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Lions Roar : July 2010
Thich Nhat Hanh leads a peace march in Los Angeles in 2006. He is considered the founder of Engaged Buddhism. diplomatic, economic, and eventually military-would ensure the survival of the South Vietnamese government. Like the Americans, the Buddhists of Vietnam feared a com- munist takeover. To encourage Buddhists to create a united front in support of an independent, democratic South Vietnam, Thich Nhat Hanh became the editor of a journal encouraging both nationalism and humanism. During this period he also wrote a series of articles on the dharma for a daily newspaper, convened meetings attended by hundreds of people who shared his vision for Vietnam, and started a magazine for young monastics striv- ing to modernize Buddhism. These efforts got him noticed by the conservative Buddhist establishment and they sought to stymie his work. Most notably, the journal he edited, which was published by the All-Vietnam Buddhist Association, was discontinued. This led Nhat Hanh to change tracks and to help found Phuong Boi, a small experimen- tal community located in a forest near Saigon. In his book, Fra- grant Palm Leaves, he lyrically describes life there. Mornings in the forest were as "pristine as a blank sheet of paper, pure white except for a pink blush along the edges." And nights had a "cur- tain of darkness" that was "thick and secretive." While living at Phuong Boi, Nhat Hanh continued to write about Engaged Buddhism and he traveled to various temples to give talks. During one of these trips, he met Cao N goc Phuong, 40 SHAMBHALA SUN JULY 2010 a biology student to whom he would eventually give the dharma name Sister Chan Khong. She became one of his "thirteen cedars;' a group of passionate young activists who studied with him and supported him in every way. But Nhat Hanh continued to meet with resistance from old-school Buddhists who felt threatened by the large number of students he attracted, and these opponents found ways to cancel the Buddhist courses he taught. The govern- ment too took issue with his activities, as well as the activities of others associated with Phuong Boi. One member of the commu- nity was arrested, Nhat Hanh himself had to flee to Saigon, and eventually all those remaining at Phuong Boi were forced to move to a hamlet set up by government troops. Spurred by this turn of events, Nhat Hanh accepted a fellow- ship to study comparative religion in the U.S., at Princeton Uni- versity. His journal from 1962 gives descriptions of Princeton that are as lyrical as his descriptions of Phuong Boi: "It is so cool and crisp this time of year. At the slightest breeze, leaves fall from the trees and brush against your shoulders. Some are golden, some as red as lipstick." Yet Nhat Hanh was homesick, keenly feeling the demise of his experimental community. "Princeton is beauti- ful,,, he wrote, "but it doesn't have the beauty of Phuong Boi. Fog never encircles the mountains, making you feel as though you are standing at the edge of the sea... Princeton is not untamed, like Phuong Boi." '"d ::r: o """Ì o 0:; >-< ti o Z 'Tj 0:; t"rJ