According to Nhat Hanh, “Buddhism means to be awake — mindful of what is happening in one’s body, feelings, mind and in the world. If you are awake, you cannot do otherwise than act compassionately to help relieve suffering you see around you. So Buddhism must be engaged in the world. If it is not engaged, it is not Buddhism.”
Both North and South Vietnam barred Nhat Hanh from returning home after he went abroad in 1966 to campaign against the war, leaving him, he said, “like a bee without a beehive.”
He was only allowed back into the country in 2005, when the communist-ruled government welcomed him back in the first of several visits. Nhat Hanh remained based in southern France.
The dramatic homecoming seemed to signal an easing of controls on religion. Nhat Hanh’s followers were invited by the abbot of Bat Nha to settle at his mountain monastery, where they remained for several years until relations with the authorities began to sour over Nhat Hanh’s calls for an end to government control over religion.
By late 2009 to early 2010, Nhat Hanh’s followers were evicted from the monastery and from another temple where they had taken refuge.
Over nearly eight decades, Nhat Hanh’s teachings were refined into concepts accessible to all.
To weather the storms of life and realize happiness, he counseled always a mindful “return to the breath,” even while doing routine chores like sweeping and washing dishes.
“I try to live every moment like that, relaxed, dwelling peacefully in the present moment and respond to events with compassion,” he told Winfrey.
Nhat Hanh moved to Thailand in late 2016 and then returned to Vietnam in late 2018, where he was receiving traditional medicine treatments for the after-effects of his stroke and enjoyed “strolls” around the temple grounds in his wheelchair, according to the Buddhist online newsletter LionsRoar.com.
It was a quiet, simple end to an extraordinary life, one entirely in keeping with his love for taking joy from the humblest aspects of life. “No mud, no lotus,” says one of his many brief sayings.