Born Nguyen Xuan Bao on the 11th October 1926, this buddhist monk is known around the world as Thich Nhat Hanh. He has been a peace activist for decades and is the founder of the school of Buddhism known as Plum Village Tradition. He is a prolific writer, having published more than 100 books, with the vast majority being in English to allow for greater engagement around the world. His belief in non-violence towards humans and animals is central to his teaching.
The Plum Village Tradition is named after the Plum Village Monastery, located in Southwest France and founded in 1982 by Thich Nhat Hanh and one other buddhist monk. Whilst having been primarily based in Vietnam, he spent many years exiled in France, travelling around the world teaching and talking about buddhism. Following negotiations in 2005, he was allowed to return to Vietnam, where he began to teach and publish more of his books, returning to his original temple Tu Hieu, located near Hue.
A deeply spiritual, influential and thoughtful leader, his quotations will make you reflect in a way that many others cannot, no matter your background, ethnicity or religion. Take the time to consider the meaning of each of them to you and your life.
1. Many people are alive but don’t touch the miracle of being alive.
2. We humans have lost the wisdom of genuinely resting and relaxing. We worry too much. We don’t allow our bodies to heal, and we don’t allow our minds and hearts to heal.
3. You carry Mother Earth within you. She is not outside of you. Mother Earth is not just your environment. In that insight of inter-being, it is possible to have real communication with the Earth, which is the highest form of prayer.
4. The real power of the Buddha was that he had so much love. He saw people trapped in their notions of small separate self, feeling guilty or proud of that self, and he offered revolutionary teachings that resounded like a lion’s roar, like a great rising tide, helping people to wake up and break free from the prison of ignorance.
5. We can continue to learn generation after generation and now is time to begin to learn how to love in a non-discriminatory way because we are intelligent enough, but we are not loving enough as a species.
6. Let us fill our hearts with our own compassion – towards ourselves and towards all living beings.
7. We have more possibilities available in each moment than we realize.
8. Because of your smile, you make life more beautiful.
9. If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.
10. Smiling is very important. If we are not able to smile, then the world will not have peace. It is not by going out for a demonstration against nuclear missiles that we can bring about peace. It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.
11. Sometimes your joy is the source of your smile, but sometimes your smile can be the source of your joy.
12. In true dialogue, both sides are willing to change.
13. We really have to understand the person we want to love. If our love is only a will to possess, it is not love. If we only think of ourselves, if we know only our own needs and ignore the needs of the other person, we cannot love.
14. People deal too much with the negative, with what is wrong. Why not try and see positive things, to just touch those things and make them bloom?
15. The practice of peace and reconciliation is one of the most vital and artistic of human actions.
16. In order to rally people, governments need enemies… if they do not have a real enemy, they will invent one in order to mobilize us.
17. Mother Earth is very talented. She has produced Buddhas, bodhisattvas, great beings.
18. With compassion you can die for other people, like the mother who can die for her child. You have the courage to say it because you are not afraid of losing anything, because you know that understanding and love is the foundation of happiness. But if you have fear of losing your status, your position, you will not have the courage to do it.
19. If you truly get in touch with a piece of carrot, you get in touch with the soil, the rain, the sunshine. You get in touch with Mother Earth and eating in such a way, you feel in touch with true life, your roots, and that is meditation. If we chew every morsel of our food in that way we become grateful and when you are grateful, you are happy.
20. Enlightenment is always there. Small enlightenment will bring great enlightenment. If you breathe in and are aware that you are alive – that you can touch the miracle of being alive – then that is a kind of enlightenment.
21. It is possible to live happily in the here and the now. So many conditions of happiness are available – more than enough for you to be happy right now. You don’t have to run into the future in order to get more.
22. Mindfulness helps you go home to the present. And every time you go there and recognize a condition of happiness that you have, happiness comes.
23. People sacrifice the present for the future. But life is available only in the present. That is why we should walk in such a way that every step can bring us to the here and the now.
24. Hope is important because it can make the present moment less difficult to bear. If we believe that tomorrow will be better, we can bear a hardship today.
25. There are many, many Christians who practice Buddhism, and they become better and better Christians all the time.
26. There are many levels of Christianity. There are many notions about God. To believe that God is a person is just one of the notions of God that you can find in Christianity. So, we should not say that there is one Christianity. There are many Christianities.
27. When you learn about the teaching and the practice of another tradition, you always have a chance to understand your own teaching and practice.
28. Buddhism teaches us not to try to run away from suffering. You have to confront suffering. You have to look deeply into the nature of suffering in order to recognize its cause, the making of the suffering.
29. We fear that this moment will end, that we won’t get what we need, that we will lose what we love, or that we will not be safe. Often, our biggest fear is the knowledge that one day our bodies will cease functioning. So even when we are surrounded by all the conditions for happiness, our joy is not complete.
30. Most of us experience a life full of wonderful moments and difficult moments. But for many of us, even when we are most joyful, there is fear behind our joy.
31. Fear keeps us focused on the past or worried about the future. If we can acknowledge our fear, we can realize that right now we are okay. Right now, today, we are still alive, and our bodies are working marvelously. Our eyes can still see the beautiful sky. Our ears can still hear the voices of our loved ones.
32. Fearlessness is not only possible, it is the ultimate joy. When you touch nonfear, you are free.
33. Meditation can help us embrace our worries, our fear, our anger; and that is very healing. We let our own natural capacity of healing do the work.
34. It’s very important that we re-learn the art of resting and relaxing. Not only does it help prevent the onset of many illnesses that develop through chronic tension and worrying; it allows us to clear our minds, focus, and find creative solutions to problems.
35. We will be more successful in all our endeavors if we can let go of the habit of running all the time, and take little pauses to relax and re-center ourselves. And we’ll also have a lot more joy in living.
36. Changing is not just changing the things outside of us. First of all we need the right view that transcends all notions including of being and non-being, creator and creature, mind and spirit. That kind of insight is crucial for transformation and healing.
37. Fear, separation, hate and anger come from the wrong view that you and the Earth are two separate entities, the Earth is only the environment. You are in the centre and you want to do something for the Earth in order for you to survive. That is a dualistic way of seeing.
38. When we recognise the virtues, the talent, the beauty of Mother Earth, something is born in us, some kind of connection, love is born.
39. Anger is like a storm rising up from the bottom of your consciousness. When you feel it coming, turn your focus to your breath.
40. Breathe in deeply to bring your mind home to your body. Then look at, or think of, the person triggering this emotion: With mindfulness, you can see that she is unhappy, that she is suffering. You can see her wrong perceptions. You can see that she is not beautiful when she says things that are unkind.
41. There is no way to happiness – happiness is the way.
42. If we are peaceful, if we are happy, we can smile, and everyone in our family, our entire society, will benefit from our peace.
43. The situation the Earth is in today has been created by unmindful production and unmindful consumption. We consume to forget our worries and our anxieties. Tranquilising ourselves with over-consumption is not the way.
44. In the past there were people who were not rich but contented with their living style, laughing and happy all day. But when the new rich people appear, people look at them and ask, ‘why don’t I have a life like that too, a beautiful house, car and garden,’ and they abandon their values.
45. Civilisations have been destroyed many times, and this civilisation is no different. It can be destroyed. We can think of time in terms of millions of years and life will resume little by little. The cosmos operates for us very urgently, but geological time is different.
46. You accept that this civilisation could be abolished and life will begin later on after a few thousand years because that is something that has happened in the history of this planet. When you have peace in yourself and accept, then you are calm enough to do something, but if you are carried by despair there is no hope.
47. When you look at the sun during your walking meditation, the mindfulness of the body helps you to see that the sun is in you; without the sun there is no life at all and suddenly you get in touch with the sun in a different way.
48. You are a child of the sun, you come from the sun, and that is something true with the Earth also… your relationship with the Earth is so deep, and the Earth is in you and this is something not very difficult, much less difficult then philosophy.
49. If you can feel that Mother Earth is in you, and you are Mother Earth, then you are not any longer afraid to die because the earth is not dying. Like a wave appears and disappears and appears again.
50. Freedom is not given to us by anyone; we have to cultivate it ourselves. It is a daily practice… No one can prevent you from being aware of each step you take or each breath in and breath out.
51. People have a hard time letting go of their suffering. Out of a fear of the unknown, they prefer suffering that is familiar.
52. To meditate means to go home to yourself. Then you know how to take care of the things that are happening inside you, and you know how to take care of the things that happen around you.
53. True self is non-self, the awareness that the self is made only of non-self elements. There’s no separation between self and other, and everything is interconnected. Once you are aware of that you are no longer caught in the idea that you are a separate entity.
54. You know that your happiness and suffering depend on the happiness and suffering of others. That insight helps you not to do wrong things that will bring suffering to yourself and to other people.
55. If you have the insight of non-self, if you have the insight of impermanence, you should make that insight into a concentration that you keep alive throughout the day. Then what you say, what you think, and what you do will then be in the light of that wisdom and you will avoid making mistakes and creating suffering.
56. When you love someone, the best thing you can offer is your presence. How can you love if you are not there?
57. Every thought you produce, anything you say, any action you do, it bears your signature.
58. We have to continue to learn. We have to be open. And we have to be ready to release our knowledge in order to come to a higher understanding of reality.
59. People suffer because they are caught in their views. As soon as we release those views, we are free and we don’t suffer anymore.
60. When we have peace, then we have a chance to save the planet. But if we are not united in peace, if we do not practice mindful consumption, we cannot save our planet.
61. We need enlightenment, not just individually but collectively, to save the planet. We need to awaken ourselves. We need to practice mindfulness if we want to have a future, if we want to save ourselves and the planet.
62. Every breath we take, every step we make, can be filled with peace, joy and serenity.