Healing the wounds of War

2008 marks 33 years since the Vietnam War ended. The war is not forgotten, and the wounds continue to effect the Vietnamese people. The hearts of many people in South, in Central and North Vietnam as well those of Vietnamese living abroad are not yet totally healed.

Thich Nhat Hanh is an extra-ordinary Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk, a teacher, author, and peace activist who was exciled from Vietnam and has lived in France for the past 30 years. At the age of 81, Thich Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam for only the second time since his exile. His visit was to share his nonviolent message to thousands of his followers, and to heal the wounds of war in his beloved homeland.

I arrived in Saigon on the same flight as him from France where we were met by hundreds of international delegates including U.S. Vietnam War Vets and young college students who were joining him on his tour.

I sat in meditation and retreat with Thich Nhat Hanh, and toured with him as he revisited the temples of his youth, the School for Social Service he founded over 50 years ago, and met with government officials to reestablish Buddhism in Vietnam. The trip culminated with ceremonial chanting ceremonies in Siagon, Hue, and Hanoi which were attended by thousands of people.

Thich Nhat Hanh, who is the second most well known Buddhist to the Dalia Lama, has a simple message: Peace is in Every Step.

Thich Nhat Hanh joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16, studied Buddhism as a novice, and was fully ordained as a monk in 1949. He coined the term Engaged Buddhism, and was nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King.

In 1967 Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. described Thich Nhat Hanh as an "apostle of peace and non-violence... [whose] ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity." The architect of "Engaged Buddhism," it was Nhat Hanh's influence that initially influenced King's opposition to the Vietnam War. As a result of his powerful nonviolent political stance, the young Buddhist monk was exiled from his homeland for almost 30 years, and Buddhism was ‘controlled' by the Communist Party.

Since then, Engaged Buddhism has gone on to inspire countless spiritual activist movements around the globe.

One of the most memorable and arresting images of the Vietnam War was the burning monk; Buddhist Monks who sat peacefully while setting themselves a blaze. It is hard to comprehend self-immolization as an act of Non-Violent action.

I explored this complex and powerful action and how it effected the Vietnamese, the Buddhist Monks and Social Service Workers, and the world at large. I spoke to Sister Chan Khong, Thich Nhat Hanh's long time companion, and friend of Nat Chi Mi, a young social service worker who immolated herself, and I visited the temple where Nat Chi Mi set herself ablaze.

~ Velcrow Ripper 


I AM HOME- Article by Velcrow Ripper in Shambhala Sun 

Plum Village
Engaged Buddhism
Questions and Answers with Thich Nhat Hanh
"This Buddhist monk helped end the suffering of the Vietnam War" Time Article
"The Fighting Monks of Vietnam" Buddhist Channel Article