For Immediate Release
New York City, NY – Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York (Union) will award Thich Nhat Hanh—internationally celebrated Zen Buddhist monk, dharma teacher, scholar, author, and peace activist—with the Union Medal. Known affectionately as ‘Thay’ (teacher), Thich Nhat Hanh coined the term Engaged Buddhism and is globally recognized as one of the movement’s preeminent leaders. Thay’s powerful teachings and bestselling writings integrate ancient Buddhist wisdom and practices with contemporary issues and skillfully bridge Eastern and Western spirituality.
“Thay has touched deep chords among people of many different backgrounds, faiths, and experiences,” said Union President, Rev. Dr. Serene Jones. “We are so proud to recognize his remarkable global endeavors.”
The September 6th Union Medal ceremony will be held during Union’s annual convocation service, which welcomes new students and faculty and marks the official start of the school year. Sister Chan Duc, an emissary from Plum Village, the renowned monastery Thay founded in southwest France, will accept the Union Medal on his behalf. Both the Union Medal ceremony and the convocation service will be live-streamed.
Thay earned the joint Master of Arts in Religion from Union and Columbia University in 1963. Just a few years later, he famously formed a friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and was instrumental in encouraging King to speak out against the war. In 1967, King reached out to the Norwegian Nobel Committee, writing: “I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk.”
During his decades of exile from Vietnam, Thay established the international Order of Interbeing and France’s Unified Buddhist Church. Recognizing that mindfulness finds its most genuine expression when practiced as a community, he founded six monasteries and dozens of practice centers in the United States, Asia, and Europe, as well as over 1,000 local mindfulness communities, known as ‘sanghas.’ A vibrant network of some 600 nuns and monks, alongside tens of thousands of lay students, apply Thay’s teachings on mindfulness, peace-making, and community-building in schools, workplaces, businesses, and prisons throughout the world.
While founded as a Christian seminary, Union has long benefitted from the insights of other faiths and Thay’s receipt of the Union Medal highlights the newly expanded Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degree program. Beginning this fall, students can pursue theological training in non-Christian chaplaincy through concentrations in either Buddhism & Inter-Religious Engagement (BIE) or Islam & Inter-Religious Engagement (IIE). Union will also be launching the Thich Nhat Hanh Program for Engaged Buddhism, which will promote academic and public education around issues concerning socially engaged Buddhist practitioners and scholars. The program seeks to generate a diverse set of Buddhist dialogues and responses around topics such as peacebuilding, interreligious engagement, climate change, racism, violence, poverty and economic inequality, incarceration, and gender and sexuality.
“We live in an increasingly complex world with diverse cultural and spiritual faith traditions,” said Senior Director of Buddhist Studies, Sensei Greg Snyder, an ordained Zen Buddhist priest and dharma-transmitted teacher. “Union’s rich history of fostering inclusion and building compassion within a multi-religious, multi-ethnic, graduate institution that values diversity makes it uniquely suited to meet the educational needs of students from non-Western traditions as well as to amplify Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings.”