Honoring Thich Nhat Hahn During the Month Of Love

I have always thought of February as the month of love, and a good time to advocate the importance of love in our lives. In spite of all the chaos going on in the world, there are many of us who are working hard at pushing the universal importance of love and compassion.

One of my favorite spiritual leaders, Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, was great at this. Sadly, Thay (or teacher in Vietnamese), as he was most commonly referred to, passed away in January of this year at the age of 95. He died at his home in Plum Village, his organization of monasteries.

Thay had a full life, but more importantly, his powerful wisdoms and teachings influenced many people around the world. In the 1960s he studied at Princeton Theological Seminary, followed by Cornell and then Columbia. . He was one of the pioneers to bring Buddhism to the West. He also affected the American peace movement during that time. In fact, he was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. Dr. King called him “an apostle of peace and non-violence.” Unfortunately, nobody was awarded the prize that year.

Thich Nhat Hahn was a prolific writer and activist who penned well over 100 books on various subjects including Buddhist scholarship/philosophy, realism, poetry, guided meditations, Zen teachings, letters to politicians and prisoners, contemplation on love, and children’s books. His books have guided my life path to bring clarity to all that we encounter during the course of our lifetime. For years I’ve carried The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh in my purse. Often during the course of the day, I crack the book open to a random page to capture his wisdom and try to integrate it into what I’m doing.  It has been my little bible. 

He advocated mindfulness by saying that through living in the present moment, we have more of a chance to achieve happiness. He also believed that mindfulness was the only way to achieve peace, both personally and globally

“Breathing in, I calm my body and mind. Breathing out, I smile. Dwelling in the present moment I know this is the only moment,” he said. Another book of his that stands out for me, which is most important during this month of love, is True Love. In this book he states that there are four elements of true love: lovingkindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity (or freedom). He explores these elements while including directive to practice all-important breathing techniques.

Thay discussed how the best gift you can give someone you love is your presence, meaning body, mind, and spirit. This means truly being in the moment with someone. He advocated the importance of mindful breathing, walking, deep listening, and calm, loving speech–all essential features of true love.

His final offering in his book True Love was this: “I wish for all of you to have a brother or a sister who is a serious practitioner of the Dharma, a spiritual friend who possesses solidarity, joy, freedom, understanding, and love” (102).

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