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Lions Roar : September 2007
SHAMBHALA SUN SEPTEMBER 2007 63 for Social Service, a grassroots Peace Corps of sorts made up of Buddhist volunteers who rebuilt bombed villages, set up schools and medical centers, resettled homeless families, and organized agricultural cooperatives. He also set up the Order of Interbeing, the Tiep Hien Order. Tiep means “being in touch with” or “con- tinuing.” Hien means “realizing” and “making it here and now.” I often muse on that term, “interbeing,” reflecting a clever poet’s love of wordplay as well as a sublime comprehension of Bud- dhism. In the most economic fashion, the word speaks volumes about the law of cause and effect, about karma. My interpreta- tion of interbeing: OK, fine, you practiced enough to get from “doing” to “being.” Now what are you doing with being? Wal- lowing in it? Or taking that wisdom a step further, to the third pearl of the refuges, to sangha. To learning how to “be” together. It expresses the Buddhist concept of interdependence, with at- tention to the relationship between and among people. It is the heart of socially engaged Buddhism. A few years later, in 1967, we saw yet another widely circulated photo of yet another self-immolation, but this time it struck too close to home for Thay. The victim was Nhat Chi Mai, a nun who had been one of the first six members ordained into the Tiep Hien Order. She wrote in her last note, “I offer my body as a torch to dissipate the dark, to waken love among men, to give peace to Vietnam.” The date of her death was May 16, 1967. Only a few months earlier, on January 25, the Rev. Martin Luther King, the Nobel Laureate of 1964, had written the letter recommending Thay for the same prize. The irony alone would have debilitated a man with less fortitude: to be thus honored and then four months later to see the war escalating, to witness his close followers forfeiting their lives to awaken people to the plight of Vietnam. But Thich Nhat Hanh pressed on. Even after the Paris Peace Accord was signed in 1973 and the Vietnamese government de- nied Thay entry back into the country, he led efforts from France, where he lived in exile, to rescue his fellow citizens, who were fleeing his homeland and floated in boats in the Gulf of Siam. When the government forced him to stop, he established the Unified Buddhist Church in France. By 1982, with growing sup- port, he and his longtime colleague Sister Chan Khong founded Plum Village as a place to conduct retreats and workshops and seminars on peace negotiation and conflict resolution. The work goes on to this day. Buddhism Lite indeed. I met Rev. Hanh at Plum Village in the south of France, ninety kilometers east of Bordeaux, a region more famous to devotees Thich Nhat Hanh leading a peace march in Los Angeles, 2006. PHOTOBYDONFARBER SEPT 58-65.indd 63 SEPT 58-65.indd 63 6/25/07 5:04:57 PM 6/25/07 5:04:57 PM