Saturday, December 30, 2006

Words of Wisdom Amidst Myopic Folly

by Sean M. Madden, Mindful Living Guide
December 30, 2006

I post this TIME Asia article about Thich Nhat Hanh in response to my feelings of this morning.

I awoke to read yet further evidence of humanity's, our, losing our way. Helpfully, I also stumbled, again, upon Nhat Hanh's words of wisdom which remind us that our "enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination, which lie within the heart of man."

Included before the TIME Asia article, below, is a sampling of the news stories which brought sadness to me this morning, and to which I decided to respond by seeking out the source of Nhat Hanh's above quote. The below, from an article on, tells of its origin:
In one of the first letters Nhat Hanh wrote [Martin Luther] King [Jr.] trying to persuade him to reject the Vietnam conflict, the Buddhist leader described the motivations of some of his fellow monks who had burned themselves to death in protest of the war. He wrote, "I believe with all my heart that the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred, and discrimination which lie within the heart of man. I also believe with all my heart that the struggle for equality and freedom you lead in Birmingham, Alabama, is not really aimed at the whites but only at intolerance, hatred, and discrimination. These are the real enemies of man - not man himself."

First thing this morning, I read that the US Food and Drug Administration is set to legally sanction the cloning of animals in the production of meat, and milk, for human consumption.

Then I read the latest of Paul Craig Roberts' avalanche of articles warning those of us who will listen that we live in a police state, and that our leaders' disregard for truth and skill in propagating lies has brought the US to "a dark age of dogmas and unaccountable power." Coming not from a progressive but from someone with conservative-insider credentials—as the Assistant Secretary of the Treasury in the Reagan administration, an Associate Editor of the Wall Street Journal editorial page, and a Contributing Editor of National Review—we might want to listen and give serious thought to what Roberts is trying hard to tell us.

I next read yesterday's International Herald Tribune editorial concerning the politically expedient rush to hang Saddam Hussein, only to then see the online edition of today's New York Times (whose parent company owns the International Herald Tribune) pop into my inbox with the headline story, "Dictator Who Ruled Iraq With Violence Is Hanged for Crimes Against Humanity," informing us that further consideration of the matter is irrelevant.

The man "was hanged just before dawn during the morning call to prayer on Saturday, Baghdad time, a senior Western official said." It seems that not even the hanging of Saddam Hussein can be vouched for by a named person. We, the readers, are presented with "All the News That's Fit to Print"—essentially the official line—and no more, as apparently befits the population of a police state.

I call into question not Saddam Hussein's crimes, rather, our response to them. Does the following photograph, from the official videotaping of Hussein's hanging this morning, illustrate, to you, a proper end to a legitimate judicial proceeding? Does this look like a fitting, just—to say nothing of a humane—end for the illegal US-UK occupation to bestow upon the people of Iraq?

Iraqi Television, via Associated Press

To me, it bespeaks more of the official thuggery which has befallen all of us in recent years, in Iraq, Afghanistan, the United States and the United Kingdom.

The article on Thich Nhat Hanh and his words of wisdom follow.


Thich Nhat Hanh
This Buddhist monk helped end the suffering of the Vietnam War
TIME Asia Magazine
by Pankaj Mishra

On June 11, 1963, a Buddhist monk called Thich Quang Duc set himself on fire in a Saigon street in protest against the repressive, U.S.-backed regime in South Vietnam. Pictures of the monk in serene meditation as flames devoured his body became the first of the images of the long Vietnam War to trouble the world's conscience. Over the next few years more than 30 other monks gave up their lives in similar protests against a senseless and brutal war.

So great and prolonged was the suffering in Indochina in those years that the Buddhist attempt to alleviate it may seem a distant memory. But Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese monk and teacher whose philosophy of "engaged Buddhism" inspired these efforts, is still with us. One of the most important religious thinkers and activists of our time, Nhat Hanh understood, from his own experience, why popular secular ideologies and movements—nationalism, fascism, communism and colonialism—unleashed the unprecedented violence of the 20th century. His education began early. Few battlefields were as bloody as Vietnam, where France and then the U.S. fought nationalists and communists for more than three decades. Though part of a quietist tradition, Nhat Hanh couldn't help being drawn into the conflicts around him. He could see how urgent it was to assert the buddhistic importance of compassion in a culture growing increasingly violent. War, he believed, could be ended only by extinguishing the emotions—fear, anger, contempt, vengefulness—that fueled it.

In 1965, after yet another Buddhist self-immolation, Nhat Hanh wrote to the American civil-rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. that "the monks who burned themselves did not aim at the death of the oppressors, but only at a change in their policy. Their enemies are not man. They are intolerance, fanaticism, dictatorship, cupidity, hatred and discrimination, which lie within the heart of man." Nhat Hanh led King, and, by extension, American public sentiment, to oppose the fighting in Vietnam. During the late 1960s, while living in the U.S. in exile, Nhat Hanh became one of the icons of the antiwar movement. His essays were published in such leading periodicals as the New York Review of Books, and his poems were sung, like songs of protest, to guitar accompaniment at college campuses. It's no exaggeration to say that Nhat Hanh helped force Washington's eventual withdrawal from Vietnam.

Nhat Hanh, now 80 years old and living in a monastery in France, has played an important role in the transmission of an Asian spiritual tradition to the modern, largely secular West. "Do not," he has written, "be bound to any doctrine, theory or ideology, even Buddhist ones. All systems of thought are guiding means, not absolute truth." As political leaders from the U.S. to Iran loudly ask their people to join new ideological battles, threatening to make this century even more violent than the last, we would all do well to heed the wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh.

Pankaj Mishra's latest book is Temptations of the West: How to be Modern in India, Pakistan, Tibet, and Beyond

From TIME Asia Magazine, issue dated November 13, 2006 Vol. 168, No. 20

1 comment:

  1. In a world where nobody knows why fighting happens between two people/two groups, we are reminded that even reactions--or emotions if you want to put it that way--are capable of being good or evil.

    I personally don't believe Saddam should've been hung. That's not a humane way to reconcile the sins he's done against his own people. Hanging someone seems the kind of thing Saddam would've done to someone else. Why stoop to his level? Evil should not give birth to evil. Kindness and goodness would've been far preferable for him. His heart might've been touched, then he would've realised the evil of his emotions and thoughts. If it was -really- necessary to kill him, I think a more humane way would've been better.

    In the end, love and kindness heals all. When will the world be full of love and kindness?