This month, we lost one of the world’s greatest teachers of peace and non-violence, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, author and activist, Thich Nhat Hanh. He came onto our Western radar during the Vietnam War, when he traveled here to make the case for peace. During his trip he met Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who later nominated Hanh for the Nobel Peace Prize. As a result of this peace-making mission, both North and South Vietnam denied him reentry to Vietnam, thus beginning a long 39-year exile.
His suffering became grist for the mindful mill. He never let up on his optimism and hope. His encouraging words often included this story:
“When the crowded Vietnamese refugee boats met with storms or pirates, if everyone panicked all would be lost. But if even one person on the boat stayed calm and centered it was enough. It shows a way for everyone to survive.”
For many of his students and readers, Thich Nhat Hanh became that steady and wise one, showing us the way to stay peaceful amidst the turmoil of life, encouraging us not to give in to hatred, but to continually pursue peace.
I think that his peace-making advice is more relevant today than ever, amidst our ever-growing divides between “us” and “them”, rich and poor, black and white, legal and illegal, Democrat and Republican, vaxxers and anti-vaxxers, etc.
Hanh advocated the importance of perspective-taking in the peace-making process. In his second book, Being Peace, he wrote:
People completely identify with one side, one ideology. Reconciliation is to understand both sides, to go to one side and describe the suffering being endured by the other side, and then go to the other side and describe the suffering being endured by the first side. Doing only that will be a great help for peace. (p.70)
I saw Hanh only once in NYC, but know his teaching through his books. A few of my favorite lines continue to resonate in me:
“Drink your tea slowly and reverently, as if it is the axis on which the world earth revolves – slowly, evenly, without rushing toward the future.”
“What we most need to do is to hear within us the sounds of the earth crying.”
“Peace in every step. Walk as if you are kissing the Earth with your feet.”
“People usually consider walking on water or in thin air a miracle. But I think the real miracle is not to walk either on water or in thin air, but to walk on earth.”
“You must love in such a way that the person you love feels free.”
“To be beautiful means to be yourself. You don’t need to be accepted by others. You need to accept yourself.”
Thank you, Tay, for your teachings. May your wisdom continue to work its peace-making magic on us all.