Prominent Buddhist monk, writer and Vietnamese peace activist Thích Nhất Hạnh passed away at the age of ninety-five.
Plum Village, the first monastic community Hạnh founded, announced the peaceful death of the beloved teacher, or Thay, on the morning of Jan. 22 at the Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam. “Thay has been the most extraordinary teacher, whose peace, tender compassion, and bright wisdom has touched the lives of millions,” Plum Village wrote in a statement. “Whether we have encountered him on retreats, at public talks, or through his books and online teachings – or simply through the story of his incredible life – we can see that Thay has been a true bodhisattva, an immense force for peace and healing in the world.”
The monastic community is commemorating Hạnh’s legacy with five days of practice and ceremonies broadcasted live from Vietnam and France, which started on Jan. 22.
Hạnh was born in central Vietnam in 1926, and he became a monk at the age of 16. He was actively engaged in the 1950s movement to renew Vietnamese Buddhism, according to his biography on Plum Village. Hạnh founded the Engaged Buddhism movement, dedicating his life to the “inner transformation for the benefit of individuals and society” through the practice and teachings of Buddhism. He chose to not only live the “contemplative life” but to simultaneously work to actively help those suffering from the Vietnam War.
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The global spiritual leader also traveled to the U.S. in 1961 to teach Comparative Religion at Princeton University before he went on to research and teach Buddhism at Columbia University. Hạnh then founded the School of Youth and Social Service, which is “a grassroots relief organization of 10,000 volunteers based on the Buddhist principles of non-violence and compassionate action.”
“Hạnh also founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon, La Boi publishing House, and a prominent peace activist magazine,” the statement continued. “In 1966, he established the Order of Interbeing, a new order based on the traditional Buddhist Bodhisattva precepts.”
Hạnh later traveled back to the U.S. and Europe to call for an end to the Vietnam War, during which he first met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, calling him “an apostle of peace and nonviolence.”
When he was denied the right to return to Vietnam, he was exiled for 39 years before returning in 2005. He traveled across the globe while “spreading his message of peace, lobbying Western leaders to end the Vietnam War and leading the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.”
The peace activist opened monasteries around the world, including California, New York, Vietnam, Paris, Hong Kong, Thailand, Mississippi, Australia and Germany.
A month after his 88th birthday, Hạnh suffered a severe stroke and was left unable to speak in November 2014. He spent his last remaining years at the Từ Hiếu Temple, where he first resided as a novice monk.
“As Thay would say, ‘Because we have seen the path, we have nothing more to fear,’” Plum Village stated. “We know our direction in life, we know what to do, and what not to do to relieve suffering in ourselves, in others, and in the world; and we know the art of stopping, looking deeply, and generating true joy and happiness.”
“Now is a moment to come back to our mindful breathing and walking, to generate the energy of peace, compassion, and gratitude to offer our beloved Teacher,” Plum Village added. “It is a moment to take refuge in our spiritual friends, our local sanghas and community, and each other.”