be in our Hearts
by Rev. Beth
Miller Unitarian Minister, Halifax,
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Note: As we embrace the New Year, we thought it appropriate to
share the message of Peace from Rev. Beth's Remembrance Day Sermon,
Nov. 12, 1995.
was Remembrance Day, a day set aside to remember and honour those
who fought and died in war to preserve freedom in the world. But
as we remember, it is even more important to contemplate peace
and how we can each be agents of peace. "Make peace a lifestyle,
not just an issue," says Edwin Epp. I have no idea who Edwin
Epp is or was, but his sentiment rings true to me.
also rings true to the Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh, whose entire
life is devoted to helping people learn to make peace a lifestyle
and not just an issue. He believes that without peace deep in
our hearts, we cannot be effective in helping to create peace
in our world. So on this Remembrance Day Sunday, I offer you his
wisdom on bringing peace into our hearts.
Nbat Hanh was born in Vietnam in 1926 and became a Zen monk as
a teenager. During the Vietnam war, he founded the School of Youth
for Social Service, Van Hanh Buddhist University, and the Tiep
Hein Order of Zen Buddhism, and became chairman of the Vietnamese
Buddhist Peace Delegation. His order was fiercely neutral during
the war, devoting themselves to reconciliation and to helping
victims, regardless of their political persuasion. In 1966, he
was invited by the Fellowship of Reconciliation to tour the United
States to talk about the enormous suffering of the Vietnamese
people. Because of his neutrality and his outspoken frankness
during that tour, he was unable to return to Vietnam, and was
granted asylum in France where he has lived ever since as head
of a group of meditators and peace activists.
the end of the war, Nhat Hanh and his fellow monks tried to find
legal ways to send funds to Vietnam to help feed hungry children,
but his efforts were thwarted. Then they went to Malaysia and
Singapore and tried to ensure the safety of boat people trying
to cross the Gulf of Siam, but various governments thwarted those
efforts as well. At that point, uncertain as to how to proceed,
Thich Nhat Hanh went into a period of retreat and spent five years
at his hermitage in France meditating, writing, gardening, and
only occasionally seeing visitors. Then in 1982 he was invited
to speak at a peace conference in New York. There he became aware
of the growing interest among North Americans in Buddhist meditation
and agreed to return the next year to lead retreats on Buddhism
and peace work. He has returned each year since then, but he still
lives in France where he writes, teaches, and helps refugees.
Peace" is the title of the book I'm drawing from this morning
It is a compilation of talks Thich Nhat Hanh gave to peace workers
and meditation students during a tour in 1985. He talks in Buddhist
metaphors, primarily to Buddhist students. I believe that, with
regard to bringing peace into our hearts and to making peace a
lifestyle, what he says is just as applicable to Unitarian Universalists,
or to anyone for that matter. He says, quoting the ancient Bodhisattvas,
that Buddhist meditation is only a finger pointing at the moon,
it isn't the moon itself, it is only a path to being peace, it
isn't being peace itself. There are many paths, so whether Zen
Buddhism holds any sway with you or not, listen to the wisdom
Thich Nhat Hanh has found along his path. I'm going to speak of
it in more universal terms than he normally uses, and I'm not
going to continually credit him, but know that it is Thich Nhat
Hanh's wisdom I share this morning and not my own.
is filled with suffering, but it is also filled with many wonders.
If we are only filled with the suffering and not in touch with
the wonders of the world, with beauty, happiness and peace, we
cannot share those wonders with others. Wherever we are, whatever
we are doing, even as we are dealing with sorrow and suffering,
we have the capacity to notice, appreciate, and enjoy those wonders.
It is a pity if we are only aware of suffering, our own or that
point of spiritual practice, be it meditation or prayer or yoga
or simply a daily time of quiet reflection, is to help ourselves
learn to be aware of the wonders of life, to remind ourselves
to relax, to be peaceful, to smile.
you ever noticed how contagious a smile is? When someone smiles,
we feel better. This is a gift we can all give to ourselves and
one another. Thich Nbat Hanh tells of a time when he was sitting
with a group of children and one boy, Tim, was smiling beautifully.
He said, "Tim, you have a very beautiful smile." Tim
said, "thank you." He said, "You don't have to
thank me, I have to thank you. Because of your smile, you make
my life more beautiful. Instead of saying ‘Thank you' you
should say ‘You're welcome.'"
we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, everyone around
us will benefit from it. This, he says, is the most basic kind
of peace work. He offers four little lines you can recite at any
time to help you be peaceful. Close your eyes, if you are comfortable,
and try it with me now:
in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
in, I calm my body". Feel the freshness of this. Feel your
breath actually calm you body, calm your mind.
out, I smile." A smile can relax hundreds of tiny muscles
in your face and relax your whole nervous system.
in the present moment..." don't think of somewhere else,
of the past or the future. Too much of our lives is taken up with
resentments or hurts or regrets that belong to the past. Even
more is taken up with living in the future. We tend to say, "wait
until I finish school and get my degree, then I'll be truly alive."
But then it's the job or the car or the house or having children
or when the children are grown or when our parents no longer need
us or until we retire. We tend to postpone being fully alive until
some future goal is met but now is the moment to be fully alive.
Otherwise, we may never be fully alive at all in our entire life.
Dwell, be, here and now, in the present moment.
know this is a wonderful moment." This is the only moment
that is real. Let it simply be a wonderful moment. Enjoying this
moment is our most important task right now.
in, I calm my body.
Breathing out I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
though life is hard and it is sometimes quite difficult to smile,
we have to try if we are to bring peace into our hearts. We become
what we concentrate on, what we give our psychic energy to. If
we are filled with sorrow, we can simply be sorrow. Or, we can
smile to our sorrow and know that we are much more than our sorrow.
We are kind of like a TV satellite dish, capable of receiving
hundreds of channels. What we choose to tune in to is what we
become. Spiritual practices, self-help groups, therapy, and hopefully
church, can help us to tune in to the life affirming, self-strengthening,
peace making channels within us.
even though you are all relaxed, don't doze off or tune out just
now because if you do, you'll think that all I said this morning
was relax, smile, and live in the present moment. Don't worry,
be happy, as the title of a reggae song says. That's very important,
but it isn't enough. Taken by itself, living in the present moment
and smiling a lot doesn't lead to very much depth, and doesn't
contribute much to the world beyond the fleeting warmth of the
smile. In fact, it can be down right irritating to those around
us. What we're talking about here is developing a peace-filled
self that goes beyond "don't worry - be happy" to inspire
and spread peace in our troubled world.
Nhat Hanh talks about the three gems of Buddhism: awakening, growing
in love and understanding, and building communities of harmony
and awareness. There are parallels in other religious thought
and in secular wisdom. What does it mean to be awake? To grow
in love and understanding" And to create communities of harmony
and awareness? All three are intertwined, and to make clear distinctions
between them is somewhat artificial, but our minds and our language
work in categories.
awake is being in touch with the reality that includes, but is
larger than, one's own life. In part, that has to do with things
just being as they are, and how we see those things being our
own human judgements about them. It also has to do with perception
and with putting our feelings in a larger context. In Unitarian
Universalism, we talk about the interconnected web of all existence
of which we are a part. Thich Nhat Hanh talk about Buddha nature.
In both cases, it is the idea that we are one with all of life,
and that that has implications for how we live. To be awake is
to realize understanding, love and compassion. To realize - to
make real in the world through our living and our being. To allow
understanding, love and compassion to live and breathe through
us. To actualize them rather than only hold them as mental concepts.
be awake, to comprehend something, we have to become one with
it. Our word, comprehend, is like the French word, comprendre,
which means to know or to understand. ‘Com' means to be
one, to be together. ‘Prendre' means to take or to grasp.
To really comprehend something is to take that thing up and to
be one with it. Thich Nhat Hanh talks about working with a committee
for orphans from the war in Vietnam. From Vietnam, they would
send out an application for each child, one sheet of paper with
a small picture in one corner and the name, age, and condition
of the child. The committee would translate each application into
French, English, Dutch or German in order to seek sponsors so
that the child would have food to eat and books for school and
maybe even funds to place him or her with a family. Each day,
he would translate about thirty applications into French. He approached
this by simply looking at the picture of the child, not reading
the application, but looking at the child for a minute or two.
He says that when he picked up his pen to translate, it was not
him translating, but he and the child together. He became one
with the child and together, they wrote the application.
I don't know if Thich Naht Hanh's translations were superior to
those of people who simply translated the words. But doesn't it
seem somehow extraordinary to you? It may or may not have made
much difference in the sponsorship the children received, but
I can't help but believe that approaching the task with such awareness
somehow increased the sum of love in the world. And it increased
Thich Nhat Hanh's own awakeness which in turn helps him to increase
the awakeness of those he meets and teaches which also impacts
those with whom they come into contact. Practicing such comprehension,
such taking on and becoming one with, is a benefit to the whole
are many ways to awaken to our interconnectedness. Consider planting
a garden. These particular plants are depending upon you to plant
them. They will live or die because of the earth. The earth is
also depending upon the plants to make it fertile because when
they die and decompose, they makes the soil richer. We, too, are
dependent upon the earth to feed the vegetables we grow, and upon
the vegetables to feed us. We are interconnected and interdependent.
Planting a garden has a different quality when we comprehend,
take on and become one with, the plants and the earth. We can
eat the vegetables anyway, but we bring more love into the world
with our comprehension.
things are one with all other things. With the awakened eye, you
can see clearly a cloud floating in a sheet of paper. Without
a cloud, there would be no water; without water, the trees cannot
grow and without trees you cannot make paper. So, the cloud is
here. There are many other things in this paper, too. Sunshine
is here because the forest cannot grow without sunshine. Neither
can we humans grow without sunshine. The logger who cut the tree
needs sunshine and the tree needs sunshine, so the logger and
the sunshine are in this paper, too. If you look very closely,
you can also see the wheat that became the bread for the logger
here. You can see his father and mother. Look even more closely
and you can see everything in this sheet of paper. Without all
of these elements, this paper is empty - it is empty of a separate
self. But it is full of everything - it is full of the entire
too, are empty of a separate self - but you are full of the cosmos.
How you experience that cosmos depends upon what you do with your
feelings and your perceptions. Whether our feelings are pleasant,
unpleasant, or neutral depends in large part upon our perceptions.
With understanding, we can develop more love, and with love we
can transform unpleasant feelings into pleasant ones.
boy wakes up one morning and sees that it is already quite late.
He goes into his sister's room to wake her up so she will have
enough time for breakfast before going to school. He wakes her
pleasantly enough, but she is grumpy and instead of saying "thank
you for waking me up," she says, "Shut up! Get out of
here and leave me alone," and kicks him. He will probably
get angry. He thinks, "Why did she kick me? I woke her up
nicely." He may go to the kitchen and tell his mom about
it. He may kick her back. But then he remembers that during the
night, his sister coughed a lot. He decides she must be sick.
Maybe she is getting a cold and that's why she behaved so meanly.
He is not angry anymore. Instead of telling his mom how mean she
was, he asks her to go check on his sister. At that moment, he
understands, and he reacts with love. When we understand, we love.
And when we love, we naturally act in ways that can relieve the
suffering of others. It is so much easier to get caught up in
our own feelings, in our own reactions to the negativity of others.
But it is an act of peacemaking to try to understand. To develop
understanding, we must practice looking at things with the eyes
of compassion. Sometimes we have to just stop for a moment, to
let our negative reaction pass over us, and then enlarge our perception
of what might be going on. We might go back to that simple exercise:
in, I calm my body.
Breathing out, I smile.
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment.
the time to be aware of our oneness, to understand, to love will
bring peace into our hearts and peace into the lives of those
we love. Make peace a lifestyle, not just an issue.
useful and important as it can be to us, sometimes our knowledge
can be an obstacle to our understanding, like a block of ice that
obstructs the flow of a stream. It is said that if we take a thing
to be true and cling to it, even if truth itself comes in person
and knocks on our door, we will refuse to open it. We must be
willing to abandon our perceptions about things to gain understanding.
is a Buddhist story about a young widower. He had a five-year-old
son whom he loved very much. One day when the father was away
on business, bandits came, burned down his whole village, and
took his son away. When the man returned, he saw the ruins and
panicked. He took the charred remains of a child to be his son
and was sick with grief, crying uncontrollably. He cremated the
remains, collected the ashes, and put them in a beautiful velvet
bag. Working, sleeping, eating, he always carried the bag of ashes
day the man's real son escaped from the bandits and found his
way home. He arrived at his father's new cottage at midnight,
and knocked at the door. You can imagine at that time, the young
father was still carrying the bag of ashes, and crying. He asked,
"who is there"" And the child answered, "It
is me, Papa. Open the door." In his state of mind, the father
thought that some mischievous boy was making fun of him, and he
shouted at the child to go away and continued his crying. The
boy knocked again and again, but the father only became more and
more hurt by what he thought was a cruel joke, and refused to
let him in. Some time passed, and finally the child left. The
father and son never saw one another again.
we cling so tightly to what we take to be true, we are not open
to truth. Guarding knowledge is not a good way to find understanding.
Understanding means a willingness to throw away our knowledge.
You must be willing to let go of your views and your knowledge
in order to transcend them and reach understanding.
third gem of Buddhism that Nhat Hanh talks about is building communities
of awareness and harmony. You have many opportunities in your
life to build such communities.
you are with your family and you practice calming yourself, smiling,
living in the moment, being awake, understanding, and loving,
you are building a community of awareness and harmony. Your attitude
is contagious. You teach peace by being peace. When you practice
these things among your friends, at your work place, at your community
organizations, here at church, you are building communities of
awareness and understanding. You make a difference. It is through
you that understanding, love and compassion are realized - made
real in the world.
all may seem very simple and not very effective for bringing about
the kind of world peace we long for. But Thich Naht Hanh and many
other wise people in the world today tell us that until peace
is in our hearts, there will not be peace in the world. We promote
the attitudes that promote war between peoples in so many unconscious
ways in our daily lives. Unconsciously, we practice, and teach
our children, to be afraid of people, to see enemies in strangers.
We compete. We think in dualities - right and wrong, good guys
and bad guys, winners and losers, our side and their side, left
and right. We need to learn understanding, love and compassion
to create a peaceful world.
Naht Hanh talks about his work in Vietnam when he was remaining
neutral and trying to help victims of the war. Many of the monks
in his order were killed by both sides because they were suspected
by each of being on the other side. They tried to understand both
sides and tell their perceptions to both: that the fighting needed
to stop. They sought reconciliation, but both sides sought only
victory. What these monks saw that no one else could see was that
there was suffering being endured on both sides; there were very
real, very human hopes and fears, visions and dream, on both sides.
his peace work, Naht Hanh asks people to do a meditation exercise
to practice being both sides of a thing. Remember, to comprehend
is to take on and become one with. Before the cold war ended,
he once asked an American woman to do this exercise, first being
an American, and then, after some breathing and meditation, to
become a Soviet citizen. She experienced deep fears and longings
for peace in both parts of the exercise.
also talks about letters his Zen center in France receives from
refugee camps in Singapore, Indonesia, Thailand and the Philippines
where the Vietnamese boat people land the approximately fifty
percent that make it across the Gulf of Siam. Many of the young
girls among the boat people are raped by sea pirates. One letter
told of a twelve year old girl who was raped by a Thai pirate
and jumped in the ocean and drowned herself
he first learned of this, he was angry. It was natural to take
the side of the little girl and want to kill the pirate. But in
meditation he realized that had he been born in the village of
the pirate and raised in the same conditions, he might have become
the pirate. He saw that there are hundreds of babies born each
day along the Gulf of Siam, and if we, the rest of the world,
don't do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a
number of them will become sea pirates. If any one of us were
born today in one of those fishing villages, we might become sea
pirates. To kill the pirate who raped the child is in some way
to kill us all because we could all be that pirate. Condemning
the pirate is too easy an answer, an answer that leads to more
killing and away from peace.
is a Zen story about a man riding a horse which is galloping very
quickly. Another man, standing alongside the road, yells at him,
"Where are you going?" The man on the horse yells back,
"I don't know, ask the horse." This is the situation
we face. Our world is riding many horses we cannot control.
are many things we can do to begin to get these horses under some
kind of control, but we must begin with ourselves. If we could
just learn, person by person, to be awake, to understand and love,
to build small communities of awareness and harmony, to make peace
a lifestyle and not just an issue, we might begin to create a
peaceful world. It may take a long time before enough people learn
to change the world, but we must begin. And in the meantime, the
enriched quality of our own lives is enough reward for our efforts.
this Remembrance Day weekend and always, may peace be in our hearts.
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