The World of Thích Nhất Hạnh
On a visit to India in 2008, I was invited by the Times of India to be guest editor for the day. It was the commemoration day for Mahatma Gandhi, and the newspaper thought it appropriate to invite a Buddhist monk to be guest editor for a special edition on the theme of peace. I accepted the invitation and was accompanied by many monastic brothers and sisters. As soon as we arrived at the newsroom in the morning, some very bad news came in. A terrorist attack, a bombing, had just taken place in Mumbai, and many people had been killed. The atmosphere was very tense, and I was asked to join a meeting of all the editors. I remember us all sitting there in silence around a huge table.
One of the editors looked up and asked, “What should we do when we receive such terrible news on a day like today?” It was very hard to answer. I practiced mindful breathing for a while and then I said, “Dear friends, we have to report it. But we have to report it in such a way that can promote understanding and compassion, and not give rise to more anger and despair. And that depends on you, and on the way you report the incident.”
When a tragic incident like this occurs, we have to look deeply and ask ourselves the question, “What has driven the terrorists to do such a thing? What kinds of views and perceptions must have been accumulating in them to drive them to do such a terrible thing to their own countrymen?” They must have a lot of anger and hate and a lot of wrong perceptions. They may feel wronged, mistreated, or misunderstood. They may believe they are acting in the name of justice, or in the name of God. We have to look deeply in order to understand acts of violence like this and the motivation behind them.
And when we have gained some insight, then the news we report will embody our understanding and compassion.
There are many ways of reporting. Much of the news that we consume in newspapers, on the radio, television, or the Internet contains a lot of violence, fear, hatred, discrimination, and despair. We can say that a lot of news is toxic; it is poisoning our hearts and minds, and the hearts and minds of our children. As journalists, we need to report events truthfully, while at the same time watering the seed of understanding and compassion in our readers and viewers.
And as consumers, we need to use our mindfulness to be aware of our thoughts, feelings, and perceptions when we consume the news, so that we can protect ourselves. We need to know how much is enough. Mindfulness helps us protect the sovereignty of our hearts and minds and prevent negative seeds from being watered in our consciousness. Our way of communicating with one another, of speaking and listening, is very important. Each of us can make the commitment to not water the seeds of violence, hate, discrimination, and despair in ourselves and in our relationships. Equally importantly, we can commit to actively watering the seeds of understanding, tolerance, and nondiscrimination within ourselves and our society.