​Man Is Not Our Enemy: A Heart-to-Heart Sharing about the Middle East​​

​Man Is Not Our Enemy: A Heart-to-Heart Sharing about the Middle East​​

Discussion date: Thu, Feb 15, 2024 at our weekly Thursday evening practice

Dear Still Water Friends,​

During the Vietnam War, or as Vietnamese people call it, the American War, Thích Nhất Hạnh (Thầy) promoted a radically humanist way of thinking, often stating that “man is not our enemy”; our enemy is “fanaticism, hatred, ambition and violence.” While his perspective touched the hearts of many, his position was condemned by politicians on both sides of the war and he was exiled, first by the Republic of Vietnam, and then, after reunification, by the Socialist Republic of Vietnam.

More than thirty years after his exile, Thầy wrote an essay, “Man Is Not Our Enemy,” that was a public letter to the people of Vietnam. Thầy expanded on his humanist viewpoint and encouraged Vietnamese leaders and Buddhist practitioners to adopt it:​

I still adhere to my standpoint of those times but now I have gone farther. Before I used to say our enemy is ambition, hatred, discrimination and violence but for the past twenty years or more I have no longer wanted to call these negative mental formations enemies which need to be destroyed. I have seen that they can be transformed into positive energies such as understanding and love, just like a gardener can transform rubbish into green manure which can be used to grow flowers and vegetables. For the last thirty years I have been practicing and teaching Buddhism in the West from this perspective called the insight of interbeing which is explained in the Avatamsaka Sutra. ​

In the concluding section, “The Path of Loving Kindness,” Thầy writes:​

Having learnt and practiced the teachings of Interbeing I no longer see anyone as my enemy and in my heart is a feeling of lightness and immense space. I do not even feel hatred towards people who have made me or my people suffer because I know how to look at them with the eyes of understanding and love. You may ask: “Then are you going to give that band of mad, cruel, fanatical thieves and murderers freedom to continue to destroy and make misery without doing anything to stop them?” No! We have to do everything we can to stop them, we cannot allow them to continue to kill, plunder, oppress and destroy, but our actions will never be motivated by hatred. We have to stop them, not allowing them to cause misery. If necessary we can bind them, put them in prison, but this action has to be directed by our bodhisattva’s heart and while we act like this we continue to maintain our loving-kindness, wanting them to be able to have a chance to wake up, and change.

Acting from a basis of Loving-Kindness, Compassion, Joy and Equanimity we automatically choose the path of non-violence whereon we make an effort to protect the life of all species as much as we possibly can. Obviously we cannot be absolutely non-violent, just as my plate of steamed greens cannot be 100% vegetarian, because when we boil vegetables so many bacteria die. However, going in the direction of non-violence we can spare bloodshed and protect the life of all species to the greatest possible extent. …​

To be able to look well in order to see that the other person is also our brother or sister and not to try and find ways to remove that person from our daily life is the learning and practice we all have to undertake, whether we are Buddhist or not. Some people are amiable, some are difficult and some are very difficult. However if we are a descendant of the Buddha we have to try to love everyone according to the principle “Man is not our enemy.” Our enemy is not our enemy or, in other words, the person who hates us is not the person we hate. We do not have enemies. If we can see that and act according to that, when at last we lie down and close our eyes we shall be able to smile. ​

This Thursday evening, after our meditation time, we will focus our Dharma sharing on what is arising for us, in our bodies, feelings, emotions, and mental states, in response to the violence and destruction occurring in the Middle East.  Our intention is, through the lens of our mindfulness practice, to create a safe and welcoming space for practitioners to share with others what has arisen for them.

Sometimes, as a spiritual community, we are very much in accord on an issue, such as the importance of ending racism. And sometimes, although we agree on our community’s core purpose of nourishing the seeds of mindfulness, compassion, and community, our personal experiences, views, language, and responses may sharply differ. Our hope is that all practitioners will be able to speak from their hearts about what is true for them, and listen, as Thầy encourages, with deep compassion and love for everyone, including those who may say things that are difficult to hear.​ Our capacity to listen deeply is a gift we can offer to each other and to the world.

Our sharing will take place under Still Water’s Dharma Sharing Guidelines:

  • Bow in and bow out.
  • Speak from your heart and your own experience. Honor confidentiality.
  • Practice compassionate speaking and listening. Address everyone present.
  • You are invited to step up if you rarely talk and to step back if you tend to talk a lot. Try to be concise.
  • Especially in a diverse community we try to remember that what we intend to say and how it is received (the impact) may differ.
  • Support the facilitators in nurturing a welcoming and safe space for all.
  • The Still Water guidelines are explained in more detail on the Still Water website.​

In addition, to assist everyone in listening deeply with an open heart, we will invite a bell after each sharing.​ And, also, to allow for many practitioners to share, when the speaker has spoken for three minutes we will invite a short bell to lovingly encourage the speaker to conclude their remarks.​

You are invited to be with us this Thursday evening.​

Two additional excerpts from Thầy are below. One explains what it means to listen like the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara to the suffering of others. The other reminds us that “It never helps to draw a line and dismiss some people as enemies.”

Sending warm wishes and many blessings,

Mitchell Ratner

From The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching by Thích Nhất Hạnh

In Buddhism, we speak of the bodhisattva Avalokiteshvara, Kwan Yin, a person who has a great capacity of listening with compassion and true presence. “Kwan Yin” means the one who can listen and understand the sound of the world, the cries of suffering. Psychotherapists try to practice the same. They sit very quietly with a lot of compassion and listen to you. Listening like that is not to judge, criticize, condemn, or evaluate, but to listen with the single purpose in mind to help the other person suffer less. If they are able to listen like that to you for one hour, you feel much better. But psychotherapists have to practice so that they can always maintain compassion, concentration, and deep listening. Otherwise, their quality of listening will be very poor, and you will not feel better after one hour of listening.

You have to practice breathing mindfully in and out so that compassion always stays with you. “I am listening to him not only because I want to know what is inside him or to give him advice. I am listening to him just because I want to relieve his suffering.” That is called compassionate listening. You have to listen in such a way that compassion remains with you the whole time you are listening. That is the art. If halfway through listening irritation or anger comes up, then you cannot continue to listen. You have to practice in such a way that every time the energy of irritation and anger comes up, you can breathe in and out mindfully and continue to hold compassion within you. It is with compassion that you can listen to another. No matter what he says, even if there is a lot of wrong information and injustice in his way of seeing things, even if he condemns or blames you, continue to sit very quietly breathing in and out. Maintain your compassion within you for one hour. That is called compassionate listening. If you can listen like that for one hour, the other person will feel much better.


From For a Future to Be Possible by Thích Nhất Hạnh

Anyone can practice some nonviolence, even army generals. They may, for example, conduct their operations in ways that avoid killing innocent people. To help soldiers move in the nonviolent direction, we have to be in touch with them. If we divide reality into two camps—the violent and the nonviolent—and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel are responsible for wars and social injustice, without recognizing the degree of violence in ourselves. We must work on ourselves and also work with those we condemn if we want to have a real impact.

It never helps to draw a line and dismiss some people as enemies, even those who act violently. We have to approach them with love in our hearts and do our best to help them move in a direction of nonviolence. If we work for peace out of anger, we will never succeed. Peace is not an end. It can never come about through non-peaceful means.

in: Dharma Topics
Discussion Date: Thu, Feb 15, 2024


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