How do we create the change in human behaviour that is needed for a sustainable future? That was the topic on August 15, when one of the world's best-known and respected Zen masters, Thich Nhat Hanh, joined David Suzuki in a public conversation at the University of British Columbia. The conversation was moderated by Foundation board member Jim Hoggan, with contributions from Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson.
Born in Vietnam in 1926, Hanh (known as Thây, or teacher, to his students) is a respected Buddhist monk, poet, scholar, and peace activist. During the Vietnam War, when monks were forced to choose between meditating in their monasteries or helping suffering villagers, Nhat Hanh chose to do both, thereby founding the "engaged Buddhism" movement.
As the war went on, he founded the School of Youth Social Service, which, powered by 10,000 student volunteers, rebuilt villages and established schools and clinics in Vietnam. In 1966, he chose to leave his country and travel to the U.S. on a peace mission—a move that resulted in his being banned from returning to Vietnam. But his travels weren't in vain; while in the U.S. he persuaded Martin Luther King Jr. to publicly oppose the war, which had a huge impact on the peace movement. One year later, King nominated Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize.
Now the author of 85 collections of prayers, poems, and reflections on life and meditation, Nhat Hanh was in Vancouver for a week of teaching and lectures when he joined Suzuki in conversation. Among other things, they discussed consumerism, misinformation, and how to remain hopeful in the face of climate change.
Nhat Hanh expressed the belief that people are well aware of what is happening to the environment but that they are suffering inside, and their excessive consumption is an attempt to forget that suffering. He said that we cannot despair, for despair leaves us powerless, and only when we find peace within ourselves can we find the strength to protect the Earth.
To hear more of this conversation, watch the clips below or check out the full-length video.