Thích Nhat Hanh (born October 11, 1926) is a Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist.
Thích Nhat Hanh lives in the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France, traveling internationally to give retreats and talks. He coined the term Engaged Buddhism in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire. A long-term exile, he was given permission to make his first return trip to Vietnam in 2005.
Nhat Hạnh has published more than 100 books, including more than 40 in English. Nhat Hanh is active in the peace movement, promoting non-violent solutions to conflict.
In 1960, Nhat Hanh came to the U.S. to study comparative religion at Princeton University, subsequently being appointed lecturer in Buddhism at Columbia University. By then he had gained fluency in French, Chinese, Sanskrit, Pali, Japanese and English, in addition to his native Vietnamese. In 1963, he returned to Vietnam to aid his fellow monks in their non-violent peace efforts.
Nhat Hanh taught Buddhist psychology and Prajnaparamita literature at the Van Hanh Buddhist University, a private institution that focused on Buddhist studies, Vietnamese culture, and languages. At a meeting in April 1965 Van Hanh Union students issued a Call for Peace statement. It declared: “It is time for North and South Vietnam to find a way to stop the war and help all Vietnamese people live peacefully and with mutual respect.” Nhat Hanh left for the U.S. shortly afterwards, leaving Sister Chan Khong in charge of the SYSS. Van Hanh University was taken over by one of the Chancellors who wished to sever ties with Thich Nhat Hanh and the SYSS, accusing Chan Khong of being a communist. From that point the SYSS struggled to raise funds and faced attacks on its members. The SYSS persisted in their relief efforts without taking sides in the conflict.
Nhat Hanh returned to the US in 1966 to lead a symposium in Vietnamese Buddhism at Cornell University and to continue his work for peace. He had written a letter to Martin Luther King, Jr. in 1965 entitled: “In Search of the Enemy of Man”. It was during his 1966 stay in the U.S. that Thich Nhat Hanh met with Martin Luther King, Jr. and urged him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War. In 1967, Dr. King gave a famous speech at the Riverside Church in New York City, his first to publicly question the U.S. involvement in Vietnam.Later that year Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the 1967 Nobel Peace Prize. In his nomination Dr. King said, “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of [this prize] than this gentle monk from Vietnam. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity”. The fact that King had revealed the candidate he had chosen to nominate and had made a “strong request” to the prize committee, was in sharp violation of the Nobel traditions and protocol. The committee did not make an award that year.
In 1969, Nhat Hanh was the delegate for the Buddhist Peace Delegation at the Paris Peace talks. When the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, Thich Nhat Hanh was denied permission to return to Vietnam and he went into exile in France. From 1976-1977 he led efforts to help rescue Vietnamese boat people in the Gulf of Siam, eventually stopping under pressure from the governments of Thailand and Singapore.
Nobel laureate Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Nhat Hanh did not win it (as of 2012, the peace prize was not awarded 19 times including that year). He was awarded the Courage of Conscience award in 1991. He has been featured in many films, including The Power of Forgiveness showcased at the Dawn Breakers International Film Festival.