Dharma Topic: George Bush and Right Speech

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Dear Still Water Friends,

The recommendation of the Buddha is to always have the intention ofreducing suffering. When we speak, our intention must be to sayour truth in a way that touches the other person’s heart. If ourintention is to hurt, belittle, or denigrate a person – even if what weare saying is factually correct – it is not right speech. 

Most of us have experience with right speech in our daily lives. Withour loved ones, our colleagues, and even our chance encounters, we havelearned that there is a connection between what we put out and what wereceive back. The clear and respectful requestreceives a response different from the angry blaming demand.

Yet, faced with the large issues of our times, our usual skillful waysseem inadequate. How do we share our hearts and truths with Osama BinLaden, with Donald Rumsfeld , with the CEO of Philip Morris, or withBrazilian entrepreneur cutting down the rain forest? How do we createoptions for ourselves other than weak passivity or blind anger?

In talks and books, Thich Nhat Hanh often tells us to write a loveletter to our enemies. Even if the letter is not sent, the struggle tolook deeply and to lovingly express ourselves will in itself change thesituation. And sending the letter may also bring about change.

This August, in the spirit of right speech, Thich Nhat Hanh sent aletter to George Bush. The text is below, along with an excerpt from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teaching on letter writing as a form of right speech.

This Thursday evening, 5 October 2006, after our meditation period, wewill read the letter together, and share our reflections. You areinvited to join us.

Also, there will be an orientation at 6:30 pm this Thursday. If you arenew to Still Water or to Mindfulness Practice you are welcome to joinus for a discussion of our community and basic mindfulness practices.(If you are planning to come, we appreciate yourtelling us with an email to info@StillWaterMPC.org.)

Warm wishes

Mitchell Ratner
Senior Teacher

Letter from Thich Nhat Hanh to George Bush

Plum Village
Le Pey 24240
Thenac, France

Honorable George W. Bush
The White House
Washington DC, USA


Dear Mr. President

Lastnight, I saw my brother (who died two weeks ago in the U.S.A.) comingback to me in a dream. He was with all his children. He told me, “let’sgo home together.” After a millisecond of hesitation, I told himjoyfully, “Ok, let’s go.”

Waking up from that dream at 5 am thismorning, I thought of the situation in the Middle East; and for thefirst time, I was able to cry. I cried for a long time, and I felt muchbetter after about one hour. Then I went to the kitchen and made sometea. While making tea, I realized that what my brother had said istrue: our home is large enough for all of us. Let us go home asbrothers and sisters.

Mr. President, I think that if you couldallow yourself to cry like I did this morning, you will also feel muchbetter. It is our brothers that we kill over there. They are ourbrothers, God tells us so, and we also know it. They may not see us asbrothers because of their anger, their misunderstanding, and theirdiscrimination. But with some awakening, we can see things in adifferent way, and this will allow us to respond differently to thesituation. I trust God in you; I trust Buddha nature in you.

Thank you for reading.

In gratitude and with brotherhood,
Thich Nhat Hanh
Plum Village

(A copy of the handwritten original is available at: www.deerparkmonastery.org/news/dharmabreeze/lettertothepresident.html).

Letter Writing as Practice, from The Heart of the Buddha’s Teachings by Thich Nhat Hanh

Letter writing is a form of speech. A letter can sometimes be saferthan speaking, because there is time for you to read what you havewritten before sending it. As you read your words, you can visualizethe other person receiving your letter and decide if what you havewritten is skillful and appropriate. Your letter has to water the seedsof transformation in the other person and stir something in his heartif it is to be called Right Speech. If any phrase can be misunderstoodor upsetting, rewrite it. Right Mindfulness tells you whether you areexpressing the truth in the most skillful way. Once you have mailedyour letter, you cannot get it back. So read it over carefully severaltimes before sending it. Such a letter will benefit both of you.

Ofcourse you have suffered, but the other person has suffered also. Thatis why writing is a very good practice. Writing is a practice oflooking deeply. You send the letter only when you are sure that youhave looked deeply. You don’t need to blame anymore. You need to showthat you have a deeper understanding. It is true that the other personsuffers, and that alone is worth your compassion. When you begin tounderstand the suffering of the other person, compassion will arise inyou, and the language you use will have the power of healing.Compassion is the only energy that can help us connect with anotherperson. The person who has no compassion in him can never be happy.When you practice looking at the person to whom you are going to writea letter, if you can begin to see his suffering, compassion will beborn. The moment compassion is born in you, you feel better already,even before you finish the letter. After sending the letter, you feeleven better, because you know the other person will also feel betterafter reading your letter. Everyone needs understanding and acceptance.And now you have understanding to offer. By writing a letter like this,you restore communication.