By Beth Bro Howard
Be Still And Know, altar offering at the retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh,
August, 2007, Estes Park, Colorado, photo © 2007 by Beth Bro
Howard. All rights reserved.
On August 25, 2007, while on retreat with Buddhist teacher, Thich Nhat Hanh in Estes Park, Colorado, I was prepared to ask a question during the talk devoted to questions and answers. Reflecting on the question beforehand, part of the answer was revealed, which reminded me of the banner over the flowered altar offering:
be still and know
I accepted the invitation to ask Thay (his familiar name, meaning “teacher”) a question and joined the huddle of men, women, and children sitting on the stage.
I knew that there would not be time to ask all of our questions. I held mine in my heart and listened mindfully to others’ questions and Thay’s answers, because I knew that the answer to my question might be there also.
And it was.
My question might have been asked like this:
Dear Thay, my twenty-two year old son Peter is a soldier with the U.S. Army in Iraq. I hope that he will return home in two months. I am aware that many veterans return from Iraq with a lot of suffering. The United States of America was not skillful with relieving the suffering of Vietnam War veterans. How might our spiritual communities and practices help to relieve our veteran’s suffering?
I heard my answer, first, in the response to a question asked by a child about whether monks or nuns had served in the military. Thay answered, “Not many,” but went on to say that there was a monk who had served in the war. The monk had seen a lot of suffering caused by war and wanted to heal it. He wanted to practice peace and to teach the practice to others. Thay said that he is a very good monk.
In another answer to a question regarding the power of the healing services held in Viet Nam, Thay explained that there had never been services held for all the people killed in the Vietnam War. He said that there have not been services in our country to heal from the deaths in Viet Nam and Iraq.
How I heard these responses as answers to my question was in this way:
- As a Christian/Buddhist practitioner, I should offer compassionate and deep listening to our veterans;
- I should include them in our practice, however I can, because, like the monk, they have learned a lot about war and suffering and they may be very good at this practice;
- Veterans may be wonderful teachers of peace.
I also heard that, in our spiritual communities, we should pray for the killed and in the depth of Thay’s stories I learned that we must not only pray for the killed, but also for the killers. They are not separate.
It seems that often veterans return with the dead residing in their hearts and minds. We can pray to end the suffering of both.
The answer that came to me, before Thay’s talk, was from my own Christian tradition. It relates to the Biblical story of the Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32), paraphrased here:
There was a man who had two sons. The younger son asks for his share of the property and the father divides the estate evenly between his sons. The older son stays on the land, close to his father, and works hard. The younger son gathers all that he has and takes a journey to a far country, where he squanders all his wealth in wild living. Much later, he returns home destitute, hungry and regretful. The father is overjoyed to see his youngest son, filled with compassion and welcomes him warmly, hugging and kissing him. The father orders that his youngest son be dressed in the finest robe and that a feast should be prepared for him. When the older son complains bitterly, the father replies, “But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.”
Might we as spiritual communities welcome war veterans home in our hearts?
Might we welcome an end to their personal experience of war as we would welcome an end to all war?
Might we refrain from judgments that may increase their suffering and might we assist and encourage others to refrain from judgments, also?
Might we be able to stand in compassion and be ready to listen when veterans are ready to speak?
Veterans have learned a lot about war and suffering and if we work together to transform those seeds, there may be a little more peace for us all.
About Beth: Beth Bro Howard is a writer and yoga teacher in Wyoming. Her son Peter returned from Iraq on Friday, October 19, 2007, after a year-long deployment.
-Related to post Wishing You A Peaceful Heart – An Open Letter To Cindy Sheehan.