On the Passing of Thich Nhat Hanh 1.22.22
As we mourn the loss of the remarkable Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, peace activist, and ecologist Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022), we remember his famous quote as we are certainly in the mud at the moment. We’ve lived through two years of the Covid-19 pandemic resulting in five-and-a-half million deaths worldwide, political divisions in the US beyond what any of us have seen in our lifetimes, skyrocketing rates of wealth disparity, and increasing extreme weather events as climate change creates chaos. We should be growing some great lotuses because these plants bloom their best flowers when they live in the muckiest of muds.
Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately known as Thay (which means “teacher” in Vietnamese), made the truths of Buddhism accessible to Westerners. The first noble truth of Buddhism is the concept of “Duhkha,” which refers to the inevitable mud of life: suffering, pain, unhappiness, and stress. I imagine if you thought your life was stressful before March 2020, your stress-o-meter has moved up a few notches since then.
To manage the mud, Thay encouraged awareness of and gratitude for the present moment, his “peace in every step” and “peace in every breath” teaching. I read a tribute by an author who remembered Thay coming to speak to her class when she was a seminary student:
“Anything he said was crowded out by the sheer magnitude of his presence. He was so tiny, and so magnificent. His truest teaching was how fully present he was with us as he taught,” explained Meggan Watterson.
To manage the mud, I think Thay would remind us to relax as a way to create. “It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing,” Thay said. “Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.” I can testify that I have done more restorative yoga in the past two years than in all of my past years of yoga to help me manage the mud.
I know Thay would invite us to embrace Mother Earth. “She is not outside of you,” Thay said. “Mother Earth is not just your environment…it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.” Hasn’t going outside taken on a new meaning during the last two years? Haven’t we realized the gifts right outside our doors in a more expansive way because of this crisis?
Thay’s life was full of mud and lotus. Thay worked around the world for peace during the Vietnam War but was banned by Vietnam in 1966 from returning. So in 1967, he created a monastery in Southern France called Plum Village, which has evolved into a thriving community of teachers and seekers. Plum Village has three affiliate monasteries in the US. Thay was also a prolific author who penned close to 50 books.
Thay was able to return to Vietnam and passed in the monastery where he took his first vows at age 16. Like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, also recently lost to us, Thay fully experienced both the great suffering of the mud but embodied the enlightenment and rebirth of the lotus in the regular moments of every day. May we follow his example, step by step.
Peace to each of you,
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