“In the eyes of a thorn, the world looks like a thorn.
In the eyes of a flower, the world looks like a flower.” (From Phoolko Ankaama)
These simple but provocative words were penned by Tibetan Buddhist nun Ani Choying Dorlma. Ani Choying was born in 1971 in Kathmandu, Nepal to Tibetan exiles. When she was 13 years old, she joined a Buddhist monastery to escape a physically abusive father. In the monastery she learned Buddhist chants and discovered that she has a skill and deep love for music. Phoolko Ankaama is one of the many songs she has written and sung. A recording of the song, along with a translation of the words is online at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HLggOXZwfOA.
As a nun in a Buddhist monastery, Ani Choying soon discovered that women do not have many opportunities to play leadership roles in a very patriarchal society, even in the monasteries. She resolved to devote her life to working for transformation of the traditional patriarchal society of Nepal and to help women achieve their full potential. It has not been an easy struggle, but Ani Choying is a flower and thus sees the world around her as a flower, filled with beautify and potential. She works tirelessly for a more just society and she challenges us to do the same.
The question the song asks us is an important one: Are we a thorn or a rose? Do we see the world as violent, heading for total destruction and filled with dreadful terrors? Or do we, despite all of the dangers erupting around us, see signs of hope and beauty? The way we see the world reflects what is in our heart according to Ani Choying.
It is not difficult to become a thorn in our world today. We are daily assailed by news reports of wars and rumors of wars. Any act of terrorism, or perceived terrorism, gets major coverage from the mass media. We get limitless detail of the act itself, the damaging results, and the person or persons who allegedly perpetrated the act. We are constantly warned of what might happen, what “they” are planning against us, and even how our own country is heading toward destruction. The pressure to become a thorn and to see the world around us as a thorn is a heavy weight to carry around all day.
Living in Asia for more than 40 years now, I have had the privilege of meeting a great number of people who live amidst much violence, yet see the world as a rose. Muslim friends in Indonesia have stood up against the fundamentalists of their faith to defend and protect Christians because they believe that Christians and Muslims can become true sisters and brothers. Buddhist friends in Thailand have linked arms to stand between political factions in conflict to call for peace and calm, knowing that nonviolence is much more powerful than the threat from guns and clubs. A Christian friend in Indonesia has joined action with Muslims and people of other faiths to work tirelessly for an end to serious conflict in his area because he believes that the Community of God is truly possible. These friends do these courageous act because they see in everyone, even the “enemy,” a person loved by God and therefore part of their own family.
I am always encouraged by these friends to see the world as a rose. They help me set aside my fears and my assumptions of others. I am blessed to have had the opportunity to meet them and to work with them. They also challenge me not to be overwhelmed by all the negative news coming from the mass media, but rather to go to the people and see the hope for a beautiful world through their eyes.
In our country guns seem to have become the symbol of safety. This need for more and more guns suggests a deep fear of the other, a fear that results in our seeing the “other” as a thorn, a danger to our security and our wellbeing. It is this thorn inside us which results in the world looking as a thorn. Eradicate the fear and the world will slowly begin to look like a rose.
The world we live in was created by a God of love. After completing creation, “God looked over everything God had made;…it was so good, so very good!” (Genesis 1: 31) God created the world as a rose and God has given us responsibility to care for that rose in order to preserve its beauty and its reflection of God’s Kingdom. Do we see that world as a rose or as a thorn?