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Buddhadharma : Spring 2010
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly spring 2 0 10 68 week before he arrived, and broadcast regular updates that announced his programs during his visit. At a session that was held primarily for the media, he took questions from influential power brokers. He was invited to be the guest edi- tor for a day at the prominent Times of India, and since there happened to be a bombing that day, his views on how to deal with terrorism made the newspaper’s front page. The Indian government recognizes Thich Nhat Hanh as a global peace icon, author, poet, and international statesman and it invited him to address Parliament. Among the audience were some of the most powerful people of the Indian political establishment. The theme of his address was how to lead with courage and compassion. He stressed the need for members of Parliament to develop deep listening skills as a compassion- ate approach to conflict resolution. He told Parliamentarians they could begin this practice at home with their immediate families. As an example of interconnectedness and spontaneous compassion, Thay shared a story about his hands in which one hand accidentally hurt the other while hammering a nail. The automatic response of one hand was to hold the hurt one to comfort it and nurse it away from its pain. Thay, his entourage, and his Indian sangha led several thousand people on a peace walk through Delhi in honor of Mahatma Gandhi. Participants included the chief minister of the state of Delhi, who expressed gratitude to Thay for bringing his peaceful presence to the city. There were also representa- tives of the medical community, other faiths, and children from local schools, including those from underprivileged groups. Thich Nhat Hanh went to Nagpur to connect with the now- Buddhist Dalits, and the poor from Other Backward Castes (OBCs). “Dalit” means “under the heel.” Thay addressed hundreds of thousands of Dalits at their annual gathering in celebration of their conversion with visionary leader Dr. Ambedkar. For the next few days, Thay and the sangha led a retreat for the Dalits at Nagaloka, a Buddhist center. There is a lot of anger in the Dalit community as a result of the discrimi- nation they have endured for centuries. Thay spoke about how to handle anger and build relationships in the family and with others, and led practices such as walking meditation and mindfulness meditation. Many people wanted to continue the practice and some of the leaders followed Thay to Delhi for another retreat. At Nagpur, he also held a session for Buddhist intellectuals and monks. In the words of one of the senior bhikkus, both the laypeople and the Indian monastics were “startled” by the emphasis Thay placed on having a sangha. Thay told them that giving care to one- self and building sangha are essential for those who want to work for social change. A key intention throughout the visit was “mainstreaming mindfulness,” so that it is accessible to all without tying it to a particular religion. Although it was an element of Thay’s presentations to government leaders and oth- ers, the primary goal was to reach education leaders and plant seeds to enhance chil- dren’s schooling. At Dehradun, the educa- tion nerve center, Thay held a national workshop for teach- ers. It was a four-day retreat for more than five hundred educators, heads of schools, and senior teachers from across India from both private and public schools. Traditionally in India, the basis of education was understanding one’s true nature, self-development, peace, and happiness. The current mainstream education system, however, is based on a Western model that emphasizes the control of external nature. Still, awareness of the importance of bringing mindfulness into education is growing. The retreat included daily practice of guided meditation, walking meditation, mindfulness training, dharma talks, question-and-answer sessions, deep relaxation, and work- shops with classroom applications. Sangha members who are teachers at the American Embassy School in New Delhi and who have met weekly for nearly a decade reported that Thich Nhat Hanh is accompanied by monks and nuns on the Ganges in Varanasi. BörjeToBiaSSoN