Lion's Roar

A Teacher for Our Time

A Beacon of Light What Thich Nhat Hanh means to people of color, by bell hooks.

I DID NOT KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT when I first encountered Thich Nhat Hanh at a retreat, which focused on Vietnam and the survivors of the war there. But unlike most Buddhist retreats, it was a diverse feast.

By his very presence as a man of color teaching about spiritual practice, Thay has always been an intervening force in systems of domination—racism, patriarchy, classism. Unlike many patriarchal Buddhist teachers, he has worked alongside a woman, Sister Chan Khong, for more than fifty years. She has been both his guardian/protector and friend, and usually someone who wants an audience with our beloved teacher has had to meet her first. Concurrently, no one has complained about racial hierarchies in the world of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Diversity is about representation, but it is more importantly the groundwork for pluralism. Diane Eck of the Pluralism Project at Harvard University expands on that: “Pluralism is not diversity alone, but the energetic engagement with diversity. Diversity can and has meant the creation of religious ghettoes with little traffic between or among them. Today, religious diversity is a given, but pluralism is not a given; it is an achievement. Mere diversity without real encounter and relationship will yield increasing tensions in our societies.” In addition, she continues, “Pluralism is not just tolerance, but the active seeking of understanding across lines of difference.” Finally, she concludes, “Pluralism is based on dialogue.”

Thich Nhat Hanh’s

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