“We know how to write strong letters of protest, but we must also learn to write love letters to our President and Representatives, demonstrating the kind of understanding and using the kind of language they will appreciate. To love is to understand. We cannot express love to someone unless we understand him or her. If we do not understand our President or Congressperson we cannot write him or her a love letter.”
–Love In Action, Thich Nhat Hanh, 1993.
The Plum Village Tradition was founded during the Vietnam war. In that time of great suffering, our teacher offered visions of peace to both sides of the conflict through many writings. The emphasis was always on unity, and interbeing. “Man is not our enemy”. In
Love in Action, Thay wrote, “Every action for peace requires someone to exhibit the courage to challenge the violence and inspire love. People are happy to read a good letter in which we share our insights and our understanding. When they receive that
kind of letter, they feel understood and they will pay attention to your recommendations.”
Should we be writing love letters? Is that not too political?
The Tenth Mindfulness Training reminds us that the essence and aim of a Sangha is the realization of understanding and compassion, and that we are to be determined not to use the Buddhist community as a political instrument. The Training continues, however, “ As members of a spiritual Community, we should nonetheless take a clear stand against oppression and Injustice. We should strive to change the situation without taking sides in a conflict”. The Ninth Training also calls us to truthful and loving speech: “We will do our best to speak out about situations of Injustice even when doing so may cause difficulties for us or threaten our safety”.
What are the Skillful Means in writing Love Letters?
There are two main forms of Love Letters that we might write: A) Letters to the Editor (LTEs); and B) Letters to our government officials.
In both cases, the primary skillful means for communicating in the voice of the Plum Village tradition are: understanding, compassion, and equanimity. Most important is that we are at peace within ourselves, even within the face of anger and conflict. It may also be helpful, before beginning to write, to meditate. Of great benefit might be the Metta (loving-kindness) meditation. We offer ourselves peace and ease in the moment, and also offer
loving-kindness and aspirations to those to whom we are writing.
Love Letters to Government Officials
Some Skillful Means for writing include:
Clarity in the Subject reference for the letter
Beginning with sincere “flower watering” and gratitude for the
service of the official
Acknowledging the concern and issue at hand, and
expressing its impacts and implications.
Speaking to the spiritual practices and principles of our
tradition as they relate to the subject, e.g. Interbeing; Do no
harm; Right Action.
Reference all sources of statistics and information, for
example. “according to the National Academy of Sciences…”
Request, rather than demand, specific action from the official
Close with a Thank You and offer of your support
Letters to the Editor (LTE)
Government officials and policy-makers need the support of the public, particularly on controversial decisions. Letters to the Editor supporting strong ethical and moral reasons for specific decisions are very helpful to policymakers. Many citizens may also need to
hear our voice. All of the skillful means already mentioned also apply to Letters to the Editor but the limitation of space in magazines and articles also demands brevity and a clearer statement of opinion.
Here are some additional tips as offered by Interfaith Power & Light: