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Lions Roar : September 2007
ing to his homeland, revitalizing a religion that had grown stale. Thay says that religion is like the skin of the jackfruit. We must go for the juice inside. We need to return to the original teach- ings. The Buddha taught “signlessness”—not to be trapped by signs. Sister Chan Khong tells me, “In the time of the Buddha, there was no Buddhism. You must touch your own peace, your own light, your own deep understanding. That is the Buddha in you. You can call it God, you can call it Allah. Don’t try to put it into a box called Buddhism, Christianity, or Judaism. Use the tool of signlessness offered by the Buddha. Then you can touch the reality of beauty, of greatness.” INFUSED WITH LOVE By the middle of the trip, I am in love. I can barely contain myself during the mindful walking meditations—it feels like mindful skipping. Fortunately, being with the Plum Village sangha is a safe place for a lover. No one thinks I’m crazy if I smile a little too widely. It feels like everything is in sync. To me, every chirp of a bird is a love song right now. When I watch Thay as he leads the morning walking medita- DURING THE WAR with the French, Thay had contracted malaria and dysentery, and, during this trip to the remote moun- tain areas, both diseases recurred. Despite that his presence was very inspiring for our whole team. Thay reminded us to be mind- ful of everything—the way Thay Nhu Van, a high monk who was very popular with both sides, talked to the officers of both sides; the way Thay Nhu Hue organized the local Buddhists; and the way the rowers of our boat ate in mindfulness. We observed the steep canyon of the Thu Bon River and were aware of the icy mountain wind and the homeless victims of the flood on the verge of death. The atmosphere of death permeated our whole trip—not only the death of flood victims, but also our own risk of dying at any moment in the ever-present cross fire. As we were leaving the area, many young mothers followed us, pleading with us to take their babies, because they were not certain the babies could survive until our next rescue mission. We cried, but we could not take these babies with us. That image has stayed with me to this day. After that, as I went to Hue every two months to lecture on biology, I never failed to organize groups of students, monks, and nuns to help people suffering in these remote areas. We began with the daylong journey from Hue to Da Nang, where we would sleep in a temple and then travel to Quang Nam and Hoi An. In Hoi An, we rented five midsize boats to carry nearly ten tons of rice, beans, cooking utensils, used clothing, and medical supplies. One night, we stopped in Son Khuong, a remote village where the fighting was especially fierce. As we were about to go to sleep in our boat, we suddenly heard shooting, then screaming, then shoot- ing again. The young people in our group were seized with panic, and a few young men jumped into the river to avoid the bullets. I sat quietly in the boat with two nuns and breathed consciously to calm myself. Seeing us so calm, everyone stopped panicking, and we quietly chanted the Heart Sutra, concentrating deeply on this powerful chant. For a while, we didn’t hear any bullets. I don’t know if they actually stopped or not. The day after, I shared my strong belief with my coworkers, “When we work to help people, the bullets have to avoid us, because we can never avoid the bullets. When we have good will and great love, when our only aim is to help those in distress, I believe that there is a kind of magnetism, the energy of goodness that protects us from being hit by the bul- lets. We only need to be serene. Then, even if a bullet hits us, we can accept it calmly, knowing that everyone has to die one day. If we die in service, we can die with a smile, without fear.” Two months later, while on another rescue trip, bombs had just fallen as we arrived at a very remote hamlet, about fifteen kilome- ters from Son Khuong Village. There were dead and wounded people everywhere. We used all the bandages and medicine we had. I remember so vividly carrying a bleeding baby back to the boat in order to clean her wounds and do whatever surgery might be necessary. I cannot describe how painful and desperate tions, I sense that his heart is blown wide open. His brand of Zen Buddhism is far removed from the stick-thwacking, koan-churn- ing stereotype of Zen. His is a practice infused with love, in all its dimensions. You can see it running through his students. The sangha beams with love and smiles. Even when Thay is not around, I am still imbibing his teachings, transmitted with authenticity by his students. This is not a grim, repressed bunch of monks and nuns, fearers of life hiding out in the security of the monastery. These people are engaged; they’re living fully, in this moment, freely sharing their findings with the rest of us. Phap An, one of Thay’s senior monks, says that before he met Thay he spent years meditating on a deceptively simple koan: Who am I? It became an obsession: Who am I lifting this arm? Who am I taking this step? Who am I moving through space? Then he met Thay and discovered meditation in action. He dropped the philosophy and started living, being fully alive. There is some formal meditation at Plum Village, but not a lot. More impor- tant is how you live life. How you fully show up. It’s not about analyzing yourself into enlightenment. It’s about being, now. Now. Now. Now. The Cradle of Compassion How Thich Nhat Hanh’s call to mindfulness got SISTER 56 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 SEPT 50-57.indd 56 SEPT 50-57.indd 56 6/25/07 5:03:26 PM 6/25/07 5:03:26 PM