What would you say to a terrorist?

A spiritual response to terrorist attacks by THICH NHAT HANH
Published in Times of India, 21 Dec 2008. Original article

First, I would listen. Why had he acted in that cruel way? I would try to understand all of the suffering that had led him to violence. It might not be easy to listen in that way, so I would have to remain calm and lucid. I would need several friends with me, who are strong in the practice of deep listening, listening without reacting, without judging and blaming. In this way, an atmosphere of support would be created for this person and those connected so that they could share completely, trust that they are really being heard.

After listening for some time, we might need to take a break to allow what has been said to enter into our consciousness. Only when we felt calm and lucid would we respond in such a way to help them discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts of their own will...

When we react out of fear and hatred, we do not yet have a deep understanding of the situation. Our action will only be a very quick and superficial way of responding to the situation and not much true benefit and healing will occur. Yet if we wait and follow the process of calming our anger, looking deeply into the situation, and listening with great will to understand the roots of suffering that are the cause of the violent actions, only then will we have sufficient insight to respond in such a way that healing and reconciliation can be realised for everyone involved.

In South Africa, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission has made attempts to realise this. All the parties involved in violence and injustice agreed to listen to each other in a calm and supportive environment, to look together deeply at the roots of violent acts and to find agreeable arrangements to respond to the situations. The presence of strong spiritual leaders is very helpful to support and maintain such an environment.

What is the "right action" to take with regard to responding to terrorist attacks?

All violence is injustice. The fire of hatred and violence cannot be extinguished by adding more hatred and violence to the fire. The only antidote to violence is compassion. Compassion is made of understanding. To understand, we must find paths of communication so that we can listen to those who desperately are calling out for our underst...

There are people who want one thing only: revenge. The Buddha said that by using hatred to answer hatred, there will only be an escalation of hatred. But if we use compassion to embrace those who have harmed us, it will greatly diffuse the bomb in our hearts and in theirs...

We have to find a way to stop violence, of course. If need be, we have to put the men responsible in prison. But the important thing is to look deeply and ask, "Why did that happen? What responsibility do we have in that happening? "Maybe they misunderstood us. But what has made them misunderstand us so much to make them hate so much?

The method of the Buddha is to look deeply to see the source of suffering; the source of violence. If we have violence within ourselves, any action can make that violence explode. This energy of hatred and violence can be very great and when we see that in the other person then we feel sorry for them. When we feel sorry for them, the drop of compassion is born in our hearts and we feel so much happier and so much more at peace within ourselves. That (empathy) produces the nectar of compassion within ourselves...

1 comment:

  1. A very profound and insightful article.

    Some times its difficult to accept solution which gives a long term plan to an immediate problem. I had touched upon the solution proposed in the article in my earlier post - Bottom up approach. Don't be mistaken that the short term measures to tackle the problem should not be taken. But in the long term, these short measures may not yield the desired results. Hence a win-win situation will be when we respond immediately with the short term step and start preparing for the long term plan.

    Thich Nhat Hanh has also emphasized on the Art of listening. Its important to listen, not just by ears, but by heart. If you listen by heart then you respond else you react. A response is matured and balanced, while the reaction is hasty and unthoughtful.

    Buddha's philosophy targets the source of sufferings and this article has precisely done the same in the current situation of increased terrorism.


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