Learning True Love: Practicing Buddhism in a Time of War by Sister Chan Khong
"In January of 2005, after nearly 40 years in exile, Sister Chân Không was able to return on a 3-month visit to Vietnam. In this fully revised edition of Learning True Love she movingly describes the return to her homeland, the reunions with many old friends and fellow activists, and shares her impression of the “new Vietnam,” where Buddhists still struggle for religious freedom and the re-establishment of their own organizations.
Learning True Love is a moving personal memoir, an introduction to the mindfulness teachings and life of Thich Nhat Hanh and his community in exile, an overview to the development of the European and American peace and human rights movement, and an introduction to the engaged and practical style of Vietnamese Buddhism. It documents the process that brought an end to the US Vietnam war, and gives a lively summary of Vietnamese history from 1945 to the current political, social and spiritual climate in Vietnam. Learning True Love also portraits some of the many remarkable people that shared Sister Chân Không ‘s path.
Foremost however it is the remarkable and impressive story of a very courageous woman, whose journey from an accredited biologist at the University of Paris to a Buddhist nun, gives her unique insight into life’s central questions and the ability to address them in an unflinching and straightforward manner."
"Sister Chan Khong, meaning "True Emptiness." Thich Nhat Hanh and Sister Chan Khong started Plum Village together in 1982. That Plum Village has become what it is today and that people all over the world have been inspired by Thay's teachings is to a great extent a result of Sister Phuong's enduring support and untiring initiative. Feeling grateful for having come in contact with Thay's teachings is feeling grateful to Sister Chan Khong in the very same breath.
I first met Thay and Sister Chan Khong (Phoung) in 1984 during a meditation weekend in Amsterdam. In the evening there was a special program with Vietnamese music. At one point the music stopped abruptly and Sister CK began to sing. I was deeply touched by her voice. Never had I heard someone sing like that. She sang my heart open and I cried and cried, not understanding what was happening to me.
During the first summer I spent in Plum Village, Sister Phuong wasn't yet a nun; she was simply called "Phuong." She had lovely long black hair that, in her way, she would casually put up in a bun by sticking a pen through it. She warmly welcomed the few Westerners that visited Plum Village in those days and she did what she could to make us feel at home. At that time she was the only person able to translate from Vietnamese into English or French. When Thay gave a Dharma talk or when there was an event in Vietnamese, she would sit next to us and translate for hours on end without ever appearing to get tired. Sister Phuong's way of translating was so expressive that even after having translated for hours, her voice sounded as colorful as it did when she began.
Three years later when I moved to Plum Village I was often the only one during the winter season that needed translation during Thay's talks and at the dining table at the end of the meals. There were about ten of us by then, and after dinner, as we were enjoying countless cups of tea, there was usually a lot of conversation, all in Vietnamese. During those moments I felt so left out, but when Sister Phuong was around she would always come sit next to me and, while participating wholeheartedly in the conversation, she would translate for me at the same time. I savored those moments in her presence. A couple of years ago I noticed she had taken on a new habit; while translating she would keep her hands in a certain position, a mudra. When I asked her about it, she explained she did it in order to remind herself to stay mindful while she was talking.