Followers and admirers of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh from around the world marked the revered Buddhist teacher’s 95th birthday, or continuation day, on Monday. Thich Nhat Hanh, known affectionately to his students as “Thay” (teacher), now resides at his root monastery Tu Hieu in Vietnam’s Hue Province, where he is cared for by close disciples.
Marking the occasion, Thay’s Plum Village monastic community in southern France shared a message of celebration, featuring a selection of images and personal accounts from fellow students of Thich Nhat Hanh, who expressed their gratitude for the teachings and wisdom he has shared:
Today is Thich Nhat Hanh’s 95th continuation day (birthday)! Born on October 11, 1926, Thay has made immeasurable contributions to help spread the Dharma, build Sangha, and care for our Earth.
We are delighted to celebrate his continuation day with sharings from members of our community worldwide, practicing in Thay’s footsteps. As an expression of our gratitude to Thay, and as a concrete way to continue his legacy, we asked you to practice deep listening to yourself, your loved ones, and Mother Earth, and to submit photos, art, and poetry inspired by your deep listening practice.(Plum Village)
Thich Nhat Hanh returned to his homeland Vietnam in October 2018 from Thailand, where he had been convalescing since late December 2016 following a severe stroke in 2014.* The celebrated Zen master said in a letter to his disciples at the time that he had decided to spend the remainder of his life at his root monastery, Tu Hieu Temple, in the central Vietnamese city of Hue, where he was ordained as a novice monk at the age of 16.
Over the weekend, the monks and nuns of Plum Village also shared a statement to update the global Buddhist community on Thay’s current condition and circumstances:
As we approach Thầy’s 95th birthday this week, we would like to share with our international community how Thầy and our sangha at Từ Hiếu Temple in Huế, Vietnam have been doing. Sister Chân Không, Brother Pháp Niệm, Brother Pháp Ứng, Sister Định Nghiêm, and Sister Linh Nghiêm continue to remain in Huế to take care of Thầy with a team of young attendants. We are deeply grateful for their love and dedication to taking care of our Teacher.
Over the last year, Thầy’s health has weakened. The autumn rains have always been challenging for Thầy’s lungs and health, and continue to be so. This spring Thầy was not able to go outside to visit the temple grounds as much as he could last year. Nevertheless, the sangha was delighted that, when the Từ Hiếu Temple renovation was finished, Thầy was well enough to make a tour of the temple to visit the completed works. In recent months, Thầy has been resting for most of the day with his eyes closed, yet he is often very alert, present and at peace. When the weather is fine, the attendants help Thầy to go out onto the veranda of the Deep Listening Hut to enjoy the sun. The pandemic has meant that this past year has above all been a year for the young monastics in Huế to spend time with Thầy in a very quiet yet joyful atmosphere, with many new young disciples taking turns to assist the attendant team. From time to time the young nuns and monks come to the garden close to Thầy’s hut to sit around the fire and enjoy singing, music and laughter together.(Plum Village)
The Plum Village sangha also acknowledged the widespread suffering that has taken place in Vietnam and around the world as a result of the pandemic:
With the great challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic in Vietnam, both Từ Hiếu Root Temple and our Diệu Trạm nunnery have been mostly closed to visitors. Fortunately, Huế has been spared the major outbreak that Ho Chi Minh City has endured. Sister Chân Không and many other monastics have been offering online chanting and practice sessions from Huế to support our sangha members through the strict lockdowns, especially in the south. Many people in Vietnam have been without food or work. With the help of our international sangha friends, as part of our Love and Understanding social work program, our monastics in Vietnam have been doing their best to supply oxygen, food, medicine and donations at the roadside food banks helping those most in need.(Plum Village)
Thay was hospitalized in France in November 2014, following a severe brain hemorrhage. In April 2015, after months of rehabilitation, he returned to his Plum Village monastic community where attendants from the monastery and visiting medical professionals continued to aid his recovery. In July of the same year, Thay was flown to San Francisco to undergo a more intensive rehabilitation program, and in September 2015 Thay spoke his first words since his stroke. The following January, he was allowed to return to Plum Village, where he remained under the care of the members of his community.
In December 2016, two months after his 90th birthday, Thay communicated a clear and determined wish to travel from France to Thailand in order to be closer to his homeland.* In August 2017, Thay made his first visit to his homeland Vietnam in more than a decade, spending several days in Da Nang before visiting his hometown in nearby Hue and paying his respects at his ancestral shrine and his lineage’s root temple, Tu Hieu, of which he remains the abbot.
One senior monastic disciple, Brother Chan Phap Dung, recalled a powerful teaching shared by Thay before he became sick, in which he instructed his community not to build a traditional memorial stupa for his remains after he dies:
“Please do not build a stupa for me. Please do not put my ashes in a vase, lock me inside and limit who I am. I know this will be difficult for some of you. If you must build a stupa though, please make sure that you put a sign on it that says, ‘I am not in here.’ In addition, you can also put another sign that says, ‘I am not out there either,’ and a third sign that says, ‘If I am anywhere, it is in your mindful breathing and in your peaceful steps.’”(Plum Village)
Born Nguyen Xuan Bao in central Vietnam on 11 October 1926, Thay is an influential Zen teacher, poet, and the author of more than 100 books, including the bestselling The Miracle of Mindfulness. As an active advocate for peace, he was influential in the anti-war movement, encouraging non-violent protests during the Vietnam War. Before leaving Vietnam, he spearheaded a movement by Buddhists in the south calling for a negotiated end to the bloody conflict. In 1967, Thay was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King, Jr., who told the Nobel committee: “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam.” (Plum Village)
Thay founded the Order of Interbeing and the Unified Buddhist Church, and in 1982 established the Plum Village Buddhist Center in France with Sister Chan Khong. He has been a central figure in the transmission of Buddhism to the West and in marrying an authentic Zen tradition and lineage with a progressive approach to issues such as social activism, science versus faith, and religion versus spirituality.
The monks and nuns of Plum Village concluded their message on Thay’s health with an invitation to practice deep listening to ourselves, our loved ones, and the Earth and by sharing news of a new book of the master’s teachings:
For Thầy’s birthday this year, and to celebrate the release this month of Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet, a new book of Thầy’s teachings on collective awakening, we’re inviting our whole community to offer Thầy the gift of our practice: in particular, the collective practice of deep listening to ourselves, our loved ones, and the Earth. Our own practice of mindfulness is the most powerful gift we can offer to continue Thầy’s teachings and legacy in the world. We know that Mother Earth is in great need of our love, care and protection, and with the peace and insight of deep listening, each one of us will be able to contribute our part.
* Thich Nhat Hanh Returns to His Roots in Vietnam (Buddhistdoor Global)
Celebrating Thay’s Continuation Day Around the World (Plum Village)
A message from the Plum Village monks and nuns for Thay’s birthday (Plum Village)
Thich Nhat Hanh’s final mindfulness lesson: how to die peacefully (Plum Village)
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