|Reading rules: Children in a reading-themed event held at Thiên Phúc Pagoda. Photo courtesy of Thiên Phúc Pagoda
|Among the individuals praised for their contribution in encouraging people to read during the Book Month (April) this year, nun Thích Nữ Quảng Phát is a familiar name. She has been known for inspiring hundreds of school students in the northern province of Thái Bình to read books at a library she set up at Thiên Phúc Pagoda, where she acts as the head nun.
|Religious reader: Nun Thích Nữ Quảng Phát. VNS Photo Lê Hương
Lê Hương chats with her about her passion.
Inner Sanctum: Please tell me about your faith and Buddhism.
I was inspired by my parents, who are Buddhists, at a very young age. When I was four, my dad took me to a pagoda in the southern city of Vũng Tàu to learn Buddhist teachings. Though my homeland is in the central province of Quảng Trị, when I was one year old, my family moved to Vũng Tàu. There have been many incidents that made me decide to lead a nun’s life. But I strongly remember a ceremony I witnessed when I was young. People flocked to a local pagoda and stood in two long queues. When the monks appeared, the people respectfully greeted them. When I was a little older, some eight or nine years old, I used to help local monks while they were praying, by fanning them with a paper fan as there was no electricity in my town at that time, giving them water, etc. I found no image more beautiful than that of the monks and I admired them. At that time, I thought that I would become a nun when I grew up.
Then I learnt Buddhism, I applied Buddhist teachings in my daily life and found that my life was better than that of any of my friends, as I could overcome all ordinary troubles. Besides, I saw people living together, but they were unhappy. Two couples living next to my home quarreled and fought with each other almost everyday. I thought I would lead a different life to find happiness.
When I finished 9th grade, I decided to lead a nun’s life. My parents were very happy and proud, as most of the people in the central region at that time were happy if a family member lead a monk’s/nun’s life.
Then I moved to a pagoda in HCM City. Finally in 2010, I settled down in Thiên Phúc Pagoda in Thái Bình Province, until now.
Inner Sanctum: Tell me about the idea of setting up a library at your pagoda.
Though my dad was a farmer, I found him smart and knowledgeable. He inspired me to read books to widen my knowledge.
I bought a lot of books and kept them all. One day, I discovered that it would be a waste if I did not share my stock with anyone else.
There was a classroom near my pagoda, where some 50 students passed by everyday. They always visited my pagoda to play in the garden with the five children I adopted. I started giving them books with beautiful pictures and adventure stories first. They were allured and stopped at my garden longer to read more after class.
At first, teachers and parents prohibited the children from their noisy play near my pagoda. Two years later, in 2015, a volunteer group called Hương Mặt Trời initiated by secondary school teacher Dương Lệ Nga found my pagoda an interesting place to read. My library served hundreds of school students in Quỳnh Phụ District of the province.
I always tell them: "What we study at school is like some leaves in our hands, what we don’t know is like leaves in the forest. If we want to know more, we must read books."
Around that time, I found out that books had changed the lives of many people, such as two handicapped youngsters in the province: Nguyễn Lan Hương and Đỗ Hà Cừ. They liked books and gathered a lot of books to share with their friends. They even called for sponsors to send more books to their home libraries called Niềm Tin (Belief) and Hy Vọng (Hope), respectively.
If they didn’t like reading, their world would be limited to the four walls of their home. But books have given them a chance to make their life better and to inspire others to read.
And I too want to get more books with the hope of changing the lives of many local children.
Inner Sanctum: How have you managed to lure children to read?
Children’s nature is playful. It’s very difficult to force them to sit for hours to read, except by alluring them with comic books or adventure stories. My first and foremost task was planting flowers to decorate the pagoda. The space should be beautiful so that children flock there to play, then I have the chance to meet them and introduce books to them.
The habit of reading is not easily created. We should be patient and do everything again and again, repeat the activity every day, every week, every month. Hence, I have turned my pagoda into a beautiful library, cool, quiet, with lots of books.
I often buy new genres of flowers to plant. Our reading corner is now judged as the most beautiful reading venue in Quỳnh Phụ District.
Since the Hương Mặt Trời Group, which gathers dozens of high school students in the district, meets here every Sunday afternoon, parents no longer prohibit their children from reading at my pagoda. They sometime stop at the pagoda to read before going home from extra class.
They are also guided on playing folk games such as hide and seek, Mandarin square capturing, blind man’s buff and tug of war. Sometimes I teach them to practise Zen.
On public holidays or Buddhist festivals, there are various themed reading activities at the pagoda’s garden. Books are hung in the garden for children to choose. Children can join the games or offer self-cooked food to raise funds.
I organise talks on books almost every month and invite famous educators, writers and influential people to talk to the children.
Buddhists and sponsors from all around the country often send books to our library.
Inner Sanctum: What’s your plan for the library?
At present, our indoor library covering a 180sq.m hall keeps more than 5,000 books. I intend to build a house-on-stilts in our 3,000sq.m. garden to offer a more open reading space. Local authorities also want to build two more reading rooms at a nearby lake. We are willing to receive more books. We will exchange old books with other libraries in the province.
Inner Sanctum: What’s your principle in life?
- I love a poem by famous Vietnamese poet Tố Hữu, in which he says: "Living means giving, not receiving for ourselves."
I give people what I have, with the hope of offering them more chances to make their lives better.—VNS