Fostering peace through Buddhist contemplative practice gained from journaling

- through Francois Leclercq

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In light of the global situation – marked by conflict, discord, unrest and war – the urgent question arises: how can we achieve true world peace? Is this destined to remain a mere aspiration? Where do we start, especially when we feel overwhelmed by feelings of hopelessness or skepticism?

The founder of Won Buddhism, Sot'aesan, once said:

Wars are those that continually arise in spirit lands. The land of the spirit is originally untouched and peaceful, bright and pure, but it becomes dark and murky, complicated and disturbed, because of the minions of Māra's selfish desires, leaving only a few peaceful days in this infinite world . . . . If we look at the origin of all the small and big wars of individuals and families, societies and countries, they all come from the wars raging in people's minds. Therefore, the war of the mind is the root of all other wars and the most serious of all.

(Doctrinal Books of Wŏn Buddhism205)

Sot'aesan emphasizes that to achieve peace, it must first be nurtured within us. A mind riddled with fury and bitterness tends to intensify conflict and hostility, thereby hindering the path to peace. On the other hand, a tranquil mind promotes actions of peace, generating an environment rich in love, kindness and empathy, crucial for cultivating harmonious relationships.

However, we face the harsh truth of a fragmented and disconnected world. Sot'aesan recognized the societal challenges that globalization would bring, including problems related to inequalities, imbalances and divisions. He underlines : " . . . In today's world, with the development of scientific civilization, people's greed is increasing day by day. Therefore, if we do not engage in training that cultivates the mental field, we will not be able to overcome this greed; and if we do not control this greed, it will be difficult for this world to ever find peace. (Doctrinal Books of Wŏn Buddhism208)

Sot'aesan identifies that the roots of animosity, discord and aggression arise from the inability to cultivate the mind, leading to ignorance. It encourages us to introspectively evaluate how our minds contribute to suffering and seek solutions. One method he suggests is the practice of journaling as a way to deeply examine and understand our daily lives. This particular contemplative practice moves people from unconsciousness to understanding, from exclusion to reciprocity, and from struggle to cooperation.

Journal writing focuses on recording how we manage our body and mind, which is the tool for increasing awareness. This practice involves evaluating our daily actions, determining whether they were healthy or unhealthy, and understanding the balance of our transgressions or merits. Practice improves our ability to make informed choices in all our activities.

For me, this particular practice has been incredibly beneficial. This is not the “Dear Diary” genre of my youth, which was more of an escape from reality or a reinterpretation of my life. Instead, this form of journal writing reflects what is present without distortion. It is a method that leads me within, allowing me to face everyday situations with honesty, vulnerability and courage.

My teacher told me that the first step in journal writing is to "document the event exactly as it happened, like taking a photo" and record how I reacted to the situation . At first, this practice was a challenge for me, especially after years of habitual censorship of my journal entries. In many ways, I was reluctant to acknowledge my own biases and attachments, or the way I interacted with others. However, over time, recording events as if I were taking a photo taught me to be honest, even when it exposed my flaws and mistakes.

This process improved my awareness of passing thoughts, sudden emotions, and judgments I had about myself and others. Journaling became a valuable tool, allowing me to accept my emotions as insightful guides and assess aspects of myself that needed additional healing or care. Through this journey, my teacher showed me how truthful writing could be a catalyst for profound transformation.

A powerful tool for journaling is the practice of stopping and identifying the trigger for a disturbance and the thoughts or emotions that arise at that time. We often fail to recognize when a disturbance is occurring, especially when we are on autopilot and can't stop to take inventory of the cause of complicated emotions. But when we fail to take a break from a difficult situation, it's easy to fall back into our usual patterns and react to negative thoughts or overwhelming feelings. Consistent journal writing helps us develop the strength to stop reacting to situations that provoke us.

In other words, journaling helps us cultivate the power to stop thinking incessantly and create space before responding. Every break is like slowing down before approaching a speed bump and avoiding a potential accident from happening. Taking such a pause helps us adopt an observer's perspective of our experience and reframe the situation. This change improves our appreciation of the diversity of points of view and allows us to free ourselves from rigid beliefs, thus opening up new perspectives. Therefore, this single pause has the power to alter the further course of events and lead us down the path of less suffering.

Many students with whom I have shared this type of journaling have expressed gratitude for everything they have learned about themselves and for the feeling they have of being able to change their reactions. Here is a journal entry titled « Professional opportunity» from one of my students:

I received a call with a job offer for 15 hours a week at a well-known herb company. I'm friends with the daughter of the business owner and she immediately thought of calling me when the position opened.

I was very excited and had a strong desire to take this position because I would be working with a well-known herbalist. I was also very flattered and felt slightly obligated to respond « Yes " since they offered me the position before posting an official job offer. I was also excited about the prospect of higher income because I often worry about finances.

I paused and asked if I could have time to think about it before making a decision. I had just left a job at a local acupuncture clinic, in part because I wanted more time to focus on my studies. I knew I could take this new job, but it would likely come at the expense of my physical and mental health. I had to ask myself: would I be willing to give up my daily practices, sleep less, or put in fewer hours in school to work at this incredible company?

In the past, my answer would have been “yes,” but I realize that’s because I had normalized my own dysfunction. I used to do too much and get sick, have panic attacks, and depression because my desire to “succeed” outweighed my self-worth.

I'm recontextualizing what it means to be successful. Maybe success means eating, sleeping and being healthy. I currently have enough financial stability that I don't need additional money. Yes, it means living on student loans, but I have confidence that I can and will pay them off in the long run.

I ended up declining the offer. I'm grateful that I stopped, examined my own emotional response, and then decided when I had allowed some time to think independent of my initial impulse.

As students persist in the practice of journal writing, they begin to carefully weigh the pros and cons, drawing on their past experiences. This process improves their self-awareness and courage. They develop the ability to pause, introspect their emotional reactions, and make choices that align with their long-term goals and overall health. This reflective practice aligns with the Buddhist approach of focusing on underlying causes rather than hastily placing blame on external factors or individuals.

This regular practice strengthens their confidence in their own decision-making abilities. Through consistent journal writing, students learn to stay true to their personal beliefs and what they see as most beneficial to themselves.

The journey toward peace is indeed a challenge, and journaling can be a source of strength and clarity in this endeavor. It provides a coherent framework for reflection and growth, reinforcing our commitment to the principles of peace and justice. By continually engaging in this practice, we not only understand ourselves better, but we also help transform the vision of a peaceful and just world into reality.

Essentially, journal writing is more than just a personal exercise; it constitutes a fundamental step towards achieving broader goals of community harmony and the promotion of mutually enriching relationships.

photo of author

Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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