Thich Knat Hanh, a much beloved Buddhism monk, teacher, author, and social justice advocate recently died at age 95. Ordained as a monk aged 16 in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh is widely credited with promoting a kind of engaged Buddhism that could respond directly to the needs of society. He was a prominent teacher and social activist in his home country before finding himself exiled for calling for peace. In the West he played a key role in introducing mindfulness and created mindful communities (sanghas) around the world. He is also notable in his role promoting interfaith dialogue and understanding. His teachings have impacted politicians, business leaders, activists, teachers, and countless others.
In recent years, Thich Nhat Hanh led events for members of US Congress and for parliamentarians in the UK, Ireland, India, and Thailand. He also addressed the World Parliament of Religions in Melbourne, calling for specific steps to reverse the cycle of violence, war and global warming. In 2018, Thich Nhat Hanh moved back to Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam where he was first ordained when he was sixteen years old.
I was captivated by Thich Nhat Hanh at a talk he gave at Loyola University Chicago, where my mother and I were attending my freshman orientation. I vividly recall his presence walking around campus with in large crowd of fellow monks. I have since read many of his books and interview transcripts. This week I have selected a short section from, “A Life of Miracles,” which I believe illustrates both the simplicity and nuance of his teaching:
As we sit down next to a steam, we can listen to its laughter and watch its sparking waters, noticing the pebbles glistening and the fresh plants nearby, and we may be overcome with happiness. We are with the steam’s freshness, purity, and clarity. But in just an instant we may find we’ve had enough. Our heart is troubles, and we think of other things. We are no longer at one with the steam.
It is of no use to sit in a peaceful forest if our mind is lost in the city. When we live with a child or a friend, their freshness and warmth can relax us. But if our heart is not with them, their precious presence is neglected, and they no longer exist. We must be aware of them to appreciate their value, to allow them to be our happiness. If through carelessness and forgetfulness we become dissatisfied with them, we begin asking too much of them or reprimanding them, we will lose them. Only after they are gone, all our regrets are in vain.
Around us, life bursts fourth with miracles, a glass of water, a ray of sunshine, a leaf, a caterpillar, a flower, laughter, raindrops. If you live in awareness, it is easy to see miracles everywhere. Each human being is a multiplicity of miracles, eyes that see thoughts of colors, shapes, and forms; ears that hear a bee flying or a thunderclap; a brain that ponders a speck of dust as easily as the entire cosmos; a heart that beats in rhythm with the heartbeat of all beings. When we are tired and feel discouraged by life’s daily struggles, we may not notice these miracles, but they are always there.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
Dr. Thomas Lindquist, Psy.D.
Visit us at lindquistpsych.com
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