On Saturday we learned that Thich Nhat Hanh had passed. Our minister at Urban Sanctuary San Jose, Dana Bainbridge, decided to throw out plans for the next day and devote it to reflecting on this great being. One more example of why Sandra and I love being part of Urban Sanctuary San Jose.
I had the good fortune to be worship leader on Sunday.
Below is what I said and includes a wonderful poem Thay wrote called “The Good News.”
Worship Leader — Urban Sanctuary San Jose – January 23, 2022
Let’s take a moment or two and get centered. Close your eyes, put your feel flat on the floor and breathe through your nose — in and out. Try to keep your attention on your nose as the air goes in and out or on your chest as it goes up and down.
Let’s just breathe and try to stay focused on our breath.
Many years ago, I had a long drive to make so I stopped at a Barnes & Noble to buy some cassette tapes (you remember those?). One I got was entitled something like “Peace in Every Step” by someone with an unusual name: Thich Nhat Hanh. I couldn’t listen to it very long because it put me to sleep, which is not so good when I am driving.
It took me a while to come to appreciate Thay (as his followers, of whom I am one, call him).
I recently found a book in a box in the garage I had gotten when I was in college wanting to learn as much as I could about the American War on Vietnam. The book was Vietnam: Lotus in a Sea of Fire by, guess who? Thich Nhat Hanh. I have had that book now for more than 50 years and I treasure it. Although I have to admit, I wasn’t able to find it today!
And that is okay according to Thay because I have the memory of the book inside me. That’s even better because I always know where to find it now.
Thay created something new when he was young: “Engaged Buddhism.” I was surprised to find that this idea was controversial when he first proposed it. But he kept at it and now Engaged Buddhism seems the normal, best kind of Buddhism. Why would we want any other kind?
I was in awe of his ability to work for justice while focusing so deeply on being present. In 1976 at a conference in Singapore he learned that Vietnamese boat people were being kept from coming ashore to safety. Every time they tried to land, they were pushed back into the water by the authorities.
Thay wrote, “In Singapore if we wanted to help the boatpeople, we had no choice but to break the law.” In case you didn’t know, Thay and Martin Luther King, Jr. were good friends. King even nominated Thay for the Nobel Peace Prize. About the day when King was assassinated, Thay said, “I was a little bit angry.”
Back to Singapore: Thay and friends organized a program to save the boat people they called, “When Blood is Shed, We All Suffer.” Wow, does that sound like Thay? They were able to save more than 800 people.
One thing to note is that the French Ambassador in Singapore was very helpful. I can’t help but think that Thay’s no-blame approach helped rope him in to help save people. I am trying to take this approach in our work to fight climate change, especially in our “Effective Climate Conversations” class, which, I would love to have you take. Let me know.
Here is the last paragraph of Thay’s story about the boat people:
“The suffering we touched doing this kind of work was so deep that if we did not have a reservoir of spiritual strength, we would not have been able to continue. During those days, we practiced sitting and walking meditation, and eating our meals in silence is a very concentrated way. We knew that without this kind of discipline, we would fail in our work. The lives of many people depended on our mindfulness practice.”
I want to end with this poem by Thay called, “The Good News.”
The Good News, Thich Nhat Hanh
The good news
they do not print.
The good news
we do print.
We have a special edition every moment,
and we need you to read it.
The good news is that you are alive,
that the linden tree is still there,
standing firm in the harsh winter.
The good news is that you have wonderful eyes
to touch the blue sky.
The good news is that your child is there before you,
and your arms are available:
hugging is possible.
They only print what is wrong.
Look at each of our special editions.
We always offer the things that are not wrong.
We want you to benefit from them
and help protect them.
The dandelion is there by the sidewalk,
smiling its wondrous smile,
singing the song of eternity.
Listen. You have ears that can hear it.
Bow your head.
Listen to it.
Leave behind the world of sorrow,
and get free.
The latest good news
is that you can do it.
Not surprising is it, that our Christian New Testament is also called the good news?