Editorial by Thich Nhat Hanh | 2 October, 2008
The roots of war and conflict are in us. There are afflictions in us to be recognised, embraced, and transformed: anger, hatred, discrimination, pride and despair. It is important to look deeply into their roots, to understand them and learn how to transform them.
We need to listen to our own suffering and the suffering of our family, community, and nation. We should be able to help each other to recognise that suffering is present in each of us and we have lived in a way that has allowed it to grow.
The Earth is ailing, our society is ailing, and there is so much despair and violence. Peace negotiations will be successful if both parties to the conflict have mutual understanding and know how to use deep listening and loving speech. And this kind of training should start at the earliest levels of education. This is peace education and it is the way out of war and violence.
Each of us has to make the commitment not to water the seeds of violence, hate, discrimination and despair that are in us, as well as in our relationships. We should help each other to heal in the context of our personal relationships before we can expect to help heal humanity and the Earth. Healing is possible with each breath, each step, each thought, each word and the simple act of smiling to someone.
Our daily lives are so busy. In fact, throughout our lifetime we will spend months, if not years, waiting; waiting in line, waiting at red lights and waiting in traffic jams. We become so stressed and tense always wanting to be somewhere else.
We always think that happiness, peace and joy are something to attain later. When we practice engaged Buddhism we see that every moment of our daily life is a chance to practice meditation. As we wait in line, or sit in our car at a red light, nothing prevents us from bringing our attention to our in-breath and out-breath, relaxing and smiling.
True happiness is available for us now. We cannot often choose our circumstances, but we can choose how to respond to them: that is our real freedom. When our telephone rings, why not close our eyes and breathe in and out a few times before answering- taking a mini break- and then begin to speak. Our speech will be lovelier and we will really be able to hear what the other person wishes to communicate.
Many of us, particularly in the developing world, believe that as we acquire more wealth we will have more happiness. In fact we never are satisfied by this kind of pursuit. When we practice stopping, looking deeply and dwelling in the present moment, we begin to touch the wonders of life that are available wherever we are: the green leaves, the sunshine and the smile of a child.
Rather than searching outside of ourselves, we can find happiness in developing understanding and compassion. To focus on the Gross National Product, or our buying power, as a measure of our success and happiness as a society and nation is not enough. We must also focus on developing our level of understanding and compassion. True happiness should be the foundation of our policies on production, consumption and development.
We need to develop our capacity to look with the eyes of interbeing. Everything relies on everything else to manifest. If other species cannot survive, humans cannot survive either. Therefore, protecting the environment is protecting ourselves.
We are not only our body and spirit; we are also our environment. Our environment is the consequence of our collective action (karma). Living more simply, developing understanding and love, taking care of our environment, committing together to sustainable development, this is to follow the path of awakening.
Burning fossil fuels and clearing forests in the quest to supply our means of transportation, as well as our consumption of meat and dairy products, are the main causes of global warming. According to a United Nations study published in 2007, one solution is to reduce the production of meat by 50 percent, and drive cars that run on cleaner fuel and only when truly necessary. Many Hindus and Buddhists do not eat meat, or limit their intake. Reducing or completely giving up meat and alcohol consumption is not too difficult to do.
People who are really awake to the gravity of our situation should take action immediately. We can practice one car-free-day or one motorcycle-free-day every week. We can drive more environmentally-friendly cars. We can bike to our workplace or to school. We can enjoy delicious vegan or vegetarian food. There are many things we can do right away to save the planet. Our civilisation will self-destruct if we do not wake up in time to our real situation.
India is a richly spiritual country that has offered so much to the world. Let us all do our best, regardless of our tradition, to put these beautiful teachings into practice in the here and the now, to heal our cities, our nation, our mother Earth. In this way, the living wisdom of our spiritual traditions becomes a gift which can offer concrete tools to help us transform the real situation of our world today.
Read the full editorial here.