Sister Chan Khong has been the closest person to Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh for more than 50 years! Her role in the Plum Village tradition is so vast that it would be difficult to describe it in hundreds of words.
In addition to being an activist and one of the original six members of the Order of Interbeing, she is a wonderful teacher in her own right.
Sister Chan Khong
Chan Khong decided to find a way to help poor families such as the little boy’s. But since her own family was—as she says— “not so rich, not so poor,” she didn’t ask her parents for money. Instead, being gifted academically, she raised funds by tutoring wealthy students who were struggling in math. Then, after enrolling at the University of Saigon, she branched out in her humanitarian efforts.
Chan Khong has written, “I knew that if I went to the slums as a middle-class young woman, the people there would know I did not belong to their world, and they would not trust me. They might even try to con me. So, I always went wearing a frayed dress, pretending that I had a relative living there: ‘Do you know my Uncle Ba, the bicycle rickshaw driver?’ Then I would sit and listen to people talk about their hardships and think of ways to help them.”
“You have a good heart,” Chan Khong’s first Buddhist teacher told her. “With all the generous work that you do, you will be reborn into a wealthy family. Perhaps you will be a princess.” But Chan Khong wasn’t concerned about her next life, much less the possibility of a royal pedigree. Her focus was the present moment: the hungry need food, the sick need medicine, and they need it right now.
I enjoyed reading the print version of this article and was moved to tears in some parts. She is a genuine Zen Master in the lineage of Thich Nhat Hanh.
Meetings With Sister Chan Khong
I first met her in person in 1997 at a retreat at the University of San Diego. I was deeply in the throws of cancer treatments and found a welcoming heart when I spoke to her. She gave me of her time and energy in an informal chat on the campus.
My next personal encounter with Zen Master Sister Chan Khong was in Plum Village in
2000. It was the time of the Tet Celebration (Vietnamese New Year) and she welcomed me into her room with my friend, Ed. In the above picture, Sister Chan Khong is to the right of Ed and the four women in the front are Mother Superiors of nunneries in Vietnam. I asked each of the Mother Superiors to give a short dharma talk (talk about meditation practices) and they each did so. It was a wonderful experience. You would never know from the initial encounter with those women that these were all teachers and had great wisdom to share.
The next time I met with Sister Chan Khong was in 2006 in Plum village. There are no words that I can say that express my gratitude to her for inviting me to have breakfast with her and Thich Nhat Hanh in his room at that time.
She is and will always be a seminal teacher in the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh.
This post is dedicated to Sister Chan Khong and all the work she does to bring peace and well-being to the world.
Please let me know what you think about Sister Chan Khong by commenting below and sharing on Facebook or other social media. Her contribution to world peace is phenomenal.