The Nature of Peace & From Commitment to Action - Creating True Peace By Thich Nhat Hanh

Offered by Adam R and Jay H on May 13, 2021

The Nature of Peace

During the war in Vietnam, those of us who practiced nonviolence learned that it is truly possible to live happily and free from hatred, even among people who hate us. But to do so, we need to be calm, to see clearly what the real situation is and what it is not, and then to wake up and act with courage. Peace is not simply the absence of violence; it is the cultivation of understanding, insight, and compassion, combined with action. Peace is the practice of mindfulness, the practice of being aware of our thoughts, our actions, and the consequences of our actions. Mindfulness is at once simple and profound. When we are mindful and cultivate compassion in our daily lives, we diminish violence each day. We have a positive effect on our family, friends, and society.

Some people think there is a difference between mindfulness and meditation, but this is not correct. The practice of mindfulness is simply to bring awareness into each moment of our lives. Mindful living is an art. You do not have to be a monastic or live in a monastery to practice mindfulness. You can practice it anytime, while driving your car or doing housework. Driving in mindfulness will make the time in your car joyful, and it will also help you avoid accidents. You can use the red traffic light as a signal of mindfulness, reminding you to stop and enjoy your breathing. Similarly, when you do the dishes after dinner, you can practice mindful breathing so the time of dish washing is pleasant and meaningful. Do not feel you have to rush. If you hurry, you waste the time of dish washing. The time you spend washing dishes and doing all your other everyday tasks is precious. It is a time for being alive. When you practice mindful living, peace will bloom during your daily activities.

The spiritual teachings of all traditions help us cultivate the seeds of compassion, nonviolence, inclusiveness, and reconciliation. They show us the way out of fear and conflict: Hatred cannot be stopped by hatred. Violence should not be responded to with violence. The only way out of violence and conflict is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love, and understanding. Yet many of us have lost faith in these teachings and think that they are unrealistic and outdated. Instead, we invest ourselves in the pursuit of fame and wealth, thinking that these will make us happy. When we are honest with ourselves and look deeply into our hearts, however, we will see that even if we had unlimited wealth and power, we could still live in fear. The only way out of violence and conflict is for us to embrace the practice of peace, to think and act with compassion, love, and understanding.

From Commitment to Action

As a young monk at the Buddhist Institute in Vietnam in the 1940s, I had a deep aspiration to put into action the beautiful teachings of the Buddha that I had received. I had become a monk because of my ideals of service and compassion, but I was deeply disappointed that I had not found the opportunity to express those ideals in the monastic life as we lived it then.

At that time, our country was under foreign rule. We lived in the midst of war and oppression. Yet the teachings and practice offered to us at the Buddhist Institute did not seem to correspond to the reality of our situation. Many of us young people wanted to help others and to respond to the injustice in our society. Many were attracted by Communism because it seemed that the Communist Party offered a real chance to serve our people. So many young people joined the Communists with this sincere aspiration and a beautiful desire to help only to find themselves fighting and killing each other.

Fortunately, at that time I was in touch with the writings and teachings of some senior Buddhist monastic who showed me the path of peace and nonviolence in the Buddhist tradition. I left the Buddhist Institute because I did not find an appropriate teaching and practice there for responding to the reality of life in Vietnam, but I did not leave monastic life. I stayed a monk
and over time, together with like-minded friends, created a small community that combined the practice of mindfulness and dwelling peacefully in the moment with social work. In this way, we helped to initiate the movement of Engaged Buddhism, and our community offered support to the people and villages suffering from the war and political oppression.

Words and thoughts concerning compassionate action that are not put into practice are like beautiful flowers that are colorful but have no fragrance. The practice of mindfulness is already the action of peace. The practice of mindfulness has the power to transform us and to affect the whole world. We have to practice the cultivation of peace individually and in our relationships.

We need to practice peace with our partner, children, friends, neighbors, and society. Only this kind of practice will allow the flower of peace to take root in our families, in our communities, and in the world. Each one of us can draw from the wisdom of our own spiritual tradition -- whether it is Judaism, Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, or any other.

We must examine the way we consume, the way we work, the way we treat people in order to see whether our daily life expresses the spirit of peace and reconciliation, or whether we are doing the opposite. This is the practice of deep looking that will make peace possible in our daily life. There is hope for future generations only if we can put into practice our deep aspiration for a culture of peace and nonviolence. If we cannot take practical measures to bring about a global ethic of nonviolence, we will not have enough strength to face and deal with the difficulties we will encounter in this new century. We can do this. True peace is possible.

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