A very personal account: “There Was A Reason.”
Most of this text was written on August 29th, 2019 for an upcoming book on Thich Nhat Hanh's impact on various people. My text wasn't selected, but I was happy for the chance to think about his impact on me.
FYI, Thich Nhat Hanh is a world-famous Zen Buddhist Teacher and Peace Activist. He and his associates started Engaged Buddhism and its practice center, Plum Village.
It was March 2009. I was on my way to Murakami City in Niigata Prefecture by shinkansen (Japan’s bullet train). I had bought Thich Nhat Hanh’s The Miracle of Mindfulness: An Introduction to the Practice of Meditation from Amazon US and brought it with me on that 2-day trip. The book was recommended in a self-help book I had read in December 2008.
Mindfulness was very new to me. I had read some books on Buddhist thinking since I came to Japan, but I hadn’t been able to understand the fundamental concepts. The way of thinking was too different from my religious and spiritual upbringing, which is Islam, and the language used in those books were too abstract for me.
But, the book I was reading in shinkansen was different. After a few pages, I realized that it was simple and practical. Thich Nhat Hanh was talking about daily experiences, suffering, and concrete ways of handling them. 1 hour into the journey, I was already half-way through the book. Then, something magical happened. The way Thich Nhat Hanh was talking about impermanence and interdependence started to sound very similar to the Sufi teachings I was familiar with. After all, I am from Turkey, the land Mevlana Rumi met Shems and started a new phase in his life. My mother was born in the town of Konya where he went through the deep spiritual transition and spread his teachings. In 2003 we had a family trip to Konya and I was deeply moved by Rumi’s presence when we visited the compound where his tomb was. Thich Nhat Hanh was talking describing the same universal truth as Rumi but from the perspective of his tradition. We see the same sun, rain, and clouds, but different cultures have different words for those. When we use those names, they are just names, but never true descriptions.
That realization made me shudder. With Thich Nhat Hanh’s words, I felt what Rumi was trying to convey. Rumi was right to talk about universal love and compassion. It was time for me to understand and embrace it. This was the reason, I thought, I was in Japan and reading about Thich Nhat Hanh’s interpretation of Buddhism. Maybe it was my destiny to reconnect with Rumi in that shinkansen trip. Nothing was a coincidence.
That day started that my journey in deepening my connections: connections with myself, my profession, others, and life itself. In 2015, I joined Tokyo Sangha and Thich Nhat Hanh’s mindfulness has become an integral part of my life. Studying with the sangha, attending retreats, reading Thich Nhat Hanh’s other books, as well as Rumi, helped me build compassion for myself, my late father, and others. I have started to feel calmer, more courageous, more advantageous, and more mindful of my impact on the world.
In 2018 I changed my job and started a path that is more aligned with my life purpose.