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Thich Nhat Hanh on Terrorism and Compassion

Thich-Nhat-Hanh

This past Sunday, Krista Tippett of the public radio program, On Being, rebroadcast her interview with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk in exile, Thich Nhat Hanh, at a retreat in the United States about. ten years ago. Much of what he had to say is still relevant. Here is an excerpt from the transcript. You can find more on the web  of this particular program here.

In the transcript, Thich Nhat Hanh is referred to as “Brother Thay.”

Ms. Tippett: Some of the things you’ve said about the war on terror, you used the word “forgiveness” right away, and I don’t think that was a word that was anywhere in our public discourse in this country. But I also heard you this morning, when you were speaking with the group, talking about the responsibility of everyone also for policies, global policies. Say some more about that, about what role individuals have to play even in something like the war on terror, from your perspective.

Brother Thây: The individual has to wake up to the fact that violence cannot end violence, that only understanding and compassion can neutralize violence because, with the practice of loving speech and compassionate listening, you can begin to understand people and help people to remove the wrong perceptions in them because these wrong perceptions are at the foundation of their anger, their fear, their violence, their hate. And listen deeply. You might be able to remove the wrong perception you have within yourself concerning you and concerning them. So the basic practice in order to remove terrorism and war is the practice of removing wrong perceptions, and that cannot be done with the bombs and the guns. And it is very important that our political leaders realize that and apply the techniques of communication.

We live in a time when we have a very sophisticated means for communication, but communication has become very difficult between individuals and groups of people. A father cannot talk to a son, mother cannot talk to a daughter, and maybe husband cannot talk to a wife. And Israelis cannot talk to Palestinians, and Hindus cannot talk to Muslims. And that is why we have war, we have violence. That is why restoring communication is the basic work for peace, and our political and our spiritual leaders have to focus all their energy on this matter.

Ms. Tippett: But I think some would say — people in positions of power would say that they simply can’t wait for that communication to happen or for that change to take place, that they also have to act now.

Brother Thây: If they cannot communicate with themselves, if they cannot communicate with members of their family, if they cannot communicate with people in their own country, they have no understanding that will serve as a base for right action, and they will make a lot of mistakes.

Ms. Tippett: I’m wondering if, you know, by way of bringing this back to you and the practice and how you know the practice, if you would read this poem, “For Warmth,” and talk about how you think about anger and how one lives with anger. Being mindful doesn’t take away all these emotions. Right? These human emotions.

Brother Thây: Well, we have to remain human, you know, in order to be able to understand and to be compassionate. You have the right to be angry, but you don’t have the right not to practice in order to transform your anger. You have the right to make mistakes, but you don’t have the right to continue making mistakes. You have to learn from the mistakes.

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. And would you say something about when you — the occasion on which you wrote this poem also?

Brother Thây: I wrote this poem after I hear the news that the city of Ben Tre was bombed, and an American army officer declared that he had to destroy the town in order to save the town. It was so very shocking for us. In fact, there were a number of guerillas who came to the town, and we use anti-aircraft gun to shoot, and, because of that, they bombarded the town and killed so many civilians.

Ms. Tippett: Was it 1965 or something like that?

Brother Thây: Yeah, around that time.

Ms. Tippett: OK.

Brother Thây: [speaking Vietnamese]

Ms. Tippett: [translating]) “I hold my face between my hands. No, I am not crying. I hold my face between my hands to keep my loneliness warm, two hands protecting, two hands nourishing, two hands to prevent my soul from leaving me in anger.”

Brother Thây: When you notice that anger is coming up in you, you have to practice mindful breathing in order to generate the energy of mindfulness, in order to recognize your anger and embrace it tenderly, so that you can bring relief into you and not to act and to say things that can destroy, that can be destructive. And doing so, you can look deeply into the nature of the anger and know where it has come from. That practice help us to realize that not only Vietnamese civilians and military were victims of the war, but also American men and women who came to Vietnam to kill and to be killed were also victims of the war.

[music]

Ms. Tippett: So here’s the question that occurs to me again and again. These root causes are so simple in a way — wrong perception…

Brother Thây: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: …poor communication…

Brother Thây: Yes.

Ms. Tippett: …anger that may have its place in human life but then needs to be acted on mindfully, in your language. Why is it so hard for human beings — and I think this is as true in a family as it is in global politics mdash; to take these simple things seriously, these simple aspects of being human?

Brother Thây: I don’t think it is difficult. In the many retreats that we offer in Europe, in America, in many other countries, awakening, understanding, compassion and reconciliation can take place after a few days of practice. People need an opportunity so that the seed of compassion, understanding in them to be watered, and that is why we are not discouraged. We know that if there are more people joining in the work of offering that opportunity, then there will be a collective awakening.

Ms. Tippett: I look at you and I also see that you view the world through the eyes of compassion, which is another term you use, and that I see the weight of that on you. It is also a burden to look at the world straight and to see suffering and to see the sources of suffering wherever you look.

Brother Thây: When you have compassion in your heart, you suffer much less, and you are in a situation to be and to do something to help others to suffer less. This is true. So to practice in such a way that brings compassion into your heart is very important. A person without compassion cannot be a happy person. And compassion is something that is possible only when you have understanding. Understanding brings compassion. Understanding is compassion itself. When you understand the difficulties, the suffering, the despair of the other person, you don’t hate him, you don’t hate her anymore.

Ms. Tippett: What would compassion look like towards a terrorist, let’s say?

Brother Thây: The terrorists, they are victims of their wrong perceptions. They have wrong perceptions on themselves, and they have wrong perceptions of us. So the practice of communication, peaceful communication, can help them to remove their wrong perceptions on them and on us and the wrong perceptions we have on us and on them. This is the basic practice. This is the principle. And I hope that our political leaders understand this and take action right away to help us. And we, as citizens, we have to voice our concern very strongly because we should support our political leaders because we have help elect them. We should not leave everything to them. We should live out daily in such a way that we could have the time and energy in order to bring our light, our support to our political leaders. We should not hate our leaders. We should not be angry at our leaders. We should only support them and help them to see right in order to act right.

Ms. Tippett: I want to finish because I know I’ve taken a lot of your time. I want to ask you, this is from Fragrant Palm Leaves, which I know is a journal you wrote in the 1960s, but this is about Zen: “Zen is not merely a system of thought. Zen infuses our whole being with the most pressing question we have.” What are your pressing questions at this point in your life?

Brother Thây: Pressing questions?

Ms. Tippett: Mm-hmm. What are the questions you work through in your practice just personally, I wonder.

Brother Thây: I do not have any questions right now. My practice is to live in the here and the now. And it is a great happiness for you to be able to live and to do what you like to live and to do. My practice is centered in the present moment. I know that if you know how to handle the present moment right, with our best, and then that is about everything you can do for the future. That is why I’m at peace with myself. That’s my practice every day, and that is very nourishing.

Ms. Tippett: And I wonder, living that way and practicing that way, does forgiveness become instinctive? Does there become a point where you no longer react with anger but immediately become compassionate and forgiving?

Brother Thây: When you practice looking at people with the eyes of compassion, that kind of practice will become a good habit. And you are capable of looking at the people in such a way that you can see the suffering, the difficulties. And if you can see, then compassion will naturally flow from your heart. It’s for your sake, and that is for their sake also. In The Lotus Sutra, there is a wonderful, five-word sentence. “Looking at living beings with the eyes of compassion,” and that brings you happiness, that brings relief into the world, and this practice can be done by every one of us.

I Declare World Peace.

Peace Day ~ 2013

Tomorrow, September 21, is the International Day of Peace, a very important day. it is a United Nations designated day “devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace both within and among all nations and peoples.” Accordingly, it is also to be a Day of Ceasefire.

It is to be a day for a prayer, an act, a thought for peace. I believe it can also be a day to take stock, for reflection.

Our world is a mess as it always is. However, there have been important moves of late that are important to my area of concern. Wherever they may lead or not lead, peace talks have been restarted between Israelis and Palestinians. The new president of Iran, Hassan Rohani, a moderate, is reaching out to the West, especially U.S. president, Barack Obama. The two have even corresponded. The United States has at least delayed and maybe cancelled its proposed military strike on Syria. Syria is declaring its chemical weapons and wants to be under the international Chemical Weapons Treaty. I also note that the new pope of the Roman Catholic Church, Francis I, is calling for a kinder, gentler church with an emphasis on the poor, marginalized, and oppressed.

Israeli Apartheid and Occupation of Palestinians with related strife continue. The Syrian Civil War continues, becoming more complicated with fighting between the opposition forces and with a huge outpouring of refugees, not to mention internal displacement. The pope has not changed his mind on women priests and sexual matters. Iran, it is said, will not turn into a liberal democracy. In other words, though baby steps for peace may be taken, difficulties, injustice, strife, and violence do continue.

However, for Peace Day and everyday, I Declare World Peace.

I Declare World Peace

 

I also encourage the signing of the Charter for Compassion, believing that the practice of compassion and the related Golden Rule, including by nations,  is the way to peace.

The Cry of the People

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Photo: Doctors in Fallujah, Iraq are registering hundreds of babies with severe birth defects, which they attribute to Depleted Uranium munitions and other war toxins. [Dr Samira Alani/Al Jazeera]*

 

My husband is rereading Reckoning with Apocalypse: Terminal Politics and Christian Hope by Dale Aukerman (Crossroad Publishing, 1993). He has pointed out to me a passage that quite moved me and pertains to our own world situation:

The Cry of the People

Jews in Palestine during the earthly ministry of Jesus were a subject people under the Roman overlordship. They had virtually no access to the central power of the Empire. The rule under which they lived came upon them from above. They did not have a participatory voice for choosing that rule or the rulers. Jewish collaborators took part as an elite that imposed roman authority, as well as their own, on the masses. That political situation seems quite remote from present-day democracy in the West.

Yet the most significant decision made by Roman authorities during the centuries of the Empire was that of crucifying Jesus of Nazareth, and, ironically, the local population did have a participatory voice in that decision. It was sort of direct democracy between the crowd and Pilate. Much Roman decision-making was oriented toward killing on behalf of the Empire, and the execution of Jesus was in line with that, even though Pilate, who alone had the requisite authority, drew back. But “the people,” incited by their leaders (Mt. 27:20), had their say, and Pilate went along with vox populi.

 When i gaze at photographs of Jews, especially children, being rounded up for Auschwitz, I try to comprehend  for those few something of the tragedy of it all. Anne Frank’s legacy is that of taking us past the incomprehensible numbers into the humanity of who she, a single victim, was. In Jerusalem the Yad Vashem memorial to the Holocaust victims has a building dedicated to the children. At the entrance are a few photographs of haunting faces. And then inside, into the eerie darkness of mirrors and myriad dots of light is read in endless succession name after name, each intimating the unique, unfulfilled human person from among the 1.5 million Jewish children who perished. But for the slain Iraqi children and the hundreds of thousands who continue to die in the aftermath of the war and for the forty thousand children around the world who are given over needlessly to death each day we have no Anne Frank, no Yad Vashem, and hardly any pictures. These children and any who for us would visually represent them have been carefully kept from our view. There were the other Germans, among them Dietrich Bonhoeffer, who said, “Only he who cries out for the Jews may sing Gregorian chants.” If we are not to have our own humanity effaced by the alluring powers of destruction and by the tidal inhumanity of official thought control, we must see those we are not meant to see and cry out for them.

Some in Jerusalem did not join in the cry, “Crucify him!” Luke pictures massive dissent before and after that execution: “And there followed him a great multitude of the people, and of women who bewailed and lamented him…. And all the multitudes who assembled to see the sight, when they saw what had taken place, returned home beating their breasts (Lk. 23:27, 48). Offering continuation of that dissent, some in our time do not merge into the collective readiness to kill. They do not become functionaries for contemporary crucifixion. They withhold consent and live out their resistance to the purpose and deed of taking human life. What is most crucial is the stance: to see all public killing, from capital punishment to nuclear holocaust, as having its historic center in the execution of Jesus and to live life from him in struggle against all death-mongering.

At this moment:

#NoWarinSyria #DontBombSyria #HandsOffSyria

#NoDrones #StopDrones

#NoMoreWar

And always:

I Declare World Peace. (#IDWP)

  *See the article and photos of “Iraq: War’s Legacy of Cancer” by  Dahr Jamail at Al Jazeera here .

A Welcome Vote

I am updating and celebrating. In a previous post, I wrote that the city commission of my hometown of Frankfort, KY was considering what is known as a Fairness Ordinance, that is an ordinance prohibiting discrimination in housing, employment and public accommodations based on sexual orientation. I had posted about some of the dissension and spoke of my belief in human rights for all.

I am here to report that our City Commission did indeed pass that ordinance (3-2) on August 28 and I am delighted. I must say that there was much discussion regarding the matter and the city commission meetings were extremely well attended. The religious community was divided and spoke up, especially the progressive and more conservative Baptists. We are in the Bible Belt. It was a good community conversation that even went into the newspapers, including opinion pieces and letters to the editors.

I must say that I am rather surprised by all this. I grew up here and have spent most of my life here. Kentucky is a conservative state and Frankfort is not the most liberal city, though in some ways rather moderate. Again, I am delighted.

I Declare World Peace.

 

Note: You can read articles from the regional paper, The Lexington Herald-Leader, on the Frankfort Fairness Ordinance here.

 

I Have a Dream

I post on for the anniversary of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous I Have a Dream speech in the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in August, 1963 an excerpt from a post by the Rev. Chuck  Queen of Frankfort, KY in his blog,  A Fresh Perspective,  of August 2013.

From the progressive point of view, the kingdom of God is as much about this life in this world as it is about the life and world to come. It’s about being in right relationship with God and everyone and everything else. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is just as important as loving God.

It’s about a world where everyone has enough – not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish.From the progressive point of view, the kingdom of God is as much about this life in this world as it is about the life and world to come. It’s about being in right relationship with God and everyone and everything else. Loving our neighbor as ourselves is just as important as loving God.It’s about a world where everyone has enough – not just to survive, but to thrive and flourish.

It’s about a world where the playing field is leveled, where the excluded are included, where all are treated with dignity, equality, and respect.

It’s about a world where poverty is eliminated and the oppressed are liberated and all that is broken is healed.

A progressive vision emphasizes inclusion, equality, compassion, social justice, and the dignity of all people.

(You can read the full post here.)

I Declare World Peace.

Greetings from America

This cartoon by Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist, Joel Pett of the Lexington (KY) Herald-Leader, on the U.S. drone strikes says it all for me. Is this what we have come to as a nation? Is this what we want for our foreign policy? Are Americans only of worth?

GTMO-HungerStrike-16

This is the chair used to force feed  U.S. prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba who were captured in the indefinite Global War of Terror On Terror. At least 100 of the 166  prisoners there are on hunger strike. They are protesting their indefinite detention. (See  more Guantanamo Joint Medical Group Hunger Strike Response Photos here.)

code_pink_2

This is Diane Wilson, CODEPINK hunger striker for the closing of Guantanamo Bay Prison, who chained herself to the White House fence. (See story here and here.) (Diane explains her hunger strike here.)

JuliaWardHowe (1)

This is Julia Ward Howe. She wrote the Battle Hymn of the Republic, but later, following the carnage of the American Civil War and the Franco-Prussian War, she wrote in 1870 The “Appeal to womanhood throughout the world,” later known as “Mother’s Day Proclamation” on behalf of world peace. (See here.)

Me? I love my country, the U.S. of A., but I am not a proud American. I, not to be naive, suggest the United States government be a practitioner in its foreign policy of what has come to be called the Golden Rule, the ethical maxim of the world’s religions and philosophies. After all, our recent defining event of 9-11 was blowback for the neglect of that rule. The Golden Rule does not say do to others before they do to us and to only treat Americans as we would wish to be treated.

As an American citizen and a mother, I Declare World Peace.

———–

See also the excellent post by Lisa Savage of CODEPINK  Maine: Sorry We Raised Our Kids to Kill.

Easter: The World of New

How different is the gospel of reconciliation from a gospel of Manifest Destiny? How different is the gospel of reconciliation from a gospel of American or religious exceptionalism? How different is the gospel of redeeming evil through forgiveness and love from a gospel of conquering evil through violence? How different is the gospel of chancing one’s arm from a gospel of drone strikes. I’m afraid the Easter chicken has become just one more chicken.
What we need is a whole new way of thinking, a new world mentality. Paul tells us that the new creation has come. If we are to live and practice the gospel of reconciliation, then we must adopt a new creation mindset.
The Rev. Check Queen. in  The Gospel of Reconciliation, Part 2 of his blog, A Fresh Perspective.
Having the mindset for a new creation, I Declare World Peace.