Kishitigarbha (Jizo)

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Exemplars of bodhisattva Jizo (continued)

Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Zen master who is now a popular teacher in the West, exemplifies Jizo as a monk working for peace in the midst of war. In the early 1960s, during the hell of the Vietnam War, the monk Thich Nhat Hanh founded the School of Youth for Social Service, whose students worked on social service projects to help peasants in South Vietnam. The students were committed to nonviolence and hoped to encourage peace and reconciliation. But in the context of colliding forces determined to escalate conflict, Nhat Hanh and his colleagues were seen as threats and were attacked by both sides. Many of Nhat Hanh's students and friends were killed. He traveled to the United States, hoping to help stop the war. Although he made a strong impression on many, especially on spiritual leaders such as Martin Luther King Jr., the war raged on, and Nhat Hanh was forced to remain in exile or face certain death upon returning to his homeland.

The most precious gift we can offer others is our presence. When mindfulness embraces those we love, they will bloom like flowers.

Today, long after the end of the active fighting in Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh still works for peace from his new home in southern France and during visits to America and elsewhere. A prolific writer, he has spread the Mahayana teachings of wisdom and compassion, helping many people find inner peace in a troubling, violent world. Nhat Hanh works to help Buddhist leaders in Vietnam currently imprisoned and undergoing torture and Vietnamese refugees still living in peril. Having witnessed intense suffering and the horrors of wartime, Nhat Hanh maintains a demeanor that is amazingly and genuinely serene, calm, and gentle. He encourages his audiences to smile, to enjoy their breathing, to enjoy restful walking meditation, and to slow down all the unnecessary hurry and busyness in their lives. He emphasizes the joyfulness of connecting with the underlying unity of the buddha nature available when we can stay present in our lives right now.

We have to do whatever we can do in order to help change the world and not let ourselves be caught in worry and despair. If there are trees that are dying in your garden, you must be aware so that you can do something to save those trees. But at the same time you have to pay attention to the trees that are not dying. Embrace the beautiful trees, enjoy them so that you can get nourished, and do not let the sight of a few trees dying overwhelm you and make you feel hopeless,

Thich Nhat Hanh conducts workshops for people from many contemporary realms—writers and artists, social activists, American veterans of the Vietnam War, and recently even world political leaders. Though identified with socially engaged Buddhism, Nhat Hanh rarely speaks directly of political issues but always encourages people to find and express their own inner peace in mindfulness of the present moment and in gratitude for what is wondrous in our present experience.