When people call us African-Americans, we answer, “yes.” When they call us Africans we answer, “yes.” When they call us Americans, we also answer, “yes.” When people call the names of those who are discriminated against, we answer, “yes.” And when they call the names of those who discriminate, we also answer, “yes”—because all of them are us. Within us are the victims and the perpetrators of discrimination. When we know that we are all victims of ignorance, violence, and hatred, then can we love ourselves and others. We have to practice in such a way that we free ourselves from thinking and feeling that injustice has been done to us, that we are inferior, that we are without value. The teaching of the Buddha can help us to attain the wisdom of nondiscrimination that can free us from our inferiority complex. Only when we are free can we help others in the same situation, as well as those who discriminate and exploit. We do not look at them as our enemies anymore, but we see that they need our help because they are also victims of ignorance and of the narrow-minded aspects of their traditions.
In 1966 I gave a Dharma talk at a church in Minneapolis , and afterward I was very tired. I walked slowly in meditation back to my room so I could enjoy the cold, fragrant night air and be nourished and healed. While I was walking, taking each step in freedom, a car came up from behind and, braking loudly, stopped very close to me. The driver opened the door, looked at me and shouted: “This is America , this is not China .” Then he drove away. Maybe he had thought, “This is a Chinese person who dares to walk in freedom in America ,” and he could not bear it. “This is America , only white people can live here. And Chinese people, how dare you come here and how dare you walk with such freedom? You have no right to walk in this way.” That is discrimination against nationality, against race. But I was not angry – that was the good thing about it—I thought it was funny. I thought: “If he would just pause for a moment, I would tell him, “I agree with you one hundred percent –– this is America , this is not China –– why do you have to shout at me?”
We know that the seed of discrimination lies in all of us. Once in New York a black woman shouted at me, even though I am also a person of color—only a different color from her. But because I wore a brown robe and I walked in freedom, she could not bear it. So don’t say it is only white people who discriminate. The oppressed and the oppressors are inside all of us, and our practice is to attain the wisdom of nondiscrimination.
So when somebody calls me Nhat Hanh, I answer, “yes;” when you call me Bush, I answer, “yes”—because Bush is also my name. If you call me Saddam Hussein I will answer, “yes”—because I am all of them. I don’t want Mr. Bush to suffer; I don’t want Saddam Hussein to suffer. I want everyone to be happy and free because they are my beloved ones. Right now, living the life of a bodhisattva, I have no enemies because I have no discrimination.
I want all the practitioners who come to Deer Park to practice so you can have this mind of nondiscrimination, so you can rebuild your life and become free. In this way you can help young people, whatever their color, to reach this freedom. Then they will be able to help build their community, and help everyone around them.
Who amongst us has a true home? Who feels comfortable in their country?
In my true home there is no discrimination, no hatred, because I have the desire and the capacity to embrace everyone of every race, and I have the aspiration, the dream to love and help all peoples and all species.
I have happiness, and I want all of my friends, students, and disciples to be able to reach your true home and stop trying to find it in space, time, culture, territory, nationality, or race.
To be civilized means to be open-minded, to offer space to others to live according to their views.
There is no hatred in my true home; therefore I have happiness. Even though there is discrimination, violence, and craving in life, I use these things as nourishment for my practice.
We have to practice in such a way that we free ourselves from thinking and feeling that injustice has been done to us, that we are inferior, that we are without value.
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 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 also 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 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.
Thich Nhat Hanh