Slow, deliberate strokes, indicative of a writer with an enlightened, peaceful disposition, are the strokes of Thich Nhat Hanh. In addition to being a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author, poet and peace activist, Nhat Hanh practices mindful calligraphy and has put on many exhibits dedicated to his particular form of the art.
Nhat Hanh’s calligraphy is mindfulness in practice, which evokes a deep and fundamental knowledge, one not only of the world, but of himself, of his being and being in general. As a Buddhist, Nhat Hanh has come to enlightenment by extricating himself from the various entanglements of being, from being itself, and as a result, his calligraphy contains a certain measured and pure quality not find in the writing of many people.
Given that he’s one of the most influential living figures in Zen Buddhism, it’s evident to any observer that Nhat Hanh has a unique inner peace. But his work helps to illuminate this further. It’s the writing of a person who is truly free, a person who has achieved freedom through mindfulness, through Zen: the transcendence of the physical reality of the body and the mind to the ultimate reality, to unadulterated and pure perception.
Pervading the exhibitions of Thich Nhat Hanh’s work is the theme of the “Art of Mindfulness.” The calligraphy is meant to be a meditative experience for its viewers, and as such, it stresses the freeing of mind from reality—the absorption of the mind merely in “being” rather than in the world. The artwork, when paired also with the various Zen Buddhist writings of Nhat Hanh, is meant to provoke viewers into a state of mindfulness, whether it’s a mindfulness realized through calligraphy such as Nhat Hanh’s, or through merely being.
Each calligraphic stroke is a mark of this mindfulness, and of the ultimate, unadulterated and pure reality it offers. Absolute freedom may be a romanticized, and perhaps impossible, concept in our world, but in the work of Thich Nhat Hanh, we may come to see otherwise. By engaging our minds through such absorbing activities as calligraphy, meditation and simply being, we too, can become enlightened.