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A Call for a Collective Awakening on Global Warming and a Worldwide No Car Day

Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh given at Deer Park Monastery on September 17, 2006
About ten days ago the Vietnamese ambassador close to UNESCO came to Plum Village with his wife and assistant.  He was asked by UNESCO to come to Plum Village and ask Thay to come to Paris and give a talk on the Buddhist insight as how to get out of this present situation.  They felt powerlessness, powerless, helpless.   And when the Vietnamese ambassador mentioned Thay’s name to the ambassadors they said well invite him, ask him to come here and tell us what we can do.  So Thay has accepted to come.  That will be October the 7th.  And Thay intends to say three things.

The first thing is we need a collective awakening.  UNESCO is an organization for education, science, and culture.  They have the role to help people wake-up.   That is the work of education.  And that is why UNESCO should initiate a few kind of actions that will help people wake up.  And they have to do it as actions and not just an appeal.  And Thay is going to propose two things.

The first thing is to organize a no car day-- in the whole world.  It may take six months to organize a universal no car day.  And every citizen will refrain from using his or her car, except in case of emergency.  And the earth will rest – no emission of CO2 .  And during that six months of preparation, UNESCO and ministers of education in all the countries will do the best to wake people up to the dangers of global warming.  That day is not an end by itself.  That day is also a means in order to wake people up.  If I were a school teacher I would talk to my students every day about global warming.  I will ask them to help me remind their father, their mother to do something to stop this global destruction.    Maybe to start with a no car day per week.  In fact Deer Park Monastery has decided and is observing a no car week every.   The brothers and sisters have met and decided that on Tuesdays - no cars.   They don’t go anywhere.  They don’t use the car inside the monastery or outside the monastery.  Even if a brother or sister has to take a flight they don’t use the car.  The have to go on Monday to the town and stay there and then take a bus to the airport or something refraining from using the car.

We start with one ‘no car day’ per week.  We go shopping only once per week.  And we try to use bio diesels.  We try to bring the old car to the cemetery.  And we try to use electric or hybrid car.  We want to reduce our consumption of cars by 50%.  And we are very happy about that because all of us unanimously accepted that proposal.  We have sent a letter on our home page asking all sangha members worldwide to respond to that.  Each family if possible will observe one no car day per week.  It may be Saturday or Sunday.  It depends on the situation.  We’ll try to get the kind of car that will pollute less.  Even if they go a little bit more slowly.   And we are asking our friends in the Sangha in America, in Europe, in Asia, in Africa to respond.  They send their decision to Deer Park or Plum Village as to what they decide to do to contribute to this practice of collective awaking. 

But the first thing that Thay will propose to UNESCO is to organize a no car day for the whole world.  And use that opportunity to educate people to produce the effect of collective awaking.  And children like adults should learn about the situation.  Mindfulness of what is going on in us and around us.  We should help the Buddha.  The Buddha is an awakened person and he tries to help people wake up.  Many of us have become awake but still a lot of us still live like in a dream.  We don’t know what is going on.  We don’t know the danger that is awaiting us.  That’s why we should practice together – Buddhists and non-Buddhists.  And Thay is going to tell the director that the director of UNESCO and all the ambassadors and their families should embody the awakening.  While they work for a no car day they have to live up to that kind of awaking.  They have to drive the kind of car that will not emit a lot of CO2.  They have to go shopping, to consume in such a way that proves that a future will be possible for our children and their children.   You have to embody the message that you want to send to the world.  With UNESCO acting like that and with ministers of education in every country acting like that.  We hope that all of us in families in schools, in work places we could join.  And that kind of collective awaking will bring about our salvation.   It takes about one hundred years in order to go back to the state of security that we had before.

Second, I want to propose to UNESCO that they sponsor a summit of spiritual authorities of in the tradition of Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  Because the war in the Middle East began with fear.  Fear that we would not have enough fuel – we have to control that area.  But slowly, anger, frustration, despair has come in.   And the element of religious belief has come in.  Osama Bin laden actually believes that he is fighting against an attempt to destroy Islam as a religion, their civilization as a way of life.  They feel trapped as a civilization, as a way of life.   And they believe that they are on the side of God.  They are ready to die for God.  To protect their tradition, their way of life, their civilization.   And in America we believe we are fighting there in the name of democracy, in the name of God also.  We believe they are evil.  They are terrorists, they are not human beings, that we have to kill them in order for the world to be safe.   And our country is operating on the grounds of fear.  President Bush said that if we were to withdraw our troops they would follow us here and that is why we have to continue.  There is no hope.  There is so many wrong perceptions on the part of everyone.  There is a lot of fear, a lot of anger, a lot of despair.   

Thay had a brother who died about a month ago.  He died a peaceful death, surrounded by his loved ones.   And still his family members suffered.   But people who died in September 11, they did not die a peaceful death – they died violently and with no dear ones surrounding them at that moment.    In the Middle East so many innocent people die violently and with no dear ones around.  And ground zero is not local it continues a little bit everywhere and in our heart every day.  Because people continue to die every day – Palestinians, Israelis, Arabs, Americans and other nations also.

So that night –about two weeks after my brother died, In a dream I saw him coming to me.  And he was surrounded by his children and wife.  And he told me “Brother, let’s go home together”.   In the beginning I said – “Oh, our home is not enough for all of use.”  But finally I was enlightened.  I saw that our home is large, there is enough place for everyone.  So I said, “OK!  Let’s go!  Right now!”  And right after that Thay woke up.  And he begin to understand the dream.  His brother died peacefully, surrounded by his beloved ones.  But in the Middle East people continue to die violent deaths.  And thinking of the situation in the Middle East for the first time Thay was able to cry. And he cried for a long time.  It is very difficult to cry but he cried for about one hour.   And after that he went to the kitchen and made some tea and recognized that what his brother told him in the dream was correct.  If we look at each other and we recognize each other as brothers and sisters - then we are already home - we don’t have to go anywhere.  And there is enough place for everyone of us. 

Thay remember a sentence of the last poem in my father’s house there are many mentions.  So he had the idea to sit down and write President Bush a letter, a love letter.  So this is the letter also hand written.  This was written on the 8th of August – the morning after the dream.

Dear Mr. President    8.8.06
Last night, I saw my brother (who died two weeks ago in the U.S.A.) coming back to me in a dream.  He was with all his children.  He told me, “let’s go home together.” After a millisecond of hesitation, I told him joyfully, “Ok, let’s go.”

Waking up from that dream at 5 am this morning, I thought of the situation in the Middle East; and for the first time, I was able to cry.  I cried for a long time, and I felt much better after about one hour.  Then I went to the kitchen and made some tea.  While making tea, I realized that what my brother had said is true: our home is large enough for all of us.  Let us go home as brothers and sisters.

Mr. President, I think that if you could allow yourself to cry like I did this morning, you will also feel much better.  It is our brothers that we kill over there.  They are our brothers, God tells us so, and we also know it.  They may not see us as brothers because of their anger, their misunderstanding, and their discrimination.  But with some awakening, we can see things in a different way, and this will allow us to respond differently to the situation.  I trust God in you; I trust Buddha nature in you.

Thank you for reading.

In gratitude and with brotherhood,
Thich Nhat Hanh
Plum Village

I do believe that President Bush has his Buddha nature.   He has the seed of understanding and compassion in him.   I know that he suffers a lot, especially during the night.  And I hope that my letter can touch the seed of awaking compassion in him.  I want to support him positively so he can help us in getting out of this very difficult situation.  So that all of us will have more time to take care of the earth.  We don’t have much time.

It is my intention to propose to UNESCO a summit of religious authorityies: Islam, Christianity and Judaism.  The authorities of these three religions should come together one month or two months or three months.   And they will talk to each other and find a way out of the situation and call on their military and political leaders and tell them what to do.  Because we need the clear voice of our spiritual authorities.  They have been quite silent.

So those are the three points that Thay will take to Paris and talk with UNESCO about.   

If you support Thay by your actions.  If you decide like the brothers and sisters of Deerpark, if you set up a no car day, if you are determined to reduce your consumption of fuel, then Thay’s voice with UNESCO will be stronger.

When you come to Deer Park and park your car down there and use your feet to walk, many good things will come together.  First of all you have a chance to practice walking meditation.   From down there up to the meditation hall you can enjoy every step.  Not using your car up here you keep the air clean and you enjoy more and you get in touch with the trees, the flowers, the pebbles, the rabbits.  And it is a real kingdom, a real pure land.   If you drive your car up here you lose the kingdom, you lose the pure land.  So parking down there you begin to beathe in mindfully and breathe out mindfully and with every step you enter the kingdom of god.  You can enjoy being in touch with the wonders of life – all around us – the sunshine, the rain, the flowers.  Fortunately the kingdom is still there.  If you don’t enjoy it, it will disappear.  So just one small decision –not using the car in the compound of  monastery can already bring us a lot of joy.  We can make the pure land available.  We have the time to enjoy every step. 

Remember this morning, several hundreds of us walked, leisurely, quietly, peacefully.  Enjoying each other, enjoy every step.--that is the kingdom.  We don’t talk or hear anything like television around you or even dharma talk.  We just enjoy walking together, in brotherhood and sisterhood.  That is already the kingdom of god.  Not thinking about anything, not saying anything.  Enjoy our in-breath, enjoying our out-breath.  Touching our father, touching our mother, smiling to them.  That is the kingdom.  Why do we deprive ourselves of that kind of wonder?  And every moment like that is healing, is transforming, is nourishing.  We have the capacity to do that individually, and collectively as a sangha. 
A very small decision, like driving around the monastery, can make good things happen.