Reflections on “True Peace Work: Essential Writings on Engaged Buddhism
“Life is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders, like the blue sky, the sunshine, the eyes of a baby. To suffer is not enough. We must also be in touch with the wonders of life. They are within us and all around us, everywhere, any time.”
— Thich Nhat Hanh
nuclear bombs with
and sunlight opening
the petals of
a child dragging
through mud streets,
lips scabbed and dry,
eyes open in the
and blue birds
in the moist
below a mist
of mountain clouds
before a gun,
of homeland, lost
in a feud
on a mountain,
Lose all dogma,
Be open to everything,
Don’t force your beliefs on others,
Walk your own path
It’s necessary to occasionally leave from civilization, meditating in the wilderness, sitting in the quiet hum of solitude, hiking through the mountains, in order to heal from civilization and turn inward and listen again. Too much noise from civilization pollutes the mind. Too much attachment wears anyone down eventually. The wise, who are filled with loving-kindness, do by not doing. Their presence is powerful in its authenticity and their benevolent actions stem from being grounded, peaceful, and compassionate. They master themselves so they can help others.
The Buddha said: “Victory creates hatred. Defeat creates suffering. The wise ones desire neither victory nor defeat… Anger creates anger… He who kills will be killed. He who wins will be defeated. Revenge can only be overcome by abandoning revenge… The wise ones desire neither victory nor defeat.”
Our governments condition us to separate ourselves from the Other. We are routinely taught to hate and fear what we don’t understand. Children starve daily and nuclear weapons are stocked up and environmental disaster heightens to threaten the planet and tribal groups murder over natural resources and corruption spreads through political systems.
In our societies, we forget our traumas and remember and then forget again.
How can we help others when it’s so easy to forget? We have to be aware of our own lives so we can be aware of the issues of the world. To see ourselves in the Other, whether we are a weapons manufacturer or a child with cholera in Yemen, whether we are a corrupt president or a farmer whose land was stolen, lets us be aware of the interdependence of this world.
We are in everyone and everyone is in us. When we see the deep relationship of the world, it is our responsibility to help others because they are who we were, are, and could have been.
Nhat Chi Mai
Mai, loving Mai,
crumpled in her
and burnt hair,
to end enduring
where bomb smoke
filled the eyes of
Mai, loving Mai,
dead in the
so the lost
could work for
Those who try to harm us are our most beneficial teachers. We should be grateful to them because we can then practice our patience, tolerance, and forgiveness.
When we are angry or jealous, our minds are not well adjusted. We’re not balanced or peaceful when we are lost in negative emotions. Those who try to cause us harm may do so because of their anger, envy, pain, bitterness, and so on. They act from their suffering just as we act from our own — whenever we’re upset, sad, jealous, etc. Under different conditions, they may be a friend instead of an enemy.
Instead of hating people who try to harm us, feel compassion for them instead. Instead of judging the entirety of their lives because of an action or negative feeling, we must see ourselves in them.
The rainforest is my lungs, the sun is my heart. I am made of elements of air, land, and water. Without the trees and flowers and soil and bees and birds and grass, I cannot exist. They are in me as I am in them. From a spec of dust to the stars, interdependent and changing, I am. As seeds are watered to become trees, as decomposing animals fertilize the soil, everything is in transformation.
I must protect my planet because this planet, ever-changing in its growth and death, is never separate from me.
I must be aware of my relationship with the earth. I must not mindlessly consume and destroy. Respect should be given to the land and water and air. If I can, I will work to prevent the destruction of what nourishes all living things.
The persistent cycle of delusion, greed, and aversion, clinging to a past, present, and future, to pleasure and desire, to the idea of having a separate, isolated self, can be broken with wisdom (gained in meditation) and morality.
Every step is a step to be free. Every moment is a chance to be loving and peaceful.
To be enlightened is not to avoid life, not to ignore all of the traumas and wars and violence that causes people to suffer, but to joyfully live in the world, even among all the sorrows (Joseph Campbell). One can simultaneously hear the “birds chirping” and know the “depths of hell.”
Be at home in the present moment to heal the past. Build communities of peace and love wherever we go.
People are not obstacles to overcome when working on the self. They aren’t distractions. They are teachers, even those who are cruel, violent, and sad.
Care for children and see the child in every adult. Know that even those who are immoral now were once tender babies. Those who underwent so many traumas, who repeat those destructive patterns in adulthood, were once so scared and vulnerable to the world.
Before speaking, be mindful of breathing. Allow a pause before responding rather than speaking impulsively. Listen deeply, learning about not just the words of the speaker, but their underlying fears and worries, uncertainties and curiosities. When speaking, use the language of loving-kindness, working always to develop harmony rather than causing division. After speaking, let go of the words. They belong to the community now.
Instead of holding onto views of right and wrong, discover what the reasons are for a person’s view. What in life led them to such a position? Does it help or hurt, is it truthful or a lie, does it cause suffering or a benefit to others?
Refrain from unkind words about people not present. Do not fall into unwholesome habits, picked up from others. Break apart conditioned patterns of communication.
Our boundless energy to help others comes from taking care of ourselves.
Comparing ourselves to others, feeling secretly satisfied when others fail or do badly, will not sustain our lives.
Giving too much, focusing on too many projects, championing for too many causes, while neglecting our own health, will only lead to burnout and depression.
We do violence to ourselves when we ignore our own nourishment. We hurt ourselves when we focus on the task, whatever work needs to be done, the details of an important project, while failing to be mindful of ourselves, of another person, totally and sincerely.