Beliefnet
Reprinted with permission from "I Have Arrived, I Am Home" by Thich Nhat Hanh (Parallax Press).

Question: I want to ask about force. I was, and still am, in the Israeli army. At times we need to use force to prevent an act that will cause suffering, and that force causes suffering to another person. My question is, can force be used?

Thây: If you have understanding and compassion in yourself, then, what we call military force, may help to prevent something, to achieve something. But that shouldn't prevent us from seeing that there are other kinds of force that may be even more powerfulThe spiritual force is also very powerful. The spiritual, the social, the educational - they are all forces, and much safer to use. Because we have not been trained to use these forces, we only think of using military force.

Suppose there are two people, both of them full of anger, misunderstanding, and hatred. How can these two people talk to each other, even if they are negotiating for peace? That is the main problem: you cannot bring people together to sit around a table and discuss peace if there is no peace inside of them. You have to first help them to calm down and begin to see clearly that we, as well as the other people, suffer. We should have compassion for ourselves as well as for them and their children. This is possible. As human beings we have suffered. And we have the capacity to understand the suffering of other people.

The spiritual and educational dimensions can be very powerful, and we should use them as instruments, as tools for peace. Suppose you live in a quarter where dozens of Palestinians live peacefully with Israelis. You don't have any problems. You share the same environment, you can go shopping in the same place, you can ride on the same bus - you enjoy. You don't see your differences as obstacles, but as enriching. You are an Israeli and she is a Palestinian and you meet each other in the marketplace and you smile to each other. How beautiful, how wonderful. You help her and she helps you. That image should be seen by other Palestinians and Israelis. If you are a writer you can bring that image to many people outside of your group. If you are a filmmaker, why don't you offer the image of peaceful coexistence to the world? That is very powerful - more powerful than a bomb, a rocket, or a gun, and that makes people believe that peace is possible.

If you have enough energy of understanding and peace inside of you, then this kind of educational work can be very powerful, and you won't have to think of the army and of guns anymore. If the army knows how to practice, it will know how to act in such a way as to not cause harm. The army can rescue people; the army can guarantee peace and order. It is like a knife. You can use a knife to kill or you can use a knife to chop vegetables. It is possible for soldiers to practice nonviolence and understanding. We don't exclude them from our practice, from our Sangha. We don't say, "You are a soldier, you cannot come into our meditation hall." In fact, you need to come into the meditation hall in order to know how to better use the army. So, please don't limit your question to such a limited area. Make your question broad - embrace the whole situation, because everything is linked to everything else.

There are many things we can do today to extend our understanding, compassion, and peace, because every bit of it is useful, is gold. When you take a step, if you can enjoy that step, if your step can bring you more stability and freedom, then you are serving the world. It is with that kind of peace and stability that you can serve. If you don't have the qualities of stability, peace, and freedom inside of you, then no matter what you do, you cannot help the world. It is not about "doing" something, it's about "being" peace, "being" hope, "being" solid. Every action will come out of that, because peace, stability, and freedom always seek a way to express themselves in action.

That is the spiritual dimension of our reality. We need that spiritual dimension to rescue us so that we don't think only in terms of military force as a means to solve the problem and uproot terrorism. How can you uproot terrorism with military force? The military doesn't know where terrorism is. They cannot locate terrorism - it is in the heart. The more military force you use, the more terrorists you create, in your own country and in other countries as well.

The basic issue is our practice of peace, our practice of looking deeply. First of all, we need to allow ourselves to calm down. Without tranquility and serenity, our emotions, our anger, and our despair will not go away. And we will not be able to look and see the nature of reality. Calming down, becoming serene is the first step of meditation. The second step is to look deeply, to understand. Out of understanding comes compassion. And from this foundation of understanding and compassion you will be able to see what you can do and what you should refrain from doing. That is spoken in terms of meditation. In that respect, everyone has to practice meditation - the politicians, the military, the businessman. All of us have to practice calming down and looking deeply.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus