I thought I would share some words of wisdom from Vietnamese Buddhist monk and nonviolence practitioner Thich Nhat Hanh, from a book called 'Love in Action: Writings on Nonviolent Social Change' (1993).
Here are a few extracts from chapter four, titled: “Ahimsa: The Path of Harmlessness” (my emphasis in bold):
"The Sanskrit word ahimsa, usually translated “nonviolence," literally means “non-harming” or “harmlessness.” To practice ahimsa, first of all we have to practice it within ourselves. In each of us, there is a certain amount of violence and a certain amount of nonviolence. Depending on our state of being, our response to things will be more or less nonviolent. Even if we take pride in being vegetarian, for example, we have to acknowledge that the water in which we boil our vegetables contains many tiny microorganisms. We cannot be completely nonviolent, but by being vegetarian [say], we are going in the direction of nonviolence. If we want to head north, we can use the North Star to guide us, but it is impossible to arrive at the North Star. Our effort is only to proceed in that direction.
"Anyone can practice some nonviolence, even soldiers. Some army generals, for example, conduct their operations in ways that avoid killing innocent people; this is a kind of nonviolence. To help soldiers move in the nonviolent direction, we have to be in touch with them. If we divide reality into two camps – the violent and the nonviolent – and stand in one camp while attacking the other, the world will never have peace. We will always blame and condemn those we feel are responsible for wars and social injustice, without recognising the degree of violence in ourselves. We must work on ourselves and also work with those we condemn if we want to have a real impact.
"It never helps to draw a line and dismiss some people as enemies, even those who act violently. We have to approach them with love in our hearts and do our best to help them move in a direction of nonviolence. If we work for peace out of anger, we will never succeed. Peace is not an end. It can never come about through non-peaceful means.
"When we protest against a war, we may assume that we are a peaceful person, a representative of peace, but this might not be the case. If we look deeply, we will observe that the roots of war are in the unmindful ways we have been living. We have not sown enough seeds of peace and understanding in ourselves and others, therefore we are co-responsible: “Because I have been like this, they are like that.” A more holistic approach is the way of “interbeing”: “This is like this, because that is like that.” This is the way of understanding and love. With this insight, we can see clearly and help our government see clearly. Then we can go to a demonstration and say, “This war is unjust, destructive, and not worthy of our great nation.” This is far more effective than angrily condemning others. Anger always accelerates the damage.
"We know how to write strong letters of protest, but we must also learn to write love letters to our President and Representatives, demonstrating the kind of understanding and using the kind of language they will appreciate. If we don’t, our letters may end up in the trash and help no one. To love is to understand. We cannot express love to someone unless we understand him or her. If we do not understand our President or Congressperson, we cannot write him or her a love letter.
"People are happy to read a good letter in which we share our insights and our understanding. When they receive that kind of letter, they feel understood and they will pay attention to your recommendations. You may think that the way to change the world is to elect a new President, but a government is only a reflection of society, which is a reflection of our own consciousness. To create fundamental change, we, the members of society, have to transform ourselves. If we want real peace, we have to demonstrate our love and understanding so that those responsible for making decisions can learn from us.
"All of us, even pacifists, have pain inside. We feel angry and frustrated, and we need to find someone willing to listen to us who is capable of understanding our suffering. In Buddhist iconography, there is a bodhisattva named Avalokitesvara who has 1,000 arms and 1,000 hands, and has an eye in the palm of each hand. One thousand hands represent action, and the eye in each hand represents understanding. When you understand a situation or a person, any action you do will help and will not cause more suffering. When you have an eye in your hand, you will know how to practice true nonviolence."