Today our human family grieves as we reflect with deep gratitude on the extraordinary life, legacy, and gifts of beloved Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh (known affectionately as Thay or teacher), who died at age 95. Through his simple and elegant life, his healing poetry, and his dedication to the principles of engaged Buddhism, he gracefully demonstrated how the practice of mindfulness can transform us and our world.
I encountered Thay’s teachings about fifteen years ago when Al Lingo, a dharma teacher in Thay’s Order of Interbeing, invited me to join the mindfulness meditations at the Breathing Heart Sangha in Atlanta, GA. The sangha, which is at the heart of Thay’s Zen tradition, is a mindfulness community “that lives in harmony and awareness” (Nhat Hanh, 2007). At the Breathing Heart Sangha, we had sitting and walking meditations, dharma talks, delicious vegetarian potluck dinners, and mindfulness retreats. I learned about mindfulness practices such as Touching the Earth, the Five Remembrances, the Five Mindfulness Practices, and the Five Contemplations.
One of my most memorable sangha events was in 2011 at Magnolia Grove Monastery in Mississippi, where I joined hundreds of people in a mindfulness retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh titled “Cultivating the Mind of Love”. It was also at Magnolia Grove that I attended a New Year’s Mindfulness Retreat in 2010/2011 with my partner, now husband, where we both received the transmission of the Five Mindfulness Trainings and our dharma names. At our wedding ceremony a year later, we recited the Five Awarenesses, from Thay’s book Chanting from the Heart (p. 170), which we were instructed to recite together at each full moon:
The Five Awarenesses
We are aware that all generations of our ancestors and all future generations are present in us.
We are aware of the expectations that our ancestors, our children, and their children have of us.
We are aware that our joy, peace, freedom, and harmony are the joy, peace, freedom and harmony of our ancestors, our children, and their children.
We are aware that understanding is the very foundation of love.
We are aware that blaming and arguing can never help us and only create a wider gap between us; that only understanding, trust, and love can help us change and grow.
Thay’s soothing words from Chanting from the Heart (p. 238), provide comfort during this time of reflection and loss:
Contemplations on No-Coming, No-Going
This body is not me.
I am not limited by this body.
I am life without boundaries.
I have never been born,
and I have never died.
Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars,
manifestations from my wondrous True Mind.
Since before time, I have been free.
Birth and death are only doors through which we pass,
sacred thresholds on our journey.
Birth and death are a game of hide-and-seek.
So laugh with me,
hold my hand,
let us say good-bye,
say good-bye to meet again soon.
We meet today.
We will meet again tomorrow.
We will meet at the source every moment.
We meet each other in all forms of life.
Nhat Hanh, T. (2003). No death, no fear: Comforting wisdom for life. Penguin Random House: New York, NY.
Nhat Hanh, T. (2007). Chanting from the heart: Buddhist ceremonies and daily practices. Parallax Press: Berkeley, CA.
Image is of Thay’s own calligraphy, taken from the cover of his book No Death no Fear. Learn more about his calligraphy collection here.