Our own life has to be our message.- Thich Nhat Hanh
I am very grateful to have experienced Thay as my root teacher. His simple practices and teachings have enabled me to live a peaceful and happy life with myself and with all beings. Thay’s presence is in me when I wake up in the morning as I smile and say the Morning Gatha, or washing the dishes, or going for a walk or saying ‘“good morning” to the young teenager sitting at the bus stop who has not responded to the greeting for weeks but finally looked up at me this morning and with a smile said, “good morning!” There was a sense of joy for both of us. I was happy that she was happy.
Thay’s teachings live on in all his children. We are so very fortunate to be one of Thay’s children in this lifetime.
My heart cried when I read of Thay’s passing. I didn’t cry so much for me, but I cried for humanity. We are so fortunate that Thay continues to live in our teacher and in the sangha body, who have heard or read Thay’s words and found the wisdom in them. May Thay’s message reach all living beings so that they will realize awakening.
All of the causes and conditions that came together for me to intersect with Thich Nhat Hanh and his teachings are truly remarkable and I’m so grateful. While I never met him in person, I can’t help but feel that I waved to him from across the crowd of countless individuals whose lives he touched so deeply, and he saw me and waved back with a smile. I am forever changed.
During the Vietnam War, Thay was a political activist. Thay was a dangerous man.
Both major powers, communists, and capitalists recognized his impact. He stood against war, he was willing to die for peace. At this time, his poetry was being translated and published in the west. Here is a sample from that era.
I thought then "why is this man hated?" Then I saw him speak, watched him move, and saw, really saw peace embodied in human form. Yes, peace in every step. Thay is the 'real deal.'
whenever I would go to Blue Cliff Monastery, or listen to talks from Plum Village, I would hear those gentle words uttered. Like many others, I first encountered Thay's teachings in a book. I forget who or when, but as a young man in my early 20s I was starting to finally feel the strain of the doubt in my Christian faith. One of my biggest issues was how a loving God could send a huge majority of the population to everlasting torment just because they never encountered the conditions to see and believe a certain faith. This seemed not like a compassionate or loving God, but more like a vengeful, spiteful toddler. It was blasphemy to think about it, but when I did, it was horrifying. Long story short, I eventually started to turn to Eastern religions, particularly Hinduism, as I heard that they acknowledged other faiths as legitimate manifestations of the Divine. But by chance, the pastor of my church heard of my dilemma and wanted to talk to me. Believe it or not, he became my first teacher of Buddhism, and of meditation! He taught me how to meditate and I took to it instantly. Around this time, I don't remember who or when, someone gave me a copy of "Living Buddha, Living Christ." I was immediately smitten with the gentle words of this Vietnamese monk whose name I had NO idea how to pronounce. (And interestingly, I never pronounced his name correctly for over 15 years until well into the next part of my story.)
Fast Forward. Years later, I was now in my early 30s and I was having another kind of crisis. I had gotten married and gone back to a semi-mystical kind of Christianity. My spouse had been fairly conservative theologically, so I had spent years suppressing my Buddhist urges and tiptoeing around the egg shells of her theology.
But now she had left me.
I wasn't sure how I was going to make a living. I was almost homeless and had no money and a huge child support payment for children I barely got to see. I felt completely alone and hopeless. I longed for death just about every day.
I started dating this French woman in NY city at the time, and I accidentally found a book on meditation in her bathroom. It was "Destructive Emotions." I was completely riddled with "Destructive Emotions." It seemed that was all I knew.
Reading the book, I thought of how I had started to find some happiness in my early 20s when I started practicing meditation. But I had never connected with other people in the practice. I remembered how my practice sputtered out without a community or teacher, but how difficult it had been to find them. Suddenly it dawned on me that now there was google! And Youtube! I started searching, and found more than one Sangha. I tried classes and sitting with a couple of them. By chance, I found Blue Cliff Monastery and it happened to be only about an HOUR DRIVE AWAY from where I was living. I remembered "Living Buddha Living Christ" and how powerful this man's teaching was.
Up until then I had always been drawn to Zen on one hand, Theravada on the other, and to some extent Tibetan Buddhism. Theravada and Tibetan felt too old-fashioned and superstitious. Zen (the Japanese kind I kept finding) felt a little dry and austere, and devoid of the new "metta" meditation I'd never been taught when studying Zen in my 20s. Suddenly, in Thay's teachings, I found an almost perfect blend of all of them. He was the first Zen teacher I ever encountered who actually taught from the Pali scriptures! He also did loving kindness, which I never saw Zen teachers teach. But he also didn't hammer on the necessity to take certain things literally, like rebirth and miraculous stories and supposed powers that had the tendency to strain credulity. If he told these stories, they were full of gentle humor, wit, and were about psychological truths in the present, not even implied as doctrines we had to swallow whole into our faith gullet. In short, I was home. When I was trying to move back to Florida to be near my children again after they moved down here, the abbot at Blue Cliff told me to look up this guy named "Fred Eppsteiner." So.... here I am.
When I heard Thay had passed, it was kind of a shock, but I wasn't really that sad. I thought "we had been expecting it a long time." "He's not really dead, he's just in the form of a..."(you know the rest)
I even joked around about his passing.
The next day, as I watched the ceremony and they bowed to his body, suddenly I started crying like a baby. He may not "truly be dead" as he would always said, but... I am truly sad, and I'm crying even now as I can hear his voice in my head, when he would speak as the cloud that turned into the rain: "My darling! I'm not really gone! I am still with you, in the cup of tea. In the ocean, in the rain. I'm still with you. I've just changed form."
You may still be with us, dear Thay, dear Sangha, but it still hurts. We miss you.
Even though I never met Thay, his teachings saved my life too. I hope one day his teachings will BE my life.
Published on 23 January 2022
The most venerable Thich Nhat Hanh has passed away. What a great loss to this world — a world entangled in both past and future; a world that has almost no interest in dwelling in the present; a world that has forgotten the value of a smile; a world that has forgotten how to really be there when it brushes its teeth.For those who care about the Buddha’s teachings, Thich Nhat Hanh’s passing is an especially heavy loss. In this modern world, an ancient wisdom like Buddhism finds it so difficult to reach out to people that were born into cultures that have no notion of aniccā, duḥkha, anattā and nirvana. How can people today be encouraged, at the very least, to move closer to an appreciation of these ideas, let alone generate the wish to live by them?
Buddhism is perhaps the oldest and most systematic, scientific study of mind and matter ever. Yet it is constantly, almost ruthlessly dismissed as a ‘religion’, a ‘doctrine’ or at best ‘ancient Asian thought’. Even so, Thich Nhat Hanh’s determination to open the door to the Buddha’s teachings never faltered. He consistently made an enormous effort to make the world curious about Buddhadharma. And he succeeded. Hundreds of thousands of people have now not only heard of mindfulness, but they try to practise it. This is an amazing achievement, one that generally takes centuries to accomplish. Thich Nhat Hanh managed it in one short, tumultuous lifetime. As buddhists, we owe him a tremendous debt of gratitude.
Looking ahead, those of us who admire Thich Nhat Hanh and those who actively follow him, must remember that while he is best known for his ability to reach a wide audience, especially in his many books — for example, Being Peace, Peace is Every Step, How to Love, The Miracle of Mindfulness — he should never be discounted as just another new age guru. The simple fact that he was a monk for his entire life demonstrates that there was far more to his approach than merely “Smile”. From the time he first saw an image of the Buddha at the age of 7 or 8, Thich Nhat Hahn harboured a strong desire to be like him. At 16 he was ordained in the Tu Hieu Temple in Hue city in Vietnam, and chose to return to die there some seven decades later. If this approach does not demonstrate that his Buddhadharma has both great depth and substance, then nothing will. He shall be remembered by us all as a great victory banner of Dharma.
— Dzongsar Jamyang Khyentse
Thay saved my life said Brian and I thought yes, he saved mine also
He saved me from a life of annoyances, and gave me acceptance
He saved me from a life of misbeliefs and blurred lens and gave me clarity
He saved me from a life of fixations and gave me fluidity
He saved me from a knotted body and mind and gave me a way to let go
He saved me from a wandering mind and brought me to the present moment
He saved me from a life of “ME” and gave me a glimpse of the vastness of the universe
He saved my life to water the seeds of happiness in others
Although never physically in the presence of Thay I was always struck by his presence through videos, particularly while watching him lead walking meditations. Worlds apart geographically, even on video I felt connection - his way of walking embodied total presence and I felt directly connected - his calm, peace and joy shown through in a visceral way. He conveyed the teachings of mindfulness, peace and non-violence without ever saying a word.
A powerful recollection of Thay that eloquently portrays a more personal side of Thay that many are not aware of. It is the Thay that I met and interacted with in the 70's and 80's and I took great delight in listening to Father Dear's loving and insightful talk. https://www.democracynow.org/2022/1/25/father_john_dear_on_thich_nhat
Florida Community of Mindfulness, Tampa Center
6501 N. Nebraska Avenue
Tampa, FL 33604
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