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If we stick to our suffering we can never stand up for healing and prepare the future for our children and their children. I would say to the Vietnam war veteran, okay, you did kill five children. We know that. But here you are, alive in the present moment. Do you know that you have the power to save five children today? You don't have to go to Vietnam or southeast Asia. There are American children who are dying every day; they may need only one pill to be saved from their illness.

If you know how, every day you can save five children from dying. Why do you let yourself get caught in guilt and become paralyzed year after year? Why don't you make a bodhisattva vow to use your life to work for the safety of many children? Did you know that 40,000 children die in the world every day just because of the lack of food and nutrition? You are here; you can do something. Why do you let yourself get caught in the past? You can save children in the here and now. You can use your life in a very useful and intelligent way. You can very well transform that negative energy into a positive energy that empowers you and makes life meaningful.


Relationships

When I go home, I return to my husband who is a hunter. He goes into our beautiful woods to shoot birds. He brings them home to show our seven-year-old twins, who want to be like daddy. What can I do to stop him from this habit of killing?

If you do not know how to be patient, how to care, how to use loving speech, you cannot help other people to change. But if we have the energy of compassion and loving kindness in us, the people around us will be influenced by our way of being and living. Reproaching them, shouting at them, blaming them, can never help them. Only our love, our patience and our loving speech can help. And if we are in a situation where our own skillfulness, our own compassion, is not strong enough, we could need the support of our dharma brothers and sisters in order to do the job.


Abortion

What are your views on abortion?

I am inclined to devote more of my time and energy to preventing the situation from happening than to what happens when you have to decide whether you have to do it or not to do it. If we prepare ourselves in such a way, then the problem will not present itself to us, and we don't have to make a decision between abortion or not abortion. In the last 2,500 years we monks and nuns have helped a lot in limiting the population of the planet (laughter). And if you'd like to join us (laughter), it's never too late.


Media Saturation

In regard to television news and newspapers, how can we balance not taking in toxins with not closing our eyes to suffering?

Myself, I want to be informed about what is going on in the world. I want to be informed, but that does not mean that I have to listen to the news three times a day. I think there is some kind of vacuum in us we want to fill up; that is why we buy so many newspapers and magazines and why we view so much television. We do not need that much information. I think maybe five minutes daily is enough. Sometime we can survive several months without any news bulletins. And you have friends who can tell you what is important that has happened.


Space and Freedom

Can you please elaborate on what is space inside of us? Why is this good? I feel lonely sometimes. This feels like emptiness or space inside, but it does not feel good.

Space here does not mean loneliness. Space here means freedom because you are not busy inside—you don't have a lot of worries, fears, projects, things to think about. That is space. Space here is the basic condition for you to enjoy life. If you are preoccupied with so many things, you don't have that condition.

One day the Buddha was sitting in the wood with thirty or forty monks. They had an excellent lunch and they were enjoying the company of each other. There was a farmer passing by and the farmer was very unhappy. He asked the Buddha and the monks whether they had seen his cows passing by. The Buddha said they had not seen any cows passing by.

The farmer said, "Monks, I'm so unhappy. I have twelve cows and I don't know why they all ran away. I have also a few acres of a sesame seed plantation and the insects have eaten up everything. I suffer so much I think I am going to kill myself.

The Buddha said, "My friend, we have not seen any cows passing by here. You might like to look for them in the other direction."

So the farmer thanked him and ran away, and the Buddha turned to his monks and said, "My dear friends, you are the happiest people in the world. You don't have any cows to lose. If you have too many cows to take care of, you will be very busy.

"That is why, in order to be happy, you have to learn the art of cow releasing (laughter). You release the cows one by one. In the beginning you thought that those cows were essential to your happiness, and you tried to get more and more cows. But now you realize that cows are not really conditions for your happiness; they constitute an obstacle for your happiness. That is why you are determined to release your cows."

We have to ask what is really essential to our happiness. We believe that things are essential to our happiness, but we have to look again. Many of us have cows, many cows that prevent us from being happy. That is why we have to learn to release our cows. Also there are many cows inside, so many preoccupations! Many things to worry about, to be angry about, and there's no space at all inside.

How can you be happy in such a state of being? That is why to release the cows around us and to let go of these preoccupations inside is a very essential condition for happiness. That is the space we are talking about when we practice. I am space; within and out. I feel free. Freedom is the real foundation of happiness. Sometimes if you don't know how to love, love will deprive you of your freedom and deprive the person you love of her freedom. That is why space is so essential in relationship.

There is a beautiful poem praising the Buddha: "The Buddha is like the full moon/traveling in the vast sky of emptiness." Because of that freedom, the happiness of the Buddha cannot be measured by our mind.

 
Resting in the River, Thich Nhat Hanh, Shambhala Sun, March 1998.

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