Sister Chân Kông: a rebel in a kesa

- through Sophie Solere

Published on

The first disciple of Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh to receive full ordination, Sister Chân Không has also been the director of his humanitarian projects since the 1960s. Itinerary of a rebel, from the slums of Saigon to Plum Village.

Smiling and mischievous, wrapped in her brown kesa, she recites poems and hums songs in Vietnamese and French between two answers to our questions. At the beginning of April, we interviewed her by videoconference while she was staying in Hué (Vietnam) alongside her master. A painting depicting Thich Nhat Hanh, lean body and piercing gaze, hangs behind her, above a rustic sideboard. From time to time, she raises her voice and repeats the same word twice in a row to be sure that the message has gone through.

At 82 years, sister Chan Khong has lost none of his "strength, cheerfulness and aptitude for happiness" praised by Thich Nhat Hanh in the preface to his autobiography, The strength of love, which she published in the 1990s.

Behind its apparent sweetness hides an indomitable energy and a rebellious temperament. Born in 1938, the year of the Tiger, very young she opposes all forms of authority. As a teenager, she gave math lessons to young people from wealthy families in order to finance scholarships for needy high school students. At twenty, after joining the faculty of science at the University of Saigon, as soon as her classes were over, she went to the nearest slum to help underprivileged children. It provides them with rice rations, creates a care center dedicated to them and helps unemployed adults to set up their small businesses. In 1961, she took the helm of the Social Movement of the Union of Buddhist Students founded by Thich Nhat Hanh, whom she had met two years earlier. In 1965, she became the "commander-in-chief" of the Youth School for Social Service (EJSS) that her master had just created, while campaigning to find a peaceful solution to the war, which had taken a new, more dramatic since the massive intervention of American troops. Its fuel? Simple living, frugal food and mindfulness. When, in 1966, two students from the EJSS were killed by a group of men who threw grenades into dormitories, she was responsible for writing the oration that would be read at the funeral. “We have no hatred for you, you who threw those grenades and killed our friends, because we know that men are not our enemies. Our only enemies are the lack of understanding, hatred, jealousy, misunderstanding and ignorance which lead to such acts of violence. »

True Emptiness

In 1968, she left Vietnam and joined Thich Nhat Hanh in Europe to plead, alongside him, with Western leaders and public opinion in favor of peace in Vietnam. Both multiply conferences around the world. “I spoke to as many people as I could and spoke to everyone with all my heart. Sometimes I gave seven or eight lectures in the same day. As I spoke, blood and tears continued to flow in Vietnam,” she recalls. In 1975, at the end of the war, the bombings having barely stopped, thousands of Vietnamese, the boat people, sought to flee the communist regime. They leave the country, risking their lives, on makeshift boats. Sister Chân Không then assisted Thich Nhat Hanh in the organization of a rescue program for the boat people which “helped bring the cries of the boat people to the ears of the world”. Between 1977 and 1979, the United States increased its quota for welcoming Vietnamese refugees from 7 to 000 per year. France welcomed more than 100 in 000.

“We have no hatred for you, you who threw those grenades and killed our friends, because we know that men are not our enemies. Our only enemies are the lack of understanding, hatred, jealousy, misunderstanding and ignorance which lead to such acts of violence. »

Since 1982, Sister Chân Không has lived in Plum Village, which she co-founded with Thich Nhat Hanh, in Thénac in Dordogne. The community of monks and nuns welcomes more than a thousand visitors each year. There, she leads sessions of total relaxation and leads the practice of renewal. This tool, she insists, can allow people to reconcile, especially couples on the verge of divorce, or parents with their children. "In Plum Village, we realized that it's best to express what hurt us not immediately, but a few days later, once things have calmed down inside us", slips- She. It was not until 1988 that she was ordained a nun. “It was like coming home,” she says. Her Dharma name? True Emptiness. In Buddhism, she explains, “the word emptiness is the translation of the Sanskrit word sunyata. It means "void of a separate self". It means that nothing exists by itself, that everything is inextricably interdependent”.

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Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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