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Lions Roar : September 2007
it was to carry a baby covered with blood, her sobbing mother walking beside me, both of us unsure if we could save the child. Two years later, when I went to the United States to explain the suffering of the Vietnamese people and to plead for peace in Vietnam, I saw a woman on television carrying a wounded baby covered with blood, and suddenly I understood how the Ameri- can people could continue to support the fighting and bombing. The scene on the television was quite different from the reality of having a bleeding baby in my arms. My despair was intense, but the scene on television looked like a performance. I realized that there was no connection between experiencing the actual event and watching it on the TV screen while sitting at home in peace and safety. People could watch such horrible scenes on TV and still go about their daily business—eating, dancing, playing with children, having conversations. After an encounter with such suffering, desperation filled my every cell. These people were human beings like me; why did they have to suffer so? Ques- tions like these burned inside me and, at the same time, inspired me to continue my work with serene determination. Realizing how fortunate I was compared to those living under the bombs helped dissolve any anger or suffering in me, and I was commit- ted to keep doing my best to help them without fear. Excerpted from Learning True Love: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War by Sister Chang Khong. © 2007 Unified Buddhist Church. Reprinted with permission of Parallax Press. When I ask Phap An about the meaning of love, he says, “When your eyes open, then love happens. Love is a state of mind where you are very bright, very clear. There is connectivity between you and the rest of the universe. It is a source of energy that makes you dissolve among things. Slowly a process of opening begins, your mind begins to expand, and you begin to see things much more clearly. You hear the sound of the bird chirping and you see the green on the bamboo. You feel a lot of energy to be alive. That is love. It gives you the energy to serve. You feel your life is very wonderful. That is a spiritual love.” I love asking about love, now that I’m in love. I ask Sister Chan Khong what love is, and her response is so beautiful I am in tears. She speaks from such a deep place of knowing, with a sweet, soft, strong voice. Sweet as a flower and strong as a lion. She says that we need to love a person the way we love a tree—not just the surface, not just the branches or the trunk, but also the roots. We need to know all of them—their ancestors, their family, their friends, their dreams. This is all part of who they are. What is it that really matters to them? A lover always offers joy and eases suffering. And there is plenty of suffering to ease in Vietnam. As Thay says, “The war created so many victims. There has been so much injustice, for the North Vietnamese, the South Vietnamese, the hundreds of thousands of boat people who died at sea, the people who died in prisons and in re-education camps, the soldiers of both North and South who died in the battlefield in the moun- tains and rivers, many of whose bones have never been found.” A SIMPLE DINNER WITH THAY After a few weeks at the monastery I’ve gathered all the shots I need, all the slow-moving images of walking monks and nuns, of bubbling brooks and giant white Buddhas, of towering bodhi- sattvas of compassion and roaring dharma protector lions, of rows of robed humanity seated in the majestic temple with soft faces and eyes closed in deep meditations. I have it all, save for my interview with Thay. I want to ask him about the real meaning of love. We postpone our departure for Ho Chi Minh City and go into a holding pattern. Every day, Sis- ter Chan Khong gives us an update, saying, “Maybe tomorrow!” CHAN KHONG through some hard days in Vietnam Sister Chan Khong with Thich Nhat Hanh PHOTOBYCHANYODER ➢ page 103 SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 57 SEPT 50-57.indd 57 SEPT 50-57.indd 57 6/25/07 5:03:27 PM 6/25/07 5:03:27 PM