher and author, Ram Dass.

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