The Ly and Tran kings truly believed in a path of virtue and spirituality. Many of them lived exemplary ethical lives, and the people had confidence in them and were inspired to do the same. One king knew how to practice the mindfulness trainings, followed a vegetarian diet, sent blankets to prisons, and went out into towns and villages to meet the people and see the truth of how they lived and what they suffered. A king who knows how to do sitting meditation, look deeply into koans, practice beginning anew six times daily, write commentaries on sutras, take refuge in the wise counsel of a Zen master whom he respects as the national teacher, and yield the throne to his son in order to become a simple monk on Yen Tu mountain – such a king can be a great example of morality for the whole nation.
Nowadays we're always urging government officials and one another to “study and follow the virtuous example of Ho Chi Minh”. But who is the one that is living a good example for their comrades? Mahayana Buddhism teaches that “You have to be that person. You have to be the role model. You have to live that way yourself. Only then will you give others the inspiration to do the same.” I have to be that person. I know that corruption and abuse of power have become a national catastrophe. We have been lamenting it for so many years already, and yet the situation just gets worse with every passing day. Why? Is it because I'm only able to proudly boast of my ancestors’ glorious past, and am not in fact able to do as they did? And today, when there are young people actually doing it, why do we block and suppress them?
The Bat Nha situation may have started with a travel agency owned by a high police officer. Soon it involved hotels, then visas, and eventually the abuse of power and the exercise of revenge. Now it has become a policy the whole country has to follow. Maybe I have not taken the time to examine this. I just go along with the false reports and casually allow the people I am supervising to use lies, deception and oppression against these gentle people who never have caused any disturbance to society. In the end I am put in a position where I become the enemy of the very things I once cherished. Are my true enemies really outside of me? My enemies are within. Do I have enough courage and intelligence to face my own weaknesses? That is the fundamental question.
The Plum Village practices offer a rare opportunity to modernize Buddhism in Vietnam; the last four years have proved their effectiveness. Why are we allowing ourselves to be pressured by our powerful neighbor into persecuting and destroying such a precious living treasure? What will we get that is so precious, in return for destroying this treasure we already have?
The best way to celebrate the thousand-year anniversary of Hanoi is to strive to practice, to live like our great ancestors Ly Cong Uan, Tran Thai Tong, Tran Thanh Tong, Truc Lam Dai Si, and Master Tue Trung. They were politicians, but at the same time lived a true spiritual life that they believed in. What have I to be proud of, other than the legends of my ancestors? I have lost my revolutionary ideal. I have snuffed out the sacred flame of my aspiration. My comrades are no longer truly my comrades because their own sacred flame of revolutionary idealism has gone out. They are only in the Party for self-interest, fame and status. The Plum Village tradition is part of my country’s cultural heritage and is contributing to a global cultural ethic – not just in theory but, most importantly, in practice. So many people all around the world have heard about this tradition and are benefiting from these teachings. I should be proud of this, so why did I allow the tradition to be attacked and wiped out in the very land where it was born? These are the questions that, if allowed to penetrate and act upon the depths of my consciousness, can awaken the wisdom within. This will give me the insight I need to see the path and way out I have been longing for.
I AM A HEAD OF STATE OR FOREIGN MINISTER. My country is or is not a member of the Security Council or the UN Commission on Human Rights. I know that events like Bat Nha, Tam Toa, Tiananmen Square and the annexation of Tibet are serious violations of Human Rights. But because of national interest, because our country wants to continue to do business with them, because we want to sell arms, airplanes, fast trains, nuclear power plants and other technologies, because we want a market for our products, I cannot express myself frankly and make real decisions that can create pressure on that country so they stop violating human rights.
I feel ashamed. My conscience is not at peace but because I want my party and my government to succeed, I tell myself that these violations are not serious enough for my country to take a stance. It seems that I too am caught in a system, a kind of machinery, and I cannot really be myself. I’m not able to give voice to my real feelings or to speak out about the situation. What do I have to do to get the peace that I so badly need? Bat Nha is of course a situation in Vietnam, but it has also become a koan for a high-ranking political leader like me. What path can I take in order to really be myself?