What is the "right action" to take with regard to responding to terrorist attacks? Should we seek justice through military action? Through judicial processes? Is military action and/or retaliation justified if it can prevent future innocents from being killed?

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. And what is compassion made of? It is made of understanding. When there is no understanding, how can we feel compassion, how can we begin to relieve the great suffering that is there? So understanding is the very real foundation upon which we build our compassion.

How do we gain the understanding and insight to guide us through such incredibly challenging moments that we are now face in America? To understand, we must find paths of communication so that we can listen to those who desperately are calling out for our understanding--because such an act of violence is a desperate call for attention and for help.

How can we listen in a calm and clear way so that we don't immediately kill the chance for understanding to develop? As a nation we need to look into this: how to create the situations for deep listening to occur so that our response to the situation may arise out of our calm and clear mind. Clarity is a great offering that we can make at this time.

There are people who want one thing only: revenge. In the Buddhist scriptures, 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.

So how can we bring about a drop of compassion that can put out the fire of hatred? You know, they do not sell compassion in the supermarket. If they sold compassion, we would only need to bring it home and we could solve the problem of hatred and violence in the world very easily. But compassion can only be produced in our own heart by our own practice.

America is burning with hatred. That is why we have to tell our Christian friends, "You are children of Christ." You have to return to yourselves and look deeply and find out why this violence happened. Why is there so much hatred? What lies under all this violence? Why do they hate so much that they would sacrifice their own lives and bring about so much suffering to other people? Why would these young people, full of vitality and strength, have chosen to lose their lives, to commit such violence? That is what we have to understand.

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 the 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 in ourselves. That [empathy] produces the nectar of compassion within ourselves.

If you come to the monastery, it is in order to learn to do that, so that whenever you suffer and feel angry, you know how to look deeply, so that the drop of compassion in your heart can come out of your heart and can put out the fever of anger. Only the drop of compassion that can put out the flames of hatred.

We must look deeply and honestly at our present situation. If we are able to see the sources for the suffering within ourselves and within the other person, we can begin to unravel the cycle of hatred and violence. When our house is on fire, we must first put out the fire before investigating its cause. Likewise, if we first extinguish the anger and hatred in our own heart, we will have a chance to deeply investigate the situation with clarity and insight in order to determine all the causes and conditions that have contributed to the hatred and violence we are experiencing within ourselves and within our world.

The "right action" is the action that results in the fires of hatred and violence being extinguished.

Do you believe that evil exists? And, if so, would you consider terrorists as evil persons?

Evil exists. God exists also. Evil and God are two sides of ourselves. God is that great understanding, that great love within us. That is what we call Buddha also, the enlightened mind that is able to see through all ignorance.

What is evil? It is when the face of God, the face of the Buddha within us has become hidden. It is up to us to choose whether the evil side becomes more important, or whether the side of God and the Buddha shines out. Although the side of great ignorance, of evil, may be manifesting so strongly at one time that does not mean that God is not there.

It is said clearly in the Bible, "Forgive them for they know not what they do." This means that an act of evil is an act of great ignorance and misunderstanding. Perhaps many wrong perceptions are behind an act of evil; we have to see that ignorance and misunderstanding is the root of the evil. Every human being contains within him or herself all the elements of great understanding, great compassion, and also ignorance, hatred, and violence.

In your new book "Anger," you give an example of "compassionate listening" as a tool to heal families. Can that tool be used at a national level, and if so, how would that work?

This past summer a group of Palestinians and Israelis came to Plum Village, the practice center where I live in southern France, to learn and practice the arts of deep listening and loving speech. (Around 1,600 people come to Plum Village each summer from over a dozen countries to listen and to learn how to bring peace and understanding to their daily lives.) The group of Palestinians and Israelis participated in the daily schedule of walking meditation, sitting meditation, and silent meals, and they also received training on how to listen and speak to each other in such a way that more understanding and peace could be possible between them as individuals and as nations.

With the guidance and support of the monks and nuns, they sat down and listened to each other. When one person spoke no one interrupted him or her. Everyone practiced mindfulness of their breathing and listening in such a way that the other person felt heard and understood.

When a person spoke, they refrained from using words of blame, hatred, and condemnation. They spoke in an atmosphere of trust and respect. Out of these dialogues the participating Palestinians and Israelis were very moved to realize that both sides suffer from fear. They appreciated the practice of deep listening and made arrangements to share what they had learned with others upon returning to their home countries.

Join the Discussion
comments powered by Disqus