Call Me by My True Names

This post is dedicated to the living Bodhisattva whose teachings saved my life.

“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.”

– Thích Nhất Hạnh

The revered Thay, the Father of Mindfulness.

Discovering Thay

It was the year 2011. I was only 19 years old at the time, and I had no idea that my suppressed grief would eventually cause me so much pain that I decided to end my life. That same year, in 2011, one of the best Indonesian films of our time was released: Arisan! 2. In that film, the main character, played by Cut Mini, went to Borobudur Temple to celebrate Waisak. Borobudur’s scene was very serene, and that serenity jumped off the screen and touched me deeply. It piqued my interest in Buddhism. That same year, I was reading Dewi Lestari’s Akar. The main character in this second book of the Supernova series is Bodhi, a young man raised by a Buddhist monk. Later that year, on a trip to Jakarta, I happened to walk down the aisle of Kinokuniya Plaza Senayan and came across two books by Thay: “Peace is Every Step” and “Savor: Mindful Eating, Mindful Life.” I bought the books, and needless to say, Thay’s teachings have changed my life.

“The present moment is filled with joy and happiness. If you are attentive, you will see it.”
Thich Nhat Hanh, Peace Is Every Step: The Path of Mindfulness in Everyday Life

Peace is every step

Thay is credited with popularizing the concept of mindfulness in the West and has been dubbed “The Father of Mindfulness.” Exiled by the Vietnamese government in the 1960s for opposing the Vietnam War, he traveled the world, met with religious figures ranging from Martin Luther King Jr. to the Pope, and taught that peace is in every step. When Nhat Hanh was in the United States, he asked the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak out against the Vietnam War. In April 1967, King delivered a well-known address at New York City’s Riverside Church in which he denounced the Vietnam War.

Thay’s teachings also influenced the development of many incredible psychological therapies, two of which were especially important in my recovery from clinical depression: Dialectical Behavior Therapy by Marsha M. Linehan and Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) by Jon-Kabat Zinn. After being introduced to meditation by Philip Kapleau, a Zen missionary who came to speak at MIT, Kabat-Zinn studied mindfulness under Thay.

He famously taught that we could all become bodhisattvas by finding happiness in the simplest of things, such as peeling an orange mindfully or sipping tea. His book was incredibly simple, but it was also extremely insightful. It took me years to develop a consistent meditation practice. But, even before I meditate every day, I incorporate Thay’s teachings into my daily life. I recall him saying:

“Feelings come and go like clouds in the sky. Conscious breathing is my anchor.”

When I was upset or distressed, I returned to my breathing, and my anxiety dissipated. I was able to control my emotions before reacting to anything and avoid adding to my suffering simply because I was suffering.

Because of Thay, I was able to understand how to transform any pain and suffering into life lessons. I accept my pain, I live my suffering, and I am developing compassion for myself and others who are also suffering, which is why I reacted angrily.

Because of Thay, I was able to choose joy even on cloudy days and when faced with frustrating obstacles in everyday life. I find joy in the first breath I take in the morning. In the morning, I enjoy a cup of freshly brewed hot coffee. The calming breeze and the bright, dazzling sun both bring me joy. I enjoy a sunny day, but I also enjoy a cloudy, rainy morning. Discovering joy also entails inviting God into my life, remembering and knowing that this precious life of now is full of God’s blessings. I once wrote that God can be found in a cup of hot coffee, which I drink every morning.

I vow to live fully in each moment and to look at all beings with eyes of compassion.

“How to Love” is one of Thay’s books that I loved the most. This book was instrumental in guiding me through one of the most difficult periods of my life. In 2019, I attempted suicide as a result of a heartbreakingly failed relationship. At the time, I was perplexed, angry, and disappointed. Not with my ex, but with myself, was I angry or disappointed. I was angry because I had hurt her, and I was disappointed because I had betrayed the one person who had always been kind to me. I didn’t know how to deal with the heartbreak’s pain. My heart was aching with every breath I took, and because I was suffering and didn’t know how to suffer, I added to her misery. I re-read “How to Love,” hoping to find passages that would help me understand this suffering and learn “How to Love,” in the hope that I could win her back.

The first element of true love is loving kindness. The essence of loving kindness is being able to offer happiness. You can be the sunshine for another person. You can’t offer happiness until you have it for yourself. So build a home inside by accepting yourself and learning to love and heal yourself. Learn how to practice mindfulness in such a way that you can create moments of happiness and joy for your own nourishment. Then you have something to offer the other person.”

– Thích Nhất Hạnh, How to Love

I did not win her back, but we both had a much happier ending. Not by being together, but by realizing that, despite the pain, our relationship was necessary and transformative for both of us. From the ashes of this painful end, I learned loving kindness and realized that I had been hurting others because I, too, had been hurt. I realized that I couldn’t offer happiness because I didn’t have it myself. From 2019 to 2021, I learn to build a home within myself by accepting myself for my flaws and suffering, noting that the death of my Father, which I have never processed correctly, has affected how I approach relationships, and as a result, I have hurt others, which can never be justified. I seek forgiveness from everyone I’ve ever hurt, as well as forgiveness from myself. Only after I was healed did I find the one person who, despite having never learned anything about mindfulness or compassion, possessed it naturally.

I’m still a long way from fully embodying all of Thay’s teachings. But, in my now-peaceful, respectful, and compassionate relationship, I’ve always chosen compassion for both my partner and myself. And, because we chose compassion, no arguments were ever disrespectful, and no hurts were ever ignored.

“Every one of us is trying to find our true home. Some of us are still searching. Our true home is inside, but it’s also in our loved ones around us. When you’re in a loving relationship, you and the other person can be a true home for each other.”

– Thích Nhất Hạnh, How to Love

I have arrived, I am home

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.

Feel my presence.
If you want to cry,
please cry.
And know
That I will cry with you.
The tears you shed
will heal us both.

– Thích Nhất Hạnh, Oneness, Call Me by My True Names

In an increasingly divisive and hateful world, Thay’s teachings are like an oasis. Throughout his life, Thay nurtured the “Engaged Buddhism” movement, called for peace and spread its teachings to the world.

“Engaged Buddhism is just Buddhism. When bombs begin to fall on people, you cannot stay in the meditation hall all the time. Meditation is about the awareness of what is going on — not only in your body and in your feelings, but all around you.

Buddhism has to do with your daily life, with your suffering and with the suffering of the people around you. You must learn how to help a wounded child while still practicing mindful breathing. You should not allow yourself to get lost in action. Action should be meditation at the same time.”

Thay’s teachings are incredibly simple, but they are obviously difficult to apply. Thay believes that practicing mindfulness will help people recognize and transform their pain.

The majority of our rage and suffering stems from pain, and our explosive reactions are the result of our inability to transform that pain. The majority of our hatred stems from our inability to understand and listen to the suffering of others. However, as a human, it is extremely difficult not to be controlled by ego. Our ego desires to be correct; our ego prevents us from truly listening to others; and our ego believes that our way is the only correct way.

Mindfulness and meditation are methods for understanding that we are not our ego; that we are, at our core, separate from our ego and thoughts; that we are, at our core, one connected soul. Others’ suffering is our suffering, even if it is the suffering of someone we thought was our enemy.

I’ve arrived, I’m home, which means we’ve reached our core. In the present moment. Only compassion and understanding of ourselves and others, free of fear and judgment.

Thank you for sharing your incredible activism and teachings with us. May we, who strive to walk in your footsteps, be the agents who transform the world’s pain and suffering. Your physical body has died, but your soul lives on in the hearts of millions of people.

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Dedicating myself to digital media and tech for social issues. Live fully as a coffee, literature, and arts adventurer. A self-proclaimed geek and a proud queer

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I Gusti Ayu Azarine Kyla Arinta

I Gusti Ayu Azarine Kyla Arinta

Dedicating myself to digital media and tech for social issues. Live fully as a coffee, literature, and arts adventurer. A self-proclaimed geek and a proud queer

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