How I know Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh?
As I’m not a religious Buddhist, the first time I heard about Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh was when I read the book “Four hour work week” by Tim Ferriss. The author wrote some of his favorite quotes from the Zen Master in his very popular business book. This made me curious as it was a Vietnamese name of a monk that I had never heard of before. So after searching, I was surprised to learn about his life and his activities through the war in Vietnam and his work in the wider world.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh is a global spiritual leader, poet and peace activist, revered throughout the world for his powerful teachings and bestselling writings on mindfulness and peace. His key teaching is that, through mindfulness, we can learn to live happily in the present moment - the only way to truly develop peace, both in one’s self and in the world.
“I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam” said Martin Luther King, Jr speaking of Thich Nhat Hanh, the most influential Zen Buddhist of our time, alongside the Dalai Lama.
First I read his poems, all his words really touched me deeply. One of my favourite poems is Call Me By My True Name (https://wtf.tw/ref/nhat_hanh.html) . It’s a great moving poem and I never see any person have profound compassion like him. From that point, I started to read more of his teachings from his books and from his Plum Village website
In Vietnam we call him “Thầy”, means beloved teacher. I love to read Thầy's books. Each one of his words contain the infinite compassion from the universe that can heal wounds and transform suffering into peace, joy and liberation. I have benefited a lot from his teaching and they helped me survive through hard times in my life.
Paint What You Love - I Decided To Paint The Person I Admire The Most
So in May 2016 when I was thinking about a concept for my third painting, I decided to paint a portrait of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh as a way to express my gratitude to him.
I choose the portrait of him in this photo from the interview with Oprah Winfrey because I like the light on his forehead. That’s a forehead of a man with wisdom.
Then I made a sketch by pencil to express my concept and also figure out the layout.
The reasons for the different elements in the painting
The life and the teaching of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh inspired me a lot, so this image of the painting came to me in my thoughts.
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is a patriot, he has spent his life as a peace activist and was responsible for many initiatives in his homeland and also to spread the message to the wider world, to support and protect the Vietnamese people during the war. He wanted to stop the Vietnam war, to stop all the hurt and pain for the Vietnamese in the whole country - in the North and the South.
One of his biggest challenges is his long exile of 39 years by the Government in the South of Vietnam during the War and the Government from the North after that, but he has always supported the Vietnamese people in many ways during that time and continues to do so to this day.
Vietnam is always on his mind, in his heart and his images always cover our homeland with great love and compassion. So I draw him with the traditional Vietnamese hat and his body covers the river, the mountain, the rice field, all of these are symbols of Vietnam. I placed the zen circle in the painting as it is a symbol of his practise and teaching.
The four doves represent peace as he‘s a peace activist, one dove for each of the four noble truths - the first lessons Buddha taught to achieve freedom. At the horizon there is the Sun symbol of axiom and the horizon continues with the universal symbol of the endless wisdom of great men.
The process of painting
As this was my third painting, I wanted to try a new medium. So I used acrylic on canvas. The canvas was 80cm by 80cm square. The first step was to mark the layout. I did this using charcoal as you can see in this picture:
The next step was to add colour and the main areas of light and shade. Seeing the colours on the canvas helped me see the direction the painting is going to take and brings a sense of calm.
Then I completed the portrait by adding the finer details. This includes adding detail to the face, texture on the skin, defining the shape of the eyes, nose, mouth and ear.
I felt great joy while painting his smile and poured my heart into the painting of his eyes. Then I added the shade of the Vietnamese traditional hat.
I used the spay effect when painting the part that represents the universe. I added many colours to show the beauty of the universe and how it can mesmerize us.
You can see the amazing mess created by the fan brush while adding details to the cosmos in the background. This part was particularly fun!
Then I moved onto complete the four doves and the rice field. It’s was an interesting experience creating white doves using many colours.
I worked with the colour further to achieve the final result. I don’t really know what my style of painting is just yet as I am experimenting. For me, it’s like how a child would paint, to express my love of a subject and play with colour to create images that I have in my mind.
The journey of the painting
In May 2017 I went to Plum Village in Thailand to join a five day meditation course. It was one of the greatest experiences of my life. At that time Thich Nhat Hanh was in the village but his health was not so good so he was not able to meet meditationers. But for me, meeting him in person was not so important, I feel as though I have already met him through his poems, his books and his teachings. When I meditate, I feel he is presence in my breath.
After that trip I kept contact with some of the monks and nuns in the villages and some friends I made while at the course. When a monk from the Thai Plum Village visited us in Vietnam before he moved to Plum Village in France, he helped me to send the painting to Thầy. Then on Thich Nhat Hanh’s 91st birthday (11 Oct 2017) – or as he likes to call it, his Continuation Day, the painting was sent to him. The monks from Plum Village were very kind and sent me the picture of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh with the painting on that special day.
I can not express how much happiness I feel from seeing this picture. When I think of Thầy, I think of his kindness and wisdom, this can bring me to tears. These are streams of deep gratitude and pure love. When I painted this painting I had a secret dream that he could receive it as a gift from me to express my gratitude. So my dream came true.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s teaching
Reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s books has enriched my life and provided me with many benefits. I find in his teachings, many nourishing and healing food-for-thought. He always encourages the best in us. On my walk in life, I'm following Thầy's breath and steps. Because of Thầy I am never lost.
We are all on our own journey, so his books may not mean the same to you as it does for me. But I would suggest you try reading his books or try some others which may provide some nourishment for your spirit, your soul and help you find the courage to trust in your own heart and mind.
I will finish with some wise words from the man himself:
"There is a misconception that Buddhism is a religion, and that you worship Buddha. Buddhism is a practice, like yoga. You can be a Christian and practice Buddhism. I met a Catholic priest who lives in a Buddhist monastery in France. He told me that Buddhism makes him a better Christian. I love that." – Thich Nhat Hanh
So his teaching is clear, practical and useful for everyone from different background as we all need to nourish our inner soul to find peace and happiness.
And you not only can learn from his books, his guild, you also can learn from his life.
"When I was eighty years old, a journalist asked me if I ever planned to retire as a spiritual teacher. I smiled and explained that teaching is given not by talking alone but by the way we live our life. Our life is the teaching. Our life is the message. And so I explained that as long as I continue to practice mindful sitting, walking, eating, and interacting with my community and those around me, I will continue to teach.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Thank you for taking time to read my post - it gives me great joy to be able to share this with you all.