Thich Nhat Hanh’s Activism during the Vietnam War 

Welcome to Vietnam Untold. Our top story today focuses on Thich Nhat Hanh’s Activism, the revered Buddhist monk and peace activist who emerged as a beacon of compassion and nonviolence during the Vietnam War. Through his teachings and advocacy, he tirelessly worked towards reconciliation and peace, leaving an indelible mark on the world during one of its most tumultuous periods. 

The Vietnam War, a dark chapter in history, marked by violence and suffering. Amidst the chaos, emerged a figure whose teachings and activism would leave an indelible mark on the hearts of the Vietnamese people and beyond. Thich Nhat Hanh, a Buddhist monk and peace activist, stood as a beacon of compassion and nonviolence during one of the most tumultuous periods in Vietnam’s history.

Thich Nhat Hanh witnessed firsthand the horrors of war, the pain inflicted upon his people, and the destruction of his homeland. Motivated by his deep-rooted Buddhist principles, he took a bold stand against the violence, advocating for peace, reconciliation, and understanding.

Thich Nhat Hanh recognized that true peace could not be achieved through retaliation or hatred. Instead, he emphasized the power of nonviolence and compassion as transformative forces for change. He firmly believed that peace could only be built on a foundation of understanding, respect, and deep listening.

During the Vietnam War, Thich Nhat Hanh’s activism took on numerous forms, displaying his unwavering commitment to peace in the face of immense adversity. From organizing peace marches to leading meditation sessions, he used his voice and actions to speak out against the atrocities committed by all sides of the conflict. Thich Nhat Hanh’s courageous efforts to bridge divides and foster healing were a testament to his tireless pursuit of peace, exemplified through a range of impactful initiatives.

Vạn Hanh Buddhist University

On March 13, 1964, Thich Nhat Hanh and the monks at An Quang Pagoda established the Institute of Higher Buddhist Studies, which was later renamed Vạn Hanh Buddhist University. Situated in Saigon, this private institution offered education in Buddhist studies, Vietnamese culture, and languages.

Inspired by Thich Nhat Hanh’s vision of engaged Buddhism, the university emphasizes the integration of mindfulness into all aspects of life, promoting peace, social justice, and environmental sustainability.

Through its curriculum, retreats, and community engagement programs, Vạn Hanh Buddhist University fosters personal transformation, interfaith dialogue, and the cultivation of deep understanding and compassion. It serves as a beacon of light, empowering individuals to navigate the complexities of the modern world with wisdom, equanimity, and love.

School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS)

Founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, The School of Youth for Social Service (SYSS), holds a significant place in history as a transformative movement during the tumultuous years of the Vietnam War.

Established in 1964, the school trained young volunteers known as “worker-monks” to serve their communities in various capacities. These dedicated individuals immersed themselves in the villages and towns, working alongside the local population to address pressing issues such as education, healthcare, agriculture, and infrastructure.

SYSS became renowned for its holistic approach, focusing not only on immediate relief efforts but also on long-term sustainable development. The worker-monks engaged in grassroots organizing, empowering communities to take charge of their own destiny. They built schools, clinics, and cooperatives, providing essential services and skills training to those in need.

What set SYSS apart was its commitment to nonviolence and its emphasis on peace-building. The worker-monks actively promoted reconciliation and sought to bridge divides in communities torn apart by the war. They organized peace marches, facilitated dialogues, and practiced deep listening to foster understanding and healing.

Nomination for Nobel Prize by Martin Luther King Jr.

The pursuit of peace and justice has often brought together remarkable individuals, united by a shared vision of a better world. One such profound connection unfolded between two iconic figures, Thich Nhat Hanh and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Their paths intersected in a powerful moment when Dr. King nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, recognizing his extraordinary contributions to the global movement for peace and social justice.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., a towering figure in the American Civil Rights Movement, and Thich Nhat Hanh, a renowned Buddhist monk and peace activist, shared a deep commitment to nonviolence and social transformation. Their shared belief in the power of love, compassion, and unity transcended boundaries of culture and religion.

It was during the height of the Vietnam War that Dr. King became acquainted with Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings on nonviolence and engaged Buddhism. Touched by Thich Nhat Hanh’s message of peace and his tireless efforts to alleviate suffering, Dr. King was moved to nominate him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

Dr. King saw in Thich Nhat Hanh a kindred spirit, a spiritual leader who fearlessly advocated for peace and reconciliation amidst the turmoil of war. He admired Thich Nhat Hanh’s dedication to transforming suffering and his belief in the interconnectedness of all beings.

Though Thich Nhat Hanh did not receive the Nobel Peace Prize, the nomination by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. solidified his place as a revered figure in the pursuit of peace and justice. Their connection continues to inspire generations to work tirelessly towards a more compassionate and inclusive world.

Pursuit of peace to end Vietnam war in the US (màn hình)

In 1966, he was invited to Cornell University to lead a symposium on Vietnamese Buddhism and participate in a forum on U.S. policy in Vietnam. During this time, he released a five-point proposal addressed to the U.S. government, advocating for peace and reconciliation.

His proposal recommended clear statements of the U.S.’s desire to support the Vietnamese people, a cessation of air strikes, defensive military operations, a willingness to withdraw, and assistance with reconstruction. Thich Nhat Hanh further outlined his proposals in his book “Vietnam — The Lotus in the Sea of Fire,” which aimed to foster understanding and present alternatives to the ongoing conflict.

In his pursuit of peace, Thich Nhat Hanh connected with various influential figures, including Trappist monk Thomas Merton. When the South Vietnamese regime threatened to block Thich Nhat Hanh’s return to Vietnam, Merton wrote an essay of solidarity titled “Nhat Hanh is my Brother.” Thich Nhat Hanh’s commitment to peace also led him to engage with civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr., urging him to publicly denounce the Vietnam War.

Thich Nhat Hanh emerged as a courageous peace activist during the Vietnam War, using his teachings and actions to advocate for nonviolence and reconciliation. Thich Nhat Hanh’s unwavering commitment to peace during such turbulent times left a lasting impact on the world.

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