When I ask: “Do you have a home yet?” you might say: “Not yet. But with this teaching and this practice I see that I can have a home.” It’s true. The teaching of the Buddha is the teaching of dwelling peacefully and joyfully in the present moment. If we know how to come back to the present moment and generate the energy of mindfulness, concentration, and insight, we will be in touch with the wonders of life. We will have happiness immediately. We will have insights. We will no longer discriminate or be narrow-minded. We can open our arms to embrace all species, all peoples, and we have no enemies. To have no enemies is a wonderful thing. When we have no enemy, no reproach, no blaming, then our mind is light like a cloud. I have no discrimination or hatred, so my mind is light and I have great happiness. I want you to be able to practice like that so that you have your true home, so that you do not accuse and judge the people who have caused you suffering. Do not look at them as your enemies, but see them as people who need understanding and compassion so that you can help them. That is the bodhisattva’s way of looking.
We can all have this way of looking. To call ourselves children of the Buddha, we need to have the eyes of the Buddha, the eyes of compassion, the eyes of love. “Looking at life with the eyes of compassion” is a phrase from the Lotus Sutra. We use the eyes of compassion to look at all people and see that they are all our loved ones. We can help Saddam Hussein, Osama bin Laden, anyone. Nobody is our enemy.
What is Your True Name?
Now I want to ask you a second question: “What is your true name?” What name do you feel most comfortable with, most happy with? What are your true names? I have written a poem on this contemplation called “Please Call Me by My True Names.”
This poem was based on a real event. There was an eleven year-old girl escaping from Vietnam with her family. She was raped by a pirate, right on her boat. Her father tried to intervene, but the pirate threw her father into the sea. After the child was raped she jumped into the ocean to commit suicide. We received the news of this event one day in our Buddhist Association office in Paris . It was so upsetting to me that it kept me from sleeping; I felt anger, blame, and despair. But if we are practitioners we cannot let blame and despair drown us; we have to practice walking meditation, sitting meditation, mindful breathing, and deep looking.
That evening in sitting meditation I saw myself being born as a baby boy into a very poor fishing family on the coast of Thailand . My father was a fisherman, as had been his father and grandfather. He had never gone to the temple, he had never received any Buddhist teaching or any education. The politicians, educators, and social workers in Thailand never helped my father. My mother was also illiterate, and she did not know how to raise children. When I turned thirteen I became a fisherman. I had never gone to school, I had never heard of the Buddhadharma, I had never felt loved or understood, and I lived in a chronic poverty which had persisted from one generation to the next.
Then one day another young fisherman said to me: “Let’s go out onto the ocean. There are boat people that pass near here and they often carry gold and jewelry, sometimes even money. Just one trip and we can be free from this poverty.” So I accepted the invitation. I thought: we only need to take away a little bit of their jewelry, it won’t do any harm, and then we can be free from this poverty. The first time I went out I did not even know that I had become a pirate. But once out on the ocean, I saw the other pirates raping young women on the boats. I had never touched a young woman, I had never even thought about holding hands or going out with a young woman. But on the boat there was a very beautiful young woman, and there was no policeman to forbid me, and I saw other people doing it, and I asked myself: “Why shouldn’t I try it too? This may be my chance to try the body of a young woman.” So I did it.
If you were there on the boat and you had a gun, you could have shot me, but that would not have helped me. I needed to be taught how to love, how to understand, how to see the suffering of others. I needed to be taught what was wholesome and what was unwholesome, and how to understand cause and effect. I was living in the dark.
As I continued sitting. I saw hundreds of babies being born that night along the coast of Thailand under the same circumstances, many of them baby boys. If the politicians and cultural ministers could look deeply, they would see that within twenty years those babies would become pirates. When I was able to see that, I understood. When I put myself in the situation of being born in a family that was uneducated and poor from one generation to the next, I saw that I would not be able to avoid becoming a pirate. When I saw that, my hatred, my resentment, my reproach vanished, and I felt that I could love that pirate.
When I saw those babies being born and growing up with no help, I knew that I had to do something so that they would not become pirates. The energy of a bodhisattva arose in my mind, the energy of love. I did not suffer anymore, but I had a lot of compassion and I could embrace not only the eleven-year old child who was raped, but also the pirate.
When you address me as “Venerable Nhat Hanh,” I answer, “yes,” but when you call the name of the child who was raped, I also answer, “yes.” And if you call the name of the pirate, I would also answer, “yes.” Because they are also me. If I had been born in that area under those circumstances I would also have become the pirate. And so I could embrace both of them, in order to help not only that young girl but also the pirate. I am the child in Uganda all skin and bones, my two legs as thin as bamboo sticks. And I am also the arms merchant, selling deadly weapons to Uganda . Those poor children in Uganda do not need bombs, they need food to eat. But here in America I live by producing bombs and guns, and if we want others to buy guns and bombs we have to create wars. If you call the name of the child in Uganda , I answer, “yes.” And if you call the name of those who produce the bombs and guns I also answer, “yes.” When I am able to see that I am those people, my hatred is gone and I am determined to live in a way that I can help the victims, and I can also help those who create the wars and destruction..... continued
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