How to transform despair into compassion and peace? | Thich Nhat Hanh

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(Half bell) (Bell) Dear Thay, dear sangha. I was at the Riverside Church in New York in 2001 when you came to give a talk shortly after September 11th. This was the same location where Dr. King came to give his speech against the Vietnam war – a position, we remember with gratitude, that was influenced by his time with you. You spoke to your own experience of the tragedy of war, and you were among the only voices I can remember at the time who advocated for seizing the moment to work for peace. Many of us in these times now may be feeling fear, anger, despair when we see so many wars waged in our name. As you did with Dr King, can you advise us how we might transform these feelings into compassion and interactive peace making? As you know, I was in America when the September 11th took place. That day I was going from Deer Park to the north of California to organise retreats and public talks. And loading the bus, we hear about the event. I was supposed to give a talk in Berkeley four days later. And we could experience the collective energy of fear and anger in America. Fear and anger. We know that the collective energy of compassion can be very healing, but the collective energy of fear and anger can be very dangerous. It can start a war at any time. So my purpose in giving the talks was to ask Americans to practice mindful breathing in order to calm down their feelings, their emotions. That’s the most important thing to do. That is why in the talk taking place in Berkeley – 4.000 people attended – we wore our sangha tee, the orange colour robe, and we practiced meditation on compassion and tried to calm down – to help people calm down. You can see the suffering on the face of the people … that day. And we knew that after the talk
people suffer less – by – you just look at their face and you know that people suffer less after a guided meditation on compassion and calming down. But that is only for a few thousand people. The talk in the Riverside Church had the same purpose. And we advised our friends in America not to do anything yet. Not to say anything yet. The first thing to do is to calm down. And then begin to look into the situation and ask the question, why they have done such a thing to us. Have we done anything that made them so angry at us … – that made them so despair that they could commit … such an act? I proposed that – according to the tradition we belong to – I proposed that America organise sessions of deep listening. We should invite many wise Americans to come and help us to listen. And we invite the people in America who feel that they are victims of social injustice and so on to come and tell us about their suffering. And we proposed that sessions of deep listening like that within America can be televised – so that everyone can follow. That is to listen to your own suffering – to our own suffering. And understand our own suffering before we want to listen to the suffering of the people on the other side. It’s very faithful to our practice. You listen to your own suffering first before you listen to the suffering
on the other side. And after you have done deep listening in your own country, you may turn to the people over there and use loving speech. “Dear friends over there,
we have suffered a lot. We don’t understand
why you have done such a thing to us. Have we done anything in order to try to destroy you as a people? as a religion? as a way of life? We may have done something; or we may have said something that gave you the impression that we want to destroy you as a people, as a religion, as a way of life. But in fact, we do not have that intention. So please tell us what we have done, what we have said, that has given you that kind of impression. We know that you must have been very angry at us to have done such a thing to us. We would like to listen. Please tell us … from your heart. Tell us about your suffering … and our lack of skilfulness
– in making you suffer.” And that is what I proposed to America at that time. And this is a process of restoring communication and reconciling. And last spring – the spring of this year, I went to Korea and I gave retreats – we gave retreats and public talks. And there was one public talk in the south attended by many people – maybe 20.000 people, and they announced to us that they were going to organise a huge ceremony of prayer for peace
between the south and the north. The north now has nuclear weapons and they sound to be belligerent. And the south is fearful, and they are afraid that a war will break out very soon. So in that talk I said that: “Dear friends. The danger is not the nuclear weapons. The danger is the fear. If you look deeply into the north, you see the amount, the huge amount of fear. When the president of the south visited America, the north may think that there should be a scheme to attack the north, so they are very scared. And they are doing their best in order to show that they are not afraid, that they are ready to fight and to kill. So, the belligerent attitude outside, in appearance, shows that there is a big fear inside. And if you see that fear, you are not… – you are not angry them anymore. And you know that the best thing is to try to help removing that fear of the people in the north. But in order to do that, you have to remove the fear in you first. Because you are also afraid. And that is why a prayer for peace
is not enough. Coming together and praying is not enough. You have to create – you have to organise retreats for politicians, school teachers, business leaders, and help them to look deeply, to calm them down – themselves down, and to remove their fear by understanding. And when you are free from fear, you can help the north to do the same. So, it’s not by political manoeuvring that you can solve the problem. It is that kind of practice that can remove fear and anger in us that can make us more peaceful and compassionate. And when you are more peaceful and compassionate, you can help the people
on the other side to do the same
– to be a real peace maker. And that is a process we have learned from the buddhist tradition. And as north Korea and south Korea, they have had buddhism as their spiritual tradition, we believe that they can make good use of their tradition in order to practice in order to get out of this difficult situation. And I think that the same things should be true here – in the Middle East, in Europe, in America and so on. (Half bell) (Bell) Subtitles by the community


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