On Thich Nhat Hanh, At Home in the World: Stories and Essential Teachings from a Monk’s Life. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2016.
Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is a survivor. Narrowly missing death in South Vietnam on more than one occasion during the 1960s, he had many students killed in the bloodshed during the American War. He and other Tiep Hien Buddhists could not return to their country for fear of persecution, or worse. Uprooted, he ended up living in France, where he and friends slowly began to rebuild their lives.
At Home in the World, published in 2016, offers snapshots of nine full decades of Thich Nhat Hanh’s life. It bears keeping in mind that his country was living under a French colonial occupation regime, followed by U.S. intervention and invasion. He and his friends knew what it was like to live under the U.S. bombs.
Nhat Hanh admits that in his youth he was a “revolutionary monk.” He and his brothers wanted to rejuvenate Vietnamese Buddhism, and they had to reckon with a conservative religious establishment. Their motivation was simple: “Taking action against injustice is not enough. We believed action must embody mindfulness. If there is no awareness, action will only cause more harm. Our group believed it must be possible to combine meditation and action to create mindful action.”  Read the rest of this entry »
Fifty years ago today at NYC’s Riverside Church, Martin Luther King delivered a powerful, prophetic indictment of U.S. war-making in Vietnam: “They ask if our own nation wasn’t using massive doses of violence to solve its problems, to bring about the changes it wanted. Their questions hit home, and I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today — my own government. For the sake of those boys, for the sake of this government, for the sake of the hundreds of thousands trembling under our violence, I cannot be silent.”
Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh
Five years ago today, Jenn Reyes Lay and I started a St. Louis sangha in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh. Annie Fitzgerald offered Sophia House on Gibson Avenue for our first gathering. Many wonderful people have shared the fruits of their practice with us during these 60 months: sitting, walking, singing, reciting the precepts, slowing down, studying the Heart and Diamond Sutras, offering retreats in the country, and facilitating mindful dinners.
As poet Diane di Prima wrote in her poem Life Chant, May it continue!
Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help. Read the rest of this entry »
The more American troops sent to Vietnam, the more the anti-American campaign led by the NLF becomes successful. Anger and hatred rise in the hearts of the peasants as they see their villages burned, their compatriots killed, their houses destroyed. Pictures showing NLF soldiers with arms tied, followed by American soldiers holding guns with bayonets, make people think of the Indochina war between the French and the Viet Minh and cause pain even to the anti-Communist Vietnamese.
Last night I was reading Frances Fitzgerald’s Fire in the Lake:
The Vietnamese and the Americans in Vietnam
This afternoon I listened to a playlist I made
Of songs from the Vietnam War era
(Or, as the Vietnamese call it
The American War)
One of the songs I first heard in 1975
John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s Happy Xmas (War Is Over) Read the rest of this entry »
“Waking up this morning, I smile
Twenty-four brand new hours are before me.
I vow to live fully in each moment
and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.”
–Thich Nhat Hanh, Present Moment, Wonderful Moment: Mindfulness Verses for Daily Living
This gatha can be used not just first thing in the morning; I can change the word “morning” in the first line to “moment,” and I will have scores of occasions to recite it throughout the day.