Thích Nhất Hạnh.
Monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist, he is known as Thay by the millions of people who love him. Thay is the author of over one hundred books, and is perhaps the most influential living figure in Zen Buddhism today. From a job as editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism in the 1950s, he went on to found a press, then a university and later, a corps of peaceworkers called the School of Youth for Social Service, who went into rural areas to establish schools, build healthcare clinics and help rebuild villages. He has founded Zen centers all over the world. He was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
There is ever so much more to the story of this man, including, as it happens, the severe brain hemorrhage he experienced a few years ago, at the age of 89. After being in a coma for months, he spent a long period at a rehabilitation clinic in France. He has since undergone, at his request, aggressive rehab work to regain strength and ability, flying back and forth to San Francisco, always in the company of a small cadre of loving and gentle attendants.
Lately, the day-to-day stories that come from Thay’s home at the Plum Village Monastery in France are beautiful – of witnessing this global spiritual leader’s delight in taking a simple cup of tea or in watching a flower bloom. Although unable to speak, he nevertheless communicates in other ways, especially, it is said, with his eyes.
One of the most remarkable abilities Thay has recovered is that of singing. Just a few days ago, he asked to spend some time with the children of the monastery. Sipping his tea in a common room, Thay invited all the monastic children to sit around him, communicating with his eyes a message of love to each child, as well as his own happiness at being with them. The storyteller in this case, clearly moved by the beauty of the moment, recalled that Thay had asserted in various Dharma talks that he is still very young, a notion that gave clarity to the attendant’s experience of that night.
The brothers and sisters, he says, began to sing a favorite song in Vietnamese, and were touched to hear Thay’s voice among their own, and to see on his face a gentle smile. Over and over, they sang the song, each person in the room more enthralled than the next by the treasure of witnessing their beloved teacher’s joy at singing with them.
Today, as of this writing, Thay has now traveled to Thailand, where he has been treated to a visit from one of his most beloved and venerable disciples. The two of them sat side by side, clasping hands like kindred spirits, as Thay’s 91 year-old eyes filled with love and joy.
There is something so restorative, so abiding and so powerful in the way this man has lived – and continues to live – his life. The example he sets, of being truly alive in every moment, touches my heart deeply, and knowing these small stories brings me great joy. By sharing them here with you, I hope that you can feel it too. Namaste.