On Christmas Day, a Buddhist monk gave me a present. I’d been ill, bedridden, but had decided to walk to the Vietnamese temple to say hello to Quan Yin and the other gods. The sun was out and the sky was that crisp winter blue I love to see behind green trees. Bundled up, walking slowly, I entered the grounds near the largest statue, and immediately saw a monk. Rats, I thought. People. But the monk merely nodded, we bowed slightly to each other, and he ambled away. Leaving me to it, I thought.
I moved closer to the huge sculpture of… Buddha? Quan Yin? How do you tell them apart? and aren’t they just various faces of god, the universe, and everything? But that’s a different essay. I began to chat, say thank you, how are you. Checking in. The monk returned. Sigh.
I turned toward him politely, because, well, he’s a monk! He held up a large sheet of thick paper. A drawing in pastels and ink, lots of green squiggles and black dots, and oh, a brown trunk. Seemed to be a tree, some kind of pine, and writing on a slant beside and under it.
The monk gestured and spoke in Vietnamese, pointing to calligraphy near the bottom of the drawing. “Thich Nhat Hanh,” he said, the first words I understood. Thich Nhat Hanh, the Buddhist writer, who Martin Luther King Jr. described as “an apostle of peace and nonviolence.” The writing was a quote. Here it is, grammar intact:
Breathe and Smile
Waking up this morning, I see the blue sky.
I join my hands in thanks
for the many wonders of life
for having twenty-four brand new hours before me.
The sun is rising.
The forest become me awareness
bathed in sunshine.
Breathing in, I calm my body
Breathing out, I smile
Dwelling in the present moment
I know this is a wonderful moment!
Breathing in, there is only the present moment
Breathing out, it is a wonderful moment.
I laughed with delight — god is not subtle! To my surprise, the monk handed me the drawing and motioned for me to take it. “Happy Christmas,” he said.
After a few rounds of “No! Really?” I said, “Thank you.” He allowed me to give him a very brief sideways hug. “Happy Christmas,” I said. Smiling.