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Lions Roar : January 2014
explained why some Vietnamese monastics felt driven to self-immolate. Now, half a cen- tury later, Thay offers that same explanation in the quiet of the Catskills. “Both warring parties wanted to fight to the end, and we were caught in the middle,” he says. “We wanted an end to the hostilities, but we did not have maga- zines, radio, or television, so our voice was lost in the bombs. That is why, in order to get the message across, we some- times had to burn ourselves alive. Self- immolation was not an act of violence. It was an act of sacrifice in order to awaken the world to the suffering of the people in Vietnam.” One year after writing this letter, Thay was traveling across the United States to spread his urgent message of peace and, while in Chicago, he met Martin Luther King, Jr. for the first time. Subsequently, King came out publicly against the war and nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, claiming that he knew no one more worthy than “this gentle monk.” Later they saw each other again in Geneva, where they were both attend- ing a peace conference. “I was able to tell him that the people in Vietnam admired him and called him a bodhisattva, a great being,” says Thay. “He was pleased to hear that. We also discussed sangha building. The expression for sangha that he used was ‘beloved community.’ “That was our last meeting before he got killed. When he was assassinated, I was in New York. I was angry and got sick. But I told myself I had to continue. I vowed that I would continue the work of sangha building.” Community is crucial, according to Thich Nhat Hanh, because without it no one can accomplish much. Even the Bud- dha needed a sangha, and the first thing he did when he got up from under the Bodhi tree was to establish one. Thich Nhat Below: Thay teaches that the sound of the bell is the voice of the Buddha within. He says we all have the Buddha within us because we have the capacity to be mindful, compassionate, and understanding. Right: Thay with members of his sangha. Vietnam- ese monks traditionally wear brown to identify with the peasants, who also wear this color. PHOTOBYSTEFANBAUMAN Hanh, however, found himself abruptly cut off from his sangha. After speaking out for peace, he was exiled from Vietnam and it would be almost forty years before he could return. “I was like a bee without a beehive,” he says, “like a cell taken out of the body. I knew that if I did not practice well, then I would dry up.” He took political asylum in France and began gathering some friends around him. In the beginning, the sangha was so small that they had nowhere of their own to practice and had to ask the Quak- ers for the use of their space. Now Thich Nhat Hanh’s sangha includes hundreds