Thich Nhat Hanh
Thích Nhất Hạnh was a Vietnamese Thiền Buddhist monk, peace activist, prolific author, poet, and teacher who founded the Plum Village Tradition, historically recognized as the main inspiration for engaged Buddhism. Known as the "father of mindfulness," Nhất Hạnh was a significant influence on Western practices of Buddhism.
In the mid-1960s, Nhất Hạnh co-founded the School of Youth for Social Services and created the Order of Interbeing. He was exiled from South Vietnam in 1966 after opposing the war and refusing to take sides. In 1967, Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.
Nhất Hạnh established dozens of monasteries and practice centers and spent many years living at the Plum Village Monastery, which he founded in 1982 in southwest France near Thénac, traveling internationally to give retreats and talks. Nhất Hạnh promoted deep listening as a nonviolent solution to the conflict and sought to raise awareness of the interconnectedness of all elements in nature. He coined the term "engaged Buddhism" in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire.
After a 39-year exile, Nhất Hạnh was permitted to visit Vietnam in 2005. In 2018, he returned to Vietnam to his "root temple," Từ Hiếu Temple, near Huế, where he lived until he died in 2022 at the age of 95.
In 1963, after the military overthrow of the minority Catholic regime of President Ngo Dinh Diem, Nhất Hạnh returned to South Vietnam on 16 December 1963, at the request of Thich Tri Quang, the monk most prominent in protesting the religious discrimination of Diem, to help restructure the administration of Vietnamese Buddhism.
As a result of a congress, the General Association of Buddhists and other groups merged to form the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in January 1964. Nhất Hạnh proposed that the executive publicly call for an end to the Vietnam War, help establish an institute for the study of Buddhism to train future leaders, and create a center to train pacifist social workers based on Buddhist teaching.
In 1964, two of Nhất Hạnh's students founded La Boi Press with a grant from Mrs. Ngo Van Hieu. Within two years, the press published 12 books, but by 1966, the publishers risked arrest and jail because the word "peace" was taken to mean communism. Nhất Hạnh also edited the weekly journal Hải Triều Âm (Sound of the Rising Tide), the UBCV's official publication. He continually advocated peace and reconciliation, calling in September 1964, soon after the Gulf of Tonkin incident, for a peace settlement and referring to the Viet Cong as brothers. However, the South Vietnamese government subsequently closed the journal.
On 1 May 1966, at Từ Hiếu Temple, Nhất Hạnh received the "lamp transmission" from Zen Master Chân Thật, making him a dharmacharya (teacher) and the spiritual head of Từ Hiếu and associated monasteries. On 13 March 1964, Nhất Hạnh and the monks at An Quang Pagoda founded the Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies with the UBCV's support and endorsement. Renamed Vạn Hanh Buddhist University, it was a private institution that taught Buddhist studies, Vietnamese culture, and languages in Saigon. Nhất Hạnh taught Buddhist psychology and prajnaparamita literature there and helped finance the university by fundraising from supporters.
In 1982, Nhất Hạnh and Chân Không established the Plum Village Monastery, a vihara in the Dordogne near Bordeaux in southern France. Plum Village is the largest Buddhist monastery in Europe and America, with over 200 monastics and over 10,000 visitors annually. The Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism and its sister organization in France, the Congrégation Bouddhique Zen Village des Prunier's, are the legally recognized governing bodies of Plum Village in France.