What I Would Say to Osama bin Laden

Zen monk Thich Nhat Hanh talks about how listening is the first step towards peace.

Thich Nhat Hanh is a Vietnamese monk in the Zen tradition, who worked tirelessly for peace during the Vietnam War, rebuilding villages destroyed by the hostilities. Following an anti-war lecture tour in the United States, he was not allowed back in his country and settled in France. In 1967, he was nominated by the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr., for the Nobel Peace Prize. He is now internationally known for his teaching and writing on mindfulness, and for his work related to "socially engaged Buddhism," a call to social action based on Buddhist principles. Thay, as he is affectionately called by his followers, shared his thoughts on how America should respond to the terrorist attacks. This interview will appear in a forthcoming book entitled "From the Ashes: A Spiritual Response to the Attack on America," to be published jointly by Beliefnet and Rodale Press.

If you could speak to Osama bin Laden, what would you say to him? Likewise, if you were to speak to the American people, what would you suggest we do at this point, individually and as a nation?

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If I were given the opportunity to be face to face with Osama bin Laden, the first thing I would do is listen. I would try to understand why he had 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. We would respond point by point to what had been said. We would respond gently but firmly in such a way to help them to discover their own misunderstandings so that they will stop violent acts from their own will.

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