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Lions Roar : January 2016
Despite being branded as communists by the South Vietnamese government, young SYSS activists continued to aid victims of the war. Martin Luther King, Jr., said of Thich Nhat Hanh: “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle monk from Vietnam.” The day Thich Nhat Hanh presented a peace proposal in Washington, the South Vietnam- ese government declared him a traitor and banned him from returning home. attacked and they struggled to raise funds, they persisted courageously in their work to relieve suffering without taking sides. In the U.S., Nhat Hanh met with import- ant figures on both sides of the war debate, including Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara, antiwar senator William Ful- bright, and famed Christian contemplative Thomas Merton. Thich Nhat Hanh made a deep connec- tion with another great peacemaker of his time—civil rights leader Martin Luther King, Jr. In a letter to King, Nhat Hanh urged him to publicly oppose the Vietnam War, writing, “I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors but only at a change in their policy. ... I also believe with all my being that the struggle for equality and freedom you lead in Bir- mingham, Alabama, is not aimed at the whites but only at intolerance, hatred, and discrimination. These are real enemies of man—not man himself.” When Nhat Hanh met King in person, he told him that Vietnamese Buddhists con- sidered King a bodhisattva. When King later nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, he said that the honor would “remind all nations that [people] of good will stand ready to lead warring elements out of an abyss of hatred and destruction. It would reawaken [people] to the teaching of beauty and love found in peace.” In June, 1966, Thich Nhat Hanh presented a peace proposal in Washington urging Amer- icans to stop bombing and offer reconstruc- tion aid free of political or ideological strings. He emphasized that he and his followers favored neither side in the war and wanted only peace. In response, the South Vietnamese govern- ment immediately banned him from returning home. A trip for peace that was supposed to last a few weeks became forty years in exile. PHOTOCOURTESYOFPARALLAXPRESSPHOTOSCOURTESYOFPARALLAXPRESS SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 47