Excerpt from Spiritual Reflections on War and Peace: A Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh,
Peace Forum, March 19, 2003
Q: You have mentioned that there is no happiness without suffering. When I change these words we might consider that there is no peace without war. Does this mean that we cannot avoid war; we should just accept it as unavoidable karma? Should we just keep silent and breathe in and out mindfully? What would you do when there is war?
Thay: This is an excellent question. War is not just the bombs falling on us. Every
time you have a thought that is full of anger and misunderstanding—that is war. War
can be manifested through our way of thinking, our way of speaking, and our
way of acting. We may be living in war, not knowing that we are fighting with ourselves
and the people around us. With the war in yourself and the war that you inflict
on other people, there is suffering within you and there is suffering around you.
Maybe in your daily life there are a few moments of ceasefire. But most are moments
Suppose there is a couple who quarrels all the time except when they are very tired;
these moments of not quarreling are not exactly peace, they are a ceasefire. Then suppose
a friend comes to visit and asks, “Why are you living in war twenty-four hours a
day? Why don’t you try living in peace?” And the couple says, “We don’t know. Tell
us, what is peace? What can we do in order to have peace?” And the friend tells the
couple how to practice in order to bring back harmony into their bodies and into
their emotions and feelings and they begin to have a taste of peace. Supported by the
friend, the couple’s peace grows every day until one day they say, “It is wonderful, we
know what peace is now.”
But if there had been no experience of living at war, then how could they experience peace?
Thanks to the mud, the lotus flower is able to grow. The feeling of well-being and peace is possible only when you have experienced the feeling of war. As someone who has lived many decades in the midst of war, I know what war is. And elements of suffering in war have helped me to arrive at the state of being in peace today. If I did not know some practice of peace I would have died in the war of suffering.
We know that we are co-responsible for the situation of our society. By the way we
live our daily life we contribute to peace or to war. It is mindfulness that can tell me
that I am going in the direction of war and it is the energy of mindfulness that can help
me to make a turn and to go in the direction of peace. That is why I have translated
mindfulness and concentration as the Holy Spirit; it can transform your life.