To the world, he is Thich Nhat Hanh.
To his students, he is simply Thay.
This humble, soft-spoken character is one of the most venerable architects of the current global peace movement- a Buddhist monk from a small Vietnamese town whose writings, speeches and actions have reverberated throughout modern society.
Born as Nguyen Xuan Bao near Central Vietnam in 1926, Thich Nhat Hanh entered a Buddhist monastery at age 16, where he was trained to lead a quiet life of contemplative meditation. Instead, Thich Nhat Hanh’s purpose-driven response to the events surrounding and leading to the Vietnam War established his proactive, transformative approach to social reform and gave rise to the movement known as “Engaged Buddhism.”
His persistent, non-violent crusade for peace in his home country and abroad culminated in a 1967 Nobel Peace Prize nomination from Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and resulted in his exile from Vietnam. In turn, he established several communities around the world, most notably in the French countryside, where he founded the famed retreat known as Plum Village. Although Thich Nhat Hanh has returned to Vietnam in recent years, Plum Village continues to serve as his home and headquarters, where he works to alleviate the suffering experienced by refugees, political prisoners and other victims of hunger, drought, and voicelessness.
At last count, Thich Nhat Hanh has published over 100 books of poems, prose, and prayers discussing meditation and mindfulness practice. He explained the concept of mindfulness in a 2010 interview with Oprah Winfrey:
“You need the practice of mindfulness to bring your mind back to the body and establish yourself in the moment. If you are fully present, you need only make a step or take a breath in order to enter the kingdom of God. And once you have the kingdom, you don’t need to run after objects of your craving, like power, fame, sensual pleasure, and so on. Peace is possible. Happiness is possible. And this practice is simple enough for everyone to do.
Thich Nhat Hanh received his adopted name as part of Vietnamese Buddhist tradition for ordained monks. The name “Thich” is the family name taken by nearly all Vietnamese Buddhist monks and nuns, and it refers to the Shakya clan of Buddhism (as in the Shakyamuni Buddha). The “Nhat Hanh” and the end of his name literally translates to “One Right Move” or “One Action” in English, and it signifies his specific generation within the Vietnamese Buddhist lineage.
Of course, Thich Nhat Hanh prefers that his students just call him “Thay” or “Tay” which means “teacher.”
Thich Nhat Hanh has received much praise for his accessible approach to Buddhism, in which he combines a variety of Zen teachings, Mahayana Buddhist teachings, and ideas from Western psychology (Thich Nhat Hanh has studied here extensively, both at Princeton and Columbia Universities). His followers are attracted to his adherence to mindful living and to his usage of poignant personal quotes and mantras, which surface repeatedly through his writings: “No mud, no lotus”; “Peace in oneself, peace in the world”; “Be still and know”; etc. View Thich Nhat Hanh calligraphy jewelry here.
Photo credit: UBC, Inc.