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Excerpted from Living Buddha, Living Christ by Thich Nhat Hanh. Copyright 1995 by Thich Nhat Hanh. Excerpted by permission of Riverhead Books, a division of Penguin Putnam, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.  HTML and web pages copyright by SpiritSite.com.

"In such an atmosphere of discrimination and injustice against non-Christians, it was difficult for me to discover the beauty of Jesus' teachings."

Thich Nhat Hanh, Living Buddha, Living Christ, Part 2

During the war in Vietnam, I saw communists and anti-communists killing and destroying each other because each side believed they had a monopoly on the truth. Many Christians and Buddhists in our country were fighting each other instead of working together to stop the war. I wrote a booklet entitled "Dialogue: The Key to Peace," but my voice was drowned out by the bombs, mortars, and shouting. An American soldier standing on the back of a military truck spit on the head of my disciple, a young monk named Nhit Tri. The soldier must have thought we Buddhists were undermining America's war effort or that my disciple was a communist in disguise. Brother Nhit Tri became so angry that he thought about leaving the monastery and joining the National Liberation Front. Because I had been practicing meditation, I was able to see that everyone in the war was a victim, that the American soldiers who had been sent to Vietnam to bomb, kill, and destroy were also being killed and maimed. I urged Brother Nhit Tri to remember that the G.I. was also a war victim, the victim of a wrong view and a wrong policy, and I urged him to continue his work for peace as a monk. He was able to see that, and he became one of the most active workers in the Buddhist School of Youth for Social Service.

In 1966, I came to North America to try to help dissolve some of the wrong views that were at the root of the war. I met with hundreds of individuals and small groups, and also with members of Congress and Secretary of Defense Robert McNamara. The visit was organized by the Fellowship of Reconciliation, an interfaith peace organization, and many active Christians helped me in these efforts, ,among them Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Father Thomas Merton, and Father Daniel Berrigan. These were, in fact, the Americans I found it easiest to communicate with.

Touching Jesus

But my path to discovering Jesus as one of my spiritual ancestors was not easy. The colonization of my country by the French was deeply connected with the efforts of the Christian missionaries. In the late seventeenth century, Alexandre de Rhodes, one of the most active of the missionaries, wrote in his Cathechismus in Octo Dies Divisus: "Just as when a cursed, barren tree is cut down, the branches that are still on it will also fall, when the sinister and deceitful Sakya [Buddha] is defeated, the idolatrous fabrications that proceed from him will also be destroyed." Later, in the late 1950s and early 1960s, Catholic Archbishop Ngo Dinh Thuc, in his efforts to evangelize Vietnam, leaned heavily on the political power of his brother, President Ngo Dinh Diem. President Diem's 1963 decree prohibiting the celebration of Wesak, the most important Buddhist national holiday, was the straw that broke our back. Tens of thousands of lay and ordained Buddhists demonstrated for religious freedom, leading to a coup d'etat and the overthrow of the Diem regime. In such an atmosphere of discrimination and injustice against non-Christians, it was difficult for me to discover the beauty of Jesus' teachings.

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