EarthSaint Thich Nhat Hanh

introduced by Joanna Macy
Issue #26, Summer 1997, p 16-17

Vietnamese Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh is one of the most beloved Buddhist teachers in the West, a rare combination of mystic, poet, scholar, and activist.  His luminous presence and the simple, compassionate clarity of his writings have touched countless lives.  Free of dogma, he shows us how attentive, respectful mindfulness can heal our souls and our world, and bring us home, in joy, to the living body of Earth and kinship with all beings.
In 1967 Thich Nhat Hanh was nominated by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for the Nobel Peace Prize.  His valiant work during the Vietnam War, helping victims on both sides of the conflict and his chairing of the Vietnamese Buddhist Peace Delegation, had inspired me long before I met him at the United Nations Special Session on Disarmament in 1982.  There, at a forum of religious leaders that resounded with moral pronouncements, he entered quietly, moved to the dias with no prepared speech in his hand.
"I haven't much to say," he said, "but on my way here I wrote a poem."  From the pocket of his brown monk's coat he took a crumpled paper, and read aloud the verses printed below, "Please Call Me By My True Names" -- and then he sat down.
Based in Plum Village in southern France, Thich Nhat Hanh's ministry to our troubled world has continued to grow. Among his many books, The Miracle of Mindfulness, The Sun My Heart,and Living Buddha, Living Christ are already spiritual classics.
He also brings us his personal presence, traveling widely in Europe, Asia and North America, where he has helped many Vietnam veterans heal their psychic wounds. His lay Order of Interbeing offers support for a life of responsible, nonviolent service to the healing of our world. 

Please Call Me By My True Names
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 a mayfly metamorphosing 
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird 
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.
I am a 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 a 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.
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 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 the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

Joanna Macy is a Buddhist scholar, deep ecologist, teacher, and activist whose books include World as Lover, World as Self, and Despair and Personal Empowerment in the Nuclear Age.

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