*sigh.* It hasn’t yet been a couple days since the continuation of Thích Nhất Hạnh, to really process. But as it goes, I can’t help but want to share my respects, reflecting, and a few words for the moment.
He is known as a Zen master, international peace activist, and the very pioneer of the term “mindfulness” to our Western vernacular. And he’s one of my heroes.
I remember really first “meeting” TNH when I was finishing college in Colorado. (It was the spring of 2009, as I had taken a couple years out of school but decided to go back to finish my degree.) In that final year, I was working full-time overnights as a caregiver for a group home of five elderly residents with developmental disabilities. As much as I appreciated the job and the experience, it was stressful balancing the overnight job with full-time school and a part-time internship… with sleep somewhere in there. I learned a good deal about stress and my breaking points. In fact, about like clockwork, I would regularly have weekly breakdowns… at my Monday night kung fu class.
It was right here in this state that TNH would receive me, or rather that I would receive his kind and gentle words and teachings. On those overnight shifts at the group home, while the residents were in bed, I’d lie down on the couch and connect with deep, conscious belly breaths while reading TNH slowly and mindfully. The books I connected with were The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching and The Heart of Understanding.
That same year, my final year of college, I was enrolled in both a creative writing class and a 100-level philosophy class called ‘Wisdom of the East,’ which I affectionately referred to as “Buddhist conversion class.” I started to source TNH for writings for workshop pieces and term papers for both classes, whilst steeping in Buddhist conversion.
I really really can’t thank TNH enough for all he has given through his life, to all sentient beings. As the smallest gesture, if it weren’t for some preoccupation with Buddhahood, I wouldn’t be practicing my “right livelihood” through a business with a Zen name that followed countless breaths in Zen meditation and countless footsteps retraced through beginningless time.
I did have the honor of seeing TNH in person at the Manhattan Center in October of 2011 during a Day of Mindfulness hosted by the monks and nuns of the international Plum Village. It was four days past his 85th birthday. The dear teacher led attendants through guided meditation, a Dharma talk, a silent vegetarian brown bag luncheon, and other guided relaxation exercises. My mom flew up from Florida to join me, my ex-partner at the time, and my ex-partner’s mom.
It was about a year ago this time, late January 2021, that I started reading At Home in the World, a memoir of collected stories adapted from TNH’s previously unpublished talks as well as published works. The two links below are Evernote links to short excerpts of this biography:
The memoir speaks to the 40 years that TNH was in political asylum while exiled from Vietnam for his antiwar activism. Thinking back to 2009, while TNH’s writings and teachings did register with me as intimate and profound, as if written directly from a dear friend to another, I hadn’t realized the scope of how TNH walked the walk in terms of seeing deeply into suffering and awakening. Somewhere I believe did TNH write of the Buddha smiling during a time of war. If Shakyamuni could smile, and if Thích Nhất Hạnh could smile during his noble treads, I glean, there is hope for us all to smile as well.
Below lies the epigraph of At Home in the World.
Thank you, thank you, thank you, Thích Nhất Hạnh, for this message.