|Bat Nha: a Koan|
I AM A HIGH RANKING MEMBER OF THE COMMUNIST GOVERNMENT OF VIETNAM. Bat Nha is an opportunity for me to look deeply at the truth and find peace in my own heart and mind. If I don't have peace, how can I have happiness? But how can I have peace, when I don’t really believe in the path I walk on, and especially when I don't have faith or trust in those I call my comrades? We may be bedfellows, but are we dreaming different dreams? Why can’t I share my real thoughts and feelings with those I call my comrades? Am I afraid of being denounced? Of losing my position? Why do we all have to say exactly the same things when none of us believe it? Isn't this a case of The Emperor’s New Clothes, where all the members of the Emperor’s court swear the Emperor is wearing a beautiful robe, when in fact he is completely naked?
My greatest dream is for my own happiness to be in harmony with my country's. Just as trees have their roots and water has its source, our homeland has its heritage of spiritual insight. The Ly dynasty was the most peaceful and compassionate dynasty in our country's history. Under the Tran dynasty, the People's unity was strong enough to enable them to push back the attacks from the North. This unity was possible thanks to Buddhism's contribution as an inclusive and accepting spiritual path, that could co-exist with other spiritual and ethical traditions, such as Taoism and Confucianism, and so build a country that never needed to expel or eliminate anyone.
I’ve had the opportunity to study. I know Buddhism is not a theistic religion but is solidly humanist. Buddhism is open-minded and undogmatic; it has the spirit of rational enquiry. In the new century, Buddhism can go hand in hand with science. 'Science' here means the spirit of scientific inquiry, the willingness to let go of old views in order to embrace new ones that are closer to reality. Modern science has gone far beyond traditional science, especially in the area of quantum physics. Is what I took for science in the past still science today? Mind and matter are just two manifestations of one reality. They contain one another and depend on one another to manifest. Modern science is putting all its energy into overcoming dualistic ways of thinking – about mind and matter, inside and outside, subject and object, space and time, mass and speed, and so on. If I am still caught in my anger, anxiety, craving and discrimination, then my mind cannot be collected and concentrated enough to see the truth. No matter how sophisticated the instruments are that I use, behind all that technology there is still the mind that observes.
In my heart I know that the people supported the revolution so strongly because they loved their country, not an ideology. If the people's support had been based only on an ideology, and not on their deep love for the country, then we would surely have failed. I know that in the 1940s some of us, out of zealous and fanatical devotion to an ideology, crushed and assassinated revolutionaries fighting alongside us against foreign aggressors. To this day, the wounds of that time have not been healed.
As for class struggle, I should ask myself: Which class is holding power now? The proletariat or the capitalists? Is there such a thing as 'The People’s Capitalism', or is that just a convenient fiction?
If we want to be successful, the Party's policy must reflect the People's deep wishes (Y Dang, Long Dan). The People's deep wish is for monks and nuns to have the freedom to practice and help the world according to their ideal, in line with the laws of the land. The People’s deep wish is for every citizen to be able to speak his or her mind without fear of denunciation or arrest. The People's deep wish is to separate religion from political affairs, and take the politics out of religion. If the deep wishes of the People are satisfied, then there will naturally be unity, and the Party will be supported. If the Party were in harmony with the hearts of the People, the Party would no longer need to appeal for unity or support. Such is the wish of the People. What is the policy of the party?
I know that during the Tran and Ly dynasties, Buddhism's spirit of inclusiveness united the whole nation. Thanks to that spirit, everyone who loved their country had an opportunity to contribute to the work of building and protecting the nation, and no-one was excluded. This spirit of inclusiveness in Buddhism is called 'equanimity', and is one of the four Buddhist virtues, alongside loving kindness, compassion and joy. Inclusiveness is a precious spiritual heritage, a cultural treasure. I know that during the Ly and Tran dynasties, kings and politicians practiced Buddhism just as the people did. By keeping the Buddhist precepts, following a vegetarian diet and doing good works, they were able to earn their people's trust and confidence.
How can we eradicate the hideous social evils of drug abuse, prostitution, gambling, violence, corruption and abuse of power, when the officials responsible for abolishing them are themselves caught up in those very evils? How can the government's policy of 'cultural districts' and 'cultural villages' ever be successful if it is based merely on perfunctory inspections and punishment? Who is the one that needs to be inspected and who is the one that needs to be punished?
I know that any family that practices and keeps the mindfulness trainings enjoys peace, joy and happiness. For the last two thousand years, Buddhism has been teaching people how to live ethical lives, be vegetarian and keep the trainings. Following a vegetarian diet is a sign of mastery over the craving mind, of not giving in to desires. When Buddhists observe a vegetarian diet, keep the trainings and do good deeds, they do so voluntarily and not by force or fear of punishment. At this very time, the young monks and nuns of Bat Nha are going in this direction, reinvigorating this ethical way of living. They have the potential to succeed. So why do we want to repress them and wipe them out? Are we afraid that if they have mass support, it will be at our expense? Why can't I open my heart to practice like them, to be one with them and benefit from their support? Why can’t we do as the kings of the Tran and Ly dynasties did? Just because we are Marxists, does that mean we don’t have the right to take refuge in the Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, to be vegetarian and practice the mindfulness trainings?
I know that in the party and in the government, many people now claim to be open-minded towards religion and spirituality. In fact, all the top officials believe in things like feng shui, destiny, psychic powers and even the idea of extending one person's lifespan by transferring life-years from someone else. They have gone from one extreme to another. And yet they outwardly claim not to be superstitious.
The Ly and Tran kings truly believed in a path of virtue and spirituality. Many of them lived exemplary ethical lives, and the people had confidence in them and were inspired to do the same. One king knew how to practice the mindfulness trainings, followed a vegetarian diet, sent blankets to prisons, and went out into towns and villages to meet the people and see the truth of how they lived and what they suffered. A king who knows how to do sitting meditation, look deeply into koans, practice beginning anew six times daily, write commentaries on sutras, take refuge in the wise counsel of a Zen master whom he respects as the national teacher, and yield the throne to his son in order to become a simple monk on Yen Tu mountain – such a king can be a great example of morality for the whole nation.
Nowadays we're always urging government officials and one another to “study and follow the virtuous example of Ho Chi Minh”. But who is the one that is living a good example for their comrades? Mahayana Buddhism teaches that “You have to be that person. You have to be the role model. You have to live that way yourself. Only then will you give others the inspiration to do the same.” I have to be that person. I know that corruption and abuse of power have become a national catastrophe. We have been lamenting it for so many years already, and yet the situation just gets worse with every passing day. Why? Is it because I'm only able to proudly boast of my ancestors’ glorious past, and am not in fact able to do as they did? And today, when there are young people actually doing it, why do we block and suppress them?
The Bat Nha situation may have started with a travel agency owned by a high police officer. Soon it involved hotels, then visas, and eventually the abuse of power and the exercise of revenge. Now it has become a policy the whole country has to follow. Maybe I have not taken the time to examine this. I just go along with the false reports and casually allow the people I am supervising to use lies, deception and oppression against these gentle people who never have caused any disturbance to society. In the end I am put in a position where I become the enemy of the very things I once cherished. Are my true enemies really outside of me? My enemies are within. Do I have enough courage and intelligence to face my own weaknesses? That is the fundamental question.
The Plum Village practices offer a rare opportunity to modernize Buddhism in Vietnam; the last four years have proved their effectiveness. Why are we allowing ourselves to be pressured by our powerful neighbor into persecuting and destroying such a precious living treasure? What will we get that is so precious, in return for destroying this treasure we already have?
The best way to celebrate the thousand-year anniversary of Hanoi is to strive to practice, to live like our great ancestors Ly Cong Uan, Tran Thai Tong, Tran Thanh Tong, Truc Lam Dai Si, and Master Tue Trung. They were politicians, but at the same time lived a true spiritual life that they believed in. What have I to be proud of, other than the legends of my ancestors? I have lost my revolutionary ideal. I have snuffed out the sacred flame of my aspiration. My comrades are no longer truly my comrades because their own sacred flame of revolutionary idealism has gone out. They are only in the Party for self-interest, fame and status. The Plum Village tradition is part of my country’s cultural heritage and is contributing to a global cultural ethic – not just in theory but, most importantly, in practice. So many people all around the world have heard about this tradition and are benefiting from these teachings. I should be proud of this, so why did I allow the tradition to be attacked and wiped out in the very land where it was born? These are the questions that, if allowed to penetrate and act upon the depths of my consciousness, can awaken the wisdom within. This will give me the insight I need to see the path and way out I have been longing for.
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Last Updated (Monday, 25 January 2010 01:53)