Spiritual Mentors: Thich Nhat Hanh

a thich understanding-in-breathToday, Thich Nhat Hanh, Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, teacher, and author, was scheduled to speak at the Vatican to the Summit of World Faith Leaders to End Modern Slavery and Human Trafficking. Instead, he is recovering in Paris from a brain hemorrhage suffered on November 11 at the Plum Village monastery in the south of France where he lives.

Among the remarks he had prepared to say today were these:

“Each of us, according to the teaching of our own tradition, should practice to touch deeply the wonders of Nature, the wonders of life in each of us, the Kingdom of God in each of us, the Pure Land, Nirvana in each of us, so we can get the healing and nourishment, the joy and happiness born from the insight that the Kingdom of God is already available in the here and now. The feeling of love and admiration for nature, that we all share, has the power to nourish us, unite us, and remove all separation and discrimination.”

Thich came to prominence during the war in Vietnam when he began speaking publicly there for peace. He urged Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against American involvement in that war, which he subsequently did. Thich Nhat Hanh, who had been speaking out against the war during those war years in European and American cities, was denied re-entry to Vietnam after the Paris Peace Accords were signed in 1973, because of his outspokenness. He found refuge in France, which is now his home.

It was his ecumenical writings which caught my attention, particularly his book, ‘Living Buddha, Living Christ.’ In it, he shows the similarities between the Christ’s and the Buddha’s messages of peace and pleads for a united cooperation among peoples of various faiths, based on those specific and universal similarities. That “people kill and are killed because they cling too tightly to their own beliefs and ideologies” remains a heart-breaking reality toThich and those who choose to live in respect, rather than fear, of others’ beliefs.

The consistent core of Thich Nhat Hanh’s writings and teachings are found in the quote above from the talk prepared for the Vatican. Our human commonalities are shared with all of life. All living things are dependent not only on the earth itself but on all other life. When we look closely enough, we see the edges of individual lives begin to blur into relatedness to other life, and it is that acknowledgement of our brotherhood and sisterhood with all living things that is the only true basis for lasting peace, and for the Kingdom of God to be perceived and accepted rather than merely spoken of.

The illusion that we are separated one from the other is a cultivated one, proposed by those who want power, encouraged by those who are greedy, and fertilized by our easily manipulated fears of that which is is different from ourselves. Our proclivity to regret past mistakes or to worry about future circumstances, negates much of the enjoyment of many people for living right now, in these present moments.

Meditation and practiced contemplation are methods for any person to see themselves as part of a much larger and encompassing unity of all things. We are not separate from each other; we are each part of the other.

“Call Me By My True Names” by Thich Nhat Hanh, 1989

Don’t say that I will depart tomorrow —

even today I am still arriving.

Look deeply: every second I am arriving

to be a bud on a Spring branch,

to be a tiny bird, with still-fragile wings,

learning to sing in my new nest,

to be a caterpillar in the heart of a flower,

to be a jewel hiding itself in a stone.

I still arrive, in order to laugh and to cry,

to fear and to hope.

The rhythm of my heart is the birth and death

of all that is alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing

on the surface of the river.

And I am the bird

that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily

in the clear water of a pond.

And I am the grass-snake

that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,

my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.

And I am the arms merchant,

selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,

refugee on a small boat,

who throws herself into the ocean

after being raped by a sea pirate.

And I am the pirate,

my heart not yet capable

of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,

with plenty of power in my hands.

And I am the man who has to pay

his “debt of blood” to my people

dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

My joy is like Spring, so warm

it makes flowers bloom all over the Earth.

My pain is like a river of tears,

so vast it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,

so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,

so I can wake up,

and so the door of my heart

can be left open,

the door of compassion.

Share your compassion now, in this moment, with Thich Nhat Hanh. The world is better because of his presence in it. That is because he has taught so many others the same thing about themselves.

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