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An advocate for peace starts with listening

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Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese Zen-Master, is leading me through a dark room in the Hynes Convention Center, empty except for a few tables and chairs. A couple of other monks and nuns are silently padding across the carpet. No one bothers to flip a light switch.

Thây, (for "teacher," as his followers call him) takes a seat next to a tall window, under the faintest glow of dusk. "So we can have a bit of light," he says.

To describe Thich Nhat Hanh's manner as understated misses the point. Every word seems cautiously chosen, every bend of the wrist deliberate.

And when he talks about peace, people of all faiths and backgrounds listen – from world leaders during the Vietnam War to Israeli and Palestinian factions today.

Just minutes earlier, he was in a giant auditorium several floors below, kneeling on a stage before an audience of more than 2,000.

For nearly three hours, Thich Nhat Hanh spoke about fear, anger, and hate. Addressing the crowd's security anxieties following Sept. 11, he urged Americans not to let the media "water the seeds of fear." He also asked the American government to act as a concerned older brother, "setting an example for other nations."

The powerful effect of his words came at the end, when Thich Nhat Hanh invited questions from the audience. One woman approached the stage and shared that she had lost a sister in the World Trade Center attack. But "I have no anger," she wanted everyone to know.

Thich Nhat Hanh is no newcomer to the crusade for peace. He's a leader of "engaged" Buddhism, a style of Buddhist worship promoting nonviolent civil disobedience. In 1966, he was exiled from Vietnam for his antiwar efforts, including a relief group which brought aid to ruined villages. He then toured the globe on a peace mission.


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