The stars are in our belly; the Milky Way our umbilicus.
Is it a consolation that the stuff of which we’re made
is star-stuff too?
– That wherever you go you can never fully disappear –
dispersal only: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen.
Tree, rain, coal, glow-worm, horse, gnat, rock.
Sunday, 11 January 2015
Paris? – call me by my true names
I keep coming back to Voltaire's words: ' I cannot agree with what you say, but I defend to the death your right to say it.' And there's something I'm reaching for beyond that, too.
What happened was shocking, appalling beyond words. Hate crimes always are. Islamic extremism is a global, and massive, threat. It seems obvious that the killers' actions cannot in any way be condoned.
The people at Charlie Hebdo had a rare courage, as well as intelligence and creativity. And laughter and satire are important aspects of being human, and of making sense of things. (We should perhaps especially be able to laugh at ourselves, and how seriously we take ourselves.)
But the issue isn't entirely black and white, it seems to me, and raises more questions than it offers certainties about 'good' and 'evil'.
Poking fun at, taunting and goading, others in a way that is, to them, blasphemous, certainly derogatory, and insulting to deeply-held beliefs is, quite apart from ethical questions, going to draw a reaction, especially from a people currently bound on extremist 'terror' action. I personally found the cartoons, those that I've seen, unpleasant, unnecessary, and seriously inflammatory, especially at the current time.
Perhaps we need to choose our targets and our timing? While we might be within our 'rights', and while freedom of speech is precious and perhaps inviolable, such poking fun is hardly going to go any distance towards creating world peace. Every time we think, say or do something that we know will hurt or offend another we too are guilty of creating divisiveness.
I am not in any way defending the shocking and destructive actions of such extreme people, clearly. However, it's important too to look at causes, and ways in which we in general in the West, supposed innocents and victims, are complicit in atrocities.
Arab peoples have had to suffer US- and UK-led military invasions and interventions with apparent scarce regard for civilian casualties, blanket bombings, the use of land mines, cluster bombs and drones, an agenda that is too often about, or at least includes, oil, atrocities (often denied by the West) like extraordinary rendition and torture at our hands, and inhuman and inhumane treatment for prisoners in Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo; and in comparison with the affluent West poverty and injustice is widespread. In Europe and the States, ghettoising of and prejudice in relation to Arab and black people is also rife. We throw our military weight around and demand that they accept our value-system (again, this is not to condone theirs). Do we not expect recriminations when we goad them again?
And of course it is true that we cannot, should not, be cowed by fear. But there are questions, too, around our democratic freedom of speech – a right that everyone should have but far too few have, in practice, globally; and what our responsibilities are if we do have that right-become-privilege – what responsibilities it might bring to be respectful of others' beliefs, even when we think they're off the wall, and to speak and act wisely, especially in potentially inflammatory situations.
So that's as far as I got, and I wasn't sure about posting it. Just now, an acquaintance of mine from the erstwhile Network of Engaged Buddhists emailed this, from the wonderful (and ill) Thich Nhat Hanh, ex-pat Vietnamese monk and founder of the Community of Interbeing. It says it so very beautifully.
In the 70s Thich Nhat Hanh led efforts to help rescue so-called boat people from Vietnam in the Gulf of Siam. Like the Dalai Lama, despite all the persecution of his people, he has spoken only with equanimity and kindness.
The piece and poem below speak so poignantly of the need to move beyond the tit-for-tat, eye-for-an-eye philosophy (you might rememember Gandhi's saying 'An eye for an eye is a terrible way to blind the world').
«La haine attire la haine» : hatred breeds hatred
Where race, or creed, or hate divides we must stand with arms outstretched to heal & bless
Please Call Me by My True Names
by Thich Nhat Hanh
I have a poem for you. This poem is about three of us.
The first is a twelve-year-old girl, one of the boat people crossing the Gulf of Siam. She was raped by a sea pirate, and after that she threw herself into the sea.
The second person is the sea pirate, who was born in a remote village in Thailand.
The third person is me. I was very angry, of course
But I could not take sides against the sea pirate. If I could have, it would have been easier, but I couldn’t. I realized that if I had been born in his village and had lived a similar life – economic, educational, and so on – it is likely that I would now be that sea pirate.
So it is not easy to take sides. Out of suffering, I wrote this poem. It is called
Please Call Me by My True Names
because I have many names, and when you call me by any of them, 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...
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