Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the best known and most respected Zen masters in the world today.  He is also a poet, and a peace and human rights activist.

Early Life

Thich Nhat Hanh (called Thây by his students) was born in central Vietnam in 1926.  He became a Buddhist monk at the age of sixteen.

When the Vietnam War started, Buddhist monks all over the country had an urgent choice to make. Should they continue in their contemplative lives? Or should they help the villagers suffering because of the war? Thich Nhat Hanh was one of those who chose to do both. He helped to found the “Engaged Buddhism” movement.  Since then he has dedicated his life to the work of inner transformation for the benefit of all living beings.

In the early 1960s, he founded the School of Youth Social Service.  This was a grass-roots relief organisation which recruited 10,000 student volunteers.  It rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centres, resettled homeless families, and also organised agricultural cooperatives. The SYSS based its work on the Buddhist principles of non-violence and compassionate action.

Despite government opposition to his activity, Thich Nhat Hanh also founded at this time a Buddhist University, a publishing house, and an influential peace activist magazine.


While visiting the U.S. and Europe in 1966 on a peace mission, Thich Nhat Hanh was banned from returning to Vietnam. On further travels to the U.S., he made the case for peace to federal and Pentagon officials including Robert McNamara. He may also have changed the course of U.S. history, because by persuading Martin Luther King Jr. to oppose the Vietnam War publicly, he helped to galvanise the peace movement. The following year, King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Later, Thich Nhat Hanh led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks.

Thich Nhat Hanh invites the bell to sound

Plum Village

In 1982 he founded Plum Village, a Buddhist community in France.  From there he worked to help refugees, boat people, political prisoners, and hungry families in Vietnam and throughout the Third World. He has also received recognition for his work with Vietnam veterans, and his promotion of mindfulness, and peace. In addition, he has published over 100 books.

Just a few days after the World Trade Center terrorist attack in 2001, he spoke about non-violence and forgiveness in a New York church. In September of 2003 he addressed members of the US Congress, leading them through a two-day retreat.  For many years he also led retreats with his Plum Village monastics in many countries around the world.

Thich Nhat Hanh continues to live in Plum Village. Recently he has suffered from ill-health, but he continues to inspire it by his presence.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s Teachings

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches us that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live in the present moment. Dwelling in the present moment is the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world.

This allows us to discover that:

“There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way”


How do you pronounce Thich Nhat Hanh?

The English pronunciation is: Tik · N’yat · Han

However, since Vietnamese is a tonal language, this is only roughly how one would pronounce it in Vietnamese! (His name is sometimes misspelled as Thich Naht Hahn, Thich Nhat Han, and Thich Nat Han.)

By his students he is affectionately known as Thay (pronounced “Tay” or “Tie”), which is Vietnamese for “teacher.”

Courtesy: Parallax Press

Thich Nhat Hanh talks online

To hear and see talks by Thich Nhat Hanh online please visit our online resources page.

Through the practice of meditation in everyday life, and by showing compassion to all living beings, peace becomes possible within ourselves and extends to everyone we touch.

Thich Nhat Hanh