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#2620 - Saturday, October 21, 2006 - Editor: Gloria Lee

Listening Deeply for Peace

By Thich Nhat Hanh
Shambhala Sun | November 2003  

Without deep listening and gentle loving speech it is very difficult to  move
towards peace. Peace will only become a reality, says  Thich Nhat Hanh,
when world leaders come to negotiations with  the ability to hear the
suffering at the root of all conflicts.   

A traditional Vietnamese Zen garden is very different from a  Japanese
Zen garden. Our Zen gardens, called hon non bo, are  wild and
exuberant, more playful than the formal Japanese  gardens with their
restrained patterns. Vietnamese Zen gardens  are seriously unserious.
For us, the whole world is contained in  this peaceful place. All activities
of life unfold in true peace in the  garden: in one part, children will be
playing, and in another part,  some elderly men will be having a chess
game; couples are  walking; families are having picnics; animals are free
to wander  around. Beautiful trees are growing next to abundant grasses
and  flowers. There is water, and there are rock formations. All 
ecologies are represented in this one microecology without 
discrimination. It is a miniature, peaceful world. It is a beautiful  living
metaphor for what a new global ethic could bring.   

War is not a necessary condition of life. The root of war, as with all 
conflicts, is ignorance, ignorance of the inherent goodness the 
buddhanature in every human being. The potential for ignorance  lives in
all of us; it gives rise to misunderstanding, which can lead  to violent
thoughts and behavior. Although ignorance and violence  may not have
manifested in your life, when conditions are  sufficient, they can. This is
why we all have to be very careful not  to water these seeds and not to
allow them to develop roots and  grow into arrows.   

The Roots of War   

When one country attacks another, it is out of great fear and a kind  of
collective ignorance. For instance, the French fought to keep  Vietnam as
their colony, because they thought that if they  possessed Vietnam, they
would be happy. So they sent many  young men to Vietnam to kill and to
be killed. We know, when we  look deeply, that happiness does not
come from possessing  something or someone; it comes from kindness
and compassion,  from helping to ease suffering.   

If the American people had sat down and practiced looking deeply,  they
would have seen that the Vietnam War was entirely  unnecessary, that
their own lives could not be improved through  the suffering of another
country or the suffering of their own young  men. The United States
senselessly wasted many lives in this war  when it could have supported
both North and South Vietnam in  their different models of development,
helping the Communists and  the non-Communists alike to rebuild their
societies. This would  have been much wiser than supporting one side
and fighting the  other. If France and the United States had yielded
autonomy to  Vietnam, Laos, Cambodia and Thailand, helping these
countries to  develop instead of waging war, all sides would have profited
from  such a friendly relationship. After a long period of suffering, these 
countries are finally moving in this direction, but this could have 
happened much earlier without the terrible loss of life.   

All violence is injustice. We should not inflict that injustice on  ourselves or
on other people. Historians and teachers as well as  politicians should
look deeply at the suffering caused by wars, not  just at the justifications
that governments give for them. We have  to teach our children the truth
about war so they learn from our  experiences and understand that
violence and war are not the  right way, that they are not the right actions
to take. We have to  show our children that people on both sides of war
the French  and American soldiers in Vietnam as well as the Vietnamese 
people were victims of the ignorance and violence rooted in their 
societies and governments. Remember, there were no winners.   

As long as we allow hatred to grow in us, we continue to make 
ourselves and others suffer. As we look deeply at the wars in our  recent
history, we have to transform our hatred and  misunderstanding into
compassion. We have to recognize that  those who have made us suffer
are also victims. Many who had a  father, brother or friend killed in the
Vietnam War have been able  to transcend their suffering and to
reconcile with the other side,  Vietnamese and American. They have
done this for their own sake  and for the sake of their children.   

How can we as individuals influence the collective consciousness of  our
nations and move in the direction of peace? We do this by  uprooting the
roots of violence and war within ourselves. To  prevent war, we cultivate
nonviolence. We practice mindfulness in  our daily life so that we can
recognize and transform the poisons  within us and our nation. When we
practice nonviolence in our daily  life, we see the positive effects on our
families, society and  government.   

Peace Is Possible   

In the summer of 2001 in our community in Plum Village, France,  about
eighteen-hundred people came and practiced with us.  Among them were
a few dozen Palestinians and Israelis. We  sponsored these people
hoping they could have the opportunity to  practice walking meditation
together, to share a meal together, to  listen to the teachings of
mindfulness practice and to learn the act  of deep listening and gentle,
loving speech. The Israelis and  Palestinians spent two weeks with us
and participated in all  activities.   

At the end of their stay, the whole community gathered together  and our
visitors stood up and gave a report. After only two weeks  of practice,
they had transformed very deeply. They had become  a community of
brothers and sisters, Palestinians and Israelis. They said to us, "Dear community,
dear Thich Nhat Hanh, when  we first came to Plum Village
we couldn't believe it. Plum Village  did not look real to us because it is
so peaceful. In Plum Village,  we did not feel the kind of anger, tension
and fear that we feel  constantly in the Middle East. People look at each
other with kind  eyes, they speak to each other lovingly. There is peace,
there is  communication and there is brotherhood and sisterhood." One 
member of the delegation said, "We spent two weeks in  paradise."
Another person wrote to me after he returned home  and said, "This is
the first time that I have believed that peace is  possible in the Middle

What did we do to make the third truth that well-being and peace  are
possible real to them? Honestly, we did not do much. We  just
embraced these friends from the Middle East as brothers and  sisters.
They learned to walk mindfully with us, to breathe in and  out mindfully
with us, to stop and be there in the present moment  with us, and to get
in touch with what is pleasant, nourishing and  healing around them and
within themselves. The practice is very  simple, but supported by a
practicing sangha, they were able to  succeed more quickly than on their
own and to touch the peace  and happiness within each of them.   

Together we all followed the basic practice: to do everything  mindfully.
We established ourselves in the here and now in order  to touch life
deeply. We practiced mindfulness while we breathed  and walked and
talked and brushed our teeth and chopped  vegetables for meals and
washed dishes. That is the basic daily  practice that our friends learned.
We in the sangha offered our  support, sitting with our visitors and
practicing listening with  compassion with them.   

We trained them to speak in such a way that the other side could  hear
and understand and accept. They spoke in a calm way, not  condemning
anyone, not judging anyone. They told the other side  of all the suffering
that had happened to them and their children, to  their societies. They all
had the chance to speak of their fear,  anger, hatred and despair. Many
felt for the first time that they  were listened to and that they were being
understood, which  relieved a lot of suffering within them. We listened
deeply, opening  our hearts with the intention to help them express and
heal  themselves.   

Two weeks of the practice of deep listening and using loving  speech
brought a lot of joy to our visitors and to all of us in Plum  Village. We
were reminded, hearing these stories, that during the  Vietnam War, we
Vietnamese, too, had suffered terribly. Yet our  practice allowed us then
and allows us still to see that our world is  beautiful, with all the wonders
of life available every day. This is  why we know that our friends from the
Middle East, too, can  practice in the middle of war around them.   

There were moments during the war when we wished so hard that  there
would be a cease-fire for just 24 hours. We thought that if  we had only
24 hours of peace, we would have been able to  breathe in and out and
smile to the flowers and the blue sky. But  we did manage to breathe in
and out and smile, even then,  because even the flowers had the courage
to bloom in the middle  of war. Yet still, we wanted 24 hours of peace
during the war. We  wanted the bombs to stop falling on us.   

During the war in Vietnam, young people came to me and asked,  "Do
you think there will be an end to the war?" I could not answer  them right
away. I practiced mindful breathing, in and out. After a  long time I looked
at them and said, "My dear friends, the Buddha  said everything is
impermanent, including war."   

Before going back to the Middle East, our friends promised us that  they
would continue the practice. They told us that on the local  level they
would organize weekly meetings so they could continue  to walk
together, sit and breathe together, share a meal together  and listen to
each other. Every month they have had an event to  do this. They
practice true peace even in the midst of war.   

True Peace Negotiations   

When you come to any negotiation, whether at work or in a  meeting with
other parents, teachers or neighbors, you have hope  for peace. When
your representatives go to a negotiation table,  they hope for peace. But
if you and they do not master the art of  deep listening and loving speech,
it is very difficult to move toward  peace in any situation or to get
concrete results. If we have not  transformed our inner block of suffering,
hatred and fear, it will  prevent us from communicating, understanding
and making peace.   

I beg the nations and governments who would like to bring peace  to the
Middle East and other countries to pay attention to this fact.  We need
our governments to organize peace negotiations so that  they will be
fruitful. A very important factor for success is creating  a setting where
true communication can be practiced, where deep  listening and gentle,
loving speech can occur. It may take one  month or two just for people to
learn how to listen to each other,  to talk so that the other side can hear
and understand. It is  important not to be in a hurry to reach a conclusion
or an  agreement about what to do for peace to be possible. One month 
or two is nothing compared with years of pain and suffering. But if  we
have a great determination, then five days may be enough to  restore
communication between people. Two weeks were enough  for our
Palestinian friends and our Israeli friends to begin to  understand and to
accept each other as brothers and sisters, to  begin to practice and
create peace. Two weeks were enough for  them to have hope.   

Too often in the past, peace conferences have been environments 
where people came and fought each other, not with weapons but  with
their fear. When we are carried away by our fear and  prejudices, we
cannot listen to others. We cannot just bring two  sides together around a
table to discuss peace when they are still  filled with anger, hatred and
hurt. If you cannot recognize your fear  and anger, if you do not know
how to calm yourself, how can you  sit at a peace table with your
enemy? Facing your enemy across  a table, you will only continue to
fight. Unable to understand  yourself, you will only continue to fight.
Unable to understand  yourself, you will be unable to understand the
other person.   

The secret of creating peace is that when you listen to another  person
you have only one purpose: to offer him an opportunity to  empty his
heart. If you are able to keep that awareness and  compassion alive in
you, then you can sit for one hour and listen  even if the other person's
speech contains a lot of wrong  perceptions, condemnations and
bitterness. You can continue to  listen because you are already protected
by the nectar of  compassion in your own heart. If you do not practice
mindful  breathing in order to keep that compassion alive, however, you 
can lose your own peace. Irritation and anger will come up, and  the
other person will notice and will not be able to continue.  Keeping your
awareness keeps you safe.   

Peace conferences must create environments that can help people  calm
down and see that they are suffering and that the other side  is suffering
also. Many leaders have tried to sponsor talks and  discussion, but theirs
was not the way of practice. They did not  practice to transform anger
and fear into deep listening and loving  speech. When leaders do
practice, there will be a chance for true  reconciliation. After the practices
of deep listening and kind and  loving speech have dissolved bitterness,
fear and prejudice,  people can begin to communicate with each other.
Then reaching  peace will be much easier. Peace will become a reality.   

Practicing Deep Listening with Other Countries   

If America invests all her heart and mind into this practice, then  other
people will also be able to tell her about their suffering. If  America goes
back to herself and restores the spirit of her  forefathers, America will be
truly great. She will then be in a  position to help other countries establish
similar forums, to invite  other groups and countries to express

The setting must be one of safety and love. Countries from around  the
world can come together not as enemies that bomb and  destroy each
other but as wise people sponsoring sessions of  deep listening. All
nations could come and help with the practice;  people from different
cultures and civilizations would have the  opportunity to speak to one
another as fellow human beings who  inhabit the same planet. In addition,
people who are not just  politically minded but humanists who understand
the suffering of  others could be invited people who know how to sit and
listen  calmly, with compassion. These people would know how to create 
an atmosphere of peace without fear so that others can have the 
chance, the inspiration, and the desire to speak. We must be  patient.
The process of learning about each other's suffering will  take time.   

If such an international forum were broadcast around the world, 
everyone could participate and have the chance to learn about the 
causes of suffering. The first and second noble truths of the  Buddha, the
awareness of suffering and the awareness of the  causes of suffering,
could be practiced together by billions of  people.   

The first and second noble truths will lead us to the third and fourth  noble
truths; namely, the awareness that there is a path out of  suffering and
that that path consists of certain concrete steps,  such as right
understanding, right thinking, right speech and right  action.   

Creating Peace in the World   

The antidote to violence and hatred is compassion. There is no  other
medicine. Unfortunately, compassion is not available in  drugstores. You
have to generate the nectar of compassion in  your heart. The teaching
of the Buddha gives us the means to  generate the energy of
compassion. If we are too busy, if we are  carried away every day by
our projects, our uncertainty, our  craving, how can we have the time to
stop and look deeply into  the situation our own situation, the situation
of our beloved one,  the situation of our family and of our community, and
the situation  of our nation and of the other nations? Looking deeply, we
find out  that not only do we suffer but also the other person suffers 
deeply. Not only our group suffers but the other group also  suffers.
Once awareness is born, we know that punishment,  violence and war
are not the answer.   

The one who wants to punish is inhabited by violence. The one who 
endures the suffering of the other person is also inhabited by the  energy
of violence. Violence cannot be ended with violence. The  Buddha said
that responding to hatred with hatred can only  increase hatred a
thousandfold. Only by responding to hatred with  compassion can we
disintegrate hatred.   

The future is a notion.

The future is made of only one substance,  the
present. If you are taking good care of the present moment,  why do you
have to worry about the future? By taking care of the  present, you are
doing everything you can to assure a good  future. Is there anything else
you can do? Live the present  moment in such a way that peace and joy
may be possible here  and now that love and understanding may be
possible. Dwelling  happily and peacefully in the present moment is the
best thing we  can do to ensure peace and happiness in the future.   

We have to practice looking deeply as a nation if we want to get  out of
this difficult situation of war and terrorism. Our practice will  help the
other nations to practice. I am sure that America is very  capable of
punishing. The United States can send bombs; the  whole world knows
she is very capable of doing so. But America  is great when she acts with
lucidity and compassion. I urge that  when we are suffering, when we are
overcome by shock, we  should not do anything, we should not say
anything. We should go  home to ourselves and practice mindful
breathing and mindful  walking to allow ourselves to calm down and to
allow lucidity to  come, so we can understand the real roots of our
suffering and  the suffering of the world. Only with that understanding can
 compassion arise. America can be a great nation if she knows  how to
act with compassion instead of punishment. We can offer  peace. We
can offer the relief of transformation and healing.   

It is my deep wish that the American people and the people of  other
countries become spiritual allies and practice compassion  together.
Without a spiritual dimension and practice, we cannot  really improve the
situation of the world. We can come together as  a family in order to look
deeply into our own situation and the  situation of the world.   

Practicing peace is possible with every step, with every breath. It  is
possible for us to practice together and bring hope and  compassion into
our daily lives and into the lives of our families,  our community, our nation
and the world.   

From Creating True Peace by Thich Nhat Hanh 2003 by the  Venerable
Thich Nhat Hanh. Reprinted by permission of The Free  Press, a division
of Simon & Schuster, Inc., NY.   

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Zen teacher, poet and leader of the engaged 
Buddhist movement. A well-known, anti-war activist in his native 
Vietnam, he was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin  Luther
King, Jr. The author of more than forty books, he resides at  Buddhist
practice centers in France and Vermont.   

Listening Deeply for Peace, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, November 2003.

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