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Peace Walk with Thich Nhat Hanh - Part 2

by Open Mind Monday, Oct. 10, 2005 at 2:02 PM

Buddhist monks and nuns, progressive left and religious peace organizations and other seekers after knowledge met yesterday in MacArthur Park for a meditation with Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh that was intended to create a peaceful state that will eventually translate into an end to war.

video: RealVideo metafile

Part 2 of a series. See part 1 at

This part contains a single six minute video file in RealVideo format of a Buddhist chant intended to introduce a mindful state. The chant is introduced by Thich Naht Hanh, and follows at about 2:40 into the clip.

Text below is copied from part 1.

This event occurred on Saturday, October 8, 2005 in MacArthur Park in Los Angeles, near the band shell on the park's northwest corner. It was attended by about 10,000 people (my own wild guess), including several hundred Buddhist monks, nuns and novices from the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido and the Plum VIllage monastery in France, plus a much larger contingent from left and religious groups throughout Southern California, some of whom co-sponsored the event. A large number of unaffiliated individuals also seemed to be in attendance.

The basic premise of this gathering was that creating peace on an individual level will somehow lead to peace at the level of human institutions, such as nations. This is an appealing belief, but it needs to be grounded in a stronger logical and historical analysis than was presented at this event. Even if it happens to be true, we need to understand how things are expected to translate from the individual level to the institutional level, if for no other reason than to make sure that that process actually occurs.

I would hasten to add, however, that those of us attending traditional left anti-war demonstrations, myself included, also seem to have no real idea of how our commuter-style convocations will ultimately lead to institutional change. It's like, hey, what happened with the Vietnam war, you know.

There is good reason to believe that these public events are helpful, but not much idea of how, specifically, we get from where we are to serious institutional change, let alone any specific idea of the role that the demonstrations themselves will play in that process. So, I don't want to apply a higher standard of proof to this event than I would for our own demonstrations; both have the potential to be helpful, but we need to know more about how.

Perhaps the best example of a spiritually grounded movement that accomplished concrete political ends is the movement of Gandhi. But Gandhi never believed that changing hearts one by one would lead through some mystical process to the freeing of India from its British Imperial mastrers. At the same time as he engaged in his spirtual practice and teachings, he was founding local schools and newspapers throughout India, spawning public sanitation campaigns, and working tirelessly against the "curse of untouchability" and the caste system in general. And he specifically stated that the spiritual was political, and that a spiritual practice required individuals to act directly to create political change.

Certainly the organizers of this event were performing a political act by convening this gathering, which seems to be a bit of a paradox given the event's premise of personal change leading mystically to change at the world level. And the Buddhists themselves are hardly disorganized--in fact, our rather haphazard left organizations could probably learn a great deal from them in this regard. But for me, these are good contradictions, because I believe that such direct organization is necessary. if larger-scale change is to occur.

The presenters made almost no specific mention of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, but everyone knew that those wars provided the background for this gathering. Instead, the entire event was devoted to the Buddhist practice of mindfulness, which means being in the present moment rather than thinking about the past or the future.

To promote mindfulness, there were two exercises. The first was "mindful walking," in which we walked slowly, with great awareness of every step, around the entire park, saying to ourselves:

I have arrived; I am home

In the here; In the now

I am solid; I am free

In the ultimate, I dwell

We walked around the entire perimeter of the Southern part of the park in this manner.

Upon returning to the area of the bandshell, we began our second main exercise, which was mindful eating of our (packed vegetarian) lunches. Thich Nhat Hanh led this exercise by example from the main platform, sorrounded by monks and nuns, and we followed along on the hillside, just trying to be conscious of the simple process of ingesting sustenance. Prior to the meal, TNH rather humorously instructed us to think of a carrot, which has absorbed sun and air and water from its environment, as an ambassador from the Universe to us.

The peace walk was politely hectored by a group of about 10 very sincere, but also not very cogent, Vietnamese exiles. I performed a video interview with one of these individuals which should be posted soon, in which he revealed that he was a former officer of the South Vietnamese army, and had supported the U.S. occupation of his country. He condemned TNH as a "communist" and an "anti-war activist" (apparently charges considered to be similar by this person).

When the U.S. abandoned its South Vietnamese puppets, this person was thrown into a re-education camp for three years, after which he was, rather remarkably, released. Several years later, in 1980, he had the opportunity to emigrate to the U.S. and did so. So, I would say that this group plays an analogous role within the U.S. Vietnamese community to that played by the exiled Batista supporters within the Cuban community.

The main claim of this group was that TNH had made a false statement to a New York audience in a speech on 9/25/2001 that the U.S. had killed 300,000 people by bombing the city of Ben Tre. To support this, they handed out a transcript of his speech, which did not make that claim at all; what it said was the the U.S. bombed the city of Ben Tre, which had a population of 300,000. TNH did not claim any specific number of deaths.

Also, it was a very good speech, in which he urged the people of NYC not to seek revenge in the wake of 9/11, just as he had restrained himself from angry thoughts in the wake of this U.S. atrocity against his nation, even though some of his friends and disciples had been killed by the U.S. during its war of conquest there. I ended up with even more respect for TNH than before I had read their flyer. Also, this speech provided a wonderful example of how his preaching of personal mindfulness can result in actions intended to affect political events (in this case, the U.S. response to 9/11). So, I would have to say that these former servants to U.S. Imperialism in VIetnam were rather ineffective in their attempts to damage TNH's reputation, and this was perhaps their most endearing quality.

Throughout the event, there was music, at first from TNH and the devotees, and later from local hip-hop artists introduced by Fidel Rodriguez of radio station KPFK's Divine Forces Radio. The music was overall very good, and was quite in tune and in touch with the nature of the event. The music of the devotees mixed Eastern elements with traditional U.S. folk elements, which I think reflected the varied musical traditions of the audience very well.

Our hopes for the future are founded upon diversity and cooperation, and so I would encourage those of us who are involved in the progressive left to open up some space in our minds and hearts for other approaches, such as the one presented by these religious practitioners at this low-key but very positive and helpful event.

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