World-renowned Vietnamese-born Buddhist teacher, scholar, and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh talks with Vishakha N. Desai, President, Asia Society, about his controversial and distinguished life as a Buddhist and a voice for peace from the days of the Vietnam War to the ongoing conflicts of the 21st century. Hanh is author of the national bestseller Peace Is Every Step and his new book is The Art of Power.- Asia Society
Vishakha N. Desai
Vishakha Desai is president and CEO of Asia Society, a leading global organization committed to strengthening partnerships among the people, leaders, and institutions of Asia and the US. Desai sets the direction for the society’s diverse sets of programs, ranging from major US–Asia policy initiatives and national educational partnerships for global learning to groundbreaking art exhibitions and innovative Asian American performances. She has an international reputation for introducing contemporary Asian art in the US through critically acclaimed exhibitions and scholarly catalogues. Under her leadership, Asia Society has expanded the scope and scale of its activities, including opening new offices in India and Korea, the inauguration of a new center on US-China relations, and the development of new initiatives focusing on the environment, on Asian women leaders, and on partnerships among the next generation of exceptional leaders in Asia and the US.
Thich Nhat Hanh
Nhat Hanh is an expatriate Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk. A teacher, author, and peace activist, Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam on October 11, 1926. He joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16, studied Buddhism as a novice, and was fully ordained as a monk in 1949. Commonly referred to as Thich Nhat Hanh, the title ThÃch is used by all Vietnamese monks and nuns, meaning that they are part of the Shakya (Shakyamuni Buddha) clan. He coined the term Engaged Buddhism in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire.
In the early 1960s, he founded the School of Youth for Social Services (SYSS) in Saigon, a grassroots relief organization that rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, and resettled families left homeless during the Vietnam War. He traveled to the U.S. a number of times to study and later teach at Columbia University, and to promote the cause of peace. He urged Martin Luther King, Jr. to oppose the Vietnam War publicly, and spoke with many people and groups about peace. In a January 25, 1967 letter to the Nobel Institute in Norway, King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Nhat Hanh led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks. One of the best known Buddhist teachers in the West, Thich Nhat Hanh's teachings and practices appeal to people from various religious, spiritual, and political backgrounds. He offers a practice of mindfulness that is often adapted to Western sensibilities.
He created the Order of Interbeing in 1966, and established monastic and practice centers around the world. His home is Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France. He travels internationally giving retreats and talks. Exiled from Vietnam for many years, he was allowed to return for a trip in 2005 and again in 2007. He has published more than 100 books, including more than 40 in English. He also publishes a quarterly Dharma talk in the journal of the Order of Interbeing, the Mindfulness Bell. Nhat Hanh continues to be active in the peace movement. He has sponsored retreats for Israelis and Palestinians, encouraging them to listen and learn about each other; given speeches urging warring countries to stop fighting and look for non-violent solutions to problems; and conducted a peace walk in Los Angeles in 2005 attended by thousands of people.