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.

a thich-nhat-hanh-01

When Religion Becomes Evil

When Religion Becomes Evil, Charles Kimball, Harper-Collins, 2002

This is a very brief summary of the book which highlights the five common characteristics of many religions throughout history which have descended into evil- coercing, treacherous, murderous evil. Kimball does not focus on a particular religion, but includes examples of many. He does suggest that evil can first be spotted by, and the andidotes to evil can best be offered by the Mystery, or Wisdom traditions within each religion.

I’m listing the five characteristics here as food for constructive thought. Were someone to use the single religion they are most familiar with as their only example of evil (or good), or exclude the religion they might be most comfortable with or least comfortable with, as the characteristics are discussed, it would be to perpetuate another brand of chauvinistic evil which elevates the merits or demerits of any religion above (or below) those of another.

Interestingly, just as the characteristics are similar in every religion descending into evil, so are the solutions. It appears that evils within Islam, for instance, could readily be identified and respectfully helped to change by the Zen Buddhist. The evils that manifest within some organized Christian groups, again- for instance, would be able to be perceived by Sufi Muslims, and solutions to that waywardness could also be offered by those same Sufis (or Jewish kabbalists, or Christians of the Mystical traditions, or Zen Buddhists, etc.).

Kimball’s five evil-indicating characteristics are:

1. The religion makes claims of absolute truth. When a religion stops “seeking truth” because it has “found truth,” all there is left to do is build real and metaphorical fortresses around that truth to defend it. Because that truth, they know, will be attacked literally- with drones or suicide bombers, or with laws, doctrines, and rewritten history. Or it will be subverted by “un-truths” like those perpetuated by Galileo, Darwin, or Nietzsche.

aaaatruth

2. The religion demands blind obedience (to a charismatic leader or a set of doctrines).

aaaablindleader1

3. It establishes an Ideal Time. Beware any religion that speaks of ‘glory days’ that can be ‘brought back’ if only enough people can be made to believe our way. The reign of King David, or A Christian America, or the days of Shan-gri-la, or that time before The Great Satan appeared: all are ideal fantasies which are loaded with contradictions to that ideal time’s claimed perfections.

aaaagolden_age

4. The ends justify any means. From ricin gas let loose in a Japanese subway, to Zyklon B gas blown into Nazi extermination chambers, to invocation of gods with the removed and bleeding hearts of virgins, the ends (good crops, democracy, the Kingdom of God on earth, etc.) are much more important than the means used to achieve them.

aaaaLiars4Jesus

 
5. Religions descending into evil tend to declare Holy War, often. They declare it on aboriginal settlers like Native Americans, Palestinians, or African tribesmen. They declare war (after war) on the Great Satan, the evils of ________ (pick one), or racial impurity. A religion that is both in denial about its true nature, but has political power, is one of history’s most dangerous entities.

aaaaholy-war

And a religion which is on its course toward evil, will almost always identify and kill those prophets who try to point that out. Isaiah, Amos, Jesus, Gandhi, King: the prophets, the good-inspired finger pointers, rarely make it to the end of their intended days.

Please Call by My True Names

(This is one of the first pieces by Thich Nhat Hanh that I copied and saved. I wondered at the time (about 10 years ago) if this was a poem Jesus could have written. Now I know the answer. I probably knew the answer then, too.- David)

Please Call Me by My True Names

by Thich Nhat Hanh

Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Nhat Hanh poetry, Buddhist, Buddhist poetry, Zen / Chan poetry, [TRADITION SUB2] poetry,  poetry

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.

1989

Why I Think Religion Is A Bad Bad Thing..

Two news items today form an envelope around the many, many reasons why religion should be scoffed at, run from, and seen for the parasitic phenomenon that is:

Priests brawl at Bethlehem. Read it; Armenian and Greek Orthodox were swinging mop handles and fists at each other yesterday, over whose ladder was resting on whose part of the Bethlehem stable floor.

When my brother and I were kids, in the back seat of Dad’s ’53 Chevy, we would fight over exactly the same thing: Space. We’d draw imaginary lines down the middle of the seat then we’d each push on that imaginary line by leaning toward it, edging comic books to the edge of it, or intentionally putting a knuckle’s-worth of finger on the other side of it.

“Mommy, Denny’s not staying on his side!”

“Daddy, make Dave stop!”

Later on, at some point in the post-toddler, pre-pubescent years, we stopped that particular type of spatial competition. Apparently, there are priests who have never been out of the back seat. They like it there so much, in fact, that they won’t even give up their seats to Jesus.

Benizir Bhutto killed in attack. Even Allah is not allowed to be powerful enough to fight Islamic factionalism. Muhammed (blessed be his name, as I spit on the ego-driven doctrines of some of his so-called followers) unified the various warring tribes of Arabia. But then, just as happened with the Jesus movement, the institutionalists moved in and a religion developed to protect, preserve, and defend the rules and regulations that his early followers devised to protect, preserve, and defend their positions of power.

Now, one of the symbolic personages of Muhammed’s original intentions of unification has been killed by one who was more comfortable following human egos in the name of his religion, than he was in following Allah or the prophet.

There are many more such stories in the naked city of rotten religious relics: like this, this, and this.

As a follower of Jesus, and as one who respects the genuine unifying motivations of Muhammed, the Buddha, and other spiritual leaders, I’m not left with much choice: I must do what I can to eradicate forever the imaginary lines drawn by self-centered children riding in the back seat of the Planet.

If we’re not successful doing that- you and me, and soon- then we are bound for a stupefying crash.

Build a Shelter of Light and Air..

I ran across this phrase, and it fascinates me:

shelter light and air

It is fascinating to me because of its Simplicity and Truth. And that Simplicity and Truth is found not only in the images or recollections which the phrase gives rise to in our imaginations or memories; it is the clean nature of the statement itself.

Build a shelter of light and air

Stated in the imperative, it is like a command that has been waiting to be spoken. It is a place which I am perceived to be ready for now- by whom?- and being invited to enter. But first- the imperative- there is work to be done, assembly to be undertaken.

The first task, for me, is disassociation from those things- things, stuff, material- that I have allowed to define me and, in the process, bend me. Because that is what stuff does, it bends the shape of the Image of God, the humanity in us, into the shape of whatever shiny baubles attract us. I have learned to feel my way in the dark with my wallet. I breathe in the smog of others’ desires for me to have the satisfaction that only they can sell to me. I am vulnerable and I have been injured, over and over, because I have traded too many times the security I was born with- the security of community with others- for the individual and illusory safety of bank account numbers and one more gadget.

I have forgotten so much about sharing. But I have remembered enough to know that holding my hands outward, toward others, is eminently more rewarding than holding them clenched and thrust within my pockets. I want to make room for the Image of God to be growing again, through the presence of others, and not stunted any longer through the weight of all my stuff. So it begins there.

The second task is to “let there be light.” Yes, that Light. The Light that comes not from the sun, and certainly not from any incandescent or fluorescent light bulbs; I want more of the Light the ancient rabbis called First Understanding. I want the Light of more Knowledge, yes, but even more than that, I want the Light of Appreciation and Acceptance of what I already do know. I want to spend less and less time criticizing, evaluating, deciding, and then second-guessing, than I do in feeling passionately about and cultivating the facts, ideas, and opinions that are already in me and that I know to be valuable. I want to continue moving from whatever is dark in me, toward that which is Light, and awaits me.

And then, to breathe. I want to breathe through walls which separate me from the pulse of the world around me. I want the Air, the lightness of being which surrounds us all, to be the only barrier between myself and others. I do not want to fight for air behind musty walls of tradition, or within stale spaces of ancient standards. I no longer want to gasp for air within the stench of dogmatic death.

I want to feel the ruach, the breath of God, always blowing against me, always being drawn into my being. I want to feel led by the Spirit into open spaces, and not pushed by the status quo against the brick walls of fear built by others.

I want to build a structure of Light and Air with others, for others, because of others, and live there, too.

That is the only structure, a structure of Understanding and Freedom, that will withstand the onslaught of those who live, instead, in forts, ready to fight and die for the beliefs they cherish and store within dark, thick, impermeable walls. It is the Structure of Light and of Air in which I will live and toward which I am moving.

I beg you to come along. We will need each other, to help each other disassemble, unpack, and even tear down some of what we thought, by ourselves, was precious. We will need each other to remind the other that the Light is sometimes uncomfortable but always illuminating, and that the Air is often harsh and cold, even as it is life-giving and clean.

We will build a structure of Light and of Air and we will say, “Welcome” to all who come nearby.

from Miranda’s blog, “My Brother Is Dead”

“I know, I know. I’m a depressed bitch. But I bring this up only to help. Because the thing I’m coming to realize, the thing that’s really amazing, is not that we all have our crosses to bear. It’s that we’re able to bear them. The world is so much more horrible than we ever could have guessed at age 5, 15, 25, but what makes us as humans so miraculous, so capable, so strong, is that we can handle the horror. We can deal with the very thing we’re terrified of. That which doesn’t kill us, we can live with. I’m not sure how, except that it has to do with evolution, religion, and anti-depressants.
“And hope. Our capacity for suffering may be outweighed only by our capacity to imagine what it’s like not to suffer.”

Go. Read the rest of it here.