Mindfulness of Others
by Thich Nhat Hanh
us enjoy our breathing.
Breathing in--I feel I am alive.
Breathing out--I smile to life.
smiling to life
There's a seed of anger in every one of us. There is also a
seed of fear, a seed of despair. And when the seed of anger
manifests, we should know how to recognize it, how to embrace
it, and how to bring [ourselves] relief. When the seed
of fear manifests itself as energy in the upper level of our
we should be able to recognize it, to embrace it tenderly,
and to transform it. And the agent of transformation and healing
is called mindfulness.
is another kind of energy that is in us in the form of a seed
also. If we know how to practice mindful breathing, mindful
walking, mindful smiling, then we should be able to touch the
seed of mindfulness in us and transform it into a zone of energy.
And with that energy of mindfulness, we can recognize our anger,
our fear, our despair. We practice recognizing and embracing.
a mother working in the kitchen hears the cries of her baby,
she puts anything she is holding down and goes to the room
of the baby, picks the baby up and holds the baby dearly in
her arms. We do exactly the same thing when the seed of anger
and fear manifest in us; our fear, our anger is our baby. Let
us not try to suppress and to fight our fear and our anger.
Let us recognize its presence; let us embrace it tenderly like
a mother embracing her baby.
a mother embraces her baby, the energy of tenderness begins
to penetrate into the body of the baby. The mother does not
know, yet, what is the cause of the suffering of the baby,
but the fact that she is holding the baby tenderly can already
help. The energy of tenderness and compassion in a mother begins
to penetrate into the body of the baby, and the baby gets some
relief right away. The baby may stop crying. And if the mother
knows how to continue the practice of holding the baby mindfully,
tenderly, she will be able to discover the cause of the suffering
of the baby.
the seed of anger is watered, when the seed of fear is watered,
whether by yourself or by another person or by the mass media--because
the mass media in this country has watered a lot the seed of
anger and fear in us--we should know how to recognize, embrace
and bring relief to our anger and our fear.
attitude is the attitude of non-duality, non-violence. Our
fear, our anger are not our enemies; they are us. We have to
treat our fear, our anger in a most non-violent way, the most
non-dualistic way, like we are treating our own baby. So if
you are a good practitioner of meditation, you will know exactly
what to do when the seed of anger is watered and begins to
manifest in the upper level of your consciousness. With the
practice of mindful breathing or mindful walking, you generate
the energy of mindfulness, and exactly with that energy, you
can recognize the energy of anger, of fear in you.
energy number one. By practicing mindful breathing
or mindful walking, we generate the energy number two: the
energy of mindfulness. We call it in Buddhist terms: mindfulness
of anger. Mindfulness is always mindfulness of something. When
you drink your water mindfully, that is called mindfulness
of drinking. When you eat mindfully, that is called mindfulness
of eating. When you breathe mindfully, in and out, that is
called mindfulness of breathing. When you walk mindfully, it
is called mindfulness of walking.
when you recognize your anger, embrace your anger tenderly
with that energy of mindfulness,
it is called mindfulness of anger, mindfulness of despair,
mindfulness of fear. We should be able to learn and help
the young people to learn how to do it. It's very important.
Buddha offers us very concrete and simple exercises in order
to become mindful. The first exercise on mindful breathing
is: Breathing in--I know I am breathing in. Breathing out--I
know I am breathing out. You can reduce the length of the sentence
to one word. In. Out. While you are breathing in, you just
recognize that this is your in breath, and you use the word,
in. And you are wholly concentrated on your in breath. Nothing
become your in breath. You're not thinking of anything. You're
not thinking of the past, of the future, of your projects.
You release everything. You just follow your in breath, and
you become one with your in breath. And the energy of mindfulness
is generated together with the energy of concentration.
you are an organic gardener, you know that a flower is made
of several elements that may be called non-flower elements:
the sunshine, the cloud, the minerals and the seed. And among
the non-flower elements, there is the element compost
The garden always produces garbage.
you are an organic gardener, you know how to handle the garbage.
You know the techniques
of transforming the garbage back into compost and into flowers.
You don't have to throw away anything at all. So, the energy
of fear, of anger should be considered to be the garbage.
Let it be produced, because it can become the art of mindful
now we should learn how to handle the garbage in us, namely,
craving, anger, fear and despair. We should not be afraid of
the garbage in us if we know how to transform it back into
joy, into peace.
has the power, has the capacity of helping us to recognize
what is there in the present moment. When anger is there, we
recognize the fact that anger is there. When fear is there,
we recognize the fact that fear is there. And the practice
is not to fight, to suppress, but to recognize and to embrace.
my little anger, I know you. You are my old friend. I will
take good care of you. Oh my little fear, I know you are always
there. I will take good care of you." That is the attitude
of non-duality, the attitude of non-violence, because we know
that mindfulness is us; love is us; but fear and anger are
us not fight. Let us only take care and transform. The organic
gardener doesn't have to fight the garbage placed in (or created
by) the garden. She knows exactly what to do in order to handle
the garbage, in order to transform it back into cucumber, into
tomatoes, et cetera.
first function of mindfulness is to recognize what is there,
positive or negative. The second function of mindfulness is
to embrace it and to get deeply in touch with it. If it is
a positive thing like a blue sky or the beautiful face of a
child, that becomes something very nourishing, very healing
for us. And if it is something negative, like hatred or fear,
we should be able to embrace it and bring relief to it.
third function of mindfulness is to help us look deeply into
the nature of what is there; in this case, fear or anger. The
nature of something means the root of that something: how this
fear has been created; how this anger has manifested. Look
deeply into the nature of our fear and our anger in order to
see their true nature. When we understand, when we have insight
into the nature of our fear and our anger, that insight will
help transform our fear, our anger into positive energies.
deeply helps us to recognize, to realize things that we have
not realized before. In the past three years, we have been
bringing groups of Israelis and Palestinians to Plum Village
(where we live and practice) to support their practice. We
have learned a lot from them, also. When they arrive, they
always bring with them a lot of fear, a lot of anger, a lot
of suspicion. They could not talk to each other, because everyone
has a lot of suspicion and anger and fear in himself or herself....
groups of Israelis and Palestinians, when they arrive, they
are introduced to the practice of mindful breathing and mindful
walking right away. The practice helps to generate the energy
of mindfulness so they can recognize and embrace their fear,
their anger, their suspicion, their despair. We do it together
with the support of the International Community of Meditation.
Jews and Palestinians practice sitting together, eating mindfully
and silently together, walking together, breathing
together for a number of days -- seven days, eight days,
nine days. Every day they listen to a Dharma talk in order
the teachings on how to do the practice of mindfully recognizing
their fear, their anger, their suspicion and their despair,
how to embrace them and how to treat them with nonviolence
ten days are necessary for each of them to be able to see more
clearly, because anger and fear prevent us from seeing things
clearly, especially when anger or fear has become collective.
anger has become collective, when fear has become collective,
it's extremely dangerous for our nation and for the world.
That is why we should practice not only as individuals but
also as communities, as nations.
the support of the international community, the Jews and the
Palestinians are able to come down, and now they are assisted
in the practice of listening deeply with compassion to the
to our own suffering, our own fear, our own anger is the first
thing we have to do as a person
and as a community. After that, when we have some insight
about the roots of our fear, our anger, our despair, then we
listen to other groups of people.
listening, you have to practice mindful breathing in order
to keep calm, to maintain
compassion in you, because that practice of deep listening
is also called the practice of compassionate listening.
listening means to listen with one purpose: helping the
other side, the other person to express himself or herself
to get relief. You don't listen to criticize. You just listen
in order to give the other person a chance to empty his
heart; to empty her heart in order to get relief.
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.
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
train ourselves for at least one week in order to be able
to do it and to help our beloved one get relief.
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.
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
it is very important to practice loving speech, gentle speech.
That is the subject of the fourth mindfulness training in
the Buddhist tradition.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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."
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
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.
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?"
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.
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.
she listened to the Dharma talk, she realized that in the
last six years, she never used the kind of language that is
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
was partly responsible for her own suffering and the suffering
of her husband.
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
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?"
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.
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."
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."
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.)
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.
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
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
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
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.
is the first step. There are vast resources of peace in this
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.
we should be able to invite those people who have felt
that they're victims of social injustice and discrimination
come in order to tell us about their suffering. We should
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
in the case of that couple, exactly like in the case of
the Palestinians and Israelis in Plum Village.
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.
bringing that practice into the international levels, America
can ask other nations to help create sessions of deep listening
where America can participate.
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
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.
we have not been able to listen to our fear, our anger, we
listen and understand the fear and the anger of other nations
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
to our politicians.
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.
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
by our ancestors, our parents. It depends on the environment
where we live, [but] such seeds can be watered several times
children watch television three hours a day or even more. And
during the time they watch television, their
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
let us remember that peace is in our hands. We can do something
peace every day. Let us practice as individuals. Let us practice
as communities, as Sanghas, and let us give peace a chance.
2002 Thich Nhat Hanh