"To take refuge, first of all, is to take refuge in the island of ourselves and then in the island of a sangha. These islands are communities of resistance. 'Resistance' does not mean to oppose others. It means to protect ourselves, like staying inside the house to protect ourselves from the weather. We resist being destroyed by society’s pollution, noise, unhappiness, harsh words, and negative behavior. If we do not know how to take care of ourselves, we may get wounded and be unable to help others. If we join with others to build a sangha that can nourish and protect us and resist society’s destructiveness, we will be able to return home. Many years ago, I suggested that peace activists in the West establish communities of resistance. A true sangha is always therapeutic. To return to our own body and mind is already to return to our roots, to our true home, to our true person. With the support of a sangha, we can do it."
—Thich Nhat Hanh ("Finding our True Heritage")
Humbly, We Move Forward:
Reflections For Black History Month
Thay has always emphasized that our practice must be engaged. He has shown us through his actions and persistent courage that we all have the power to explicitly orient our communities toward peace, inclusivity and love. This February, Black History Month, we invite you to join us in reflecting on how we can further cultivate inclusivity, true love and social healing in our communities.
To support this reflection, the Awakening through Race, Intersectionality, and Social Equity (ARISE) Sangha has written us a gentle call to action, inviting us to join them on the collective path of inclusivity and love. ARISE is a community of Plum Village lay practitioners and monastics committed to healing the wounds of racial injustice and social inequity.
“Martin, in Vietnam, we speak of you as a bodhisattva [...] an enlightened being trying to awaken other living beings and help them go in the direction of compassion and understanding.” Thich Nhat Hanh spoke these words to the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. at one of their last meetings. A few years earlier, in a letter nominating Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize, King said, “I know Thich Nhat Hanh, and am privileged to call him my friend.”
Throughout the firestorm of the Vietnam War and civil rights protests, Thich Nhat Hanh and King shared a vision of peace, compassion, and love galvanized by non-violent social engagement, taking inspiration from Gandhi and others. In April 1967, several months after meeting Thich Nhat Hanh and facing tremendous opposition from the political and military establishment and some in the civil rights movement, King spoke eloquently, powerfully, and prophetically against the Vietnam War. He insisted on a “true revolution of values” from a “thing-oriented” society to a “person-oriented” society.
Today, our society faces the firestorm of racial and ethnic injustice, as well as systemic and structural oppression and discrimination. Similar to Thay’s teachings that “happiness is not an individual matter” and “liberation is not an individual matter,” justice and love are not individual matters. Creating the Beloved Community for which King and Thich Nhat Hanh have worked so diligently towards manifesting necessitates individual transformation supporting societal transformation. With this framework in mind, we can continue in Thay’s footsteps as we co-create a truly inclusive Buddhism right where we live, akin to his establishment of Socially-Engaged Buddhism in Vietnam through such initiatives as the School of Youth for Social Services.
The ARISE Sangha works at this very intersection of social justice and spiritual engagement. We seek for ourselves, for our community, and for society a “true revolution,” a new order of justice grounded in compassionate action, peace, and love that challenges us all to wake up to the roots of current inequities. While we commit to this intention with clarity, we know that intention must be joined with impact and action to transform suffering into compassion, understanding, and love. We humbly move forward to create a more equitable world that is within our reach.
The ARISE Sangha invites you to join our efforts by connecting with us at arisesangha.org.
For guidance on taking action, we can turn to the dharma talk below by Sister True Vow and Valerie Brown. They offer specific suggestions on how to cultivate inclusivity in our hearts and communities. Brother Phap An from the European Institute of Applied Buddhism has also written a piece about the partnership between Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh, a powerful collaboration that continues to nourish our world, and from which we can find inspiration for our current efforts.
Thich Nhat Hanh Foundation
Thầy and Dr. King press conference, Chicago June 1, 1966