The man sits perfectly still in his dark brown robes, his back erect, his eyes bright and smiling. The rest of us in the room are shifting, straightening or re-bending a leg, pushing shoulders back to keep from slumping.
A giant golden Buddha sits behind Thay Tihn Mahn, a similar smile curving the statue’s lips.
Thay Tihn Mahn is answering a question, a question about how to let go of bad memories or experiences.
“When I was a child during the Vietnam war,” the monk is saying, “I saw many of my friends and neighbors killed or raped. It was very traumatic for me to see.”
His Vietnamese accent is so strong, it has taken all afternoon for me to get accustomed to the way he pronounces words, and the inflections he uses. But he speaks clearly and slowly, and I can still barely believe what I am hearing.
“I could have been consumed with hatred and anger for these people who were killing and raping. But that would be very harmful to me, and to the world.”
As he speaks, he looks from each on of us to the next person, holding eye contact for what seems like many minutes at a time.
“Instead, I had to look back at these situations. I had to look back at these memories, so painful, and see how I could find compassion for these people. That is the only way I could transform the pain.”
Everyone in the circle is watching Tihn Mahn, and perhaps they are as amazed as I am to see this man, who is so incredibly kind and ready to smile, and to realize what he had to overcome to get to the place he is now.
“So we must take our pain, our suffering,” he went on, “and make it into our strength. Through finding compassion for the people we are angry with, we become very strong.”
And here I am, sitting in front of this man who sends loving-kindness to murderers and rapists, and I feel a little silly.
I thought I was really making strides, practicing compassion for friends or family who I only perceive as causing me suffering. I feel accomplished when I take my feelings of disappointment or hurt, and I channel them into loving-kindness, and come out the other side feeling more peaceful, more at ease. That’s great and all, good for me…
But practicing loving-kindness for people who murdered your friends and neighbors? This is a whole new level of understanding and it’s really raising the bar for me.
As we drive home I wonder where Thay Tihn Mahn came from, and how he ended up building a Buddhist monastery in the mountains near Denver. Do the people speeding on the highway below realize that a 40 foot statue of the Goddess of Compassion is gazing down at them from those mountains?
I hope one day I can be a badass like Tihn Mahn. 🙂
If you have a minute, write a comment and say hi to me. I love hearing from you. Tell me your thoughts or share a story of what you did to get through a tough experience.
P.S. By the way, my band (The Love Sprockets) is releasing our next E.P., dedicated to our daughter, Chickadee. You can preorder it here: http://music.thelovesprockets.com/album/chickadee