The Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh

‘In my calligraphy there is ink, tea, breathing, mindfulness, and concentration,’ observes Thich Nhat Hanh. ‘Writing calligraphy is a practice of meditation. I write the words or sentences that can remind people about the practice,’ notes the prolific author, poet, teacher, scholar, peace activist, Buddhist monk and calligrapher. Martin Luther King Jr. called him ‘an apostle of peace and non-violence’ when nominating him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.

Nhat Hanh teaches ‘mindfulness’ – the practice of staying in the present for a healthier mind, body and spirit, a philosophy that is finding much following in the West. In The Way Out is In, he uses the art of calligraphy, of drawing and illustration to distil ancient Buddhist teachings into simple phrases written in a way that will resonate with modern life. This is art, design and philosophy under one cover.

It is also a wonderfully tactile compact book. It presents a collection of some of Nhat Hanh’s most poignant calligraphies printed on Asian rice paper with black ink-brushed lettering and stamped red seals. Thames & Hudson has gathered 60 unique works that together offer an uplifting read; beneath the simplicity of language is a valuable life lesson.

For more than 50 years Nhat Hanh has been a pioneer of what is often referred to as engaged and applied Buddhism – relating the ancient wisdom to more contemporary concerns, including relationships, consumption, politics, peace, communities, and ethics.

Mindfulness teaches us the skills to live happily in the present moment instead of getting lost in the past or obsessing about the future. The theory is that by maintaining our thoughts in the now, by quieting down our minds and focusing our energy in the present, we can be more productive, more creative and ultimately lead happier lives.

This is no easy task given the fast pace of modern life. These short, sweet sentences are therefore meant as a set of tools and the calligraphy is a visual aid to achieving peace of mind.

One calligraphy reads: ‘Breathe and enjoy this wonderful moment’. Nhat Hanh says the word ‘wonderful’ means full of wonders. ‘If you are truly there in the moment, you can recognise so many wonders in that moment.’

Nargess Banks

The Way Out is In, the Zen Calligraphy of Thich Nhat Hanh is published by Thames & Hudson and is available in September 2015.

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