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Thailand: A sacred strategy emerges


Abreeze was blowing, the birds were singing. It was a sunny day in Nakhon Ratchasima’s Pakchong district, perfect for a rare interview with the globally revered Vietnamese Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh.

There were only three reporters waiting in silence at the Thai “branch” of Plum Village, the vipassana meditation retreat that Nhat Hanh founded in southern France. It’s still being developed, but the monk and his followers are in residence for five weeks, and soon he was calmly walking into the bamboo hut where we sat in silence.


Thich Nhat Hanh expounds on his plans to revitalise Thai Buddhism and reconcile our politicians. From Thai News Service.

We began with meditation, the better, he said, to understand his spiritual mission to renew the Buddhist tradition in Thailand and hopefully to heal the country’s political divide. Several times during our two-hour discussion, a bell rang to command silence and more meditation – deep breathing in and out, sips of tea.

Thousands of admirers have embraced the 87-year-old Nhat Hanh’s belief that Buddhism should be part of everyday life, even in a hectic world. This philosophy of “engaged Buddhism” – along with his poetry, peace advocacy and focus on mindful meditation – have earned him plaudits as a Zen master and a great elder in the Mahayana Buddhist tradition.

As to reawakening Thailand’s religious faith, he pointed out that Buddhism was the foundation of Thai civilisation, “and we want it to continue to serve the country like in the past”. If people aren’t shown how the teaching and practice can fit into modern times, “then Buddhism will lose its capacity to save the country”. Its renewal is the duty of every Buddhist citizen of the country, he said.

“They can preserve peace, they can remove division, they can make people communicate with each other more easily, they can ease the political suffering, even help businesses be more successful. They can help ease the burden of schoolteachers and improve the quality of their teaching to help students suffer less. With Buddhism renewed, everyone profits.”

Nhat Hanh said he and his followers treat politicians in many countries with “psychotherapy”, and in fact bring Buddhist peace, understanding and compassion into every walk of life. Journalists too need to go on retreats and meditate, he told us pointedly. “We need you as journalists to help make Buddhism fresh and effective again.”

In the past, he said, Thais looked to their local temple, the community centre, for guidance in all matters of life as well as leadership in education and medical help. “Buddhism has now lost this leadership, because we haven’t been able to renew it.

“This is the problem not only in Thailand, but in every Buddhist country – Sri Lanka, Japan, South Korea and China. Buddhism is dying, and that’s why we should preserve the tradition, the heritage.”

Getting Thailand’s warring politicians to reconcile seems almost as daunting a task, but the peace advocate has a plan. Taking up a pen, he drew a circle to represent a politician, and then three more circles inside the first to symbolise the politician’s family. If he takes care of his family and guards them against injury, Nhat Hanh said, then he should be able to do the same for the country.

“The politician has to heal the suffering within himself – the anger, fear, desperation and stress. If he’s suffering, how can he help others? To understand others’ suffering, you have to understand your own. You have to go inside first, and then you go out.”

If a politician has a happy family, he can help build a compassionate political party, Nhat Hanh said. He drew another, larger circle – the party leader – surrounded by smaller circles for the party members.

“Buddhism offers a concrete practise to heal the politicians,” he declared.

“The right is completely different from the left. You cannot move the right to the left. You cannot bring the right to Chiang Mai and the left to Bangkok. But they cannot exist by themselves. The left relies on the right for its being, just as the right leans on the left. They interconnect. The political parties are like that too.”

During their five-week stay in Thailand, Nhat Hanh – making his fifth visit – and 50 followers from France have hosted a series of spiritual activities as part of an Asia Teaching Tour organised by the Thai Plum Village Foundation. More than 2,000 people have attended retreats, and he’d like to hold one just for our politicians.


Thich Nhat Hanh expounds on his plans to revitalise Thai Buddhism and reconcile our politicians. From Thai News Service.

Following our discussion we had the same kind of vegetarian lunch the monks and nuns have every day in the dining hall, and, even there, the peace of mind that permeates the International Practice Centre can be felt.

The walls are bamboo scrolls bearing the master’s “calligraphic meditation” inscriptions. Among the titles are “Present Moment, Beautiful Moment” and “Peace in Oneself, Peace in the World, No Circle”.

The Plum Village International Practice Centre pursues sustainable living, the residents growing their own food between prayer sessions and vipassana practice. The Plum Village Foundation, established in 2007, continues work on the 88-rai centre, but already there are more than 160 monastic residents – Vietnamese, American and Hong Kong Chinese as well as Thai.

Nhat Hanh’s initial visit to Thailand was in 1975, when his first book, “Miracle of Being Awake”, was published here. He returned with a Plum Village entourage in 2007 when Thailand hosted World Visakha Bucha Day and gave talks in Bangkok, Chiang Mai and Nakhon Pathom. He was here again in 2010 and 2011.

This time he’s specifically visiting to promote the Nakhon Ratchasima centre. Like its namesakes in southern France, the US, Germany and Hong Kong, the practice centre has become the home of a “fourfold community” – bhikshus, bhikshunis, upasakas and upasikas – that is, monks, nuns, laymen and lay women.

Nhat Hanh’s movement claims to have more than 500 monastic followers in some 20 countries and about 1,000 other groups of people, known as sanghas, adhering to the Plum Village tradition in 31 countries.



Source:  Thai News Service.

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