Seven young monks and nuns from Plum Village peace community in the Dordogne region of the South of France, students of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, visited one of England's National Centres for Peace and Justice in Oxford on Sunday 13 March 2011.
The disciples shared their personal experience of Buddhism's art of awakened living, and talked about the 'beloved community' as a form of social transformation.
The visit was a formal part of their 'UK Wake Up' tour, during which the brothers and sisters are mainly visiting UK higher education institutions with their lessons in peace and mindfulness.
The vistors spoke at the headquarters of the Fellowship of Reconciliation, England (FoRE), Peace House, prior to their speaking at Mansfield College, Oxford. Their presence reminded many attendees of the long-standing connection between the host charity's Fellowship movement and the students' world-famous master and best-selling author.
Remembering these decades-long connections himself, Thich Nhat Hanh gave the visiting monks and nuns a framed calligraphy artwork to pass on to FoRE. The artwork reads 'Peace is Every Step', and will be placed on the wall of the main meeting room at Peace House.
In 1968 The International Fellowship of Reconciliation, of which Oxford-based FoRE is a Branch, invited Nhat Hanh on a speaking tour seeking an end to the war in Vietnam. This was the beginning of his appearances across America and Europe. Together with Alfred Hassler, IFOR's General Secretary, he founded a new movement called 'Dai Dong', which attempted to bring about a coalition of peace and human rights organisations with scientists concerned about environmental problems.
Dai Dong pointed to the inter-connectedness of economics, environment, poverty, human rights, and peace, and organised an Alternative Conference on the environment to the UN Stockholm conference in 1972. Nhat Hanh continues to be concerned about such issues, as his recent book, 'The World We Have*', demonstrates.
His message is concerned with the impermanence of all things, and of using the knowledge of this to enable inner peace and promote international and environmental harmony.
Nhat Hanh 's Plum Village monks and nuns are clearly familiar with this logic. One monk spoke of leaving the US Army at the outbreak of the latest Iraq war in order to walk a Buddhist path and make both himself and the world more peaceful. Several of his army colleagues died on the front line just weeks after he had left.
One nun spoke about visiting the Order's highly successful monastery in Vietnam to help monastics facing physical violence from the country's Communist government. Another spoke about how the tools for greater mindfulness learned in Plum Village are also being used in a conflict mediation setting with visitors from Palestine.
A member of staff concluded: "Activism, beloved community, and 'inner peace' spirituality are not new to the global peace movement. Indeed, they are all quite 'in' right now. What is new. is how they come together in the lives of these monastics, and in their famous master's teachings. It is very encouraging to hear of young adults turning away from consumer individualism and getting into a radical activism grounded in beloved community and lived spirituality together.
"Who knows if it's the final answer to all the world's problems, but it's easy to see how such a model could be replicated even in urban settings. At a time when many religious traditions are reconnecting with mystical roots of faith, such a model needn't base itself just on Buddha dharma either. This Wake Up tour should turn out to be both a call to action and deeper loving faith everywhere for our country's young men and women."