Thich Nhat Hanh


BOB ABERNETHY, anchor: In the U.S. and Europe, the other best-known Buddhist leader, besides the Dalai Lama, is the renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh. He, too, has been on a U.S. tour, ended this past week — speaking, leading retreats, and promoting his latest of more than 75 books, Creating True Peace.

Many people may find Nhat Hanh’s teachings Utopian, but he is convinced they are practical and proven. He has opposed violence for more than 50 years. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Nhat Hanh insists he is a monk, not a politician. But as he toured the U.S. he spoke not only of Buddhist practices but also — often and critically — of American policies in the Middle East.

We caught up with Thich Nhat Hanh during late afternoon rush hour on Capitol Hill, in Washington. Shielding his eyes from the sun, he practiced his customary attentive, so-called mindful walking — to the Library of Congress to talk to Members of Congress, and others, about peace in a world of terrorism. He said since 9-11 the level of hate and violence has gone up. He blamed America’s use of force.

THICH NHAT HANH: Using violence to suppress violence is not the correct way. America has to wake up to that reality.

ABERNETHY: That’s not a sentiment you hear everyday at the Capitol. Nor is Nhat Hanh’s recommendation to this bitterly divided Congress that its members practice what he calls deep listening (to each other) and gentle speech.

Nhat Hanh became a Zen Buddhist monk when he was 16. His title “Thich” means, symbolically, in Vietnamese, that he is a member of the Buddha’s extended family.

During the Vietnam War, Nhat Hanh actively opposed the fighting, offending all sides. He developed what he called Engaged Buddhism: going beyond meditation to campaign for peace, care for refugees and help rebuild bombed villages.

NHAT HANH: If you hear the bombs falling, you know, you know that you have to go out and help.

ABERNETHY: Because of his anti-war activities, Nhat Hanh had to leave Vietnam. In the 1980s, he founded a Buddhist community in France and has spent most of the years since teaching, leading retreats and writing. In all, he has written more than 75 books.

Nhat Hanh’s message emphasizes simple practices. Concentration on every activity — walking, breathing, eating, everything. He says this mindfulness leads to understanding the roots of suffering, which encourages compassion that can dissolve anger.

On this year’s U.S. visit, he led private retreats for several members of Congress in Washington, and for police officers in Wisconsin.

I asked him what Buddhism has to say to people of other religions.

NHAT HANH: I think if Buddhism can help, it is the concrete methods of practice. We have the same kind of teaching, but in Buddhism there are more concrete tools.

There are ways to transform and to reduce the amount of suffering in our families, in our schools. We, as practitioners of transformation and healing, we know how to do it, how to reduce the level of violence.

ABERNETHY: Are there times when it is right to use violence in order to protect yourself, or your family, or nation?

NHAT HANH: If you see someone who is trying to shoot, to destroy, you have to do your best in order to prevent him or her to do so. You must. But you must do it out of your compassion, of your willingness to protect, and not out of anger. That is the key.

ABERNETHY: Can a person be both a Buddhist and a Christian?

NHAT HANH: Sure. There are many, many Christians who practice Buddhism and they become better and better Christians all the time.

ABERNETHY: Nhat Hanh thinks violence in America has increased in recent years. He says one reason is too much production and consumption of the wrong kinds of things — movies and television, for instance, that stimulate craving and violence.

NHAT HANH: I think we have the Statue of Liberty on the East Coast. But in the name of freedom, people have done a lot of damage. I think we have to build a Statue of Responsibility on the West Coast in order to counterbalance. Because liberty without responsibility is not true liberty. We are not free to destroy.

ABERNETHY: The continuing struggle in Iraq triggered questions for Nhat Hanh everywhere he went.

NHAT HANH: I think America is now caught in Iraq, like in Vietnam not very long ago. And you believed that search and destroy is the right path. But the more you continued that kind of operation, the more Communists you created, and finally you had to withdraw. I am afraid that you are doing exactly the same thing in Iraq.

The only way for Americans to get emancipated from this situation is to help build the United Nations into a real body of peace so that the United Nations would take over the problem of Iraq and the Middle East. America is powerful enough to do that.

ABERNETHY: At the Washington Hebrew Congregation, and elsewhere, Nhat Hanh made the same appeal for more UN authority. He also urged Americans to lobby their elected officials.

NHAT HANH: We have to offer them our insight, our compassion. We cannot just afford for them to be surrounded by advisers who do not have that insight, that compassion.

ABERNETHY: There was no way to tell how many people here agreed with Nhat Hanh, but there was no doubt about their interest in what he had to say.

Thich Nhat Hanh has scheduled a retreat for Israelis and Palestinians next month in France. He has done this before, and he says — for those attending — it always brings reconciliation.

  • alejandra

    What a truly great inspiration! If only politicians would do like Nhat Hanh said:
    “The only way for Americans to get emancipated from this situation is to help build the United Nations into a real body of peace so that the United Nations would take over the problem of Iraq and the Middle East. America is powerful enough to do that.” Then, I ask myself: Why don’t they let the U.N. take over? Is it becuase of losing power out of their hands(oil…). This country needs to build its OWN statue, The Statue of Responsability. This will balance things out, freedom & responsability. Then, things will start to work better for all of us. If I could, I’ll do one…I just need someone to give me a hand.

  • Donna dutton

    First we need to quiet people like Rush Limbaugh who preach hate and fear among americans and elevate true peacemakers among us.

  • Mark

    It is such a timeless message and so powerful. As trite and as counter-intuitive as it sounds, peace really must begin from within. Nonviolence works. Violence never will. We live in a society that worships the violent response, the violent hero, the violent act of self-righteous rage, but the world is reminding us once again how futile this approach really is.



  • Christine

    I have read so many of Hahn’s books, and they not only insire me to be a better person, but to share his peaceful wisdom with others I may touch in this small life. His passion is a beacon for the soul to ponder. We need not quiet anyone, this country was founded with the right to espress our beliefs. We only need to no longer listen to the hate and fear, and replace it with the love we grow as we turn from these people who are so hate-filled, they know nothing else. Keep reading Hahn, and the peace he exemplifies will follow. Look upon his face, and see the joy he carries. This gives me hope, and passion for sharing, with one person at a time, what his brillant inner self offers. Something I hope to take with me when I pass this small life.

  • Heather

    A truly beautiful man (second to my dad of course) x

  • Douglas Parker

    I attended meditation and dharma talks at 2 different Thich Nhat Hahn centers and I found it very interesting.
    I can’t find one in my state near to me. I heard that Brother Thay went back to Vietnam last year after living many years in exile and spoke about how Buddhists and others are still being persecuted.

    It seems as though many nations suffer from corruption and the mislead notion that somehow a war would be good for the economy in the long run. They say “Where ever there is absolute power, there is absolute corruption”.
    Ghandi had the right ideas about non-violence, so did Dr. Martian Luther King Jr. the man who nominated Brother Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize. MLK did not block highways on his march to Washington DC they walked on the sides of the roads.
    President Obama was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize before he even did anything.
    There is a proposed building in Washington DC to start resolving conflicts and end wars-
    There are veterans groups,
    and religious groups(Quakers)
    that went back to Vietnam to help the Vietnamese with problems like Agent Orange and rebuilding from the hellish damage of wars.
    With Metta and Mindfulness (At Least I Hope That My Words Are Of The True Teachings)
    Many Blessings

  • Nev Hunt

    Inspirational. Thay is a pure genius, and to listen to his words fill me with pride and give me hope. Lets all take from his words that ” Liberty is no good without responsibility”

  • Elizabeth

    “Using violence to suppress violence is not the correct way. America has to wake up to that reality.”
    I wish all nations could realize that!

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  • Sami

    I shall take to heart what he says about lobbying our elected officials to offer insight and compassion. They are flooded with angry, adversarial messages from single-issue extremists and carefully crafted, briskly spinning misinformation from paid lobbyists. We must not let that become all they know about the issues. Our politicians spend all their time fighting for microscopic advantages over each other, to the point where fairness becomes an afterthought and Insight and compassion are utterly neglected. A small daily dose of inner peace and loving kindness, administered to our public officials, can begin to heal the insanity that has overtaken Washington and our state governments. Pray for peace, but work for it too.

  • Jamee W.

    As I began reading this article I felt there was a sense of skepticism in the reporters tone. As he went on, I felt the wall lessened its harsh gate. Thich is so inspirational. The way I stumbled upon his teachings,is soamazing. As far as the government is concerned I feel that if we want our schools to be bully free…tjen we need to address the biggest bullies. Ourselves. Living life negatively is no way to live.I look forwarde tp one day meeting Thich. Until then I will do my best at being as mindful as possible!!

  • Tom

    I have been reading the dialogue between Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan, The Raft Is Not the Shore. This interview simply expands on that conversation of 1975.