It’s Gandhi Jayanti, and Non-Violence Day. So, who better than Thich Nhat Hanh, tireless advocate of non-violence, to guide a Peace Edition?

2 10 2008

SPEAKING FROM THE HEART:Thich Nhat Hanh

We hope his message will foster reconciliation and compassion

TIMES NEWS NETWORK

Source: TOI

Midway through the news meeting on Wednesday, the grim news came in: Agartala had been rocked by serial blasts. All eyes immediately turned to Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, the Guest Editor for our special Peace Edition. As journalists, what should we do on a day like this?

The Zen master, who has rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centres, resettled homeless families and for a lifetime advocated tirelessly the principles of non-violence and compassionate action, pondered for a while.

When he spoke, it was with great clarity,‘‘Report in a way that invites readers to take a look at why such things continue to happen and that they have their roots in anger, fear, hate and wrong perceptions. Prevent anger from becoming a collective energy. The only antidote for anger and violence is compassion. Terrorists are also victims, who create other victims of misunderstanding.’’

This, remember, is the monk — now 82 years old — credited with a big role in turning American public opinion against the war in Vietnam, for which Martin Luther King Jr had nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize in 1967. And so, his words are not to be dismissed lightly.

‘‘Every reader has seeds of fear, anger, violence and despair, and also seeds of hope, compassion, love and forgiveness,’’ said Thich Nhat Hahn, affectionately called Thay. ‘‘The stories should touch the seeds of hope. As journalists, you have the job of selectively watering the right seeds. You must attempt to tell the truth and yet not water the seeds of hate. It’s not what’s in the story, but how you tell it that’s important.’’

But how should the State deal with terror? Thay’s answer: ‘‘We should invite those who believe they are victims of discrimination and injustice to speak about it. We should initiate sessions of deep listening and invite deeply spiritual people, who don’t have to be famous, to attend these. We must televise these sessions nationally. I am sure you will see a dramatic drop in the level of violence. The key to compassion is understanding. A war on terror cannot succeed, because you cannot bomb perceptions. The only solution is dialogue.’’

Compassion first step towards non-violence

He cited the example of an experiment by his own group of monks and nuns at Plum Village, south of France, in 2006. ‘‘We asked people to write letters to terrorists and more than 40 letters came in. Some claimed, ‘I am the terrorist because I am also violent and there is suffering in me as well’. We need to get together. When we address suspicion and anger as a collective, when we talk informally about suffering, then we can find answers. If we reduce the violence in us, and change, then we change others around us because then we are connected to them.’’ Talking about world peace, the monk said, ‘‘Political leaders meet at peace summits but no lasting solutions to the world’s problems are found. Therefore, political leaders, before they get down to talking at summits, should practice sitting and walking in mindfulness, talking informally with each other and practice techniques to calm themselves. Only then can talks lead to positive results.’’

The history of Vietnam in the last century was fraught with violence. Thay has himself seen war from close quarters. Naturally, the question came up: Does he believe nonviolence can help find solutions in today’s complex world?

Thay’s reply was surprisingly pragmatic. ‘‘Non-violence can never be absolute. However, you can make aggressive action less violent. In war, the generals must try and avoid the death of innocents. Even soldiers can show compassion. The first step towards non-violence is to be calm and compassionate yourself.’’

Questions on wars and conflicts led to the next logical query. How can humanity relate with each other when it is divided within confines of national or ethnic or racial identities?
That brought the Buddhist teacher into his element, propounding on one of Buddhism’s basic tenets of ‘nonself’. The problem, he said, arises when one’s self is set against another’s self. Once we realize that self is made of non-self, then the issue of identity gets settled. ‘‘Man is made of nonme elements. I am made of so many non-me elements — my parents, the food I eat, the education I received, animals, vegetables. Take away all the ‘nonme’, and there is no ‘me’ left. Buddhism is made of non-Buddhist elements. A Christian is made of non-Christian elements and a Muslim is made of non-Muslim elements,’’ said Thay. Once we realize that we are all interconnected, we will begin caring for all other things.

That’s why, Thay says, we need to learn from suffering. Because only after we have understood the nature of suffering can we understand true happiness. ‘‘Happiness and safety can’t be individual matters. If you have peace inside yourself, only then can you promote peace in the world. Individual happiness is impossible, as is individual suffering. Because we are interconnected, not one but a collective.’’ And what about the financial crisis that is causing many to suffer? The answer, says Thay, is related to greed and fear. ‘‘As journalists, you must help people so that they don’t become victims of greed and fear. If the aim is happiness, then you must be prepared to give up riches and fame and power, all of which are transitory.’’ Can the modern economy — fuelled by conspicuous consumption — co-exist with a monk’s lifestyle? After all, if everyone stopped consumption, industries would shut down and unemployment would rise. So should individuals, in their pursuit of ‘selfish’ happiness, create unhappiness for others?

‘‘Many of us have started believing in happiness through consumption. But happiness is largely a problem of the mind. You don’t have to run into the future, you have enough conditions to be happy right here and now. But in our search for more conditions to be happy, we sacrifice the present. The remedy for us is to go home to the present moment. Don’t get stuck with the past or get sucked into the future. So many wonders of life are with you. Development is like a wild horse that we are riding, over which we have lost control,’’ responded Thay.
But then, isn’t it much simpler for a monk to talk about not consuming than for people who have to deal with the world on the world’s terms? Can regular people with regular lives follow his teachings?

According to Thay, ‘‘The meditative practice is for everyone, monks and non-monks, the young and the less young. The conditions for reaching out for Buddha-hood are there for everyone. We are just caught up in our worries and projects. The kingdom of God is available for you. But are you available for the kingdom?’’

Advertisements

Actions

Information

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s




%d bloggers like this: