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Monks light up lives of nation's needy

Update: September, 08/2013 - 18:26
Bearing gifts: Monk Giac distributes candies to orphans at the Thua Thien Hue orphanage. - VNS Photos

Two inspirational Buddhists monks are travelling through central Viet Nam helping the region's poor and forgotten in a bid to share their burden. Mai Thang finds out more.

Buddhists who have great compassion and sympathy for the poor and the forgotten often dedicate all their time and energies to soothing the harsh realities of life, they set an exemplar for others to follow. Here is a story of how just two holy men have reached so many.

Compassion convoy

Two monks took a journey of compassion into the countryside to provide both physical and spiritual relief to some of the neediest people living on the land.

Their motivation was to offer relief and compassion to disadvantaged people and they provided this act of charity by undertaking a long and winding road trip of nearly 1,700km, taking eight days to complete.

With monk Thich Thien at the wheel of the 16-seat van and accompanied by two trucks carrying relief items, they battled with the bumpy backcountry roads of the provinces.

In the hot May weather, the monks, Tran Van Ngoc and Vo Duc Tuan -- know as monk Thich Thien Giac of Giac Hanh Tu Pagoda, Vung Tau, arrived in Quang Tri, Ha Tinh and villages outside Hue City to present impoverished rural communities with gifts of moral support and care packages.

They could not help but burst into tears witnessing the plight of the impoverished people they met who are scraping by in the remote areas, some working all year round with no rest or respite. During a difficult month they reported that locals sometimes resorted to eating nothing more than cassava.

These were the first of several villages and pagodas they would visit.

"We arrived at Tam Bao Pagoda and saw that many elderly people were living alone and orphaned children were often hungry. We took care of people with diseases and those who were alone. We were living and sharing with them to understand their plight. We delivered presents to vulnerable people and orphaned children; warm coats were especially appreciated," said Thich Thien Giac.

"We managed to hand out 245 relief parcels, worth VND1 million (US$45) each, noodles, clothes, blankets, rice, shrimp sauce, medicines to the poor in a Blind Village and to Phu Bai Town, Huong Thuy District," he said.

Their robes sweaty from the heat, Monk Thich Thien Giac said each time he offered a package of rice and noodles to the people they clasped their arms and said "Amitabha Buddha".

"Giving support to the poor is to initiate a good deed. Within each gift, we put forward so much of our compassion. We all long to understand the difficulties experienced by the people here," said the monk.

Speaking on behalf of the locals in the township, Ton Nu Thi Hao expressed her thanks to the monks.

"We are thankful to the pagoda for your care. We have lost so much of our crop, not to mention frequent natural disasters. The people in this area have faced so many difficulties. Relief like this helps us feel very warm," she said.

A helping hand: Giac Hanh Tu Pagoda is a beacon of light for countless beneficiaries thanks to the charity and good deeds of these two monks.

They then left for Dieu Vien Pagoda in Thuy Duong Commune, where they visited a nursing home for the aged, an orphanage and other poor folk in A Luoi District.

"We all wept seeing an 80-year-old woman carrying her disabled grandchild on her aged and bent back," said Thich Thien Giac.

Holding the gift in her weathered hands, she cried and spoke of her closest kin.

"The child's parents died in the flood last year. She lives with me now. Now that we have a net we will not be afraid of mosquitoes."

With gifts totaling VND 350 million ($17,500), their contribution of 350 care packages went some way to soothing the grinding poverty in the district.

Openly touched by the compassionate deeds the head of Dieu Vien Pagoda thanked the monks.

"The people all around here are so poor. Many families have faced hunger for generations. They are mostly all illiterate. The crop this year is so poor that we have little to eat. The gifts you give is for them to be able to share their difficulties."

"The fund for this relief trip is contributed by Buddhists in Vung Tau City. Although it is not a big amount, it is our mission to share the burden of other people's difficulties with the people and to offer compassion to those living with disadvantages," Thich Thien Giac said.

"Only when we reach such poor places, could we fully understand how hard life is for them. We have held the trip annually in the 4th lunar month for the past 12 years," he said.

"What motivates me to go is the desire for sharing joyful and sadness with poor people. It's to share compassion. This provides me happiness is bigger than any other asset," he said.

Calling at an early age

Since he was a little 6-year-old child living in Hue, monk Tran Van Ngoc followed the tenants of Buddhism.

During the anti-American war, Ngoc along with other people in Cu Chi and Hoc Mon districts of HCM City to helped fight against the US invasion.

After the war, even though badly damaged from the consequences of war, he worked to rebuild Giac Hanh Tu Pagoda, and in 1975 he became its abbot.

"I remember those days were so hard for me and the Buddhist followers here. However, we have tried so much. What we have now is the result of the contributions of all of the people involved," he said.

Seeds of good deeds

"The fruit we harvest this life is the result of the previous life. We should do good deeds to be happy in the next," said Ngoc.

"The pagoda has its own way to give support, to balance the follower's moods and urge them to do good deeds.

"People in District 11 and 12 [in HCM City] show great respect for the monks here because of their Buddhist background. People go to pagoda people have different conditions and purposes. They share a common thing, and that is to find "a way out," he added.

At weekends, while the wealthy citizens often flock to Vung Tau to relax, happily spending plenty of money on luxury feasts and entertainment, Ngoc and Giac are busy preparing rice, washing and laundering old clothes and blankets that were donated by thoughtful visitors to their beloved pagoda.

It is hard to convey the compassion of these two monks who have so far made 12 relief trips to support the poor in the countryside.

Giac Hanh Tu Pagoda is a beacon for countless beneficiaries who will likely never see inside its serene and compassionate walls, but thanks to the charity and good deeds of these two monks they can at the very least know its true purpose. - VNS

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