Sunday, January 20, 2013

Death Filled My Heart and My Head: Dam Luu

Dam Luu, Buddhist Nun.

I was born in No Vietnam in Ha Dong. My parents died when I was 10. I decided to become a nun. Nobody forced me. There was a Buddhist pagoda near where I lived. I entered the religion at the age of 10. I came south in 1952 because of an invitation from someone in Saigon. During the year there was some religious suppression movements, and it was difficult then. We had a difficult time. But the situation didn't get very bad until 1963. Then the discrimination against Buddhism became worse and we demonstrated against it.
The act of burning oneself committed by some monks, as Buddhists, we are not allowed, by the commitment to the religion to be violent or to really express ourselves in any other means, like political or social, so in order to express the protest and to let the administration know of our disenchantment with the way the government treated Buddhism, these people burned themselves as a way to bring to dedicate their lives to their religion and to bring the point across and to bring the light of understanding to the government and to the people so that tolerance of the government could be carried out.
My main concern was with religion. I dedicated my life to Buddhism, so I did not pay attention to political events of any unfolding around the world in America or in North Vietnam with the communists.
I lived in Saigon at that time, Saigon being the capital of South Vietnam. There was nothing done to the temple where I stayed, but I believed that in remote regions and areas that they defiled the temples. I can't say for sure that 100 percent that these things happened, but I have a good sense that it happened. In the countryside in remote areas there was not a good local police force and so it was carried out by the governmental officers and local people.
I left Vietnam in 1964 and returned in 1969. I was in Germany during that period and in 1968 during the Tet invasion by the communists, I wasn't in Vietnam and so I didn't know what happened.
Thich Tri Quan. He was not the top representative of the whole Buddhist religion in Vietnam. There were many different branches of Buddhism and he was not the top leader of all of the branches in Vietnam. He only represented a certain faction of the religion with the Buddhists in Vietnam.
My feeling in 1973 when US troops left? In 1974 and 1975 trouble came to the country. I was afraid then for my life. I was afraid because the communists often professed that they do not believe in the existence of any supreme being. They are agnostic and perhaps there was one or two or a few from Buddhism that they did not touch and they took advantage of those people. But the rest of the Buddhists they would try to eradicate us. They are an agnostic people.
I decided to escape from Vietnam in 1978. As people who follow Buddhism and lead and ascetic life and a serene life, we didn't think that any government would bother us. But as the communists came in they made it difficult for us to follow our choosing. So I didn't think at that time that I could stay in Vietnam and openly practice Buddhism and so I decided to leave. The Communists didn't leave us alone to practice Buddhism.
They oppressed us. There was no freedom at all. The considered our place their place and they came and went as they pleased. And they monitored our activities day and night, 100 percent of the time, they watched us.
It was hard under the rule of the communists, visiting people became a difficult thing, especially when one was a monk. It was dangerous to visit others. it was very difficult if not unwise for the monks and the nuns to visit non-Buddhist people because they, the Communists, were suspicious of us. If we went to visit somebody outside the order, they would think that we were scheming and planning anti-government activities.
They would follow and they would, we, as nuns and monks, would visit the common people, then if we did that too often the Coms would would a surveillance and might do something to the people that we visited with, the non-religious order people. And that happened to me.
If I visited you, then they would come and visit you and question you and follow you around. So it was not good.
I was afraid of being sent to the reeducation camp or being killed. And something like that did happen to some of the monks and nuns. The communists were so smart. They did nothing on the massive scale as in Cambodia. They were much too smart for that. They would instead attack the individual. They would monitor the individuals and would wait for the right moment, when the individual would let down his guard, then they would use his faults or his weaknesses or whatever he was doing that they thought was not right, and like a sniper they would wait and shoot us down one by one --not literally -- but in the sense that they would point you out and arrest or detain you.
If somebody was against any individual, that person could lie and they would use that as an excuse to move in and to imprison you. You could be arrested upon any action that you did.
Some of the temples and pagodas were destroyed by the communists when they first came in to Saigon and South Vietnam. And some pagodas where someone had been suspected of being anti-communist, they would come in and destroy the structure. Nobody would do anything because anybody who resisted was accused of being anti-revolutionary and that would lead you to be killed.
They said they were only against the American troops and the American imperialists and the bad former people in the government working with Thieu. But if they wanted to arrest me or anybody they would say it was because of my linkage to the CIA and would say that I was a bad citizen and therefore they needed to arrest me. They would not just tell me they arrested me for a real reason, but would label me as something I was not and then they would arrest me. They played by no rules. They made up rules as they went along. How could you defend yourself if they said you worked for the CIA. They did whatever they wanted to do.
The situation became such that nobody trusted anybody else anymore. Even within the family the children could not trust the parents and the parents the children. You could be killed because of accusations that leaked out of a family talk or argument. You could speak to no one in a critical fashion. You dared not to discuss anything of importance, because if you had only a twosome, then you and somebody could say what you wanted, then there would be no witness. But three people could not carry on a conversation because then there would be a witness, two could gang up on one person that they disliked.
So silence is the golden policy in a communist government. Even if we sat here for a long time, they would ask why we had gathered and spent time together like that.
[Buddhists that were communists. My translator did not ask the nun so she did not give the answer.]
How did I leave. I under the Communists in their society, each has to worry about his or her own life. And when you wanted to leave you had to have money. I had not enough money, as a nun to escape. I left with the help of some people I knew, friends, who let me go with them. When I made up my mind to leave the country I knew it was a risky crossing, but I knew that death might wait for me in the open seas. But if I stayed I would die sooner or later, too. So it did not mater if I died at sea, in Vietnam I would have died a slow death.
Life in the US. The spiritual life here is sad, because we lost our country, and we also lost our religion. Here Buddhism is not widespread, so at the beginning I felt lost and by myself. As fare as the material life goes it is fine, I am sufficient, financially, not rich, but there is enough to live, as far as my spiritual life, I feel that we have lost a lot. In the future, step by step and year by year we will be able to rebuilt and revise the customs and religion here. When that is done, actually, I feel like I am reviving a world like that here. Especially when there is progress made in the reviving of Vietnamese culture and customs and the reviving of the religion itself.
The process of escaping was not easy. I had to lie to people to say I was visiting friends or I was going on a pilgrimage. It took a few months before I made it. I became a boat person, I left Vietnam by boat.
When I was planning to escape I had no thought of building a temple overseas, or living there for a long time, I had only the idea that at this time only death filled my head because it was risky and many people died at sea. So death filled my heart and my head. I needed though to escape and to be free.
I left in August 1978 and landed in Malaysia, I stayed there for a year, and as far as carrying on my tasks as a nun I had no means to do chanting or reading the sacred books. I was active in helping people who needed spiritual uplifting and support, I would give them that. In the camp I was in there was no temple.
But our camp was so small and I had no means to build a temple.
When I left for the US I arrived in Palo Alto, California and stayed in a Giac Minh temple there for one year and then moved to San Jose and rented a house to transform it into a pagoda, and it served as a sort of temple, and then I moved to this new location about a month ago. Duc Vien Temple is where I live now.
Perhaps one day we will be able tos ee vn again, but as to a time line and to say when, I can't say. Who knows when? For the vn outside the country, we cannot return. And those inside want to get out.
I don't think that we Vietnamese here in the US can do anything to turn the situation around in Vietnam. Anything that will happen in Vietnam will be the result of a discussion of a negotiation between the Americans and the Russians, but the Vietnamese themselves cannot really affect the situation. They can only talk about it, but they cannot actually do anything about it, the way the people mistrust each other today.
But we still hold the dream dear to our hearts and we try to keep up the fighting spirit so that one day we can return to Vietnam. But we cannot set a date or a time line, but we know that we must try to make it happen.
You know about Karmic Laws that have to do with the Cham peoples of Champa in Central Vietnam? I cannot say within the Buddhist order that issue has not been discussed or even mentioned, but I do believe in the teachings of Buddha, that whatever seeds you plant, you will receive the fruit from that seed. So perhaps it is true that President Nguyen Van Thieu was really a Cham, and that is why the Vietnamese suffer now. But I don't think that it is the only reason that we are paying for what was done in the past, for the killing off of the Chams in the 15th century. That was bad, for sure. But that was not the sole reason for the suffering of the Vietnamese people now. I did not participate in those killings centuries ago. I am a Vietnamese and because I am in this situation I must leave the country, so I share in my country's misfortunes. Perhaps in some past individual life I sowed seeds. But I can't say that the reason the Vietnamese are suffering now is because we as a collective group killed off a whole race.
As a believer in the teachings of Buddha, everything has a consequence. And a reason. Perhaps in past history, in past beings we the Vietnamese gathered some sort of bad seeds, so that is why now we are born in a country that always has some sort of fighting and is always in disharmony and is always giving us lots of things to suffer for.
So we are like people who are alcoholics. They gather together and go where they can get drinks. So perhaps in the past the Vietnamese people have done something bad, so that now we are all gathered together in a country in one place that is so harsh and that doesn't seem to have any happiness. Maybe like the American people, they are lucky to be born in this country. They do not have to suffer like us, so perhaps in their previous beings they have done something that enabled them to live in this country. It is as simple as that, the Karmic laws.
I was in Germany for 4 years. I studied sociology in Germany, it was a place to study. It was not a place to disseminate religion.
My life, my spirit, I think I have a serene inner self. Because I think that life here is nice and comparing to Vietnam it is much better, and as a Buddhist I do not have the sense of trying to cover up a sad inside with a happy outside. I am very serene and I have a good inner self and a good sense of myself. If I have things to do here, I am not pressed to do them, I am not worried about getting them done as quickly as possible because now I am aware of the limits of my capacity. I let things unfold they way that they will. I try to live in the present and I do not mourn things in the past. And I do not worry about the future. I just live for today and live for right now. And I am happy this way. it is no use to cry over spilled milk or to worry about the future. You cannot rescue the past and you cannot predict tomorrow, and there are people like that who cry constantly about lost things in the past, and who worry about the future. But I do not do it that way. I just live in the present.
We should live for all people in a country and make the world a better place to live in. We should lead a temperate life and be a useful citizen, that is what I am trying to do.
The Vietnamese people have two lives, the inner and the outer lives, and these do not match. Nothing will change until the Communists are gone.
Where did they come from. It began as a small movement. The people were satisfied with the former regime, and so they gathered together and they worked on it and they kept focusing on the bad things of the regime, and they dwelled on that, and they looked at only the bad, using that tactic they were able to regroup more people and bring people into their web of lies. I did not mean just the Thieu regime, but even back under the monarchy, it began then. Things were done slowly, so they formed groups that grew and grew.
If you look at the rich countries of the world you do not see people grouping together and clamoring for a communist government. Only when people are poor and oppressed do they lean to the communists.
when I was younger and the elders talked about how horrible the communists were, I didn't believe them. I said, look, they are only human, they cannot be that bad. They have a heart and they have a mind and they cannot be that horrendous. And that is why I did not leave in 1975. I had no contact with them yet. But after living with them for three years, I became very aware of who they were and what they really did, and that is why I left the country. They just don't have hearts.
There are the have nots and the haves. And the have nots are bigger in number. But the haves are aware of what the communists are about and who they are, so with that knowledge, they use it for their personal life and plan a safe life for themselves, but the have nots did not have that knowledge and besides they felt that they were closer to the communists because the communists talked to them and communicated with them. And so naturally they gained the people's trust and that's why it happened. If there wasn't this business of the haves and the haves nots, and if they only communicated with each other it would not have happened. So the poor developed a good coaliton with the communists. That's why it happened. As you see in poor countries around the world, in each country there is a communist party or a communist insurgency. My country is so poor right now, though, the economy is so bad, the people don't produce as much as they consume. And when you go there you will not get to the bottom of things because the feeling of mistrust poisons the air.

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