Harvard University's TH Chan School of Public Health launched the Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health on April 26. The center was launched after an anonymous donor gave the university $25 million, drawing inspiration from the late Zen master, peace activist, scholar and mindfulness pioneer Thich Nhat Hanh (1926-2022) as he seeks to improve people's lives through evidence. research based on conscious eating and ways to take better care of the environment.
According to the center's website, its mission is to "empower people everywhere to live with purpose, equanimity, and joy through the practice of mindfulness." (Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health)
"We are thrilled to welcome this groundbreaking center to the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health," said Dean of Faculty Michelle A. Williams. “In public health, we work at the population level – we aim to reach and uplift entire communities. The Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health will operate in this spirit. (Harvard)
Lilian Cheung, director of mindfulness research and practice at Harvard's Department of Nutrition, said she hopes the center will help people around the world discover the benefits of practicing mindfulness. "Over the years, I have been deeply interested in learning how the practice of mindfulness can be applied to the discipline of public health, which seeks to prevent disease and promote wellness across the population. This Center will do just that. (Harvard)
Cheung met Thich Nhat Hanh in 1997 at a mindfulness retreat and later co-wrote a book with him, Savor: Eat Mindfully, Live Mindfully (Harper One 2011).
According to a press release, the Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health will respond to the need to better assess the impact of mindfulness practices. They point to nearly 25 mindfulness studies published to date in peer-reviewed journals.
Based on existing studies and more to come, researchers at the center are planning a number of research initiatives, including:
• “Minding Our Future,” which focuses on developing evidence-based, interdisciplinary programs to help people live healthier lives as they age. One strand of the research will examine how mindfulness practices embedded in daily life, including mindful design of dining spaces, menus, and shared experiences around food, can contribute to healthy longevity.
• 'Eat, Move & Live Mindfully', a program that integrates nutrition, physical activity and mindfulness lessons to help young people adopt healthy, mindful habits that are good for them and the health of the planet.
• A mindful eating research and education program at Harvard and beyond. (Harvard)
Professor of Epidemiology and Nutrition and Director of the Center, Walter Willett, said, “I am delighted that this new center enables the scientific study of mindfulness in the context of public health. We look forward to establishing the center as a center of rigorous inquiry and collaborating with colleagues around the world to advance the science of mindfulness.
Thich Nhat Hanh, affectionately nicknamed Thay by his followers, became famous for his non-violent response to the Vietnam War. In 1967, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated Thich Nhat Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize, just three years after winning the prize himself. Thich Nhat Hanh went on to found Plum Village, a large Buddhist community and retreat center in rural France, as well as a network of affiliated groups around the world. He became a prolific author and one of the earliest proponents of making the practice of mindfulness widely accessible.
The center is based in Harvard's Department of Nutrition and from there plans to collaborate with scholars from all disciplines and modalities. The center is currently recruiting additional teachers.
Several Buddhist studies scholars have taken to social media to express concern about the lack of religious studies scholars at the center. Many religious scholars and other critics have long feared that if mindfulness is stripped of its historical, religious and cultural roots, it could become simply a tool for capitalism — a criticism that often refers to the end result as McMindfulness.
Harvey Fineberg, Co-Chair of the Center's Board of Trustees, said, “Harvard Chan School has traditionally excelled in the range of biological, quantitative, political and social sciences that impact population health. He continued, “It is exciting to see this commitment to expanding research and education at the intersection of individual well-being and population health. The establishment of the Thich Nhat Hanh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health reflects the school's whole-school approach to advancing health, and I am confident that it will make many important contributions to the field. (Harvard)
The center celebrated its launch with an inaugural symposium on April 26 with monks, scholars and others to honor the life and legacy of Thich Nhat Hanh.