Lakeview from home - bruce witzel photo

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.

Martin Luther King, Jr.





A few days ago word came from the south of France, that the beloved Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh had suffered a serious brain hemorrhage. An announcement from Plum Village on November 12, 2014 said “at present, Thay is still very responsive and shows every indication of being aware of the presence of those around him. He is able to move his feet, hands and eyes. There are signs that a full recovery may be possible.”

Plum Village is a monastery and Buddhist practice centre. It has associated centres in the U.S., Australia, Thailand, Hong Kong, and Germany, and 1000’s of smaller sangha communities located throughout the world.  They welcome people of all ages, faiths and backgrounds.

photo courtesy of Plum Village and Paul Davis


Thich Nhat Hanh is affectionately known as Thay (pronounced tie) by those closest to him. It means teacher in Vietnamese. He is also widely respected by the inter-faith community and people of goodwill throughout the world. His leadership focuses on the “Art of Mindful Living” through the development of compassion, listening, respect and wonder – this can transform us towards peace and well being, both ourselves and the world. Nhat Hanh has been described as a cross between a cloud, a snail and a piece of heavy machinery. His faith has moved mountains.

I was first introduced to Thich Nhat Hanh in the late 80’s through his book The Sun My Heart. It had special significance to me as a young Solar Activist struggling within the Catholic tradition.

Thich Nhat Hanh shares with humble and practical simplicity. He is not technical. He speaks from the heart. He has said, “There is no way to peace – peace is the way.” His talks, poetry, story telling and writings about mindfulness, meditation, peace and reconciliation are published in over 100 books in dozens of language. He demonstrates a universal message.

Nobel Peace Prize Nomination – photo source unknown

king & hahn & peace quote

Now an aged 88 years, Thay has dedicated his life to the  practice of Engaged Buddhism, similar to the Social Gospel Movement and the Christian Beatitudes. In the early 60’s he studied and taught Comparative Religion at Princeton and Columbia and founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon. With other university professors and students in Vietnam, he began the School of Youths for Social Services. Teams of young people went out to the countryside to help establish schools, health clinics, gardens and later to rebuild bombed villages. By the end of the Vietnam War more than 10,000 nuns, monks and social workers were involved.

photo by Dick DeMarsico, from the Library of Congress Public Domain

Martin Luther king Jr. - photo by Dick DeMarsico - reproduction rights transferred to Library pf Congress. No copyright restriction known

During Thich Nhat Hanh’s visits to United States in the 1960’s, Thay worked tirelessly to promote peace and reconciliation in Vietnam. He developed profound friendships with the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the Catholic monk Thomas Merton. In 1967, Dr. King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, calling him, “An apostle of peace and nonviolence”, saying “His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”

photo source unknown

Thomas Merton & Thich Nhat Hanh 

During this period Thomas Merton wrote an essay – Nhat Hanh is My Brother – in support of Thay and his peace efforts. Five decades later it still rings true. Here is a portion of the closing paragraph.

“I have said Nhat Hanh is my brother, and it is true… I have far more in common with Nhat Hanh than I have with many Americans, and I do not hesitate to say it. It is vitally important that such bonds be admitted. They are the bonds of a new solidarity and brotherhood which is beginning to be evident on all the five continents and which cuts across all political, religious and cultural lines to unite young men and women in every country…  This unity of the young is the only hope of the world. In its name I appeal for Nhat Hanh. Do what you can for him…”

With Mindfulness and loving action –  let us keep Thich Nhat Hanh in our thoughts and prayers.

In peace – Bruce



Update from the nuns and monks of Plum village, November 16, 2014 

In the early morning, Saturday, November 15, Thầy opened his eyes for the first time since his cerebral hemorrhage, to look at his attendants for a brief moment… The doctors are cautiously optimistic and remind us that Thầy’s condition is still in a critical stage and conditions can change at any moment…

Please continue to enjoy the blue sky for Thầy, the fresh morning air and the small pathways in nature for Thầy. Especially, please enjoy each other, your loved ones, and our togetherness for Thầy.


bruce witzel photo – through the luminary lens

Rose Garden, Washington Park - Portalnd Oregon - bruce witzel photo


A special reply to the Weekly Photo Challenge: Achievement


  1. A wonderful post, and very touching the number of people who have drawn together to focus their good energies on Thay’s recovery. I add my efforts to theirs, and my prayers for his health are continuous.

    • Yes… Thay had lead with inclusion, love & compassion as an example for all of us. His writings and action and presence are beacons to people of all creed, race and colour.The collective outpouring of prayer and energy is true testament of this. Best regards to you over this holiday season. I’ll be spending a little time in the Vancouver area with family . . . it’s a small and beautiful world, indeed.

  2. Bruce this is beautiful post, will add this book to my list I have not read it yet. Just by seeing his face it brings peace to me. Beautiful post!

    • Yes – I think Thich Nhat Hanh is one of those special souls that could melt the hardest of hearts. When you get a chance I’m sure you’d be inspired in reading his pearls of wisdom about mindfulness and good living. Thank you so much for the affirmation Doris.

  3. You have written a wonderful photo essay tribute here Bruce. Thanks for writing it. I had not heard the news about Thich Nhat Hanh. Hope you are enjoying the same sunny days that we are getting down here. Just finished reading Naomi Klein’s new book – think you would enjoy it. Best wishes. Chris

    • It’s wonderful to hear from you Chris which I dearly appreciate.

      We too are enjoying this incredible sunshine, especially after those first fierce fall rains. Paid work is slowing down a bit for me, so I have started to build a Solar Greenhouse. I have dreamed of doing this for 30 years – it will have about 15 to 20 – 50 gallon drums of water for thermal storage and R-values of almost 30 (higher in the back roof). Some of our excess micro hydro energy will be diverted there for winter light and heat. It’ll be quite a learning experience, the indoor gardening part. I’ll do a blog-post when it’s complete (many months in the future).

      I read a review of Naomi Kleins new book on Climate change and I’ll make a point of ordering it from the library. Thanks for the reminder. Glad you were able to read the photo-essay about Thich Nhat Hanh.

      Best regards to you and Molly (and if you see brother Fred, same to him).

    • Your welcome David. Ever since Fran asked me on Wednesday if I heard that Thich Nhat Hanh was not well, I have been thinking about you too, and how difficult it must be for you and all your community. Peace and blessings to you all.

      • thank you, my friend!
        there is much concern, meditations, prayers and hope
        in the community
        while also recognizing
        how fortunate we have been
        to be with Thay
        and diligently continue practicing.
        especially the understanding of impermanence.

  4. Thank you for this news, Bruce. It is a privilege to be mindful of my teacher, whom I love. I’ve never met him, but have heard his voice in tapes and books. My partner Steve went to hear him speak once. The story goes that the microphones weren’t working, so he simply gave his talk in his quiet voice. Steve couldn’t really hear his words, but he certainly experienced his peace. May Thay still experience his peace, as before, and be free from suffering.

    • As you, though I also have only met Thay through tapes & books, and recently U-tube, it is as if I have met him face to face. His wisdom and gentleness is so amazing, and in part because of his teaching I am learning to breath more deeply, to enjoy washing the dishes, and to drink tea much more slowly. Thanks for sharing your and Steve’s experience.

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