Oprah: The only way to end war is communication between people.
Nhat Hanh: Yes. We should be able to say this: “Dear friends, dear people, I know that you suffer. I have not understood enough of your difficulties and suffering. It’s not our intention to make you suffer more. It is the opposite. We don’t want you to suffer. But we don’t know what to do and we might do the wrong thing if you don’t help us to understand. So please tell us about your difficulties. I’m eager to learn, to understand.” We have to have loving speech. And if we are honest, if we are true, they will open their hearts. Then we practice compassionate listening, and we can learn so much about our own perception and their perception. Only after that can we help remove wrong perception. That is the best way, the only way, to remove terrorism.
Oprah: But what you’re saying also applies to difficulties between yourself and family members or friends. The principle is the same, no matter the conflict.
Nhat Hanh: Right. And peace negotiations should be conducted in that manner. When we come to the table, we shouldn’t negotiate right away. We should spend time walking together, eating together, making acquaintance, telling each other about our own suffering, without blame or condemnation. It takes maybe one, two, three weeks to do that. And if communication and understanding are possible, negotiation will be easier. So if I am to organize a peace negotiation, I will organize it in that way.
Oprah: You’d start with tea?
Nhat Hanh: With tea and walking meditation.
Oprah: Mindful tea.
Nhat Hanh: And sharing our happiness and our suffering. And deep listening and loving speech.
Oprah: Is there ever a place for anger?
Nhat Hanh: Anger is the energy that people use in order to act. But when you are angry, you are not lucid, and you might do wrong things. That is why compassion is a better energy. And the energy of compassion is very strong. We suffer. That is real. But we have learned not to get angry and not to allow ourselves to be carried by anger. We realize right away that that is fear. That is corruption.
Oprah: What if in a moment of mindfulness you are being challenged? For instance, the other day someone presented me with a lawsuit, and it’s hard to feel happy when somebody is going to be taking you to court.
Nhat Hanh: The practice is to go to the anxiety, the worry—
Oprah: The fear. First thing that happens is that fear sets in, like, What am I going to do?
Nhat Hanh: So you recognize that fear. You embrace it tenderly and look deeply into it. And as you embrace your pain, you get relief and you find out how to handle that emotion. And if you know how to handle the fear, then you have enough insight in order to solve the problem. The problem is to not allow that anxiety to take over. When these feelings arise, you have to practice in order to use the energy of mindfulness to recognize them, embrace them, look deeply into them. It’s like a mother when the baby is crying. Your anxiety is your baby. You have to take care of it. You have to go back to yourself, recognize the suffering in you, embrace the suffering, and you get relief. And if you continue with your practice of mindfulness, you understand the roots, the nature of the suffering, and you know the way to transform it.
Oprah: You use the word suffering a lot. I think many people think suffering is dire starvation or poverty. But when you speak of suffering, you mean what?
Nhat Hanh: I mean the fear, the anger, the despair, the anxiety in us. If you know how to deal with that, then you’ll be able to handle problems of war and poverty and conflicts. If we have fear and despair in us, we cannot remove the suffering in society.
Oprah: The nature of Buddhism, as I understand it, is to believe that we are all pure and radiant at our core. And yet we see around us so much evidence that people are not acting from a place of purity and radiance. How do we reconcile that?
Nhat Hanh: Well, happiness and suffering support each other. To be is to inter-be. It’s like the left and the right. If the left is not there, the right cannot be there. The same is true with suffering and happiness, good and evil. In every one of us there are good seeds and bad. We have the seed of brotherhood, love, compassion, insight. But we have also the seed of anger, hate, dissent.
Oprah: That’s the nature of being human.
Nhat Hanh: Yes. There is the mud, and there is the lotus that grows out of the mud. We need the mud in order to make the lotus.
Oprah: Can’t have one without the other.
Nhat Hanh: Yes. You can only recognize your happiness against the background of suffering. If you have not suffered hunger, you do not appreciate having something to eat. If you have not gone through a war, you don’t know the value of peace. That is why we should not try to run away from one thing after another thing. Holding our suffering, looking deeply into it, we find a way to happiness.