|Bat Nha: a Koan|
I AM A CHIEF OF POLICE IN VIETNAM. At first, I believed that the order from my superiors to wipe out Bat Nha must have been justified, that it must have been in the interests of national security. I trusted my superiors. However, as I carried out the order, I saw things that broke my heart. Bat Nha has become a koan for my life. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I toss and turn throughout the night. I ask myself, What have these people done, that I should treat them as reactionaries and threats to public safety? They seem so peaceful – but I have no peace at all. If I don’t have peace in my heart, how can I keep the peace in my society?
The young monks and nuns have not broken any laws. In fact we were the ones who collaborated with those who seized their property. We forced them to leave the place they helped to build, where they had been living peacefully for years. We tried everything to force them out, yet they held their ground. They seemed to have so much love for each other – there seemed to be something that bound them together. They lived with such integrity. Even though they were young, none of them was pulled into smoking, drug abuse or empty sex. They lived simply, ate vegan food, sat in meditation, listened to sutras, shared with each other and did no harm to anyone. How can we say they are dangerous? They have never said or done anything against the government. We cannot truthfully say they are reactionaries or involved in politics. And yet we have accused them of that and driven them out by every possible means: we threatened them, we cut off their electricity and water, we went every night for many months to harass them, demanding to see their identification papers, over and over again; we did everything we could to break their spirit. But they never said a reproachful word, they offered us tea, they sang for us and they asked to take souvenir photos with us.
In the end we hired mobs to destroy their community, to assault them and expel them. We had to be there wearing plainclothes to identify and single out the leaders so the thugs could neutralize and abduct them. Not once did they fight back. Their only weapons were chanting the Buddha’s name, sitting in meditation, and locking arms to stop us from separating them as we forced them into the waiting cars. Central government even sent a Major General to coordinate the attack. Why did we need to mobilize such a massive force, from the central to the local government, to break up a group of young people with empty hands and innocent hearts?
And why did it take us more than a year to kick them out? What was there in the temple that made them so determined to stay? Every day they had just two vegan meals, three sessions of sitting meditation, one lecture and one session of walking meditation. Why were there so many of them, so young and yet living so harmoniously with each other? Some of them had university diplomas, some were sons and daughters of high-ranking officials, some had had careers and high-paying jobs; but they left it all behind for a humble life. What was so good there that it attracted so many young people? How can we just say that they were tricked by the honeyed words of a person living in the West into opposing the government?
My orders came from above and I had to obey; but I feel deeply ashamed. At first I thought they were just temporary measures, for the greater good of the country, for the sake of preserving national unity. Now I know that the whole operation was deceitful, cruel and offensive to human conscience. I am forced to keep these thoughts to myself. I don’t dare to share them with the officers in my unit, let alone my superiors. I can’t go forward and I can’t go back; I am a cog in a machine and I can’t get out. What must I do to be true to myself?
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Last Updated (Monday, 25 January 2010 01:53)