By Megan Thomas
Thich Naht Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926 and helped to found the ‘engaged Buddhism’ movement during the Vietnam War in the 1960’s (Hahn, 2008). In the simplest terms, engaged Buddhism entails a focus on the present and full participation in community, as well as a compassionate regard for the well-being of others (Hahn, 2008). Engaged Buddhists believe that suffering is caused not by individual fault or inadequacies, but the proliferation around the world of the idea that the individual is a separate and permanent entity and thus needs to acquire more, whether it be material wealth, human rights, or emotional satisfaction. Thich Naht Hanh posits that through the realization that the individual life lived in this way is insignificant, one naturally turns their attention outward (Noy, 2008). Using these principles Naht Hanh founded the School of Youth and Social Service in the 1960’s which rebuilt bombed out villages in Vietnam, organized schools and medical centres, and resettled displaced families (Hahn, 2008). While in exile in France, Naht Hanh founded Plum Village, a community for meditation and betterment of life, where he works to lessen the suffering of people throughout the Global South affected by war, poverty, and political oppression (Hanh, 2008).
Instead of blaming the individual for ‘the situation they have gotten themselves into’ – like the North American tradition of charity tends to do – Thich Naht Hanh professes a solution where we look inward to recognize our own insignificance as individuals. He believes that only when this concept is realized are we able to turn outward and recognize the importance of community and give ourselves to it freely.
Noy, D. (2008). The Sociological context of thich naht hanh’s teaching. Human Architecture, 6(3), Retrieved from http://www.okcir.com/Aricles%20VI%203/DarrenNoy-FM.pdf
Hanh, T. N. (2008). Please call me by my true names. Human Architecture, 6(3), Retrieved from http://www.okcir.com/Articles%20VI%203/TNHCallMEByMyTrueNames-FM.pdf
Lessa, I. (2009). ‘Canadian legacies, context and early experiments.’ SWP 302: Social Work Policy.
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