Saturday, May 28

From MLK to Silicon Valley, how the world fell in love with the ‘father of mindfulness’ | Vietnam

B.Before falling ill, Thich Nhat Hanh urged his followers not to put his ashes in a vase, lock him inside and “limit who I am”. Instead, the Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, poet, and peace activist apparently told them, “If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and peaceful steps.”

And after the 95-year-old died on Saturday, the breadth of his extraordinary life’s legacy was laid bare as news of his death resonated around the world, drawing tributes from leading figures in psychology, religion and justice. Social.

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual leader of Tibetan Buddhism, said he lived “a truly meaningful life,” adding: “I have no doubt that the best way we can pay tribute to him is to continue his work to promote peace in the world.” world”.

Known as the “father of mindfulness” and a leading advocate of “engaged Buddhism,” Hanh rose to fame and was exiled from his home country for his opposition to the Vietnam War. After persuading Martin Luther King to speak out against it, the civil rights leader nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, writing that he knew of no one more worthy “than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam.”

'Thay' with Martin Luther King Jr at a press conference in Chicago in 1966
‘Thay’ with Martin Luther King Jr at a press conference in Chicago in 1966. Photograph: Edward Kitch/AP

Hanh’s influence even reached the world of technology. In 2013 he spoke at Google headquarters in Silicon Valley, telling workers: “We have a feeling that we are overwhelmed by information. We don’t need that much information.”

His influence also spanned clinical psychology, with his 1975 book The miracle of mindfulness laying the groundwork for what would later be used to treat depression and described as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.

“It was there from the beginning of bringing mindfulness from east to west,” said Mark Williams, emeritus professor of clinical psychology at the University of Oxford and founding director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre. Williams first heard about mindfulness from Marsha Linehan, a professor of clinical psychology at the University of Washington, who said she kept Hanh’s book in her pocket and referred to it as her “bible.”

He said: “I first met her in the late ’80s, but this was published in 1975, so I had been using that book to influence her, and it was her work and her advice that influenced us in finding incorporate mindfulness into our approach to preventing depression, which later became known as mindfulness-based cognitive therapy.”

Buddhist monks and nuns greet Thich Nhat Hanh (center) at a temple in Hue, Vietnam, in 2020
Buddhist monks and nuns greet Thich Nhat Hanh (center) at a temple in Hue, Vietnam, in 2020. Photograph: Linh Pham/Getty Images

Today, mindfulness is a ubiquitous term in modern life, but without Hanh’s influence, he believes Western mindfulness would not be what it is today.

Williams said: “What he was able to do was communicate the essentials of Buddhist wisdom and make it accessible to people all over the world, and build that bridge between the modern world of psychological science and the modern health system and these ancient wisdom practices. . – and then he continued to do that in his teaching.”

Those who knew Hanh said his presence was unlike anything they had ever seen.

Anabel Temple, a member of the Heart of London Sangha, part of the Hanh network of monasteries, first came across his teachings in his book be peace About 30 years ago. She ended up traveling with him through China and Vietnam in 2005, when he returned after four decades of exile, and has been to his monastery at Plum Village in France many times. Scrolling through his phone, it shows dozens of photos of Hanh, also known as “Thay,” or teacher, traveling.

“He had that kind of way. You walk into a room and there were hundreds of people there at a Dharma talk, but he had that skill and ability to feel like he was personally highlighting you in that room, speaking to you directly,” he said.

The last time Temple saw him was in Plum Village before a stroke left him unable to speak, in 2014. After that, he returned to his birthplace, Hue, in Vietnam.

“It was so humble, so much dignity, so much presence,” he said. “He was funny, angry, sad. I felt a childlike delight in things and also a profound peace and tranquility and an extraordinary humanity.”

Suryagupta, president of the London Buddhist Center, first met him at a retreat in England some 25 years ago.

“He is definitely a giant of a man and I was lucky enough to be on retreat with him in my early days of exploring Buddhism,” he said. “And what was so amazing was that every time I walked into a space, there were sometimes hundreds of people there, literally not saying a word, as soon as I walked into their presence, it just instilled this kind of stillness and tranquility into the room. crowd… and also a tenderness, you felt relaxed and somehow alert in his presence.” Suryagupta said that its inclusion was a central feature of his teaching. “He showed that Buddhism was really available to everyone, and as a black woman, that was really important to me.”

He died peacefully surrounded by his followers at the Tu Hieu temple, the same temple where his spiritual journey began, where they will hold a week-long funeral.

Marianne Williamson, author and former US presidential candidate, said: “He was obviously a great spiritual teacher who led millions of people around the world to a deeper understanding of the principles of Buddhism and how to apply them in our lives. daily”.

But she is sure her legacy will live on. “His gift to the planet was so significant that I don’t think it will be diminished in any way by his death. With some people, and there are certainly those we all know today, their negativity permeates the consciousness of the planet,” he said. “With Thich Nhat Hanh, his love and compassion permeated the consciences of the planet and now it is our responsibility to take it forward from here.”

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