from BARDO

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.

Roselle Angwin

Sunday, 11 January 2015

Paris? – call me by my true names

I, along with, I imagine, most of Western Europe, have been deeply preoccupied with the events in Paris of last week, and with finding a true 'right response'. I've been very engaged in discussions on facebook and elsewhere, and have started, but abandoned, two or three blogposts. 

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'.

oking 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...



  1. It is so good to hear the voice of reason, empathy, mutual understanding amongst all of us. Thank you for saying all that, Roselle, for putting so well the dilemma and horror of it all when the only reaction can sometimes be to shake one's head in disbelief and horror, feeling completely helpless, angry and fearful. Here, you strike the perfect balance it seems, articulating exactly what I've been feeling these last few days.
    I think of Israel, of course, and urge people not to be too driven by anger and hatred but try to understand much more. All that needs the cool, balanced, detachment as well as that intense involvement of feeling that we must all try to achieve. And it's difficult, but we must keep trying.
    (I know I seem to be using a royal-sounding 'We', and it all starts with self, of course, but I also feel strongly that we as a group need to feel we're a gentle, firm force working together.)

    With love and thanks, Miriam.

  2. Miriam, thank you. I've been thinking so much about it all, as so many of us will have been, and especially in the light of more extremist comments for instance on facebook and the fear of a serious backlash on Muslims it seems so important to keep remembering that we're all in this together, doesn't it? 'The line between good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart', as Solzhenitsyn (sp??) put it.

    Thanks for the solidarity, Miriam. Rx

  3. On this beautiful morning with the sun already risen, the sound of my small meditation stone in my ear and tits twittering through the window gap – I am still stunned, have been trying for days to grasp what happened in Paris last week, to respond with words to the insightful Thich Nhat Hanh poem, but words seem to have abandoned me. And yet:

    The glimmer of the remaining beech leaves in the sun – a flicker of hope

    - that our memories last longer than a few weeks and months
    - that the latest application for an apprenticeship of the immigrant youth will get a reply
    - that verbal and graphic geniuses will still aim at changing the world bearing in mind that humour is ethnically rooted
    - that fathers and their families attempting to escape from the horrors of war will no longer be sent out in crew-less boats to drown in Mediterranean waves
    - that displaced children will be at home in two worlds like migrant swallows
    - that the poacher’s compassion with the elephant will be stronger than his family’s hunger
    - that human warmth in a refugee camp is more effective a heating than solar panels
    - that total surveillance will never replace receptive senses and mindful acting

    waiting for the tide
    the bubble in the sand is
    sucked up by sun

    Wih love, dear Ro, B xx

  4. What a beautiful, moving, poignant response, Bea. I love the little haiku, too. Thank you. I can't add to that.

    Much love. Rxx

  5. Excellent post. Thank you Roselle.

  6. Sophia, thank you - both for the comment and for reading my blogs...


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