Thich Nhat Hanh: 'Peace is every breath'

MANILA, Philippines - In his most recent book, "Peace is Every Breath," Thich Nhat Hanh brings the practice of peace within easy reach, especially amidst our busy lives.

The Vietnamese Buddhist monk, known for his earlier books "Peace is Every Step" and "The Art of Power," is dubbed the second most influential Buddhist leader next to the Dalai Lama.

In his new book, Thich Nhat Hanh ushers us to the practicality and beauty of doable acts of peace amidst our encounters in the hyper-global world: while shopping, eating, washing the dishes, using the phone and computer, and even while driving the car.

Using a language so simple that it reminds me of the threadbare grey kimono of the Zen monks in Japan, or the saffron robes of Thai and Indian priests, Nhat Hanh lays down to us in short chapters the importance of regular spiritual practice in our increasingly challenging times, sharing with us the joy and simplicity of mindfulness that can be applied in almost anything we do.

“The really good news is that spiritual practice can be done at any time of the day; it isn't necessary to set aside a certain period exclusively for 'Spiritual Practice' with a capital S and P. Our spiritual practice can be there at any moment, as we cultivate the energy of mindfulness and concentration.”

Watch Oprah Winfrey interview Thich Nhat Hanh on Compassionate Listening here: 

An exile of his own country for his lifelong peace work that enraged his government, Nhat Hanh lives in a Buddhist community in France called Plum Village, from where he travels the world to run retreats on mindful living. Calling his practice “applied Buddhism” or “engaged Buddhism,” Nhat Hanh's work as a peace activist has brought him to collaborate with monastic and lay people since the 1960s to train young people to improve people's lives in the areas of health, education, economics, and development, not to mention efforts at peace and reconciliation.

Thay (teacher), as the Zen monk is also fondly called, poetically imbues "Peace is Every Breath" with several pages of his own calligraphic art, composed of short sayings to remind one of the basic practices of mindful attention.

Buddhist calligraphy is one of the practices to still the mind back to the present moment. In the book, some of the meditative insights written in Thay's exquisite calligraphy include:

1. “Each step brings you back to life”

2. “We are already what we want to become”

3. “Solid as a mountain”

4. “Food is the gift of the whole universe”

Thay ends the book with a chapter titled “Gathas for Daily Practice.” He defines "gathas" as short verses that help the mind return to the present moment, in whatever action we are doing. A practice both meditative and poetic, he says that some people memorize gathas or write them down to be posted where they can be seen often as a reminder.

Thich Nhat Hanh's meditative calligraphy:

He recalls that, as a young monk, he was helped to see posted near the school's staircase a gatha saying, “Peace is every step.”

The gathas in the book, he says, are collections of what they have written and practiced in Plum Village over the years.

Here's a gatha on “Serving Food”: In this food / I see clearly / the presence of the entire universe / supporting my existence

Here's a gatha on “Turning on the Television”: The mind is a television / with thousands of channels / I choose a world that is tranquil and calm / so that my joy will always be fresh

Here's a gatha on “Turning on the Computer”: Turning on the computer / my mind gets in touch with the store / I vow to transform habit energies / to help love and understanding grow

The spirit behind present-moment awareness that is the message of the whole book is beautifully captured in Thay's short chapter on “Walking Meditation.” Here, he suggests that we can consciously breathe in and out as we walk, while we say to ourselves, “I have arrived, I am home.”

He writes: “I have arrived means I am already where I want to be – with life itself – and I don't need to rush anywhere, I don't have to go looking for anything anymore. I am home means I've come back to my true home, which is life here in the present moment.”

It is in this way, he says, that the ghosts of past resentments and future worries lose their hold over us, and we return to the ground of our true being, fully aware of the golden gifts within and without, offered to us at every moment. -

To learn more about Thich Nhat Hanh visit his Facebook page: Thich Nhat Hanh. For more information about Plum Village, visit their Facebook page: Plum Village Online Monastery

Rina Angela Corpus


Rina Angela Corpus is a dedicated spiritual learner, studying and teaching Raja yoga meditation for the last 13 years. She has been teaching art studies and humanities at the University of the Philippines-Diliman for the last 10 years. You may visit her reflections on spirituality and culture at Dance of Stillness.