By Thich Nhat Hanh
Preparations for these ceremonies were being made at least three months before Thay left for Vietnam. The full text of this letter is available on the Plum Village website in Vietnamese; it gives specific instructions as well on how to set up the altar. I imagine it was down-loaded and widely distributed in Vietnam. --Sister Annabel, True Virtue
During the war, our country had to bear the pain of thirteen million tons of bombs and seventy-two million liters of toxic chemicals. So many of our compatriots have died because of the war. So many living beings — humans, birds, wild animals, vegetation, earth, and rocks — have been wounded, crippled, or devastated by these bombs and poisonous chemicals. At present, the number of unexploded bombs and grenades lying on the earth is still more than three hundred thousand and on average once a week someone will lose his or her life or be crippled by stepping on one of them. The number of warriors killed or wounded in action on both sides numbered one million two hundred fifty thousand.
The huge amounts of weapons used by both sides to kill each other were wholly provided by countries outside of Vietnam. The number of compatriots killed and wounded in North and South Vietnam is more than four million. The number of killed and wounded by bombs and weapons in the war has risen to five and a half million. Not only foreigners slaughtered, tortured, removed and constrained us by force, we ourselves were pushed into opposing and hating each other so that we also tortured, slaughtered, eliminated, constrained each other by force. The battlefields of Vietnam in the last war were the bloodiest Vietnam has ever known. Millions became boat people. Nearly half a million compatriots lost their lives escaping from Vietnam by boat. Thousands died because they wasted away while unjustly held in prison camps. Our land and our people bore the burden of so many wounds and injustices, which we have not yet had the chance to talk about.
Any victims of war are our ill-fated compatriots. Together with one mind we shall pray for all those who have died, in the Buddhist spirit of inclusiveness and non-discrimination. According to the teachings of the Buddha and according to the principles of psychotherapy if we keep holding down our wounds and pain in the unconscious we shall not have an opportunity to heal the wounds in our heart. To bring this pain up into our conscious mind, to recognize it, to embrace it with compassion, to pray, and to accept is an essential practice. This is the practice of the Grand Offering Ceremony to undo past injustice. This ceremony is realized in a spirit of brotherhood, when hatred is put aside, resentment, blaming and assigning guilt are absent, where we accept and forgive each other. This is what is meant by the Pure Nectar of Compassion, a wonderful teaching of the Buddha.
All our compatriots, whether old, young or middle-aged, love our country and our people. Everyone aspires to strive for independence, freedom, unity, and peace in our country. However, when our country found itself in a difficult situation many of us had to oppose each other and become the victims of a cruel and long-lasting struggle. Many of us have had to go through sad situations of enormous tragedy and maltreatment, feelings of injustice that we had never known before.
Now our country has been unified, is at peace, and has been rebuilt. It is our chance to come back together, hold each other’s hands, accept each other so that together we can pray for each other, whether the object of our prayer has died or is still alive and continues to bear the burden of cruel injustice. Together we shall have a chance to heal the wounds that are still bleeding and have been bleeding for a long time. The reason we dared to undertake this task for the Buddha is because we have seen these wounds. Respectfully we request the Upadhyaya, the Venerable elders, all our compatriots, and the Buddhists in our country and abroad, along with politicians of all persuasions, to understand this matter deeply and to give wholehearted spiritual support so that this task for the Buddha can be realized.
Translated from the Vietnamese by Sister Annabel, True Virtue