Gratitude for Thich Nhat Hanh

In 2002 I was newly married, doing Mennonite Voluntary Service in St. Louis with Abbie, and in the middle stages of theological deconstruction.  The collection of beliefs that had guided my youth and early young adulthood no longer made sense.  There was no clear indication much of anything made sense. 

It was during this time I discovered, read, and re-read a little book by the Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh called Living Buddha, Living Christ

I hadn’t encountered anything quite like it before – a Buddhist retelling his experience of coming to claim Jesus as a spiritual ancestor, coming to “touch the depth of Christianity” (p. 5)  through his encounters with those who embodied the spirit of Jesus: well-know people like Martin Luther King Jr. and Thomas Merton, and lesser known people like a Dutch woman named Hebe Kohlbrugge who protected Jews during World War II and Vietnamese children orphaned during the war in his own country. 

Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings were the first place I heard of “mindfulness,” “engaged Buddhism,” and the wonderful concept of “interbeing.”  His familiar language of peacemaking was mixed with a then-unfamiliar ease of connecting the outer and inner worlds: “Our capacity to make peace with another person and with the world depends very much on our capacity to make peace with ourselves…the most basic work for peace is to return to ourselves and create harmony among the elements within us” (p. 10).

Thich Nhat Hanh managed to introduce me to key concepts in Buddhism while helping me more deeply love the treasures of my own tradition.  It was a marvelous gift to a 25-year-old seeker who wasn’t sure there was much treasure to be found.  He was the right teacher at the right time in my life.

In reading some tributes to Thich Nhat Hanh this week (The Guardian summarizes his life well)  it is evident many, many lives were impacted by this humble, wise, and bold peacemaker.  May his memory be a blessing.

If you have a Thich Nhat Hanh story I’d love to hear it.