Dzung Vo and his father with Thích Nhat Hanh at Plum Village, 1999.
I feel that I have been practicing the Dharma since before I was born.
I was born and grew up in the United States, as a second-generation Vietnamese American. I never met my maternal grandmother, Bà Noi, in her bodily form. However, I feel that Bà is very much alive in me. Bà’s family was from a village near Hué, in central Viet Nam. One image of Bà that is very strong in my mind from my childhood is a photograph of her in her grey ao trang (lay practice robe), with her head shaved, wearing beads from the bodhi tree, looking ahead very peacefully and smiling gently. I feel that my bodhicitta, my aspiration to practice compassion, very much comes from Bà through many ancestors before her, and through my own father.
I was raised as a Vietnamese Buddhist and my father, Võ Xuân Han (Dharma Name: Quang Hanh) was my first teacher. My father spent much of his adult life trying to heal the wounds from the Vietnam War. He took courageous stands for peace, reconciliation, and social justice, even when it risked backlash. He transmitted a deep understanding to me that our well-being and happiness was intimately connected to the suffering and well-being of the most vulnerable in the world. This was, perhaps, my first teaching on the Second Mindfulness Training.
As I grew up, my own social conscience and devotion to social justice matured and I see clearly that this is a direct continuation of my father. During this time period my social conscience continued to mature and I began to deepen the connection between my activism and my spiritual path. Mindfulness practice has taught me that my work for healing in the world must be solidly grounded in the peace I generate in my own heart. Or as Thay has said, “Peace in oneself, peace in the world.”
Dzung and other members of the Five Mindfulness Trainings panel on retreat with Thích Nhat Hanh, August 2011, Vancouver, BC. Dzung wears his father's ao trang and his grandmother's bodhi beads.
My first introduction to the teachings of Thích Nhat Hanh also came through my father, who had participated in the Engaged Buddhist movement during the Vietnam War and had studied Thay’s teachings well before I was born. My first retreat, at Plum Village in 1999, was a life-changing experience for me, as it has been for so many others. I learned that I could manifest my spiritual aspirations as a concrete daily practice. This retreat was my first experience of the Dharma as a living practice, a way of life that could be practiced in every moment, every day, in every activity. My father and I practiced at this retreat together, and it was a great joy to experience this new awakening with him.
When my father became sick with colon cancer, Sister Chan Khong advised that I write a love letter to him, looking deeply at all of the beautiful ways he is continuing in myself, my sister, my mother, and all of the people whose hearts he has touched. This letter was deeply touching for him and for our whole family. Since my father passed away in 2009, I continue to see him alive in me – in my relationship with my loving partner, in my mother and sister, and in my bodhisattva aspirations as a physician. Every day I sit with him in quietness and gratitude, and I hope to continue him beautifully.
From time to time I enjoy my practice wearing my father’s ao trang, and Bà Noi’s bodhi beads. Practicing in this way, I feel deeply connected with my father and all of my ancestors. I feel their presence, I know that they are alive in me, and that I am continuing them in the here and now. I smile to them, breathe for them, and vow to continue them beautifully into the future.
Along with Jeanie Seward-Magee, Kim Boivin, Bethan Lloyd, Justin Love, Casey Wolf and others members of the Mindfulness Practice Community of Vancouver, Dzung Vo helped organize the Thích Nhat Hanh retreat. For more information about Mindfulness Practice Community of Vancouver, please visit:
Contributor: Dzung Vo (Dharma Name: Peaceful Healing of the Heart).
Photos: Tony Hoang (Five Mindfulness Trainings Panel); other unknown.