Being Peaceful Change
Look with the Eyes of Compassion
Wednesday, July 29, 2020
The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (born 1926) is one of the world’s most influential spiritual teachers. During the Vietnam War, his work for peace brought him into friendship with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Merton, and other Christians who shared his belief that peace must be who we are, not just something we demand. Thich Nhat Hanh teaches:
This capacity of waking up, of being aware of what is going on in your feelings, in your body, in your perceptions, in the world, is called Buddha nature, the capacity of understanding and loving. . . . It is with our capacity of smiling, breathing, and being peace that we can make peace.
Many of us worry about the world situation. We don’t know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous, injustice is so widespread, the danger is so close. In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help.
I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam, there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression—face, voice—communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.
Our world is something like a small boat. Compared with the cosmos, our planet is a very small boat. We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the sea. . . . Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person. . . .
The root-word “budh” means to wake up, to know, to understand. A person who wakes up and understands is called a Buddha. It is as simple as that. The capacity to wake up, to understand, and to love is called Buddha nature. [Christians would call this Christ nature, the Christ self, or the mind of Christ.] . . .
When you understand, you cannot help but love. . . . To develop understanding, you have to practice looking at all living beings with the eyes of compassion. When you understand, you love. And when you love, you naturally act in a way that can relieve the suffering of people.
Thich Nhat Hanh, Being Peace, ed. Rachel Neumann, rev. ed. (Parallax Press: 2005, ©1987), 18, 21–22, 23, 24.