Last updated on November 29th, 2023.
Just who is Thich Nhat Hanh? Where did he begin, and what did he gift us? He is a reformer, a scholar, a teacher, and an activist. He’s taught us to be awake and mindful of ourselves, our surroundings, and many other things.
In this article, we will highlight Thich Nhat Hanh’s most notable contribution, his humble beginnings, and the works that he gave that last and are still prominent today.
Who is Thich Nhat Hanh?
Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk and peace activist deemed a global spiritual leader by many. He is a world-renowned Zen master who writes impactful poetry regarding his revolutionary teachings on mindfulness, global ethics, and peace. Thich Nhat Hanh was ordained as a monk in Vietnam at the age of 16, and he quickly envisioned a type of ‘Engaged Buddhism’ that focused on responding to the needs of society.
When Thich Nhat came to the United States in 1961, he began teaching Comparative Religion at Princeton University. The following year, he taught and researched Buddhism at Columbia University. Besides being a reformer, scholar, teacher, and engaged activist, Thich Nhat Hanh established the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon, La Boi Publishing House, and an influential peace activist magazine.
Thich Nhat Hanh traveled to the United States and Europe to make the case for peace and to call for an end to hostilities in Vietnam. He first met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1966. Dr. Martin Luther King called him “an Apostle of peace and nonviolence” when nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. North and South Vietnam were not happy with Thich Nhat’s peaceful mission and denied him the right to return to Vietnam. As a result, he began a long exile for 39 years.
Thich Nhat Hanh continued to travel widely, spreading the message of peace and brotherhood, lobbying Western leaders to end the Vietnam War, and leading the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969.
In 1975, he established a “Plum Village” community in the Sweet Potato community near Paris, France. He taught, lectured, and wrote on mindfulness and “living peace.” Plum Village grew immensely and is known as the West’s largest and most active Buddhist monastery, where they practice the “art of mindful living.”
In the last decade, Thich Nhat Hanh has opened a variety of monasteries across the world. He also founded a movement called Wake Up, which trains thousands of young people in mindful living practices.
Where is Thich Nhat Hanh From?
Thich Nhat Hanh was born in 1926 in central Vietnam. At age sixteen, he entered Tu Hieu Temple in Hue City, where he became a novice monk. As a young monk, he was actively involved in the movement to renew Vietnamese Buddhism.
When the Vietnam War came to his homeland, Thich Nhat decided to meditate in monasteries and also help those who were suffering from the disturbance of the war. While doing this, he founded the ‘Engaged Buddhism’ movement and has dedicated his entire life to mindfulness, peace, and inner transformation to benefit individuals and society.
What are Thich Nhat Hanh's Best Selling Books?
Not only was he a quiet power in person, but Thich Nhat Hanh wrote a series of works, of which three are below, that remain leading authorities in Mindfulness, Love, and Peace.
The Miracle of Mindfulness
“In this beautiful and lucid guide, Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh offers gentle anecdotes and practical exercises to learn mindfulness skills–being awake and fully aware. From washing the dishes to answering the phone to peeling an orange, he reminds us that each moment is an opportunity to work toward greater self-understanding and peacefulness.”
This book was written by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1974, while he was living in exile from his homeland, as a long letter to Brother Quang, a prominent staff member of the School of Youth for Social Service in South Vietnam. Exiled from Vietnam, he wrote to his students, offering concrete practices to help them through the turmoil of the Vietnam War.
The Art of Mindful Living: How to Bring Love, Compassion, and Inner Peace into Your Daily Life
“The practice of meditation, according to Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, is like the sun’s power, illuminating the areas of our life that dwell in darkness. Instead of suppressing anger, fear, and guilt, Hanh suggests that we should be mindful of these emotions, which will allow our natural patience and appreciation for life to unfold. Recorded during an intimate family retreat, The Art of Mindful Living presents Thich Nhat Hanh’s practical, traditional gathas (teachings) that join ancient meditation practice with the challenges of the modern world. It includes step-by-step guides to meditation, breathing exercises, contemplation, and communication, opening our hearts and minds to the joyous wonder of tranquility and love.”
- Describe how Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings can help the listener achieve a more authentic self
- List the traditional teachings (gathas) described by Thich Nhat Hanh
- Utilize breathing techniques to deal with issues such as pain and anger and maintain strength in times of difficulty
- List the techniques above
- Demonstrate how to maintain being in the present, not getting lost in the past or caught up in the future
Peace is Every Step
“In this book, Thich Nhat Hanh shows us how to make positive use of the situations in our daily life that usually pressure and antagonize us. The most profound satisfactions, the deepest feelings of joy and completeness lie as close at hand as our next conscious breath and the smile we can form right now. For him, a ringing telephone can be a signal to call us back to our true selves. Dirty dishes, red lights, and traffic jams are spiritual friends on the path to “mindfulness”—keeping our consciousness alive to our present experience and reality.”
This book contains commentaries, meditations, personal anecdotes, and stories from Nhat Hanh’s experiences as a peace activist, teacher, and community leader. It includes exercises to increase our awareness of our own body and mind through conscious breathing, which can bring peace and joy. In this book, Nhat Hanh also shows how to be aware of relationships with others and the world around us, its beauty, pollution, and injustices. Peace Is Every Step encourages the reader to work for peace in the world as they continue to work on sustaining inner peace by turning the “mindless” into the mindful.
What does Thich Nhat Hanh teach about Mindfulness?
Thich Nhat Hanh is also known as the father of mindfulness. He has taught people to find happiness in the simple things such as mindfully peeling an orange or sipping tea. In a book called Your True Home he wrote that “A Buddha is someone who is enlightened, capable of loving and forgiving,” “You know that at times you’re like that. So enjoy being a Buddha.”
Thich Nhat Hanh also taught people that they don’t have to spend years on a mountaintop to benefit from Buddhist wisdom. He preaches that you just need to become aware of your breath, and through that come into the present moment, where everyday activities can take on a joyful, miraculous quality. If people are mindful, or fully present in the moment, anxiety disappears and a sense of timelessness takes hold, allowing their highest qualities, such as kindness and compassion, to emerge.
Mindfulness is the opposite of forgetfulness. Mindfulness is when your mind and body are fully present in the moment. Mindfulness is the energy that helps people realize the circumstances of happiness that are already present in their lives. He teaches that, “You don’t have to wait ten years to experience this happiness. It is present in every moment of your daily life.” People should be able to enjoy the practice of mindfulness, not find it effortful.
When practicing mindfulness, people should learn to be silent. They should stop talking both the outside and inside. To stop talking on the inside, people should learn to pause their thoughts and enter a state of mental disclosure. The right kind of silence, not oppressive silence, can heal and nourish people.
Thich Nhat Hanh teaches five mindfulness exercises to help you live with happiness and joy:
First Mindfulness Exercise: Mindful Breathing
Don’t worry about the power of this simple breathing exercise. You need to identify when you’re breathing in versus breathing out. It’s a straightforward exercise. Mindfulness means you’re always mindful of something. So, when you live mindfully, that is mindfulness of breathing.
In this exercise, the object of your mindfulness is your breath, and you focus your attention on it. When breathing in, you must think and recognize this is my in-breath. Then, when you’re breathing out, this is my out-breath. Doing this will stop your mental disclosure, and you focus on your breathing. Thich Nhat says, “The in-breath can be a celebration of the fact that you are alive so that it can be very joyful.” This exercise can quickly become an effortless celebration of life.
Second Mindfulness Exercise: Concentration
“The second exercise is following your in-breath from the beginning to the end while you breathe in. If your in-breath lasts three or four seconds, then your mindfulness lasts three or four seconds. Breathing in, I follow my in-breath all the way through. Breathing out, I follow my out-breath all the way through. From the beginning of my out-breath to the end of my out-breath, my mind is always with it. Therefore, mindfulness becomes uninterrupted, and your concentration is improved.”
This second exercise is to follow your breath through no matter how long it lasts. The only important thing is that your awareness is sustained with no interruption. This will cultivate your mindfulness and your concentration. You become your in-breath. You become your out-breath. If you continue like that, your breathing will naturally become more profound, slower, harmonious, and peaceful. There is no need to make any effort; it will happen naturally.
Third Mindfulness Exercise: Awareness of Your Body
This third exercise is to become aware of your body as you breathe. You should be able to fully become aware of your whole body while living in and out. This brings your mind and body together and fully present in the moment. You can learn to appreciate that you’re fully alive.
There are many times when our body is there, but our mind is somewhere else. Our mind is thinking of the past or the future and living in fear, uncertainty, or sorrow. This third exercise aims to become aware of your body in the moment. The effect of your body and mind being present simultaneously is excellent.
Fourth Mindfulness Exercise: Releasing Tension
This fourth exercise is to release the tension in your body. As you become fully aware of your body, you may notice some tension or pain causing you stress. When your body has been undergoing tension or stress for a long time, your body can begin to suffer, and your mind cannot help you release tension.
This exercise is essential to understand the importance of releasing tension. It’s possible to practice releasing tension in any position your body is in. You need to recognize that your body is tense and take a few minutes to practice mindful breathing and release the tension. Peace is possible at any moment of the day; you need to recognize tension and practice releasing it.
Fifth Mindfulness Exercise: Walking Meditation
In this last exercise, it’s essential to remember that for your body and mind to be at peace while practicing mindfulness fully, you need to be doing so effortlessly. When walking mindfully, every step should be enjoyable and effortless. Your body and mind should be fully present and begin feeling fully alive.
“When you walk like that, every step brings healing. Every step brings peace and joy because every step is a miracle.” Walking on Earth is an absolute miracle; you can do this anytime. “Just bring your mind home to your body, become alive, and perform the miracle of walking on Earth.”
What does Thich Nhat Hanh teach about Meditation?
An essential part of mindfulness and happiness is the power to concentrate. Thich Hnat Hanh teaches, “When your mindfulness becomes powerful, your concentration becomes powerful, and when you are fully concentrated, you have a chance to make a breakthrough, to achieve insight.” He teaches that anything can be an object of your meditation.
For example, if you meditate on a cloud, you can get insight into the nature of the cloud. Or you can meditate on a pebble, and if you have enough mindfulness and concentration, you can see into the nature of the pebble. You can meditate on a person, and if you have enough mindfulness and concentration, you can make a breakthrough and understand the nature of that person. You can meditate on yourself, or your anger, or your fear, or your joy, or your peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh is the father of mindfulness, and he believes that mindfulness will blossom with constant meditation. Training to be a meditation teacher is an excellent way of continuing your meditation practice.
According to Thich Nhat Hanh, since meditation is the source of mindfulness, he taught the importance of meditation. Exercises such as mindful breathing, walking meditation, sitting meditation, eating meditation, resting, and much more all contribute to living mindfully.
To learn more about meditation, check out our article on the best online meditation courses for beginners. If you want to take your practice to the next level and become a meditation teacher, check out this article on the best meditation teacher training.
Where does Thich Nhat Hanh live?
Thich Nhat Hanh lives in his homeland at Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam. He decided to return to his homeland after suffering from a major stroke about five years ago. Residing at his “root temple,” he has decided to leave his remaining days peacefully and joyfully, with significant presence and meaning.
Thich Nhat Hanh first became a monk at the age of sixteen at Tu Hieu Temple in 1942. He then spent around 60 years teaching abroad before returning to Vietnam, where he has a solid and enduring connection with its spiritual roots. His return to the temple symbolizes mindfulness, reminding people how precious it is to belong to a spiritual lineage with deep roots.
“Even at this moment, Thich Nhat Hanh remains steadfast and energetic in using every breath and every action to build and strengthen the “beloved community of compassion” and to cultivate healing, reconciliation, and transformation in his community, society, and the world.”
What type of Buddhism does Thich Nhat Hanh Practice?
Thich Nhat Hanh began the “Engaged Buddhism” movement, which intertwined traditional meditative practices with active nonviolent civil disobedience. He dedicated his life to renewing Buddhism so it could help individuals and societies address the challenges of our times. Engaged Buddhism means connecting individual meditation practice to global ethics and social action.
Buddhists who practice ‘Engaged Buddhism’ seek ways to apply practices from meditation and dharma teachings to social, political, environmental, and economic suffering and injustice. Many people view engaged Buddhism as a politically active form of Buddhism.
The movement of engaged Buddhism began when Thich Nhat Hanh was a peace activist during the Vietnam War. While witnessing all the suffering caused by the war, he decided to bring Buddhism to society to combat hatred and violence peacefully.
An essential part of practicing Engaged Buddhism is for individuals to be present in every moment of their daily lives. Engaged Buddhism is the kind of wisdom that responds to anything that happens in the here and the now. Whether it’s global warming, climate change, the destruction of the ecosystem, the lack of communication, war, conflict, suicide, or divorce, Engaged Buddism requires practitioners to be fully aware of what is going on in their bodies, their feelings, their emotions, and in the environment.
The Top 10 Thich Nhat Hanh Quotes
- “We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.”
- “Enlightenment, peace, and joy will not be granted by someone else. The well is within us, and if we dig deeply in the present moment, the water will spring forth.”
- “What we believe can significantly affect what we can achieve.”
- “The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.”
- ““Peace can exist only in the present moment. It is ridiculous to say “Wait until I finish this, then I will be free to live in peace.” What is “this”? A diploma, a job, a house, the payment of a debt? If you think that way, peace will never come. There is always another “this” that will follow the present one. If you are not living in peace at this moment, you will never be able to. If you truly want to be at peace, you must be at peace right now. Otherwise, there is only “the hope of peace some day.”
- “We have a finite amount of energy to spend every day before becoming exhausted. Mindfulness helps you use your energy wisely, spending it on situations, people, and causes that bring you the most joy, meaning, and peace.”
- “Everything can begin with you. You are the foundation of any change that will happen in your society.”
- “Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.”
- “The energies of mindfulness, concentration and insight can liberate us from our anxiety and worries. We let go of the past and the future, and come in touch with the wonders of the present.”
- “Letting go gives us freedom, and freedom is the only condition for happiness. If, in our heart, we still cling to anything—anger, anxiety, or possessions—we cannot be free,”