Please Call Me by My True Names

The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh is every bit as good a poet as he is a spiritual teacher. What follows is probably his most famous poem, which came to mind because of the long discussion under A Short Take on Karma. The copyright to the poem is held by the Unified Buddhist Church.  I hope the UBC doesn’t mind my reprinting it in full. Excerpting would not do it justice.

Please Call Me by My True Names

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

I am a 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 a 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 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 the door of my heart
could be left open,
the door of compassion.

Thich Nhat Hanh wrote those words when he was working to save the “boat people” who were escaping from Vietnam after the war there. He heard the story about the 12-year-old who had been raped, and it threw him into despair. This poem was part of his route out of despair.

But even in his despair, he recognized that being one with everything means indeed being one with everything, even the sea pirate whose heart was “not yet capable of seeing and loving.”

Mayfly and bird, frog and snake, girl and pirate, joy and pain, we are all the result of the karma than preceded us, and we are all one.

— Mel Pine (Fearless Lotus)

Copyright 2016 © Mel Harkrader Pine

5 Comments Add yours

  1. Sonya Kassam says:

    I really loved this. In some strange way it reminded me of this poem by Baba Bulleh Shah:

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      That is beautiful, Sonya. Thanks sharing it. And it in turn reminds me of the Heart Sutra

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Sonya Kassam says:

        Thank you for that. Wonderful.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. amiezor says:

    AHH the door of the heart. Beautiful, thank you for quoting the piece in full ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. melhpine says:

      And I think you’ll like the song that goes with this one. Listen to the words as well as the music.

      Liked by 1 person

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