Staying in Hue for the past week has been refreshing on several levels. This small city in the middle of Vietnam has a peaceful, rural quality; much calmer to the senses than Ho Chi Minh City. The talks, ceremonies and times to relax are less crowded. While it is a little cooler than down south, it has been very humid and at some moments hard to do anything but sweat. It is possible to see Thich Nhat Hanh’s roots as we experience the town and temple where he became a monastic in 1942.
Concurrent monastic and lay retreats occurred at Tu Hieu temple. We saw Thay during walking meditations. He gave a very special talk on Ancestral Day, in part, about the relationship between his teacher and himself. We are fortunate that his teacher transmitted so much compassion and understanding. We are blessed by having hundreds of skillful means offered by our teacher. Our lay retreat was filled with opportunities for joyful sharing and lessons. Inspiring talks were given by Jack Lawlor (who wrote the book “Friends on the Path”) and Mitch Ratner. Our lay retreat’s theme was “touching our roots.” We applied Thay’s teaching that the teacher and student can walk far together, transcending difficulties in this life. Very deep looking into our family, land, and spiritual roots was facilitated by everyone’s practice. Family groups offered support to each other at the monastery, as well as during outings into town or on the Perfume River. I was happy to be with many friends from Deer Park, and others I’ve met on the path. Sister Chong Khong sponsored another trip with many of us to visit local schools that the sangha supports funding teachers and classrooms. Friends were very generous, donating when they heard of school or family health needs. Being here is to witness the real meager existence many live with in Vietnam. We are often touched by how people with so little materially, have so much physical and spiritual energy. They are so welcoming to us, even with our cameras blasting away.
Today about 85 new friends arrive, as many others depart for home. About 120 people will be on this 3rd segment as the pilgrimage of healing and reconciliation continues. I will again do my best as a family group leader to facilitate harmony and a little less confusion related to the constant changes in the schedule & travel plans. In a few hours we will head to a festival in town where Thay is giving another dharma talk. Tomorrow another great requiem ceremony begins here in Hue. Last night Sister Kinh Nghiem came to explain much of the purpose and symbolism of the last great ceremony in Saigon. What might be a weeks worth of activity was packed into 3 days. All the chanting, Sutras, teaching and ceremony was to concentrate energy of compassion, understanding to help those departed be at peace. Efforts were made to keep the energy at the core of the temple focused and disturbances out. The local culture also greatly influenced much of what was seen and experienced by us. Thay made it clear over and over that the healing was without discrimination for who, where and why people died. We understood that while many hungry ghosts are departed, others are still with us, perhaps they are us, going through this life with large bellies, small throats, starving for the nourishment of love. Many of us remembered the names of American, French or other non-Vietnamese, so that energy would be sent to help those deceased and their families.
Thank you to Harriet Wrye who was a wonderful buddy in Vietnam, for transcribing this statement.
THAY’S PRAYER AND VOWS
To be Expressed during the Great Requiem Ceremonies to Untie the Knots of Great Injustice–
Van Minh Temple, Ho Chi Minh City and Tu Hieu Temple, Hue, Viet Nam
by Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh March-April 2007
“Dear Ones who have passed from this life:
You are our fathers and mothers; our aunts and uncles; our husbands and wives; our sisters and brothers; our sons and daughters, who have died during the war. When our country was on fire with all the fighting, you left us tragically, suddenly, forced to abandon your precious body. We have lost you, dear ones. We know that you fought courageously for our nation without regret for your precious body and we are proud of you. But you lost your body in a very tragic situation, and the injustice could never be expressed. You died deep in a distant jungle or were lost at sea or in a dark prison cell. You may have died because of bullets or bombs, or from starvation or sheer exhaustion. You may have been raped and then killed with no way to resist. How many of you have died in despair, in injustice, the remains of your body lost somewhere in the ocean or the jungle where we who love you could not get hold of them. To fight for our independence and freedom, our country has had to bear great tragedy and injustice, and it is you who have shouldered the burden of the whole nation in your death.
We your relatives, your fellow countrymen and countrywomen, we come here—some of us are before our own altars at home—and among us there are those who still continue to suffer from injustice. Fortunately the nightmare has ended, the country is now at peace, and we are having the chance to rebuild the country, to heal the remaining wounds. Thanks to the merits and good deeds of our ancestors we have a chance to come together and offer prayers together to the Three Gems. With the support of the powerful Dharma, we request you to come back ALL TOGETHER to reunite with each other, embracing each other, loving each other like sisters and brothers in one family. WE will not distinguish between North or South, women or men, adults or children, by race, religion, party or ideology. We are all fellow countrywomen and countrymen, but because of the past bad fortune, we have been pushed to fight each other in our drive for independence, for freedom. Thanks to the merits of our ancestors we can now come back to each other, recognizing each other as siblings of a single family, to promise each other that we will not forget this painful lesson of the past now engraved on our hearts:
We vow that from now on we will not let the country be separated again, not even one more time. From now on, when there are internal difficulties, we will not request the help of any foreign power to intervene with weapons and troops in our country. From now on, we will not start a war for any ideology. From now on, we will not use foreign weapons to kill each other. From now on we will use our best efforts to build a society with real democracy, to be able to resolve all kinds of disagreements by peaceful democratic methods and we will not resort to violence against fellow countrymen and countrywomen.
Respected Blood Ancestors, Respected Spiritual Ancestors, please bear witness to our profound sincerity. We respectfully make these deep vows before you. And we know that once we have sincerely expressed ourselves in this way, all the knots of injustice can be untied, and the deep wounds in each of us will start to be healed.
Today this Great Chanting Ceremony to untie ALL INJUSTICES EQUALLY without any discrimination starts here; but at the same time, countless Vietnamese and friends of Vietnamese throughout the world are setting altars in front of their houses too, to pray for you all. We touch the earth deeply to request the grace of the Three Jewels to carry to the other shore of liberation ALL OF YOU dear deceased ones, so that, dear ones, you can be carried by the strength of the Dharma to be able to understand, to transform, to transcend and to know you are free.
We your descendants, we promise to continue your aspiration. WE vow to carry you in our hearts, to build brotherhood and sisterhood and mutual love of fellow countrymen and countrywomen. We will remember that pumpkin vines and squash vines can share a single frame, that chickens from a same mother will never fight each other. This insight from our Ancestors will shine out its light for us now, and forever.”