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Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh dies at 95


A prominent Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk has died. Thich Nhat Hanh influenced the anti-war movement of the United States and helped make popular the concept of mindfulness in the West. He died at a temple in central Vietnam at the age of 95. Michael Sullivan reports.

MICHAEL SULLIVAN, BYLINE: For decades, Thich Nhat Hanh wasn't welcome in his homeland - not by the U.S.-backed government there in the '60s and early '70s and not by the Communists, who have ruled the country ever since - neither happy with his anti-war stance.


SULLIVAN: I met him in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, in 2007. It was just his second trip back since the war. The occasion - a public mass of healing and reconciliation. It was an unprecedented event. A breakthrough, some said. Thich Nhat Hanh wasn't prepared to go that far, given the long and bitter history of the war.


THICH NHAT HANH: There are the extremist and the fanatical anti-communist and the fanatical communist. They still continue the ideological war, even if the war has formally ended.

SULLIVAN: Thich Nhat Hanh preached mindfulness, compassion and nonviolence, a message that resonated in a world short on all three - a man whose teachings helped influence the U.S. anti-war movement, a man Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

SULAK SIVARAKSA: When I first met him, I knew, this is my teacher - very simple man who speaks very quietly. But his message is so significant.

SULLIVAN: That's Sulak Sivaraksa, a prominent Buddhist scholar in Bangkok who considers himself a disciple of the man he first met in Sri Lanka roughly 60 years ago.

SIVARAKSA: You don't have to be Buddhist. You don't have to be follower of any spiritual tradition. If you encounter his teaching, then you'll become peaceful, and you can use yourself more effectively in society nonviolently.

SULLIVAN: It's a message Thich Nhat Hanh preached tirelessly in his many books, on his speaking tours of the U.S. and Europe, and in affiliated monasteries and practice centers worldwide - one he used with those who criticized him for not doing more to challenge the Vietnamese government for its alleged rights abuses on that trip back in 2007.


NHAT HANH: We think - and we have had the experience - that shouting, condemning, judging, accusing doesn't happen very much, so with the practice of compassionate listening, you can help people to remove the fear, their suspicion, their wrong perceptions. And you can help them to change.

SULLIVAN: For NPR News, I'm Michael Sullivan in Chiang Rai, Thailand.

(SOUNDBITE OF GABOR SZABO'S "FERRIS WHEEL") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michael Sullivan is NPR's Senior Asia Correspondent. He moved to Hanoi to open NPR's Southeast Asia Bureau in 2003. Before that, he spent six years as NPR's South Asia correspondent based in but seldom seen in New Delhi.