Google seeks out wisdom of zen master Thich Nhat Hanh

Global tech companies are connecting to the power of mindfulness and meditation to drive sustainability and happiness…..

  • Jo Confino in New York for theguardian.com
Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who's visiting the Google campus this month, says we need to foster aimlessness rather than seeking to be number one. Photograph: David M. Nelson

Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh, who’s visiting the Google campus this month, says we need to foster aimlessness rather than seeking to be number one. Photograph: David M. Nelson

Why on earth are many of the world’s most powerful technology companies, including Google, showing a special 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 organisations 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.

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.

His network of monks and nuns represents the world’s fastest growing monastic order and his week-long retreats in upstate Toronto, New York, Mississippi and California, each with a capacity of more than 1,000 people, have sold out in a matter of days.

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