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Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh dies at 95

By Adam Schrader
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh dies at 95
Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. (L) is pictured with Thich Nhat Hanh at a news conference during the Buddhist monk's 1966 visit to the United States. File Photo by UPI | License Photo

Jan. 22 (UPI) -- Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist whose writings taught mindfulness and non-violence, died Saturday at Tu Hieu Temple in Hue, Vietnam. He was 95.

His death was announced by Plum Village, an international monastic community founded by the Zen master in 1982. The organization said he died "peacefully," though his cause of death was not revealed. He suffered a severe brain hemorrhage in 2014 which had left him unable to speak.

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"Thay [Thich Nhat Hanh] has been the most extraordinary teacher, whose peace, tender compassion and bright wisdom has touched the lives of millions," the organization said in its statement.

"Whether we have encountered him on retreats, at public talks, or through his books and online teachings -- or simply through the story of his incredible life -- we can see that thay has been a true bodhisattva, an immense force for peace and healing in the world."

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The organization announced it would commemorate the Zen master's life and legacy with five days of practice and ceremonies starting Saturday and broadcast live from its monasteries in Vietnam and Plum Village, France, as well as in-person ceremonies at its Deer Park Monastery in California.

"Now is a moment to come back to our mindful breathing and walking, to generate the energy of peace, compassion, and gratitude to offer our beloved teacher," the organization wrote. "It is a moment to take refuge in our spiritual friends, our local sanghas and community, and each other."

Thich Nhat Hanh was born in central Vietnam in 1926 and entered Tu Hieu Temple in Hue as a novice monk at the age of 16 and was engaged in a movement to renew Vietnamese Buddhism.

He left Vietnam in 1961 to teach comparative religion at Princeton University and research Buddhism at Columbia University, according to his official biography on the Plum Village website.

The Zen master later returned to Vietnam where he founded the School of Youth and Social Service, a grassroots relief organization based on the principles of non-violence and compassionate action, and the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon -- as well as an influential peace activist magazine.

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Thich Nhat Hanh was an outspoken critic of the Vietnam War and again traveled to the United States and Europe in 1966 to call for peace in the country, which caused both North and South Vietnam to exile him for nearly 40 years. During the trip, the Zen master met Martin Luther King Jr., whom he asked to support opposition to the war.

King later nominated the "gentle monk" for the Nobel Peace Prize, writing that Hanh's ideas for peace would "build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity."

In his exile, Thich Nhat Hanh lived in France until returning to Hue in 2018 -- a decade after the Vietnam government invited him back to the country.

Perhaps among Thich Nhat Hanh's most known works is his 1975 book The Miracle of Mindfulness, in which he shared practices he developed to "inspire his students and social workers back in Vietnam to help prevent them burning out in the turmoil and challenges of war," as noted by Plum Village.

He was also an outspoken supporter of the vegan diet and an advocate for human-based solutions to solving climate change, which would require "real community and co-operation."

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"We need to re-establish true communication-true communion-with ourselves, with the Earth, and with one another," Thich Nhat Hanh has said.

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