Thich Nhat Hanh on the art of being peace

To honor Buddhist monk and peace activist Thich Nhat Hanh, Nonviolence Radio shares this talk and meditation from the 2008 International Buddhist Conference.

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On today’s show we honor the life and teachings of Buddhist monk and peace activist, Thich Nhat Hanh, or Thay as he is lovingly referred to by his students.

Thich Nhat Hanh passed away at the age of 95 on Friday, January 22, and leaves a legacy that goes beyond Buddhism and into the heart of what it means to be human, and how to put compassion and nonviolence into practice.

His teachings have shaped many lives and will continue to do so.

We are pleased to be able to share with you, thanks to receiving permission from his monastery, Plum Village, this dharma talk by Thay, entitled The Art of Being Peace from May 13, 2008 at the 5th International Buddhist Conference. The talk includes chanting and a meditation at the end.

As we begin this talk, take a deep breath in, and exhale. . .



Thich Nhat Hanh: Distinguished guests, noble sangha, good afternoon. We can very well describe the practice of Buddhism as the practice of a kind of art. The art of being peace. The art of promoting peace in society, and the world.

And as Buddhists, as the continuation of the Lord Buddha, all of us should learn that art. How to be at peace. And how to promote peace in our family, in our community, in our society.

If you look deeply into ourselves, we can realize that there are elements of war that are already in us. Our tension, the tension in our body. Our emotions, like fear, anger, violence, hate, despair. Our wrong-thinking, our wrong perceptions, are there in us. And they can be described as elements of war.

Practicing Buddhism is, first of all, to recognize these negative elements within us in order to take care of them, in order to transform them. When we go back to our breathing and become aware of our body, we might recognize the fact that there is a lot of tension, of stress, within our body. And because of that awareness, we may like to do something in order to release the tension in our body.

And in a sutra on mindful breathing, Satipatthana Sutta, the Buddha provide us with the practice in order to release the tension in our body. The third exercise of mindful breathing, and the fourth exercise of mindful breathing for that. The breathing in – I’m aware of my whole body. With all the tension in it. And breathing out, I release the tension within my body.

With a few minutes of mindful breathing, we can release all the tensions in our body. We know that the tension in our body, if it continued to be accumulated, will bring about a lot of problems and many kind of sickness as a result of that tension in our body.

And scientists of our time have realized that if we are able to release the tension in our body, our body will have the capacity of healing itself. We don’t need a lot of medicine. We need to release the tension in our body. And suddenly, our body will have the capacity of healing the sickness in it.

When we are able to make peace with our body, we can begin to make peace with our feelings and emotions. We have painful feelings. We have strong emotions. We don’t know how to handle them. And the Buddha in the sutra of mindful breathing tell us, show us the way to recognize the painful feeling, the painful emotions in us, in order to embrace them and bring relief. And finally, transform them.

The seventh exercise of mindful breathing is for that. Breathing in, I recognize the painful feeling, the painful emotion within me. And the eighth exercise, breathing out, I release the tension in my feelings, in my emotions, learning to recognize, embrace, and transform our emotions, like fear, anger, hate, jealousy, despair. It’s very important.

And that is, the art of making peace with ourselves. Taking care of our body. And taking care of our feelings and emotions. And then the Buddha proceed to help us to recognize our mental formations. And among them, our thinking. We know that we still have a lot of wrong thinking in us. And the wrong thinking will bring about wrong speech and wrong actions that will cause war within us and the other person, between our group and the other group. Between our nation and the other nation.

And that is why the Buddhist practice begins with going home to one’s self. Recognize the elements of tension, of pain, of conflict within in order to restore peace in our body, in our feelings, and also in our mental formations – our mind.

If parents know the practice, they will make their children happy. They will make their family life happy. And the children who grow from such a family will learn how to recognize the difficulties, the stress in their body, recognize their feelings, their emotions, and learn how to deal with them. And parents, when they practice, they can teach the children to practice also – the practice of being peace.

When the children go to school, and then the teachers – the school teacher should be able to help them also because there are children who have not had a chance in their family. They have not had a chance to learn how to love, to give, to make the happiness of other people in a family. And then school teachers, if they know the practice, and then they can help their children. And they can give their students a second chance. So school can become a second kind of family. And school teachers can become kind of parents in order to help their students.

Now we have a lot of problems in the family. And in school. There’s a lot of misunderstanding, a lot of anger, a lot of violence – both in the family and the school. And that is why if parents and school teachers learn the practice of being peace, they will help their children and their students to learn the art of being peace also. And we hope that if you are in the realm of education, please reflect on this and try to bring this kind of learning, this kind of practice, originated from Buddhism into a family life and into school life.

In the 30 years of teaching in the West, we have offered this kind of practice of being peace, to friends in many countries. And countless people have profited from the practice and have reconciled with their father, with their mother, with their son, their daughter, their partner, and bring back happiness.

We also share the teaching of the practice of listening with compassion and using loving speech in order to restore communication. Nowadays, we have a lot of sophisticated means of communication. But communication between husband and wife, father and son, mother and daughter, has become much, much more difficult. And we witness to the fact that many fathers cannot speak to their son. Many sons and daughters cannot listen to their father. And if there is no communication, how could we hope to help each other remove our wrong perceptions in order to make peace with each other?


In Plum Village, France, during many years we have invited groups of Palestinians and Israelis to come and practice with us. And we have learned a lot from them. These groups, upon arrival, they could not look at each other because there’s a lot of suffering, of fear, of anger, of suspicion in every group.

And the Sangha in Plum Village helped them to practice, first of all, to release the tension in their body, to practice breathing, to practice mindful walking, to practice mindful sitting in order to recognize the pain, the sorrow, the fear, the emotion within them, in order to get relief, the practice of deep relaxation proposed by Lord Buddha. The practice of recognizing the emotions proposed by Lord Buddha have helped tremendously these two groups of people to practice.

After the first week of releasing the tension, recognizing painful emotions, they are initiated to practice deep listening to each other and using the language of loving kindness.

When you suffer, you would like to make your suffering known to the other person. And if you know how to use a kind of speech that is not blaming, condemnation, accusation. The kind of speech that is called, in Buddhism, “loving speech,” and then you can tell the other person about your suffering, your difficulties, and your deep aspiration.

And if you are the listener, and then you practice breathing in and out to calm yourself, to remember that to listen to the other person is a practice of compassion because if you know how to listen deeply with compassion, in one hour you can help relieve a lot of suffering in the other person.

In Mahayana Buddhism we have the Bodhisattva Avalokitesvara who is very skillful in the practice of compassionate listening. And if we learn the art of compassionate listening for a few days, and then you’d be able to listen with compassion to the other person, to the other group of people. And we know that listening like that for one hour or two can already bring a lot of relief to the person.

That person might not have any chance. Nobody has been able to listen to them. Now, you are practicing like a Bodhisattva of compassion. You are listening to him. You are listening to here with compassion. And that is tremendously helpful.

The other side, the other group, must tell you everything. Every kind of suffering and difficulties they have endured. Like the Palestinians. And the Israelis would sit very still in order to listen. And the Plum Village Sangha sit with them in order to support them in a practice of deep listening. And after having listened for one hour, the situation has already changed. You realize that on the other side, people have suffered exactly like on your side. Adult, children – they have suffered very much the same kind of suffering that on your side you have suffered.

And because of that, for the first time, you can look at them with the eyes of compassion. You recognize them as living beings. Human beings like you. Before that, you think that only your side suffers. The other side never suffered. The other side only want you to suffer. But now after a few sessions of deep listening and compassionate listening, you recognize that they have suffered tremendously like your side. And listening like that helped them to suffer less and help you to suffer less at the same time.

Finally, after ten days of practice, people could hold hands. The two groups can hold hands together and practice walking meditation. And sit down and share a meal in brotherhood and sisterhood. The practice taken up by groups of Israelis and Palestinians in Plum Village is always successful.

And at the end of the period of practice, they always – the two groups always come together and report to the Mahayana Sangha about the fruit of their practice. They always promise that upon going home, they will create a sangha, a practice center so that other people, Israelis and Palestinians could come and practice in order to suffer less.

We know that in order to have right action and right speech we should have right will. Right will is the will of dependent co-arising. Right will is the view of no-self, of interbeing. And practitioners should always remember to make the kind of right will alive in their daily life. Looking, listening, we always have to touch the inside of dependent co-arising, interbeing and no-self.

Suppose we speak about a father and his son? Looking deeply with meditation, we can see very clearly that the son is a continuation of the father. And if the son practiced mindful breathing and look deeply into his body, he will see that his father is fully present in every cell of his body. His father is not only outside of him. His father is inside of him. His mother also is inside of him.

And the father, when he looked deeply into his son, he can also see the same thing. He can see himself in the son. And if the son suffers, the father will suffer at the same time. It is impossible for a son to be truly happy if his father still suffers deeply. It is impossible for a father to be truly happy if the son still suffers deeply. And that is why the suffering is not individual. Suffering is not an individual matter. If you suffer, your son also suffers – your father also suffer.

And if your son is happy, that is also your happiness. So, in the light of no-self, of interdependence, suffering is not an individual matter. Suffering is both for the son and the father. And that is the insight of no-self, that is the insight of interbeing.

We know that everything is linked to everything else. And the wellbeing of animals is very crucial for the wellbeing of human beings. The wellbeing of plants and minerals are also crucial for the wellbeing of human beings. And that is why protecting the environment, protecting the other species on earth, is to protect mankind. And that is the insight of interbeing.

And not only the Buddhists have access to that kind of insight, but non-Buddhists also have access to that kind of insight. Sometimes the Buddhists have access, but they don’t make use of that insight. As a monk, as a monastic, we might forget that we are a monastic. And we continue with our struggle for power. We want to build prestige. We want to build a big temple. And we do not have the capacity of being peace and making peace, promoting peace in our own sangha, in our monastic community.

We are not in peace with ourself. We are not in peace with our brothers and sisters in a monastic community. We are not truly practicing as a monk. As a lay person also, we have received five Mindfulness Trainings, five precepts. But we are so busy, we don’t know how to apply the teaching of the five precepts into our daily life.

In the month of March, 2000, UNESCO issued a manifesto called, “Manifesto 2000” with six points. That is a practice of peace. We know that the United Nations created the first ten years of our century be a decade of foreign culture, of peace and nonviolence. And many of us have tried our best in order to implement, to promote the culture of peace and nonviolence.

I had the opportunity to sit down with a group of Nobel Peace Prize winners in order to draft the Manifesto 2000. There are six points of practice in the manifesto. And after having been separated, the manifesto has been signed by 75 million people. 75 million people, including heads of state, prime ministers and so on.

The six points of the manifesto are very similar to the five mindfunessl trainings, five precepts proposed by Lord Buddha. It’s certain that if everyone has a practice according to the six points of the manifesto or the five precepts, we shall have peace in us and in the world.

But the fact is, after you have signed the manifesto, you don’t have the chance to put it into practice. You agree with the manifesto. You know that the manifesto is a path leading to peace. But after having signed it, you don’t have the opportunity to live accordingly and to put into practice the six points of the manifesto in your daily life. That is our shortcoming.

In the Buddhist tradition, after having received the five precepts, you’re encouraged to come for the recitation of the five precepts every fortnight. You are encouraged to participate in dharma discussions on the five precepts in order to learn how to apply better the teaching of the five precepts into your daily life.

It’s not that we do not have a way. We have a way, but we do not recognize ourself in such a way that we can go on that way, together as a river.

That is why my suggestion is we organize ourselves into communities. Our family can become a sangha community. Our classroom can become a community. Our workplace can become a community. The city hall can become – the city council can become a sangha. The national assembly can become a sangha. The parliament can become a sangha also. And bring these six points or five precepts into the practice.


We know that the first mindful training, the first precept, is to protect life. Not only the life of people, but also the life of animals, plants, and minerals. And that is the practice of deep ecology, the practice of protecting our environment. We know that in order for human beings to be safe, to be healthy, we have to protect other species, animals, plants, and minerals.

In order to practice truly the first precept, you have to learn about the fifth precept – it is on mindful consumption, mindful production. If you exploit too much the resources of the earth, you will cause a lot of damage. If you want to be rich, you might produce the kind of roots that can bring into the body and the mind of people a lot of toxins like violence, grieving, fear, hate.

When the children watch a film for entertainment, they can ingest into their body and their mind a lot of toxins – grieving, violence, fear, hate. And that is the intoxication of the mind and of the body by the way of consumption. And mindful consumption, not to accept, not to produce and consume the items that can bring war, sickness, tension, hate, fear into our body and our mind is a very wonderful way to protect ourselves, to protect our family, our community, and our society.

Without a practice of mindful consumption, we have no way out. We have to produce mindfully. We don’t produce items with toxins and poisons. We have to consume mindfully. We should not consume the things that have toxins and poisons. And that precept alone can bring peace.

And our legislators have to work on that. They have to offer us the kind of law forbidding, prohibiting the kind of production that can bring into our body and into our mind these kinds of poisons, like fear, grieving, anger, hate, and despair.

If parents and schoolteachers practice alone, that would not be enough. I think business leaders and political leaders have to enter into the practice. They have to help us, making the law that prohibit the kind of production of these poisonous items. And they have to help us with the kind of education in order for us to practice mindful consumption, for the health of our body and our spirit.

The Second Mindfulness Training is very clear. Not to exploit people. Not to exploit the planet. We are not doing that. We are exploiting other people. We are robbing other people. We are making use of other people. We are exploiting the earth. And we do not think of the future for our children and their grandchildren. We do not have the kind of right thinking commanded by the Buddha.

What is right thinking? Right thinking is the thinking that goes along with the insight of interbeing, of non-self. You are them and they are you. Right thinking is the thinking that goes along with compassion, understanding, protection, and forgiveness. As soon as you produce a thought of compassion, a thought in the line of right thinking, that thought right away has an effect of healing into your body and into your mind. And that thought of compassion, of right thinking, will have also an effect on the health of the world and of the planet.

And as a Buddhist, we are able to produce many thoughts like that in a day. In the line of right thinking we produce only thoughts of understanding, compassion, forgiveness. And when we are able to produce, to practice right thinking and then of course our speech will be right speech, promoting understanding, hope, brotherhood/sisterhood, and our actions will be right action.

Right view, as the foundation. Right thinking. Right speech. And right action will follow. And that is the path of peace. We know that we have been talking a lot about peace. But we have not been – we have not done enough for the cause of peace. And whatever we can do in terms of thinking, in terms of speech, and in terms of action could be considered to be an offering to Lord Buddha.

And we have the possibility to make offering to the Buddha every day. We are so grateful to him as a teacher. In our monastery in Deer Park, in the State of California, we have managed to stop using electricity of the city. We now are using only solar energy. Many hundred people live on solar energy alone. And the few cars we use, they are now running on vegetable oil.

And together with our lay friends, we practice car-free days. When you stop using your car for one day, one entire day, you stop polluting the atmosphere. And that may be considered to be an offering to the Buddha. And our friends, our lay friends, together with us, so far we have been able to offer to Lord Buddha 60,000 car-free days.

And if you want, you can pledge one car-free day a week. You can pledge online.

September 22nd is the world car-free day. And we hope that on that day we’ll be able to offer the Buddha 100,000 car-free days. If you don’t use a car, you use a motorcycle. Each week, you might like to pledge one motorcycle-free day as an offering to the Buddha. We know that we have to show our love to our planet, our protection. And using less electricity, using less gasoline, is a way of expressing love also.

We know very well that there will not be gasoline for every one of us. Countries like India, China have huge populations. And everyone wants to have a car. If the other person has a car, why not me? Everyone has the right to have a car. And we know very well that there will not be gasoline for all of us on the planet. And that kind of awareness is already enlightenment. That is already right thinking.

So, to consume less, to live a more simple life is the only way out. And in our community, especially Buddhist communities, we already begin to implement that kind of teaching and practice. In our monasteries in Europe and America, no one of us has a private car. No one of us has a private laptop or a private telephone. No one of us has a private bank account. And we survive very well. And we are happy together as a sangha.

We know by our selves by our practice that happiness is possible when you are nourished by brotherhood, sisterhood, loving kindness. You don’t have to consume much in order to be happy. And many of us think that happiness could not be possible when you do not have a lot of money, you don’t have a big position in power. [French]

If we don’t have a big position in society, if we don’t have enough power in society, If we do not have enough fame. When I look around myself, I see a lot of people full of power, full of money. And yet, they suffer very deeply. And some of them commit – have committed suicide. And I have seen also brothers and sisters in the practice, they don’t have a bank account. They don’t have a car, a private car, or even a personal laptop. And they are very happy as a practitioner, as a human being, as a member of our society.

And that means that to live a simple life and to be happy, that is something possible. And I think that is the teaching of Lord Buddha to be implemented in our life, reducing our consumption, learning to live more simply, to have more time to take care of oneself. And to take care of our beloved ones, is very crucial, is the practice of peace, is the way out.

Brothers and sisters, distinguished guests, it’s wonderful to come together – for us to come together as a spiritual family to honor our teacher, Lord Buddha.

It’s my conviction that in order to be kind to our teacher, Lord Buddha, we should – everyone should pledge. Everyone should make a promise to him. That we shall try our best to live in such a way that we will have enough time to take care of our self, to have the time to love and to take care of the people around us. And for that, we should refrain from using all our time running after our success – whether that is wealth, power, or fame.

Happiness is possible. If you go back to the present moment with your mindful breathing, you recognize that you are alive. And the wonders of life are available in you and around you. And you only need to sit quietly, relaxingly and get in touch with the wonders of life that have the power to heal and to nourish you. And happiness can come right away in the present moment. Lord Buddha has promoted the teaching of living happily in the present moment.

Drstādharmasukhavihara — in the time of the Buddha, there was a business leader. His name is Anathapindika. He was very fond of the Buddha in his practice. He has learned from the Buddha a lot. And he tried to bring the practice of the Buddha into his family. And his family was a happy family.

One day, he brought 500 businessmen to the Buddha. And then the Buddha gave them one teaching. And in that sutra, the Buddha used five times the expression, “Living happily in the present moment.” The Buddha know very well that businessmen, they think too much about the future. They don’t really think of their success in the future. They don’t have the time for themselves. They don’t have the time for their children, for their family.

And the Buddha wanted to remind them that conditions of happiness are already available in the here and the now. If they know how to practice mindful breathing and go back to the present moment, they will recognize that there are enough or more than enough conditions for you to be happy right in the here and the now.

Taking care of the present moment is also taking care of the future. According to this insight, the future is made only of one substance – that is, the present moment. If you invest 100% of yourself into taking care of the present moment, to do what you think that needs to be done, and you defend from doing what you think that it is harmful to you now, in the future, taking care of the present moment is about everything you can do in order to assure a beautiful future because the future is made only of the present moment.

Of course, we have the right to make projects for the future. But we should not worry too much about our future. We should not be too much afraid of our future. We can re-establish from being in the present moment, and we bring the future to the present and have a look – deep look on it. We have the right to make projects for the future, but we don’t need to lose ourselves in the worries, in the fear, in the uncertainty about the future. That is what the Buddha was trying to tell us.

Living happily in the present moment, we already have enough conditions to be happy. This is the message that we should make known to our friends – Buddhists and non-Buddhists.


I invite our distinguished guests and members of our Mahayana Sangha, international sangha to enjoy one or two minutes of sitting in order to recognize that happiness is already there. We don’t need to run into the future to be happy. It’s wonderful to be together as one spiritual family. We are there with our Lord Buddha. It’s wonderful to have this opportunity to enjoy our togetherness.


Breathing in, I invite my father in me, to breathe in with me. Breathing out, I invite my mother in me to join me in breathing out.

Breathing in, I feel so light. Father, do you feel light as I do? Breathing out, I feel so free. Mother, do you feel free like me?

Breathing in, I see the presence of Lord Buddha in every cell of my body because I am his student, his continuation. Breathing out, I smile to the Buddha in every cell of my body.

I promise the Lord Buddha that I will be a good continuation of his, while I walk. Every step will bring serenity and freedom and peace. When I breathe, I will bring peace and serenity into my body and my mind.

When I speak, I will use loving speech. When I listen, I nourish my compassion in order to help the other person to relieve a lot of his suffering.

I vow to restore communication within me and other members of my family, other members of my communities. And I know that doing so, I can promote peace in my society.

Thank you very much, brothers and sisters.


Stephanie: You’ve been listening to a 2008 dharma talk by Thich Nhat Hahn, shared with permission from his monastery, Plum Village.

Next, in honor of the lives of Thich Nhat Hahn and Martin Luther King Jr, whose birthday we celebrated last week, we share this song by Nashville Musician, Gary Nicholson. It’s called Hate is too Heavy a Burden to Bear. You can find this song at our website,


You’ve been listening to Nonviolence Radio. We want to thank Plum Village for permission to share this dharma talk by Buddhist leader, Thich Nhat Hahn. It’s a great privilege to share. We honor our Mother Station KWMR,  the Pacific Network, and Waging Nonviolence for syndicating our show, to Matt Watrous for transcription and editing, Annie Hewitt for blogging, and to you our listeners. Until the next time please take care of one another.

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