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Buddhadharma : Winter 2009
buddhadharma: the practitioner’s quarterly winter 2 0 09 46 and speak to her about the things that evoke happiness in her. It is very important to do this. Even if the person is in a coma, you should speak to her like this. Communication is possible. She will hear you. I remember going with Sister Chan Khong to visit my friend Alfred Hessler, who was dying in a Catholic hospital in New York State. Alfred was a peace activist who had been a tre- mendous help to us during the Vietnam War in our efforts to stop the bombing. We worked shoulder to shoulder with him, and we became very close friends. That day, Sister Chan Khong and I were on our way to a retreat in upstate New York at which six hundred people were expected, and by chance the clinic was on our way. When we entered his room, his daughter, Laura, tried to get Alfred to come out of the coma. “Alfred! Alfred!” she cried out, “Thay is here, Thay is here! Sister Chan Khong is here! Come back!” But Alfred remained in the coma. Sister Chan Khong then began to sing a verse that is drawn directly from a sutra written by the Buddha. The words go like this: This body is not me, I am not caught in this body. I am life without boundaries. I have never been born, and I shall never die. Look at the ocean and the sky filled with stars, manifestations of my wondrous true mind. Since before time, I have been free. Birth and death are only doors through which we pass, sacred thresholds on our journey. Birth and death are just a game of hide and seek. So laugh with me, hold my hand, let us say goodbye, say goodbye, to meet again soon. We meet today. We will meet again tomorrow. We will meet at the source at every moment. We meet each other in all forms of life. The third time Sister Chan Khong repeated this chant, Alfred came to and opened his eyes. We were very happy. Laura asked him, “Do you know that Thay and Sister Chan Khong are here?” Alfred was unable to speak, but he answered with his eyes that he knew his friends were there. Then Sister Chan Khong began the practice of watering the seeds of happiness in him. She spoke about our work for peace in Vietnam and, like Anathapindika, how much Alfred had found happiness in this work. “Do you remember the time we were in Rome?” she asked him. “There were three hundred Catholic priests, and each of them carried the name of a Buddhist monk who was imprisoned in Vietnam because he had refused to join the army. “Alfred, do you remember the time you were in Saigon with the Venerable Tri Quang, the head of the pacifist movement in Vietnam? The night before, the United States had decided to bomb the country. Venerable Tri Quang was furious and refused to see anybody who was American. But you sat down at his door and said that you were a friend and not an enemy. You said, ‘I am here to help you, and I am going to stay on a hunger strike until you open your door.’ The venerable monk invited you in. Do you remember that?” Sister Chan Khong practiced watering the positive seeds in him because she knew that Alfred had a great deal of suffering in him. Suddenly, he opened his mouth and said, “Wonderful, wonderful.” He repeated it twice. What was wonderful, too, was that at that moment he had friends to help and support him. When it was time for us to go, I said to his family, “Con- tinue the practice. You should talk to him about these things that have brought him happiness.” Another time, Sister Chan Khong’s older sister was in a coma and nearing death. She had suffered a great deal. She lay in bed writhing and moaning and crying out in pain. The doctors did all they could to alleviate her pain, including giv- ing her painkillers, but they were unable to help. Sister Chan Khong arrived with a tape player containing a Vietnamese chant to the bodhisattva of great compassion, chanted by the monks and nuns in Plum Village. She put the headphones Has the most wonderful moment of your life already happened? Most of us will answer that it hasn’t happened yet. But the truth is, without the presence of mindfulness, that moment is never going to happen. eMMAneely