The following excerpt is from The Art of Living by Thich Nhat Hanh
There are those who say, “Don’t just sit there – do something!” When we see injustice, violence, and suffering all around us, we naturally want to do something to help. As a young monk in Vietnam in the 1950s and ’60s, together with my friends and students, we did everything we could to create a grassroots Buddhism that could respond to the enormous challenges and suffering of the times. We knew that offering chants and prayers was not enough to save the country from the desperate situation of conflict, division, and war.
We began publishing a large national weekly Buddhist magazine, started the School of Youth for Social Service to bring relief and support to villages devastated by the war, and also founded Van Hanh University in Saigon to offer a more modern approach to education for the young generation. In all this work, we learned that the quality of our action depended on the quality of our being. So every week we organized a whole day of mindfulness practice at the nearby Bamboo Forest Monastery. There we practiced sitting meditation, walking meditation, and mindful eating together, and we took time to listen deeply to one another’s challenges and joys. With the energy of brotherhood and sisterhood, we created a wonderful, happy place of refuge.
So as well as saying, “Don’t just sit there – do something!” we can also say, “Don’t just do something – sit there!” Stopping, being still, and practicing mindfulness can bring about a whole new dimension of being. We can transform our anger and anxiety, and cultivate our energy of peace, understanding, and compassion as the basis for action. The energies of wisdom, compassion, inclusiveness, fearlessness, patience, and non-discrimination – never disparaging anyone – are all the qualities of awakened beings. Cultivating these energies helps us bring the ultimate dimension into the historical dimension, so we can live a life of action in a relaxed and joyful way, free from fear, stress, and despair. We can still be very active but do everything from a place of peace and joy. This is the kind of action that is most needed. When we can do this, the work we do will be of great help to ourselves and the world.