Hold It All

Tag: Chân Không

Concentration Is Consecration

Sri Eknath Easwaran distinguishes two kinds of spiritual reading: that of instruction and that of inspiration.  Simone Weil’s book, Waiting for God, is an example of the latter, as  it is fecund with material for examining one’s life and path. Reading her brought to mind  the  Buddhists Thich  Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Hindu Sri Anandamayi Ma,  and  Catholics Dom Pedro Casaldáliga and José María Vigil who espoused “political holiness.” Her essay “Reflections on the Right Use of School Studies with a View to the Love of God” is superb.

I offer a short selection  in what follows…

Method of investigation— as soon as one has arrived at any position, try to find in what sense the contrary is true.

Except for those whose whole soul is inhabited by Christ, everybody despises the afflicted to some extent, although practically no one is conscious of it.  

I love the saints through their writings and what is told of their lives … I love the six or seven Catholics of genuine spirituality whom chance has led me to meet in the course of my life. I love the Catholic liturgy, hymns, architecture, rites and ceremonies.

I fell in love with Saint Francis of Assisi as soon as I came to know about him. Read the rest of this entry »


Some people are able to focus, laser-like, on one thing—athletes, musicians, scientists.

For Chris Wallach, it’s mindfulness.

It’s a gift. It’s a talent she’s deliberately cultivated over the last several years. It’s a whole set of skills that she practices, like  smiling, speaking, teaching, noticing. It’s a good kind of passion—healthy, robust.It’s unifying her consciousness (both mind and store).  Mindfulness, it’s one thing, yet it connects her to everything and everyone.

I’ve had this fantasy about her—I’ve been in many scores of demonstrations, vigils, marches, and protests—and I’ll be marching with her, Carrie, Lily, and our friends, walking calmly, inviting our various bells to sound, maybe using Japanese drums in downtown Saint Louis or out on Lindbergh approaching Monsanto, and Chris would be our roshi, our thầy, our guide—no anger, no snarkiness, no jaws clenched when we approach the non-enemy, no venom pouring out, no harm wished on a  single being:

Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, Bodhi svaha!
Gaté, gaté, paragaté, parasamgaté, Bodhi svaha!

I can see her the embodiment of equanimity … and then it occurs to me (I forget over and over) … I am and could be that Chris Wallach walking, I could march that way. I, too, have Buddha nature or Chris Wallach mindful nature. I could be serene and determined like Chân Không and I’d be able to notice  my mind getting impatient with serenity and wanting to rage against  the filthy, rotten system and its minions and lackeys and reach into my ancient-like-Allen-Ginsberg-Russian-Jewish-past — “Moloch the Congress of sorrows!”—and just at that instant, I would look on all beings in front of me with the eyes of compassion … Present moment, wonderful moment … the eyes of Chris, the eyes that cherish two young women, the eyes that have beheld hundreds of first-grade-bodhisattvas-in-training.

The eyes of the Buddha can be our eyes.

Namaste forever, Chris.


–written in Dear Layla Writing/Reading class, Wednesday 23 February, at home of Patrick O’Neal and Matthew Hyde

Seeing is Believing


Two years later, when I went to the United States to explain the suffering of the Vietnamese people and to plead for peace in Vietnam, I saw a woman on television carrying a wounded baby covered with blood, and suddenly, I understood how the American people could continue to support the fighting and bombing. The scene of the television was quite different from the reality of having a bleeding baby in my arms. My despair was intense, but the scene on the television looked like a performance. I realized that there was no connection between experiencing the actual event and watching it on the TV screen while sitting at home in peace and safety.  People could watch such horrible scenes on TV and still go about their daily business — eating, dancing, playing with children, having conversations.  After an encounter with such suffering, desperation filled my every cell.  These people were human beings like me; why did they have to suffer so?  Questions like these burned inside me, and, at the same time, inspired me to continue my work with serene determination.  Realizing how fortunate I was compared to those living under the bombs helped dissolve any anger or suffering in me, and I was committed to keep doing my best to help them without fear.

Cao Ngoc Phuong, Vietnamese Buddhist and activist


I have been in Palestine for two weeks and one hour now, and I still have very few words to describe what I see. It is most difficult for me to think about what’s going on here when I sit down to write back to the United States. Something about the virtual portal into luxury….I think about the fact that no amount of reading, attendance at conferences, documentary viewing, and word of mouth could have prepared me for the reality of the situation here. You just can’t imagine it unless you see it—and even then you are always well aware that your experience of it is not at all the reality: what with the difficulties the Israeli Army would face if they shot an unarmed U.S. citizen, and with the fact that I have money to buy water when the army destroys wells, and the fact, of course, that I have the option of leaving. Nobody in my family has been shot, driving in their car, by a rocket launcher from a tower at the end of a major street in my hometown.

Rachel Corrie, American activist

Dear _____________________

Dear Netanyahu,
Thank you. You’ve reminded me of my capacity to experience immense rage.
Mark Chmiel

Dear Frenchwell,
Thank you for passing on the wisdom and skill
of your Israeli genius-teacher.
You practice right livelihood with brilliance.
Sparkwell Read the rest of this entry »

Reading Can Change Your Life (Or At Least Your Friday Night)/Patisotagami*

“So last night I went with my friends to this bar
The same bar they’ve been going to for two years

Drinking the same overpriced drinks they always drink
Making the same chit-chat with the same guys who always come up to them

Listening to the same unbearable music
And people were making fewer intelligible comments with each passing minute

And the air was so thick with insecurity and false bravado
And I looked at my watch and realized I’d already been there for two hours

And I looked around at all the gaming and fretting and distraction and sadness of it all
And what popped into my mind was the time you used the expression ‘American Samsara’

And then I remembered that April day you asked for two volunteers
And one person was to be herself and asked a question to the other person

And I was the other person who was supposed to channel Chân Không
And in that bar with its mindlessness and midnight mayhem

I breathed in
And breathed out

Just like
Chân Không would

Breathe in
Breathe out





Present moment
Only moment

And I walked out the door
And back home


Chân Không

–from Dear Layla Welcome to Palestine

* “swimming against the current”

The Power of Example

for Michelle Conley

For years in my Social Justice course at Saint Louis University, I assigned the 1993 paperback by Cao Ngoc Phuong entitled, Learning True Love: How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam. Phuong’s story is of a young woman growing up in Vietnam during the 1950s and 1960s. From a young age, her passion is to be of assistance to poor people; she also wanted to be a Buddhist, but didn’t have very inspiring teachers. This changed when she met Thich Nhat Hanh, who became her mentor, a relationship that is now in its fifth decade.

What made that book so compelling for me (and many of my students) was Phuong’s unbelievable stamina, inspiring cheerfulness, and serene courage in the midst of repression, poverty, and war. I used to say to the Social Work students in the class: “Please tell your friends who are studying to be Social Workers to read this book!” But really, the book is for all of us–a resource for understanding what it means to remain human in an inhuman time.

Just this past April, Parallax Press published a second, revised, and updated edition of the book, with this new subtitle: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War–A Nun’s Journey from Vietnam to France and The History of Thich Nhat Hanh’s Buddhist Community. At the age of 50, Phuong became a Buddhist nun, taking on the name Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness). The new edition of Learning True Love details the life and work at Plum Village, the Buddhist monastery and meditation center in France, as well as Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong’s recent return to Vietnam after living in exile since the 1960s. Read the rest of this entry »