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Solidarity in Service of Global “Beloved Community”; The Friendship of Thich Nhat Hahn & Dr. Martin Luther King

A black and white photo of Thich Nhat Hahn & Dr. Martin Luther King. They both look serious in front of microphones.

“ In January 1967, six months after they first met, Dr. King nominated Thầy for the Nobel Peace Prize, saying, “his ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.”A few months later, on April 4th, 1967, Dr. King quoted Thầy’s book Lotus in a Sea of Fire in his landmark “Beyond Vietnam” speech at the Riverside Church in New York. It was the first time he unequivocally denounced the war and finally united the peace and civil rights movements. Dr. King shared Thầy’s powerful message that “Men are not our enemy. Our enemy is hatred, discrimination, fanaticism and violence.” And when Dr. King marched against the war, he marched under banners with these words in Vietnamese as well as English.

Thầy and Dr. King met for the second (and last) time in May 1967 in Geneva, at the Pacem in Terris (II) Conference organized by the World Council of Churches. Their discussions centered in particular on their shared global vision of a ‘beloved community,’ a fellowship among peoples and nations built on principles of nonviolence, reconciliation, justice, tolerance, and inclusiveness in which even enemies can become friends. Theirs was not a utopian vision, but a realistic, achievable goal attained when a critical mass of people can be trained in the principles and practices of peace and nonviolence.

Less than a year later Dr. King was assassinated. Thầy was in the U.S. when he heard the tragic news. Their friendship, shared courage and vision, and then the loss, had a profound impact on him. “I was devastated,” he later said. “I could not eat. I could not sleep. I made a deep vow to continue building what he called ‘the beloved community,’ not only for myself but for him also. I have done what I promised to Martin Luther King, Jr. And I think that I have always felt his support.”

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