Happy Continuation: an epi-blog of VietNam ’07

Staying in the shade @ Trung Hau retreat ~d nelson

I believe it’s possible for a people, for a society to heal from deep-seated injury & trauma. Some of us live in such a time, now, in need of convalescence.  I experienced such a collective, extraordinary healing ten years ago.

Thay introduces abbot

Thay introduces abbot from Dong Dac temple; as Thay came by he told us that many important masters had studied and practiced at this temple.

On this 10 year anniversary of participating for the 3 months on a healing tour to VietNam, accompanying Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh to his home country, from which he had been exiled from nearly 40 years, I witnessed healing of a country which lost over 6 million citizens to war. There are relatively few men still living over 60 years of age, especially in the north. Words below are re-posted from May 12, 2007, without further comment.

Sr. Jewel leaves a smile

Sister Jewel leaves a smile

My Dear Friends, Cheres Amie,

On the way to the Hanoi airport, after nearly 3 months on an amazing pilgrimage which began in Ho Chi Minh City, en route to flying home I read an article in the Vietnam News with the following quote: “President Nguyen Minh Triet hailed high-profile Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh’s visit as a great contribution to Vietnam’s religious activities during their meeting in Hanoi Saturday (May 5th). Triet said he hoped that the “Zen Master” would make more trips to Vietnam and contribute further to national solidarity and development. Hanh has been in Vietnam for a three-month visit since February 20, during which he held three chanting ceremonies, known as Grand Requiems, for those killed in all wars and accidents in the country. Triet told Hanh that Vietnam always respects religious freedom and is determined to make all religions welcomed.” I smiled reading that Thay’s call for the President and/or Prime Minister’s support for the ceremonies to reconcile a nation and other events offered by the sangha had, in part, been realized.

early morning flower market

Hanoi flower market

Today sitting in my dirty car, while slowly being hauled through the Bubble Machine Car Wash’s suds, some questions came to my mind. Like, what will be the karma of the pilgrimage? What does it mean to travel across a country supporting the provision of teachings, practices as well as healing ceremonies to affect deep-seated pains of the past, manifesting in the present, in individuals, families, communities and societies? Seeing so, so many people sincerely taste fruits of mindful living practices and find their joy and happiness by using their breath, steps and actions to arrive in the present moment was unforgettable. When might a country who suffers so much, such as America, be ready for such healing, and who would have the credibility and a big enough heart to do it? Despite a lack of awareness published in Vietnam’s government controlled press about the upcoming events or their intention, tens of thousands came out, and countless other Vietnamese and friends of Vietnamese all over the world set up alters and prayed during the ceremonies to remember the victims of the “American and French wars.” Having had witnessed and participated in one of the greatest acts of love towards Vietnamese people, if not all people, animals, plants and minerals, how should I and the hundreds of other western sangha members who gave so much of there time and money to travel together, continue living out our lives, continuing Thay’s intention? Thich Nhat Hanh could conserve his precious energy by staying in Plum Village, occasionally giving talks and continuing sharing his wisdom through writing books. Where does an eighty year old Zen master derive the physical, mental and spiritual energy, boundless bodhichitta (great heart and mind of compassion), to carry out such an epic intention to heal his nation and the world? All of us westerners had moments of shear mental and physical exhaustion keeping up with the schedule. At times it appeared to me that Thay (Vietnamese for “beloved teacher”) had done nothing short of summoning the Buddha within for strength and direction. Upon finishing the car’s wash I wrote these questions down, then started the engine and drove off, bringing full attention to the Southern California drivers zooming around me.

thousands end walk

Crowd at Huong Son temple welcoming Thich Nhat Hanh

At the final retreats and talks in and near Hanoi Thay continued sharing practical practices from the Lotus sutra, Diamond sutra, and other sutras including the full awareness of breathing, mindfulness and living alone. Attendees at the Vietnam Chamber of Commerce and industry were treated to teachings on deriving insight from our experience, rather than just theories or book learning, and tapping into mindfulness of the breath and awareness of what is going on to find happiness. Negative habit energies of continuing to seek happiness in money, power, fame and sex will most likely lead to more suffering, as is experienced in the West. Buddhism is attractive in the West because it is very scientific in its approach to addressing problems within us and in the environment; being viewed more as a philosophy rather than a devotional religion. Thay made it clear over and over that people and the environment share the same fate and continuing to pollute and destroy nature would be our demise. Thay shared how he has counseled many Western government and business leaders that the way out of our shared predicament is by practicing the mindfulness trainings. During his last public talk in Vietnamese at a retreat in Trung Hau temple, a powerful discourse on the teachings of love was given to the people of Vinh Phuc Province. Love is made of understanding, compassion and wisdom. Relationships and love are not individual matters, as is most often practiced in the west. The happiness of the family and community are also at stake in relationships. Parents and children must use loving speech and deep listening so that they can understand each other for what they truly are, continuations of each other. So often each side is caught in up-side down thinking, or having the wrong perceptions and views. In the East there is a tradition of respect, for parents, for our own bodies. This is practiced by dressing modestly, cooperating, being discreet and couples treating each other as guests, even after being married. Thay said that now many young people are in a state of bewilderment with what they see and hear in their environment, on TV’s and hear in music. Many 14 and 15 year old girls are having sex and getting pregnant, without ever knowing what true love is. Their despair ultimately is transmitted to their children who may well go down the same road. Thay concluded by suggesting that this talk on the 4 immeasurable minds should be given over and over to young people so that their happiness can grow in the knowing that true love is an act of friendship towards oneself and others. After this talk the temple’s Venerable monk told Thay that his community must have accumulated much merit from their ancestors to receive such a powerful teaching, and that he does not know how to repay the generosity and compassion.

hello restaurant staff

hello restaurant staff red apple restaurant in Da Nang offered us a nice meal

At the end of each of the 4 segments of this 3 month journey across Vietnam, members of the western lay sangha wrote comments of gratitude, observations of the beauty of Vietnam and it’s loving people and personal transformations, in a journal. After the final dharma talk in Hanoi the book was presented to Thay. I’m told he smiled and gratefully commented that he wished that we all could accompany him and the monastics to Hong Kong and Thailand, where they will continue giving talks and retreats until early June. Thay made it clear in his words and actions during the entire trip how our lay presence was helping support the healing. We have benefited from his wisdom of no coming, no going, realizing that we are in him, and he is in us; insight passed on by a great teacher. It’s astonishing to think that later this year he plans to give retreats in Europe and America. May he and the sangha have both good health and fortune in their continued efforts as bodhisattvas.

alms round flowing

Alms round of Plum Village & Bat Nha monastics in an orderly line before encountering Bao Loc crowds.

During the next month or so I will produce a video of the pilgrimage so that other sangha members around the world, who were either there or not, can see for themselves glimpses of what happened. You’re welcome to let me know if you’d like a copy. In the mean time there are many pictures and accounts available on the web, including mine at http://www.flickr.com/photos/rezdog . Smiles to you and best wishes in your practice of touching the joy and happiness which is you, already,
david, Compassionate Guidance of the Heart, Truly Holding Equanimity

Full of love

Sister Chan Khong visiting rural school her compassion program financially supports

85 Replies to “Happy Continuation: an epi-blog of VietNam ’07”

  1. Dear David,I have been enjoying your posts as well as your photos. Despite living so close to Vietnam, in San Francisco, I am unable to travel there on this trip. Seeing your pictures is like following and participating the trip itself. Thank you!Let me know too when you have the video.

  2. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you. This is a powerful post, and provides clear guidance for what to do next. With gratitude,SharronCompassionate Vow of the HeartP.S. Yes, please, put me on your video list, too!

  3. My beautiful friend David,You found a place, likean eagle, to overlook a vast land,the journey in Vietnam, this has indeed been an example, a manifestation of the wish for peace, love and understanding in this world. And Thay has carried the light through his beautiful lifelong intent, and we could follow in trust this integrity and wisdom. How healing that is for us to be consoled, educated, united with our true nature.And you my friend, through your sharing and your compassionate courage, help us to see, to be aware, you help us to nourish the light inside.I am very grateful to you for your friendship with my fellow beings both human and non-human and with me. Your friend accross time and space, Manon Felicitas Danker

  4. dear dave,thank you for your blogs and photos of thay’s trip to vn. the photos and blogs have provided a good sense of what was happening during the trip. am grateful for what you’ve done. i would like to have a copy of the video when it is available.dat nguyentrue understanding of the sangha

  5. dear Davidthank you for blogging your whole experience! i’ve enjoyed your posts and pics. please let me know when the video is ready. i would love to see it too!kateasdle382

  6. dear ones,i have reviewed the audio and video footage and many scenes are quite moving. it’s nice that you will be able to view some of what Thay and the sangha transmitted & received. the production has begun and when it is blended together into a finished dharma dvd i will contact you. smiling to your kind heart,david

  7. I enjoyed your blog very much. It helped me invision what it was like. I would like to have a video whenever you get a chance. Also, thank you for sharing your experiences with us.Best Wishes,Derekhappy.valley@

  8. Dear David, I am so filled with gratitude and peace. After participating in Segments 2 and 3 I am contemplating many of the same questions you have expressed. I know that I walk on this beautiful earth as a stronger and kinder person after spending time with Thay, the Vietnamese people and the Sangha. Thank you for your blog and beautiful pictures. This blog has been a real gift. I would love to get a copy of the video. djcharjones@ No Coming, No GoingChar

  9. I am an American survivor of the War. I have not been there since 2 May 69, though it would be good, I hope, to do so. I might see how much language I could remember, as I studied before I went to Vietnam and used it while there.I was greatly blessed this Lenten season, gaining new insight and consolation through the wide-ranging Holy Spirit. I am most pleased to hear of my brother Thua Thay Thich Nhat Hanh’s return and chants, but I am not surprised; it leaps decades and oceans: thank you. We are acquainted thus, and through the teaching.Peace/ Hoa binh

  10. “You take the blue pill and the story ends. You wake in your bed and believe whatever you want to believe. You take the red pill and you stay in Wonderland and I show you how deep the rabbit-hole goes. Remember — all I am offering is the truth, nothing more.”~Morpheus, “The Matrix”THE RED PILL

      1. Welcome. Knowing possibilities is great and so is hope. I often wonder about the unknown – where our possibilities and hopes don’t match.

  11. Great, dear David! Pilgrimage is a very important for Spiritual growing! And that’s wonderful that you share your experience with others!

    Have a nice weekend! 🙂

      1. I’m very proud of you! You’re a good example each of us must follow. Pilgrimage challenges the Spirit. And what benefits it brings after you’ve done the way! I like a tradition the Muslims have: an obligatory pilgrimage to Mekka. For it’s good to have Faith, but it’s better to make spiritual practice of the kind too.
        Best wishes,
        Maria 🙂

  12. Thank you David for giving us this deeply felt account of your pilgrimage led by Thich Nhat Hahn. How I wish I could have
    been there. I read his books, so full of wisdom and peace and you sound the same in this posting.
    You relate beautifully his speech during the final retreat, it is so simple and yet difficult for the West. It will
    happen, bit by bit. He also leads a Plum village in France, I have often wanted to go.

    1. thank you for your kind reflection, dear miriam!
      It was quite enlightening for me to experience
      the people & place from where Thich Nhat Hanh comes from.
      They are much more connected socially to their families, neighbors & ancestors.
      So, learning to live mindfully is not as far of a stretch for those from a Buddhist culture who have supportive networks.
      For us Westerners, not having adequate support makes mindfulness living practice more challenging, although still possible, imho!
      Even though Thay no longer teaches, after his stroke, there are many wise and peaceful monastics teaching in Plum Village & American practice centers. If possible to go, it’s a worthwhile “holiday” 🙂

    1. yes, dear sister, it was quite an epic experience. circumstances freed me up to be on this journey for the 3 months. gives me hope that mass redemption is possible! may your day be well 🙂

  13. It is so wonderful to see these pictures that demonstrate such peace and love among people and all of nature, especially in Vietnam.

  14. Thanks for sharing, David.
    We in the US have so much need for healing, not only for what we did in that unholy war, but also for what we have done and continue to do to Native and African Americans.

    1. Thank you for your compassionate words & actions
      for the benefit of others, Rosaliene!
      Yes, the legacy of victimization
      is dark & long in America’s & humanity’s closet.
      Non whites suffered greatly, & still do.
      Offering the wisdom of non-discrimination
      during these ceremonies to heal the wounds of war,
      Thich Nhat Hanh invoked compassion & understanding
      for the white & non-white
      American soldiers unwittingly enlisted
      to kill his countryman.
      Thereby promoting true
      healing through forgiveness 🙂

  15. I love that Thich Nhat Hahn could return to his homeland and help with the healing. I’ve only heard of the 50,000+ Americans who died there. I never knew as many as 6 million Vietnamese perished. Their wounds and pain must run very deep.

    1. thanks Tippy!
      between the French & American wars on their soil, 6 million dead. A hundred million wounded survivors. Amazing how this country has recovered. Now a beautiful place to visit & have a holiday 🙂

  16. It is evident that this was a wonderful gathering of warm people in friendship, goodwill and love – even if it was in relation to very painful events. Such forgiveness reflects a deep compassion for all concerned. A very humbling event to reflect upon – may we be inspired to promoting peace at all times and my we always honour the victims of war.

    1. I’m touched by your expression of understanding, Jean-Jacques!
      Shining the light of mindfulness upon this catastrophe
      revealed that all were victims
      of the misperceptions
      which lead to that war.
      My observation is that VietNam
      has succeeded in healing from that war
      far more-so than America! 🙂

  17. impressive and emotional life experience… ❤ admiration and respect, Sir! I could talk with you about Vietnam for hours, but… who knows? maybe someday… 🙂

    1. smiling to your kindness, Val.
      it was a most powerful experience
      for me, and all I encountered who
      were on that trip. somehow our
      inner working went through
      a powerful cleansing, and many
      of our lives were forever changed 🙂

  18. I recently watched a couple of videos of talks given by Thich Nhat Hanh; in all honesty, i can say that i was not very impressed. A lot of what he was teaching tended to reinforce the separation between the controller and the controlled; a lot of it dealt with practicing techniques, concentrating on the breath, practicing other forms of concentration, and he provided blueprints for how to approach or view things. He is very immersed in traditional Buddhism and orthodox practices of meditation. Sure, he says a lot of nice things about togetherness and peace, but so do orthodox Catholic priests (who, ultimately, lead people into nothing truly revolutionary). It’s great that he is promoting peace. His very orthodox promotion of (mesmerizing) meditation practices, however, is far from great.

    1. Thanks for sharing your views, Tom! Clearly he’s not the inspiration or teacher for you. He is passing down ancient teachings from his zen lineage, in his unique way, primarily of putting Buddhism into action & not simply theory or devotion. I’ve found his work to create true peace for individuals & societies inspiring myself. Wishing you a happy moment 🙂

  19. David, i appreciate that he has done much for you (and others). (I was into Baba Ram Dass, even, for a short while when i was young.) I sure hope that you get to where you flower beyond Thich Nhat Hanh (and everyone else). Sure, i understand his deep zen lineage; however, zen is too embedded in the master/disciple paradigm… and people are all too willing to be told what to do. Be extremely cautious, please, of charismatic people who seem to say beautiful things (but then tell you what to do). I’m not trying to be a stone in anyone’s shoe with this, but — this one thing i am sure of — there is no map to enlightenment, no practices, no concentration, no blueprint. Thanks 4 understanding! 🙂

    1. thank you for finding it so, Michele!
      it was quite an intense road journey
      but i’m fortunate to have been able to go
      and witness the retreats, ceremonies & transformations and healing 🙂

    1. I’m happy that even after 10 years
      we both can appreciate the beauty
      of such actions of peace & healing, hedy!
      Wishing you a happy moment, david 🙂

  20. The peace that is cultivated in the presence of such teachers is palpable. The practice itself so rich in development. We share a love through sangha that’s joined in silence – a special presence. When I visited Vietnam in 2001, I went on a tour that showed me the conditions of war. I visualized my father treading that same path with a gun – young and not knowing any better. Knowing that his love for culture and humanity grew and seeded through his own very survival and his ability to humanize and empathize so deeply as a regular person caught up in war and totally in over his head. I saw myself as one who would like to take my experiences and ‘make peace inside,’ the fact as having been born at all. When we survive the wreckage of politics and war, and the war within, we find teachers who have walked the path and continue to thread it – it helps us have strength when we stand side by side – recognizing our inner strength and also fragility, vulnerability and cultivating gentleness and compassion. David, thank you so much for sharing your precious experiences here. I am so absolutely grateful for this moment. This one right now. Aloha, Ka

    1. smiling to your deep, touching reflection, Ka! so it is in VN that we meet each other.
      When I was a sophomore in high school, senior boys were being drafted & sent to that war. Then, miraculously it ended. Back in the mid 70’s I encountered several vets who seemed crazed & affected, like characters from the Deer Hunter & apocalypse now, movies. I don’t remember thinking I’d want to see America’s killing field, ever. But if not for that war, Thich Nhat Hanh would not be known outside of his home country. Without Chinese colonization we’d not know the Dalai Lama. Tragedy, Beauty, bound to each other like mud & lotus. So wonderful that you continue your father so beautifully, with understanding, compassion & peaceful footsteps. As ancestors of survivors of war we all carry those wounds, aspiring to heal & lighten descendants burden of humanity. Thank you for being an inspiration to me & the universe 🙂

  21. It is so wonderful David, to see and read your first hand account. I recall reading Thays account of this amazing journey of love and reconciliation. It’s such a beautiful story of hope and forgiveness, through the suffering and hate. We in the western wealthy world, need so much to emulate this (as you reflected in the car wash) 🙂 … Thanks for this epi(c)-blog

    1. I’m grateful to have participated & witnessed these grand actions of peace & healing
      in VietNam, a country to which I had to come & find redemption & healing, myself.
      Thanks for your kind friendship Bruce, & reminding me of sitting in that Southern Calif car wash!
      Maybe, just maybe, the current political swamp in the US will inspire a renaissance of some truly compassionate actions & inspired leaders. 🙂

      1. Wow … yes, may this come to pass.

        Here in British Columbia, today we find out from in the recount of our election from 2 weeks ago if the 3 inspired green party electees will hold the balance of power… currently NDP (social democrats) has 41 seats, Liberals 43, and the Greens 3. If this holds the greens will have a real say (or sway), for the first time in Canadian history.

        Andrew Weaver leads the BC greens and he’s also a climate change scientist (and part of the IPCC). BC has been holding our breath this past week, which is not the best thing , right? But today, we will take a deep breath, and lets hope and pray it’s a fresh breath.

        Thank you again David, for your personal experience and shared journey with Vietnam. With peace and fellowship – Bruce.

  22. It is a wonder that a nation which has witnessed so many atrocities, destruction and death can rise and heal…the trip must have been unbelievably moving and cathartic. It has been a privilege to read of your experience of the trip with him – a life-changing experience for you and now your words touch so many, affect our lives. Thank you…much to ponder and consider in my heart. Smiles to you, David. 😀

  23. It took me a while to get back to read this with care, and I’m glad I did. So much to learn and appreciate here. The loving speech, deep listening and seeing each other as continuations of each other are practices that could save us all. It would be wonderful to see more of those. I’m fascinated by how elders, especially spiritual elders, can out last younger folks in endurance with forces beyond what we think of as physical strength.

  24. What a wonderful account of such a journey David.. I devoured your words of wisdom.. And indeed “When might a country who suffers so much, such as America, be ready for such healing, and who would have the credibility and a big enough heart to do it?”

    I so loved how you described how ” Love is made of understanding, compassion and wisdom. Relationships and love are not individual matters, as is most often practiced in the west. The happiness of the family and community are also at stake in relationships. Parents and children must use loving speech and deep listening so that they can understand each other for what they truly are, continuations of each other.”

    So important to understand this. So much of the worlds trauma today is built on indoctrination passed down from Parents to children.. A child believes what it is told.

    I am delighted you shared such a relevant experience David. If Vietnam can heal and find Peace within its people, then this gives me great hope for the rest of the world my friend

    Love and Blessings to you David.. Many thanks for your Kind Heart and generous Spirit . I know as we move through the Shifts taking place. Love and Compassion are growing, even out of tragedy… And I am reminded of the 100th Monkey.. So onward and forward we will keep faith that all is as it should be..

    Many thanks for sharing such a beautiful experience my friend of your pilgrimage.
    Sue ❤

    1. thank you for finding the powerful message of our interbeing nature, Sue. Those were powerful days and I’m fortunate to have experienced and now re-share a decade later. Your optimism is contagious as we embrace the possible. smiles, david 🙂

  25. I thoroughly enjoyed your sharing of the memories and experiences of this pilgrimage, David. We are reminded there is such power in the collective commitment of people to peace. I do hope we can cultivate this type of feeling in the US, recognizing it may be expressed differently in various cultures and times and circumstances. It is both amazing and beautiful to me how a simple act like walking across the land, sharing with people and connecting, can stitch together healing.


    1. a joyful smile at your recognizing the core of this peace & healing experience of many thousands, which i was privileged to witness, Michael! Each in our own way we water seeds of love & hope, step by peaceful step, that a collective awakening will successfully occur, re-visioning a thriving future for all beings 🙂

  26. Thank you for sharing a beautiful, powerful healing journey, David. The work of compassionate peacemakers and healers will make a difference for everyone now and for generations yet to be born.

  27. I’m crying for so many reasons, David. I’m crying because of the beauty found in this post and how it moved me to tears. I am crying that a country so torn by war is becoming aware that healing is possible. I am crying because the man I am married to is still fighting the Vietnam War and knows no peace. I am crying for the world that is dying. My tears sting my eyes and run down my cheeks. I cannot express to you how much this post moved me in more ways I can possibly say. Bless you, dear Brother of Peace. Bless you! 🌸

  28. I love that phrase you about parents and children using loving speech and deep listening. If only we stressed those lovely methods more here in America. Excellent and mindful post. 🌹🦋

  29. I thoroughly enjoyed reading about this remarkable healing tour, David, and seeing the photos. So much hugging, smiling, sharing, quietness, brightness, hope, and l o v e. Also enjoyed the beautiful photos on your Flickr link too, especially the gorgeous snake who looked like he stopped to pose for you. Thank you, as always, for sharing the beauty of life.

    1. smiling to your kind reflection, Jet. it was a beautiful & challenging trip, but nice to remember. thanks for waking me up to posting again, here. seems I’ve been everywhere but on wp 🙂

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