On the morning of Tuesday 17th April 2012 Parliament Buildings will receive a remarkable visitor. The Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, Zen Master, poet, scholar, peace activist and renowned teacher of mindful living, will deliver an address on ‘Peace building’ to an invited audience of MLAs and others engaged in supporting the peace process here. After his talk, Nhat Hanh will lead one of his walking meditations on Prince of Wales Avenue. The Zen monk’s visit to Belfast comes at the end of a tour in Britain and Ireland.
Nhat Hanh is best known for his opposition to the Vietnam war, efforts that led to his nomination by Dr Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize. For his efforts in opposing the war he came close to losing his own life in a grenade attack and lost a number of monastics and fellow activists to the war. In one infamous incident, on 4 July 1966, a band of masked men rounded up five of Nhat Hanh’s social workers on a river bank and shot them, killing four. Their killers said: “We are sorry, but we are forced to kill you”. Recently, his monastics in Vietnam, at Bat Nha, have also suffered persecution at the hands of Vietnamese authorities.
Nhat hanh has spent many years in exile, in France, where he founded the mindfulness practice centre of Plum Village for monastics and lay people. He describes mindfulness, or meditation, as the energy of being aware and awake to the present moment. It is the continuous practice of touching life deeply in every moment of daily life. An acknowledged Buddhist scholar and celebrated writer on Buddhist ethics, Nhat Hanh has written over one hundred books linking mindfulness to political themes such as ‘power’, ecological responsibility and consumerism.
Next to the Dalai Lama, Thich Nhat Hanh, is probably the best known and most respected Buddhist master in the world today. Born in central Vietnam in 1926, Nhat Hanh was ordained a Buddhist monk at the age of sixteen. Taking inspiration from Gandhi, Nhat Hanh led a range of nonviolent forms of struggle, including fasting, using literature and the arts as ways to challenge oppression. He coined the term ‘Engaged Buddhism’ to describe his merger of contemplation with social activism.
In June of 1966, Nhat Hanh challenged Martin Luther King to take a stand against the War in Vietnam. It was an important meeting for Dr. King. Some months after King’s meeting with Thich Nhat Hanh, on April 4th, 1967 — exactly one year before he was killed — King finally came out against the war in Vietnam, giving one of his most eloquent, powerful, and prophetic speeches. His speech was entitled, “Beyond Vietnam.”