I vow to look at all beings with the eyes of compassion

It is very saddening to wake up and hear another bomb attack. It happened at the finish line of the Boston Marathon, with over 100 people injured, 2 killed, and many have their limbs amputated. My heart sank when I heard this news. It is not difficult to imagine how others are shocked by the incident, and angry about the bomber. Even though the bomber is still unfound, I can see how this will lead to another series of heightening homeland security, finding justice and punish the ones involved in this unmerciful act.

I continued to look at the consequences of such cycle: after finding justice, revenge will be sought, and then more attacks will follow, generating more fear, hatred and aversion amongst groups or countries. Hatred can never end hatred; it will only give rise to more hatred.

I remember one of the stories I heard from Thich Nhat Hanh, which gave me new perspective for those who initiate such violent act – it has nourished the compassion within me and motivated me to get myself involved with peaceful act rather than anti-violent act. Here may I share with you:


In Plum Village, where I live in France, we receive many letters from the refugee camps in Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, and the Philippines, hundreds each week. It is very painful to read them, but we have to do it, we have to be in contact. We try our best to help, but the suffering is enormous, and sometimes we are discouraged. It is said that half the boat people die in the ocean. Only half arrive at the shores in Southeast Asia, and even then they may not be safe.

There are many young girls, boat people, who are raped by sea pirates. Even though the United Nations and many countries try to help the government of Thailand prevent that kind of piracy, sea pirates continue to inflict much suffering on the refugees. One day we receive a letter telling us about a young girl on a small boat who was raped by a Thai pirate. She was only twelve, and she jumped into the ocean and drowned herself.

When you first learn of something like that, you get angry at the pirate. You naturally take the side of the girl. As you look more deeply you will see it differently. If you take the side of the little girl, then it is easy. You only have to take a gun and shoot the pirate. But we cannot do that. In my meditation I swa that if I had been born in the village of the pirate and raised in the same conditions as he was, there is a great likelihood that I would become a pirate. I saw that many babies are born along the Gulf of Siam, hundreds every day, and if we educators, social workers, politicians, and others do not do something about the situation, in twenty-five years a number of them will become sea pirates. That is certain. If you or I were born today in those fishing villages, we may become sea pirates in twenty-five years. If you take a gun and shoot the pirate, you shoot all of us, because all of us are to some extent responsible for this state of affairs.

After a long meditation, I wrote this poem. In it, there are three people: the twelve-year-old girl, the pirate, and me. Can we look at each other and recognize ourselves in each other? The title of the poem is “Please call me by my true names,” because I have so many names. When I hear one of these names, I have to say, “Yes.”

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.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing
on the surface of the river.
And I am the bird
that swoops down to swallow the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily
in the clear water of a pond.
And I am the grass-snake
that silently feeds itself on the frog.

I am the child in Uganda, all skin and bones,
my legs as thin as bamboo sticks.
And I am the arms merchant,
selling deadly weapons to Uganda.

I am the twelve-year-old girl,
refugee on a small boat,
who throws herself into the ocean
after being raped by a sea pirate.
And I am the pirate,
my heart not yet capable
of seeing and loving.

I am a member of the politburo,
with plenty of power in my hands.
And I am the man who has to pay
his “debt of blood” to my people
dying slowly in a forced-labor camp.

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.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and my laughter at once,
so I can see that my joy and pain are one.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can wake up,
and so the door of my heart
can be left open,
the door of compassion.

If we look deeper, we can see all the hatred comes from the lack of understanding of how we are inter-connected. Just like Thich Nhat Hhah said, we are all partly responsible for the state of affairs in our society, so if we want the society good, we need to be the change we want to see. If we want to see loving kindness and compassion in our world, we first need to have compassion and kindness within ourselves. If we do not have kindness within ourselves, and we just try to be nice to other people, it’s not powerful.

Being nice and being kind are two very different things. Many people are nice to others but are genuinely not kind; or sometimes a kind mother might not be so nice to her child. If we want to be kind to others, we need to cultivate kindness to ourselves.

Here is a meditation I would like to invite you to try, it’s the cultivation of karuna, compassion within ourselves and others. Compassion means to feel for the other person, but also to have the capability to help others relieve from their suffering.

Find a comfortable seat, with your spine erect, keeping your shoulders, hips, and legs relaxed. You can close your eyes, (or if it’s easier for you to stay focused with your eyes opened, you can rest your eye-gaze about 4 feet away from you, soften your focus), notice where you experience your breath. It might be your belly, your chest, nostril, or the overall body. Observe the natural rhythm of your breath, until you feel you are ready to repeat the following karuna phases:

May I be free from suffering.
May I hold myself with softness and care.
May I be free from suffering and the root of suffering.
May I be free from the suffering caused by greed (or anger, fear, confusion, and so on).
May I experience ease of body, mind, and spirit.
May I respond to suffering with compassion.

As you repeat the first phase to yourself, stay with your breath and notice what comes up in your body and mind. Then you move onto the next phase.

You can first send the karuna practice to ourselves so that you can offer genuine kindness and love to others, then here you can start to send your compassion to:

1.Benefactor – someone who has helped you in your life before, someone whom you respect and look up to.
2.Beloved friends, family members, or your pets.
3.Neutral person – someone you don’t really know and do not have any strong feelings.
4.Difficult person – someone who has inflicted pain in your past (you can begin with someone who only made you uncomfortable and eventually work your way up to someone who has made you suffer greatly before. But if you notice strong emotions arising, you can always go back to sending compassion to yourself and honor your genuine effort but respect your capacity.)
5.All beings (you can also choose to send compassion to a specific group of people or beings).

Listen to your body and your feelings as you practice karuna meditation, respect your capacity and if the practice makes you feel uncomfortable at any time, you can go back to sending compassion to yourself.

When I practice compassion meditation, I noticed if everyone of us have compassion for ourselves, this world would be a very different one; a lot of the problem we face today will no longer be relevant to us. But we can only start with ourselves; if we want to see compassion all around us, we need to cultivate it within ourselves.

May we all practice in a way so that we can see all beings with the eyes of compassion.

*The story was taken from Thich Nhat Hanh’s book “Peace is every step.”