Thich Nhat Hanh and Radical Discipleship

By Ric Hudgens

In the past six weeks, our community has lost bell hooks (December 15) and Jim Forest (Jan 13). Then earlier this week, on January 22, the great teacher of engaged Buddhism, Thich Nhat Hanh, passed. All three were linked. bell hooks wrote a foreword to The Raft Is Not the Shore, which are the transcribed dialogues between Thich Nhat Hanh and Daniel Berrigan. The final book that Jim Forest published was entitled Eyes of Compassion: Living with Thich Nhat Hanh.

Thich Nhat Hanh also had a connection with Dr. Martin Luther King and Thomas Merton. This places him as a surprisingly central figure in the history of our community. Because I already was finding these intersections fascinating, I was and was not surprised to discover an encounter between Thich Nhat Hanh and the writings of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

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A Real Change

thichFrom Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995):

Meditation is not a drug to make us oblivious to our real problems. It should produce awareness in us and also in our society. For us to achieve results, our enlightenment has to be collective. How else can we end the cycle of violence? We ourselves have to contribute, in small and large ways, toward ending our own violence. Looking deeply at our own mind and our own life, we will begin to see what to do and what not to do to bring about a real change.

The Living Christ

Thich NhatFrom Thich Nhat Hanh’s Living Buddha, Living Christ (1995):

If you do not really look at Jesus’ life, you cannot see the way. If you only satisfy yourself with praising a name, even the name of Jesus, it is not practicing the life of Jesus. We must practice living deeply, loving, and acting with charity if we wish to truly honor Jesus…The living Christ is the Christ of Love who is always generating love, moment after moment. When the church manifests understanding, tolerance, and loving-kindness, Jesus is there. Christians have to help Jesus Christ be manifested by their way of life, showing those around them that love, understanding, and tolerance are possible.