This poem was written by Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) during the Vietnam war. His life and the lives of his students were at risk on a daily basis. Yet this poem encourages insight, compassion and forgiveness. We also offer a recording of the song based on the poem.
Recommendation by Thich Nhat Hanh
promise me this day,
promise me now,
while the sun is overhead
exactly at the zenith,
Even as they
strike you down
with a mountain of hatred and violence;
even as they step on you and crush you
like a worm,
even as they dismember and disembowel you,
remember brother, remember:
man is not our enemy.
The only thing worthy of you is compassion –
invincible, limitless, unconditional.
Hatred will never let you face
the beast in man.
One day, when you face this beast alonewith your courage intact, your eyes kind,
(even as no one sees them),
out of your smile
will bloom a flower.
And those who love you
will behold you
across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.
I will go on with bent head,
knowing that love has become eternal.
On the long, rough road
the sun and moon will continue to shine.
Thich Nhat Hanh tells the story of the poem
I wrote this poem in 1965 especially for the young people in the School of Youth for Social Service who risked their lives every day during the war, recommending them to die without hatred. Some had already been killed violently, and I cautioned the others against hating. Our enemy is our anger, hatred, greed, fanaticism, and discrimination against men. If you die because of violence, you must meditate on compassion in order to forgive those who kill you. When you die realizing this state of compassion, you are truly a child of the Awakened One. Even if you are dying in oppression, shame, and violence, if you can smile with forgiveness, you have great power.
Rereading this lines of this poem, I suddenly understood the passage in the Diamond Sutra that speaks about kshanti, endurance or tolerance : “Your courage intact, your eyes kind, untroubled (even as no one sees them), out of your smile will bloom a flower. And those who love you will behold you across ten thousand worlds of birth and dying.”
If you die with compassion in mind, you are a torch lighting our path. Before burning herself, Nhat Chi Mai one of the earliest Tiep Hien members, read this poem into a tape and left it for her parents.
Alone again I will go on with bent head” in order to see you, know you, remember you. Your love has become eternal. “On the long rough road, the sun and the moon will continue to shine.” When there is a mature relationship between people, there is always compassion and forgiveness. In our life we need others to see and recognize us so that we feel supported. How much more do we need the Buddha to see us! On our path of service, there are moments of pain and loneliness, but when we know that the Buddha sees and knows us, we feel a great surge of energy and a firm determination to carry on.
The brothers of Weston Priory put this poem into beautiful music.