Prophecy says, ‘Violence begets violence,’ so when will we learn?
On Tuesday, I joined several thousand other folks for an evening with the Vietnamese Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hahn. I have had the pleasure of hearing this wise man a number of times. His teachings have had a profound impact on my life. Nevertheless, I sometimes found myself focusing less on what Thich was saying Tuesday night and more on those who were listening.The auditorium was packed, standing room only. I wondered what it was that would bring so many folk together to sit in meditative silence, to listen to ancient chants and to raptly turn their full attention to this very foreign teacher.The subject was, as always, peace. How do we find peace in today’s world? Clearly, the thousands in attendance gave vivid witness to the obvious yearning to find an answer.Thich, speaking in his soft and comforting voice, reminded us that peace begins not with national treaties and public edicts but within our own being. How we treat ourselves is reflected in how we treat our family, our friends, our neighbors, our environment, our enemies …
In a world where dichotomies and differences seem to reign, Thich Nhat Hahn’s message is a very faint light flickering in a vast darkness. And yet, here were thousands, sitting silently, basking in this minority view. Is there a growing recognition that humankind’s history of war and violence only leads to more war and violence? Could the fact that so many folk were willing to spend an evening in September speaking only of peace mean a change is in the wind?Sunday marks the fourth anniversary of one of the greatest tragedies in American history. Our national response to that horrific day has been mixed. We are duly proud of the innumerable sacrifices made by so many initially. The heroism of firefighters, police and ordinary folk will long be remembered and cherished. But there is a darker side. In our collective indignation at such an injustice, we sought out an enemy, any enemy, to vent our righteous anger. Iraq was an easy target. A maniacal despot deserved to be deposed, but the reasoning became twisted, the rationale sought to misconstrue. America was duped by our felt need to respond to violence with violence. And now we are mired in a mess of daily deaths and seemingly unsolvable problems.
The combination of such a sad reality with our acute awareness of the horror of Hurricane Katrina surely helped fill the auditorium this past Tuesday night. We came from a world where entertainment is marked by body counts and infidelities, where radio stations air endless programming designed to alienate, and bullying politicians join arrogant preachers in claiming to speak for a violent God.A week after 9/11, Thich Nhat Hahn wrote these prophetic words: “Responding to violence with violence is injustice, not only to the other person but also to oneself. Responding to violence with violence resolves nothing; it only escalates violence, anger and hatred. It is only with compassion that we can embrace and disintegrate violence. This is true in relationships between individuals as well as in relationships between nations.”Many people in America consider Jesus Christ as their Lord, their spiritual ancestor and their teacher. We should heed His teachings especially during critical times like this. “Jesus never encourages us to respond to acts of violence with violence. His teaching is, instead, to use compassion to deal with violence. The teachings of Judaism go very much in the same direction. Spiritual leaders of this country are invited to raise their voices, to bring about the awareness of this teaching to the American nation and people.
“What needs to be done right now is to recognize the suffering, to embrace it and to understand it. We need calmness and lucidity so that we can listen deeply to and understand our own suffering, the suffering of the nation and the suffering of others. “By understanding the nature and the causes of the suffering, we will then know the right path to follow.” Four years later, his words remain just as true. Is it any wonder the place was packed?Rich Mayfield writes a Saturday column. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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