Drinking a cup of hot tea in the back room of the MacArthur Park band shell Saturday afternoon, Vietnamese activist Thich Nhat Hanh said he brought the "peace walk" to a neighborhood that needed healing.
"This is a place where we can offer our peace. Where there is true suffering, there is misunderstanding," said Hanh, a Buddhist monk made world-famous by working to stop the Vietnam War; for that he was nominated by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. for a Nobel Peace Prize in 1967.
"The environment is very important, and we change our environment first by looking at and changing ourselves," Hanh said in an interview. "There are energies within us of viciousness and of violence. We must have the compassion to recognize those emotions and work them out of our body."
Hanh's peace walk is a tradition he has brought to cities around the world. For the past year he has been touring, conducting retreats and hosting walks accompanied by lessons and teachings centered on "mindfulness."
City officials estimated that more than 1,000 people on Saturday walked and listened to the singing and chanting of monks and nuns from the Deer Park Monastery in Escondido, Calif., and from Plum Village, France.
The group ate vegetarian tamales and rice and beans on the grass for lunch and practiced deep relaxation exercises.
Hanh was also scheduled to speak Saturday night at the Pasadena Civic Center, where he would discuss, among other things, the violence in Myanmar. His arrival this weekend in Los Angeles coincided with the end of a deadly month in the nearby Pico-Union and Westlake communities.
At least three homicides occurred in the area this month, including that of a 23-day-old baby killed by a stray bullet as his mother pushed his stroller while shopping along 6th Street.
Officials with the LAPD have said recently that although crime is down overall, gang extortion in the area is rampant. Officials said many residents are "too scared" to talk to police. And City Council members have proposed drastic new measures to combat crime in the area, including using closed-circuit cameras to monitor some streets.
"Peace," said Monica Valencia of Councilman Ed Reyes' office, "is something this community needs."
Hanh offered messages of hope and action to residents when he talked of "the art of community building" -- a philosophy, Hanh said, that "brotherhood and sisterhood must be built" and that people "cannot wait around for others to come and help them."
"My message is go home and take care of yourself," Hanh said. "Don't be a victim of the environment you are in. You can drown, be carried away by your environment, and you can lose your peace."