Book Excerpts

“The Violence in Our Minds Manifests in the World” – Thich Nhat Hanh on Smiling Away Your Anger

“Author Cuong Lu recently told me that the greatest lesson his teacher Thich Nhat Hanh gave him was to believe in him: “He kept trusting me. That was his power, his insight and his love.” What I find comes across in Thich Nhat Hanh’s books is that same sense of confidence, but on a global scale. With a life dedicated to the cultivation of love and peace, one of Thich Nhat Hanh’s main messages is that if we want to really understand the source of violence in the world, as well as the source of love, we need to first look inwards at the conflict inside ourselves and use compassion to dislodge the power of that suffering.

Violence is never far. It is possible to identify the seeds of violence in our everyday thoughts, speech, and actions. We can find these seeds in our own minds, in our attitudes, and in our fears and anxieties about ourselves and others. Thinking itself can be violent, and violent thoughts can lead us to speak and act violently. In this way, the violence in our minds manifests in the world.

The daily wars that occur within our thoughts and within our families have everything to do with the wars fought between peoples and nations throughout the world. The conviction that we know the truth and that those who do not share our beliefs are wrong has caused a lot of harm. When we believe something to be the absolute truth, we have become caught in our own views. If we believe, for instance, that Buddhism is the only way to happiness, we may be practicing a kind of violence by discriminating against and excluding those who follow other spiritual paths. When we are caught in our views, we are not seeing and understanding in accord with reality. Being caught in our views can be very dangerous and block the opportunity for us to gain a deeper wisdom.


“The daily wars that occur within our thoughts and within our families have everything to do with the wars fought between peoples and nations throughout the world.”


We usually think of violence and war as an act or event with a definite beginning and a definite end. But when we look into the true nature of war, we see that, whether war breaks out or not, the seeds of war are already here. We do not have to wait until war is officially declared to recognize its presence. When the opposing armies have left the battlefield and gone home, it seems that war no longer exists, but that may not really be true. The war may still be there. Although the fighting has ended, hatred and fear are still there in the hearts and minds of the soldiers and the soldiers’ fellow citizens. The war is there, yes, and if we look around we will recognize its many faces: religious intolerance, ethnic hatred, child neglect, racial discrimination, and exploitation of the world’s resources. But we also know that the seeds of peace, understanding, and love are there and that they will grow if we cultivate them.

When we recognize the violence that has taken root within us, in the everyday way we think, speak, and act, we can wake up and live in a new way. We can make a strong determination to live mindfully, to live in peace. Shining the light of awareness on the roots of violence within our own hearts and thoughts, we can stop the war where it begins, in our minds. Stopping the war in our minds and in our hearts, we will surely know how to stop the war outside.


“We have allowed violence to accumulate in us for too long because we have had no strategy to deal with it.”


As you begin your practice of nonviolence, this may seem very difficult to do. You become aware that violence is all around you. You become aware of the seeds of anger, fear, and hatred in your own consciousness. You may feel a huge block of suffering inside you and feel that you are unable to transform the anger and fear within you and the violence that is directed at you. For many of us this is the situation. We have allowed violence to accumulate in us for too long because we have had no strategy to deal with it. When we cannot handle our suffering, we spew forth our frustration and pain onto those around us. We are victims of our own suffering, but because we do not know how to handle it, we hurt others while we are in pain. We—each of us—must become responsible for our own pain and work to transform it in order to save ourselves and those we love.

As you begin to transform your own inner pain, you also transform other people’s anger and hatred into flowers. You soon see that arrows shot at you come out of other people’s pain. You do not feel injured by their arrows or actions; instead, you have only compassion. Your compassion transforms the speech and actions of the other person. Together these practices provide real self-protection, which is necessary before we can protect others.

Every time you smile away your irritation and anger, you achieve a victory for yourself and for humanity.

Thich Nhat Hanh
From: Creating True Peace

Leave a Reply