thich nhat hanh 2
Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (center) and Buddhist monk Thích Nhất Hạnh (right) attend a news conference in Chicago on May 31, 1966. manhhai via CC BY

Thich Nhat Hanh: Letter after hearing of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s assassination

1966 Chicago TNH Ray Gould MLK

Press photo of Ray Gould, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Thich Nhat Hanh, in Chicago May 31, 1966


Thich Nhat Hanh wrote this letter to his friend Raphael (Ray) Gould, the morning after receiving the news of their friend’s assassination. Ray was one of the directors of the Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR) and the International Committee of Conscience on Vietnam, of which both Dr. King and Thich Nhat Hanh were members.

Dear Ray,

I did not sleep last night; I tried to contact you through Lee at the FOR but the line was not available.

They killed Martin Luther King. They killed us.

I am afraid the root of violence is so deep in the heart and mind and manner of this society. They killed him. They killed my hope. I do not know what to say.

This country is able to produce King but cannot preserve King. You have him, and yet you do not have him. I am sorry for you. For me. For all of us.

I prayed for him after I learned about his assassination. And then, I said to myself: You do not have to pray for him. He does not need it. You have to pray for yourself. We have to pray for ourselves.

Ray, the last time I saw him is in Geneva, at the Pacem in Terris II conference. I was up in his room in a morning, having breakfast and discussing about the situation. We had scrambled eggs and toasts and teas. I told him: “Martin, do you know something? The peasants in Vietnam know about what you have been doing to help the poor people here and to stop the war in Vietnam. They consider you as a bodhisattva.”

A bodhisattva. An enlightened being trying to work for the emancipation of other human beings. He did not say anything but I knew he was so moved by what I said.

This morning I feel a little bit comforted because I remember that I did tell him so.

Ray, send me the picture in which you and I and he were together. I want to see again the expression of his face when he told me, in Summer 1966 when we met in Chicago “I feel compelled to do anything to help stop this war”. He made so great an impression in me. This morning I have the impression that I cannot bear the loss.

Please call me any time you find possible. And let me know what and how the FOR will react against this unbearable loss.

nhat hanh

1968 TNH letter re MLK 1 778x1024 1

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