Imagine, if you will, two icons of peace perched on the precipice of change. One, a Buddhist monk in saffron robes, the other a Baptist preacher in a crisp suit. Together, they stood united by a vision of peace that transcended borders and beliefs.
While this sounds like it could be the trailer for a new superhero movie, the image comes to us from only 60 years ago. This is the very real friendship between Thich Nhat Hanh and Martin Luther King, Jr.
King and Nhat Hahn met in 1966. Their shared vision for Beloved Community made them fast friends. Beyond mere admiration, their relationship would be forged in the fires of shared struggles and expanded in their message of non-violence – a message that still resonates with radical power today.
Not familiar with their friendship? Here are 4 gems they left for our inspiration–and why we need them more than ever today.
1. They urged us to shift the focus from external violence to the battle within our own hearts.
Dr. King and Brother Nhat Hanh issued a joint statement in 1966. At the heart of their message lay a revolutionary redefinition of the enemy. They declared that the true foes weren't flesh-and-blood oppressors, but the insidious forces within us: discrimination, hatred, and violence. This wasn't just philosophical musings; it was a call to action. They saw the struggles for freedom in both Vietnam and the American South as not battles against "them," but a collective fight against these internal demons.
2. They opened our eyes to the Beloved Community, where every creature lives in connection with every other being.
This sense of interconnection was radical in its time. In an era defined by escalating wars and racial tensions, these two spiritual giants dared to suggest that the path to peace began not on the battlefield, but within ourselves. They challenged the prevailing narratives of "us vs. them" and instead, offered a unifying vision of a "beloved community," where all human beings could live in dignity and freedom.
3. They actively supported one another.
Thich Nhat Hanh actively supported the Civil Rights Movement, organizing anti-war demonstrations and urging his followers to embrace nonviolent resistance. He called King a bodhisattva, an “enlightened being trying to awaken other living beings and help them move toward more compassion and understanding.” King, in turn, condemned the Vietnam War and nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.
4. Their friendship defied nationalism and embraced the “other”.
The audacity of Nhat Hanh and King’s friendship is hard to overstate. Consider: the U.S. was in a violent war with Nhat Hanh's home country of Vietnam. That didn't stop them from standing shoulder-to-shoulder, actively supporting each other's movements and challenging the prevailing narratives of "us vs. them."
These are just a glimpse into the extraordinary tapestry of their friendship. Their story is a beacon of hope in a world still grappling with inequality and injustice. It reminds us that the fight for peace begins within, and that even the most unlikely of brothers can change the world with the transformative power of compassion.
So, the next time you hear Dr. King's voice or see Thich Nhat Hanh's serene smile, remember their extraordinary bond. Remember that with each breath of mindfulness and act of compassion, we can all weave our own threads into the tapestry of a more peaceful world.
Want to learn more about the profound impact of Thich Nhat Hanh and his legacy of contemplative action? Join us for a special masterclass on February 3rd, led by the esteemed dharma teacher and former nun, Kaira Jewel Lingo!
Kaira's life embodies the spirit of this remarkable friendship. Her father worked alongside Dr. King in the Civil Rights Movement, and she was later ordained a nun by Thich Nhat Hanh, spending 15 years as part of his monastic community. In her masterclass, she will draw on her unique experiences to explore the teachings of these incredible men and offer practical tools for cultivating peace and compassion in our own lives.
Don't miss this opportunity to deepen your understanding of these powerful voices for justice and learn how their message of hope can guide us towards a more just and peaceful world.
In closing, I will leave you with a quote from Thich Nhat Hanh that captures the essence of their friendship:
"True love doesn't need to be perfect. True love needs to be present."
Let us be present to the legacy of these two men, learn from their wisdom, and carry their message of peace and understanding into the world.
Kelly Deutsch specializes in audacity. Big dreams, fierce desires, restless hearts. When seekers are hungry for unspeakably more, she offers the space to explore contemplative depths and figure out where they fit in the vast spiritual landscape. She speaks and writes about divine intimacy, emotional intelligence, John of the Cross, trauma-informed spiritual practice, and neuropsychology. Kelly facilitates popular courses on Women Mystics, Celtic Spirituality, Modern Mystics, and more. To access her free mini course on mysticism (taken by over 10,000 people!), visit mysticismcourse.com.