Questions and Answers by Thich Nhat Hanh

Letting Go of Suffering

Q: Why do we cling to our suffering?

A: Many of us are not capable of releasing the past, of releasing the suffering of the past. We want to cling to our own suffering. But the Buddha said very clearly, do not cling to the past, the past is already gone. Do not wait for future, the future is not yet there. The wise people establish themselves in the present moment and they practice living deeply in the present moment. That is our practice. By living deeply in the present moment we can understand the past better and we can prepare for a better future.

Today I attended a Vietnam war veterans' discussion, and my heart is still heavy. The condition of the war veterans-their heart, their mind, their body-do you think that they will ever be emotionally healed in this lifetime? I think if they practice with all their heart and they are determined to relieve the past, they will be healed.

We cling too much to the past; we have to face the future. We have to stand on the ground of the present moment. The war in Vietnam was just a war. There are many wars still going on and we continue to create victims of war and war veterans. The number of American soldiers who died in Vietnam was something like 55,000. Every year the number of people who die in car accidents in America is exactly that number, 55,000. So there is the equivalent number of dead people caused by alcoholism and unmindful driving. This is another war. The toll is as huge as the damage inflicted by war, and every time a person dies because of a car accident, it creates many war veterans in the children who lose their mother, the mothers who lose their son.

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.