So many happy moments I could share about on this pilgrimage of joy and healing across Vietnam. But alas, there has been precious limited time to access a computer and write, before it was time to get on another bus and new adventure. At this moment I’m enjoying a lunch of lychees, freshly peeled pineapple, tasty bananas and some water. With the busy traffic outside this crowded internet café, I’m recalling this morning’s walk, before most of Hanoi was awake and moving about outside. Women vending their wares of fresh vegetable, fruit, and flowers had newspaper laid out for wrapping the fresh produce. Other stands being set up along the street included pho noodle and other prepared food stands, as well as women laying out freshly cut meat, awaiting their first customer of the day. A few bikes were peddled by me, and only a few motor bikes and taxis. An old woman sweeps the front of her shop with a crude, homemade broom, while a man dumps a pan of some kind of liquid in the street. I can walk peacefully down the street and get few stares.
A very special interchange between Buddhists and Christians occurred at the stone temple Catholic Church in Phat Diem. There were many warm smiles and singing children and adults as a bridge was created between the two great religions. Thich Nhat Hanh gave a talk which reminded me of the content of his books, “Living Buddha, Living Christ”, “Going Home: Jesus and Buddha as brothers”, and “The Power of Prayer.” In Thay’s talk he suggested that religions should co-exist peacefully. When couples with different religious roots get together, they support each other by attending the other’s “service”, and also studying and practicing the best they can; children should be raised with both of their roots, joyfully. It was made clear that people should maintain their roots so that they will not be cut off from them and lose their happiness. Thay suggested that for that reason many of us westerners enjoy the mindfulness practice because it does not prevent us from continuing to practice Christianity, Judaism, or other faiths. A law should be enacted which allows couples of different faiths to marry and practice peacefully, even if it takes a hundred years to pass, it would still be worth it, said Thay. I perceived some unease from some of the local parish when it was suggested that one need not die to be in the kingdom of God, but that it can be experience in this present moment. The talk concluded with the guidance that these two religions have different terms for the same truth, and we should not suffer from the use of different words. In France a banana is given a name, and in Vietnam a banana is given a different name, but in both cases the words are describing the same thing.
The dharma talks and interchanges with about 700 intellectuals and business leaders in Hanoi were also quite moving. The audience was given lessons on power and interbeing. Thay used the example of George Bush, perhaps the most powerful man in the world, does not have enough power to stop the war he started and he suffers greatly. He must have so much difficulty sleeping at night. As Vietnam’s economy grows, it is finding that desires for power, money, fame and sex do not bring happiness, but often they bring about more suffering. When we have compassion, love and faith we can be very successful, even if we have little material wealth. It’s easy to make a list of all the conditions of our happiness which exist in this moment. There’s no need to get a certain job, car, relationship or anything else, when we can be happy right now with what we have, this precious human life. Our eyes bring us so many colors and beautiful sights; our ears the sounds of our loved ones; our nose the sweet smell of foods prepared for us. Dwelling in the present moment means being there for ourselves and our loved ones. Thay also urged everyone to be aware of the non-human elements, namely animals, plants and minerals, which are suffering greatly as we pollute the air, water and earth. The fate of the ecology is our fate; and is written about in the Diamond Sutra. At a dharma talk at Bo De temple, Thay again talked about the environment, and then a discourse on the 5 mindfulness trainings, the practices necessary for a future to be possible for the children.
I have much gratitude for being part of this mobile sangha, now here in the north. So many friends have supported me along this 3 month journey. At this moment my body is quite tired, while my mind is at ease knowing that I can fall asleep easily, when I put myself into the hotel bed. Even though my two roommates don’t make much noise at night I put my earplugs in and I don’t hear much more than my own thoughts. Time for me to get out of this internet café and do some yoga. Tomorrow the last two day retreat here in Vietnam; then one more dharma talk, for westerners in English. Smiles from a wet cloudy sky in Hanoi.