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Lions Roar : January 2016
IN 1926, A BOY NAMED NGUYEN XUAN BAO was born in the ancient imperial capital of Hué, Vietnam. He was attracted to Buddhism from an early age. One of his first childhood mem- ories was seeing a captivating picture of a smiling, peaceful Bud- dha. On a school trip, he was disappointed not to meet a Buddhist hermit, but when he drank from a natural well he felt deeply refreshed. He later described this as his first religious experience. Against the wishes of his parents, who felt the life of a monk would be too difficult, Nguyen Xuan Bao joined a Buddhist monastery when he was sixteen. At twenty-three, he took the full vows of a monk. He received the name Thich Nhat Hanh. The young monk was sent for training to a traditional insti- tute of Buddhist studies but was dissatisfied with the narrow curriculum. He left for the University of Saigon, where he could study world literature, philosophy, psychology, and science in addition to Buddhism. By his mid-twenties, Thich Nhat Hanh already had an impressive list of accomplishments. He had founded his own temple, had several books pub- lished, and was known for his reformist take on Buddhism. At a time when the Vietnamese Buddhist establishment was largely apolitical, he believed Buddhists had to engage directly with people’s suffering—and that meant get- ting involved in the political life of the nation. The Birth of Engaged Buddhism: 1926–1959 Left: As a young boy, Thich Nhat Hanh was captivated by an image of a smiling, peaceful Buddha. Right: “Now I am an old man,” he says, “but the image of the well and the sound of dripping water are still alive inside me.” In Saigon, Thich Nhat Hanh became one of the first Vietnamese monks to study secular subjects—and to ride a bicycle. PHOTOANDILLUSTRATION:COURTESYOFPARALLAXPRESS SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 42