Hongkongers just want to be heard, says eminent Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh

PUBLISHED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Monday, 20 May, 2013, 3:15pm

You can stop one protest for a time, but you can't stop another one from starting up if you don't deal with the problem, says an eminent Buddhist monk.

"There are people who have not been heard, which leads to problems," said Phap Kham, head of the Hong Kong branch of Buddhist centre Plum Village, set up by renowned monk Thich Nhat Hanh.

"Protests are just a manifestation of unhappiness inside. They are only symptoms. There should be a way for people's voices to be heard in a peaceful way."

Phap Kham, who immigrated to the United States from Vietnam, has headed the Hong Kong centre for Applied Buddhism Studies and Practices in the Tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh and Plum Village since 2008.

He said the city's social unrest had to do with people's voices not being heard, and that there was no communication between the government and its people.

"Policies should be made to meet people's needs, but sometimes policies are made without meeting needs," he said.

"When the people speak out, does [the government] make an effort to listen? If they are heard, then there wouldn't be more protests. Protests are a way of saying 'we need to talk'."

Phap Kham said the city's protest culture and the latest debate surrounding the Occupy Central movement were channels through which Hongkongers were trying to make themselves heard.

But he said this should be done in a peaceful manner.

Thich Nhat Hanh always encouraged peaceful dialogue, but also to speak out when there was injustice, said Phap Kham.

Thich Nhat Hanh is in Hong Kong for two weeks, and followers from the world over have come to attend a retreat and conference with him.

The Zen master was exiled from his native country, Vietnam, because of his anti-war sentiments during the Vietnam war.

He moved to France to set up Plum Village, where followers focus on practices of mindfulness to cultivate peace and happiness and to control anger and negative emotions.

Phap Kham said Hongkongers have a lot of stress and anger because the city's fast pace of life did not allow them to slow down to take care of themselves.

His order's breathing and walking exercises would help deal with these issues, he said.

"When water in the pond is clear, we can see the bottom clearly. But when a herd of buffaloes stamp and stir up the mud, the water becomes murky and no one can see through it," said Phap Kham. "It's important to be calm before we can seek solutions to problems," he said.