August 5, 2004
Monk Could Be Way to Mideast Peace
Next week, I am sponsoring a group of Israelis and Palestinians to spend a few weeks in a small village in southern France with a Buddhist monk named Thich Nhat Hanh. These two disparate groups of people do not know each other, but often feel hatred toward each other. Some of them have been hurt in the war.
But by the end of the two weeks, under the guidance of the monks, the Israelis and the Palestinians will learn to listen to, understand, forgive and maybe even like each other. They will be at peace.
Could this work on a larger scale for their respective countries? I think so.
There are only two ways to ever make peace in the Middle East, and both are extreme. One is for one side to obliterate the other in a military conquest. The other, far more favorable approach, is for an unrelated third party to broker peace. For this to succeed, this person must come with absolutely no agenda -- not one of country, religion, politics or money. Just peace.
That's the one we are going for, because we have found such a person.
Nhat Hanh is a world-renowned Vietnamese Buddhist monk, scholar, poet and peace activist who lives in Plum Village, France. Martin Luther King Jr. nominated him for a Nobel Peace prize. He has written almost 100 books. All over the world, he teaches what he calls mindfulness -- peaceful, joyful living.
He is in a unique position to help the world now. We are trying to help him.
I met him because I read one of his books and it really helped my life as a movie producer. I learned to listen more, scream less, appreciate everything around me and focus. I even learned to "de-multitask." And now I get more done, and am happier and calmer about it.
I figured if it worked for me, it could work for my friends in the entertainment business, who could sure use his help. So I offhandedly suggested he do a seminar in Hollywood.
Three months later, he called and said, "How's next Tuesday?" I had Nhat Hanh and 15 monks over to my house to meet about 50 agents, producers, directors, studio executives and actors. I love these people, but they would stab themselves in the back if they could.
In one night, he changed some of their lives. Nhat Hanh does not try to convert people to Buddhism or get them to shave their heads. He teaches them how to listen to others and appreciate life more.
I thought it amazing what he did in Hollywood, but there are people with a lot more to be angry about than their TV series getting cancelled. He has done this for senators, cops, prisoners, people battling AIDS, victims of prejudice and hate crimes. And for Palestinians and Israelis.
Every summer people come from all over the world to Nhat Hanh's retreat center in France to learn from him and his spiritual sidekick, Sister Chan Khong. A few years ago, they invited some Israelis and Palestinians -- a few severely wounded in their war with each other. They forgave.
That gave me the idea to try this on a larger scale, and to tell the world about it. If everyone sees what can happen next week in Plum Village, it could then be done on a much larger scale. I wasn't sure if it was the right thing to do, so I asked friends, advisers and mentors -- some of whom run charities. What really convinced me was their answer.
They all said, "No, don't do it."
They said don't bother. It will never happen. They hate each other too much. It's too late. One person even argued that if it cost a Palestinian more to fly to France than an Israeli, it wasn't fair. Everyone was so far into their anger they didn't even want to try.
That convinced me that we have to.
Nhat Hanh has no agenda other than peace. He has a great expression: There is no way to peace; peace is the way.
Something extreme must be done and will be. I vote we try extreme peace before the other alternative.
I hope the world watches what happens at Nhat Hanh's village next week. Who better to do this, who could be more agenda-less than a peaceful Buddhist monk with unique gift for teaching people to listen and be mindful, who has no country, no desire for wealth, no stake in politics?
This is not about who is right or wrong or who started it or who is hurt the most. It is about peace.
It can happen.
Film producer Larry Kasanoff is chairman and CEO of Threshold Entertainment.