By Christian Bonnin
On Saturday, October 21, 2006, Thich Nhat Hanh and the monks and nuns of Plum Village traveled to Paris. Some of them spent the day seeing the sights of the city, guided by members of the Paris Sangha. That evening Thây gave a public talk at the Théatre de la Maison de la Mutualité entitled “Less Anger, Less Violence,” and on Sunday another talk, “How to Transform Our Fears,” both to a full house of several thousand people.On Sunday morning, October 22, Thây and the monastics led a peace walk through the streets of Paris. One participant writes about his experience.
The sky was overcast as a large crowd gathered little by little along the edge of the Luxembourg Gardens. Some people knew each other or had crossed paths at Plum Village; others arrived in groups. Everyone seemed moved and happy to be here — to walk for the first time behind Thây in Paris, to walk in silence in a large pulsating city. Slowly things got organized and people handed out bumper stickers — “La paix en soi, la paix en marche, célebrons la vie!” (Peace in oneself, peace on the move, celebrate life!)— which was the agenda for the morning.
Thây gave us a few instructions and then the crowd calmly set in motion. At first I was disappointed that we didn’t receive a permit to walk in the street. Wasn’t peace worth disturbing our Sunday morning driving habits, just a little? But then I understood the advantage of using the space reserved for men and women rather than cars — this allowed us to be in the midst of people trying to make their way among us, and the contact was stronger.
For those of us meditators accustomed to walking in peaceful places, this experience was valuable because it forced us to concentrate on ourselves, to not be influenced by the restless mob, and to share our calm with passing strangers. Yes, I was carrying my inner island and so was each one of us — a sangha walking together! I didn’t know what passersby would take away from this — doubt, surprise, bother, or indifference — but for us it was an unforgettable experience.
We ambled slowly down the sidewalks of the Rue Saint Jacques toward Notre Dame, our destination. Eventually, because of street crossings, the group stretched out so that we looked more like a procession and less like a massive demonstration. But later I would learn that we were several thousand people (perhaps four thousand). As we walked we became aware of the efficient organization involved and the hard work by members of the Order of Interbeing and all those who invested their time for months to make this weekend a reality. I would like to thank them and share my gratitude. This walk showed me that a large sangha can work together, in the same direction — for the peace inside each one of us that leads to peace in the whole world.
When we arrived at Notre Dame I was impressed by the size of the crowd, especially since I was toward the back of the group. The sky was with us as well because by now the weather was gorgeous and we were flooded in sunshine. I wasn’t able to see the end of the walk and it was impossible to distinguish the meditators from the tourists; a lot of people were taking pictures to capture this moment.
I have only one regret — the information spread by the news media was not up to the event. We definitely live in an era full of contradictions; everyone says they want peace but when a teacher like Thich Nhat Hanh shows us the way how many people take the trouble to notice? It’s really a shame. I hope that next time the media will take heart and broadcast the message far and wide.
Looking again at the bumper sticker handed out that day, I can’t help but believe that “peace in oneself, peace on the move, celebrate life!” is an indispensable mantra for all those who work for peace in the world. Something for all of us to meditate on for a long time.
Christian Bonnin, Harmonie Spirituelle du Coeur (Spiritual Harmony of the Heart), lives in Massy, south of Paris, where he practices with Libre Nuage (Free Cloud) Sangha.
Translated from the French by Janelle Combelic