For a GDI feminist it often surprises me how many heroes I cherish, and even more how many of them are men. I guess it just goes to show that none of us are as simple as we might seem to be on first glance. So this week I am celebrating my hero Thich Nhat Hanh.
Brother Thay, as he is called by his students, Thay means teacher in Vietnamese, was born in Vietnam in 1926. He became a novice monk when he was sixteen. When the war began in Vietnam, monks and nuns had to decide if they would remain within their cloisters and continue to practice contemplation or if they would move outside their walls of protection and help those who were suffering the effects of the war and the bombings. Brother Thay committed to doing both and he founded the Engaged Buddhism movement, a practice that he continues to this day working to bring the benefits of inner transformation to individuals and to society.
In the 1960’s Brother Thay founded the School of Youth and Social Services, a grass roots relief organization of volunteers based on the Buddhis principles of non-violence and compassionate action.
In the 1960’s he traveled the world to make the case for peace, working to end the fighting in Vietnam. Because of his actions inciting compassion and peace, both North and South Vietnam denied him the right to return to Vietnam, and so he began life as an exile from the country that was his home, from the land that he loved. And exile that lasted for 39 years. During his exile he continued to travel and work to bring an end to the war. He led the Buddhist delegation to the Paris Peace Talks in 1969.
Brother Thay also continued to teach, lecture and write on the art of mindfulness and on living peace. In 1975 he established a community in France that came to be known as Plum Village. Plum Village flourishes today, with a community of resident monastics and with visitors from around the world who come to learn the art of mindful living, to practice living peace.
Thich Nhat Hanh has written dozens of books. They are all wonderful. One of his most recent books is called “how to love.” Here is a quote from that book:
If you pour a handful of salt into a cup of water, the water becomes undrinkable. But if you pour the salt into a river, people can continue to draw the water to cook, wash, and drink. The river is immense, and it has the capacity to receive, embrace, and transform. When our hearts are small, our understanding and compassion are limited, and we suffer. We can’t accept or tolerate others and their shortcomings, and we demand that they change. But when our hearts expand, these same things don’t make us suffer anymore. We have a lot of understanding and compassion and can embrace others. We accept others as they are, and then they have a chance to transform.
And the take away from this for me? Not only do we need to open our hearts to receive love, we need to open our hearts, to have big hearts if we will be lovers.
remember that commandment, the one that says, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ so, the first part of that, the foundation of it is that we should love ourselves. so, have a big, expansive, forgiving heart for yourself AND for others.
simple, yes? so let’s go practice!