Zen master offers advice for peace
A Zen master has urged Stormont's politicians to connect with their spiritual side in order to achieve lasting reconciliation.
Renowned Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh passed on his teachings to MLAs and members of the public who packed the Senate chamber of Parliament Buildings for his visit.
The 85-year-old Buddhist, who promotes the mindfulness meditation technique, also stressed the importance of focusing on the present instead of dwelling on the past or forever looking to the future. "The past has already gone and the future has not yet come," he said. "Only the present moment has life."
He said the ability to listen to others was key, even in the face of anger. Even terrorists should be listened to, he added. After reflecting on some of his life experiences inside the building, the religious leader joined a crowd of around 300 people on a meditation walk through the grounds of Stormont.
Among the MLAs who welcomed him to the home of the powersharing administration was Sinn Fein junior minister Martina Anderson, who revealed she used mindfulness meditation while in prison during the Troubles.
Known affectionately by his followers at Thay - Vietnamese for teacher - the prolific writer has penned more than 100 books on faith. He sprang to global prominence in the 1960s campaigning for a peaceful resolution to the escalating Vietnam conflict. Martin Luther King Jr nominated him for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
The Zen master, who now lives in the Plum Village Monastery in southern France, travelled to Belfast on the last leg of a week-long tour of Ireland as the guest of Mindfulness Ireland. Junior Minister Anderson told him she could not believe that having read his book when in jail she was now welcoming him to Stormont as a government minister.
"We are a society moving out of conflict," she added.
"We have to learn new skills, embrace new cultures and develop new mindsets. We have to recognise people as individuals and see the worth that each person has, whatever their religion, gender, sexual orientation, age or race. We need to value individuals and move beyond stereotypes so that we can become a fully integrated society.
"A society where people can realise their full potential, including people with disabilities, people who are socially excluded and people who experience poverty. I thank Thay for coming to Ireland and bringing his message of peace."