Call Me By My True Names

I am always reminded of this beautiful poem by Thich Nhat Hanh, the Vietnamese Buddhist monk and peace activist, when I am pained by injustice.

Call Me by My True Names

Do not say that I’ll depart tomorrow
because even today I still arrive.

Look deeply: I arrive in every second
to be a bud on a spring branch,
to be a tiny bird, with wings still fragile,
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,
in order to fear and to hope.
The rhythm of my heart is the birth and
death of all that are alive.

I am the mayfly metamorphosing on the surface of the river,
and I am the bird which, when spring comes, arrives in time
to eat the mayfly.

I am the frog swimming happily in the clear pond,
and I am also the grass-snake who, approaching in silence,
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

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

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

My joy is like spring, so warm it makes flowers bloom in all
walks of life.
My pain is like a river of tears, so full it fills the four oceans.

Please call me by my true names,
so I can hear all my cries and laughs 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.

Thich Nhat Hanh

9 thoughts on “Call Me By My True Names”

  1. This is beautiful. Thich Nhat Hanh has been a major spiritual mentor for me over the years. Have you ever been to Blue Cliff Monastery in the Catskills? He comes there for a retreat every two years, and I think he’ll be there this year. I went in 2009.

    1. Yes I visited Blue Cliff a few months ago and will be goung back to see Thich Nhat Hanh in September. Will you be going? Do you live nearby? If so maybe I can visit you.

      1. We live about a two hour drive west of Blue Cliff Monastery. It’s a beautiful drive, on route 17 most of the way. Will you have a car? We’d love to see you!

  2. When is it you’re going to be at Blue Cliff? I’m going to be in NYC Sept. 1, coming back on the 2nd, we’re hosting a group the weekend of Sept. 8, and I’m going to be away from the 9th to the 15th, so if you’d like to come, maybe we could work around those dates. you’re also welcome to visit when I’m not here, but I’d like to meet you.

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