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Lions Roar : January 2016
This was at the time of the eight-year war between France and the nationalist Viet Minh fighting to end colonial rule. “The walls of our temple in Hué were riddled with bullet holes,” Thich Nhat Hanh remembers in his latest book, Inside the Now. “French soldiers would raid our temples, searching for resistance fighters or food, demanding we hand over the last of our rice. Monks were killed, even though they were unarmed.” Yet neither his faith nor his courage would waver: “We knew that the spirit of poetic inspiration, the heart of spirituality, and the mind of love could not be extinguished by death.” In response to the escalating war, Nhat Hanh founded the Engaged Buddhism movement. Its mission was to apply Bud- dhist teachings and practice to the real-world suffering caused by war, social injustice, and political oppression. “We wanted to offer a new kind of Buddhism—a Buddhism that could act as a raft, to save the whole country from the desperate situa- tion of conflict, division, and war,” he recalls. Engaged Buddhism’s call for peace resonated deeply with young Vietnamese Buddhists. Nhat Hanh was named editor- in-chief of the magazine Vietnamese Buddhism, led meetings attended by hundreds of people, and started a magazine for young monastics called The New Lotus Season. During this time, Nhat Hanh met Cao Ngoc Phuong, a young biology student who was concerned that Buddhists didn’t care enough about the poor. She would become Sister Chan Khong, his closest disciple and one of the “thirteen cedars,” a group of passionate young activists who studied with and supported him. Not surprisingly, the growing popularity of the Engaged Buddhist movement attracted opposition from the conserva- tive Buddhist establishment. Nhat Hanh was accused of sow- ing the seeds of dissent and his journal was discontinued. “It was still too radical for the majority of the elders in the Buddhist establishment,” he remembers. “They dismissed many of our ideas, and steadily began to silence our voices.” Nhat Hanh and his followers needed a place of spiritual refuge, and in 1957 they established Phuong Boi—the Fragrant Palm Leaves Her- mitage—in the Vietnamese highlands. It was, he says, “a place to heal our wounds and look deeply at what hap- pened to us.” To this day, he considers it his true spiritual home. “We lived, studied, and practiced together happily. We all loved Buddhism and we all loved our country.” Engaged Buddhism was born in response to the war between the nationalist Viet Minh, led by the communists, and the French army. The war ended with the French defeat at Dien Bien Phu in 1954. PHOTOCOURTESYOFPARALLAXPRESSPHOTO[R]©KEYSTONEPICTURESUSA/ZUMAPRESS.COM SHAMBHALA SUN JANUARY 2016 43