Thich Nhat Hanh declares during his dharma talk at Vihn Nghiem temple that on this second day of ceremony we will continue to open the hearts of hungry ghosts. Along with the most powerful chants lead by a chant master specializing in inviting spirits, those who died during the war, whether as a hero, in prison, of sickness, on land or sea, will have their souls purified by compassion and energy of the dharma. You can see more pictures by clicking on the photos in this blog. Day two began with chants from the discourse on love. This energy is to let the lost souls not be attached to the body. Everyone is requested to bring themselves wholeheartedly into the chants and not disturb the energy by moving around and taking pictures. Beginning anew gatha of forgiveness, lightness and freedom is evoked. Chanting from the depths of understanding, with great emotion and steadfastness roars and pulsates throughout this huge temple. In the afternoon chanting to evoke presence of the medicine king, a previous incarnation of the Buddha. Lead by the chant master, traditional chants known locally flow like a mighty river of heart-felt sound, non stop for nearly two hours, through the temple and outside. Echoing loudly not only inside, but also outside amongst the thousands in the courtyard. So many thousands of voices giving energy to the healing. Thay declares that as the beginning anew transforms our hearts and of those of the loved ones departed, that the nightmare of the Vietnam War is ended. That the squash and the pumpkin and co-exist peacefully on the same vine, and anotheïr old saying, “chicks of the same hen don’t fight.” With a bell, there’s a wave of bows from the crowd.
In the evening our lay sangha is amazed as they become part of the lotus lamp ceremony. The procession line forms, with colorful umbrellas, flags, and other ceremonial poles. I stood near the beginning with my palms together to show respect to the monastics as they proceeded by first. As Thay walked by, about 10 feet away, he looked over at me and we both smiled. Raising his hand, he waves, wiggling his fingers in a cute gesture. I return the wave and smile as he and the monastics walk by. Our lay sangha follow the monastics, in two lines, slowly into the mass assembled out in the courtyard. All we go by in a narrow opening, offer us lotus bows and big smiles as we pass the shrines and wishing well alter. We can see on a big screen Thay and all the monastics file into the most sacred area under the temple where memorials have been put on display of high teachers and patriarchs. A place lay members are not allowed. This evening’s dark is lit up with spotlights, colored lanterns, and the booming sounds of a big drum, cymbals and bells, accompanying chants from the monastics and crowd. After a half hour our line is allowed into the patriarch’s area, ushered quickly past attendants who hand us hand made paper lotuses with candles inside. As we proceed our candles our lit, walking in formation into the night. Around the temple we stand, glowing like a most beautiful lotus candlelit lane awaiting the chant master high monk, other monastics, entourage of musicians and traditionally dressed young women, who then pass, smiling. We follow them to the river bank behind the temple, passing by big crowds bowing. The glowing lotus’ are ceremoniously placed into the river where they float light beacons. They are there to provide light to the souls lost in darkness so that they may join us during this transformative healing and reconciliation ceremony. In the tight crowd by the river I am most grateful to not have slipped on the muddy banks into the water, or have been burned by the fire all around my clothes and face. It is a most emotionally moving event. Standing along a much crowed street awaiting the bus home the thick smell of so many motor scooters, taxis, busses and pedestrians passing by the temple it is a challenge to keep the mind at ease. By the time the bus arrives I have managed to feel relaxed, along with the overwhelming ceremony experience of the day of sights, sounds, fumes and powerful healing energy.
On day three Thay states that this is the most ever in Vietnam. An action of love to bring individuals, families and the nation into harmony and peace. The fans offer comfort from the heat and sitting close to so many. We are told that the knots of injustice are being untied for all beings. They are being offered the dharma, prayers and food. Thay offers prayers for all those who lost their precious body. That they will be healed in our consciousness, and that we will heal and not transmit habit energy of suffering to future generations. Thay helps the audience understand how to walk and breath as he does, with the energy of lightness and freedom. The dead have been invited to the temple to begin anew with us. Sister Chong Khong sings a song of beginning anew, teaching it to the audience and they sing along, many with tears in their eyes. I see people giving comfort to the one next to them. As fans wave, the screen inside project the crowd’s faces of regret, forgiveness and hope. Greed, anger, passion and ignorance are offered a chance of transformation during this mass beginning anew. Thay mentions that even the Communist party has admitted mistakes of taking land and killing so many, although they referred to it as a correction and not beginning anew. Everyone learns that once the mind is purified there is no trace of past unskillful ness, no guilt, no sin. Sitting in the spring breeze, teacher and students happy as a family. My body is tired, but my spirits are high.
After the ceremony, Cher and Crow a couple of Canadian filmmakers interview me as part of their collecting material for a wonderful film on spiritual activism throughout the world. They traveled as part of our sangha during segment one and are finishing the part of the filming about Thay and the sangha going to Vietnam at the conclusion of today’s ceremony. Other spiritually-engaged practices are also to be featured in their filmed scheduled for release in 2008. You can read more about what they are doing, an interview with Thay and some pictures at http://www.fiercelight.org.