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Chan Khong

Chan Khong

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Chân Không; born in 1938, is an expatriate
An expatriate is a person temporarily or permanently residing in a country and culture other than that of the person's upbringing...

Vietnam – sometimes spelled Viet Nam , officially the Socialist Republic of Vietnam – is the easternmost country on the Indochina Peninsula in Southeast Asia. It is bordered by China to the north, Laos to the northwest, Cambodia to the southwest, and the South China Sea –...

ese Buddhist
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing a variety of traditions, beliefs and practices, largely based on teachings attributed to Siddhartha Gautama, commonly known as the Buddha . The Buddha lived and taught in the northeastern Indian subcontinent some time between the 6th and 4th...

A nun is a woman who has taken vows committing her to live a spiritual life. She may be an ascetic who voluntarily chooses to leave mainstream society and live her life in prayer and contemplation in a monastery or convent...

, peace
Peace movement
A peace movement is a social movement that seeks to achieve ideals such as the ending of a particular war , minimize inter-human violence in a particular place or type of situation, often linked to the goal of achieving world peace...

Activism consists of intentional efforts to bring about social, political, economic, or environmental change. Activism can take a wide range of forms from writing letters to newspapers or politicians, political campaigning, economic activism such as boycotts or preferentially patronizing...

, and has worked closely with Thich Nhat Hanh
Nhat Hanh
Thích Nhất Hạnh is a Vietnamese Buddhist monk, teacher, author, poet and peace activist who now lives in France. Born Nguyễn Xuân Bảo, Thích Nhất Hạnh joined a Zen monastery at the age of 16, and studied Buddhism as a novitiate. Upon his ordination as a monk in 1949, he assumed the Dharma name...

 in the creation of Plum Village
Plum Village
Plum Village is a Buddhist meditation center in the Dordogne, in southern France. It was founded by Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, and his colleague Bhikkhuni Chân Không, in 1982.-History:...

 and helping conduct spiritual retreats internationally. She wrote her autobiography, "Learning True Love: How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam" in 1993.


Chan Khong was born Cao Ngoc Phuong in 1938 in Ben Tre, Vietnam in the center of the Mekong Delta
Mekong Delta
The Mekong Delta is the region in southwestern Vietnam where the Mekong River approaches and empties into the sea through a network of distributaries. The Mekong delta region encompasses a large portion of southwestern Vietnam of . The size of the area covered by water depends on the season.The...

. As the eighth of nine children in a well-to-do family, her father taught her and her siblings the value of work and humility. She quotes her father as saying: “…never bargain with a poor farmer because for you a few dong may not be much, but for him it is enough to support his children."

In 1958 she enrolled in the University of Saigon to study biology
Biology is a natural science concerned with the study of life and living organisms, including their structure, function, growth, origin, evolution, distribution, and taxonomy. Biology is a vast subject containing many subdivisions, topics, and disciplines...

. She was also involved in political action, becoming the student leader at the University, spending much of her time helping the poor and sick in the slums of the city.

She first met Thich Nhat Hanh in 1959 and considered him her spiritual teacher. In 1963 she left for Paris
Paris is the capital and largest city in France, situated on the river Seine, in northern France, at the heart of the Île-de-France region...

 to finish her degree in biology which was awarded in 1964. She returned to Vietnam later that year and joined Thich Nhat Hanh in founding the Van Hanh University and the School for Youth and Social Service (SYSS). She was central in many of the activities of the SYSS which organized medical, educational and agricultural facilities in rural Vietnam during the war. At one stage the SYSS involved over 10,000 young peace workers who rebuilt many villages ravaged by the fighting. When Thich Nhat Hanh returned to the United States
United States
The United States of America is a federal constitutional republic comprising fifty states and a federal district...

, Chan Khong ran the day to day operations.

On February 5, 1966 Chân Không was ordained
In general religious use, ordination is the process by which individuals are consecrated, that is, set apart as clergy to perform various religious rites and ceremonies. The process and ceremonies of ordination itself varies by religion and denomination. One who is in preparation for, or who is...

 as one of the first six members of the Order of Interbeing
Order of Interbeing
The Order of Interbeing, or Tiếp Hiện in Vietnamese, was founded between 1964 and 1966 by Vietnamese Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh. Tiếp means "being in touch with" and "continuing." Hiện means "realizing" and "making it here and now." "Interbeing" is a word coined by Thich Nhat Hanh to represent...

, sometimes called the "Six Cedars". Following her ordination, she was given the name Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness. In explaining the meaning of the name, she says: "In Buddhism, the word 'emptiness' is a translation of the Sanskrit
Sanskrit , is a historical Indo-Aryan language and the primary liturgical language of Hinduism, Jainism and Buddhism.Buddhism: besides Pali, see Buddhist Hybrid Sanskrit Today, it is listed as one of the 22 scheduled languages of India and is an official language of the state of Uttarakhand...

 sunyata. It means 'empty of a separate self.' It is not a negative or despairing term. It is a celebration of interconnectedness, of interbeing. It means nothing can exist by itself alone, that everything is inextricably interconnected with everything else. I know that I must always work to remember that I am empty of a separate self and full of the many wonders of this universe, including the generosity of my grandparents and parents, the many friends and teachers who have helped and supported me along the path, and you dear readers, without whom this book could not exist. We inter-are, and therefore we are empty of an identity that is separate from our interconnectedness."

The Order of Interbeing was to be composed of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. The first six ordainees were free to choose whether they preferred to live and practice as formal monastics or as laypersons. The first three women chose to live celibate lives like nuns, although we didn't shave our heads, while the three men chose to marry and practice as lay Buddhists. Among the three women was Nhat Chi Mai
Nhất Chi Mai
Nhất Chi Mai born Phan Thị Mai and legally named Thích nữ Diệu Huỳnh, is best known as a female Buddhist who burned herself in an act of self-immolation in Saigon on May 16, 1967 in protest of the Vietnam War....

, who immolated
Self-immolation refers to setting oneself on fire, often as a form of protest or for the purposes of martyrdom or suicide. It has centuries-long traditions in some cultures, while in modern times it has become a type of radical political protest...

 herself for peace just a year later.

From 1969 to 1972 she worked with Thich Nhat Hanh in Paris organizing the Buddhist Peace Delegation which campaigned for peace in Vietnam. Since then she has worked with Thich Nhat Hanh establishing first the Sweet Potato community near Paris, then Plum Village
Plum Village
Plum Village is a Buddhist meditation center in the Dordogne, in southern France. It was founded by Vietnamese monk Thích Nhất Hạnh, and his colleague Bhikkhuni Chân Không, in 1982.-History:...

Sangha is a word in Pali or Sanskrit that can be translated roughly as "association" or "assembly," "company" or "community" with common goal, vision or purpose...

 in 1982. She accompanies and assists Thich Nhat Hanh when he travels. In addition, she has continued to organize relief work for those in need in Vietnam, coordinating relief food parcels for poor children and medicine for the sick, and helps organize activities at Plum Village.

Sister Chân Không ordained as a nun by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1988 on Vultures Peak, in India
India , officially the Republic of India , is a country in South Asia. It is the seventh-largest country by geographical area, the second-most populous country with over 1.2 billion people, and the most populous democracy in the world...


During the three-month return to Vietnam (January to early April, 2005), Thich Nhat Hanh spoke to thousands of people throughout the country - bureaucrats, politicians, intellectuals, street vendors, taxi drivers, artists. In addition to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma
Dharma means Law or Natural Law and is a concept of central importance in Indian philosophy and religion. In the context of Hinduism, it refers to one's personal obligations, calling and duties, and a Hindu's dharma is affected by the person's age, caste, class, occupation, and gender...

  talks, Sister Chan Khong also taught and conducted additional mindfulness practices. She led the crowds in singing Plum Village songs, chant
Chant is the rhythmic speaking or singing of words or sounds, often primarily on one or two pitches called reciting tones. Chants may range from a simple melody involving a limited set of notes to highly complex musical structures Chant (from French chanter) is the rhythmic speaking or singing...

ing, and leading "total relaxation
Relaxation technique
A relaxation technique is any method, process, procedure, or activity that helps a person to relax; to attain a state of increased calmness; or otherwise reduce levels of anxiety, stress or anger...

" sessions. Other times, it was her simple, application of Vietnamese heritage to modern ways of life that appealed to the people they met. During Tết
Tet can mean:*Tết or Tết Nguyên Đán, the Vietnamese new year**Tet Offensive, a military campaign that began in 1968*Têt in Roussillon, France*Equal temperament, abbreviated as 12-TET, 19-TET and so on...

 (Vietnamese new year) celebrations in February, she performed an "oracle reading" for hundreds of Buddhist followers.

See also

  • Buddhism in America
  • Buddhism in France
    Buddhism in France
    Buddhism is widely reported to be the third largest religion in France, after Christianity, and Islam.France has over two hundred Buddhist meditation centers, including about twenty sizable retreat centers in rural areas...

  • Buddhism in Vietnam
    Buddhism in Vietnam
    Buddhism in Vietnam as practiced by the ethnic Vietnamese is mainly of the Mahāyāna tradition. Buddhism came to Vietnam as early as the 2nd century CE through the North from Central Asia and via Southern routes from India...

  • ONE: The Movie
    ONE: The Movie
    ONE: The Movie is an independent documentary about the meaning of life, created and directed by Michigan filmmakers Scott Carter, Ward M. Powers and Diane Powers, starring Deepak Chopra, Robert Thurman, Thich Nhat Hanh, Jaggi Vasudev, et al....

  • Women in Buddhism
    Women in Buddhism
    Women in Buddhism is a topic that can be approached from varied perspectives including those of theology, history, anthropology and feminism. Topical interests include the theological status of women, the treatment of women in Buddhist societies at home and in public, the history of women in...

Further reading

  • Learning True Love: How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam, 1993, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, ISBN 0-938077-50-3.
  • Be Free Where You Are, Thich Nhat Hanh, foreword by Chan Khong, Parallax Press, 2005, ISBN 1-888375-23-X.
  • Drops of Emptiness, Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Sounds True
    Sounds True
    Sounds True is a multimedia publishing company based near Boulder, Colorado. It was created in 1985 by Tami Simon. The company has published approximately 1,000 titles, including spoken-word audio recordings, books, music, filmed events, multimedia packages and online educational programs from...

     Direct, 1998, ASIN
    Asín is a municipality located in the Cinco Villas comarca of the province of Zaragoza, Aragon, Spain, located a few kilometers west of Orés. According to the 2004 census , the municipality has a population of 106 inhabitants....

  • The Present Moment: A Retreat on the Practice of Mindfulness, Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Sounds True, 1994, ISBN 1-56455-262-4.
  • Touching the Earth: The Five Prostrations and Deep Relaxation, Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Sounds True, 1997, ISBN 1-56455-278-0

External links