Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society
Thich Nhat Hanh

A Buddhist contribution to global ethics is different from both of these. It is based on observing and understanding the world with mindfulness, concentration and insight. It begins with an awareness of the nonduality of subject and object, and the interconnectedness of all things. p. 2

Engaged Buddhism was born from this difficult situation; we wanted to maintain our practice while responding to the suffering around us. Engaged Buddhism isn’t Buddhism that’s involved in social problems. But engaged Buddhism means we practice mindfulness wherever we are, whatever we are doing, at any time. When we are alone, walking, sitting, drinking our tea or making our breakfast, that can also be engaged Buddhism. We practice this way not only for ourselves but also to preserver ourselves so that we are able to help others and be connected with all life. Engaged Buddhism is not just self-help. It helps us feel stronger and more stable and also more connected to others and committed to the happiness of all beings. p. 3

Once we have this view, the first aspect of the Noble Eightfold Path, then the other aspects of the Path easily follow. Right Thinking, Right Speech, Right Action, Right Livelihood, Right Diligence, Right Mindfulness and Right Concentration all arise when we have Right view. p. 11

The four truths inter-are. p. 11

The First Noble Truth is ill-being. The Second Noble Truth is the causes of ill-being, the thoughts and actions that put us on the path leading to ill-being. The Third Noble Truth is well-being, the cessation of ill-being. The Fourth Noble Truth is the path leading to well-being, the Noble Eightfold Path. p. 11

Instead of trying to escape into metaphysical questions such as, “Who created the world?” and “What is the purpose of life?” the Buddha began with the truth he saw around him. This is the first ethical guideline: We have to observe deeply what is happening around us before we can understand its causes and hope to transform it. p. 15

The politician might only be talking about the symptoms of suffering, not the roots. p. 20

We need to abolish poverty and social injustice, and to deal with the problems of global warming and economic recession. But we need to begin with the painful feelings we carry inside us. We have to deal with these things first. If they’re not dealt with, we may inadvertently cause more suffering when we’re trying to relieve it. p. 20

If someone asks you, “What happens when I die?’ you may help that person by asking, “What is happening to you in the here and now?” If we know what happens to us in the here and now, we can answer the other question very easily. We are undergoing birth and death right now. Rebirth is taking place right now, because mentally and physically you are reborn every instant, you are renewed in every instant to become a new person, a new being. If we know how to do it, our renewal is beautiful. p. 24

We see ourselves everywhere because every moment we produce thoughts, speech and actions that continue us in the world. p. 25

We can very well make friends with our suffering as part of our effort to transform it. If we recognize it and call it by its true name, then we can make peace with it and not suffer as much. When we see the pain in the world caused by all the suffering, we want to help the world suffer less. But we begin with ourselves. We have to produce peace in ourselves and reduce the suffering in ourselves first, because we represent the world. Peace, love and happiness begin with ourselves. The suffering we see out in the world is reflected in the suffering, fear and anger inside. So when we take care of ourselves, we are taking the first step toward taking care of the world. p. 27

But the First Noble Truth suggest that we should stay and acknowledge our suffering. If we don’t understand suffering, we can’t understand happiness. p. 28

The Buddha advises us not to try to run away from our own suffering, but to embrace it and look deeply into it. With deep looking, understanding will arise and compassion will be born. Understanding and compassion make happiness possible. p. 29

The art of creating happiness and the art of handling suffering are the same thing. p. 31

We don’t need to find the answer by trusting that Buddha or God created suffering for mysterious reasons. We only need to use our clear minds and our calm hearts to look deeply and see the causes. p. 33

If we understand how and why we’ve been walking the path of suffering, then we can see its opposite. The Noble Eightfold Path, the path to well-being, will reveal itself. p. 33

We can remove a dish we think is not good for our health. p. 36

Let us eat in such a way that we keep our compassion alive, reduce suffering of living beings, preserve our planet and reverse the process of global climate change. p. 37

We can have a strategy of mindful compassion so that what we read, watch and listen to doesn’t cause more suffering for ourselves and others. p. 38

So whatever you have learned, whatever you have heard, you should be careful to not consider it to be the absolute truth. p. 47

If you see and understand something, be sure that it is something you’ll be able to release in the future in order to get to a higher kind of truth. p. 47

The cessation of suffering and the existence of well-being is the Third Noble Truth. When the roots of suffering are absent, we can be free and happy, and we can act ethically, motivated by our understanding and compassion. p. 51

Attachment to views, intolerance, discrimination and dogmatism, are the foundation for exclusion, fear, anger, craving and despair. If you are truly practicing Right View, there is no room for these sufferings. p. 72

You can suffer because you get caught in the notion of self, but you also suffer if you get caught in the notion of nonself. Right View is free from discrimination and dualistic thinking. You don’t try to eliminate one thing and retain its opposite. You’re not trying to eliminate death and retain only life. You don’t have the intention of eliminating nonbeing and retaining only being. p. 72

The notion of being and the notion of nonbeing both create a lot of fear. But with Right View we overcome both notions and we become fearless. p. 73

Right Thinking is thinking that embodies the insight of nonduality, emptiness and interbeing. It is possible for us to produce thoughts that go along with this kind of insight. Such thoughts will heal us and heal the world, because they remove separation and despair. p. 81

If we produce a thought in line with wrong thinking, a thought that’s full of hate, anger or despair, it destroys our health, our harmony, and makes us suffer. It brings ill-being to us right away, and it also brings ill-being to the world. p. 81

In Buddhism, thinking is already action. By your thinking, you can destroy the world. but, it’s equally true that your thinking can save the world and bring healing. p. 82

There are four guidelines concerning Right Speech. Speak truthfully, without lies. Speak consistently, without saying one thing to one person and something else to another. Speak respectfully, without insult. Speak accurately, without exaggeration. Then we are practicing Right Speech. p. 83

Imagine you’re sitting down to write a letter full of forgiveness and compassion. While you’re writing that letter, you’re healing yourself. Even if the other person hasn’t yet read your letter, the world around you begins to heal. You can practice Right Speech when you send an email, and it can relieve the suffering inside you and the suffering in the other person right away. Why wait? We can always practice Right Speech to heal ourselves, to reconcile with ourselves and with the world.
Right speech is speech that expresses nondiscrimination, forgiveness, understanding, support and love. We know that when we’re able to say or write something like that, we feel wonderful. It’s so liberating and healing; it brings relief. Right Speech brings well-being. Anything that we say that contains discrimination, hate and the desire to punish will make us suffer and will make others suffer. p. 84

The Sanskrit word karma means action. p. 86

It’s very important to learn how to produce a thought of compassion, forgiveness understanding and nondiscrimination. Right Thinking can heal you and heal the world. p. 86

Speaking can also change the world. If we’re capable of saying or writing something, in line with compassion, understanding, nondiscrimination and inclusiveness, we feel wonderful in our body and in our mind. That kind of speech will have a healing effect. After you’ve been able to say something kind, forgiving and compassionate, you feel much better. When you write a letter full of compassion and forgiveness, you feel very good within yourself. Although the other person hasn’t yet read it, you haven’t yet posted the letter, you feel wonderful and liberated already. Right Speech can heal, can liberate—it can heal and liberate you, and help to heal and liberate other people in the world. Speech is the second form of action. p. 87

Consuming in mindfulness is also Right Action. p. 89

The first step of Right Diligence is to be attentive and skillful enough not to allow unbeneficial seeds to manifest. p. 92

The second aspect of practice is that if by chance the seed of anger, despair, jealousy, suffering or trauma has already manifested as a mental formation, we do something in order to help it go back down to sleep again as a seed in store consciousness. p. 92

Do something to help it go back—not suppressing it, but helping it to go back. One way is to invite a beneficial seed to come up and replace it. p. 93

The third aspect of Right Diligence is to invite the beneficial seeds to come up. p. 93

The fourth aspect of Right Diligence is that when something beneficial arises, we try to keep it with us as long as possible in the living room, like a friend. p. 94

Our basic practice is the practice of generating the energy [Is Nhat Hahn speaking of willpower here? Is it possible to substitute willpower in every, or most, instances, for energy? JH] of mindfulness, concentration and insight. Insight will bring compassion, love, harmony and peace. p. 96

When we practice Right Mindfulness, we bring about Right Concentration. p. 96

The best thing we can offer to the world is our insight. To live our life in mindfulness and with concentration is to continue to produce insight—for our own liberation, healing and nourishment, and for the liberation, healing and nourishment of the world. p. 99

[I]t’s crucial for you to find a way to practice peace. Even if you can only do it in a very restricted manner, it will help you survive. It will help you nourish hope. So I think it’s very important not to allow ourselves to be carried away by the feeling of despair. We should learn how to bring peace into our bodies and our minds, so we’re able to give right to thoughts of compassion, words of compassion and acts of compassion in our daily lives. That will inspire many people, and it will help them not be drowned in the ocean of despair. p. 110

If we have some peace within ourselves, in our way of thinking, speaking and acting, we’ll be able to influence people and inspire them to go in the same direction. p. 111

People who are rich want to continue being rich, so they invest all their time and energy in maintaining their wealth; they don’t even have time to take care of themselves and their families, so how can they help other people? Being wealthy is not a good condition for spiritual life. To live simply and to be happy is something that is possible. When you transform yourself into a bodhisattva you have a lot of power—not the power associated with fame and money, but the power that helps you be free and enables you to help and bring relief to many people. p. 112

If you allow the energy of compassion to take over, you can spend all you twenty-four hours a day doing things that will benefit people. p. 112

So sexual energy can be transformed into the energy of compassion and acts of compassion. We only have to learn how to transform it. With a community, a Sangha, it’s possible to learn. The way we eat, drink and manage our leisure time; the way we work together; and the way we serve, will determine our success. p. 113

One side uses loving speech, and one side uses compassionate listening, without interrupting. p. 115

[Y]ou see the other side has suffered exactly the same things—fear, anger, suspicion and pain. So you begin to see them as human beings who also suffer, the intention to punish is no longer there, and you begin to look at them with the eyes of compassion. p. 115

When they see your eyes, they feel that you are looking at them with love and not with suspicion, fear or anger anymore. So transformation takes place on both sides. You will also have a chance to speak out, maybe next week. And you will them about your suffering, and they will listen. This practice of compassionate listening and loving speech is very important to liberate us from our fear, anger and hatred. It has the power to restore communication. p. 115

Eating our breakfast is a deep practice. You are always there for yourself and for your family, your community. You are not carried away by the past or by the future. you are really there in order to eat your breakfast. Your breakfast is available to you, and you are available to the breakfast. You are available to the Sangha, and the Sangha is there and available to you, always dwelling in the present moment. The Buddha said that the past is already gone and the future is not yet here, so there is only one moment when you can be truly alive, and that is the present moment. Therefore, our determination and practice are to always stay in the present moment. The present moment is the door to healing and transformation. p. 123

We need to liberate ourselves from our too-busy lives. We want to help others, but often we are so busy running around, we feel we don’t have time to do anything else. As a Sangha, we can help each other prioritize healing the world. We can reorganize our individual and collective lives in order to be with each other in a more intimate and beneficial way.
Whether the twenty-first century becomes a century of spirituality depends on our capacity to build Sanghas. Without a Sangha, we will become victims of despair. We need each other. We need to congregate, to bring together our wisdom, our insight and our compassion, and make the Sangha like a family. p. 124

All we need to do is begin. p. 125

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