At the beginning of the 21st century, an initiative by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) attempted to draw attention to the necessity for a global shift from a culture of violence to a culture of peace and nonviolence. It was called Manifesto 2000 (the year 2000 having been proclaimed the International Year for the Culture of Peace by the United Nations General Assembly) and marked the beginning of a decade of work planting as many seeds of peace and nonviolence as possible.
Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh and a group of Nobel Peace Prize Laureates drafted the Manifesto 2000 for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence into everyday language, with the aim of making it relevant to people everywhere. The Manifesto consisted of six points which did not appeal to a higher authority, but represented an individual commitment and responsibility – a kind of variation on the Five Mindfulness Trainings. Millions of people signed the Manifesto, including presidents and prime ministers. Signatories committed themselves to the practice of these six points:
➛ Respect the life and dignity of each human being without discrimination or prejudice
➛ Practise active nonviolence, rejecting violence in all its forms: physical, sexual, psychological, economic, and social, in particular towards the most deprived and vulnerable, such as children and adolescents
➛ Share my time and material resources in a spirit of generosity, to put an end to exclusion, injustice, and political and economic oppression
➛ Defend freedom of expression and cultural diversity, always giving preference to dialogue and listening without engaging in fanaticism, defamation, and the rejection of others
➛ Promote consumer behavior that is responsible and development practices that respect all forms of life and preserve the balance of nature on the planet
➛ Contribute to the development of my community, with the full participation of women and respect for democratic principles, in order to create together new forms of solidarity.
According to UNESCO archives, by 2015 almost 76 million people had signed the Manifesto, 1,420 related events had taken place, and more than 1,000 international and national organizations were actively involved in the subsequent peace campaigns. For further details, have a look here.
➛ You can find out more about the International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Non-Violence for the Children of the World (2001-2010) in this World Report on the Culture of Peace, put together by the Civil Society.
At that time, Thich Nhat Hanh was asked to write a book on the practice of nonviolence, to be used in all schools for the benefit of children and young people. Thay responded with a series of talks on the practice of nonviolence within ourselves, concerning our body and mind; practice of nonviolence in the context of family life, school, and neighborhood; and even how to practice nonviolence in higher institutions such as parliaments or city halls. The talks also addressed how to apply these teachings for a safe environment at all levels of society, so that young people know what to do and what not to do in order to be able to handle violence, and to reduce the amount of violence in society and within ourselves.
On March the 9th, 2000, during the spring retreat in Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, Thich Nhat Hanh explained the Manifesto’s six points, its parallels with the Five Mindfulness Trainings, and shared practical ways to implement them in daily life. Many of the practical ways were aimed at children and adolescents – “the recipients of anger, of violence, hate, and the most deprived of people” – as well as those looking after their well-being: parents, teachers, families, and various national and international institutions.
Here are some excerpts from that talk where Thay discusses the many forms of violence: physical, sexual, economic, social, and psychological.
To live peacefully and to live with nonviolence is an art, and we have to learn how to do it. Peace and nonviolence are synonyms. The word nonviolence may give the impression that you are not active. To be nonviolent means you don’t do anything – there are people who think like that: ‘We are passive, we are not acting.’ And that is why, in the Manifesto, you see the expression ‘active nonviolence’: “practice active nonviolence, rejecting violence in all its forms.”
In the English language, ‘nonviolence’ may sound like you are not very active; that is why our friends very much like to put in the word ‘active’: ‘active nonviolence’. And it brings in the idea that there can be passive nonviolence. Not very good.
The first point of the Manifesto is about respect for life, but life here is the life of people. So it’s not the same as the First Mindfulness Training: protecting the lives not only of people, but also of animals, plants, and minerals. But this can be seen in the fifth point of the Manifesto, about mindful consumption: “promote consumer behavior that is responsible, and development practices that respect all forms of life.” So the first mindfulness training is fully expressed in the first and fifth points.
“Respect the life and dignity of every person without discrimination, or prejudices.” The tendency to discriminate exists. We discriminate against each other; humans discriminate against non-human species; the white discriminate against the black, and also the black discriminate against the white. Discrimination is there because the notion of self is there. When the notion of self is at the base of our thinking and behavior, discrimination is always there. That is why the most drastic way of abolishing discrimination is to abolish the notion of self.
So discrimination is considered a form of violence here. When you discriminate, you don’t include other nations, and that is why, in the first point, we also see the teaching of inclusiveness, equanimity. It doesn’t use the Buddhist term, but the spirit is there. Because here people are trying to speak in language that can be accepted by all traditions. ‘Nondiscrimination’ is a good word; it means exactly ‘inclusiveness’, ‘equanimity’, ‘without prejudice’, ‘not causing the other person to suffer, to be left out, to not to have his or her chance’.
When children come to school, they see other children who are or are not of the same color or of the same background, so they tend to discriminate. If they have a teacher who can help them to become aware of that and then see the discrimination, that would be wonderful. So a good teacher should be able to see the tendency for discrimination in every child, in order for them to begin to look deeply into it and to be aware that this is violence. When you discriminate, you are violent.
The respect here is not only respect for life, but also for the dignity of people. Everyone should be able to maintain his or her dignity. Everyone should have equal chances.
In the third point, “to put an end to exclusion” is another way of talking about nondiscrimination. If you don’t discriminate and would include everyone and give everyone a chance, that is the same as saying ‘put an end to exclusion’.
Without discrimination or prejudice, respect not only people’s lives, but allow them the chance to live and to maintain their dignity. That requires our nondiscrimination, our inclusiveness. It is a good teaching, but not easy to put into practice. In order to put this first point into practice, we should offer very concrete ideas.
Sometimes we discriminate against ourselves. Sometimes we are capable of taking care of another person, but we discriminate against ourselves by saying that we are not qualified to receive that kind of care. You want to punish yourself. And that is a kind of discrimination also.
We come to the second point of the Manifesto practice: active nonviolence. We are very eager to sit with the people who don’t consider nonviolence as something active. “Rejecting violence in all its forms” gives the impression that violence comes from other people, not from us. So we have to explain in such a way that people understand that “rejecting” also means that you abandon, give up, and don’t use your own practice of violence.
Because you have been building yourself with violence, you have been dealing with the people around you with violence. And this can be seen in our daily life: the way we drink coffee and the way we eat can be very violent to our body. The way we deal with our emotions, our anger can be very violent. So we have been inflicting on ourselves, on our body and our mind, a lot of violence. And rejecting violence does not only mean that you’re rejecting the violence of other people, but that you reject your violent way of dealing with your body, with your mind, and so on.
And then you have been dealing with your children with violence, with your partner with violence. You might consider your partner a kind of slave. Your wife is your slave, your husband is a slave. And that is discrimination, and discrimination is violence. And therefore, rejecting violence means stopping treating your partner violently. Consider him or her as an equal. Include them in your daily life, in your feelings, in your perception, and so on. Learn to live the life of the sangha, you and your partner, you and your children. Share the life of a sangha – that is your second body, the sangha body: inclusiveness.
So we have to make it clear that violence here is not only the violence of other people. You may have the impression that this point in the Manifesto is a protest against the violence of other people: ‘Other people are violent. I am not violent.’ That is not true. I am violent to myself, to my body, to my consciousness. I am violent with my children, with my partner. And I reject that tendency, that habit, and that energy of being violent. That is a very deep practice.
So, practice active nonviolence, rejecting violence in all its forms. And the first form of violence is physical violence, which is very easy to see. You punish, you kill, you lock him up, you lock her up, you exile, you put them in concentration camps or hard labor camps. There’s physical violence, violence committed by the body. And violence is there in us, not because we want to have violence in us, but because, when we are treated with violence, we don’t know how to handle it; we accumulate it in ourselves and our violence becomes stronger and stronger.
When our father talks to us with violence, or treats us with violence, when our mother deals with us with violence, we have no right to respond unkindly, because we are only a child. We do not have equal status with our father and our mother. That is why the only thing we can do is to absorb that violence into ourselves. There’s no way of transforming and letting it out. So the energy of violence has been accumulating since we were a little boy or a little girl, and even before we were born. Because before we were born, mommy and daddy may have been violent to each other, and we already began to take that violence into ourselves as a fetus. So, growing up in a family where mother and father do not know how to cultivate peace and nonviolence, making each other suffer, as a child, you accumulate that energy of violence.
And no one has helped us to recognize and handle our violence, or to transform it. Now there is a chance. There’s a teacher, there’s a book, there is a mother and a father who are committed to the culture of peace and nonviolence. Now children have a chance to recognize that the amount of violence they have accumulated is enormous. Very often we want to be gentle, we want to be kind, but that violence is stronger than us, and so we act, talk, and react with violence. This causes the other person to suffer, and we cause the flame of violence to burn inside of us. And so far, no one has helped us to recognize that violence and how to handle it and how to begin transforming it. So the new decade for the culture of peace and nonviolence is a chance for us all.
The first thing we have to do is to recognize that there is a tremendous amount of violence in every child. And if you are not educated, when you grow up and get married, you will be violent to each other and pour your violence into your children, and it will continue. That is the will of samsara: a vicious circle.
When we have no way to manifest, to express, or to protest, we can only suppress our violence, and that makes our violence more violent. You have no right to talk back to your father, you have no right to talk back to your mother. That is not an equal battle. The little child always loses the battle, and that is why the child tries other ways of retaliating; even killing themselves is a way to retaliate; taking drugs, abandoning school, or joining a gang are also ways of protesting. And many young people of our time express their anger and their violence in that way.
“We do not accept your authority anymore.” That is the reality. If we take drugs, we will destroy our body. Killing ourselves: there is no other way to retaliate, so we inflict this suffering on our own self. And by doing so, we hope to be able to punish the other people who have made us suffer.
Violence always seeks to manifest. And to practice is, first of all, to recognize the amount of violence that you have accumulated within yourself. Smile to it and say, ‘Daddy, mummy. I will practice for you; I will practice to embrace, to recognize, and to transform it for you.’
It’s not because their parents wanted to be violent to them, because their parents were also victims of violence coming from previous generations. They are victims, like us, so being angry at them is not the right thing to do either. They have received violence from other generations, which poured into our generation. That is why the only thing to do is to stop the vicious cycle; to stop the transmission of violence by our practice.
Sexual violence. Many of us have been victims of sexual violence, whether we are boys or girls, and if we are molested as a child, we suffer for our whole life. And many people are sick; they don’t know that in three minutes, five minutes they’re going to destroy the life of a person. Sexual behavior can be very violent. You can destroy the life of another person with your sexual habit or practice. It may not look very violent, but it may destroy the whole life of a person. We have met with people who have been molested when they were a child. And now it is very difficult for them to transform their suffering. That is why practicing the third mindfulness training is very important.
Never engage in sexual practice without deep understanding and a long-term commitment to protect the life, the integrity of people. Protect children from sexual abuse. And there must be very concrete ways, mindful manners, in order for us to do so.
Psychological violence. Many little boys have been told by their father that, as a boy, they have no right to cry. Only women have the right to cry. That means you have to suppress yourself; you have to suppress your feelings. That is already violence.
And then there are political regimes that forbid you to say things or to think differently. You have to tow the party line. You cannot think astray. Not only do we have to speak in line with the party, we have to think in line with the party. That is psychological violence. There is no freedom at all: no freedom of action, no freedom of expression, no freedom of thought. That is violence. And hundreds of millions of people have been put in that environment, where they suffer psychological violence. When you say something different from the official line, not only can you be punished or lose your job, but you can be put in a psychiatric hospital. You can be put in a gulag. That is psychological violence.
When you suppress your feelings, and you don’t know how to allow your anger to ‘be’, or to lullaby it and take care of it, you are committing psychological violence. And a practice of Buddhist meditation is to be there for your suffering, for your anger, for your despair; to allow them to ‘be’, to embrace them, recognize them, and help them to transform. That is the practice of nonviolence. There should be very concrete ways and suggestions of how to practice, to help people to avoid psychological violence in themselves, and in the people around them.
Economic violence. The economic system can be very violent; you don’t see guns, prisons, airplanes, and bombs, but it’s utterly violent. Because that system is a kind of prison. It prevents people from being inclusive or included. The poor people will have to be poor forever and ever, and the rich people will be rich forever and ever because of that economic system. We call it institutional violence. And that is why we should abolish that kind of economic system, in order to include everyone, give everyone a chance of education, of having a job, and of developing his or her talents. That is the practice of nonviolence in the realm of economics.
If you are an economist, if you are a trader, if you are a businessman, learn the practice of nonviolence in your business. You will profit from it, not only the people around you. During our retreat for business people here, we discussed that. Because the practice of inclusiveness and nonviolence not only profits the people in the business and around the business, but profits the owner of the business itself. Again, the teaching about inclusiveness is important, and underlies everything here.
Social violence. We have a lot of policemen everywhere. And we need more policemen because there’s so much violence in society – they inflict violence on themselves, they inflict violence on their family, they come and shoot in our schools, they come and put a bomb in our supermarket, they put bombs on our buses. Violence is everywhere, and we need more and more policemen in order to deal with that social violence. But the police themselves are very violent.
Just three days ago, we received an appeal for help from California. A lady who has received the Five Mindfulness Trainings during a retreat in California called us and said that her son was just shot by the police. Her son had some mental problems and she was afraid. And out of fear, she called the police to come and help, and when the police came they were equipped with guns and fear. So, at the reaction of the young man, they shot him, and said that this was a legitimate defense. And they put the young man, who was very seriously wounded, in prison. And they are dealing with him as a criminal, not as a sick young man. They don’t allow him to go to hospital, they keep him in prison.
The police are supposed to deal with violence, but they are violent themselves. Not only are they equipped with guns, they are equipped with fear. And, inhabited with fear, they tend to be very violent. There is no escape.
So violence is plaguing the whole world, because it is so large in each of us. And as a big sister, a younger sister, a big brother, a younger brother, we should know that we have inherited some amount of violence from our parents, from our ancestors, from our teachers, from our school. And we have to practice diligently in order to recognize that, and transform that in order to help reduce the amount of violence in the world.
Drinking alcohol is violence; you don’t know how to handle your violence, your suffering, so you drink alcohol or take drugs to forget the suffering for a while, maybe for half an hour or an hour. And that is violence.
Now, governments have been using helicopters, airplanes, and soldiers in order to deal with the problem of drugs. And drugs have to do with violence. The whole army is used in order to deal with drugs. So an effort to persuade the UN to give us 10 years to practice looking deeply at our situation and to find a way out, needs our support and our active participation.
‘Toward a Global Culture of Peace’
‘Peace Is in Our Hands’
UNESCO: Mainstreaming the Culture of Peace
Culture of Peace New Network (CPNN)
Good Citizens: Creating Enlightened Society
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