The way in front of us is clear--the way to live so that we can make peace with ourselves and with the world. When we see the good and the bad, the wondrous and the deep suffering, we have to live in a way that we can make peace between ourselves and the world. Understanding is the fruit of meditation. Understanding is the basis of everything.
I spent the first few days of the Russo-Ukraine war drying my eyes out in a feverscroll of OSINT and paranoid schizoanalysis. Couldn't breathe, couldn't sleep, couldn't work. Life was briefly a nightmare of news and social media.
It was hard at that time to listen to anyone who might say, "Hurting yourself like this helps no one. You should focus on doing positive things, staying on an even keel and calm. That will at least keep you useful." That would of course be the right opinion, but who are they to say?
To suffer is not enough. Please don't be imprisoned by your suffering. ... I grew up in a time of war. There was destruction all around-- children, adults, values, a whole country. ... The wounds of war in me are still not healed. There are nights I lie awake and embrace my people , my country, and the whole planet with my mindful breathing.
Thich Nhat Hanh, rest in peace, knew firsthand how important it was to choose the path of peace. He experienced the catastrophes of war from numerous angles--in his years pushing for a nonviolent solution, he seemed to have angered every single belligerent in the conflict. His voice was ultimately what brought me out of that hole and gave me the courage to insist on remaining optimistic and open.
During the Vietnam War, I meditated on the Vietnamese soldiers, praying they would not be killed in battle. But I also meditated on the American soldiers and felt a very deep sympathy for them. I knew that they had been sent far away from home to kill or be killed, and I prayed for their safety. That led to a deep aspiration that the war would end and allow Vietnamese and Americans to live in peace. Once that aspiration was clear, there was only one path to take -- to work for the end of the war.
I recommend this book if, like me, you've had a hard time dealing with the news. It pairs well with a short bit of meditation in the morning.
Many of us worry about the situation of the world. We don't know when the bombs will explode. We feel that we are on the edge of time. As individuals, we feel helpless, despairing. The situation is so dangerous ...
In this kind of situation, if we panic, things will only become worse. We need to remain calm, to see clearly. Meditation is to be aware, and to try to help.
I like to use the example of a small boat crossing the Gulf of Siam. In Vietnam there are many people, called boat people, who leave the country in small boats. Often the boats are caught in rough seas or storms, the people may panic, and boats can sink. But if even one person aboard can remain calm, lucid, knowing what to do and what not to do, he or she can help the boat survive. His or her expression--face, voice--communicates clarity and calmness, and people have trust in that person. They will listen to what he or she says. One such person can save the lives of many.
Our world is something like a small boat... We are about to panic because our situation is no better than the situation of the small boat in the sea. You know that we have more than fifty thousand nuclear weapons. Humankind has become a very dangerous species. We need people who can sit still and be able to smile, who can walk peacefully. We need people like that in order to save us. Mahayana Buddhism says that you are that person, that each of you is that person.