Introduction of Thay

Mrs. Raisa Gorbachev, President Gorbachev, and all the wonderful and distinguished people who are here. Rigoberta Menchu in her keynote address yesterday said that there is a lot of power for good in this room. I know of no conference in the last 35 years that has brought so many extraordinary and accomplished people from the social, political, scientific, academic, and spiritual worlds together—and especially in such an intimate and trusting atmosphere. I am very honored to introduce to you one of the most influential and empowering spiritual persons of today, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh. I first met Thich Nhat Hanh in 1982 at the "Reverence for Life Conference" in New York City. I immediately saw that he had that anticipated—but rare—trait of Zen masters that he not only was what he was teaching—is what he is teaching—but that he also has that even rarer power to produce a direct understanding in others of what he is teaching. It was deeply gratifying to see and know that this is possible. At that time, we decided to march together with six friends in the upcoming and, I believe, last great Peace March in the United States. Over one million persons marched, and it was immediately apparent that he was not in this parade simply to be counted as someone who was against the missiles installed in Western Europe aimed at the Soviet Union, he was acknowledging with each step the potential use of these missiles and the unimaginable destruction of which they are capable. His presence was so big that it carried to the eight of us walking together—very slowly and peacefully—and to the whole of the march, so that the six lanes' wide of people behind us simply did not pass us. The experience of this tangible power to move and be in a spiritual space that is not our ordinary social or psychological space, and the direct experience of this teacher changed my life.

There are many other things that can be said about him. Martin Luther King, Jr. nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work to end the Vietnam War both in Vietnam and in the United States. And I could speak about his work in Vietnam as a young man before and then during the war—helping anyone needing help; his teaching in Europe and the United States—and recently in China, Taiwan, Korea, and Japan; his work bringing the plight of the boat people to the attention of the world; his presence at the Paris Peace talks in 1969; his monastic and lay retreat center called Plum Village in southern France; his scholarly and popular writings, poetry, and translations—but this would take a great deal of time. There are 1.5 million copies of his books in print in English, and these books are also in print in more than 20 other languages. He has taught Buddhism and his direct practice of mindful walking in 25 countries and on every continent. His most well-known books are Peace Is Every Step, Being Peace, The Miracle of Mindfulness, and his new—just published book—Living Buddha, Living Christ. I give you one of the great teachers of this century, the Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh.

Richard Baker-Roshi is abbot of Crestone Mountain Zen Center in Colorado. Joan Halifax is leader of Upaya Sangha in Santa Fe. 

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