Thursday, May 3, 2012

Zen moments in Da Lat, Vietnam

My family and a close friend of my sister-in-law visited the Truc Lam Zen Buddhist monastery in Da Lat today. It was the first time I had been in such a place. Everything I saw appeared to be perfect. Every Monk or Nun that passed by smiled and nodded. It was a remarkable environment where one could let their mind lose and feel free of any inhibitions or addictions. The place looked like no other place I have ever seen before. Thoughts of extraordinary nature appeared instantly. I felt surrounded by the beauty in Nature. Located on the shores of Da Lat Lake it has a serene environment which allows anyone to focus on anything and think deeply.
Truc Lam Zen Buddhist monastery in Da Lat
I felt dazzled by the sight of Banzai plants all around. I kept thinking how anyone could describe the beauty of the scenes to another. The meaning of "beauty is in the eyes of the beholder" had sunk in to my mind. I knew I could not possibly describe my feelings of the surrounding beauty. What is beautiful to one may appear just ordinary for another. So, there is nothing unique about such places other than they are the ONLY places where there is absolute freedom of thought. The fact is, time is irrelevant in path to enlightenment. Enlightenment can occur any moment for anyone if there is deep thought. We all practice this in our everyday lives as engineers, scientists and mathematicians. But our thoughts are frequently interrupted by unwanted or undesirable thoughts, commonly referred to as "noise".

My sister-in-law had briefly mentioned about the monastery before leaving for Da Lat. She had also mentioned that she knew a nun who could speak English fluently. My anxiety grew as we traveled by road and I honestly could not wait to discuss with her about some Zen stories and koans which I had read earlier.

I felt privileged to meet Nun Bach who is practicing Zen at the monastery.  The meeting was arranged by my sister-in-law who is a frequent visitor to this monastery. I asked Nun Bach how long she had been practicing. She replied: "I am practicing it now!!", with a sense of elation and excitement. I thought for a moment and felt that my question was too naive. It is true that persistence and practice have no end. It does not matter when one started practicing, but it does matter how rigorous the practice is towards enlightenment.

In the short period we met, I asked Nun Bach if I could discuss the koan "No Water, No Moon".  Giggling at times, she immediately burst in to a big smile. I could guess at that moment that Nun Bach had closely studied Nun Chiyono's history and her path to enlightenment. After a few passing comments, we had to end our meeting. It was time for chanting in the prayer hall. A banner announcing Buddha's birthday,Vesak, on May 5th, 2012, was posted as we walked past the main prayer hall. The front door was barely open just to allow a quick view of the Buddha statue. We left the monastery grounds after the prayers, but the thoughts of the visit are still fresh and it is my hope to be there again for Buddha's birthday celebrations.

Banner announcing Buddha's Birthday
I recall a recent news article from the Vatican stating that a Roman Catholic Cardinal praised Buddhism for instilling the values of wisdom and compassion in young people across the World. The cardinal stated this aspect of Buddhist education is a precious gift to society. As we returned home from the visit to Truc Lam monastery, this thought kept ringing in my mind and how wonderful it will be for all younger generations to visit such places frequently, however briefly it might be, and experience an environment that naturally stimulates deep thinking.

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