We Are the Beaters; We Are the Beaten

This letter was written by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1991 after the violent assault on Rodney King in Los Angeles, USA. It was published in the Los Angeles Times.

People everywhere on the planet have seen the image of the Los Angeles policemen beating the young driver. The moment I first saw it, I saw myself as the one who was beaten, and I suffered. I am sure most of us felt the same. We were all beaten at the same time, and we were all the victims of violence, of anger, of lack of understanding, of lack of respect for our human dignity.

But looking more deeply, I was able to see that the policemen who were beating Rodney King were also myself. Why were they doing that? Because our society is full of hatred and violence. Everything is like a bomb ready to explode, and we are part of that bomb. We are co-responsible for that bomb. That is why I saw myself as the policemen beating the driver. We all are these policemen.

In the practice of awareness, which Buddhists call mindfulness, we nurture the ability to see deeply into the nature of things and of human beings. The fruit of this practice is insight and understanding, and out of this comes love. Without understanding, how can we love? Love is the intention and capacity to bring joy to others, and to remove and transform the pain that is in them.

From the Buddhist perspective, I have not practiced deeply enough to transform the situation with the policemen. I have allowed violence and misunderstanding to exist. Realizing that, I suffer with them, for if they do not suffer, then why would they do what they did? Only when you suffer much do you make other people suffer; if you are happy, if you are liberated, then there will not be suffering in you to spill over to others.

Putting the policemen in prison or firing the chief of police will not solve our fundamental problems. We have all helped to create this situation with our forgetfulness and our way of living. Violence has become a substance of our life, and we are not very different from those who did the beating.

Living in such a society, one can become like that quite easily. The half-million soldiers in the desert, along with the millions who daily absorb the violent images of television, are also being trained like those who did the beating: to accept violence as a way of life, and as a way to solve problems. If we are not mindful–if we do not transform our shared suffering through compassion and deep understanding–then one day our child will be the one who is beaten, or the one doing the beating. It is our affair. We are not observers. We are participants.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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