People were already sitting when I arrived at Trafalgar Square at 2pm on Saturday, yesterday.. 31st March.
I unfolded my mats and sat cross legged just glad to be there. Had I arrived ten minutes later there would have been nowhere left to sit in the Square, at least nowhere with a view of the stage. The event started precisely on time as Big Ben chimed the half hour at 2.30pm.
Thich Nath Hanh (Thay) started with a meditation based on the breath ‘Breathing in, enjoy the in breath .. breathing out enjoy the out breath’. ‘Breathing in see yourself as a flower .. a child is a flower, the child’s hand a flower, the child’s foot a flower .. breathing out see yourself as a flower, fresh’. ‘breathing in see yourself as a mountain, solid, reliable .. breathing out see yourself as a mountain’. Breathing in see yourself as a body of water, reflecting things as they are .. breathing out see yourself as a body of water’.
Thay then shared four mantras with us. he said there was no need to say them in Sanskrit. The mantras are:
“Darling, I am there for you.”
“Darling, I know you are there and I do not know what I would do without you.”
“Darling, I know you suffer, that is why I am there for you.”
He said that the fourth mantra was difficult but had to be used sometimes, when you feel that the person closest to you has hurt you in some way. Then you say:
“Darling, I am suffering and I need you to help me.”
Sometimes instead of acknowledging out pain to the one we love we say to ourselves that we don’t need that person, we can live without them.
Thay then told a story of a misunderstanding. It is a story he often uses and I found a retelling of it on Dhammatalks.net.
In many cases, because of our wrong perceptions, we suffer. When we suffer, we put the blame on somebody else, just as in the story of the woman called Nam Xuong. She was pregnant, but her husband had to go into the army. When he came back from the army, the child was already three years old. This was the first time that he had seen his child. He asked his wife to go to the market and buy offerings for the ancestral altar. While his wife was out, he said to the little boy, “Why don’t you call me Daddy?” The little boy said, “You’re not my daddy. My daddy comes every night and sometimes my mommy cries with my daddy, and often my mother talks to my daddy a whole hour. When my mommy sits down, my daddy sits down, and when my mommy lies down, my daddy lies down.”
When the husband heard this he thought that his wife had been unfaithful, and when she came back from the market he didn’t want to look at her. When everything was prepared on the altar to the ancestors, he touched the earth before the ancestors, but he didn’t allow his wife to touch the earth in front of the ancestors, because he thought that if she had been unfaithful to him, she has betrayed the ancestors, and therefore she should not prostrate in front of them. And his wife suffered a great deal. Why did her husband not look at her? Why did her husband not allow her to prostrate? Why did he roll up the mat and not allow her to prostrate? Why didn’t he stay to have the celebration meal after coming home? Why did he go to the wine bar and get drunk, and come back at three o’clock? And why did he get up in the early morning and go out and get drunk again? His wife suffered so much that she could not stand it any more, and so she went and jumped into the river and killed herself.
When the husband heard that his wife had died, he came home to look after the little boy, and that night, when he lit the lamp, the child shouted out: “Mister, Mister, Daddy’s come—here he is!” And the boy pointed to the shadow of his father on the wall. Then he understood that every night while he was away in the army, his wife would light the lamp, and she would talk to her shadow on the wall. She would say, “You’ve been away so long. You’ve been away many years. How can I bring our child up on my own?” And she would cry. The reason she had done this was that one day the child had come home and said: “Where’s my daddy? Other children have daddies—where’s my daddy?” His mother had pointed to the shadow on the wall and said, “Look, that’s your daddy. You can talk to him, if you like.” Therefore, when the husband came home, and the child said, “My father comes every night, my mother talks to my father every night, when my mother sits down, my father sits down,” that was the truth, the truth of a child. But the husband had a wrong perception, and he had a big suspicion of his wife, thinking she was unfaithful, and he had an internal formation, and he couldn’t transform that internal formation.
Out of his suffering he made his wife suffer too, because he did not talk to her. Therefore, his wife, being treated in this terrible way, couldn’t do anything but kill herself. If the wife had known what she was doing, she would have come to her husband and said, “My dear, it’s so strange. You were so happy when you first came home, but when I came home from the market you had changed completely—you wouldn’t look at me, you wouldn’t talk to me. What have I done to cause you to be like this?” If she had said that, then the husband would have explained. He would have said, “Our child says that a man comes every night, and you weep with him, you talk to him, and when he sits down, you sit down, when he lies down, you lie down. Tell me, what’s this about? If he had said that, then his wife would have had an opportunity to explain, but he had such a great arrogance and pride, such self-pride. He had two internal formations, the internal formation of suspicion, and the internal formation of pride.
It was not only the fault of the husband, it was not only the fault of the wife, it was the fault of both of them that they suffered so much. The husband thought my wife is unfaithful, she is not worthy of the ancestors. He did not know that he should not believe in his perception. Why did he not go to the wife and ask her directly, “My dear, when you went to the market I was talking to our child, and he said that someone comes every night, and that you make the child call that man ‘Father.’ If you can’t explain this I don’t want to live.” And then she would have had an opportunity to explain, and husband and wife could have been happy again. We all have pride. We all suffer. Both of them had pride, and because of their pride, they could not resolve the internal formations, and the tragedy happened. So wrong perception plays a very important role in bringing about suffering between two people. It makes the communication between two people come to and end. When we suffer, when we’re angry, we have to have the capacity to ask, is my perception wrong or not? We should always ask ourselves: “Is my perception correct?”
Thay is unquestionably a great teacher. His style is gentle and simple. It was a pleasure and privilege to be there.