DR. MARTIN LUTHER KING JR. NOMINATED THICH NHAT HANH FOR A NOBEL PEACE PRIZE IN 1967.
The Fourteen Precepts of Engaged Buddhism
1. Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth.
2. Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times.
3. Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education. However, through compassionate dialogue, help others renounce fanaticism and narrowness.
4. Do not avoid contact with suffering or close your eyes before suffering. Do not lose awareness of the existence of suffering in the life of the world. Find ways to be with those who are suffering, including personal contact, visits, images, and sounds. By such means, awaken yourself and others to the reality of suffering in the world.
5. Do not accumulate wealth while millions are hungry. Do not take as the aim of your life fame, profit, wealth, or sensual pleasure. Live simply and share time, energy, and material resources with those who are in need.
6. Do not maintain anger or hatred. Learn to penetrate and transform them when they are still seeds in your consciousness. As soon as they arise, turn your attention to your breath in order to see and understand the nature of your hatred. 7. Do not lose yourself in dispersion and in your surroundings. Practice mindful breathing to come back to what is happening in the present moment. Be in touch with what is wondrous, refreshing, and healing both inside and around you. Plant seeds of joy, peace, and understanding in yourself in order to facilitate the work of transformation in the depths of your consciousness.
8. Do not utter words that can create discord and cause the community to break. Make every effort to reconcile and resolve all conflicts, however small.
9. Do not say untruthful things for the sake of personal interest or to impress people. Do not utter words that cause division and hatred. Do not spread news that you do not know to be certain. Do not criticize or condemn things of which you are not sure. Always speak truthfully and constructively. Have the courage to speak out about situations of injustice, even when doing so may threaten your own safety.
10. Do not use the Buddhist community for personal gain or profit, or transform your community into a political party. A religious community, however, should take a clear stand against oppression and injustice and should strive to change the situation without engaging in partisan conflicts.
11. Do not live with a vocation that is harmful to humans and nature. Do not invest in companies that deprive others of their chance to live. Select a vocation that helps realize your ideal of compassion.
12. Do not kill. Do not let others kill. Find whatever means possible to protect life and prevent war.
13. Possess nothing that should belong to others. Respect the property of others, but prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth.
14. Do not mistreat your body. Learn to handle it with respect. Do not look on your body as only an instrument. Preserve vital energies (sexual, breath, spirit) for the realization of the Way. (For brothers and sisters who are not monks and nuns) Sexual expression should not take place without love and commitment. In sexual relationships, be aware of future suffering that may be caused. To preserve the happiness of others, respect the rights and commitments of others. Be fully aware of the responsibility of bringing new lives into the world. Meditate on the world into which you are bringing new beings.
The world needs our care, our goodness, and our peaceful action, now more than ever. Caring for our world gives us a purpose and adds meaning to our life.
By following principles like these from the heartfelt wisdom of Thich Nhat Hanh, we can become more peaceful and evolve ways of being that are altruistic and honourable. Ultimately we will lead happier and more fulfilling lives when we have a guiding light illuminating the path.
Engaged Buddhism and the Four Hopes of Process
If we are to nurture just and sustainable communities, if we are to help bring about a more peaceful and joyful world, it is not enough to advocate structural changes and work at the level of public policies. It is not enough to be an "activist." It is not enough to "network" and "resist." It is not enough to have "big ideas" that come down to earth.
We must become the kinds of people who are capable of living within just and sustainable communities, giving them life. We must walk the path we encourage others to travel so that, as Thich Nhat Hanh so often said, peace is our every step.
The process movement speaks of four hopes that can guide our actions: (1) the hope that individuals can become whole persons, each in his or her way; (2) the hope that whole communities can emerge that are good for people, other animals, and the earth, (3) the hope for a whole planet, where many forms of life flourish, partners to human beings in the journey of life; and (4) the hope for holistic thinking: that is, ways of thinking that build upon the wisdom of science, art, and spirituality, helping us live lightly on the Earth and gently with one another. Most of us in the process movement see the philosophy of Alfred North Whitehead as this kind of thinking.
Given our interest in process or becoming, we are naturally drawn to all the principles above, including the second:
"Do not think the knowledge you presently possess is changeless, absolute truth. Avoid being narrow-minded and bound to present views. Learn and practice non-attachment from views in order to be open to receive others’ viewpoints. Truth is found in life and not merely in conceptual knowledge. Be ready to learn throughout your entire life and to observe reality in yourself and in the world at all times."
We are people of process, which means that we do not want to make a god of Whitehead's philosophy or, for that matter, of our own thinking:
"Do not be idolatrous about or bound to any doctrine, theory, or ideology, even Buddhist ones. Buddhist systems of thought are guiding means; they are not absolute truth."
But we know that there is more to life than avoidance of idolatries. There is the act of being present, in the here and now, to the world around us and the worlds within us, otherwise called mindfulness. And there is the giving of ourselves to others in ways that are loving and forgiving, that are compassionate, in practical ways, moment by moment, sensitive to the inter-becoming of all things, ourselves included.
This presence is part of what it means to be a whole person. A whole person is always in process, in light and gentle ways, caring about others, sharing in their suffering and grateful for whatever beauty presents itself. Process philosophy invites us to think in terms of moments as the building blocks of the universe: moments of concrescence, we say, amid which the many of the universe "become one" in the here-and-now. No moment is an island. All are interconnected in a dynamic flow of mutual becoming, sometimes beautiful and sometimes tragic.
Buddhism is an awakening to this fact. And engaged Buddhism offers a way of living out of that awakening, not just with recommendations for avoiding idolatries, but also with recommendations for love and hope, with peace as our every step.