The Art of Leadership

How to restore harmony to ourselves and our nation?

In this extract from a talk just after the inauguration of Barack Obama, Thich Nhat Hanh draws parallels between a president’s task of uniting a nation and a meditator’s task of bringing their different elements into harmony. He invites us to rely on each other, both in our mindfulness practice and as citizens of a nation.

Excerpted from a Dharma Talk by Thich Nhat Hanh given in Vietnamese, on 22 January 2009 in Lower Hamlet, Plum Village, France, during the “Path of The Buddha” Winter Retreat on the theme of “global ethics.” Translated by Sister Lang Nghiem.

Thich Nhat Hanh: mudra of compassion

January 20, 2009 was a very joyful day for the United States of America. Barack Obama was sworn in as President. Journalists in Europe said that the whole nation is standing behind Obama. And that day proved that there is hope, there is a will to unite in rebuilding America. 

The speech that President Obama gave after being sworn in was very similar to a Dharma talk. Everyone listening was as concentrated as they would be if they were listening to a teaching. In his speech we can also see the Four Noble Truths. Obama spoke about the difficulties and suffering of America, and the roots and causes of that suffering. And he spoke about hope: the hope that America can rise up and meet the new challenges facing the nation, to bring America and the world into a brighter era. Obama called on all citizens to let go of petty grievances, recriminations, and discrimination. In his speech we can clearly see the Four Noble Truths. And people listened and cried, as though they were parishioners listening to a sermon.

When I heard the French journalist say that all Americans were standing by their president, I immediately thought of our practice. We practice as an individual, as a family, as a couple, as a community, and as a nation. We can consider the 20th of January as a “day of mindfulness” for America. Everyone had the opportunity to come together to sit, to look deeply, and to listen.

As we go about our daily life, are our five skandhas behind us, fully supporting us, or are they divided?

First, let us speak about what we can do as an individual. We practice as an individual, but at the same time we practice as a community or a family. Each one of us is made of five elements which in Buddhism we call our five skandhas: our body, feelings, perceptions, mental formations, and consciousness. As we go about our daily life, are our five skandhas behind us, fully supporting us, or are they divided? Within our very own selves there may be division, antagonism, separation. If our five skandhas are not truly united, backing us up, we will feel weak and at odds with ourselves. Anxieties pull us in one direction; anger in another. Fears pull us one way; our cravings and habits pull us another. And then we have our mindfulness, the diligence of a meditator, trying to pull us in the direction of practice. So we should ask ourselves, Are our five skandhas fully behind us and supporting us? Or is there chaos, each element marching to a different beat, leading us to fail in our practice?

To read the full article, please visit the Plum Village website and enjoy the complete commentary.

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What is Mindfulness

Thich Nhat Hanh January 15, 2020

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