جرقه بیداری جمعیکتاب: هنر قدرت / فصل 11
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CHAPTER NINE - Sparking a Collective Awakening
Even if you cultivate the five powers of faith, diligence, mindfulness, concentration, and insight, if you think you can cultivate them for yourself alone, your power will remain weak. The insight of interbeing teaches us that only when we acknowledge and awaken our collective consciousness can we harness the full strength of our collective power.
There is individual consciousness, and there is collective consciousness. Our consciousness is composed of all the seeds sown by our past actions and the past actions of our family and society. Every day our thoughts, words, and actions flow into the sea of our consciousness and create our bodies, minds, and the world. The individual consciousness is made of the collective, and the collective is made of the individual;they inter-are. Your idea of beauty doesn’t come only from within you. You think something is beautiful because many people consider it beautiful. You’re influenced by the collective consciousness. Like fashion: you desire a certain style of clothing based on what others decide is fashionable. If the majority considers it to be beautiful, you agree that it is beautiful. You may go to an art exhibit and see a number of paintings that you don’t find beautiful at all. But all the people who come to the exhibit praise and appreciate these paintings, so you pretend that they are beautiful also.
You try to look at them in such a way that you also see them as beautiful. And later on, because of the collective consciousness, you see them as beautiful. Beauty and ugliness, like many of our values, are creations of our collective consciousness.
When fear becomes collective, when anger becomes collective, it is extremely dangerous. It is overwhelming.
This is why you have to choose an environment where you’ll be influenced by a healthy, clear collective consciousness. We are easily influenced by collective thinking. In 2004, eighty percent of the American population still believed the war in Iraq was a response to the attacks of September 11, 2001, even though there was no link between the Iraqi government and Al Qaeda. In September 2004, only thirty-five percent of the English population thought the war was correct.
Citizens of the United States have to be open to the perspective of the Indians, the Asians, the Africans, the Arabs, and the Latin Americans. You have to listen to them; you have to understand how they think and how they understand situations. You cannot lock yourself in one notion, one idea. The mass media and the military industrial complex create a prison for us, so we continue to think, see, and act in the same way. It is up to each of us, individually and collectively, to free ourselves from this prison of views, of fear and violence.
As an artist, teacher, politician, or businessperson, you can influence people and create beauty. You should have your own insight. You can help the good, the true, and the beautiful already there inside you to manifest.
You express yourself in the light of truth. Even if the majority has not seen the truth that you have, you are courageous enough to continue. And the minority who see the truth, who are awakened, can transform the whole situation. Just as our individual consciousness is created and influenced by the collective, our individual consciousness can influence and create the collective consciousness.
We may be clear about the need for change in our country, but we need the courage to express ourselves even when the majority is going in the opposite direction. We should be supported by our loved ones, by our colleagues who agree with us—because a change of direction can happen only when there is a collective awakening. Individuals and small groups can spark a change in consciousness. Even if we are a minority, if we believe we have an insight that can lead us out of our difficult situation, we should have the courage to speak out. There are many ways in which we can succeed in speaking out—and not just as an individual, because there may be a number of us who think clearly but haven’t had the opportunity to show our light.
Therefore it is very important to say “I am here!” to those who share the same kind of insight. Please raise your voice so that you can come together with others.
When we come together, we can voice our concerns strongly and effectively. Because collective awakening is the only thing that can change our situation.During the war in Vietnam, I was almost shot by an American army officer because he thought I was a guerrilla in disguise. Before American soldiers came to Vietnam, they were told that anyone could be a communist guerrilla, including Buddhist monks. I remained calm and was able to ease his fear. My sangha and I practiced seeing the suffering not only of the communist and anticommunist factions, but also of the American soldiers, sent so far from home to kill or be killed. I was free from hatred because I had understanding and compassion, and many of us survived the war thanks to this practice.
My experience with several wars in Vietnam has led me to the firm belief that terrorism cannot be removed by force and that deep listening is more powerful than bombs. Terrorism is born from wrong perceptions. The terrorists have wrong perceptions of themselves. They have wrong perceptions of us. That is why they want to destroy us, to punish us. If we know how they think, how they perceive things, we can help them remove these wrong perceptions. The work of removing wrong perceptions is the foundation for transforming violence and terrorism and fostering peace.We have to listen to other political leaders in Europe, in Asia, because our feeling, our thinking, may be characterized by a lot of wrong perceptions. We should not be too sure of our perceptions. Our wrong perceptions lead to conflict, suffering, and war.
Americans now are a bit lonely in their way of seeing things, and they need to listen to Asians, Europeans, Africans, everyone. When you are able to remove your wrong perceptions and help remove the wrong perceptions in others, then you remove terrorism. There is no other way. It is clear that the war on terrorism has not helped reduce terrorism. It has created much more hatred and fear both inside and outside the United States. America is more vulnerable now than in 2001.
The war on terrorism has forced us to look at each other as potential terrorists. When you travel by plane, you are searched. They are not looking for your Buddha nature; they are looking for your terrorist nature.
Everyone can participate in the work of awakening, helping enlightenment to be born in society. Awakening is your task. By skillful means, you can contribute greatly to the collective awakening that is the foundation of all change. You can help people see that deep, compassionate listening and loving speech are the only ways to remove wrong perceptions.
Unfortunately, our politicians are not used to this kind of practice, and the collective idea is that money and military power are the only kinds of power we have. But we do have other kinds of power. America has the power of understanding and the power of compassion, if we choose to use them. There are more than enough people in America who have insight, understanding, and compassion. If they come together to voice their concern and offer us the light, we can overcome this difficult moment. The path is the path of peace. It is my conviction that there is no way to peace —peace is the way. You have to use peaceful means to arrive at peace.
The United States cannot do everything in the world.
Although she is the mightiest nation, the United States is only one member of the community of all nations.
She has to allow other nations to be responsible for the world, and not try to do everything by herself. The United States needs to invest in the United Nations and allow other countries to participate in building the United Nations into a real organization for peace, with sufficient authority and power.
If we consider violence to be a disease, we can use the medicine of deep listening to treat it. I don’t think we can heal the disease of violence in our families and our schools using money alone. If legislators look deeply into this matter, they will see that high levels of violence at home have to do with our foreign policy.
When there is violence inside us, it is easy to commit or condone violence against another person; when there is war in ourselves, it is easy to start a war with another person. Couples, families, and nations are the same.
Why don’t we create a law that gives parents a chance to go to a workshop, a retreat, every year— seven days to learn how to take care of each other, to restore communication, mutual understanding, and love?
Why don’t we allow schoolteachers to go on a paid retreat each year so they can learn how to transform their suffering and understand the suffering of their students?
Once we have engaged in this kind of peace education, we can help our children cultivate the five spiritual powers. If you are a schoolteacher or a parent, you can teach your children or students to cultivate the five spiritual powers. Please begin now, and soon we will have a new generation of people who know what kind of power they really need to be truly happy. We should organize mindfulness retreats for parents and schoolteachers and ask them to initiate this education for future generations.
In Thailand and other Buddhist countries, in the old times young men were supposed to spend one year in a temple to receive spiritual training. They had mandatory spiritual service instead of military service.
Even the prince had to spend one year in a monastery before becoming king. This was a beautiful thing! But now the time has been reduced to a month or a few weeks, which is not long enough. It is my dream to set up a peace institute where young people can be trained before they marry in concrete methods of creating happiness and peace in the family. If you are a happy couple, the children you raise will also be happy.
If we ourselves haven’t cultivated these spiritual powers, we cannot help our children or others to do it.
We have to cross the river of suffering in order to help other people across. We have to become enlightened so as to help other people become enlightened. Most of us in the world are still living in a dream, and we don’t know what we are doing. We are taking each other in the direction of destruction, but we don’t know it.
Enlightenment is crucial to our survival.
Many of us believe that we are powerless, that we can’t do much to change the situations around us, especially political situations. The reality is that we can always be someone and do something to help change the situation. Like us, our political leaders have positive seeds and negative seeds. They may be surrounded by people who don’t water the good seeds in them. Their advisors continue to water the seeds of fear, craving, anger, and violence in them. We have to find ways to get in touch with our political leaders and help them.
Protesting is a kind of help, but it should be done skillfully, so people see it as an act of love and not an attack.
The fact is that the majority of us are so busy with our small, daily problems that we are indifferent.
Maybe we care, but we are so busy with our small sufferings, our small miseries that we don’t have the time and energy to do these important things. But it really doesn’t take a lot of time. We can write a love letter to our political representatives. This is a little more challenging than writing a letter of protest. Here is an example of such a love letter that I wrote to the president of the United States.
Dear Mr. President,
Last night, I saw my brother (who died two weeks ago in the United States) come back to me in a dream. He was with his children. He told me, “Let’s go home together.” After a millisecond of hesitation, I told him joyfully, “Okay, let’s go.” Waking up from that dream at five this morning, I thought of the situation in the Middle East, and for the first time, I was able to cry. I cried for a long time, and I felt much better after about one hour. Then I went to the kitchen and made some tea. While making tea, I realized that what my brother had said is true: our home is large enough for all of us. Let us go home as brothers and sisters.
Mr. President, I think that if you can allow yourself to cry like I did this morning, you will also feel much better. It is our brothers that we kill over there. They are our brothers—God tells us so, and we also know it. They may not see us as brothers because of their anger, their misunderstanding, and their discrimination. But with some awakening, we can see things in a different way, and this will allow us to respond differently to the situation. I trust God in you; I trust the Buddha nature in you.
Thank you for reading.
In gratitude and with brotherhood,
Thich Nhat Hanh
By living your life mindfully, by expressing your creativity and wisdom in your work, you can contribute to a collective awakening of our people. Then we’ll be strong enough to influence our political leaders. We have to support our leaders. We have to help them see the situation more clearly: that their present course of action is causing a lot of destruction and damage, that the war on terrorism has created more hate, more terror, and more terrorists. We can show people that violence is not working. Only with compassionate listening and gentle speech can you help remove the wrong perceptions that are at the foundation of hate and violence.
We need to manage our feelings of powerlessness, of being overwhelmed by despair. We do have power, and we should know how to use it to effect change. We have to organize ourselves. Openness and loving speech can work miracles. Every parent, teacher, businessperson, and artist can always do something to encourage collective awakening. Everyone is responsible. The situation is too important to leave to politicians alone.
Without collective awakening, nothing will happen.Awakening is the foundation of every kind of change.
Each of us has to sit down and look deeply to see what we can be and what we can do today.
In September 2006, I was invited to speak at the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO). I proposed that UNESCO organize regular “no-car days” all over the globe as a wonderful way to educate people about what is happening to our environment. In all the Plum Village practice centers in North America, Europe, and Vietnam, we have begun to practice one no-car day a week. We arrange things in advance so on that day none of us will have to drive anywhere. Already many, many people around the world have committed themselves to doing the same. Our goal is to reduce our driving by fifty percent. We have begun to use cars that run on vegetable oil and do not increase carbon dioxide levels in the atmosphere, as well as organizing regular no electricity days. We will also participate in and encourage others to join the World Car Free Day on September 22 every year (to learn more and get involved, visit our Web site www.car-free-days.org and www.worldcarfree.net/wcfd). Talking about the danger is not enough. We have to do something and invite other people to join in.
People sometimes ask me how our species can reconcile with planet Earth after all the harm we have caused. We can reconcile with Mother Earth by practicing walking meditation. On every step we can kiss the earth with our feet, with love, with the promise that we will stop our current course of destroying Mother Earth. If we continue abusing the earth this way, there is no doubt that our civilization will be destroyed. This turnaround takes enlightenment, awakening. The Buddha attained individual awakening.
Now we need a collective enlightenment to stop this course of destruction. Civilization is going to end if we continue to drown in the competition for power, fame, sex, and profit.
One day during meditation, I was contemplating global warming, the tsunami in Southeast Asia, weather changes, and so on. With some anguish, I asked Nature this question: “Nature, do you think we can rely on you?” I asked the question because I know that Nature is intelligent; she knows how to react, sometimes violently, to reestablish balance. And I heard the answer in the form of another question: “Can I rely on you?” The question was being put back to me: can Nature rely on humans? And after long, deep breathing, I said, “Yes, you can mostly rely on me.” And then I heard Nature’s answer, “Yes, you can also mostly rely on me.” That was a very deep conversation I had with Nature.
This should not be a mere verbal declaration. It should be a deep commitment from everyone, so that nature can respond in kind. With collective insight we can reconcile with and heal our planet. Each of us can do something in our own daily lives to contribute, to ensure that a future is possible for the next generation.
Recently, I had the experience of seeing the power of a collective awakening when I returned to Vietnam with a large sangha after nearly forty years in exile. I came to the West at the age of forty. It was 1966, and I went to the United States to call for a cessation of the bombing.
The United States had half a million soldiers in Vietnam.
At the end of the war, more than fifty thousand of them had been killed or lost. Many millions of Vietnamese civilians died during the war. The land, forests, and water were polluted, destroyed by chemical poisons.
By that time, I was already a well-known teacher and writer in my country. I intended to stay in the United States for three months, to tour the country and speak about the need to stop the fighting. But after three months, I learned that the government of Vietnam didn’t want me to go home because I had dared to call for peace.
Many of us in Vietnam had suffered so much, and we had seen so much suffering around us caused by the war, that we had to speak out. We were caught between two warring parties and we had to speak out. But many of us had no means to express ourselves. We had no radio, no television, and no newspaper that would cover the truth of our situation. Those who dared to speak out against the war were arrested. So some people immolated themselves to attract attention to the plight of the masses of Vietnamese who didn’t want war.
Only then did the press begin to realize that the majority of Vietnamese people didn’t accept the war.
That is why I decided to travel to the West—to tell the world about the suffering of the Vietnamese nation and people.
After I learned that the government of South Vietnam didn’t want me to go home, I continued my appeals in America for peace, and then I went to Europe, Asia, and Australia. Finally I settled in Paris and set up a community of practice to continue the work of calling for peace.
During nearly forty years in exile, we made attempts to negotiate my return to Vietnam. Finally, in January 2005, I was able to go home. When I first left Vietnam, I was like a cell removed from its body. The sangha is like a body, and each member is just a cell of the body. But I didn’t dry up and die as a cell, because I brought the whole sangha in my heart. I went to the West for my sangha and not as an individual; and right away I began to build a little sangha in the West. Now, after forty years, my sangha in the West is not so small.
I wanted to go home to Vietnam as a sangha, not as a cell. Ultimately, two hundred people traveled with us back to Vietnam. We wanted to come as a true sangha, to show our practice of understanding and love, because we knew that if our practice was solid, strong, and authentic, we would be able to transform the fear and suspicion of the government.
The members of our delegation practiced well. At the hotel, the laypersons practiced sitting meditation in the morning. They ate only vegetarian food, they never touched alcohol, they were silent, and they lived together as a sangha, in harmony, in brotherhood and sisterhood. The hotel managers were impressed and said, “They have transformed our hotel into a meditation hall.”
The trip was difficult because there was so much fear, so much suspicion. The Museum of War Criminals in Saigon had been displaying my picture and the picture of Sister Chan Khong, my assistant during the last fifty years. Before I arrived, because of some protest, my picture was removed. But the picture of Sister Chan Khong was still exhibited there during our three-month trip.
In addition, during my nearly forty years of exile, my books had been banned in Vietnam by both the communist and anticommunist regimes, because my books promoted peace and brotherhood, which both governments considered dangerous. We had negotiated an agreement that twelve of my books would be published before my arrival. But when we got to Vietnam, only four had been published. The fear was so great!It took the whole of our three-month trip for the Vietnamese government to open up to us. The presence of the sangha of nuns, monks, laywomen, and laymen helped tremendously. The people saw Westerners learning meditation and practicing well. This inspired them. During the talks, we witnessed the transformation right before our eyes. We were able to remove a lot of wrong perceptions in people. Now they know much better who we are, because much fear and suspicion has been removed. If we had not been able to support each other using the power of the sangha, and to call on the seeds of patience, understanding, and compassion in ourselves, we would have reacted angrily and left the country halfway through the trip.
In the beginning of our trip, it was clear that the government didn’t want us to teach, to be in touch with the people. We knew that our practice had to be stable and solid to succeed. The conservative wing of the government tried everything to prevent people from attending my lectures and being exposed to our presence. Before we arrived, we learned that many monks and nuns had been warned that they should not attend events with our sangha or they would be in trouble after we left.
Yet we continued to be humble and calm, and to smile. Finally there was a breakthrough. The Institute of Political Science in Saigon allowed us to organize a talk for intellectuals, scholars, Communist Party members, and government officials. They provided seats for three hundred people. But because we were practicing loving speech and deep listening, at the last minute we were able to persuade them to let the crowd come in. On that day more than one thousand attended the talk. I shared our experience of teaching the practice in the West.
They were very interested. At the end they asked a number of questions, among them this one: “If you take refuge in the Three Jewels (the Buddha, the dharma, and the sangha) do you still have the right to love your country and the Communist Party?” My answer came very quickly and was very simple: “If taking refuge in the Three Jewels means you lose your right to love your country and the party, what is the use of taking the Refuges?” Everyone applauded for a long time. This sentence was reported to the central government and every arm of the party.
This is why, when we went to Hue, we were allowed to give a talk for Communist Party members, intellectuals, and government officials. Six or seven thousand people came. And when we went to Hanoi for the second time, five talks were organized for Communist Party members, government officials, and scholars. It turned out all of them were hungry for spirituality. Being with our delegation and me was an opportunity for them to express this openly. At the Political Institute of Ho Chi Minh in Hanoi, several organizers commented that dialogue and discussion between Marxism and Buddhism is crucial. They acknowledged that they could learn a lot from
Buddhism. And a Communist Party member even dared to say that the party had made mistakes. Organizers expressed a desire to renew their country and learn more. The atmosphere was open and human. And you could feel the freedom. You could touch freedom of speech. It was wonderful: it may have been the first time people dared to speak out like that.
I was able to be direct, but I did not hurt anyone because my heart was full of compassion and brotherhood. I said things like, “You know, in Plum Village we live simply. Monks, nuns, and laypersons—we live together like a family. No one has a private car.
No one has a private bank account. No one has a private telephone. Actually, we are the true communists.” They laughed and laughed. They were not angry at all. And our message got through.
There were people who feared for my safety because I dared to address important issues, including corruption in the government. Yet we felt we could tell the truth; we could share what was in our heart, because we knew how to use the language of loving speech. As a result of this attention to using skillful means to reach people, the level of fear and anger went down every day, and a real change of heart took place in the government. This experience showed us powerfully how a small minority practicing diligently can influence the majority. The individual can indeed transform the collective.
You have just this one moment, and you can make a choice. You can chase your cravings, and perhaps to the outside world you will look powerful, but I can guarantee you will not find happiness. Or you can cultivate the five spiritual powers and bring to yourself, your loved ones, your work environment, and your community the power of the bodhisattva. It is this path that can bring you real happiness. It is the only path that can transform the world.
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