Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, renowned for bridging Eastern and Western spirituality, is the 2015 Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award recipient.
Bishop Martin Amos traveled to Deer Park Monastery in southern California to present the award on Saturday, October 31, 2015 to the 89-year old Zen master. Sister Chan Khong and Brother Phap Dang accepted the award on behalf of Thich Nhat Hanh, who continues to recover in San Francisco, in the presence of 120 monastics and 500 retreat participants.
Thich Nhat Hanh is receiving the Pacem in Terris award on the 50th anniversary year of Martin Luther King Jr.’s selection for the same award. The two religious leaders shared a peace and nonviolence bond that influenced the political climate in the late 1960s.
Thay wrote to King in 1965 asking him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War, which the American Civil Rights leader did in his famous 1967 speech at the Riverside Church in New York City. Earlier that year, King nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize, referring to him as “an apostle of peace and non-violence.”
As Thay’s peace efforts escalated, so did the risks, and he was forced to flee Vietnam in 1966 after an assassination attempt. Thay harnessed his exiled status to reconcile Eastern and Western political and spiritual challenges in an effort to realize his lifelong commitment to universal peace and justice.
He was chosen to represent the Buddhist Peace Delegation for the Paris Peace talks in 1969, which resulted in the signing of the 1973 Paris Peace Accords but also cemented his exile from Vietnam.
In 1976 Thay attended the World Conference on Religion and Peace in Singapore where he witnessed the plight of the Vietnamese refugees (Boat People), and organized efforts to rescue them.
In 1982, Thay founded Plum Village near Bordeaux, France, which has grown to four interconnected monasteries. He also founded three monasteries in the United States, one in Germany, one in Hong Kong, and two in Vietnam (which have been suppressed by the Vietnamese government). At the monasteries, deep listening makes the teachings on compassionate action accessible and alive.
Back in the U.S., Thay led peace walks in 2005 and 2007 to address racial tension in Los Angeles. Also in 2007, he organized and conducted “Great Requiem Ceremonies” intended to mindfully bind the remaining wounds from the Vietnam War. More recently, he sent delegates to the 2014Conference on Slavery and Human Trafficking.
On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors.
Until his illness in November 2014, Thay continued to travel the world, conferring with political and religious leaders, enlisting their support in pursuit of lasting world peace. In a 2013 news release from the Plum Village Monastics, Thay reflected: “On the altar in my hermitage in France are images of Buddha and Jesus, and every time I light incense, I touch both of them as my spiritual ancestors.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, this year’s Pacem in Terris Peace and Freedom Award winner, is a scholar fluent in seven languages and the author of more than 100 books: “Being Peace;” “Peace in Every Step;” “Lotus in a Sea of Fire;” “Living Buddha, Living Christ;” “Touching Peace;” “Peace Begins Here,” and a poem on the plight of the Vietnamese Boat People, “Call Me By My True Name.” He also is prolific calligrapher, teacher, and global voice for peace.
Photo credit: Ron Forster