“Calming the Fearful Mind: A Zen Response to Terrorism,” by Thich Nhat Hanh
Vietnamese Buddhist monk and human rights activist Thich Nhat Hanh has a way of speaking with simple, direct compassion. In this response to the age of terror, he eschews complex political analysis or critique of institutions and talks about the response of the individual human heart. In place of isolationism based on fear, he has a vision of an America at ease with itself and the world. He addresses himself to soldiers, entertainers, Members of Congress, but mostly to ordinary American citizens of all political and religious persuasions.
He begins by looking deeply at the nature of suffering, drawing from his realization during the Vietnam War that the Americans, as well as the Vietnamese, were suffering. When he saw this, he found that his anger turned to compassion. Nowadays, seeing that America’s action in the world is still based on misunderstanding and fear, he suggests that the way to lessen it is not through ever-tighter security, but through understanding and compassion. He then goes right to the roots of the problem, exploring the consequences of ordinary day-to-day actions, such as the food we eat and the movies we watch. He invites us to consider our deepest desires in life, to be more conscious of our minds and actions. There will be peace in the world, he says, when we truly come home to ourselves.
In places, the truths spoken in the book sound as if they come from wide-eyed unworldliness. Yet they come from a man whose counsel has been sought by very powerful people, and who inspired Martin Luther King to make public his opposition to the Vietnam War. Truth is at its most telling when simply stated and when free from blame or hatred.
Thich Nhat Hanh seeks to understand the fear and anger of ordinary people. He sets out constructive suggestions that honor our need for security, while not ignoring our deep need for peace and well-being. These include both individual actions, as well as ways in which we can come together more harmoniously.
To those in the peace movement, the book is a challenge to see peacemaking as a continuous process, resisting the tendency not to do anything until the worst happens. And the book ends by drawing attention to an often neglected and yet momentous subject—a plea to reassert the ideal of the United Nations as a true family of nations, where national interests can be put aside in the name of global community.
This is a book for anyone who wishes to heal the fear and divisiveness born of our current world situation, either within themselves, or in other people.
Akuppa is a Buddhist who works on peace and ecological issues in the UK and is author of “Touching the Earth: A Buddhist Guide to Saving the Planet.”