Thich Nhat Hanh’s calligraphy exhibition in Hong Kong, 2010
There are not that many living leaders I truly respect; politically, it’s Aung San Suu Kyi while spiritually, it’s Zen Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh. Both of them are Buddhists from Southeast Asia who have experienced turmoil in their own countries, but both have opted for peace in dealing with conflicts.
My interest in Buddhism began in my early 20s but at the time, my mind was not ready for it and I did not follow it through. A turning point came after I read Thich Nhat Hanh‘s (or ‘Thây‘ as many would call him, meaning teacher/ master) “Peace is every step” over 4 years ago. It’s not an exaggeration to say that this book changed my life, and it prompted me to embark on the spiritual journey I left off years ago.
Two years ago, I attended a 5-day meditation retreat lead by Thây in Hong Kong. Being so close to someone I respect was a humbling experience, but the most memorable was following him on a walking meditation with over 1200 people in heavy rain for over an hour!
Thich Nhat Hanh’s ‘Awaken to joy mindfulness retreat’ in Hong Kong, 2010
For the past few years, I have been to several of his public talks and each time, his calm presence could be felt even in a hall filled with thousands of people. This week, Thây is in London again but I did not expect to see him because I will be out of town for his events including a group meditation in Trafalgar’s Square. Yet unexpectedly, I received an email a few days ago from Action for Happiness giving away 20 tickets for his talk at the Houses of Parliament! And miraculously, I managed to get a ticket, which certainly made my day.
The talk was unique in many ways, besides the setting and smaller numbers, most of the attendees were politicians, educators or staff from different organisations. Thây‘s talk lasted about 40 mins, focusing on mindful breathing, love and interbeing, followed by an hour of Q & A session.
Many questions were related to how to bring about change in our society today including educating young children or helping young people. I particular like his advice on taking a 2 minute break to breath mindfully and re-connect with our body while sitting in front of the computer. He said that we often forget about our bodies when we sit for hours in front of the computer and the 2 minutes will help us to feel our bodies and the tension we carry.
After the talk, Thây lead a mindful walking session in the Victoria Tower garden, which attracted a lot of curious attention from passersby. Although the day was lovely, it got rather chilly because the sun was setting; nonetheless, it was soon forgotten when I concentrated on my breathing.
Whenever Thây travels, he would be accompanied by a very large group of monastics from Plum Village (including many young people). For this talk, he brought about 15 of them and it was sweet to see some clearly happy to be visiting the Houses of Parliament. The sight of Thây and his monastics being photographed like ‘tourists’ was quite amusing.
Every time I see the Plum Village monastics, they always seem to be very joyful, you can see that it comes from within, which is not something that one can fake. I think they act as a testimony that one can live joyfully without prodigious wealth and possessions.
All the tickets for Thây‘s public talk at the Southbank Centre are sold out already, but you can join him, his monastics and thousands of meditators for Sit in Peace, a group sitting meditation in Trafalgar Square on Saturday 31st March. I am sure it will be an extraordinary event, and if you have never tried meditation before, this will be a great place to start and an experience that can be shared with many others!