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Buddhist Peace Activist Thích Nhất Hạnh Passes Away at 95

The Vietnamese Zen master passed away at age 95 after an influential life promoting mindfulness, compassion and nonviolence.

Thích Nhất Hạnh, the poet, teacher and activist, gained international respect during his opposition to the American war in Vietnam and for his concept of "engaged Buddhism," which called for religious principles to be applied to political and social causes. Fluent in French and English as well as Vietnamese, he established Buddhist centers around the world, including numerous branches of the Plum Village.

Drawing on Zen and Theravada Buddhist traditions, he developed a school of mindfulness that emphasizes focusing on being present during all daily behaviors and actions. He spread his teachings via more than 100 books, as well as lectures and discussions. He also appeared in numerous documentaries including The Power of Forgiveness as well as Walk with Me, which focused on his work at the Plum Village. He is widely credited for helping to introduce and spread Asian concepts of Buddhism and meditation around the world. 

Beyond religious influence, he made an impact on psychology. His 1975 book The Miracle of Mindfulness is instrumental in the treatment of clinical depression. Mark Williams, emeritus professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University and founding director of the Oxford Mindfulness Centre, explain to The Guardian: “What he was able to do was to communicate the essentials of Buddhist wisdom and make it accessible to people all over the world, and build that bridge between the modern world of psychological science and the modern healthcare system and these ancient wisdom practices — and then he continued to do that in his teaching.” 

After 38 years in exile, he returned to Vietnam in 2005. After suffering a brain hemorrhage in 2014, he was left unable to speak and spent the remainder of his life at the Từ Hiếu Temple in his hometown of Hue. He passed away there on January 22 from natural causes related to his previous health issues.

Hạnh's passing has elicited an outpouring of public grief, with many visiting his temple to honor him. Per his wishes, his funeral was a silent one, with solemn guests following his teachings of quiet reflection.

[Photo via Thanh Nien]

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