When you can listen like that for one hour to the other person, he or she will get relief. During the whole time of listening, you keep your practice of mindful breathing, in order to maintain compassion. If these two things do not exist during the time of listening, your listening will not have a good effect. Even if the other side says things that are full of wrong perceptions, blaming and judgment, you are still capable of listening with compassion. This is extremely important. And that is possible only with the practice of mindful breathing and the maintaining of compassion during the whole time of listening. We have to train ourselves for at least one week in order to be able to do it and to help our beloved one get relief.
When you are the person who speaks, you practice gentle speech, loving speech. You have the right, and you have a duty to tell the other group of people, the other person, what is in your heart. But you have to use the kind of language that can convey your feelings, that can convey your insights, your suffering to the other person; namely, the language of love and kindness. If you do not use the language of love and kindness, then you touch off the energy of anger and hatred in the other person, and he or she will not be able to listen to you. That is why it is very important to practice loving speech, gentle speech. That is the subject of the fourth mindfulness training in the Buddhist tradition.
So, with the assistance and the support of the Plum Village community, the two groups sit down and practice listening to each other and using gentle speech. It works very well always. Listening like that in the presence of many, many other practitioners, you realize-- maybe for the first time-- that on the other side they are human beings also, and they have already suffered very deeply because of anger, of hatred, of violence, of despair. The moment that you realize they are human beings who have suffered deeply also, compassion begins to arise in your heart, and now you are able to look at them with the eyes of compassion. You have become a Bodhisattva, capable of using the eyes of compassion in order to look at other living human beings.
Fourteen days or twenty-one days can produce a miracle. There are people who say, after having been in Plum Village, "I believe that peace is possible in the Middle East." Both groups want to bring home the practice; to organize sessions of practice among friends. Now they have set up Sanghas, communities of practice--a little bit everywhere in the Middle East. And they want to maintain their practice, because their practice helped them maintain compassion and insight, [and allowed them] not to be drowned in the ocean of despair.
It is our conviction that if their leaders come together and practice the same kind of practice, they will be able to bring peace and reconciliation to the Middle East. If we practice, if we organize a peace conference supported by many nations, and if we organize so that the two parties have a chance to try this kind of practice, then the peace conference will bring a wonderful result. Because if you still have a lot of anger, a lot of suspicion, a lot of hatred, it would be extremely difficult for you to come to an agreement that will really bring peace and well-being to the two nations, the two people.
I would like to tell you the story of a couple who live in California. They have practiced in this mindful way. The lady, who is a Catholic, wanted to commit suicide, because she had suffered so much. There was no joy in her life anymore. Her husband was like a bomb, ready to explode at any time. He had a lot of anger, a lot of bitterness, a lot of frustration, a lot of violence in him. The three children, who attended university, were very afraid of coming close to their father. Their father would get angry at anything--would explode at any time. He believed that his wife and his three children were boycotting him, and that made his anger and frustration grow bigger and bigger every day.
The lady had a friend, a Buddhist practitioner, who was aware of her situation, and who had tried to persuade her to listen to a Dharma talk given by her teacher. The title of the Dharma talk, in the form of a cassette tape, is "How to Diffuse a Bomb." When you contain within yourself too much violence, too much anger, you become very tense. You become like a bomb. You suffer very much, and you spill your suffering all over the people who live with you, and people are afraid of you. They don't want to approach you, and then you believe that everyone is boycotting you. You are extremely lonely.
The Buddhist lady believed that if her friend listened to the Dharma talk, she would know how to help diffuse the bomb in her husband. But that lady considered herself a Catholic. She said, "I am a Catholic. Why should I listen to this kind of stuff?"
But the morning that [the lady] called and announced that she was going to die, her Buddhist friend asked her to come over right away. She wanted to see her for the last time, and this time she tried her best to convince the lady to listen to the talk. She said, "You always said that I am your best friend, and the only thing I ask you to do is to listen to the Dharma talk of my teacher. I don't think that you are truly my friend." That challenge helped. The lady told herself, "Now, I am going to die. Why don't I satisfy the person I consider to be my friend." So she agreed to listen to the Dharma talk.
The Buddhist lady withdrew in order to allow her friend to be alone in the living room, and she began to listen to the cassette tape. As she listened to the Dharma talk, insight came to her. She recognized the fact that the suffering in her had not been created only by her husband, but by herself. And the suffering in her husband had not been created by her husband alone, but she had participated in creating the suffering in him. When she listened to the Dharma talk, she realized that in the last six years, she never used the kind of language that is called loving speech. She always blamed him. She always used a very sour language, full of blaming and judgment. She realized she had made the situation worse every day, and she felt that she was partly responsible for her own suffering and the suffering of her husband.
When you suffer, you have the tendency to blame the other person as the only source of your suffering. You don't recognize that you are responsible to some extent for your suffering, and you have also created the suffering of the other person. That was her insight during the time that she listened to the talk, and her heart opened, and for the first time in so many years, she felt sorry. She felt compassion for herself and for her husband.
She was animated, inspired by the idea of going home and helping her husband by practicing listening deeply, listening with compassion. She became very enthusiastic. But her Buddhist friend said, "No, my friend. You are still very weak. You have to train yourself at least one week in order to be able to do so. Because if you listen to him, and if his language is full of blaming and wrong perceptions, you will interrupt him and spoil everything. You have to train yourself first. Let me propose to you this. My teacher is coming from France, and he is going to offer in the Bay area two retreats, one for the Vietnamese-speaking people and one for the English-speaking people. Why don't you sign up for the first retreat?"
The Catholic lady accepted, and during the six-day retreat, she practiced with all her heart, because for her it was a matter of life and death. That is why she invested herself entirely into the practice. She learned how to breathe, how to walk, how to embrace the suffering in her, how to use the kind of loving speech that will be able to open the heart of her husband. And with the support of other practitioners, she went very deeply into the practice.
The night that she came home, she put into practice what she had learned on the retreat. She was very silent that night, practicing mindful breathing, mindful walking. And, finally, she came and sat down close to [her husband], and she began to speak. She said, "My husband, I know that you have suffered terribly during the past six or seven years. I have not been able to help you, and I have made the situation worse. I am sorry. I did not know how to listen to you. I didn't know what was going on in your heart, in your mind. I was blind. I was unable to see. And that is why I have made the situation worse. I didn't want you to suffer. I wanted you to be happy, but because I did not know how, I have made the situation worse. So, please, my husband, please help me. Please tell me what is in your heart. I want to understand so that I will not repeat the unskillful things I have done. I am very sorry. You have to help me; alone I cannot change."
She was very surprised to see him begin to cry like a little boy. Seeing that, she knew that the door of communication had opened. So she practiced mindful breathing, deeply, and she insisted, "Please, my husband, please tell me what is in your heart. I will try to listen. I will try to understand. I want you to be happy. I don't want you to suffer."
It turned out, that that night was a very healing night for both of them. She was very successful in her practice of deep listening and using loving speech, and she was able to restore communication. She was able to convince him to sign up for the second retreat of mindfulness. And during the last day of the second retreat, he stood up and he introduced his wife as a bodhisattva. (A bodhisattva in Buddhism means an enlightened being who is able to help other people to be enlightened, also.)
It is my conviction that the practice of the Israeli and Palestinian groups, the practice of that couple in California can be applied as the practice in the international political scenery. The principle of the practice is to go home to yourself and listen to your own suffering and raise your own suffering and despair and fear. That is what I proposed last year after 9/11. Two days after the 9/11 event, I spoke to four thousand people in Brooklyn. I proposed that America should go back to herself, practicing mindful breathing and embracing the pain, the suffering, the fear, the anger, and listening to the suffering of America. On the 25th of September that year, I spoke at the Riverside Church in New York City with Ambassador Andrew Young. We went to Ground Zero the day after, and I again proposed that [America] should embrace this practice of going home to herself, listening to her own suffering; that she must bring relief to herself before she can do something to help the situation in the world.
In the United States of America, there are people-- sections of the population-- who feel that they are victims of social injustice and discrimination. They feel that they have never been listened to. Suffering is there in America, and America has to practice listening to her own pain and suffering. This is the first step. There are vast resources of peace in this country. There are those of us in America who have the capacity to listen deeply and with compassion to the suffering of America. We should be able to look around, to identify them, and to invite them to come in order to form a parliament for deep listening, a kind of counsel of sages, in order to practice listening to the suffering of our own nation, of our own people. Then we should be able to invite those people who have felt that they're victims of social injustice and discrimination to come in order to tell us about their suffering. We should have people who come and help them to practice calming, embracing their suffering, help them use the kind of language that can convey the suffering, the feeling within themselves, exactly like in the case of that couple, exactly like in the case of the Palestinians and Israelis in Plum Village. .
America can act compassionately within her frontiers in order to heal the wounds, to mend the wounds within America first. This is the first step. We cannot do the second step before we can make the first step. If you want to help other countries, other groups of people like Afghanistan and the others, we have to help ourselves first, all of us know that this has to begin with one's self. So, acting with compassion and wisdom within our own frontiers is the first step.
Then bringing that practice into the international levels, America can ask other nations to help create sessions of deep listening where America can participate. Around the world there are those who are capable of being compassionate, of being attentive, of being able to listen deeply. You shall invite them to come and listen. Other groups who believe that they have been victims of injustice, that they are mistreated by America and other big nations, they are invited to come and to tell the world about their suffering, their fear, their anger. If we have not been able to listen to our fear, our anger, we cannot listen and understand the fear and the anger of other nations and people. Then there are those of us who can come as volunteers to help these people to breathe, to walk, to calm down, to use the kind of language that can convey what is deep in their heart.
Looking deeply, we realize that hate, violence, anger, and terrorism are born from wrong perceptions. [Others] may have wrong perceptions of themselves, and they may have wrong perceptions of us, and they have acted on the basis of these wrong perceptions. In order for them not to continue, the only way is to help them remove these wrong perceptions of themselves and of us, and that work cannot be done by the Army. That work cannot be done by bombs and guns. That can only be done with the practice of deep listening, compassionate listening, and loving speech. We have to support our political leaders in this practice.
One of the deepest teachings given by Buddha is that you should not be too sure of your perceptions. You have to practice looking deeply in order not to be fooled by your perceptions. If you are a doctor, you have to be very careful. Even if you are sure, check again. This kind of practice should be applied in our political life also.
The mass media has the duty of informing the people about what is happening. Journalists, reporters should be able to be calm, not to be carried away by their emotions, their feelings, their anger, their despair, in order to report well, to reflect the situation with more accuracy. Our political leaders have to train themselves in order not to be carried away by fear, by anger. They should be able to retain their lucidity for the sake of the nation and of the world. When fear and anger has become collective, the situation becomes extremely dangerous for everyone. That is why we have to bring a spiritual dimension to our political life.
You have elected your government. You have elected your House of Representatives and your Senate. You should continue to support them. You should continue to give them the kind of information that helps them correct their poor perceptions. The situation of our country, of our world, is [too important] to be entrusted only to politicians. As a mother, as a father, as a school teacher, as a doctor, you have to practice in order to remain calm, in order to look deeply, in order to understand, and you have to convey your insight, your compassion to your elected people. You have to practice. We cannot leave the matter only to our politicians.
In Buddhist psychology, we speak of consciousness in terms of seeds. In the lower level, lower layer of our consciousness, there is a part that is called store consciousness. Store consciousness is the place where all the seeds of mental formations are preserved. There is a seed of fear; there is a seed of anger; there is a seed of despair; there is a seed of peace; there is a seed of joy; there is a seed of loving kindness--all the good seeds and all the negative seeds that have been transmitted to us by our ancestors, our parents. It depends on the environment where we live, [but] such seeds can be watered several times a day. Our children watch television three hours a day or even more. And during the time they watch television, their seed of fear, of anger, of craving may be watered, and they continue to grow. We have to create, we have to produce television programs that are able to water the seed of compassion, joy, peace, loving kindness.
That is why mindful consumption is very important. When you read a magazine, you consume. When you listen to music, you consume. When we begin a conversation, we consume, because a conversation can also be highly toxic. If a man or a woman is full of fear, of despair, of hatred, and if we listen to him or to her for an hour, the poisons will penetrate into store consciousness, and make the seed of fear and anger grow very quickly. That is why the practice of mindful consumption, including consumption of conversation, is very crucial for self-protection, for the protection of our family and society.
... We should be able to stop violence and to take up the path of reconciliation and peace. This is possible. I have the conviction that America has enough wisdom and courage and compassion in order to pick up that path of reconciliation and healing.
When we listen to the other person, to the other group of persons, you get insight about their suffering, their difficulty, their fear, and their anger. And at the same time, you realize that we do have wrong perceptions also. We have done, we have said things that have created misunderstanding. We have not understood us completely. We have not understood them completely. We vow to practice in order to have a better understanding of ourselves and of them so that our action will be in the direction of peace.
America will learn a lot with the practice of deep listening and compassionate listening. The insights she will get will be able to serve as the ground for repairing the damage she has done to herself in America and she has done in other parts of the world. She will be able to help remove the wrong perceptions of the people outside of America, about America, and about themselves. It is my conviction that [she must work to] remove wrong perceptions--for that is the base, the foundation of hatred and violence and terrorism. That work cannot be done by the bombs. It should be done by the practice of deep listening, compassionate listening, and loving speech.
My dear friends, peace is not something we can only hope for. Peace is something we can contemplate in our daily life by our practice of mindful breathing, mindful walking, embracing our fear, our anger, producing the energy of understanding and compassion. And with that element of peace in us, we should be able to support our government, our Congress. And let us remember that peace is in our hands. We can do something for peace every day. Let us practice as individuals. Let us practice as communities, as Sanghas, and let us give peace a chance.