Answers from the Heart


— By Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, 

Excerpts from Answers from the Heart

Q: What can we do when a person attacks us physically? May we use force in order to protect ourselves? Can a country use force to protect itself?

A: There are many things we can do to prevent ourselves from being attacked, physically or mentally. These things are part of how we live our daily lives. We learn to live in such a way that nobody wants to attack us. When you know how to generate the energy of brotherhood, of compassion, you’ll be protected by the energy of compassion and understanding. By living with understanding and compassion, you will also have a lot of friends to protect you. This is the basic practice. That is why we shouldn’t wait until there’s an attack in order to learn how to react.

When the Buddha was a young man he was versed in martial arts. He knew that with his skill, he would be able to respond to a physical attack. Like the Buddha we can practice qigong and other nonviolent methods of protecting ourselves. We can eat and work and sleep in a way that we preserve our health and resilience. We can cultivate mindfulness, concentration, and compassion. Every time the Buddha was in danger of being attacked physically, he used his mindfulness, intelligence, and compassion to subdue the person who was about to attack him, and he didn’t have to use his martial arts. Misunderstanding brings fear and anger, and we immediately think of the gun and the army as the only solution. But there are many nonviolent ways to protect our country and ourselves. Violence is the last resort. When a country is united, when it has wise leaders who practice deep dialogue and deep listening, the country has many friends and doesn’t have to use its army a lot. Instead the soldiers spend their time repairing roads, building bridges, and helping communities.

Q : What is the one thing people can do every day that will bring them closer to the happiness they seek?

A : We are so busy; we don’t want to do so many things. We want to know just one thing that we can do to get closer to the happiness we seek every day. I think that moving around with mindfulness, walking mindfully, may be what we propose as a gift, because we move a lot during our daily life. If you want to go from here to there, even if you need only to make five or six steps, and if you know how to make these steps mindfully, that can already be very helpful. You walk to the garage, enjoy every step you make. Don’t think of anything else, just enjoy walking. You walk to the office, to your workplace or to the dining hail: every step you make should bring you back to the here and the now so that you can enjoy what is going on. I think if all people on Earth were to know how to enjoy walking mindfully, that would transform the Earth and society already; because everyone would have the secrets of becoming more mindful, everyone would know how to enjoy each step they make.

Walking meditation is something everyone can do. There are those of us who find it difficult to practice sitting meditation; but walking — everyone walks. So I propose that everyone — whether they are in Berkeley, or New York, or Amsterdam, or Paris, or Bangkok — enjoy mindful walking; and every time they make a mindful step, they stop their forgetfulness, they go back to life, they touch the wonders of life for their healing and transformation. Walking meditation is very pleasant, transforming and healing. I propose to the readers of Publishers Weekly magazine that everyone take up the practice of walking meditation to begin with, and that will change their life. When you practice walking mindfully, you include your body with your mind. You include your breath, you become fully present, fully alive, and you get closer to the happiness you are seeking.


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