Dear Still Water Friends,
This August, at the Estes Park retreat, Thich Nhat Hanh was asked a carefully constructed question by a young national security professional:
In the face of extreme violence, such as genocide, is it ever acceptable to respond to violence with action, including even violent action? .. I think of Rwanda, Sudan. Compassionate listening with Hitler, as was done with Chamberlain, may not have been enough. I struggle with this.
Thich Nhat Hanh began his answer by explaining that it is our inner intention that determines whether a response is nonviolent or violent, not just what we do or don’t do:
Nonviolent action is not a technique, it is a way. The foundation of nonviolent action is understanding and compassion. When you have understanding and compassion in your heart, everything you do will be nonviolent.
Suppose some one is killing, some one is breaking, and you arrest him, you put him in jail. Arresting that person or putting him in jail is violent or nonviolent. It depends on the situation. If you arrest that person, if you lock him up, and you do it because of understanding and compassion, that is nonviolent action.
Even if you don’t do anything, if you allow the people to kill and destroy … that is also violence. Violence can be action or non-action.
In the shadow of the anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the question and the reply seem especially relevant. This Thursday evening, after our meditation period, we will watch Thich Nhat Hanh’s full reply to the question, and then explore together what it means for a practitioner, a baby bodhisattva, to respond mindfully to violence. How has nonviolence manifested in our lives? How might it manifest?
You are invited to join us.
The question and answer session is available on the Internet. Click here or enter http://blip.tv/pvom/responding-to-violence-question-and-answer-session-5491089 in your browser. (The above question begins at 34:30)
A related excerpt from Thich Nhat Hanh’s Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism is below.
Still Water has set up a Ride Share Board for Washington area practitioners interested in driving together to the Blue Cliff Monastery Retreat, Oct 5th to 10th. If you would like to offer or request a ride, send an email to info@StillWaterMPC.org and we will send you the link.
September 17: Sycamore Island Social (boating and picnic dinner)
September 19: Smiling Like A Buddha — A 10-week workshop on Mindfulness at Crossings in Silver Spring
October 25: Thich Nhat Hanh Public Talk at Warner Theater in DC
DEFENDING OURSELVES WITHOUT VIOLENCE
By Thich Nhat Hanh, from Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism
There are many other ways to defend ourselves: through diplomatic foreign policy, forming alliances with other countries, humanitarian assistance. These are all approaches motivated by the wisdom of interbeing. When we use these approaches to resolve conflicts, the army doesn’t have to do much. They can serve the people by building bridges and roads and mediating small conflicts. This is not idealistic thinking; armies have worked this way in the past. With good foreign policy, the army will not have to fight.
Of course, when a country is invaded, the army should resist and defend the people. It is also sometimes necessary for other countries to help a country that is being invaded. But that is quite different from attacking other countries out of national interest. The only really necessary and appropriate circumstance under which an army should resort to violence is to physically defend itself or an ally from a direct invasion. And even in this case, much suffering will result.
Military action can be compassionate, but the compassion must be real compassion. If compassion is only a screen masking anger and fear, it is useless. It upsets me that former generations have committed the same mistakes and yet we don’t learn from them. We haven’t learned enough from the war in Vietnam. There were so many atrocities committed there. So many innocent people were tortured and killed because they were perceived as either “communist” or “anticommunist.”
Mindfulness has so many layers. When we kill because we think that the other person is evil and that killing them will bring peace, we are not practicing Right Mindfulness. If we are mindful, we will see beyond the present situation to the root and the future consequences of our act in that moment. If we are truly mindful, other insights will arise: “This person I want to kill is a living being. Is there any chance for him to behave better and change his present, harmful state of mind? Maybe I have a wrong perception and one day I will see that he is just a victim of misunderstanding, and not really the evil person I think he is.” Mindfulness can help a soldier to see that he may just be an instrument for killing being used by his government.
A general who is mindful of his actions is capable of looking deeply. He may not need to use weapons. He will see that there are many ways to deter the opposite side and he will exhaust all other means before resorting to violence. When nothing else works, he may use violence, but out of compassion, not out of anger.
People usually think in extreme terms of absolute nonviolence and violence, but there are many shades of gray in between. The way we talk, eat, walk can be violent. We are not dogmatic, worshiping the idea of nonviolence, because absolute nonviolence is impossible. But it is always possible to be less violent. When we have understanding and compassion in us, we have a good chance. When we are motivated by fear and anger, we are already victims. No cause is worthy enough to be served by this state of being. A truly good cause is always motivated by compassion.