On, January 25, 1967, Martin Luther King introduced Thich Nhat Hahn to the whole world when he nominated him for the Nobel Peace prize, stating, “. . . I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam… He is a scholar of immense intellectual capacity…He is a holy man, humble and devout…a poet of superb clarity and human compassion.”
Dr. King aligned himself with Thich Nhat Hanh as a brother working for peace, love, and justice in the face of domination and prejudice. How did he come to navigate the space in between Thây and himself? Through the wisdom of understanding — understanding the big picture, the violence of institutionalized injustice – Dr. King recognized that the corrosive threads of racist aversion and white-centric delusion connect social justice movements in America, Vietnam and around the world.
He was intimately familiar with the unsightly privileging of whites over people of color, unsightly in more ways than one; it’s often invisible to white people.
Like Thây, he understood how causes and conditions create our experience. When we act out of greed, aversion and delusion, those causes lead us towards suffering.
Yet when we act out of non-greed, non-aversion, non-delusion, these causes lead us out of suffering. Mindful awareness helps us skillfully discern which path takes us away from ignorance and harm towards mutual respect and trust.
How can we embody what Dr. King called the beloved community? We all want to be beloveds, filled with lovingkindness — it sounds so lovely, doesn’t it? But to become more loving, awake and kind can be a painful process! To be a truly mindful community, we have faith in the healing power of mindfulness. As Dr. King promised, “With this faith, we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith, we will be able to transform the jangling discords of our nation into a beautiful symphony of brotherhood.”
The intertwining of Dr. King’s life with Thich Nhat Hanh’s can be an invitation to us to celebrate Martin Luther King Day by being mindful of how we can be strong allies to our sisters and brothers in our workplaces, our communities, everywhere.
As Thây says,“The next Buddha may take the form of a community practicing understanding and loving kindness, a community practicing mindful living. And the practice can be carried out as a group, as a city, as a nation.”