Last updated on October 20th, 2018 at 06:51 am

Thich Nhat HanhWe need guidance from wise teachings to calm our deeply troubled minds. Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh provides this (2005; 2002b):

Calming down, becoming serene is the first step of meditation. The second step is to look deeply, to understand. Out of understanding comes compassion. And from this foundation of understanding and compassion, you will be able to see what you can do and what you should refrain from doing. This is meditation…

The practice of peace and reconciliation is the practice of looking deeply, the practice of listening with compassion, the practice of using compassionate speech.

Peace has to begin with both you and I. But if we don’t know how to listen to our own suffering and the suffering within our nation, we cannot know peace as a personal experience and therefore cannot change the conflict between groups and nations. We must learn to take the hand of suffering and apply it internationally. Thich Nhat Hanh (2002a) has proposed that:

America must first of all listen to her own suffering by organizing the best among us to listen deeply to the pain, suffering and violence within America.

Nhat Hanh feels that we need to restore clarity about why so much violence is projected outwards. Surely violence exists because internal violence hasn’t yet been taken care of.  So much injustice, suffering and discrimination exists in America. Recognizing it and allowing it to be safely expressed demonstrates that America is capable of listening to herself, giving hope to the world. The interfaith councils that already exist in most towns and cities in North America provide natural allies for this endeavour. Their religious training, meditation and communication skills are the combination needed to creatively deal with the suffering within the city, the nation and the world. Deep listening, deep looking, reflecting on the suffering, discrimination and issues within our city, nation and world and then offering wise deliberations to our leaders based on a broad concern for humanity—The intention behind the Councils of Sages is to listen deeply, look deeply and reflect on the suffering, discrimination and other issues in the world, then offer wise deliberations to our leaders based on a broad concern for humanity.. We can all take these steps to become ambassadors for peace.

The emergence of Councils of Sages acknowledges that present leaders rarely have the skills to listen deeply to the suffering within the nation and the world. Friends with training and discipline in meditation are the ones to listen deeply, to look deeply and examine issues without a partisan flavour. The ability to reflect deeply and touch the core of wisdom and compassion that rests within all is the usefulness of such a council. As they listen, reflect and look deeply, Councils of Sages can present the fruits of these skills to hard-pressed politicians, bureaucrats, CEO’s and other leaders. In this way there is a basis for transforming how political decision-making is made in our nation. Throughout North America there are many people capable of listening deeply with compassion to the suffering within the nation and of assisting the political process. They’re ready made for Councils of Sages. The spiritual dimension is absolutely necessary for this kind of practice. It takes skill to listen deeply. It takes practice to walk a mile in the shoes of the “other.” It also takes great courage to use the language of compassion.

Hurricane Katrina exposed America’s present inability to respond to a catastrophic emergency from a place of lucidity and compassion. The devastation to New Orleans and the hinterland of the Gulf coast had long been anticipated, yet no steps were taken to prepare an appropriate rescue response. This permitted the deep scars in American society—racism, neglect and poverty—to dramatically reveal themselves. The post 9/11 policies engineered by the Bush administration have been so detrimental to the well being of American society that never before has the need for Councils of Sages been more apparent. Astounding incompetence, misplaced priorities, inability to listen, social injustice, poverty, neglect, inadequate health care and education, lack of environmental and infrastructure protection—the list is endless. This natural disaster provided a reality check on the state of emergency that exists within America and is a mindfulness bell ringing in the moment for Councils of Sages to get to work to address the suffering within the nation. There is a model of investigation that the US could adopt to listen and look deeply into the suffering caused by discrimination, racism, poverty, neglect and oppression. It’s the “Truth and Reconciliation Commission” established by Nelson Mandela and Bishop Desmond Tutu in South Africa and it provides a mindful precedent for the investigation required within the US. In the world’s richest nation Hurricane Katrina and her sister storms exposed the same wounds of suffering caused by apartheid in South Africa, whose government (post-apartheid) had the courage and insight to listen to the deep suffering of the nation.

So it is up to citizens of the world to do better. We have to be ready and prepared with our boundless compassion whenever an opportunity arises. If you’re at a loss about what to do about our world, immerse yourself in the practice of mindfulness and allow your actions to come naturally from that foundation of clarity and strength. In this manner we are available for wise action of peaceful reconciliation and reconstruction. The despair, suffering and self-righteous anger in the nation is so enormous that such preparation is necessary. There is such a burning volcano in the United States that no American leader will presently listen to wise voices. There is so much heat and vengeance covering up the dark side of the American psyche (Corbett, 2003), that insight and understanding are prevented from breaking through. We can only put out the volcanic fire with mindfulness and by healing the wounds, not with further violence on the global stage. Yet I do have a vision of American renaissance. It is of all sectors of American society diligently practicing to strengthen the energy of mindfulness so that compassion is present in abundance for a process of reconciliation at home and abroad. America can do this. It can heal the fractures and wounds that have split the country apart.

America is a true child of the Renaissance. The constitution is embedded with universal principles of justice, human rights, civil rights and provides opportunity for the dispossessed of many nations—none of this can be overlooked. It’s still there in the store consciousness of the nation. The task is to encourage these seeds of consciousness to emerge and provide an alternative to the dangerous posturing of America on the world stage. Mark Hertsgaard writes (2002:213):
We need a revolution in America. Not one of violence and disorder, but one of values and ways of thinking, one that remembers where we came from. Our nation was born in revolution. It was dedicated to freedom and fairness, and based on the idea that all citizens could join together as equals to govern themselves. That was a radical idea in 1776, and it remains a radical idea today.

The heart of America still beats to the renaissance of its founding—love, compassion and responsibility—only that heartbeat must be heard once again in homes, communities, churches, corporate boardrooms, Congress, the White House and the media.

By adopting deep listening practices at every level of American society and by forming Councils of Sages to advise the nation in the best interests of humanity, other nations will gain great confidence in America. They may see ambassadors for peace on the public stage in America and seek to emulate that example. But at present there is so much fear and so little opportunity for trust to emerge, as the new century degenerates into the continuing darkness of terrorist attacks and American retaliation. Worldwide, people are afraid of terrorism but what frightens them most of all is the unbridled might and power of America. Yet America can provide something different—communicate a message based on her founding principles by demonstrating that a Second Renaissance of all that is best in America is taking place. This rests on the ability of America to listen deeply to her own suffering as well as to the suffering in other countries. By committing to an internal dharma talk and to the process of removing wrong perceptions—how differently would America be perceived.

Ian Prattis is the author of The Essential Spiral: Ecology and Consciousness After 9/11 and the teacher in residence for a Zen meditation community in Ottawa—the Pine Gate Sangha. For more information visit www.ianprattis.com/pinegate.htm. © 2007, Ian Prattis