Hommage to Thich Nhat Hanh, and his books on love and environment
Thay, Zen Buddhist monk, poet, writer, teacher, peace activist, environmentalist, and founder of Plum Village and his legacy of teaching and books
The passing on of Thich Nhat Hanh, Thay to his followers (teacher in Vietnamese), on 22 January 2022, reverberated through the world. One of the Buddhist monasteries he founded, Plum Village, is 10 minutes drive from Chateau Feely in Saussignac, near Bordeaux in South West France.
In this article I explore some of his books and touch on his legacy, particularly on his environmental activism.
Thich Nhat Hahn was a Zen Buddhist monk, poet, writer, teacher, peace activist, and founder of Plum Village. He started Plum Village in 1982, now the largest Buddhist Monastery in Europe. Plum Village offers open days and multi day retreats for lay people. It is home to 200 resident monks and nuns and welcomes thousands of guests every year. They are also active online so you can participate in distance retreats too.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s legacy of Teachings and Books
Thay wrote over 100 books in his lifetime. They included lyrical autobiographies, Buddhist teachings, translations of Buddhist texts, and childrens books. He was a power for peace and love, and had a sense of humour and magical light touch as he delivered wisdom on tough subjects.
Books about Mindfulness and Love
Thich Nhat Hahn’s short book True Love: A Practice for Awakening the Heart resonated deeply with me. Revisiting the book for this article reminded me of his gentle way of saying things, that could bring a chuckle to important and difficult messages. What a gift.
‘Understanding is the essence of love. If you cannot understand, you cannot love.’ He writes. Understanding your partners deepest troubles, aspirations and suffering is necessary to be able to truly love them. This takes time and ‘looking deeply’. True love brings joy and freedom. In it he recommends several mindful breathing and mantras including ‘Dear one, I know you are there and it makes me happy.’
He suggests that using the mantra beyond your loved one, for example on the full moon or plum blossoms ‘I know you are there and I am glad about it’. This moment will bring you into mindfulness of the miracles in the everyday around us.
If you have read the series of books about the organic farm and moving to France you will know that I could have done with reading this book on many occasions as Sean and I hit rocky patches in our relationship through some of the tough phases of creating Chateau Feely. 🙂
The wisdom of this great teacher shines in every page. I read comments from people responding to his passing, saying that his teachings had saved their marriages, saved their sanity, even saved their lives.
Thich Nhat Hahn’s book on Mindfulness The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation is the reference bible on this subject. Sean read it soon after we moved to France. We were unaware that he was living just down the road from us.
Environment and Interbeing
Reading up on Thay’s life in the last few days I discovered that he was a significant environmental activist. In 1970 he organised a major environmental conference, He foresaw the environmental crisis we are in – the climate crisis, the extinction of species and loss of biodiversity, the plastic pollution – 50 years ago.
Thich Nhat Hahn’s books on the environment include:
Zen and the Art of Saving the Planet the most recently published, released in 2020. We can’t heal the planet without healing ourselves first. Mindfulness and a spiritual revolution are necessary for us to have a hope of protecting nature, limiting climate change, and thus saving ourselves. This starts with love for ourselves, for other beings, for the earth. We need to fall in love with the earth.
There is so much to learn from this master teacher.
I was inspired by the participation of Plum Village monks at COP26. They offered a place of refuge, meditations, support to activists who were strung out, and a ted talk on walking meditation. Walk as if each step is a kiss for this amazing planet that is our home, and the only home of every human you ever loved or who ever breathed as put so eloquently by Carl Sagan in his video below.
Carl Sagans Pale Blue Dot Official Video (with thanks Tariq Shakil Kalil who shared this with our climate reality group this week)
Like Sagan’s poem, in Thich Nhat Hahn’s book ‘ Love Letter to the Earth ‘ , he implores us to appreciate what we have in this earth, our home. In this book Thay talks about moving beyond the concept of the ‘environment’ as if it is outside of us. We are part of the environment, not outside it. The lack of meaning and lack of connection (including to our ancestors) in peoples’ lives is the reason for consumerism. He outlines how critical it is to recognise and respond to the stress we are putting on the Earth and shows that mindfulness and a spiritual revolution are required to protect nature and limit climate change. If we feel wonder and respect for the earth we will stop activities that harm her, activities like burning fossil fuels, using systemic pesticides, filling the ocean with plastic.
The book ‘The World We Have: A Buddhist Approach to Peace and Ecology’ includes a vision of a future earth reminscent of that described by The Uninhabitable Earth by David Wallace Wells then proposes mindful action . The book includes the “Earth Peace Treaty Commitment Sheet“(click bolded text to download it). This simple sheet outlines ways we can act. Complement it with our article on the climate crisis and concrete individual action.
I followed some of the memorial ceremonies online. I share below a compassion chant released by Plum Village as part of the ceremonies on 27 January 2022 (recorded in 2020). Listening to it this morning brought a sense of peace.
Plum Village Compassion Chant Video
One of the best ways to experience the power of Thich Nhat Hahn’s mindfulness and environmental wisdom is through his Tangerine meditation. See Maria Popova the Marginalian newlsetter’s Tangerine Meditation: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Simple, Profound Mindfulness Practice to Magnify Your Capacity for Joy or how to see the universe in a small orange orb. Simple guidance into the wonder of the world, right in front of us, right now.
Go well Thich Nhat Hahn.
Thank you for the great library of wisdom, and the peace and love you created on this wonderful earth.
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Understanding your partners deepest troubles, aspirations and suffering is necessary to be able to truly love them. This takes time and ‘looking deeply’.
.. that is a profound statement, if only because we find it so very easy to take our loved ones for granted, and not look deeply at them..
Absolutely Jerry. So much power to heal and help us love better in these few words. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. hugs to you both. Caro