Forty Years in Exile: Thich Nhat Hanh’s Journey of Peace and Resilience 

Welcome to Vietnam Untold! Today, we delve into Thich Nhat Hanh’s Journey of Peace and Resilience, which led to his exile for 40 years. His advocacy for nonviolence and reconciliation during the Vietnam War clashed with the political regime, forcing him to live in exile and continue his work from abroad. 

Thich Nhat Hanh, the beloved Buddhist monk and spiritual leader, was not immune to controversy when it came to political involvement.

Throughout his life, Thich Nhat Hanh advocated for peace, compassion, and nonviolence, and his teachings often emphasized the importance of engaging in social issues with mindfulness and understanding. However, his stance on certain political matters, particularly the Vietnam War, has sparked debates and divided opinions among his followers and the wider community

In the 1960s, he famously called for an end to the conflict and urged both sides to seek a peaceful resolution. This led to him being banned from returning to Vietnam by the South Vietnam government. The reasons behind his exile can be attributed to his vocal opposition to the war and his advocacy for peace.

However, Thich Nhat Hanh’s stance did not align with the communist government in power in Vietnam at the time. His messages of peace and reconciliation were seen as contradictory to the regime’s goals and policies. Consequently, after the war ended and the communist government took control, Thich Nhat Hanh was still banned from returning to his home country.

In 2005, after lengthy negotiations, the Vietnamese government allowed Nhất Hạnh to return for a visit. It marked a significant milestone in his life after 39 years of exile. The Vietnamese government granted him permission to visit his homeland, teach, publish books in Vietnamese, and travel the country with his monastic and lay members. However, his return was not without controversy and raised concerns among some groups.

Despite the criticism, Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam in 2007, further fueling controversy. The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) viewed his visit as a betrayal of their struggle against religious oppression. Some believed that the government manipulated Thich Nhat Hanh’s trip to present a facade of religious freedom.

During his visits, Thich Nhat Hanh had specific goals, including supporting new monastics, conducting healing ceremonies to address the wounds of the Vietnam War, and leading retreats. However, there were instances where his activities faced opposition from Vietnamese officials.

Thich Nhat Hanh also faced criticism for speaking about ending government control of religion during a meeting with President Nguyen Minh Triet. Some officials accused him of meddling in politics and violating Vietnamese law.

During this period, tensions escalated between Thich Nhat Hanh’s followers and Vietnamese authorities over the occupation of Bat Nha monastery. Initially, his followers were invited to practice there, but later the government requested that they leave. This led to a standoff in 2009, which ended with police raids and the forceful removal of monks and nuns.

It was not until November 2018, at the age of 92, that Thich Nhat Hanh was granted permission to return to Vietnam for his final days. His return was met with immense joy and celebration among his followers and the Vietnamese people who held him in high regard.

Nhất Hạnh died at his residence in Từ Hiếu Temple, Vietnam, on 22nd January 2022, at the age of 95, as a result of complications from his stroke seven years earlier.

Thich Nhat Hanh’s exile from Vietnam stands as a testament to his unwavering commitment to peace and his willingness to speak out against violence and injustice, even when it meant being separated from his homeland. His teachings on mindfulness and compassion continue to inspire and resonate with individuals around the world, transcending borders and political boundaries.

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