Saturday, April 21, 2007

Offering their Presence

offering their presence
Originally uploaded by d nelson.
I sit resting in an internet shop in the busy old quarter of Hanoi after experiencing the second of three days of the Great Requiem Chanting Ceremony to untie the knots of great injustice. Thich Nhat Hanh’s dharma talks have been bold statements of truth; about healing the war within, as well as without. I marvel at his courage to truthfully talk of suffering which is buried in the collective consciousness of this society, as well as the other nations, namely America and France, which were adversaries of war, of which these ceremonies are generating loving healing. The ceremonies in Ho Chi Minh City and Hue were successful. In Hanoi the government and official Buddhist church did not offer as much overt support or make many public announcements about the ceremony, which was moved to the temple Chua Non, about an hour and a half outside of the city; a temple in the mountains with national significance. Still perhaps 5 thousand people attending the opening ceremony and chants yesterday. They arrived by the busloads. It seems that people up here appear more aggressive to me than in previous cities we’ve visited, so we had a very visceral procession and competing for space to listen to the talks and chants. The events have been quite moving to me and appear so to most of those around me.

Yesterday wandering souls were invited to the ceremony, and then was chanting for the deceased. Last night was the offering of lotus lamps so that the lost could find their way to the healing. About a thousand people remained during the evening event which found us carrying the paper lotuses down the half mile steep road to the small lake at the bottom. All the way down was chanting Namo Botat quan the am. I was calmly nervous about being next to and surrounded by a crowd moving with skinny burning candles and paper lotuses. The little video I shot could perhaps be used for a fire safety piece. A moving stream of love, glowing & burning. It was quite beautiful to see the lamps floating and burning on the lake. The talks have used language of non-discrimination for healing; for both north, south, men, woman, communist, anti-communist, everyone. Thay is bold to use images during his talks in Hanoi, of American soldiers who suffer from killing Vietnamese children or from witnessing the death of a communist woman, then carrying a hammock as a reminder of her hate of his being in her country as a warrior. Helping heal the souls and families of boat people is also mentioned. From the facial expressions and words I hear from some people I sense that there are many who still have anger and suffering about the war, especially those over 50 years old. I’m told that people have been told for the past 30 years that the boat people are traitors and should not be forgiven. I’m often in awe to witness this ceremony and offer a few photos. I’ve recorded some of the dharma talks (English translations) to help others hear how powerful they are. It’s late and I need to get up early, and hope to stay up late to attend the final late night chants of untying the knots of injustice.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Harmony in Hanoi

sea of smiles
Originally uploaded by d nelson.
This journey of love and peace continues to amaze and test the body and mind. Before writing a little about what happened over the past few weeks I'll share a story of my first afternoon in the capital of Vietnam, Hanoi. It seemed that after flying with Thich Nhat Hanh and the sangha from Na Trang, then being greeted at the airport, having lunch at Bo De temple, that we had some free time in the afternoon. Thinking that I could get to an internet cafe to check e-mail, upload a few pictures and maybe write a new blog, In the hotel lobby was wifi access, but I've not been carrying a laptop around. I set out to walk around the block and find a computer. After I walked around the block I found no shops. This seemed unusual since at all of our previous locations internet was easily found near the hotel. Making a bigger circle I became more aware of the pollution from the vehicle congestion, many more cars than in the cities down south, but still quite a few motorbikes. The feel of an inner city permeated my ears, eyes, lungs and mind. Constant honking, shouts from shopkeepers, children riding on bicycles with their communist party school clothes all flowed by. After walking around for 90 minutes I decided to head back. A feeling of despair hit me as I looked for the card for the hotel and did not find it in my pocket. I kept walking thinking that I would see something familiar and just happen to find my way back. After about another 30 minutes I realized that without the address and name of the hotel I was having a real problem. There are a lot of hotels in downtown Hanoi and the names of the streets are quite unfamiliar to me. It had started to become dark and I was wondering if I would find my way back or have to get some unknown assistance from someone who could speak a little English.

Out of the blue came the realization that if I could find access to the internet, that I had been sent a message, before the trip began, with the names and addresses of all the hotels we would be staying at. With a renewed sense of hope I looked for a computer. I went into a couple of businesses I thought might use internet, but was unable to find someone who could understand me. So I went into a neon lit up cell phone store and asked if they had a computer I could use. Fortunately a friendly young man who spoke English well let my use a computer available for customers. After standing at the computer for about 20 minutes I found the message with the hotel name and address and I felt much happiness. The salesman drew a map for me and off I walked, about a mile and a half to the hotel. Along the way I passed street sweepers with dirty coveralls using long brooms of what looked like straw tied to poles. Vendors of food, cigarettes, lottery tickets, and coal line the streets. When I found an ice cream place I went in and enjoyed a cool treat.

Thay has offered such beautiful dharma talks since I've last written. Hopefully the pictures I've posted at help tell the story. A talk on power was given to leaders and businessmen in Hue; being compassionate towards employees, consumers and the environment. A series of talks, then a retreat in DaNang was so wonderful to experience. So many thousands of people were treated to several days of learning the basic mindfulness practice, including walking meditation and eating with Thay. In Na Trang a talk on the teachings on love and the mindfulness trainings was given. We are now in Hanoi, with the 3 great requiem ceremony to begin tomorrow. It's not clear if the government will allow or support this ceremony, as they were conducted in Ho Chi Minh City and Hue. I smile that the opportunity to reconcile and heal the country exists.

The lay sangha is doing it's best to maintain its freshness. I have the greatest admiration for all the friends who have dedicated their time to be a part of this mission of peace. We have been through a lot and like any family there have been some challenges between us. Last night at Bo De temple we had a beginning anew ceremony to help us water flowers and resolve some mis perceptions. I am very grateful that Sister Chong Khong and a couple other sister attended to help ensure that the process would be healing for us. At this time there is harmony in the sangha as many friends depart and some new ones arrive for this last segment of events in Hanoi. I will put the names of US veterans and their families that suffered from the Vietnam war, or any other war, on paper and bring them to the healing ceremony so that they be transformed, light and free.