In August 2006, in the spirit of right speech, Thich Nhat Hanh sent this handwritten letter to President George Bush (full text below).
Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington DC, USA
Le Pey 24240
Dear Mr President
Last night, I saw my brother (who died two weeks ago in the USA) coming back to me in a dream. He was with all his children. He told me, “Let’s go home together.” After a millisecond of hesitation, I told him joyfully, “Ok, let’s go.”
Waking up from that dream at 5 am this morning, I thought of the situation in the Middle East; and for the first time, I was able to cry. I cried for a long time, and I felt much better after about one hour. Then I went to the kitchen and made some tea. While making tea, I realized that what my brother had said is true: our home is large enough for all of us. Let us go home as brothers and sisters.
Mr. President, I think that if you could allow yourself to cry like I did this morning, you will also feel much better. It is our brothers that we kill over there. They are our brothers, God tells us so, and we also know it. They may not see us as brothers because of their anger, their misunderstanding, and their discrimination. But with some awakening, we can see things in a different way, and this will allow us to respond differently to the situation. I trust God in you; I trust Buddha nature in you.
Thank you for reading.
In gratitude and with brotherhood,
Thich Nhat Hanh
Letter Writing as Practice, from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh
Letter writing is a form of speech. A letter can sometimes be safer than speaking, because there is time for you to read what you have written before sending it. As you read your words, you can visualize the other person receiving your letter and decide if what you have written is skillful and appropriate. Your letter has to water the seeds of transformation in the other person and stir something in his heart if it is to be called Right Speech. If any phrase can be misunderstood or upsetting, rewrite it. Right Mindfulness tells you whether you are expressing the truth in the most skillful way. Once you have mailed your letter, you cannot get it back. So read it over carefully several times before sending it. Such a letter will benefit both of you.
Of course you have suffered, but the other person has suffered also. That is why writing is a very good practice. Writing is a practice of looking deeply. You send the letter only when you are sure that you have looked deeply. You don’t need to blame anymore. You need to show that you have a deeper understanding. It is true that the other person suffers, and that alone is worth your compassion. When you begin to understand the suffering of the other person, compassion will arise in you, and the language you use will have the power of healing. Compassion is the only energy that can help us connect with another person. The person who has no compassion in him can never be happy. When you practice looking at the person to whom you are going to write a letter, if you can begin to see his suffering, compassion will be born. The moment compassion is born in you, you feel better already, even before you finish the letter. After sending the letter, you feel even better, because you know the other person will also feel better after reading your letter. Everyone needs understanding and acceptance. And now you have understanding to offer. By writing a letter like this, you restore communication.
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