Home Art How Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh Introduced Mindfulness to the West

How Buddhist Monk Thich Nhat Hanh Introduced Mindfulness to the West


International battle, racial injustice, threats to democracy, a pandemic, and a refugee disaster — the Sixties have many classes for right now, together with what was then an emergent curiosity in mindfulness. Whereas many individuals helped increase the profile of this apply on a world stage, an necessary nexus of teachings is the venerable Thien (Vietnamese Zen) Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, who died on the age of 95 nearly a yr in the past, on January 22, 2022. He left an amazing legacy as one of many main figures to deliver mindfulness to the West and to expound the rules of engaged Buddhism as a part of his personal peace efforts in the course of the Vietnam Battle.

Final April, filmmakers Max Pugh and Marc J. Francis labored with Plum Village, Nhat Hanh’s religious group, to provide A Cloud By no means Dies, the primary movie about his life. Two weeks in the past, Pugh launched I Have Arrived, I Am Dwelling, about Nhat Hanh’s remaining years. Along with 2017’s Stroll With Me, the filmmakers’ documentary about life at Plum Village, these three movies provide a multifaceted view into the Thien instructor’s life, work, and passing. If I can counsel an order for viewing the movies, it might be Stroll With Me, adopted by A Cloud By no means Dies, and shutting with I Have Arrived, I Am Dwelling.

At the moment, Nhat Hanh is most identified for his writings on mindfulness, a apply that has grown right into a multimillion-dollar business. The monk’s groundbreaking ebook Miracle of Mindfulness helped introduce the apply to the Western world, and he went on to publish greater than 100 books up till his dying days. In Stroll With Me, we go to the trendy Plum Village group and get an inside view of its practices. Via stunning footage of each day affairs on the monastery, which additionally hosts lay practitioners, we will see the straightforward energy of a quiet meditation apply grounded in strolling slowly and gently.

Thich Nhat Hanh educating village kids in rural Vietnam, 1964. Thich Nhat Hanh pioneered Buddhist engagement in social work and rural growth, founding in 1965 the College of Youth for Social Service in Vietnam, a form of Peace Corps. Right here he’s in October 1964 educating rural kids to learn and write utilizing a tune concerning the bodhisattva of compassion. (© Plum Village Neighborhood of Engaged Buddhism)

However greater than mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh helped popularize the concept of engaged Buddhism, the phrase he coined to explain efforts in Buddhist circles to maneuver out of monasteries and have interaction straight with the world’s injustices. It’s with this idea that A Cloud By no means Dies shines, grounding viewers within the actuality of the monk’s peace efforts in the course of the Vietnam Battle, which first introduced him to prominence on the world stage.

Pictures of the conflict distinction with the peaceable life he started on the monastery. The documentary helps illustrate the connection between particular person peace and social peace, and why the 2 should be linked. Nhat Hanh’s efforts ultimately led to exile in France, the place he based the Plum Village group as a religious residence for Vietnamese refugees a long time earlier than the occasions depicted in Stroll With Me.

“I don’t personally know of anybody extra worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this mild monk from Vietnam,” wrote Martin Luther King Jr. in 1967 when he nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for a Nobel Peace Prize (no award was provided that yr.). “His concepts for peace, if utilized, would construct a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.” 

King, like Nhat Hanh, spoke of each peace and resistance and suffered dearly for his efforts, and I want the documentary attended to this relationship extra deeply. That stated, the connection between these two religious figures is a vital basis for understanding why and the way mindfulness as a motion grew within the Sixties: It’s one of many important instruments crucial for participating with the world’s tumult and violence.

“Suppose you might be meditating within the meditation corridor,” Nhat Hanh says in A Cloud By no means Dies as he lays out his case for social engagement, “and in case you hear the bombs falling round. The meditation corridor has not been hit by a bomb but, you might be protected. However since you might be meditating, you might be conscious that the bombs are falling and destroying homes and other people across the meditation corridor. And you already know that you just simply can not proceed to sit down within the meditation corridor.” 

March for nuclear disarmament, New York Metropolis, June 17, 1982. Thich Nhat Hanh was in New York in 1982 to steer a meditation and mindfulness retreat, and collectively everybody on the retreat joined the march. Left to proper: Lewis Richmond, Richard Baker Roshi, and Thich Nhat Hanh. A number of years later, Thich Nhat Hanh mirrored, “There was plenty of anger within the peace motion. We should always not stroll ‘for’ peace. We should always ‘be’ peace as we stroll.” (courtesy Plum Village Neighborhood of Engaged Buddhism)

The motion that comes afterward to assist others throughout a time of battle is what he calls “meditation in motion.” So usually, modern secular mindfulness discourse focuses on the significance of emotional regulation, however the moral and engaged dimensions of meditation are additionally essential to grasp.

Greater than the opposite two movies, A Cloud By no means Dies helps illuminate the monk’s legacy as a religious chief rooted within the world turbulence and social upheavals of the Sixties, which propelled him ahead to ascertain establishments just like the Order of Interbeing and the College of Youth for Social Service. We additionally get a glimpse of the early days of Plum Village, and his makes an attempt to start out a college in Vietnam a long time after his exile, solely to see the college shut down.

To shut out this biographical collection, I Have Arrived, I Am Dwelling gives a view into Nhat Hanh’s remaining days. Unable to talk on account of a stroke, he lives quietly again at Tu Hieu Temple, the temple the place he started the monastic life, and he takes his mindfulness walks in a wheelchair. Right here, the monastic group each honors their instructor and prepares for all times after his passing. Touching footage of monks and nuns in prayer and chanting whereas carrying N95 masks intermixes with dialogue from these near him.

Nonetheless, I want the filmmakers dove deeper into the monk’s prolific writing profession and the media manufacturing efforts of the Plum Village group, which makes use of podcasts, apps, YouTube movies, and different types of digital media to succeed in an ever wider group. The movies reference Nhat Hanh’s talks at locations like Google and the United Nations, however we don’t fairly achieve a way of their affect. We be taught a little bit about Sister Chan Khong, the monk’s longtime collaborator, however get solely glimpses of the numerous girls who apply and train in engaged Buddhism.

I hope future documentaries contact on these points, particularly in gentle of the rising function of mindfulness in Western discourse. For now, these three movies assist us higher perceive Thich Nhat Hanh’s work and legacy with a protracted view. Via the lens of a 95-year-old’s lengthy life, we will piece collectively the function of religious apply and religious communities as we navigate a brand new age of social upheaval and world battle. Plum Village gives readings and dialogue guides for viewers that time to precisely this.

Sister Chan Khong and the Buddhist nuns in Thich Nhat Hanh’s group on alms-round throughout a educating tour of Indonesia in 2010. Thich Nhat Hanh has renewed the Buddhist monastic code and embraced the complete presence of nuns in each function locally, together with educating, working, choice making, and ceremonies, making it one of the vital progressive sanghas on this planet. (© Plum Village Neighborhood of Engaged Buddhism)

“Proper now,” the information notes, “there’s a excellent storm of intersecting social crises brewing: conflict, assaults on democracy, a seamless pandemic, a vastly unfair world financial system, deeply damaging systemic racism, the erosion of belief in governments, the persistence of life-stunting unhealed worldwide trauma, and the ecological devastation that threatens a lot of life as we all know it.” A lot of the coaching that Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings and faculties present, the information argues, is necessary preparation for individuals to navigate these occasions.

Certainly, there’s a second in Stroll With Me when a little bit lady talks to Nhat Hanh concerning the demise of her canine, and he or she asks tips on how to not be unhappy. He asks her to contemplate an attractive cloud that she loves and that in the end disappears. “The place is my beloved cloud now? So when you have time to replicate, to look, you see that the cloud has not died, has not handed away. The cloud has turn into the rain. And if you have a look at the rain, you see your cloud.” 

The little lady begins to smile as she takes within the lesson, and he says: “And if you drink your tea mindfully, you may see your rain in your tea, your cloud in your tea.” It’s a lesson that’s clearly impressed the title for A Cloud By no means Dies, and it encapsulates the fact of interconnectedness that is likely one of the foundational frameworks for a life spent in social engagement and social motion.

Many movies about religious leaders give attention to the significance of the chief, and there’s at all times a hazard that biographical documentaries will place disproportionate duty on a single charismatic determine and never the many individuals working with that individual. 

However within the spirit of Nhat Hanh’s educating, the three movies by Pugh and Francis collectively finish with the sense that the duty for constructing peace within the twenty first century lies with all of us — the communities and people working towards within the Plum Village custom, these viewing these movies, and anybody who’s been formed by his writings and teachings. One man’s passing is only one half of a giant story of social change that spans a long time and generations.

Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam in 2005 after 39 years of exile. Right here he’s main a whole lot of monastics in a standard alms-round procession in Huế. (© Plum Village Neighborhood of Engaged Buddhism)

A Cloud By no means Dies, I Have Arrived, I Am Dwelling, and Stroll With Me, by Max Pugh and Marc J. Francis, can be found to stream on-line.


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