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Responding to Suffering
Working in Paris, the Vietnamese Buddhist Delegation was able to sponsor more than nine thousand children who were orphaned because of the Vietnam War. We didn’t support the building of orphanages, but we tried to find relatives of the orphans to take care of them. At that time, I was very busy, but every day I spent time translating twenty files on the orphans. The files were sent to us by social workers in Vietnam. There was a photograph of each orphan, the name of the father and the mother, and information about how the father and mother died. We had to translate these files into English, Dutch, French, German to find sponsors for each child. The sponsor would donate twenty-five francs for each child. I used to hold up the file with the photograph of the child. Looking at the face of the child, I would smile and breathe. The energy of compassion would come up in me, and my heart was full of love. Then I would be able to translate easily. The translation was very poignant because there was a lot of love and compassion flowing out of my pen. There was a Danish lady living in Holland who was so inspired to help us with the program for orphans that she took a course to learn Vietnamese. Her Vietnamese became good enough to help translate the files.
In 1975, when the Americans left Vietnam and the North took over the whole of Vietnam, our Sangha in Paris retreated to a hermitage in the countryside outside of Paris, Sweet Potato Hermitage, where we had gone every weekend to rest and renew ourselves. At Sweet Potato Hermitage, I wrote The Moon Bamboo, The Sun My Heart, and the second and the third volumes of The History of Vietnamese Buddhism. Sweet Potato Hermitage is still there, near the forest of other. We should organize a pilgrimage there one day as a fun outing. It is very beautiful, and the climate is colder than Plum Village.
During the time at Sweet Potato Hermitage, from 1975 until 1982, Sister Chan Khong and a number of others in the Sangha organized relief work for the refugees, the boat people, escaping Vietnam at that time. We rented three boats, The Leopold, The Roland, and the Saigon 200. Our aim was to pick refugees up on the ocean and secretly take them to countries like Australia.
Once, we rescued five hundred and fifty people on our boat, but our underground work was exposed. Both Sister Chan Khong and I were driven out of Thailand and our secret headquarters there. Our work was exposed by journalists scouting for news. If this had not happened, the refugees would have been taken to Australia. But instead, we had to turn them over to UNESCO of the United Nations, and those boat people had to stay in refugee camps for three, four, or five years before their cases were finally reviewed and processed for immigration. So unfortunate!
Before Sister Chan Khong left Vietnam to come help me, she worked in high spirits with the School of Youth for Social Service. She has been with me from the beginning of 1968 until now, supporting all the work for peace. Since 1968, she has worked constantly, never once having the idea of giving up. Of course, I have had many other friends and many other disciples, and some have given up because there are many dangers, difficulties, and obstacles on the path of calling for peace, human rights, and building up Sanghas. Others have abandoned the cause because of a variety of difficulties. But Sister Chan Khong always accompanied me with great dedication.
Last Updated (Friday, 23 November 2012 14:54)