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Letter after hearing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this letter to his friend Raphael (Ray) Gould, the morning after receiving the news of their friend’s assassination. Ray was one of the directors of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the International Committee of Conscience on Vietnam, of which both Dr. King and Thich Nhat Hanh were members.

4/5/1968

Dear Ray,
I did not sleep last night; I tried to contact you through Lee at the FOR but the line was not available.

They killed Martin Luther King. They killed us.

I am afraid the root of violence is so deep in the heart and mind and manner of this society. They killed him. They killed my hope. I do not know what to say.

This country is able to produce King but cannot preserve King. You have him, and yet you do not have him. I am sorry for you. For me. For all of us.

I prayed for him after I learned about his assassination. And then, I said to myself: You do not have to pray for him. He does not need it. You have to pray for yourself. We have to pray for ourselves.

Ray, the last time I saw him is in Geneva, at the Pacem in Terris II conference. I was up in his room in a morning, having breakfast and discussing about the situation. We had scrambled eggs and toasts and teas. I told him: “Martin, do you know something? The peasants in Vietnam know about what you have been doing to help the poor people here and to stop the war in Vietnam. They consider you as a bodhisattva.”

A bodhisattva. An enlightened being trying to work for the emancipation of other human beings. He did not say anything but I knew he was so moved by what I said.

This morning I feel a little bit comforted because I remember that I did tell him so.

Ray, send me the picture in which you and I and he were together. I want to see again the expression of his face when he told me, in Summer 1966 when we met in Chicago “I feel compelled to do anything to help stop this war”. He made so great an impression in me. This morning I have the impression that I cannot bear the loss.

Please call me any time you find possible. And let me know what and how the FOR will react against this unbearable loss.

Fraternally,
nhat hanh

Press photo of Ray Gould, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh, in Chicago May 31, 1966

Join the conversation

  • Thank you so much for posting this letter. It is deeply moving to me for both the sentiment and because I’ve been on a journey of discovery over the past 2 years about the life of my grandfather Ray Gould. I had no idea until just a couple of years ago about his work at the Fellowship of Reconciliation and his relationships with Martin Luther King Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh. One step at a time I’m learning about my grandfather’s work to bring about peace on the planet. I’m deeply grateful for the sharing of this letter. A friend sent me the link this week. I’d welcome any other letters or memories from anyone related to this. Both my sister and I are so passionate to be of service in the same spirit as our grandfather.
    In fellowship,
    Jamie Engel

  • This letter is truly touching to me, not only because I come from the generation that invested so much hope in MLK for civil rights and against the Vietnam War, but also because I attended one of Thay’s retreats and was so deeply impressed by his work to change the world, one person at a time. Thay and MLK were moving in the same direction, along different paths but with the very same love deep in their hearts.

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    What is Mindfulness

    Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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