My Films

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Healing the Last Wounds of War

Last year on Peace Boat, I visited a small rural village outside of the former US military base Da Nang. There, we visited a health clinic set up by Le Ly Haslip, who escaped post-war devastation by marrying an American GI and immigrating to the US.
At this clinic, we stumbled upon a rehabilitation/care room for third generation children affected by Agent Orange. Like children anywhere else in the world, they were delighted to see us and clapped and laughed along to the songs we sung for them.
In just a few hours of arriving in Vietnam, I witnessed the continuing effects of a war my country waged some thirty years ago on these people. I wondered: What responsibility do I have? What responsibility does my country have to these children? This was April 2006.

When I began studying peace in 2003, I discovered the work of the Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. While other books intelectually stimulated my thoughts on peace, his words actually took me to a state of peace. Since then, I have wanted to visit Plum Village, his retreat center in the south of France.

So as I began to plan my spring break earlier this year, I visited the Plum Village website and discovered that he was planning to tour of Vietnam during that time. I couldn’t think of anything better than to practice with him and his home country on a tour entitled “Healing the Last Wounds War,” so I decided to go to Vietnam.

I joined Thay (Vietnamese for teacher) on Segemnt 2 of his tour, which began with the Great Reqieum Ceremony at Vinh Nghiem Pagoda in Saigon.

5.6 million lives were lost because of the bombings during what the Vietnamese call the American war. The ceremony was held to pray for the liberation of all the people indiscriminate (ben dang) of religion and political parties. For on both sides, the people who passed away passed away in pain.

In his Dharma talk, Thay talked of the many wounds of the war that still needed healing. He said that when the injustices of violence and war go unspoken, they are suppressed deeply into our consciousness and manifest in the forms of aggression, anger and fear.

However, through the simple act of listening, he sais that it is possible for us to relieve suffering in others. If we ourselves learn to forgive the wounds of the war, then our parents and ancestors will forgive as well. For every word of forgivenesss will benefit those around us with love and compassion. It is when suffering is recognized then it is possible to heal. To read more about his teachings during the ceremony, please click here.

What is so inpsiring to me about Thay's teaching is how he boils it down to the action that each of us individually can take. Are we free of our own fear and pain? He says that it is our own pain that unskillfully causes suffering in others. So if we alleviate our own pain, then it is possible for us to begin to alleviate pain in others. How? through living mindfully in the here and now. To read about my daily practices click here.