If you’d told me 40 years ago that one day I would be reading a book by a Vietnamese Buddhist who led anti-war protests and agreeing with almost everything he says, I’d have said you were crazy. I knew next-to-nothing about Buddhism and sure as hell never wanted to hear about Vietnam again. Some memories die hard.
The crazy thing was that even when I was stationed in Vietnam I think I identified more with the Vietcong than I did the South Vietnamese we were supposed to be fighting for. It didn’t take a genius to realize we weren’t fighting to preserve Democracy. South Vietnam was run by military dictators who had been put in power by the French when they left, primarily because they were Catholic and had sided with the French against their own countrymen. You didn’t have to look very hard to see the disparity between the rulers and the ruled. I suspected that if I’d been Vietnamese I would have been fighting for the Vietcong, not the ARVN army.
That didn’t make fighting there any easier, of course. In the end I was fighting for one thing, to protect members of my platoon, my company, and, perhaps, my Battalion. In fact, the closest I ever came to dying was from friendly fire, which only stopped when we fired tank rounds directly over their heads. Whoever it was, ceased fired and retreated. No matter, the enemy was anyone who wanted to kill us, and generally that turned out to be Vietcong. I’ve never been sure if I came home angrier at the Vietcong or at a government that betrayed the trust I placed in them when I became an Army officer.
Perhaps the fact that I find this passage
WE ARE ALL LINKED TO EACH OTHER
Millions of people follow sports. If you love to watch soccer or baseball, you probably root for one team and identify with them. You may watch the games with despair and elation. Perhaps you give a little kick or swing to help the ball along. If you do not take sides, the fun is missing. In wars we also pick sides, usually the side that is being threatened. Peace movements are born of this feeling. We get angry, we shout, but rarely do we rise above all this to look at a conflict the way a mother would who is watching her two children fighting. She seeks only their reconciliation.
“In order to fight each other, the chicks born from the same mother hen put colors on their faces.” This is a well-known Vietnamese saying. Putting colors on our own face is to make ourselves a stranger to our own brothers and sisters. We can only shoot others when they are strangers. Real efforts for reconciliation arise when we see with the eyes of compassion, and that ability comes when we see clearly the nature of interbeing and interpenetration of all beings.
In our lives, we may be lucky enough to know someone whose love extends to animals and plants. We may also know people who, although they themselves live in a safe situation, realize that famine, disease, and oppression are destroying millions of people on Earth and look for ways to help those who suffer. They cannot forget the downtrodden, even amidst the pressures of their own lives. At least to some extent, these people have realized the interdependent nature of life. They know that the survival of the underdeveloped countries cannot be separated from the survival of the materially wealthy, technically advanced countries. Poverty and oppression bring war. In our times, every war involves all countries. The fate of each country is linked to the fate of all others.
When will the chicks of the same mother hen remove the colors from their faces and recognize each other as brothers and sisters? The only way to end the danger is for each of us to do so, and to say to others, “I am your brother.” “I am your sister.” “We are all humankind, and our life is one.”
truly moving may be proof that it is possible to overcome old prejudices when they are countered by greater truths.