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Life of a Saint

Influential Zen Master Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh (vegan): Peace Activist and Poet, Part 1 of 2

2023-04-09
Language:Vietnamese (Tiếng Âu Lạc [Tiếng Việt])
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Born on October 11, 1926, in Huế, Âu Lạc (Vietnam), the Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh came from a large family of six children. In his heart, Thích Nhất Hạnh knew that he was meant to take the monastic path. When he was 11, he had his first spiritual encounter on a school trip to a sacred mountain.

Thích Nhất Hạnh’s novice training began at age 16, at the Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Âu Lạc (Vietnam), under the direction of Zen Master Thích Chân Thật. The teachings followed the Zen Buddhist tradition of the Master Linji and Master Liễu Quán lineages. Three years later, Thích Nhất Hạnh received formal novice precepts.

During the great famine of 1945, Thích Nhất Hạnh witnessed many people dying in the streets from hunger. As the country came under the threat of colonizing powers and violence rose, young monks were tempted to use arms, but Thích Nhất Hạnh assured them that Buddhism’s core teachings of nonviolence pave the path towards peace, prosperity, and independence.

In 1947, Thích Nhất Hạnh was sent to the Báo Quốc Institute of Buddhist Studies. There, he studied Buddhist progressive magazines on how Buddhism can also transform the environment and society at large – “socially conscious” Buddhism.

Two years later, at age 23, Thích Nhất Hạnh left with two monks and a friend to continue their studies in South Âu Lạc (Vietnam). With the continuing conflict around them, their desire to become bodhisattvas of action was cemented. They all took on a different name, and it was from this point that the Venerable Thích Nhất Hạnh acquired his name. “Nhất Hạnh” means “One Action,” and “Thich” is an honorary Aulacese (Vietnamese) name that represents the Buddha’s family name, “Shakya.” Thích Nhất Hạnh began writing poetry to chronicle his experiences of the turbulence and losses in his country. His poems became prominent during the “free verse” poetry movement.

In 1961, Thích Nhất Hạnh was offered a Fulbright scholarship to study comparative religion at Princeton Theological Seminary in the US. In the peaceful atmosphere there, he experienced true happiness and living in the moment. Upon reflection, he stated: “I grew up in Vietnam. I became a monk in Vietnam. I learned and practiced Buddhism in Vietnam. And before coming to the West, I taught several generations of Buddhist students in Vietnam. But I can say now that it was in the West that I realized my path.”
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