Interfaith reflections from Thich Nhat Hanh

Author: 
Trevor Stevens
Date: 
Tuesday, January 30, 2018

(Reflections from 2/21 planning meeting, shared by Charles Gabriel. From Thich Nhat Hanh: Essential Writings)

"When you touch someone who authentically represents a tradition, you not only touch his or her tradition, you also touch your own. This quality is essential for dialogue. When participants are willing to learn from each other, dialogue takes place just by being together. When those who represent a spiritual tradition embody the essence of their tradition, just the way they walk, sit and smile speaks volumes about the tradition.

In fact, sometimes it is more difficult to have a dialogue with people in our own tradition than with those of another tradition. Most of us have suffered from feeling misunderstood or even betrayed by those of our own tradition. But if brothers and sisters in the same tradition cannot understand and communicate with each other, how can they communicate with those outside their tradition? For dialogue to be fruitful, we need to live deeply our own tradition and, at the same time, listen deeply to others. Through the practice of deep looking and deep listening, we become free, able to see the beauty and values in our own and others’ traditions….

In a true dialogue, both sides are willing to change. We have to appreciate that truth can be received from outside of - not only from within - our own group. If we don’t believe that, entering into dialogue would be a waste of time. If we think we monopolize the truth and we still organize a dialogue, it is not authentic. We have to believe that entering into dialogue with the other person, we have the possibility to make a change within ourselves, that we can become deeper. Dialogue is not a means for assimilation in the sense that one side expands and incorporates the other side into its “self”. Dialogue must be practiced on the basis of “non-self”. We have to allow what is good, beautiful and meaningful in the other’s tradition to transform us.

But the most basic principle of interfaith dialogue is that the dialogue must begin, first of all, within oneself. Our capacity to make peace with another person and with the world depends on our ability to make peace within ourselves. If we are at war with our parents, our family, our society or our church, there is probably a war going on inside us also, so the most basic work for peace is to return to ourselves and create harmony among the elements within us-our feelings, our perceptions and our mental states….We must recognize and accept the conflicting states that are within us and their underlying causes. It takes time, but the effort always bears fruit. When we have peace within, real dialogue with others is possible."

--Thich Nhat Hanh