Thích Nhất Hạnh on Dr. King’s Day

Venerable Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh

I’ve turned to Thich Nhat Hanh, known as Thây (Vietnamese for “teacher” and pronounced “tie”) by students, is a Buddhist monk, poet, peace and human rights activist from Vietnam whom I had first been introduced to in 1995.  Thây is a practitioner of vipassana, a Buddhist form of meditation known as “mindfulness,” the original, old school more powerful Power of Now.  The key teaching of vipassana is that we can learn to live in the present, not dwell or hang onto the past or worry about the future, for that is the only place where we can develop real peace within and in the world.  Not surprisingly, Thây’s main focus throughout his works is releasing anger — the opposite of peace and most people’s biggest obstacle to peace inside or out.

Born in 1926, by 16 Thây was already an initiated monk.  When his country was devastated during the Vietnam War, rather than live in a monastery, he chose “engaged Buddhism” by aiding villagers where he saw war’s unspeakable atrocities. If anyone had a reason to be angry and hateful, it was him. But instead,Thây chose to dedicate his life on peace, and connected to that, how to release one’s self from anger.  He was exiled from Vietnam after a 1966 worldwide peace mission after which he found the Plum Village, a Buddhist community in southern France.  After persuading Dr. Martin Luther King to publicly protest the Vietnam War, Dr. King nominated him for the Peace Prize in 1967.

Now why am I talking about him instead of Dr. King on a day celebrating Martin Luther King, Jr? First, Dr. King drew inspiration from people like Thây, Gandhi, and Nelson Mandela. The common string unifying them: they all had bad tempers at one point. Their words could’ve guided a great many people into divisiveness and hatred but instead they unified.

Second, it is not liberal or even political much less easy to choose kindnesss.  It is often the courageous path. Hating, spreading viciousness so others or you yourself may feel better rather than looking at yourself, hanging onto past wounds and hurts are easier than forgiving or reconciling.

Between conservative talk show hosts and politicians, such as Pat Robertson’s remark about Haiti or Rush Limbaugh’s remark on President Obama in regards to Haiti, the world needs kinder words of practical peace.  From little things, like the increasing lack of manners that make everyone madder in everyday interactions, to more technology alienating us into cyber communications rather than real ones to the obvious things, like wars in every continent, we need living words of peace. We can’t pay homage to Dr. King, we must live his example.

One of my own internal intentions has been to release anger.  it won’t solve a war but the world is made up of individuals — meaning, we are the sum of our parts. Nothing in particular is making me angry but urban living — damn bus! damn traffic! — constant pressures — detox! tone up! make more!  — and the usual broken record of our own personal issues that follow us. In modern urban living, anger can’t but help build up if you’re not paying attention. And I hadn’t been. Until 14 pointed out that I was quick to anger these days.  Like most partners, he gets the brunt of it so that I can be my wonderful angelic self to the public.

Well, if anything, I wanted to be more angelic to him than people who deserve it — eventual goal is angerlessness to everyone but producers and Muni drivers may take longer. Plus, there is a calm productive way of releasing anger but that’s another post.

I nearly had an aneurism trying to figure out how to release my anger — for this is the kind that if it is to be expressed, must be done with great care and compassion, which is where I am most definitely not at. Intellectually I know the reasons, most people outside of traumatic situations do know, and also know what should be done — just emotionally it can’t be processed. The entire Bhagavad Gita is because Arjun couldn’t process: I know what is wrong and yet I do it, he tells Krishna. Yeah, you and everyone else. Admit, seek help and whatever else I’m unsure of in this world, one thing that has been proven like a geometry proof time and again is that help will surely come.

This time, help came in the form of a friend mentioning Thây’s book. Here I was, previously a devoted student, a religion major, and I forgot. That’s one of the keys to suffering: you’re so wrapped up in yourself, you forget that we’re interconnected. You don’t see the easiest solutions are sometimes right in front of you.

So I downloaded Zen Master Thây’s audiobook, “The Art of Mindfulness,” which gives clear step-by-step exercises on mindfulness and even has a section devoted to releasing anger. I’m not there yet. But I’ve started!

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