The Community of Interbeing is the name given to the network of people in the United Kingdom who practise Buddhism according to the teachings of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh (Thây as we call him – pronounced ‘tie’ – meaning teacher in Vietnamese). The UK Community of Interbeing is part of the wider international Sangha of many thousands of practitioners worldwide, all of whom follow Thây’s mindfulness practice and teachings.
Vietnamese Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is widely regarded as one of the great spiritual teachers of the 20th century.
Thây was born in 1926, in Nguyen Xuan Bao in central Vietnam, and he felt drawn to monkhood even as a child. Aged 16, he entered Tu Hieu monastery and received the name Thich Nhat Hanh – Thich is pronounced “tik” and is a family name that monks and nuns assume upon ordination. It does not, as commonly supposed, mean venerable or reverend.
In the monastery, he underwent a thorough training in Zen and the Mahayana school of Buddhism. His teacher was a 41st generation Lin-chi (Rinzai) Master of the Lieu Quan School of Vietnamese Buddhism. Thây received full ordination in 1949 and a year later he co-founded the An Quang Temple in Saigon. In 1956 he was appointed editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism – the periodical of the All Vietnam Buddhist Association.
In 1959 Thây left Vietnam to study Buddhism at Columbia University in New York. But he was summoned to return home after two years to assist in the Buddhist peace effort. During the next few years he founded La Boi Press, and established Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon as well as the School of Youth for Social Service. This movement trained groups of Buddhist peaceworkers in rural areas. Increasingly it was oppressed by both sides as fighting in the Vietnam war escalated. In 1964 Thây founded the Tiep Hien Order (The Order of Interbeing) based on the principles of Engaged Buddhism which emphasises social responsibility and peacework.
After a lecture tour of the US and Europe in 1965 Thây found himself exiled from Vietnam. Only in recent years has he been allowed to return to his homeland to visit and offer teachings. He settled in Paris and established the Buddhist Peace Delegation. He was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr in 1967. In the early 70s the Sweet Potato Community was founded at a small farmhouse near Fontvannes outside Paris. Later, in 1982, needing larger premises, the community moved to Plum Village in south-west France and it has continued to grow steadily. Since 1983 Thây has travelled widely, offering lectures and mindfulness retreats in many parts of the world, especially in the US and Europe. He has published many articles, poems and books on Buddhism, peace and related themes. He speaks fluent English and French as well as Vietnamese.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching is based on conscious breathing and being fully aware of the present moment – the only moment in which we really live and in which joy is possible.