On the 29th March, Buddhist Zen master, Thich Nhat Hanh, will arrive in London for the start of his short UK tour guiding followers in spiritual reflection and peaceful protest. I’ve been interested in Thich Nhat Hanh for a number of years, not just for his peace activism but also because his poem Call Me By My True Names seems to really encapsulate the ethos at the heart of The Forgiveness Project – namely that good and evil exist in us all.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s life of reflection has led him to believe that forgiveness is the key to creating a peaceful, just and sustainable world, and that “only when compassion is born in your heart, is it possible to forgive.”
The aspect of Thich Nhat Hanh’s teachings that has always interested me most is the way in which he reaches out to those who feel wounded by their parents. I don’t count myself as one of the wounded but it has always struck me that his approach to this aspect of our past is a lot more tender than some other voices out there in the field of human consciousness and spirituality. Caroline Myss, for example, describes revisiting childhood hurts and trauma as “woundology” informing her audiences that “trying to work out who hurt you as a child is not a spiritual path but a who-dun-it’.
Thich Nhat Hanh’s method – though more gentle – is just as direct. In the film The Power of Forgiveness, he is seen reciting his mediation for the “many angry sons and daughters”. In a soft, measured voice he instructs, in meditative breathing, a room full of people who want to move on: “breathing in I see myself as a 5-year-old child; breathing out I hold that 5-year-old child with tenderness. Breathing in I see my father as a 5-year-old boy; breathing out I smile to my father as a 5-year-old boy”. The point is that only when you are able to visualize your father as a fragile and vulnerable 5-year-old, can you begin to understand and feel compassion for the person he has become.
Thich Nhat Hanh explains that you must move from this place of animosity because if you are full of anger you only cause more suffering to yourself as well as to the person you’re angry at –“that is why,” he concludes, “those who are wise do not want to do anything when in a place of anger. When you are calm and lucid, you see that the other person is a victim of confusion, of hate and of violence transmitted by society, by parents, by friends, by environment. And when you are able to do that you’re anger is no longer there.”
Thich Nhat Hanh is in the UK 29 March-10 April 2012, accompanied by monks and nuns from Plum Village. Organised by The Community of Interbeing UK, he will be in London to give a public talk at Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, lead Sit in Peace in Trafalgar Square and a conference-retreat for educators. There will be 5-day retreat for the public from 5-10 April at Nottingham University.