Welcoming the Dead

fresh offering
Originally uploaded by d nelson.

Thich Nhat Hanh declared that the national 3 days of healing is beginning this morning with the ceremony of non-discrimination of all people who unjustly died during war. The ceremony felt dramatic in this large temple in Ho Chi Minh City. It all began with chanting by Plum Village monastics, then an introduction and dharma talk by Thay, then ceremony to invite the souls of the deceased to the ceremony so that they can find peace. After the ceremony Thay and the monastics went to a cemetery, to invite the souls of the deceased at places where fierce fighting happened; then out to a beach from where thousands of boat people who tried to flee perished.

Where have my loved ones, who died, gone, asks Thay. He suggests that one needs to look deeply to see that they are present in us. Just as a kernel of corn manifests as a new plant, and the cloud becomes the rain, then tea, our ancestors are continue on in us. If we are well, light and free in our mind and body, then so will the ancestors in us will be so, too. The crowd of several thousand was told that it is a wrong view to think that from being something becomes non-being. Understanding impermanence one can see that everything changes and transforms to a new manifestation. During the talk the power went out. After a few minutes of darkness and silence the monastics began to chant. For about five minutes the chanting continued until the power came on and the talk and ceremony continued. Our loved ones only change shape and form, taught Thay. The lesson of no coming, no going, no birth, no death. The 5-6 million that died unjustly during the war need the collective energy of the country to heal. All were solicited to set up a simple alter of rice soup and salt. During the 3 days all are asked to practice letting go, and speaking with love and kindness so that reconciliation can occur between us and our dead loved ones, and that their souls will be liberated.

After the ceremony my friend Ed found that his shoes were missing. Unfortunately these things happen with big crowds. I walked up and down the street in front of the temple looking for a shoe store but had no luck. Every taxi and many motorbikes wanted my business, but I just wanted to walk, even though it was so hot and muggy in Ho Chi Minh City. A sister found Ed a pair of plastic slippers. In the afternoon it was hot and humid in the temple, also. The sound of chanting echoes along with drums, cymbals, some kind of ethnic clarinet and bells. The air is thick with the strong smell of incense. An old man in a brown robe offers me a moment to use his fan to cool off; I wave it back and forth quickly. Into the afternoon, I see lay friends looking wilted and slowly pacing the temple hall. A continual flow of people proceed up to the alter in front of the 25 foot Buddha with their palms together, bowing, then touching the earth honoring their ancestors to the sounds of chanting and musicians.


2 thoughts on “Welcoming the Dead

  1. Anonymous

    Please, write more about the ceremony of Plumvillage sangha – going to cimetery to invite dead souls…Where are these cimeteries and what are its name? Thank you.

  2. david nelson

    I was told that Thay and some monastics went to a cemetary as well as to the sea to call the souls to attend the healing ceremony, but not exactly where. If I find out I’ll let you know, thanks,david


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