‘Teach children to overcome anger’

Times of India, Oct 31, 2008

BODHGAYA, India -- When Chan Khong, among the earliest students of Vietnamese Zen Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh (Thay) became a nun in 1988, the ritual took place at Rajgir’s Vulture’s Peak.

Revisiting the Buddhist trail with a 300-odd-strong international Order of Interbeing sangha, the 70-year-old nun talks to Narayani Ganesh from the shade of the Bodhi Tree.

Q: Your ordained name Chan Khong means true emptiness?
A: True emptiness or shoonyata is a teaching of the Buddha; he taught people to empty themselves. If you are truly empty of a separate self then you are full of the universe. It is a celebration of interconnected-ness, of interbeing. It means nothing can exist by itself alone, that everything is inextricably interconnected with everything else. I know that i must always work to remember that i am empty of a separate self and full of the many wonders of this universe.

Q: How did you get involved in social service?
A: As an undergraduate student in Vietnam, i was disturbed by the poverty all around. I would go house-to-house with a bowl, asking for one bowl of whatever was being cooked to be given to the poor. I would meet my friends every Sunday at a temple and distribute rice to street children. We got sponsors for kids and jobs for their parents.

When Thay came to know of my work he was happy. In 1959 i became his student. The old-fashioned believed in Buddha as a god but Thay taught us to make use of Buddha’s teachings. For what is the use of education if people kill and have nothing to eat?

We set up the first Peace Corps in South Vietnam in 1964-65; it ran till 1975 when the South regime collapsed. We founded the Van Hanh University and the School for Youth and Social Service, organising medical, educational and agricultural facilities in rural Vietnam during the war. At one stage we had over 10,000 young peace workers who rebuilt many villages ravaged by war.

In 1975 the government refused us permission to continue. But now we have gone back many times. Throughout south and central Vietnam we have 1,078 Schools for Progress of Understanding and Love for little children.

Q: Are you planning something in India?
A: Yes, at a very poor village near Mainpuri — with neither electricity nor water — where many carry the Sakya surname but don’t know much about the Buddha’s teachings. Children here walk two km to go to school — if they do.

Besides regular studies, we need to teach children how to overcome anger. We encourage schools to perform skits: Are you Buddha or are you Mara? Breathe in, breathe out, and bloom like a flower. Every month the equivalent of one-third of a teacher’s salary is given as bonus to the teacher if effective anger management is taught in class. We have to bring the spiritual dimension to children; we call it peace education.