The spiritual crisis of the West is the cause for the many sufferings we encounter. Because of our dualistic thinking that god and the kingdom of god is outside of us and in the future – we don’t know that god’s true nature is in every one of us. So we need to put god back into the right place, within ourselves. It is like when the wave knows that water is not outside of her.
Everything we touch in our daily lives, including our body, is a miracle. By putting the kingdom of god in the right place, it shows us it is possible to live happily right here, right now. If we wake up to this, we do not have to run after the things we believe are crucial to our happiness like fame, power and sex. If we stop creating despair and anger, we make the atmosphere healthy again.
Maybe we have enough technology to save the planet but it is not enough because the people are not ready. This is why we need to focus on the other side of the problem, the pollution of the environment not in terms of carbon dioxide but the toxic atmosphere in which we live; so many people getting sick, many children facing violence and despair and committing suicide.
We should speak more of spiritual pollution. When we sit together and listen to the sound of the [meditation] bell at this retreat, we calm our body and mind. We produce a very powerful and peaceful energy that can penetrate in every one of us. So, conversely, the same thing is true with the collective energy of fear, anger and despair. We create an atmosphere and environment that is destructive to all of us. We don’t think enough about that, we only think about the physical environment.
Our way of life, our style of living, is the cause of it. We are looking for happiness and running after it in such a way that creates anger, fear and discrimination. So when you attend a retreat you have a chance to look at the deep roots of this pollution of the collective energy that is unwholesome.
— Thích Nhá̂t Hạnh as interviewed by Jo Confino in “Zen and the art of protecting the planet,” (Manchester, United Kingdom: Guardian Publications, August 26, 2010). Thanks to Craig Whisenhunt for the lead.