Readings from Thich Nhat Hanh
and some others
- Thay's Dharma Talk 7/23/97
.The Dharma is not a lecture. The Dharma in the Buddhist tradition is a kind of rain. Our consciousness should behave like the soil, the earth. We have to allow the Dharma talk to penetrate. According to the Buddha we have seeds of understanding, of awakening, of compassion, within ourselves. We don't need these seeds to be transmitted from the teacher. We already have all of them in the depth of our consciousness. We call it store consciousness, sometimes earth consciousness. Because these seeds are buried deep in the mind, in the soil of our consciousness, it is very hard for them to grow and manifest. Above there are many layers of suffering, confusion, prejudices and so on, and our intellect can never go deep enough. Our intellect very often contradicts our deepest nature and therefore to allow the intellect to rest and to open our earth store in order for the rain of the Dharma to penetrate is very important.
We have to listen to the Dharma with that kind of spirit, to allow the soil of our consciousness to be penetrated by the Dharma rain, not using ideas, concepts, that we already have to compare and to classify. That is very important. If we are already used to that kind of listening, using only the intellect to judge, to compare, to classify, we have to learn a new way, because listening to a Dharma talk is not the same thing as learning the philosophy of Buddhism. They are two things, quite different. A lady who left us yesterday said that during one hour and a half, Thây said very much the same thing. He could have done it in fifteen minutes. She was very hungry for ideas, but she did not realize that a Dharma talk is a time for practice. The teacher is supposed to offer the Dharma rain in such a way that the good seeds in the people can be penetrated and can sprout and become flowers, the flower of understanding, the flower of compassion and so on.
Using our intellect is like using a nylon sheet to order to receive the rain, or nylon buckets to receive the rain. When you use a nylon sheet, you prevent the rain from penetrating into the soil. That is why there is a way to listen to Dharma talks. That way is not to use your intellect. You let your whole person be penetrated by the Dharma, and your person includes the body. We know that our consciousness has so many layers and the deepest layers are very difficult to reach and therefore we have to bring our selves to a state of oneness. The body is there and the mind is there, the consciousness is there, and we just allow the rain of the Dharma to fall.
Listening to a dharma talk is also a form of practice. That is why we have to sit in such a way that we are really present, body and consciousness at the same time. We have to dwell in the present moment. We have to allow ourselves to be available to the Dharma and the Dharma will be available to us.
- Thay's Dharma Talk 7/23/97
When I wrote Living Buddha, Living Christ, I said that mindfulness is the energy of the Buddha that is in you and its nature is the same nature as the Holy Spirit, because where there is mindfulness, there is life. Where there is attention, there is life. When you drink a glass of orange juice in mindfulness, you are real and the juice is real, and because you and the juice are real, life is real. If you drink your orange juice in forgetfulness, you are caught by your anger, your jealousy; you are caught by the past, by the fear of the future, you are not really there for your orange juice and your orange juice is not really there for you. So you and orange juice, both of you are not real, and therefore, life is not real at that moment.
So to drink mindfully means to be alive again, to live deeply that moment of orange juice drinking. Since the energy of mindfulness is in you, the energy of holiness is in you. Where there is mindfulness there is life, your presence and the presence of life in you. Then if you continue to contemplate mindfulness, you will see that you will become more concentrated. Yes, you drink mindfully your orange juice, you are concentrated, even if your juice is not concentrated. Every step you make when you practice walking meditation makes you concentrated. You touch life deeply every step you make. So mindfulness is there and concentration is there, also.
Mindfulness carries within itself the energy of concentration. If you are concentrated, you are strong. When you look deeply, you touch deeply, and because you are able to look deeply and touch deeply, you get insight. You understand the nature of what is there: the object of your touching, the object of your looking. Therefore, the energy of concentration carries itself. The energy of insight is a liberating factor. If we suffer because we don't understand, because we are overwhelmed by illusion, ignorance, once we get insight we no longer suffer. We are no longer angry and suspicious. Therefore, our insight is the liberating factor, and without concentration and mindfulness, insight would not be possible.
- Thay's Dharma Talk 7/23/97
In holy people, there is a seed of mindfulness, but in all of us there is also a seed of mindfulness. If we practice recognizing that seed deep in our consciousness and help it to grow and to manifest often, the energy of mindfulness increases all the time and it is the substance of holiness in us. So, first of all, the practice is to recognize that we do have that seed deep in our consciousness and this is easy because every one of us is able to drink our juice mindfully. Every one of us is able to look at a flower mindfully. Every one of us is capable of breathing in mindfully. So the seed of mindfulness is really there, deep inside of us. We don't live our daily life mindfully because we have not allowed that seed of mindfulness in us to be touched every day by ourselves and by the people around us. We have not been able to make it grow and become important in our lives.
The practice of mindfulness is first of all to recognize that seed. Then to do everything for that seed to be touched every day. This will enable it to become a source of energy that will make us more alive in our daily life. When we know how to live mindfully, we live concentrated. And if we live concentrated, we begin to understand deeply. When we understand deeply, we suffer much less.
Thay's Dharma Talk 8/13/97
Paramita means perfection, the perfection of the crossing over to the other shore. We have seen that a paramita is not so difficult to practice; even children can do it. Paramita means from this shore of suffering we cross over to the other shore, the shore of well-being. From the shore of anger, we cross to the shore of non-anger. From the shore of jealousy, we cross over to the shore of non-jealousy. If you know how to do it, you can cross over to the other shore very quickly. It is a matter of training, it is a matter of practice, and you can do that with the help of another person or many other persons. It's nice to cross the stream of suffering together, hand in hand. So every time you want to cross, if you feel that alone it would be a little bit too difficult, you ask someone to hold your hand and you cross together the stream of suffering with him or with her.
If you feel you are caught in anger and that anger is a kind of fire burning you, you don't want that; you don't want to stay on this shore suffering from anger_you want to get relief, you want to cross to the other shore. You have to do something. Row your boat to go to the other side. Whether that is walking meditation, mindful breathing, or anything that you have learned in your practice, it can be a boat helping you to cross over to the other shore. Next time when you feel that you don't like it on this shore, you have to make a determination to cross to the other shore. You may like to say to a person that you love that you don't want to stay here on this shore, you want to cross over to the other shore, and you may like to ask the other person to help you to cross. There are many things we can do together. Sitting and listening to the bell_we can do together, as Sangha brothers and sisters, as mother and child, or father and child. We can sit down and practice together.
- Thay's Dharma Talk 8/13/97
In terms of consciousness, we know that there are seeds to be watered and there are seeds to be transformed. If we can continue to water the positive seeds but refrain from watering the negative seeds and instead transform them_that is the process of continued transformation. Let us visualize our consciousness. The lower part we call "store consciousness" (alayavijñana) and the upper part is "mind consciousness"(manovijñana). We know that in our store consciousness there are all kinds of seeds, positive and negative, buried here. If it is a negative seed, the practice consists in preventing it from manifesting itself in the upper part of consciousness. You recognize that there is a negative seed in you and you would not like it to be watered, because if it is watered then it will have a chance to manifest itself in the upper level of your consciousness and it will then become a mental formation.
Suppose this is a seed of anger. As far as it accepts to stay still in the store consciousness, you can survive, you are fine, you can smile, you can be joyful, you can even be happy with the seed of anger in you, with the condition that it accepts to stay still. But if someone comes and waters it, touches it, or you yourself water it, then it will manifest itself on the level of mind consciousness, and then there is a zone of energy called anger, and it makes the whole scenery unpleasant. It may stay here for some time, maybe for a few minutes, sometimes a half hour, sometimes the whole day, and the more it stays, the more you suffer. And the more it is here, manifested, the stronger it becomes at the base. So if you allow it to manifest, you get two disadvantages. The first is that you suffer up here, and the second is that it grows bigger here.
So if you love yourself, if you care for yourself, you have to arrange so that you will be protected, you will not touch it and water it, and you ask your friends not to water it. "Dear people, you know me, you know my weakness, you know these seeds in me. So, please, if you love me, if you do care for me, please refrain, please do your best to protect me and not to touch, to water these seeds in me." We have to sign a peace treaty. We don't practice alone, we practice with a sangha, with the people we love also.
If it has already manifested, then we should know the ways to embrace it and to help it go back as soon as possible to the store consciousness. Because the sooner it goes back, the better you can feel; because here you don't have to suffer long, and down here it doesn't have a chance to grow too big. The negative should not be encouraged to manifest. And if it has manifested, do whatever you can to take care of it and to have it go back down here as soon as possible.
- Thay's Dharma Talk 8/13/97
Locking up the people who use drugs and who do violence is okay, but that is not the best thing to do. There are better things to do. There are things you can do to prevent them from being what they are now, and that is the work of love. In the enemy, you can see the beloved one. That does not mean that I would allow them to continue the crime, the violence, to destroy. I would do whatever I could to prevent them from causing harm, but that does not prevent me from loving them. Compassion is another kind of energy.
You say that anger is a formidable source of energy that pushes you to act. But anger prevents you from being clear in mind, from being clear sighted. Anger cannot give you lucidity, and in anger you can do many wrong things. As parents, we should not teach our children when we are angry. Teaching our children when we are angry is not the best time. It does not mean that we should not teach them, but we teach them only when we are no longer angry. We don't teach with the energy of anger, we teach only with the energy of love, of compassion. That is true with the criminals, with the people who are destroying life. We have to act, but we should not use the energy of anger as fuel. We have to use the energy of sacrifice, the energy of compassion.
Great beings like the Buddha or Jesus Christ, they know the power of compassion, of love. And there are people among us who are ready to suffer, to die, for love. Please don't underestimate the power of compassion, of love. With the energy of compassion in you, you continue to remain lucid and understanding is there. When understanding is there, you will not make a mistake. You are motivated by love, but the love is born from understanding.
A Gradual Awakeningby Stephen Levine
The more we accept of ourselves, the more fully we experience the world. The more we accept our anger, our loneliness, our desire systems, the more we can hear others and the more we can hear ourselves…
When we can be with whatever is happening in the moment, our sense of completeness will be present. Our feelings of wholeness, of fulfillment, will be present as we open to whatever is happening in the moment. We don’t have to do anything about it. Doing is usually the desire for something to be otherwise. When we can surrender into the moment without any attachment anywhere, so that anything that arises is seen with a soft, non-judging mind, we experience our completeness. We can be with our loneliness or our fear, or even our self-consciousness in a very complete way. We see that those are just passing states of mind, and, though they may be painful to acknowledge, the recognition of their presence is the truth and the truth is beautiful. It means really accepting all of what we are. Only when we accept all of what we are, are we going to see what’s behind it.
Anger is a particularly good example of something we don’t want to acknowledge in ourselves, something we judge as “bad.” But when frustration arises, anger often follows. When we’re watching the mind closely, we can see frustration turn to anger. We can observe that unfulfilled wanting all of a sudden flip into anger. We see how a frustration has become an anger, and that often the anger seeks something to blame. The anger is: we want it, we didn’t get it, and then the closing of the heart turns into a clenched fist.
Striking out at somebody in anger is not a very creative or wholesome karmic event in our life. There are a lot of other ways we can deal with this, but suppressing anger and closing our hearts to ourselves because we are angry is not one of them. We can trust ourselves when we acknowledge our anger, when we acknowledge our fear. These mind states are only a big thing when we feed them or fight them. When we cultivate the mindfulness that can accept them, we acknowledge our wholeness, and see it all as it is. Just more stuff, more bubbles passing through the vast space of mind.
In the Lap of the Buddhaby Gavin Harrison
Faith is the trust that no matter what is happening in our lives, we are exactly where we need to be, in the circumstances best designed for our individual spiritual journey. This view shifts our focus from punishment to opportunity. We no longer try to bear up under the crushing weight of circumstances, we use those circumstances for growth. This shift is radical. Faith gives meaning to the challenges that come. It opens up profound possibilities in life. With faith we go forward and move mountains.
For many people, grappling with faith is a great part of the spiritual journey. Sometimes we feel spontaneously inspired and dream great dreams, but at other times faith seems to have deserted us. We may also discover that faith is conditioned and impermanent. Can we cultivate a long-enduring mind that will allow even our faith to come and go?
When considering the lack of faith, what we find in the end, is fear. Fear is the opposite of faith. If we are engulfed by fear, there can be no faith. In our movement toward faith we must get to know all the masks of fear, such as fear of pain, death, loneliness, insecurity, confusion-and a fear of fear itself. Faith and trust take us to our edges, and it is at these same edges that faith and trust thrive.
To live fully means to take risks, sometimes going right to our limits. This takes a lot of guts. Fear dictates that we must hold on, while faith allows us to move beyond the limitations of fear into the deepest dimensions of love.
(Being Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh) [pg. 35-36]The Buddha taught that this is like this, because that is like that. You see? Because you smile, I am happy. This is like this, therefore that is like that. And that is like that because this is like this. This is called dependent co-arising.
There is a story in the Pali Canon about a father and a daughter who performed in the circus. The father would place a very long bamboo stick on his forehead, and his daughter would climb to the top of the stick. When they did this, people gave them some money to buy rice and curry to eat. One day the father told the daughter, “My dear daughter, we have to take care of each other. You have to take care of your father, and I have to take care of you, so that we will be safe.” Because if she fell, then broke her leg, they wouldn’t have anything to eat. The daughter was wise. She said “Father, you take good care of yourself and I take good care of myself. In that way we can continue to earn our living.” The Buddha agreed that the daughter was right.
So if we are friends, our happiness depends on each other. According to this teaching, I have to take care of myself and you take care of yourself. That way we help each other. I have to take care of myself, knowing that I am responsible for your happiness, and if you do the same everything will be all right. This is the Buddhist teaching about perception, based on the principle of dependent co-arising. Buddhism is easy to learn!
(Healing into Life and Death by Stephen Levine) pg.52-53) We seldom accept all of ourselves. So many parts are pushed away. When we are feeling frightened, guilty, angry, self-loathing, do we hold ourselves in our arms and cradle ourselves? Do we treat ourselves like our only child? Or do we meet our pain with hatred, rejection, a drowsy blindness that leaves so much of ourselves unexplored and unhealed?
When we accidentally hit our thumb with a hammer or stub our toe, how do we meet that pain? Do we touch it with love or with aversion and disgust? Attending to the reaction, we notice how often we automatically meet our pain with anger and even hatred. We see how tightly conditioned we are. Just when we are most in need of our mercy, it is often the least available. Where is that exquisite tenderness that is always a potential but is so seldom encouraged?...The mind’s intense reaction to the unpleasant gives some insight into its relationship to discomfort in the body as well-a crushing denial, a suicidal attempt not to exist so as not to experience. Seeing the nature of mind’s holding to its suffering, we begin to let go and look with mercy on a lifetime of pain so that nothing limits the resolution of ancient conflicts or blocks our natural healing.
(Spiritual Healingby Sufi Inayat Khan) [pg. 40] Sometimes a person says “I believe only in healing, I will not touch medicine, it is material”; that is wrong. Sometimes a person says, “I only believe in medicine, I have no faith in healing”; that is wrong too. To grow towards perfect health, to bring about a cure, one must heal oneself from morning til evening. One should think, “Every ray of the sun cures me, the air heals me; the food I take has an effect on me; with every breath I inhale something which is healing, purifying, bringing me to perfect health.” With a hopeful attitude towards a cure, towards health, towards a perfect life, a person rises above disorders, which are nothing but inharmonious conditions of mind or body, and makes himself more fit to accomplish his life’s purpose.
It is not selfish to think about one’s health. No doubt it is undesirable to be thinking about one’s illness all the time, to worry about it, or to be too anxious about it; but to care about one’s health is the most religious thing there is, because it is the health of body and mind that enables one to do service to God and to one’s fellow-men, by which one accomplishes one’s life’s purpose.
The following is from "Anger: Wisdom for Cooling the Flames," By Thich Nhat Hanh
The majority of us wait until a war breaks out in order to begin some kind of effort to stop it. Many of us do not know that the roots of war are everywhere, including in our own thinking and way of life. We are not capable of seeing the war while it is still hidden. We begin to focus our attention on the war only when the war breaks out into the open and people start talking about it. Then we feel overwhelmed by the intensity of the war. We feel helpless. We take sides and feel that one is right and other is wrong. We condemn one side, but we have nothing to contribute towards ending the destruction caused by the war.
As a true practitioner, you have to practice looking deeply into the situation to see the war before it starts. You have to begin acting in order to stop the war before it breaks out into the open. With your insight and awareness, you can help other people to wake up and develop the same awareness. Then, together you can act skillfully in order to prevent the war from breaking out into the open....
Violence can never bring about peace and understanding. Only by looking deeply in order to understand the true roots of violence can we achieve peace.
REST IN PEACE
A poem by Thay, September 2001
I am a World Trade Center tower, standing tall in the
clear blue sky, feeling a violent blow in my side, and
I am a towering inferno of pain and suffering
imploding upon myself and collapsing to the
May I rest in peace.
I am a terrified passenger on a hijacked airplane
not knowing where we are going or that I am riding
on fuel tanks that will be instruments of death, and
I am a worker arriving at my office not knowing
that in just a moment my future will be obliterated.
May I rest in peace.
I am a pigeon in the plaza between the two towers
eating crumbs from someone's breakfast when fire
rains down on me from the skies, and I am a bed of
flowers admired daily by thousands of tourists now
buried under five stories of rubble.
May I rest in peace.
I am a firefighter sent into dark corridors of smoke
and debris on a mission of mercy only to have it
collapse around me, and I am a rescue worker
risking my life to save lives who is very aware that I
may not make it out alive.
May I rest in peace.
I am a survivor who has fled down the stairs and out
of the building to safety who knows that nothing will
ever be the same in my soul again, and I am a doctor
in a hospital treating patients burned from head to toe
who knows that these horrible images will remain in
my mind forever.
May I know peace.
I am a tourist in Times Square looking up at the giant
TV screens thinking
I'm seeing a disaster movie as I watch the Twin
Towers crash to the ground, and I am a New York
woman sending e-mails to friends and
family letting them know that I am safe.
May I know peace.
I am a piece of paper that was on someone's desk
this morning and now I'm debris scattered by the
wind across lower Manhattan, and I am a stone in
the graveyard at Trinity Church covered with soot
from the buildings that once stood proudly above
me, death meeting death.
May I rest in peace.
I am a dog sniffing in the rubble for signs of life,
doing my best to be of service, and I am a blood
donor waiting in line to make a simple but very
needed contribution for the victims.
May I know peace.
I am a resident in an apartment in downtown New
York who has been forced to evacuate my home, and
I am a resident in an apartment uptown who has
walked 100 blocks home in a stream of other
May I know peace.
I am a family member who has just learned that
someone I love has died, and I am a pastor who
must comfort someone who has suffered a
May I know peace.
I am a loyal American who feels violated and vows to
stand behind any military action it takes to wipe
terrorists off the face of the earth, and I am a loyal
American who feels violated and worries that people
who look and sound like me are all going to be
blamed for this tragedy.
May I know peace.
I am a frightened city dweller who wonders whether
I'll ever feel safe in a skyscraper again, and I am a
pilot who wonders whether there will ever be a way
to make the skies truly safe.
May I know peace.
I am the owner of a small store with five employees
that has been put out of business by this tragedy,
and I am an executive in a multinational corporation
who is concerned about the cost of doing business
in a terrorized world.
May I know peace.
I am a visitor to New York City who purchases
postcards of the World Trade Center Twin Towers
that are no more, and I am a television reporter trying
to put into words the terrible things I have seen.
May I know peace.
I am a boy in New Jersey waiting for a father who will
never come home, and I am a boy in a faraway
country rejoicing in the streets of my village because
someone has hurt the hated Americans.
May I know peace.
I am a general talking into the microphones about
how we must stop the terrorist cowards who have
perpetrated this heinous crime, and I am an
intelligence officer trying to discern how such a thing
could have happened on American soil, and I am a
city official trying to find ways to alleviate the suffering
of my people.
May I know peace.
I am a terrorist whose hatred for America knows no
limit and I am willing to
die to prove it, and I am a terrorist sympathizer
standing with all the enemies of American
capitalism and imperialism, and I am a master
strategist for a terrorist group who planned this
My heart is not yet capable of openness, tolerance,
May I know peace.
I am a citizen of the world glued to my television set,
fighting back my rage and despair at these horrible
events, and I am a person of faith struggling to
forgive the unforgivable, praying for the consolation
of those who have lost loved ones, calling upon
the merciful beneficence of
May I know peace.
So May it Be, And so it is.
May love open the hearts of every sentient being and
bring us to the ultimate understanding that we are
truly brothers and sisters, born of the same
creative source, and in this way may we all find
understanding, compassion, love and peace.
May we all know peace,
Interview of Thich Nhat Hanh by Anne Simkinson
If you could speak to Osama bin Laden, what would you say to him? Likewise, if you were to speak to the American people, what would you suggest we do at this point, individually and as a nation?
If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had acted in that cruel way. I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely, trust that they are really being heard.
After listening for some time, we might need to take a break to allow what has been said to enter into our consciousness. Only when we felt calm and lucid would we respond. We would respond point by point to what had been said. We would respond gently but firmly in such a way to help them to discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts from their own will.
For the American people, I would suggest that we do everything we can to restore our calm and our lucidity before responding to the situation. To respond too quickly before we have much understanding of the situation may be very dangerous. The first thing we can do is to cool the flames of anger and hatred that are so strong in us. As mentioned before, it is crucial to look at the way we feed the hatred and violence within us and to take immediate steps to cut off the nourishment for our hatred and violence.
When we react out of fear and hatred, we do not yet have a deep understanding of the situation. Our action will only be a very quick and superficial way of responding to the situation and not much true benefit and healing will occur. Yet if we wait and follow the process of calming our anger, looking deeply into the situation, and listening with great will to understand the roots of suffering that are the cause of the violent actions, only then will we have sufficient insight to respond in such a way that healing and reconciliation can be realized for everyone involved.
In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made attempts to realize this. All the parties involved in violence and injustice agreed to listen to each other in a calm and supportive environment, to look together deeply at the roots of violent acts and to find agreeable arrangements to respond to the situations. The presence of strong spiritual leaders is very helpful to support and maintain such an environment. We can look at this model for resolving conflicts that are arising right in the present moment; we do not have to wait many years to realize this.
* * * * *
You personally experienced the devastation caused by the war fought in Vietnam and worked to end the hostilities there. What do you say to people who are grief-stricken and enraged because they have lost loved ones in the terrorist attack?
I did lose my spiritual sons and daughters during the war when they were entering the fighting zone trying to save those under the bombs. Some were killed by war and some by murder due to the misunderstanding that they were supporting the other side. When I looked at the four slain corpses of my spiritual sons murdered in such a violent way, I suffered deeply.
I understand the suffering of those who have lost beloved ones in this tragedy. In situations of great loss and grief, I had to find my calm in order to restore my lucidity and my heart of understanding and compassion. With the practice of deep looking, I realized that if we respond to cruelty with cruelty, injustice and suffering will only increase.
When we learned of the bombing of the Bentra village in Vietnam, where 300,000 homes were destroyed, and the pilots told journalists that they had destroyed the village in order to save it, I was shocked, and [racked] with anger and grief. We practiced walking calmly and gently on the earth to bring back our calm mind and peaceful heart.
Although it is very challenging to maintain our openness in that moment, it is crucial that we not respond in any way until we have calmness and clarity with which to see the reality of the situation. We knew that to respond with violence and hatred would only damage ourselves and those around us. We practiced [so that we might] look deeply into the suffering of the people inflicting violence on us, to understand them more deeply and to understand ourselves more deeply. With this understanding we were able to produce compassion and to relieve our own suffering and that of the other side.
* * * * * *
What is the "right action" to take with regard to responding to terrorist attacks? Should we seek justice through military action? Through judicial processes? Is military action and/or retaliation justified if it can prevent future innocents from being killed?
All violence is injustice. The fire of hatred and violence cannot be extinguished by adding more hatred and violence to the fire. The only antidote to violence is compassion. And what is compassion made of? It is made of understanding. When there is no understanding, how can we feel compassion, how can we begin to relieve the great suffering that is there? So understanding is the very real foundation upon which we build our compassion.
How do we gain the understanding and insight to guide us through such incredibly challenging moments that we are now face in America? To understand, we must find paths of communication so that we can listen to those who desperately are calling out for our understanding--because such an act of violence is a desperate call for attention and for help.
How can we listen in a calm and clear way so that we don't immediately kill the chance for understanding to develop? As a nation we need to look into this: how to create the situations for deep listening to occur so that our response to the situation may arise out of our calm and clear mind. Clarity is a great offering that we can make at this time.
There are people who want one thing only: revenge. In the Buddhist scriptures, the Buddha said that by using hatred to answer hatred, there will only be an escalation of hatred. But if we use compassion to embrace those who have harmed us, it will greatly diffuse the bomb in our hearts and in theirs.
So how can we bring about a drop of compassion that can put out the fire of hatred? You know, they do not sell compassion in the supermarket. If they sold compassion, we would only need to bring it home and we could solve the problem of hatred and violence in the world very easily. But compassion can only be produced in our own heart by our own practice.
America is burning with hatred. That is why we have to tell our Christian friends, "You are children of Christ." You have to return to yourselves and look deeply and find out why this violence happened. Why is there so much hatred? What lies under all this violence? Why do they hate so much that they would sacrifice their own lives and bring about so much suffering to other people? Why would these young people, full of vitality and strength, have chosen to lose their lives, to commit such violence? That is what we have to understand.
We have to find a way to stop violence, of course. If need be, we have to put the men responsible in prison. But the important thing is to look deeply and ask, "Why did that happen? What responsibility do we have in that happening? " Maybe they misunderstood us. But what has made them misunderstand us so much to make them hate so much?
The method of the Buddha is to look deeply to see the source of suffering; the source of the violence. If we have violence within ourselves, any action can make that violence explode. This energy of hatred and violence can be very great and when we see that in the other person then we feel sorry for them. When we feel sorry for them, the drop of compassion is born in our hearts and we feel so much happier and so much more at peace in ourselves. That [empathy] produces the nectar of compassion within ourselves.
If you come to the monastery, it is in order to learn to do that, so that whenever you suffer and feel angry, you know how to look deeply, so that the drop of compassion in your heart can come out of your heart and can put out the fever of anger. Only the drop of compassion that can put out the flames of hatred.
We must look deeply and honestly at our present situation. If we are able to see the sources for the suffering within ourselves and within the other person, we can begin to unravel the cycle of hatred and violence. When our house is on fire, we must first put out the fire before investigating its cause. Likewise, if we first extinguish the anger and hatred in our own heart, we will have a chance to deeply investigate the situation with clarity and insight in order to determine all the causes and conditions that have contributed to the hatred and violence we are experiencing within ourselves and within our world.
The "right action" is the action that results in the fires of hatred and violence being extinguished.
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Do you believe that evil exists? And, if so, would you consider terrorists as evil persons?
Evil exists. God exists also. Evil and God are two sides of ourselves. God is that great understanding, that great love within us. That is what we call Buddha also, the enlightened mind that is able to see through all ignorance.
What is evil? It is when the face of God, the face of the Buddha within us has become hidden. It is up to us to choose whether the evil side becomes more important, or whether the side of God and the Buddha shines out. Although the side of great ignorance, of evil, may be manifesting so strongly at one time that does not mean that God is not there.
It is said clearly in the Bible, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." This means that an act of evil is an act of great ignorance and misunderstanding. Perhaps many wrong perceptions are behind an act of evil; we have to see that ignorance and misunderstanding is the root of the evil. Every human being contains within him or herself all the elements of great understanding, great compassion, and also ignorance, hatred, and violence.
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In your new book "Anger," you give an example of "compassionate listening" as a tool to heal families. Can that tool be used at a national level, and if so, how would that work?
This past summer a group of Palestinians and Israelis came to Plum Village, the practice center where I live in southern France, to learn and practice the arts of deep listening and loving speech. (Around 1,600 people come to Plum Village each summer from over a dozen countries to listen and to learn how to bring peace and understanding to their daily lives.) The group of Palestinians and Israelis participated in the daily schedule of walking meditation, sitting meditation, and silent meals, and they also received training on how to listen and speak to each other in such a way that more understanding and peace could be possible between them as individuals and as nations.
With the guidance and support of the monks and nuns, they sat down and listened to each other. When one person spoke no one interrupted him or her. Everyone practiced mindfulness of their breathing and listening in such a way that the other person felt heard and understood.
When a person spoke, they refrained from using words of blame, hatred, and condemnation. They spoke in an atmosphere of trust and respect. Out of these dialogues the participating Palestinians and Israelis were very moved to realize that both sides suffer from fear. They appreciated the practice of deep listening and made arrangements to share what they had learned with others upon returning to their home countries.
We recommended that the Palestinians and Israeli talk about their suffering, fears, and despair in a public forum that all the world could hear. We could all listen without judging, without condemning in order to understand the experience of both sides. This would prepare the ground of understanding for peace talks to occur.
The same situation now exists between the American people and people of Islamic and Arabic nations. There is much misunderstanding and lack of the kind of communication that hinders our ability to resolve our difficulties peacefully.
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Compassion is a very large part of Buddhism and Buddhist practice. But at this point in time, compassion towards terrorists seems impossible to muster. Is it realistic to think people can feel true compassion now?
Without understanding, compassion is impossible. When you understand the suffering of others, you do not have to force yourself to feel compassion, the door of your heart will just naturally open. All of the hijackers were so young and yet they sacrificed their lives for what? Why did they do that? What kind of deep suffering is there? It will require deep listening and deep looking to understand that.
To have compassion in this situation is to perform a great act of forgiveness. We can first embrace the suffering, both outside of America and within America. We need to look after the victims here within our country and also to have compassion for the hijackers and their families because they are also victims of ignorance and hatred. In this way we can truly practice non-discrimination. We do not need to wait many years or decades to realize reconciliation and forgiveness. We need a wake up call now in order not to allow hatred to overwhelm our hearts.
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Do you believe things happen for a reason? If so, what was the reason for the attacks on the U.S.A.?
The deep reason for our current situation is our patterns of consumption. U.S.A. citizens consume 60% of the world's energy resources yet they account for only 6% of the total world's population. Children in America have witnessed 100,000 acts of violence on television by the time they finish elementary school. Another reason for our current situation is our foreign policy and the lack of deep listening within our relationships. We do not use deep listening to understand the suffering and the real needs of people in other nations.
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What do you think would be the most effective spiritual response to this tragedy?
We can begin right now to practice calming our anger, looking deeply at the roots of the hatred and violence in our society and in our world, and listening with compassion in order to hear and understand what we have not yet had the capacity to hear and to understand. When the drop of compassion begins to form in our hearts and minds, we begin to develop concrete responses to our situation. When we have listened and looked deeply, we may begin to develop the energy of brotherhood and sisterhood between all nations, which is the deepest spiritual heritage of all religious and cultural traditions. In this way the peace and understanding within the whole world is increased day by day.
To develop the drop of compassion in our own heart is the only effective spiritual response to hatred and violence. That drop of compassion will be the result of calming our anger, looking deeply at the roots of our violence, deep listening, and understanding the suffering of everyone involved in the acts of hatred and violence.