The late Thich Nhat Hanh was one of the great souls of our time.  We have all been blessed to share this planet with him.  He did not lead an easy life and faced opposition from his own religious order as well as from politicians in his country, both North and South.  He lived in exile from his own country and even religious order for much of his life.  

Thich Nhat Hanh in Paris, 2006. Photo by Duc (Pixiduc)Wikimedia Commons

But he did not wallow in self-pity or despair or “woe is me” attitudes or in self-recriminations.  He carried on with his deep vocation to live out his commitment to Buddhist values and to share them with the world.  This makes him a model for healthy manhood.  

He invented the term “engaged Buddhism” which might also be called “prophetic Buddhism,” the commitment to interfere with injustice and to call it out.  He sought to heal the world.  “Tikkun,” the Jewish and Biblical tradition calls it.  

He reached out to others in other religious traditions to do the same—including Thomas Merton and Martin Luther King, Jr.—thus demonstrating what Deep Ecumenism is about.

Thich Nhat Hanh sitting next to his friend, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Photo taken from website of Plum Village.

I devote a chapter to him called “Meister Eckhart meets Buddhism via Thich Naht Hanh” in my most recent book on Meister Eckhart.  Many Buddhists have acknowledged the Buddhism present in Meister Eckhart, especially the late Dr. D. T. Suzuki who converted the Catholic monk Thomas Merton to an “engaged” or prophetic Christian spirituality by urging him to study Eckhart, a “Zen” thinker.  

While TNH said he was “very excited” about the encounter of Buddhism and Christianity in the 21st century, he also called for a “very drastic change” to occur in Christianity.  “If we can bring into Christianity the insight of interbeing and non-duality, we will radically transform the way people look on the Christian tradition and the valuable jewels in the Christian tradition will be rediscovered.

This non-dualism is, of course, what the mystics like Eckhart, Julian of Norwich, Merton, Mary Oliver and others bring.

Adapted from Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior for Our Times, p. 56. 

See also, Matthew Fox, A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey, pp. 26f., 37-43, 248.

To read a transcript of Matthew Fox’s video teaching, click HERE.

Banner Image: Zen Master, Thich Nhat Hanh, offering a dharma talk. originally posted to Flickr by Geoff Livingston.

Queries for Contemplation

Are you discovering the “valuable jewels” in the Christian tradition thanks to the non-dualism of the mystics?  Do you see the need to to bring about a “very drastic change” in Christianity?

Recommended Reading

Meister Eckhart: A Mystic-Warrior For Our Time

While Matthew Fox recognizes that Meister Eckhart has influenced thinkers throughout history, he also wants to introduce Eckhart to today’s activists addressing contemporary crises. Toward that end, Fox creates dialogues between Eckhart and Carl Jung, Thich Nhat Hanh, Rabbi Heschel, Black Elk, Karl Marx, Rumi, Adrienne Rich, Dorothee Soelle, David Korten, Anita Roddick, Lily Yeh, M.C. Richards, and many others.
“Matthew Fox is perhaps the greatest writer on Meister Eckhart that has ever existed. (He) has successfully bridged a gap between Eckhart as a shamanistic personality and Eckhart as a post-modern mentor to the Inter-faith movement, to reveal just how cosmic Eckhart really is, and how remarkably relevant to today’s religious crisis! ” — Steven Herrmann, Author of Spiritual Democracy: The Wisdom of Early American Visionaries for the Journey Forward

A Way to God: Thomas Merton’s Creation Spirituality Journey

In A Way to God, Fox explores Merton’s pioneering work in interfaith, his essential teachings on mixing contemplation and action, and how the vision of Meister Eckhart profoundly influenced Merton in what Fox calls his Creation Spirituality journey.
“This wise and marvelous book will profoundly inspire all those who love Merton and want to know him more deeply.” — Andrew Harvey, author of The Hope: A Guide to Sacred Activism

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9 thoughts on “Thich Nhat Hanh and Deep Ecumenism, continued”

  1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
    Richard Reich-Kuykendall

    Matthew, A number of years ago I was driving with my grandson in his car seat. He was probably about four, and I was curious as to just how big a child could think. So I told him to look out all of the windows in the car, and after he did, I asked him, “Where do you think everything in the world came from?” And without a beat he said, “You made it grandpa.” Of course, at that point I saw I had assumed too much from a child his age, and told him that I didn’t, but God did. So what does that have to do with our question today? You asked: “Are you discovering the ‘valuable jewels’ in the Christian tradition thanks to the non-dualism of the mystics?” Well, I say “Thanks to you for showing us all the” jewels” of the mystics and their non-dualistic message.” But then you ask, “Do you see the need to to bring about a “very drastic change” in Christianity? To the second part of the question I say, not only do we need to make very drastic changes in Christianity, but I came to learn from you because I believed you were already doing it. And so when I look at Creation Spirituality now, and someone asks me where do you think it came from, I say, “You made it, Matthew.”

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    I found TNH so helpful, like a trusted guide and teacher in the lockdown here in the UK. Amongst the suffering he provided a steadying compass. Along with Julian of Norwich( Thank you Matt for your book at this time) and Hildegard.
    Of late the teachings of Thomas Merton and Meister Eckhart resonate deeply with me. All of the above are such glittering “jewels” that generously are given to us from our Christian tradition ( if only we knew it or were taught it)
    Thank you Matt for reminding us of these great mystics of which I include you.

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    TNH, talked about the importance of connecting with our ancestors, both our blood ancestors and our spiritual ancestors; in order to discover, claim and evolve the sacred jewels that can and do assist us in our faith journeys. Unfortunately, at least in my generation, as well as the country I live in, these connections appeared to have shallow roots… so the search for connections to not only my blood ancestors but also my spiritual ancestors within my own faith tradition has been a long and arduous journey which I continue to persevere and pursue.

    The jewel of genology and the exploration of this, helped me to identify the connection with not only my blood ancestors, but also my faith tradition, which I can trace back to the 1500’s; which has always been Christian. Through ancestral bloodline stories passed on through the ages, I found there jewels, especially regarding the women, that I began to claim. I also discovered that my spiritual roots were not as shallow as they first appeared.

    Simultaneously, I was discovering my spiritual ancestors, those within the Christian faith, inparticular the mystics, the prophets, the beguines, and the saints. Through their spiritual writings and the many other seekers whom were also studying and writing about the jewels they were discovering… I began to not only awaken and connect to my spiritual ancestors, but also the jewels of what they learnt through their own faith journeys. I began to claim some of these jewels for myself, such as Lectio Divina, the Spiritual Exercises and the Examin. Others too were reclaiming these forgotten jewels and also courageously and bravely evolving these spiritual traditions, clearing off the dust making them relevant and of value once again, however in evolutionary and creative new ways. Mathew is but one of many that have shared in this important and necessary rediscovery, rerooting and reformation. I am grateful to receive and also share in the blessings of this.

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    I have a question for Mathew, based on an insight regarding the Via Negativa, the Via Positiva, the Via Transformativa and the Via Creativa. What I glimpsed in these, is a new way of evolving the Spiritual Exercises that St. Ignatious taught. Could Mathews teachings be applied to this Sacred jewel within the Christian tradition and laid out, in a book form, for self-retreat, with accompanying self-reflective questions along with supporting scriptures or spiritual writings from the mystics for further contemplation?

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Jeanette, The books I would point you to are ORIGINAL BLESSING and CHRISTIAN MYSTICS: 365 READINGS AND MEDITATIONS. With these two books I could do a retreat on the mystics and the four paths but not specifically following St. Ignatius’ spiritual exercises…

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    I am grateful for your meditations Matthew. It is interesting to note that I am only learning of TNH’s passing via your meditation.

    Recently, I saw the correlation between the via negativa and via positiva as the yin and yang. I also read a quote from a ED doctor recently that things are not as bad as they appear to our mind. Perhaps the via negativa that many are experiencing in the world is leading up to the via positiva. I consider myself as the younger generation and part of me is excited to see the transition.

    1. Richard Reich-Kuykendall
      Richard Reich-Kuykendall

      Albert, Thinking in terms of the yin and yang and their correlation to the Via Negativa and Via Positiva shows that you are thinking according to “Deep Ecumenism.” And that is what Matthew does, and Thich Nhat Hanh did too !!!

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    As more people begin to learn just how astonishing the non-dualistic conception of God and Self really is, I think they’ll find the mystical religious tradition far more compelling than the rigid, dualistic interpretations they’ve been told to believe. If people realize that quantum physicists find mystical theology to be insightful, I think there’ll be more respect for the mystics who were pioneers of both the science of consciousness and philosophy/theology.

  7. Avatar

    Today I happened to read Judy Cannato’s comment on the mystic John of the Cross’s poem ‘The Dark Night’. She writes: “John’s poem is abut the soul’s union with God, and the dark night of the soul refers to the growth and development that transpires in darkness – in the unseen and hidden night places of our lives. All of us are fired with love’s urgent longings because we are part of the original flame that brought all life into being. Our urgency comes from the awareness of the conditions that lie around us and within us. The mystic’s poem is not only for the specially-called, the select, the ones we label “holy.” The Dark Night is about us, an expression of the secret process that forges our identity.” This reminds me of a Jesus saying : “I stand at the door and knock”. This means that we are the ones who have to open the door to the human/divine encounter. It isn’t forced.
    [Cannato: RADICAL AMAZEMENT: Contemplative Lessons from Black Holes, Supernovas, and Other Wonders of the Universe, 2006, p.131]

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