Sister True Emptiness
In April 1963, an assistant to Madame Ngo Dinh Nhu, the
sister-in-law of South Vietnam's President, contacted me about becoming
the head of a branch of her Republican Women's Party, Phu Nu Cong Hoa. She
wanted every woman in the country to join the party, but I refused, as I
did not want to become involved in politics. My refusal was interpreted as
the act of a communist, "for only a communist would refuse such a
generous offer," and her assistant threatened that Madame Nhu might
have me arrested. Working with the poor in the slums was also considered
communist activity. At that time, I was head of the social welfare
branch of the Buddhist Student Union started by Thay Nhat Hanh in April
1960 at Xa Loi Temple, which was strengthened and legalized as a branch of
the Buddhist congregation by Thay Thien Minh and Quang Lien in October
1961. We held weekly meetings to study Buddhism, discuss the Dharma, plan
projects for the poor, and publish a magazine, Tin Tuong, describing our
work. The thirteen cedars became eighty, and then over 300 cedars in the
Buddhist Student Union. To force me to stop my work in the slums would
also mean stopping these 300 students from helping the poor. Friends
throughout the country reported similar threats in their provinces--Phan
Thiet, Quang Nam, Quang Tri, Quang Ngai, Kontum, Nha Trang, and Qui Nhon.
Many had been urged to join the party of Madame Nhu or be converted to
Catholicism. As a result, many good people joined the Communist Party, not
by their own choice. There were many other stories of the oppression
of Buddhists by the Catholic regime. In Lavang Village in Quang Tri
Province, the Buddhists worshipped the silhouette of a woman who had saved
a little boy. The child had fallen into a well one night and was floating
on the surface of the water when he was rescued barely in time. The boy
reported that he had seen a woman who looked exactly like a painting of
Avalokitesvara supporting him in the water. On another occasion in the
same province, one group of houses remained untouched during a huge storm
that destroyed all the trees and fields surrounding it. Many people
reported seeing the mysterious woman walking in front of the houses during
the storm. At the beginning of this century, the people erected a small
temple to worship Avalokitesvara, the bodhisattva whom they believed the
mysterious woman to be. But when Ngo Dinh Diem came to power, his brother,
Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, ordered that a Catholic cathedral be built, and
he declared that the woman had been Mary, the Virgin Mother of Jesus, and
not Avalokitesvara. Government employees throughout the country were asked
to contribute towards the construction of the Lavang Cathedral. But
in April 1963, the most extreme anti-Buddhist proclamation was issued by
the Diem regime. They declared that Wesak, the Buddha's nativity, could no
longer be celebrated as a national holiday in Vietnam, and that it was a
crime to display the Buddhist flag.* In twelve northern provinces of South
Vietnam, Wesak was the most important holy day. All fish and meat markets
and non-vegetarian restaurants were closed, and anyone could enter a
Buddhist temple and receive a vegetarian meal. Buddhist flags were on
display everywhere, and processions of carts made of flowers carrying a
statue of the baby Buddha could be seen throughout the cities, towns, and
villages. In Hue, the Buddhist stronghold in Central Vietnam, every
household traditionally prepared an altar in the front yard on the eve of
Wesak to welcome the baby Buddha. Imagine what a shock it was for the
people to learn that all of these practices were suddenly
forbidden. I later learned that Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc intended for
all of Vietnam to "progress" rapidly on the Catholic path, as
had happened in one village where everyone was baptized on the same day.
The Archbishop had hoped to be named a cardinal and felt that if too many
Buddhist flags were displayed during Wesak, it would hinder his chances.
For us, the ban on displaying the Buddhist flag was the last drop in a
bucket already filled with the anger of oppression. So, on the eve of
Wesak, May 8, 1963, Buddhists in Hue hung their flags and conducted the
Wesak ceremony as usual at Tu Dam Pagoda. Everyone in the city waited by
their radios to hear the broadcast of the Dharma talk by Thay Tri Quang.
But the talk, which had been recorded that morning, was not broadcast,
because he spoke about the wish of the Buddhists not to have their flag
banned. Thousands of young people came to the radio station, and the
authorities ordered tanks to advance on them. Eight young people were
crushed to death. On May 10, more than 10,000 people demonstrated,
demanding freedom of religion, but President Diem ignored them, and
instead arrested and tortured many of the monks and students he considered
to be the instigators. After long deliberation, our Buddhist Student
Union in Saigon joined with the leadership of the National Buddhist
Congregation in its struggle for religious liberty, endorsing their open
letter and petition to the government: The presidential decree
banning the Buddhist flag must be rescinded.
Everyone must be granted the same freedoms as those
guaranteed the Catholics under the French regime, including freedom to
assemble. The National Buddhist Congregation must enjoy the same status as
the Catholic Church and not be considered merely an association.
The arrests of Buddhists must stop.
Buddhists must be given the freedom to practice the
The families of those who were crushed by the tanks
must be compensated, and those who did the killing must be arrested and
brought to trial.
The High Patriarch of the National Buddhist
Congregation, Thay Tinh Khiet, signed the petition and added these five
principles: Buddhists have never aimed at overthrowing any regime. We
only wish to change policies that discriminate against us.
Buddhists have no enemies. Our struggle is not against
the Catholics but against discrimination. Buddhists never wish to fight
The Buddhist struggle for a fair religious policy is
part of the struggle for social justice in all of Vietnam.
Buddhists vow to follow a nonviolent path, practicing
the teachings of the Awakened One during the struggle itself. Because of
our commitment to nonviolence, we Buddhists are ready to sacrifice
ourselves in the spirit of understanding and love. We want more than just
a change of policy. We want the spirit of love and understanding to
inspire and transform the hearts and minds of all people, including those
Buddhists will not let any political force make use of
On May 15, 1963, a Buddhist delegation submitted a
forty-five page report of human rights violations to President Diem, but
again there was no response. On May 21, 1,000 monks and nuns gathered at
An Quang Pagoda to pray for the young people who died in Hue. Moved by the
presence of these peaceful monks and nuns, thousands of laypeople joined
them. Police used tear gas, barbed wire, and physical force to break up
this and other "demonstrations," and they took many monks and
nuns away in large trucks. On May 25, an Interdenominational Committee for
Protecting Buddhism,* founded in Xa Loi Temple, went to Diem and asked him
to address the demands previously submitted, but still there was no
response, and the struggle continued, including demonstrations, collective
fasts, noncooperation in the markets, and petitions. Monks and nuns wore
their everyday brown or gray robes to these demonstrations, and then, at a
pre-appointed time, donned their bright yellow, formal sanghati robes. The
foreign press was informed of the time to come to photograph these
powerful, silent marches for human rights. There was great harmony among
the leaders of this committee, led by eloquent and skillful monks from all
over Vietnam.* Thay Thien Minh was extremely gifted in chairing the
meetings and in negotiating with the government. We students used our
underground press to explain to our countrymen and to the world why the
Buddhists were demonstrating. Censorship in South Vietnam was so severe at
this time that residents of Saigon were not informed about the killing of
the eight young people in Hue. We printed the news of the Hue
demonstrations, including the transcriptions of the BBC and Voice of
America reports confirming many human rights violations by the Diem
regime.* In a short time, several hundred students from the Buddhist
Student Union in Saigon plus hundreds of other friends joined together to
become a group of nearly 1,000 that was challenging the authorities. Huynh
Ba Hue Duong was the "brains" behind our publications'
distribution network. One group established connections with the public
high schools in Saigon, Cho Lon, Gia Dinh, and several nearby provinces.
Another group was given responsibility to distribute books to the private
high schools, and another to the Buddhist merchants in the dozens of
markets of Saigon, Cho Lon, and Gia Dinh. As soon as a new book or
pamphlet was printed, each unit of our network went to work distributing
it to balance the distorted news disseminated by the government. The
regime called our work "communist," and we risked arrest and
torture.* Our work in the slums helped us. Whenever we were followed
by a government agent, we darted into a slum, and it was impossible for
the agent to track us down. In prison, police agents were known to torture
people until they "admitted" that they were communist
infiltrators trying to stir up trouble among the Buddhists. Hue Duong was
arrested, beaten, and forced to "admit" that he was communist.
Then he had to witness his close partner in the underground work receiving
vaginal electric shocks. She fainted several times but persisted in
claiming her innocence. Some coworkers were even tortured to death, but
the numbers of those supporting our work continued to increase. On
June 11, 1963, Thay Quang Duc immolated himself to call for religious
freedom. No one had informed me that he was going to do this, but just at
the moment he set himself on fire, I happened to be driving by the corner
of Phan Dinh Phung and Le Van Duyet Streets on my motorbike, and I
witnessed him sitting bravely and peacefully, enveloped in flames. He was
completely still, while those of us around him were crying and prostrating
ourselves on the sidewalk. At that moment, a deep vow sprang forth in me:
I too would do something for the respect of human rights in as beautiful
and gentle a way as Thay Quang Duc. After the sacrifice of Thay Quang
Duc, the inspiration was so great in the country that we could not count
all the demonstrations and acts of resistance taking place in every town
and province. The press could only report on what was happening in Saigon
and Hue. At 2:00 a.m. on June 16, the day of Thay Quang Duc's funeral, the
government and the Buddhists reached a five-point peace agreement. The
news was broadcast on the radio, but because the atmosphere of the country
was so tense, most people did not believe it, and thousands came anyway to
demonstrate at Thay Quang Duc's funeral. Thay Tam Giac, a martial arts
teacher who had thousands of students in Saigon, stood on the hood of a
car announcing through a megaphone that the agreement was true. His car
had to travel across one-third of the city before the atmosphere was
defused. The government postponed the funeral for four days in the hope
that the people would calm down. On June 20, after six hours of cremation,
all of Thay Quang Duc's body had become ash, except his heart, which was
still dark reddish-brown and intact. After a second cremation, at 40,000*
C, his heart remained exactly the same shape, although an even darker
color. The office of Ngo Dinh Nhu issued a secret communique asking
its employees to remain on alert for a new offensive order. When a copy of
that communique was obtained by the Buddhist leaders, they brought it back
to the government and demanded the government honor its peace agreement.
On the same day, the government attempted to set up its own Buddhist
Congregation by gathering a number of "chanting priests." These
priests sent a cable to the World Fellowship of Buddhists (WFB) meeting in
Sri Lanka, informing them that the Buddhists in Vietnam were acting
improperly and could damage the prestige of the WFB. But the Buddhists in
Sri Lanka sent a telegram back supporting the Buddhists' struggle in
Vietnam. Then Ngo Dinh Nhu ordered a group of war veterans to demonstrate
against the Buddhists, but the veterans instead demonstrated against the
regime. Even the military officers in the army of the Republic of Vietnam
were pressuring their superiors, saying that they could not fight the
communists if the government continued to suppress the religion of their
ancestors. Many superiors in the army tried to persuade Diem to change his
policy, to no avail. So a few generals in the South Vietnamese army tried
to seek American support to overthrow Diem, as the communists had the
support of the Soviet Union and China. But President Kennedy was not ready
to support the generals. The number of Buddhists who sacrificed
themselves increased. Thay Nguyen Huong immolated himself in Phan Thiet on
August 4, 1963; the nun Dieu Quang in Nha Trang on the same day; Thay
Thanh Tue in Hue on August 13. I know that in the West it is hard to
understand why Vietnamese burned themselves. It looked like a violent act.
Please try to be in the heart and mind of the person performing such an
act of great love and sacrifice. To move the hearts of the hardest men and
women, you have to give a gift of great value--even your own life. These
people did not die when their bodies turned to ash. When I looked deeply
at Thay Quang Duc's sacrifice, I could see his love and deep commitment to
human rights born again in me and in thousands of Vietnamese and others
all over the world. We received the fire of love and commitment to act
from his great sacrifice. In the early morning hours of August 20,
1963, the army's special forces raided the most important strongholds of
the Buddhist movement throughout the country and arrested more than 2,000
monks and nuns in their temples along with active Buddhist laypeople in
their homes, including many of my friends. The police in Saigon ransacked
Xa Loi Temple, An Quang Pagoda, and several other temples. One monk at Xa
Loi, whom they thought was Thay Giac Duc, one of the most eloquent
speakers for the Buddhist demonstrations, was beaten to death right on the
spot. That night, twelve policemen circled the house of my elder
sister, Nga, where I had been living since 1962. Two climbed on the roof,
two stood at the back doors, and two came inside, asking to see the livret
de famille. One of them said, "We are here to arrest one communist
troublemaker, Mister Cao Ngoc Phuong." My brother-in-law said,
"There is no communist troublemaker here and no Mister Cao Ngoc
Phuong. There is Miss Cao Ngoc Phuong, my sweet, gentle sister-in-law, who
teaches at the Saigon Faculty of Science. Our family is highly respected.
I am Nguyen Trung Ngon, the Chief Engineer supervising the Civil
Aeronautics Department of the government, and my brother Nguyen Trung
Truong, works in the Ministry of Interior as Chief of all the police
inspectors of Saigon Cholon stations." The two policemen looked at
each other and whispered, "Our Chief!" and they apologized. As
my brother walked them to the gate, he saw two men jump from the roof and
eight more come from different corners of the house. Later that day,
government agents told my friends that it was I who had denounced them as
communist and caused their arrests. Imagine how angry and filled with
despair they must have been, being imprisoned and feeling betrayed by
their trusted friend Cao Ngoc Phuong. Of course, it was a common technique
of the government to use the fact that I was free to divide us and inflict
suffering on us. Later, when several friends were released thanks to a
bribe to the police, I noticed that they tried to avoid me. Only after the
fall of Diem did I learn of this terrible deceit by the government. One of
my closest friends reported to Thay Nhat Hanh that she believed that I was
innocent, but she thought that perhaps my sister or brother-in-law had
betrayed my friends. This shocked and hurt me greatly. I was quite mindful
of my acts and my family members' acts, and if anyone in my family had
some sign of fear of being in trouble with the government, I would have
known. Everyone in my family wholeheartedly supported my
struggle. Learning of the arrest of so many monks, nuns, and Buddhist
friends, I wanted to scream and go to jail, or burn myself in despair.
Thay Nhat Hanh was far away, and all my respected teachers and friends
were in prison. Tears flooded my eyes as I wandered the streets on my
motorbike. Late in the afternoon, I entered my laboratory, saw Professor
Hoang Ho, and told him I wanted to tear up my biology thesis and burn
myself. Tears streamed down my cheeks, as I asked him, "Why did they
imprison so many monks, nuns, and Buddhist friends who worked only for the
freedom to practice their beliefs?" He listened carefully, unaware
that so many violations of human rights were being perpetrated throughout
the country. As a scientist, he was interested in trees, plants, and
algae, but he also was interested in truth, and he drafted a petition
asking the government to stop all human rights violations. We collected
signatures from seventy-nine university professors, all of whom knew that
they risked arrest by signing. On August 21, we presented the petition to
President Diem and also to the press. That same day, Vu Van Mau, the
Minister of Foreign Affairs, angrily left a cabinet meeting when Ngo Dinh
Nhu reported the arrest of "all the communist Buddhists," and
three days later, he shaved his head in protest. Because so many
monks and nuns were in jail, university and high school students took
charge of the resistance movement, founding the Committee to Work for the
Respect of Human Rights in Vietnam. On August 25, when hundreds of high
school students gathered at Dien Hong marketplace to demonstrate, the
police fired on them and killed one sixteen-year-old girl, Quach Thi
Trang. Fear and despair set in, as the people continued to feel
suppressed. On September 9, 1963, thousands more students went into
the streets, protesting fearlessly against the Diem regime in response to
the news that Mai Tuyet An, an eighteen-year-old girl, had tried to cut
off her left hand on the stairs of Xa Loi Temple to offer to Diem. She was
a tiny, sweet person in the Buddhist youth movement. Her right arm was too
weak to manage the large axe she used to chop off her hand, and she bled
profusely and then fainted. Her letter to the President, in which she said
that her hand was a gift she wanted to offer him to request his
understanding of the people's wishes, moved people very much. Mai Tuyet
An's act was the utmost sacrifice to wake people up from their
ignorance.* After the sacrifice of Mai Tuyet An, Professor Ho looked
at me deeply and said, "Would you like to leave the country? You
could go to the University of Paris to finish your thesis and present it
to the Faculty of Science there. I can introduce you to Professor
Bourrelly, a specialist in freshwater algae, and Professor Feldmann, my
own teacher, and they can help you complete your work." I thanked him
for his kindness and promised I would respond right away. A few hours
later, an idea came to me. I would go to Paris and hold a press
conference. Like Vu Van Mau, I could shave my head, and then I would offer
my long, dark hair to President Diem in return for his understanding. I
could tell the international press about all the cruelties of the Diem
regime. I knew that the authorities intended to arrest everyone in the
Buddhist movement, and if I left the country, I could tell people overseas
about the extent of the human rights violations at home. When my mother
heard my plan to shave my head, she offered to knit me a wool hat to keep
me warm through the Paris winter. Because I was an employee of the
government, as a lab assistant at Saigon University, I was able to obtain
a visa rather easily through diplomatic channels, and I left for France on
October 23, 1963. During all of this time, Thay Nhat Hanh was in New
York City, teaching at Columbia University. He translated into English the
reports of human rights violations he was receiving from Vietnam and made
a document that he presented to the United Nations. On the day of the
General Assembly debate on human rights in Vietnam, Thay fasted and prayed
for understanding in a temple in New York. The UN agreed to send a
delegation to Vietnam to investigate the allegations. On November 1,
a few days before my planned press conference, the Diem regime fell. Ngo
Dinh Diem and his brother were killed by an angry military officer. I went
to a Catholic church in Paris to participate in a service for them
organized by their supporters. I had no hatred for these men, even though
they had caused so much suffering. I knew they were victims of their own
wrong concepts about the reality of Vietnam, and I only wished that from
then on, the sacrifices of the nonviolent Buddhists in Vietnam would
illuminate the way for those governing the country. The saga of the Diem
brothers is now past, but it remains a vivid lesson, especially for those
who have responsibility for millions of lives. We always have to examine
our ideas and concepts closely and revise them regularly to stay close to
reality. We must never be too certain of our knowledge; we must be humble
and open to learning something new every day of our lives. Later, the
Pentagon Papers revealed that Washington had given the order to overthrow
Diem. In fact, the nationalist officers who loved their country and had
been afraid that the communists would take over if the governing group
were too unpopular, needed the support of Washington to balance the
Chinese and Soviet blocs' backing of Hanoi. But to claim that it was the
U.S. that overthrew the Diem regime would be simplistic. Ngo Dinh Diem and
his family overthrew themselves with their narrow minds, their lack of
understanding, and their inability to listen to the wishes of the
nation. Knowing that the Diem regime had collapsed, I did not shave
my head or hold a press conference. Instead I began to concentrate on my
thesis. Then one night I received a telephone call from Thay Nhat Hanh. I
had sent him a letter the first day I arrived in Paris, telling him
everything that was happening in Vietnam--things I had not been able to
tell him while I was still in the country, as all letters were being
censored and the security of our friends and families was at risk. I had
told him about the press conference I had planned, and the first thing he
asked me on the phone was, "Have you shaved your head?" When I
said, "No," he seemed pleased. He persuaded me to come to New
York, even if just for a week, saying that he needed my advice about
whether to return to Vietnam. The Dean of Columbia University had told
Thay that it was not safe for intellectuals like him to return to Vietnam,
and he had invited Thay to stay and establish a Department of Vietnamese
Studies. Thay did not say this, but I could "hear" the words,
"If I stay in New York, I will not have to struggle with those
conservative monks who give me so much trouble in my efforts to renew
Buddhism!" I was a kind of representative of the younger generation
who believed in him and supported his work, so I promised to come to New
York for two weeks to discuss plans to renew Buddhism and bring about
social change in Vietnam. We were both happy with the prospect of seeing
each other again. When I arrived in New York, I somehow assumed I
would be eating the same mashed potatoes I had found in all French
university cafeterias, and I was quite surprised to see an excellent meal
of tofu and mushrooms prepared by Thay. During my time in New York, Thay
taught me how to cook many vegetarian dishes. Thay, his housemate Steve, a
graduate student at Columbia, and I stayed up late every night, mostly
sitting in silent peace and joy. Sometimes we sang French or English songs
together. During these two weeks Thay wrote a poem entitled
"Butterflies Over the Golden Mustard Fields" and gave it to
me: For ten years
we had a beautiful green garden.
For twenty years
the sun always shone on our thatched roofs.
My mother came out and called me home.
I came to the front yard
near the kitchen
to wash my feet
and warm my hands over the rosy hearth,
waiting for our evening meal
as the curtain of night
fell slowly on our village. I will never grow up
no matter how long I live.
Just yesterday, I saw a band
of golden butterflies fluttering above our garden.
The mustard greens were bursting with bright yellow
flowers. Mother and sister, you are always with me.
The gentle afternoon breeze is your breathing.
I am not dreaming of some distant future.
I just touch the wind and hear your sweet song.
It seems like only yesterday that you told me,
"If one day, you find everything destroyed,
then look for me in the depths of your
heart." I am back. Someone is singing.
My hand touches the old gate,
and I ask, "What can I do to help?"
The wind replies,
"Smile. Life is a miracle.
Be a flower.
Happiness is not built of bricks and
stones." I understand. We don't want to cause each other pain.
I search for you day and night.
The trees grope for one another in the stormy night.
The lightning flash reassures them
they are close to one another. My brother, be a
flower standing along the wall.
Be a part of this wondrous being.
I am with you. Please stay.
Our homeland is always within us.
Just as when we were children,
we can still sing together. This morning, I wake
up and discover
that I've been using the sutras as my pillow.
I hear the excited buzzing of the diligent bees
preparing to rebuild the universe.
Dear ones, the work of rebuilding
may take thousands of lifetimes,
but it has also already been completed
just that long ago.
The wheel is turning,
carrying us along.
Hold my hand, brother, and you will see clearly
that we have been together
for thousands of lifetimes. My mother's hair is
fresh and long.
It touches her heels.
The dress my sister hangs out to dry
is still sailing in the wind
over our green yard. It was an autumn morning
with a light breeze.
I am really standing in our backyard--
the guava trees, the fragrance of ripe mangoes,
the red maple leaves scurrying about
like little children at our feet. A song drifts
from across the river.
Bales of silky, golden hay
traverse the bamboo bridge.
Such fragrance! As the moon rises above
the bamboo thicket,
we play together
near the front gate.
I am not dreaming.
This is a real day, a beautiful one.
Do we want to return to the past
and play hide-and-seek?
We are here today,
and we will be here tomorrow.
This is true.
Come, you are thirsty.
We can walk together
to the spring of fresh water. Someone says that
God has consented
for mankind to stand up and help Him.
We have walked hand in hand
since time immemorial.
If you have suffered, it is only
because you have forgotten
you are a leaf, a flower. The chrysanthemum is
smiling at you.
Don't dip your hands into cement and sand.
The stars never build prisons for themselves. Let
us sing with the flower and the morning birds.
Let us be fully present.
I know you are here because I can look into your eyes.
Your hands are as beautiful as chrysanthemums.
Do not let them be transformed
into gears, hooks, and ropes. Why speak of the
need to love one another?
Just be yourself.
You don't need to become anything else. Let me add
one testimony of my own.
Please listen as if I were
a bubbling spring. And bring mother. I want to see
I shall sing for you, my dear sister,
and your hair will grow as long as mother's. The
day after I arrived, Thay Nhat Hanh received a cable from Thay Tri Quang,
the monk who had started the struggle in Hue against the Catholic regime,
inviting him to come back to Vietnam to help reorganize Buddhism. In the
past, Thay Nhat Hanh had not received any support from the Buddhist
hierarchy in his attempts to renew Buddhism, especially from Thay Tri
Quang. A few days later, another letter from Thay Tri Quang arrived,
saying, "I am too old now and too old-fashioned to take care of this
big responsibility. Please come back and help." I remember seeing
Thay Nhat Hanh, thoughtful and moved, holding the letter in his hand for a
long time. Later he told me about how wonderful impermanence is, because
in the past, Thay Tri Quang was one of the pillars of the conservatism he
had struggled against. Now, with the support and understanding of Thay Tri
Quang, he might be able to realize the work he loved so much. I was
excited to do the work, too. We agreed that when Thay returned to Vietnam,
I would join him as soon as possible, but for now, I would go back to
Paris to complete my thesis. Thay Nhat Hanh cabled Thay Tri Quang
agreeing to return to Vietnam. On his way, he stopped in Paris for a week
to visit me and a number of Buddhist friends. He arrived with a student of
his, who would later be ordained as the nun Thich Nu Tri Hai, and he gave
a public lecture in Paris. On December 16, 1963, he flew to Vietnam.
I first met Sister True Emptiness (Sister Chan Khong)
through a recording by Betsy Rose. The recording was A Rose for You the
Buddha to Be and included songs sung by Sister Chan Khong. I was
transported by her truly angelic voice, a combination of Vietnamese
professional singer and a spirit grounded in something I could only
imagine. Later, I would sell a tape in my bookshop titled Touching the
Earth that Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong recorded at a mindfulness
retreat in the United States. I would play this for people learning to
meditate and give this to people who were in psychotherapy. When selling
the tape, I would say, "Please don?t play this while driving." I
was sure people would go to sleep (from pure relaxation). Next, I read her
book How I Learned True Love (for sale at the Parallax Press site
mentioned on our "Other Links" page). If you ever want to really
"see" the Vietnam War and how people transformed their lives,
please read this book by a twentieth-century saint.The next news I heard
of Sister True Emptiness was that she would be with Thich Nhat Hanh when
he arrived at the 21-day retreat in Vermont in May 1998. She was a power
and presence that was (is) an honor to experience. I had a wish fulfilled
when she sang a group of 400 adults to sleep with beautiful songs and deep
relaxation. At a Dharma talk about Death and Dying (a subject that is of
much interest to me >>see the "Maitri Project" page),
Sister True Emptiness continuously refocused the huge group from their own
concerns about suffering to the cause and cessation of
suffering. Upon my leaving, I spoke to her about my son?s coming to
Plum Village in France to inquire about becoming a monk. Her absolute
concern and joy touched my heart. To this very moment, she remains the
most holy woman that I have ever met.