CANDICE REED, The North County Times: More than 1,000 people gathered at San Dieguito County Park on Saturday morning to do – nothing.
It may be hard to believe that that many people turned off their cell phones, walked away from their TV sets and sat on the damp lawn at the park to literally do nothing. But they did it for one man, Thich Nhat Hanh.
The event was held to call attention to the profound interdependence between the monastic and lay communities. People from all walks of life and religions gathered to relax and share the art of mindful living with each other.
The celebration began with a procession of 300 Buddhist monks and nuns walking slowly and silently through the park in an Alms Round procession, a sort of re-enactment of ancient times when monks walked silently through villages to receive offerings of food while they gave teachings.
“This is a way to bring the practice of Buddhism to the west,” said volunteer Mary Kathryn Allman of La Jolla. “The Buddhists want to remind people that there are people all over the world who have nothing to eat. This is their quiet way.”
As the monks and nuns, dressed in the brown robes of their faith, walked past the observers, they stared ahead, while other people bowed their heads in respectful observance.
“This is very special, you don’t get this many people together like this for just any event,” said Kerry Thomlin of Encinitas. “Imagine this many people all meditating the day before the Super Bowl. This is what the world needs more of, peace and quiet.”
The main person the crowd came to see was an unassuming man who sat in the middle of his devotees. As a gong rang through the hillsides, Thich Nhat Hanh, an internationally known Vietnamese Buddhist monk, bit into an orange.
The crowd followed his lead and quietly began eating their own lunches.
Thich Nhat Hanh (pronounced tick-naught-han) was only 16 when he entered the monastic life and began his activism during the Vietnam War in Saigon. He was exiled from Vietnam in 1966 but his efforts for nonviolence continued, moving Martin Luther King Jr. to nominate him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. Now he is 77 and one of the most popular Buddhist leaders in the world.
He’s also a poet, a teacher and a master in Zen Buddhism, blending the Theravada and Mahayana traditions of an Eastern religion that dates back 2,500 years and emphasizes human transcendence over the traditional Western concept of God. He has built a worldwide reputation for his devotion to the pursuit of peace and his adherence to the spiritual practice of mindfulness.
While he spends most of his time at his main monastery, called Plum Village, in southern France, he has spent much of this winter at his Deer Park Monastery in the hills above Escondido.
On Saturday, when Nhat Hanh spoke, everyone listened.
“With mindfulness we are able to be fully present, fully alive,” he told the crowd. “When you breathe in, and you know you are breathing in, and when you breathe out, you know you are breathing out —- that is mindful breathing. Mindfulness is knowing what is going on.”
Moving from personal practice to political, Nhat Hanh said, “Violence cannot solve the problem of violence. Violence cannot reduce the number of enemies or terrorists. It creates more hatred, more violence and more terrorists.” The crowd was moved by the small, unassuming man’s words.
“I learned a lot today,” said Krystal Hunt of Del Mar. “Peace needs to start with the regular people. Then maybe the politicians will get a clue. We don’t need war or violence. We need compassion.”