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Buddhism in the News


Friday, October 09, 2009

President Barack Obama Wins the Nobel Peace Prize?

I felt like someone waking up from a decades long coma this morning as I sleepily starred at the t.v. anchor telling me that President Barack Obama won the Nobel Peace Prize. My first thought was, "For what?" Don't get me wrong, I like Obama and while I don't agree with everything he's done in his short tenure; I still personally really dig the guy. I'm not sure if I'll vote for him yet again in 2012 but I'm leaning toward re-electing him barring a disaster on health care, which I'm really concerned over.

Anyway, despite my admiration for the man I don't think he's done enough for peace in the less than a year that he's been in office to warrant such a prestigious prize. Especially since he has recently snubbed the Dalai Lama; himself an award winner. He struck the right tone, however, this morning when talking about the award in saying he felt he didn't deserve it. And that he was very humbled. He was a bit abashed by this surprise awarding. As well as stating how he wants to share it with the world who have collectively done so much for peace. What else could he say? This award was thrust upon him. He would have appeared rude to decline it and had he accepted it without feeling humbled; he'd be accused of having a messianic complex.

The candidate that I would have chosen would be the 82 year old Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh who was nominated in 1967. He was nominated by his friend the great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. for his work to peacefully end the Vietnam war. At the time King, Jr. made the comment, "I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam...I know Thich Nhat Hanh." Nhat Hanh is using the peaceful message of Buddhism to effect harmony in the world.

In his native Vietnam a fledgling order of monks was established by him a few years ago, which is now being broke up by the religious police of the Communist dictatorship there. They have used violence to remove the peaceful monastics from the temple monastery yet because of Nhat Hanh's peaceful example these monastics were able to remain calm, peaceful and loving despite being treated so poorly. So, I thought I'd ask my readers, "Which Buddhist would you nominate for the Nobel Peace Prize?" You can chose a non-Buddhist but I was hoping to limit it to Buddhists since this is a Buddhist Blog (smiles). The other one I'd chose since The Dalai Lama and Aung San Suu Kyi have already received it would be one of the monks who led the peaceful protests in Burma recently. Feel free to vote for one I mentioned or one you thought of.

~Peace to all beings~

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Adam said...

I heard that on NPR this morning, and couldn't believe it. Not that I hate the guy or anything, but the Nobel Peace Prize? Really? I can't believe the commander in chief of a military that is actively engaged in an invasion and war was awarded this prize. And he's only been in office for less than a year. Ridiculous really. While I admire his diplomacy and efforts to reach out to the global community, does he really deserve this honor?

I just can't see it. If I had to vote, I'd be voting for Thich Nhat Hanh. Hell, I think I'd vote for Sean Penn before

They call him James Ure said...

Adam, good point about being involved in two wars. War is not peace.

Shinzen Nelson said...

James and Adam: I agree with both of you...Thich Nhat Hanh is truly deserving of the Peace Prize...oh, well...what is important is the spreading of peace more than getting the awards...

They call him James Ure said...

Shinzen, well said. Awards in the end are just junk. Actions are the real prize and not for the actor but for those who benefit from his/her actions. Actions of peace, love and harmony.

Shinzen Nelson said...

During some moments of insomnia last evening the thought came to me that the awarding of a peace prize could cause so much commotion, in other words, a non-peace. How ironic! :)

Elaine Fisher said...

James, as always, thanks for the thoughtful post. Other things to consider: we don't know why Obama didn't meet with HHDL before meeting with the Chinese. It's possible that it was at HHDL's advice. Also the Nobel Peace Prize has often been used to inspire rather than to reward. Plus you don't have to be perfect to get it - Henry Kissinger got it. I like the idea of encouraging an American president who wants people and nations to listen to each other respectfully and work for peace. Got wars? Yep. Not so good? You bet. Is Obama perfect? Nope. Is he a mindful person? Sure looks like he is. Our beloved friend Thich Nhat Hanh is certainly worthy of the award. Thanks for listening.

Tom Armstrong said...

I think that choosing Barack Obama for the Nobel Peace Prize was a mistake. The prize should never be that far "ahead of the curve," supposing that it will encourage peace, rather than honor effort to create it.

The prize will only hurt Obama and diminish the honor of winning the prize ... I am sorry to say. said...

it would seem that Obama winning the Nobel Peace prize represents a vote of confidence from Europe

tozan said...

I notice that many of us are imposing our own personal criteria on the Nobel committee. Their decision rules for awarding the Peace Prize are not at all ambiguous and Barack Obama's very brief history as a statesman does meet those criteria.
Thich Nhat Hanh's history, I believe, also meets the Nobel committee's criteria but is relatively unidimensional. He not only advocates peace but also teaches the sole genuine means of achieving it. Svaha!

melissa bee said...

while i couldn't agree more that thich nhat hanh undoubtedly deserves the award, i gotta agree with rachel maddow on the subject. not a big fan of oprah's, but i'm hoping her soon-to-be-aired interview with tnh brings his name and work to the forefront.

schroepfer said...

"...a fledgling order of monks was established by him a few years ago..."

I noticed this primarily because I think it is always good healthy practice to hold suspect, or at least briefly question, when a cleric of any kind goes out an forms an organization within which he then has no need to report to anyone higher than himself. At the very least I don't see establishing ones own order or denomination as an accomplishment that needs to be commended. Sometimes it is a way to get to do what you want, sometimes it is a way to find room for your ego if you started out as the member of an org that was founded by a similar individual, and sometimes it is just an ugly necessity. "Hopefully,"as far as your particular Nobel nominee is concerned, all Vietnamese Buddhist orders are so inept or corrupt or irrelevant that he really had to start a new one. I am more concerned for Vietnamese Buddhism, however, so I hope the opposite is true. If he really had to, though, I hope it is bigger than he is and will be effective well beyond his passing for not having what is known as "founder's syndrome."

As for Obama's Nobel, I think everyone was shocked. But I think we need to consider more than what he has "accomplished since taking office." First of all, Obama certainly deserves one if Gore got one for making a movie. Secondly, I think Obama did more for racial reconciliation during his campaign and before actually being inaugurated (by the mere fact he won the election, in addition to concrete responses and reactions, incl. "dialogue on race") than almost all other American leaders, elected or not, have done in a lifetime. For starters, he made African-Americans feel like full members of their society and European-Americans feel better about themselves. Also, he has always taken the stance that racism is real and exists, but that it is still not insurmountable and people who express views we'd call racist can still be worked with.

See this:
A man canvassing for Obama in western Pennsylvania asks a housewife which candidate she intends to vote for. She yells to her husband to find out. From the interior of the house, he calls back, "We're voting for the nigger!" At which point the housewife turns to the canvasser and calmly repeats her husband's declaration.

I'm not saying Obama is a peacemaker for getting racists to vote for him as much as he's a peacemaker for knowing, perhaps because he knows white people so well, that just because a white person says something (that society says sounds) racist does not mean he hates you. African-Americans well know you could easily find something racist about the attitudes of many Iowa voters and that's why they were so surprised when he won his first primary state there, something he was able to do because he shrugs off the "microagressions."

It's one of the things I like most about Obama. Remember how many of his supporters were upset with his choice of fledging megachurch pastor Rick Warren to pray at his inaugural? I think Obama is a man who is comfortable with people who are good people who say some very offensive things, offensive to him, too, and yet he doesn't write them off. This explains a lot about his many "associations" that drew fire during the campaign and his willingness to talk to leaders of "rouge" states without precondition, etc.

They call him James Ure said...


Very poignant insight about it causing more conflict.


He certainly is a man to have hope in that peace will come through his actions. I think he does have greatness in him and with this award I expect even more from him. I expect him to end the two wars. Perhaps he won as a collective award to America that we were finally able to get beyond race just enough to elect an African-American.


Indeed. I think he is very popular in Europe. Now if only we can translate that popularity into passing health care for all in America. That would truly be the actions of a worthy peace prize recipient.


Perhaps we are imposing our own criteria. I think it's important sometimes to question the powers that be and their actions. I must disagree with you that Thich Nhat Hanh


Thanks for the link. I like Maddow and will be watching it for sure.


Well given how long his order has been established and how other teachers respect him greatly (like the Dalai Lama) and his order I doubt it's a cult of personality.

I've seen the man talk in person and read countless books by him but haven't seen anything to suggest he's got an ego problem. He is so soft-spoken and very giving of his time, attention and energy.

You seem to have a harsh view of his order and I wonder why? So many around the world have had nothing but positive, uplifting experiences with him. Buddhist masters starting their own order is quite common. I have read many accounts of teachers telling their accomplished students to go out and head their own temple/order.

I worry that you might have had a bad experience with one of the practitioners in TNH's order and are judging all by that person's actions. Remember, not all are enlightened and even a master as great as TNH is going to make people uncomfortable from time to time.

His order is indeed bigger than he is and as he ages (he's in his 80's now) younger, wise and well-practiced monks and nuns are taking on more of the duties of TNH.

I don't believe that TNH should be awarded the Noble Prize for simply starting a world-wide order. I think he should be awarded it for all he has done for peace but as far as starting his own order he did it in part to save Buddhism from the ashes of a war-town Vietnam.

A Communist government who wouldn't allow such a Buddhist order to stay alive in Vietnam. Thus, he kept that tradition alive in establishing the Vietnamese Zen Order outside Vietnam in hopes of one day returning it back to his homeland.

TNH has spoken out and done much for peace for nearly a half century or more. He has led countless peaceful marches for human rights and dignity. He has given countless talks where he advocates non-violence to the world's problems of poverty and injustice. He his is the one who established "Engaged Buddhism" to more fully take-on ending the suffering in the world.

I think he more than qualified but being a humble man he would never say so himself.

They call him James Ure said...


I totally agree with you.

Modern Girl said...

I agree with your reaction to the award. My reaction was similar to Adam's - if he's in two wars, how can he be a leader of peace? I hope that his tenure will prove him worthy.

Also, James, don't worry about the health care. The propoganda swirling around in the USA is mostely hype. I've seen outrageous interviews with "Canadians" who claim our health care is garbage and the US's will be too. The majority of Canadians believe we have a wonderful system, sure out of 39 million people there might be a few extreme cases of people, but that's not the whole story. Health care opponents shouldn't use them to scare the USA away from Obama's plan. Long story short, don't worry.

They call him James Ure said...

Modern Girl:

Yeah I try not to worry too much about health care but it's difficult sometimes. Especially when you see so many people in such bad shape who need help.

I have medical care thankfully but I want everyone to have access. I will continue to work toward that goal but I'll try not to be so stressed over it. Thanks for the reminder.

Ben Gage said...

the peace prize should be given for someone advocating peace thru peace, not peace thu war, I will not undertand how it's OK to crush others for me to feel good...

They call him James Ure said...


I totally agree with you. I saw Obama's speech today in Oslo to accept the prize and he tried to justify the war in Afghanistan. It was really bizarre to see war being defended at the Nobel committee.

Marco said...

Peace not war!

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