Thich Nhat Hanh
Peace is every step.
Read the writing of Thích Nhất Hạnh (click here for information and purchase)
When you select any Amazon item to buy from the Voices Education Project web site, and then check out at Amazon.com, a portion of your purchase price will be paid to Voices to support our work.
Thích Nhất Hạnh was born in 1926 in central Vietnam. He is an expatriate Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist. He joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16, studied Buddhism as a novice, and was fully ordained as a monk in 1949. Commonly referred to as Thich Nhat Hanh, the title Thích is used by all Vietnamese monks and nuns, meaning that they are part of the Shakya (Shakyamuni Buddha) clan.
In the early 1960s he founded the School of Youth for Social Services (SYSS) in Saigon. This grassroots relief organization rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools, established medical centers, and resettled families left homeless during the Vietnam War He traveled to the U.S. to study at Princeton University, and later to lecture at Cornell University and Columbia University. His main focus at the time however, was to urge the U.S. government to withdraw from Vietnam. He urged Martin Luther King, Jr. to publicly oppose the Vietnam War; King nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize (1967).
Thich Nhat Hanh has become an important influence in the development of Western Buddhism. His teachings and practices aim to appeal to people from various religious, spiritual, and political backgrounds, intending to offer mindfulness practices for more Western sensibilities. He created the Order of Interbeing in 1966, establishing monastic and practice centers around the world. As of 2007 his home is the Plum Village Monastery in the Dordogne region in the South of France and he travels internationally giving retreats and talks. He coined the term Engaged Buddhism in his book Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire.
They woke me this morning
to tell me my brother had been killed in battle.
Yet in the garden, uncurling moist petals,
a new rose blooms on the bush.
And I am alive, can still breathe the fragrance of roses and dung,
eat, pray, and sleep.
But when can I break my long silence?
When can I speak the unuttered words that are choking me?
Take my hand.
We will walk.
We will only walk.
We will enjoy our walk
without thinking of arriving anywhere.
Our walk is a peace walk.
Our walk is a happiness walk.
Then we learn
that there is no peace walk;
that peace is the walk;
that there is no happiness walk;
that happiness is the walk.
We walk for ourselves.
We walk for everyone
always hand in hand.
Walk and touch peace every moment.
Walk and touch happiness every moment.
Each step brings a fresh breeze.
Each step makes a flower bloom under our feet.
Kiss the Earth with your feet.
Print on Earth your love and happiness.
Earth will be safe
when we feel in us enough safety.
FROM A LETTER TO MARTIN LUTHER KING, Jr.— June 1, 1965
I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors but only at a change in their policies. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred, and discrimination which lie within the heart of man. These are real enemies of humans,— not humans themselves. In our unfortunate fatherland we are trying to plead desperately: do not kill man, even in man's name. Please kill the real enemies of man which are present everywhere in our very hearts and minds... You cannot be silent since you have already been in action and you are in action because, in you, God is in action.
Thich Nhat Hanh,
Director of the School of Youth for Social Service
of the Buddhist University in Saigon, Viet Nam
GLOBAL PATH TOWARD PEACE
In the past three years we have sponsored many groups of Palestinians and Israelis to come to Plum Village, www.plumvillage.org, to practice with us. All of them have big pain and suffering within. Most of them did not know how to breathe, recognize and embrace the fear, the anger, the frustration, the despair in them.
They could not look at each other. They could not talk to each other, because their fear is huge, their anger is so huge. With Buddha Sanga supporting, they are able to breathe in and out, generating the energy of mindfulness and embrace tenderly their anger, their fear, their frustration.
They learned to breath with us. They learned to walk with us. They learned to sit down finally with us. They learned to eat mindfully, wash the dishes mindfully with us, and finally we helped them to practice, the practice of deep compassionate listening to the other group of people. And we helped the other group of people to practice gentle speech, loving speech, so that they can empty their heart. They can to express everything that is in their heart, their fear, their suffering, their anger and so on.
The practice is having an opportunity to speak out everything in your heart because you can get a relieve when you do so. But you should be trained to speak in such a way the other group of people can listen and understand. Therefore calm, gentle speech must be learned.
It is very moving to be there and to listen to them, listening to each other and speaking to each other.
And after several session of deep compassionate listening, transformation took place. This group realized that the other group is made also of human beings and they have also suffered very deeply. They tell us how they suffer, how their children suffer, how they are victims of discrimination and fear and injustice.
The practice of gentle speaking, loving speech and deep listening have brought about wonderful results.
These Palestinians and Israeli's have become brothers and sisters to each other in the practice. And for the first time they said, for the first time, they believed peace in the middle east is possible.
PEACE IN THE MIDDLE EAST IS POSSIBLE
You can not love, you can not love unless you understand. You can not be compassionate and accept the other person unless you understand him, her or them.
But understanding what? Understanding their suffering, their difficulties, their obstacles, their despair. Once you have understand, your heart opens. The nectar of compassion springs up. And you don't suffer any more because compassion has been born in your heart.
And when you have compassion in your heart you can help the other person to suffer less. You are able to use gentle speech, loving speech. You are able to help him or her to remove the wrong perceptions. Because these wrong perceptions have led to anger, hatred and fear and a willingness to punish.
The purpose of mindfulness and concentration leads to insight. The practice of deep listing and loving speech helps to remove wrong understands, wrong perceptions. Because wrong perceptions are the very ground of violence and terrorism.
You don't want to destroy them. You don't want to annihilate them as a people, as a nation, as a culture, as a religion, but they believe that you want to destroy them. And that is why they want to punish you, they want to destroy you, so you won't destroy them.
I was there when the event of September 11, happened.
On the 13th of September I gave a dharma talk in Berkerly for 4,000 people. I only said that violence can not respond to violence, hatred can not respond to hatred, only compassion can respond to hatred and violence.
It is my conviction that America is capable of being compassionate and understanding.
On the 25th of September again I spoke, in New York City. And I repeated, I brought the same kind of message. And I made a very concrete proposal for America so that American can overcome her suffering. And if America can overcome her suffering she can help others to overcome their suffering also.
AMERICA HAS TO LISTEN TO HER OWN SUFFERING
And this is what I proposed. First American has to listen to her own suffering, because there is suffering in America. There are sections of the population who believe, who feel that they are victims of discrimination and injustice. There are sections of the population who feel that they have never been listened to, they have never been understood.
It is my conviction that in America there are those of you who are very capable of listening deeply and with compassion. We have to identify them. We have invite them to come and form a kind of council, kind of parliament for compassionate deep listening.
There is a vast resource of peace in America. We have to identify these resources. Especially the people who know. Who are capable of understanding with compassion. Who are capable of listening deeply with compassion. And after we have formed that council of sages we will invite the sections of the population who have felt they have been discriminated against.
We can invite them to come and will assure them they are safe. If they want to speak out they are safe, provided that they learn how to speak with gentle speech. That those of us who can come and help them to breath, to walk, to embrace their suffering so that they can express themselves peacefully, the suffering in their heart.
The way we do in Plum Village for our friends from the Middle East. We help them to breathe, to calm, to embrace their suffering and their fear and their anger. Sessions of deep compassionate listening like that can be televised to the whole population of America.
SESSIONS OF DEEP COMPASSIONATE LISTENING CAN BE TELEVISED
Politicians of this country can profit greatly from these sessions of practice of deep listening and gentle expression. And the practice will inspire a lot of confidence on the part of other nations in the world. They will say look America is now capable of listening to their own suffering. How wonderful.
If they can understand themselves they will be able to understand us, as well.
We have never asked Mr. Osama bin Laden about his suffering. We have never asked Mr. Saddam Hussain about his suffering and frustration. We can not say that we have understood completely these people. They must have suffered a lot. They must have a lot of wrong perceptions on themselves and on us, on America.
Imagine President Bush and others speaking like this:
Dear people out there, we know that you must have suffered a great deal in order to have done such a thing to us in New York. We know that you must have hated us so much that you have done such a thing to us in New York.
You may have thought that we want to destroy you as a people, as a nation, as a culture, as a religion. But really we don't have that intention. We may have done something or said something that has given you that impression, that has created so much hatred and fear and violence in you so you could have done such a thing to us.
We want to listen to you. Please tell us what is in your heart.
USING THE BOMBS IS NOT THE MOST COURAGEOUS THING
Using the bomb is not the most courageous thing. Using the bombs may show that we are afraid.
Using our intuitions, our understanding, and our compassion show that we are great, we are brave, we are courageous. And I hope that our politicians can use that kind of language.
We want to understand you. We want to understand about your suffering, your difficulties.
In fact, we want you to have safety, to live in safety, in peace, with a capacity to grow as a nation. Because we know that if you don't have safety, we won't have safety either. Because we inter-are.
We are connected to each other. If you suffer deeply there is no way we over here can be truly happy. That is the language of truth, the language of insight, the language of inter-being.
The north and the south are connected. The suffering of the south can make the north suffer, the suffering of the north can make the south suffer.
We all inter-are. That is why, when we take care of other people, if we can offer them more safety, more conditions for development and then they have more safety and they have more peace also.
TERRORISM HAS ITS ROOTS IN WRONG PERCEPTIONS
Terrorism has its roots in wrong perceptions. Of course they have wrong perception on us, and also our wrong perceptions on us and on them.
When we live together as a couple, if we don't understand each other, we make each other suffer. Love is not possible without understanding.
Can't you make her happy if you don't understand her. No. That is why you have got to have the time to be mindful and to understand her difficulties, her suffering her despair, her hope.
DIRECT ACTION FOR PEACE
And a direct action for peace is to remove these wrong perceptions. All of have to become strategists. We have to look deeply on the possibility of helping to remove these wrong perceptions and we can't do that with the bombs.
The instruments proposed by the Buddha: breathing, calming, understanding, listen deeply with compassion. These are instruments that our politicians should know how to use. Our politicians have not been trained in acting like that and we should help them. We should support them.
There are people that are capable of doing so in our population in our nation. And we have to call on them to help in difficult moments like this one.
Ten days ago we had a mindfulness retreat in the Boston area. 900 people have come together to practice together six days, the practice of calming, embracing, and looking deeply. 900 Americans practicing together mindfulness of looking deeply of our situation. We organized that retreat in Stone Hill College in eastern Massachusetts.
All of us had practice, sitting quietly, breathing in and out deeply and looking deeply into our situation. The situation of our nation and of the world.
And in dharma discussions many groups have come up with the intention in order to do something in order to prevent a new war from taking place.
For initiating real processes of peace in order to remove the wrong perceptions on our part, on their part, on ourselves, on themselves and on each other.
They have the proposed text that may be used as an instrument to meditate and to generate the kind of insight and action that is needed to bring peace to our situation.
I will ask a nun, to come up and read that text for you.
A PROPOSAL TO LISTEN FOR PEACE
A Proposal to listen for peace. A petition for a future to be possible
In light of the intensifying conflicts around the planet and before another war is declared. We call upon the United States and the world community to pause. As one humanity we cannot survive the continuing cycle of violence in response to violence.
There are alternative responses.
To avoid further violence and division, we propose a process of listening, healing and reconciliation on both a national and international level.
Peace begins with each one of us.
In order for the United States to truly support the harmony and safety of other nations in the world. We must first nourish harmony and safety in our own country. We have a need to listen to the suffering of our own people, caused by discrimination and violence. Listening with compassion to the suffering would increase national understanding and trust and show us paths out of division and despair. Recognizing the deep strength and good will of our nation.
We know we have the capacity to do this.
On the national level we call upon the United States and the mass media to explore the vast resources of wisdom and experience of many United States citizens who have been trained in and who have practiced the art of mediation and reconciliation.
These community and spiritual leaders would come together to form local and national forums for compassionate listening, to representatives of communities that suffer in the United States. When possible the forums would be televised.
Emerging from these forums creative new solutions and legislation should be enacted to improve the lives of those who suffer in the United States.
This would alleviate the despair in this land that could otherwise explode into future acts of violence and terrorism.
We recognize that the peace, well being, and safety of the people within the United States and the peace, well being and safety of rest of the world are inextricably interwoven.
If the United States were to embody strong compassionate leadership through such self examination and reform we could give hope to other nations to begin similar processes.
On the international level we propose that a parliament of peace be created to listen to the people suffering of people throughout the world. And to offer courageous alternatives to war.
One of it's immediate concerns would be conflict in the middle east, particularly the possibility of war between the United States and Iraq.
This international process would not duplicate the vital role of the United Nations. It's initial focus would not be dialogue between political representatives of nation states.
Instead it would create a safe space for representatives of other sections of the population who have endured great suffering to share and listen to each others stories and their visions for a peaceful world.
This sharing should be taken seriously by political leadership.
All of our steps must be taken with careful intention.
We call upon all nations and the United States in particular to answer this immediate need. Not by hastening toward increased tragedy.
But by moving calmly toward peace.