Tag Archives: Thich Nhat Hanh

Speaker’s Corner–Pentecost, with an anecdote from Thich Nhat Hanh

Speakers Corner

Speakers Corner in Hyde Park in London is an area where open-air public speaking, debate and discussion are allowed. I used to think anyone could stand on a podium and pronounce anything–often strange crazy ideas without fear of prosecution.  But it turns out that’s not true. Speakers can say anything they like as long as it is lawful, and doesn’t cause complaints or is full of profanity. All of those transgressions will bring on the police and arrest.

I wonder where the people at what later got called Pentecost met.  Was it outside?  In a public square perhaps surrounded by palm trees and fig bushes?

Speakers Corner in Hyde Park is the site of the Tyburn Gallows where public executions used to be held. People no doubt gathered to watch the convicted die–to us not at all a pretty sight and something most of us would not attend.  Or would we?  Don’t we all want to know what is going on when we see an accident?  Perhaps, if it were respectable, we’d be curious to watch a criminal for whom we had no love, swinging on the end of a rope, legs kicking, throat gurgling.

What do people who come to church expect?

Wind and fire probably doesn’t occur to you.

These are powerful natural forces, especially when not contained.

Fire in a fireplace is pleasant, heats the house, keeps us warm

Fire at a campsite is primitive, primordial

Fire raging through the forest is frightening and deadly.

What about the wind? We have many descriptors for wind:  breeze, crosswind, dust devil, easterly, gale, gust, headwind, jet stream, mistral, sea breeze, sandstorm, sirocco, southwester, tailwind, tornado, trade wind, turbulence, twister, typhoon, whirlwind, zephyr… do you even know what a zephyr is, or a mistral?  I don’t.

Those ancients, those Galileans, who’d knew Jesus when he was alive, they understood the wind to mean the spirit of God.

They were gathered together in Jerusalem–outside–perhaps in a market place. Clearly it was somewhere public.  They were not hiding. People gathered to listen.  So here they were, these followers of Jesus, coming together for a meeting…perhaps they came every week hoping, waiting, hoping for Jesus’s prophecy to come true. He’d said they would be empowered.  Perhaps one or two brave ones pronounced their expectation: Christ will come again! But nothing had happened for fifty days.

The Galilean guys and gals who met at the time of Pentecost, probably had hope they could come up with a program to get the word out about Jesus.  They were perhaps looking forward to sharing their stories about what Jesus had taught them and showed them, and how their lives had changed and deepened. They were probably expecting and hoping and praying for the fulfillment of the prophecy of Jesus who’d said “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit…You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” Acts 1: 4-10

But it had already been 50 days since Jewish Passover–could they have misheard about the timing of their empowerment?  Maybe they’d never gotten together before.  Maybe they’d been hiding out, waiting for the furor of the crucifixion and the awe of the sightings of the ghost of Jesus to die down.  They probably longed to see Jesus smiling at them again.

Imagine gathering for a professional meeting–perhaps another boring event you have to attend for work, or maybe it’s a conference you are going to out of interest and hope that it might develop into something more.  Maybe you’ll make some new connections with people who can help you get a job or give you good advice.  There again it could be a required meeting that is going to be boring.

I attended my share of those boring ones when I was a chemist.  One particularly memorable assembly was for a talk about the safe use of gas cylinders–you know those large phallic metal tanks.  The ones I used often contained highly flammable gases such as oxygen.  It was an important topic–safety, but, yawn, I actually fell asleep.  I probably snored and drooled. I didn’t hear the program.

Churches ought to invigorate, excite, energize, challenge and grow people.

But here they were–a crowd of followers of Christ hoping, praying, doubting, wondering, hanging out in the morning.

Suddenly there is a roaring sound. What is that? a breeze, crosswind, dust devil, easterly, gale, gust, headwind, jet stream, mistral, sea breeze, sandstorm, sirocco, southwester, tailwind, tornado, trade wind, turbulence, twister, typhoon, whirlwind, zephyr…

There’s no time to find out because all at once what look like tongues of fire are resting on the tops of  theheads of every one of those gathered followers.

Suddenly they are empowered to speak in other tongues, using languages they did not know…and they aren’t speaking gibberish.  They are conveyors of truth and life.

What are people to make of such an awesome event today?  How would we respond if a rushing wind announced the presence of fiery tongues which caused our ability to communicate to sky-rocket.

Would we rationalize the event?  Or would we allow it to empower us in new ways? Perhaps, we’d have no choice if we’d already said yes to Christ, yes to the Spirit of God.

Have you ever tried to learn another language?  It is not easy, especially as you get older.  And they weren’t children. Yet in a way their understanding might have been as innocent as that of a child: Wind, Biblically for them, signified a powerful force: the breath of life (Ezekiel 37: 5-7): remember dem dry bones, dem dry bones?

This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’”

Their hearts must have been pounding.  This was no ordinary storm wind, and it certainly wasn’t a gentle breeze. This was the spiritual infilling of God’s presence.  They knew that. They got it.

Can we ever expect such awesome power again?

When Bob Bradley, pastor who baptized me, retired, at his last gathering with the congregation he’d ministered to for twenty + years in a beautiful sanctuary, as pretty as this one, there was the sound of wind.  It was a perfectly clear day.  And there was the sound of wind.  And rain hailed down onto the roof of the sanctuary for a few moments. We all hushed.  What was that?  Perhaps, it was the tears of the congregation to be losing their beloved mentor and pastor–who can say?

No fiery tongues appeared above anyone’s head.  Just as well. We rational intellectual people would either have had heart attacks or we would have fainted.

But those Hebrews, those followers of Christ, did not doubt what happened.

Fire for them meant many things, including God’s power. Remember Moses and the Burning Bush: There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So he went over and God spoke to him and told him to remove his sandals because he was standing on holy ground. (Exodus 3:2 New International Version (NIV))

When are we standing on Holy Ground?

Jesus, the personification of God, has taught us God is love. Love is God. Clearly the Biblical intent of the wind and fiery tongues is to convey a sense of the awesome power and nature of the experience of God.

Some churches continue to seek those experiences and perhaps they receive them–but spiritual gifts are intended for the good of the whole community, so that would mean not merely an individual, not merely a particular church, not merely a particular denomination. Spiritual gifts are an out-pouring of Christ-presence into the world to bring about the realm of God for all.

Before, though, we can hope to reach out and send out holiness, give life, to others, we must recognize that these Galileans at Pentecost who began to speak in different languages had been empowered by God, and were grounded in their understanding of Christ.

And just what might that mean in our lives?

It means we must continue to grow in understanding which translates into how we live our lives. And how we speak to others. Communication is of extreme importance.  Good communication eliminates confusion and speaks truth in ways people can understand.

All people, no matter Gentile, or Jew, Arab or Israeli, Hindu or Chinese, West Virginian or Kentuckian have common soul needs. We all need to be loved and understood.

There was a young couple who’d gotten married, and the girl was pregnant when her husband was called to join the army.  He was gone for three years and never got to come home. At last he did come home and his wife met him at the village gate. They cried and hugged and were joyous.  For the very first time he met his son who was almost three years old.  As was their custom on a joyous occasion, the young lady went to buy fruit and flowers to sacrifice to their ancestors in gratitude and joy.  While she was gone the husband tried to get his son to call him Daddy, but the little boy said, “You aren’t my daddy.  My daddy comes every night  and he sits with my mommy and they talk, and she cries and cries, and when she lies down, he lies down. So you are not my daddy.”

The husband was enraged. When his wife returned, he would not look at her or speak to her.  She did not know what to do and said nothing. But as the days and weeks passed, he became more and more distant, and she became more and more distraught.  At last, one day, she went down to the river and drowned herself.

After the funeral, the man and the boy came home. As the man lit the kerosene lamp, the little boy shouted: “Here is my father?” and he pointed to the shadow of his father on the wall. It turned out that the young woman, because she had missed her husband so much, used to talk to her shadow every night.

This a story told by a Buddhist monk, Thich Nhat Hanh.  It is apparently well known to Vietnamese people.

What a simple matter it might have been if the husband had asked his wife about this man who came every night?  She could so easily have explained.

What a simple matter it would have been if the wife had asked her husband to tell her what had made him so cold and distant?

Thich Nhat Hanh teaches loving speech, giving what he calls the six mantras of good communication.

We can learn from other traditions. Here are the six mantras from Thich Nhat Hanh.

1. I am here for you.   To say this and to mean it by being fully present, by listening, by putting aside distractions is to help a person feel loved.

2. I know you are there, and I am very happy.  But you must really know they are there and have practiced being “present.”  Jesus certainly was present to others–he got it, he got them, he gets us.

3. I know you suffer, and that is why I am here for you. We often want to fix things for our loved ones–but to be there for him or her is true love.  We ease suffering by being present to someone. Didn’t Jesus ease the suffering of many? Can’t he still do that through us?

4. I suffer, please help.  This is not so easy, because we have to admit we are hurting in some way…Recently, I was upset with Philip about some minor thing. He’d been insensitive and I’d over-reacted. It was hard for me to admit. It took overnight and me pouting for a while before I stopped being foolish, and said in my own way, I suffer, please help.

5. This is a happy moment.  Really notice when you are having a happy moment–a connected moment…

6. You are partly right.  This acknowledges and respects another person.  It opens up communication. It admits I have weaknesses in me too and strengths, and I am trying to hear you, to listen, to understand…I had to admit to Philip he was partly right in his remark…

preceding section adapted from The Art of Communicating by Thich Nhat Hanh

Jesus illustrates mindfulness in many ways. His example teaches us how to communicate–he is respectful of all people, including beggars, sick people, crazy people, children, and repressed women and minorities.  He is direct, and teaches that anger must be addressed, not allowed to fester and cause us to become angrier and angrier.

The gift of fire and wind today from the church must empower us to better communicate, to have our minds grounded on what is wise, what gives life to others.

Churches have many community projects, feeding the hungry, providing housing, visiting the sick. They are places steeped in the teachings of Christ, offering opportunities for people to grow spiritually, and belong to a community of faith who are working together to be filled with fire, passion, and wind of the spirit.

What do you love to do that you’d love to share with others? Join a church community. Maybe your passion is the spark of life–what inspires you will give more life to others?

Charge and Blessing (from: http://www.laughingbird.net/ComingWeeks.html)
Go out into the world,
sent as Christ Jesus was sent,
gifted and empowered for the common good.
Dream dreams, pursue visions
and speak of God’s goodness
in words people can hear.

And may God give hope to your dreaming;
May Christ Jesus set rivers of life flowing within you,
and may the Holy Spirit unite you as one body and set you ablaze with joy.

We go in peace to love and serve the Lord,
……..In the name of Christ. Amen.


Listen: Jars of Clay, They Will Know We are Christians by our love https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xyHvO4xoEh4

Dance: Earth Wind and Fire, September: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gs069dndIYk

Invite the Holy Spirit: Veni Creator Spiritus – Catholic Gregorian Chant Songs: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WX8n_r_T8m0


Incense of Confusion


All cultures and religious traditions have rituals.  Incense is burned in Christian churches to symbolize prayers rising to heaven.  In Chinese Taoist and Buddhist temples, the inner spaces are scented with thick coiled incense, which are either hung from the ceiling or on special stands. Worshipers at the temples light and burn sticks of incense in small or large bundles, which they wave or raise above the head while bowing to the statues or plaques of a deity or an ancestor.

In my unpublished biography of Yasunari Kawabata, the young lad is confused between ancient ritual and scientific understanding.  Yet, the rituals give him hope…

Excerpt from Samurai to Sushi

Yasunari tried to return to normal matters.  He leaned close to Grandfather’s ear.  “A letter came that says you owe money,” he said.

Grandfather sighed.  “I know. I know. I did borrow.”

Yasunari knew that Grandfather had been borrowing from lots of people.  There were many unpaid debts.  Yasunari said nothing more about the money.  He had too many other things to worry about.  He disliked having to nurse the old man.  He felt foolish performing old time rituals.  They were not his beliefs.  Omiyo and Grandfather disgusted him with their old ideas about gods and spirits.  He wished he could go immediately to his room to read, or back to school to listen to a lecture.

“Gradually weaken…gradually weaken…” the words echoed in Yasunari’s brain.  Grandfather seemed more alert, but he constantly needed help.  Yasunari was glad when Omiyo once again consulted with the fox god.  As soon as she got into the house, Yasunari raced to her side to hear what the Oracle now said.

“Your Grandfather is possessed by a spirit.  This spirit can be reasoned with and made to leave,” Omiyo said.

Yasunari’s hopes went up.  Yet he felt that such ideas were quite absurd.  His confusion grew and he felt more alone than ever.

“Yasunari,” Omiyo said sheepishly.  “Soon I will have a new grandchild.  Then I won’t be able to come as often to help.  I’m sorry.”

Yasunari turned pale.  How would he manage without Omiyo?  He did not like the idea of being completely responsible for Grandfather.  He went and bought incense with what little money he found in the house.  The fumes wafting around Grandfather’s bed gave him hope that the fox god might be right.  The beast could be sent away.  He placed the sword on the bed.  It seemed like a symbol of strength.


Monk remembered how hard he’d tried to avoid grief.  It was why he’d become a monk. Yet, many years later, steeped as he was in the sutras and his religious practices, his grief for the people never goes away.  Now he allows sorrow  to settle deep into his being along with hope for the Pure Land to be in the here and now for all people.

Experience a Buddhist Chant – Mantra – Plum Village – Thich Nhat Hanh:


Advent Contemplations from West Virginia Institute for Spirituality–Five

December 5, 2013 – First Thursday of Advent


“If in our daily life we can smile, if we can be peaceful and happy, not only we, but everyone will profit from it. This is the most basic kind of peace work.”      Thích Nhất Hạnh, Being Peace

In my work as a school based Occupational Therapist, I have the task of providing calming activities to students who respond aggressively to the expectations and demands of their day. One of the therapeutic modalities I use is the linear motion of a platform swing. While rocking the student back and forth, I wait with hopeful anticipation for a relaxation response. Often, if not always, that response is exhibited in a smile. The transformation of frowns, scowls, and grimaces into smiles is a nonverbal communication to me that calmness has occurred within. The result brings happiness and peace to the student which contagiously spreads to everyone working in the environment with and around them.

Prayer Practice:   During this advent season may we prayfully rock the Christ child within; with hopeful anticipation may we experience internal peace and joy, exhibited to others through a contagious smile.

Leanna Lake, WVIS Associate Spiritual Director: leannalake@verizon.net

Link to West Virginia Institute for Spirituality to download all of the Advent contemplations: http://wvis.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/Advent-Reflections-2013.pdf



Thich Nhat Hanh, the Pure Land, The Kingdom of God, and a prayer to Mother Earth


I have just finished reading finding our true home by Thich Nhat Hanh.
It is about “living in the pure land here and now.”
The Pure Land is a Buddhist concept and is where the Amida Buddha of compassion lives and welcomes all who call upon him.  This Buddha, according to the revered Japanese monk, Honen Shonin, made it easy to enter what Christians might call the Kingdom of God, or heaven, teaching we do not need to undergo deep aesthetic practices or training to be ensured of our place in the spiritual realm. We need but call his name in meditative practice to deepen our understanding and be guaranteed acceptance in the Pure Land without having to reincarnate in another suffering body in a suffering world.
It seems to me Jesus made that clear too when he came back after his crucifixion to demonstrate there is life after death. To call upon Jesus and allow his teachings to penetrate our being is to enter the Kingdom of God in the here and now with a promise of continued eternal life which gives us hope but is not intended to replace daily living with all its challenges and joys.  
Thich Nhat Hanh gently reminds everyone that to practice Pure Land Buddhism is to practice mindfulness that helps us be present to all of the moments in our lives in a way that relieves suffering, ours and other people’s, and honors our Mother, the earth.
www.iamhome.org is a wonderful website listed at the back of the book which contains a directory to sangha communities throughout the world.  These are communal groups who practice mindfulness following the fourteen mindfulness trainings (which are explained on the site and I will address individually in later blogs):
1. Openness
2. Nonattachment from Views
3. Freedom of Thought
4. Awareness of Suffering
5. Simple, Healthy Living
6. Dealing with Anger
7. Dwelling Happily in the Present
8. Community and Communication
9. Truthful and Loving Speech
10. Protecting the Sangha
11. Right Livelihood
12. Reverence for Life
13. Right Livelihood
 14. Right Conduct   
 A New Year’s Prayer for Mother Earth
Dear Beloved Mother Earth,
Dear Ancestors, both Spiritual and Genetic,

We present ourselves before you at this solemn moment of the New Year to express our awareness, our gratitude and our aspiration as a spiritual family. We know that our ancestors are always alive in us and that we can always take refuge in you and in our ancestors.

Dear Mother Earth, breathing in, we see that we and all of our ancestors are your children. With your patience, stability, endurance and creativity you have raised us and guided us through many lifetimes. You have given birth to countless Great Beings, Buddhas, Saints, and Boddhisattvas.  You are the great Earth, you are Terra, you are Gaia, you are this beautiful blue planet. You are the Earth Refreshing Bodhisattva–fragrant, cool, and kind.  We see that though we and our ancestors have made many mistakes, you have always forgiven us. Each time we return to you, you are ready to open your arms and embrace us.

Because of our wrong perceptions and discrimination we have lived a life of separation, hatred, loneliness, suffering, and despair.  We have allowed individualism to prevail, and it has caused a lot of damage and hardship to you and to ourselves. We have run after fame, wealth, power, and sensual pleasures  and have forgotten that these pursuits could never bring us true happiness.

We have spent many lifetimes not able to recognize your presence as the Pure Land, as the Kingdom of God, as the most wondrous home that we have. We have run after a distant Promised Land, in heaven or in the future. This has caused us and you much suffering. Tonight as we touch the Earth, we let go and offer you and our ancestors our true presence. We have arrived. You are our home, our only home.

We have learned that only love and compassion can make our lives meaningful, allowing us to protect and preserve your beauty, and allowing us to heal ourselves.  We can learn to live as one family —  as a community of brothers and sisters, all children of the same Great Mother Earth, giving our descendants a chance for a healthy and a bright future. We know that only through building brotherhood and sisterhood in the present moment can we make this future a reality.

Dear Mother, tonight, on the occasion of the New Year 2012, we make the vow to learn to live in harmony and peace, in the very heart of our family and our community, just as bees in the same beehive and cells in the same body.  We promise that we shall remain openhearted and capable of communicating with the members of our family and our community.  We promise to always listen deeply and to use peaceful and loving speech.  We shall learn to listen to your voice, Mother Earth, to understand you deeply and to hear your guidance and the guidance of our ancestors.  We vow also to listen to our brothers, our sisters, our friends, and to our children so that we may live in peace and harmony with them. We promise to learn to see the happiness and well-being of our family and community as our own happiness and well-being.

Dear Mother, with great reverence, we give rise to the deep aspiration to begin anew. We promise to you and also to our children: that we shall learn to breathe and walk mindfully each moment of our daily life, to use the eyes and ears of the family and community in order to understand, to live simply and to love without discrimination, as you do. We promise to stop running from our suffering, but to recognize, embrace and transform it. Only by understanding our suffering can we heal and touch true happiness, and at the same time, restore your beauty and freshness.  You have been calling to us, and some of us have heard your pain. You have been asking us for many lifetimes whether you can count on us. Tonight, with palms joined and with one heart, we say “yes, Mother, you can count on us.” We shall practice for you and for all our ancestors so that joy, peace and harmony will become possible again. Please accept our offerings of incense, flowers, fruit, tea, and our love.  Yes Mother, we will be faithful to you.


Reciting the trainings, practicing the way of awareness,
Gives rise to benefits without limit
We vow to share the fruits with all beings.
We vow to offer tribute to parents, teachers, friends,
And numerous beings,
Who give guidance and support along the path.

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