When Will We Ever Learn

My therapist/shaman friend counsels Viet Nam vets. A while ago, I posted about a healing ritual in which I participated to support the painful healing process of a U.S. army nurse who is still struggling with PTSD. Several times a year, my friend leads a pilgrimage to Viet Nam as a way of continuing the healing process for the many affected by their experiences in that war. He sends back his thoughts on their journey, reminding us all that we in America are continuing to repeat the same mistakes, believing that our might makes right.
This is his latest message:
I stood on the busy streetcorner in Ho Chi Minh City, the old Saigon. I
crossed into the intersection jammed like an ant colony full of vendors,
bicyclists, cyclos with their weary drivers hard-peddling, sputtering
mopeds. It all zigzagging every which way at once, yet no one ever hit
another. Traffic in Viet Nam is a cacaphony of communal spirit.
It was here, in the middle of this place of traffic and this place of the
ordinary, that Buddhist monk Thich Quan Duc burned himself in an image
that placed a permanent stamp on all of our psyches. Thich Quan Duc was
from the Thien Mu Pagoda outside of Hue, where a few years later the
awful battle would be fought. He found intolerable the U.S. supported
South Vietnamese government which, partially in line with its Catholicism, oppressed Buddhism and Buddhist monks throughout its region of control. The Viet Nam War was also a religious war.
In1965, the monk drove from his pagoda outside Hue to this crammed and
frenetic intersection. Here he doused himself with gasoline, assumed the
lotus position, and lit himself on fire.
I contemplated the spot from a corner, crossed slowly through the irreverant traffic, arrived on the opposite corner before the fenced memorial tablet erected to Thich as an ancestor of us all, an guardian of the spirit of spiritual and religious freedom. I contemplated his meaning as such a model for us today. I contemplated how his single act truly did change the world, for here were eight American pilgrims – veterans, peace activists, professors, students – seeking his memorial for homage and inspiration. Then I entered through the green fencing and lit incense and prayed to his memory.
I sat on the sidewalk after prayer, a little stunned with the power of it all. And as if the Reverend led the cosmos in prayer, I heard, or felt, these words:
When
I
burn
let
me
sit.
So must we all in order to live our lives well, and in order to stop the violence.

2 thoughts on “When Will We Ever Learn

  1. Wow…
    There really is no more to say…the power of his words leave me searching for my own words to say how that moved me, but I find none…

  2. I was reading Atonement by Ian McEwan last night, and was struck by the horror and inhumanity of war — something I was already aware of, but it was a forceful reminder. I think we need to have everyone read a realistic account of war (fiction or non) at least once a month…maybe we’d stop thinking it was so great and we were so righteous in undertaking it.

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