Tuesday, May 5, 2009


Thich Nhat HanhImage via Wikipedia
I'm about 3/4 of the way through Thich Nhat Hanh's book "Anger".  It's unbelievably good and I will be reviewing it here.  But, there is something I needed to share right away.  On Sunday we were discusssing an adoption policy I've written about here before.  It's one in our county that gives preferential treatment to "traditional" couples over singles and gays.  I've written about how I am not in the majority opinion in our church (in fact I might be in a minority of one).  I don't think the policy, as written is heinous.  However, that's not the point of the post.  What I heard from people at our church was a lot of anger and frustration over the policy.  That's cool.  I think there is a such a thing as righteous indignation and it's an important motivator when it comes to confronting injustice.  But, we have to be careful and this is where Thich Nhat Hanh's wisdom comes in.  He writes:

If you think compassionate people do not resist and challenge injustice, you are wrong.  They are warriors, heroes and heroines who have gained many victories.  When you act with compassion, with non-violence, when you act on the basis of non-duality (not seeing others as separate from yourself), you have to be  very strong.  You no longer act out of anger, you do not punish or blame.  Compassion grows constantly inside of you, and you can succeed in your fight against injustice. Mahatma Gandhi was just one person. He did not have any bombs, any guns, or any political party.  He acted simply on the insight of non-duality, the strength of compassion, not anger.
Human beings are not our enemy. Our enemy is not the other person.  Our enemy is the violence, ignorance and injustice in us (emphasis mine) and in the other person. When we are armed with compassion and understanding, we fight not against other people, but against the tendency to invade, to dominate, and to exploit.  We don't want to kill others.  But, we will not let them dominate and exploit us or other people. 

As we progressives go out into the world to fight injustice, we must be careful not to become the thing we hate.  We must be careful not to buy into the us versus them duality.  We must realize that the things we are fighting against are in all of us and that it's those things we must fight, not the people they happen to be manifesting through at the time.  We are all capable of incredible good and incredible evil.  We are not so very different, as much as we would like to think we are. We must have compassion for those who hold the policies we dislike.  We must try to understand where they are coming from and why it is they are doing what they do.  We must approach our "fight" from a non-violent perspective (and I do not mean just physical violence).
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Don said...

This is one man I greatly respect. I have only read bits and pieces of his work, but enough to know the truth in his words. I look forward to your review.

Brian said...


I have heard Thich Nhat Hanh speak (on a few podasts) and I've read a couple of his books. I believe he is one of the wisest men on the planet right now even though I don't agree with everything he has to say. His books make very profound concepts simple and accessible.

Living Buddha Living Christ is an excellent book and this one is just as good. I plan to read another of his next "No Death, No Fear".

kc bob said...

Great thoughts Brian! When I think about the things that embrace peace like compassion and non-violence I too often forget that these (unlike unhealthy anger and violence) bring about change over long periods of time.