Oprah Winfrey brings us a rare and enlightening conversation, on Super Soul Sunday, with the legendary author, peace activist and buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.
Born in 1926, Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, is one of the most influential spiritual leaders of our times. Thich Nhat Hanh (or Thay, as his students call him— thay means teacher), is the author of more than one hundred books. A copy of his Living Buddha, Living Christ never leaves Oprah’s bedside.
His spiritual journey began at the early age of seven, when he felt the calling to become a monk. But this monastic has always been active on the world stage. In the early ’60s, horrified by the escalating civil war in Vietnam, Thay spearheaded one of the great nonviolent resistance movements of the 20th century.
Martin Luther King, Jr. took notice and spoke out against the Vietnam War for the first time, at Thich Nhat Hanh’s urging. And Martin Luther King, Jr. later nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.
In 1982, Thay established a monastery and retreat center in France, where thousands of followers still flock every year. He lives there today, devoting his life to mindful meditation, helping people to be passionately present in the here and now.
Oprah Winfrey: Well, thank you for the honor of talking to me today. Thank you for that. Already just being in your presence for a short time, I feel less stressed than I did when I started out the day, less stressed because you have such a peaceful aura that follows you and that you carry with yourself. Are you always this content and peaceful?
Thich Nhat Hanh: This is my training. This is my practice. And we try to live every moment like that, dwelling peacefully in the present moment, and respond to events with compassion.
OW: Do you meditate every single day?
TNH: Not only every day, but every moment.
OW: So, in a moment where you are perhaps going to miss a plane, or be late for an appointment, or something is causing you to be stressful, you do what?
TNH: Go back to my breathing and try to be in that moment deeply. Because there is a possibility to handle every kind of event and the essential is to keep the peace in yourself.
OW: Let’s start with 1926, born in Vietnam. Any wonderful memory that you can share of your childhood? Your favorite childhood memory?
TNH: One day I saw a picture of the Buddha on a Buddhist magazine and he was sitting on the grass.
OW: How old were you?
TNH: Seven, eight, and he was sitting on the grass, very peaceful, smiling, and I was impressed. Around me people were not like that, so I had the desire to be someone like him. I nourished that kind of desire until the age of sixteen, when I had the permission from my parents to go and ordain as a Buddhist monk
OW: Did your parents encourage you or were they reluctant for this to happen to you?
TNH: In the beginning they were reluctant because they thought that the life of a monk is hard and difficult.
OW: So this desire to become a monk started when you were seven years old?
OW: Yes. And what did that feel like? What did those urgings, that sense of this is what I must do or must become, what did that feel like?
TNH: I would not be happy if I had not become a monk and that is the feeling. And we call it the beginner’s mind.
TNH: The deep intention, the deepest desire that one person may have. And I can say that since that time until this day, this beginner’s mind is still alive in me. It has given me a lot of energy, courage, in order to confront all kinds of difficulties that I encounter.