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Lions Roar : May 2012
SHAMBHALA SUN MAY 2012 40 who is drawn away by drugs, but you cannot communicate with him easily. You try to be present with him in the moment but still you don’t see how to help him.” That’s okay, says Chan Khong. “If you train yourself to drive your car in the present moment, to walk in the present moment, to prepare your dinner in the pres- ent moment, eventually—perhaps while chopping vegetables— you will have deep insight into the way that you can handle the situation with your brother in a skillful way. You will know how to touch what is wonderful in him.” THE PRECEPTS FOR MONASTICS were formulated in another age—more than two millennia ago—and Thich Nhat Hanh saw they needed to be revised. He crafted fourteen new precepts, which he felt were both true to the deepest teachings of the Buddha and appropriate for the modern world. Then he invited Chan Khong and the five other leaders of the SYSS to receive them. This ordination made these six the first members of what Nhat Hanh termed the Order of Interbeing, a commu- nity committed to service and mindfulness. But it did not make them formal monks and nuns with shaved heads. Nhat Hanh gave each member of this new order the option to either live like a monastic committed to celibacy, or to live as a lay Buddhist with the freedom to marry. The three women all chose celibacy, while the three men chose marriage. Nhat Chi Mai, a close friend of Chan Khong’s, was one of the original six members of the Order of Interbeing. She was the pro- tected, youngest child of a well-off family, and she feared the conse- quences of political activity. Nonetheless—like Chan Khong—she undertook the dangerous task of spreading the word of peace. Chi Mai hid copies of Nhat Hanh’s book Lotus in a Sea of Fire in her Volkswagen and delivered them to schools. Then, just one year after taking the fourteen precepts, Chi Mai placed two statues in front of her—one of the Virgin Mary and the other of Avalokitesvara—and she set herself on fire. Chi Mai’s poems and letters urged Catholics and Buddhists to work together for peace and after her death they were widely read, inspiring many people. Still, for Chan Khong, los- ing Chi Mai was one of the greatest sorrows of her life. It was not, however, the only loss Chan Khong faced in 1967. A monk friend of hers was abducted that year from Binh Phuoc Village, along with seven other social workers. Though their bodies were never found, it is presumed they were killed; work- ing for the poor was considered a communist activity and the social workers had many enemies. Only luck prevented Chan Khong from not being made the ninth victim. She had been in Binh Phuoc Village but had left that night to visit her mother. WHEN CHAN KHONG boarded a flight to Hong Kong, she planned to be gone for five days. She never imagined it would be almost forty years before she again set foot in her homeland. In 1966, two years prior to Chan Khong’s departure, Nhat Hanh had also left Vietnam believing he would only be gone for a short while. But at a conference in Washington, he presented a proposal urging Americans to stop bombing and to offer recon- struction aid free of political or ideological strings. The South Vietnamese nationalist government declared him a traitor, mak- ing it too dangerous for him to go home, so he moved to Paris. By 1968, however, he wanted to know whether his friends and colleagues in Vietnam needed him to risk returning. Was it more important for him to be on the ground in Vietnam or to be in the West promoting peace? This was not something that could be addressed freely in letters entering and leaving his country— they were too heavily monitored by the government. So Nhat Hanh asked Chan Khong to meet him in Hong Kong. PHOTOSABOVEBYRAPHAELDELAHAYE “Meditation allowed me to transform the suffering in me into a mercy fishing boat. On the seas, I was fearless, even when faced by pirates. I was joyful because I knew I was going in the direction of beauty.” Chan Khong in Vietnam, 2007