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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 52 gave birth to Engaged Buddhism, a movement that would spread around the world from its small base in Vietnam. In 1966, at the age of forty, Thich Nhat Hanh was exiled from his beloved Vietnam. His crime was to see the suffering of the Communist and the nationalist, the soldier and the civilian, the victim and the perpetrator as interdependent. He was considered a traitor by the power brokers on both sides for acknowledging the humanity of everyone entangled in that awful web of war. During his four decades of exile, Thay did not rest. He traveled throughout the world, offering his message of reconciliation and peace. After the war’s end, he brought together Vietnam War vets and Vietnamese refugees to help them find reconciliation and heal- ing. He worked in prisons, led peace walks, and spread the dharma, going wherever his wisdom was needed. Once, when Thay was re- turning from his first visit with prisoners at the Maryland Correc- tional Institution (which would become the basis for his book Be Free Where You Are), he said he would much rather be in prison than in the Pure Land, because it is in the places of the greatest suffering that the greatest opportunities to practice compassion exist. But in the long years away from his beloved Vietnam, as he rose to worldwide prominence as a Buddhist teacher, Thay al- ways heard the call of his homeland. Again and again he asked for permission to return but was denied. Finally, in 2005, Thich Nhat Hanh was allowed to go home. He and members of his sangha traveled throughout Vietnam, working to reinstate the Buddhist monastic tradition that had been fractured by years of war and Communist rule. In the spring of 2007, Thich Nhat Hanh brought members of his community with him on a second tour, and I accompanied the party as a filmmaker and chronicler of this historic return. While I was there, I had the good fortune to interview Thich Nhat Hanh, who talked at some length about his reasons for re- turning to Vietnam and what he was doing there. “The tour is an opportunity to go back to Vietnam and prac- tice with people,” he told me. “For forty years, I was unable to offer teaching and practice to the people of Vietnam. So my only purpose is to be with the people, to meet with them, and to offer them retreats, days of mindfulness, dharma talks, and walking meditation. Most of the people who participate were born dur- ing my absence. Yet when I see them, I can recognize their pat- terns. They are the continuation of their parents and they con- tinue the practice. The younger generation is very inspired by the fact that Buddhism has been able to be renewed, so that they can receive the teachings, understand the practice, and take it up.” But Thay said there was something else he wanted to do on this visit: make a relationship with the war dead and help heal Thich Nhat Hanh addresses an audience in a Saigon temple during one of three Grand Requiem Masses he conducted to heal the wounds of the Vietnam War. PHOTOBYKATECUMMINGS SEPT 50-57.indd 52 SEPT 50-57.indd 52 6/25/07 5:03:06 PM 6/25/07 5:03:06 PM