On August 25, 2022, a private dinner in the Harvard Faculty Club celebrated the establishment of the Thích Nhất Hạnh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health—an innovative new center focused on the research, teaching, and practice of mindfulness. This special evening brought together a diverse group: Harvard University President Lawrence Bacow was joined by Sister Chân Không and Thầy Pháp Ấn, a number of senior monastics from Plum Village centers in the US and Europe, Dr. Michelle Williams (Dean of the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health—HSPH), Dr. Lilian Cheung (lecturer, director of health promotion and communication, and director of mindfulness research and practice at HSPH as well as co-author of Savor, a book on mindful eating written with Thầy), and Dr. Walter Willett (world expert in epidemiology and nutrition). President Bacow declared that the mission of the new center applies not just to the School of Public Health, but to the whole of Harvard University and to “the world, at a time in which all of us are assaulted by too much information.” The Center for Mindfulness in Public Health was inaugurated on April 26, 2023 at a symposium sponsored by Harvard with the support of Sister Chân Không and senior monastics from Plum Village centers in the US and Europe. What follows is the official announcement of the Center’s opening.
The Thích Nhất Hạnh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health was established in 2022 at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health to honor our teacher and to continue his emphasis on maintaining good health in oneself and good health in the world. The Center has three broad foci:
1. To empower people around the globe to live with purpose, equanimity, and joy through the practice of mindfulness;
2. To pursue evidence-based approaches to improving health and wellbeing through mindfulness while undertaking rigorous, scientific inquiry to identify best practices and evaluate potential benefits; and
3. To establish a model to educate and train the Harvard community and beyond through didactic courses, seminars, and trainings on the benefits of mindfulness.
“The opening of the Thích Nhất Hạnh Center for Mindfulness in Public Health marks the beginning of something new and significant for public health professionals around the world.”President Lawrence Bacow
The science of mindfulness has flourished in recent years with more than 24,000 peer-reviewed, scholarly publications worldwide in a variety of disciplines. Mindfulness studies funded by the US National Institutes of Health have expanded over the past five years to 327 in 2022, up from 67 in 2021, 30 in 2020, 13 in 2019, and 2 in 2018. These scientific findings have provided evidence that the science and practice of mindfulness may improve human health. Importantly, mindfulness can not only positively impact healthcare, but also educational goals, judicial systems, socio-economical constructs, and environmental health. The top research areas, however, have included mindfulness in psychology, mindfulness in psychiatry, mindfulness in neurosciences, and mindfulness in education, but paid little attention to mindfulness in public health.
The formal inauguration of the Center in April 2023 was highlighted by a day-long symposium followed by an informal one-day mindfulness retreat. The symposium brought together leading academics, practitioners of mindfulness, and monastics who had studied under Thích Nhất Hạnh. The presentations and panel discussions focused on three robust themes:
1. The Current State of Mindfulness Research and Practice;
2. Integrating Mindfulness in Public Health Research and Practice; and
3. Agenda for Research on Mindfulness in Public Health.
The symposium marked the beginning of the Center for Mindfulness in Public Health’s exploration of its research mission and of practical applications of mindfulness. Under the leadership of the center director, Dr. Walter Willett, and together with the resourceful and talented members of the Advisory Board, the Center will create a map that leads to significant contributions toward understanding and engaging in mindfulness practice within the Harvard community and throughout the world.