Thich Nhat Hanh – The father of mindfulness
He taught that you don’t have to be super-fit, good-looking model, or a business tycoon, or have to spend years in monastery or mountain top to practice and understand mindfulness
A bald person dressed in a loose-fitting brown robe stood at Google’s headquarters in Silicon Valley in 2013 and said: “We have a feeling that we are overwhelmed by information. We don’t need that much information.” What a brave statement to make in the fort of the information emperor himself. The speaker was none other than the charismatic, influential, humble, and much-loved Thich Nhat Hanh, the father of mindfulness. The monk, who pioneered the concept of mindfulness and spread the fundamentals of mindfulness in the West, died on January 22. He was 95.
He gained prominence in 1960s for peacefully opposing the Vietnam War and was exiled from India for this opposing it. He also convinced Martin Luther King to speak against the war, and the civil rights leader nominated him for Nobel Peace Prize in 1967, writing that he didn’t know anyone more worthy “than this gentle monk from Vietnam’.” I think if he was not exiled, the western world would have not come to know and understand mindfulness and it would not have become part of clinical treatments.
He was a great author and a poet, who wrote around 100 books on mindfulness and inner peace. His book The Miracle of Mindfulness traversed his influence in clinical psychology, which later laid the foundation of MBCT (mindfulness-based cognitive therapy), a treatment for depression and anxiety. Professor Mark Williams, professor of clinical psychology at Oxford University and the founding director of Oxford Mindfulness Centre said, “He was there at the very start of bringing mindfulness from east to west.”
He refined the Buddhist teachings on compassion and suffering so that common man can understand them easily. This made mindfulness famous in the West. He is often called the father of modern day mindfulness and revolutionary, who sowed the seeds of the multibillion-dollar self-development industry.
Today, mindfulness practice and meditation are an omnipresent term in the corporate world and modern life. But without Hanh’s contribution and influence, mindfulness in the West would not have been at this level of acceptance. People who met him said his aura was unlike anything else they had seen. Some say he had ability to make you feel as if he was of singling you out personally in room full of people, speaking directly to you. Others say, without saying a word his presence would instil a “sort of stillness and quietness” in audience.
Nhat Hanh taught masses that you don’t have to be super-fit, good-looking model, or a business tycoon as seen on mindfulness magazines and neither do we have to spend years in monastery or mountain top to practice and understand mindfulness. Instead, his teachings focused on you becoming aware of your breath and with this awareness live in the present moment, where life is happening in this moment. If you are present in here and now (or mindful), a sense of timelessness takes hold and anxiety evaporates, allowing your innate qualities of kindness and compassion to emerge.
This concept appealed to the Westerner seeking spirituality or inner peace, for path without any dependence on religion. Mindfulness fit the bill and ticked all the boxes. Exhausted CEOs to recovering alcoholics have flocked to mindfulness classes and retreats. Under Hanh, a major mindfulness movement sprung in the West. Among his students was Dr Jon Kabat-Zinn, founder of MBSR course which is now offered in medical centres worldwide and is also being taught in companies to help employees to deal with stress and burnout.
His approach was successful basically because it was simple to understand and doable without much demand of time and training. It fits perfectly in everyone’s schedule as it can be practiced even while walking to work. His holiness Dalai Lama said: “He provides a simple version of Buddhism, I would not say it is oversimplified.”
The book, Live fully and die empty, seems to have been written for Thich Nhat Hanh who lived true to his mission and died peacefully in Tu Hieu temple – the temple from where his spiritual journey begun surrounded by his followers. He was a great spiritual leader who guided millions of people around the world into the deeper understanding of mindfulness and how to apply it in our daily lives.
Bhupinder Sandhu is a London-based mindfulness coach who believes in the human ability to build a blissful world together
The views expressed are personal
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