Engaged Buddhism from ‘The Pocket Thich Nhat Hanh’
In Vietnam we started a movement that we called “Engaged Buddhism”. We wanted Buddhism to be present in every walk of life – not just in the temple, but also in society, in our schools, our families and in our work places, even in politics and in the military. Compassion and understanding should be present everywhere.
There are many of us who are eager to work for peace, but we don’t have peace within. Angrily we shout for peace. And angrily we shout at the people, who like us, are also for peace; even people and groups dedicated to peace-making sometimes fight amongst themselves. If there is no peace in our hearts, there can be no harmony among the peace workers. And if there is no harmony, there is no hope. If we’re divided, if we’re in despair, we can’t serve; we can’t do anything. Peace must begin with ourselves: with the practice of sitting quietly, of walking mindfully, of taking care of our body, releasing the tension in our body and in our feelings. That is why the practice of being peace is at the foundation of doing peace. Being peace comes first. Doing peace is something that comes from the foundation.
The moment when you sit down and begin to breathe in, calming your mind and your body, peace has become a reality. That kind of breathing is like praying. Then there is the element of peace in you; you can connect with other people, and you can help others to be peaceful like you. Together you become a body of peace, the Sangha body of peace. The practice can bring peace to us right away; and when you’re more peaceful, more pleasant, you can be more effective in contacting other people and inviting them to join in the work of peace-making. Since you are peaceful and you know how to look peacefully, speak peacefully and react peacefully, you can persuade many people to join you in the work of promoting peace and reconciliation.
You can’t have peace just by sitting down and negotiating or making plans. You have to learn how to breathe and out, to calm yourself and you have to be able to help the other person do like you. If there is no element of peace in you and in the other person, none of your activities can be described as genuine acts of peace-making.
We have to practise peace in our corporations, in our cities, in our schools. School teachers have to practise peace and to teach their students how to practise peace. The president of a country or the head of a political party must practise peace, must pray for peace in his body and mind before he can be effective in asking other prime ministers and heads of state to join him in making peace.
Ideally each peace conference would begin with walking meditation and sitting meditation. And someone would be there to guide the total relaxation in order to remove tension, anger, and fear in body and mind. That is bringing the spiritual dimension into our political and social life; that is Engaged Buddhism