Zen master Thich Nihat Hanh, visiting Google campus this month, says we need to foster aimlessness rather than seeking to be number one. Photo Credit: David M. Nelson
Do you wonder why many of the world’s most powerful technology companies, including Google, showing a unusual interest in an 87-year-old Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk?
The answer is that all of them are interested in understanding how the teachings of Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as he is known to his hundreds of thousands of followers around the world, can help their organizations to become more compassionate and effective. In a sign that the practice of mindfulness is entering the mainstream, Thay has been invited later this month to run a full day’s training session at Google’s main campus in California as reported by theguradian.com.
If further says, Thay, who has sold over 2m books in America alone, is also meeting more than 20 CEOs of other major US-based technology companies in Silicon Valley, to offer his wisdom on the art of living in the present moment.
He plans to discuss with them how they can develop a deep understanding of the inter-connectedness and inter-dependence of all life and offer practical tools to better integrate mindfulness in their daily work, in the products they design, and in the vision they have for how technology can change the world. The event will end with the practice of walking meditation.
The work of Thay has been acknowledged by several global leaders over the past 50 years. Current World Bank president Jim Yong Kim has said his practice is one “in which one can be deeply passionate and compassionate toward those who are suffering,” while Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel peace prize in 1967 for his work in seeking to end the Vietnam war.
King said that conferring the award “would re-awaken men to the teaching of beauty and love found in peace. It would help to revive hopes for a new order of justice and harmony.”
Despite his advancing years, Thay, who was ordained 71 years ago, is currently in the middle of a punishing three month tour of North America, immediately after a similar period running retreats across Asia.
While Thay worries about the destructive force of technology, he recognizes its dualistic nature and therefore its power also to do good. This is why he will call on the technology CEOs he meets to concentrate on developing apps and other devices that can help bring people back into balance.
“We need to have an awakening and when I talk to Google and the other companies, I will tell them to use their intelligence and goodwill to help us create the kind of instruments to come back to ourselves, heal ourselves,” he says. “We do not have to reject or throw away all these devices but can make good use of them.”
He talks of developing apps that can help people to calm their anger when it arises and refers to a watch he designed, on which every hour is marked by the word ‘now,’ rather than a number.
Google has asked the Buddhist monk to talk on the subject of intention, innovation and insight, which he says can all benefit from the practice of mindfulness.
Thay was invited to visit Google in 2011 and since then mindfulness practices have blossomed at the technology giant, including a growing number of people taking part in its formal mindfulness training programmed, ‘Search inside Yourself.’ Meditation rooms have also been created within many of the company’s offices.
He says: “Staff at Google want to know how to transform their suffering just like all other living beings. “Many of them are very young and intelligent so they can understand the teaching and practice well and can spread this and they have the means to do that.
“It will help for them to know that everyone has the wish to do good because all of us have Buddha nature. When you look at the path which is not noble, you can see the other path. So looking into suffering you see the way of happiness; that is the teaching of the four noble truths and you do not need to be Buddhist to understand that.
“Our society needs a collective awakening in order to save ourselves from the crisis we are in. So the practice is that awakening should take place in every step, every breath. And if you have awakening you know you have a path of happiness. You stop suffering and then you can help other people to do the same.”