Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Zen Master, poet, and activist. Hanh was born Nguyễn Xuân Bảo on October 11, 1926 in the ancient imperial capital of Huế in Central Vietnam. He was ordained as a monk at sixteen years old at the nearby Từ Hiếu Temple. There he was taught by Zen Master Thanh Quý Chân Thật. Hạnh was trained in the Vietnamese traditions of Mahayana Buddhism, in addition to Vietnamese Thiền. In 1951 he was fully ordained as a Bhikkhu, an official member of the Sangha (Buddhist community).
In the 1950s he was a prominent figure involved with reviving Buddhism in Vietnam. During the war he was committed to both meditation and helping others. Through his efforts to help those suffering from the plague of war he founded the “Engaged Buddhism” movement. The term was coined in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire. Engaged Buddhism is a movement that attempts to take the teachings of Buddhism (meditation, mindfulness, etc.) and apply them to contemporary situations in order to create meaningful social change. Since this creation his life has been dedicated to “inner transformation” in order to create better people and a better society.
In 1961 he traveled to the United States to teach comparative religion at Princeton. The following year he researched Buddhism at Columbia University. In the 1960s he founded the Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon and La Boi Publishing House, an influential peace activist magazine. In 1966 he received the lamp transmission from Master Chân Thật at Từ Hiếu Temple. Thus he became a dharmacharya (teacher). After this he returned to the United States to argue for halting the Vietnam War. Hanh met with other peace and social rights activist Martin Luther King Junior and convinced him to publicly denounce the war. In 1967 Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize. Sadly, due to the nature of his trip Vietnam did not allow Hạnh to return home.
Over the next few years Hạnh continued to travel and promote peace. In 1969 he led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks, and in the early 1970s he led lectures on Buddhism at a prominent University in France. In 1975 he established a sweet potato community outside of Paris. However, in 1982 the community moved to South West France and grew in size. This community eventually became Plum Village, the largest Buddhist monastery in the West.
In the past several years he has led countless events to teach meditation and mindfulness. In November 2014, after several months of quickly declining health, Thích Nhất Hạnh suffered a severe stroke. Despite being primarily paralyzed on the right side, and not being able to speak, Hạnh still participated in spreading the Dharma through his peaceful nature and presence in the world. In 2018 he returned to Vietnam for a final time, deciding to spend his his final years at Từ Hiếu Temple in Vietnam where he was ordained.