Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Happy Birthday Thich Nhat Hanh

Today is the birthday of Thich Nhat Hanh, perhaps one of the most famous Buddhist monks of all time, with the possible exception of the Dalai Lama, who you may or may not count as a monk.  For those of you wanting a more theological meditation, head to this post on my theology blog. 

I'm struck by how many writers and other creative types cite Thich Nhat Hanh as an influence.  He's written an amazing number of books and articles.  As a creative person, his output is amazing.

I'm also struck by how many communities he has founded.  I've been spending time lately thinking about intentional communities.  I would theorize that one of the reasons that Thich Nhat Hanh has been able to accomplish so much is that he's been immersed in community.

The questions that he poses to the larger society are ones that have haunted artists for centuries.  What living conditions make the most fertile soil for creating?  What do artists owe to their societies?  What is the proper creative response to injustice?

Thich Nhat Hanh created a whole new strand of Buddhism, Engaged Buddhism, to deal with the question of how to live in a world where oppression threatens us all.  It's not enough to just withdraw to our individual communities.  We won't protect ourselves ultimately if we decide to only look out for our own family or community members.

For those of us who feel despair in these days when it seems that individuals can accomplish nothing, I'd point to the example of people like Thich Nhat Hanh.  He is given credit for convincing Martin Luther King to oppose the Vietnam War.  He has influenced several generations of thinkers and artists.  He founded monastery after monastery.

Some day, perhaps I'll write a book that looks at the logistics of how these communities are founded.  For example, where does the money to buy the land come from?  How are buildings designed?  Is there a master plan for the land or does it emerge organically as new programs develop? 

I'm also interested in the difference between intentional communities that have spiritual beliefs at their core and those that don't.  Are the odds of success different?

Perhaps it's the definition of success that's different from one community to the next.

And these days, a book on intentional community would have to include online communities.  It's a question that Christian churches, at least the mainline kind, are only beginning to address.  Do we need to meet in person to truly be a community?

Perhaps the answer will be similar to what colleges seem to be discovering.  Based on anecdotal evidence, most teachers I know discover that many students don't do well with courses that are totally online.  However, classes that use online elements, or the more intentional blended class (which meets for part of the term in a classroom and part of the term in cyberspace), often appeal to students in ways that classes that are strictly online or strictly on ground can't.

It's time for me to head to the dentist, so it would be nice to have a pithy way to conclude.  I don't.  I'll think about all these things as I'm trying to distract myself from my mouth.  I'll offer a prayer of gratitude for the miraculous monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, who has inspired so many of us.  I'll hope for artists out there who are ready to change the world.  And I'll dream about the ways we might create the next generation of intentional communities.

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