Arrive as one person, leave as another

Xin chắp tay nguyện cầu cho người dân Nepal…

Let’s put our hands in prayers for people of Nepal…

Mặt đất lặng im / The earth is silent

Mặt đất đang bình yên chim hót / The earth is peaceful with birds twittering

Những gương mặt người / Human faces

Nhập nhoạng những buồn vui / Blended with sadness and happiness

Rồi bỗng nhiên / And then, out of sudden

Mặt đất cựa mình / The earth shifts

Mặt đất rùng lên trong đau đớn / The earth convulses in pain

Nứt / Fracturing

Gãy / Breaking

Vỡ / Shattering

Răng rắc / Cracking

Rào rào / Rustling

Ầm ầm những trận cuồng phong / Deafening are the sounds of hurricanes

Ầm ầm núi tuyết chảy tan / Fiercely the mountain snow is melting

Nháo nhào những tiếng kêu than / Desperate are the weeping sounds

Quáng quàng những bàn tay víu / Disoriented are the reaching hands

Nát vụn rồi những ngôi nhà / Houses already in shambles

Tan hoang rồi những đền đài / Pagodas already destroyed and desolated

Đất mang bao phận người / The earth took so many lives

Nằm xuống mà khôn nguôi sợ hãi / Lay down but the fear still remains

Có em bé nào trên đường đi học / There was a child on her way to school

Cặp sách trên vai và mơ ước trong tim / A backpack on her shoulders, with dreams in her heart

Sáng nay còn líu lo như bầy chim / This morning, she was singing like the birds

Về những sợi nắng không bao giờ biết khóc / About the threads of sunlight that never grieve

Có bà mẹ nào chở buồn vui trong tóc / There was a mother with sadness and happiness in her hair

Dọc đường mưu sinh dằng dặc khổ đau / Her life journey filled with endless suffering

Vẫn không quên giấu nước mắt tuôn mau / Still not forgetting to hide her sudden tears

Mơ về ngày mai cuộc đời toàn tiếng hát / Dreaming of tomorrow, a life filled with lasting songs

Có cụ già nào tin trong chuông chùa bát ngát / There was an elderly who believed in the power of temple bells

Đền đài này này sẽ mang đến bình an / This holy place will surely bring peace

Cho triệu triệu người dân Nepal / To millions and millions of people of Nepal

Cho an vui chảy tràn ra khắp nẻo / So joy and happiness can spill over to all corners

Những giấc mơ đều dang dở / And those unfulfilled dreams

Trong cơn rùng mình của đất / With the shivering of the earth

Giờ nằm sâu dưới tầng gạch nát / Now lay buried under the layers of broken bricks

Thân thể họ vụn rời và giấc mơ bay lên / Their bodies shredded in pieces but their dreams are flying free

Hãy bay vượt qua bóng đêm / Fly beyond the darkness

Qua đầm đìa vết thương đau đớn / Over the slums of agonising wounds

Qua cát dập, đá vùi, tro nóng / Over the fallen sands, the buried rocks and the hot ashes

Đến vùng trời xanh mát những bình an / To the land of peaceful blue sky

Rồi đền đài lại ngát hương lan / Where the temples are filled with orchid scents again

Rồi Everest lại mênh mông tuyết trắng / Where the Everest is covered with white snow again

Rồi Kathmandu lại thênh thang nắng / Where Kathmandu is carefree under the sun again

Và đất lại liền như chưa hề có vết đau / And the earth is healed again, as never damaged

Nepal ơi, xin nguyện cầu nước mắt khô mau / Dear Nepal, let our prayers dry your tears

Cho những số phận đã hòa tan vào lòng đất / For the destined ones to be merged with the earth

Biết quên vết thương thịt da, quên nỗi đau mất mát / To forget the wound on the skin is to forget the pain of loss

Ngủ yên hoài, trong lòng đất… xanh xa… / Sleep peacefully under the earth…the distanced blue sky…

I heard this poem at the finale of a Buddhist ceremony ‘giao lưu’, organised by my grandmother. But not until the end of the 2-hour-long session of chanting and prayers that I learnt about the noble purpose of it. I did a pretty good job at acting like I know-it-all, but I just don’t think I could get away with it for a second time. So shhh, grandmother better not find out!

This poem was written by a 13-year-old Vietnamese prodigy, Đỗ Nhật Nam. Check him out if you’re interested, a pretty smart cookie!

In my already-failed attempt to translate this for the English-speaking audience, I still hope that there is a slightest chance that you would feel connected with the message — whatever you perceived it to be. Actually chanting Vietnamese prayers in the candle light with complete strangers brought a lot of meaning to my empathy for the victims of Nepal earthquake!

More importantly though, the circumstance in which I found myself was bewildering — A small group of Vietnamese immigrants, in a tiny Buddhist temple in Prague, Czech Republic, praying for the victims of Nepal. The chances of ever experiencing a similarly bizarre combination of events are down to zero. That made me wonder: Why would Vietnamese people in the Czech Republic care for people of Nepal? Most likely no one from the group has ever been to Nepal or knows anyone from Nepal to have any kind of emotional connection with the place. But as a friend of mine put it so aptly — Because they chose to care.

Not that I am in any position to talk about humanity but the practice of ceremonies in general, is a very beautiful transformational experience. I can only speak for myself and the experience I had was a refreshing 2-hour of self-observation. I felt all sort of things, as a someone in her late 20s would if she was never raised in practicing spiritual traditions:

  • I was bored in the 15-minutes chanting of ‘Na Mô A Di Đà Phật
  • I was constantly changing my position because my knees hurt from kneeling
  • I felt stupid when an elderly scolded me for not sitting perfectly aligned with the others in the row
  • I was not always following the monk’s teaching because he spoke with a Southern Vietnamese accent
  • I was amused by an elderly falling asleep during the teaching
  • I embraced the chanting because it felt like I was singing in a choir again
  • I was happy to see my grandmother in her element — deep in prayers, always paying attention
  • I was grateful for learning that my prayers had a purpose — people of Nepal

The ceremony took me from being confused to being fully aware of what I was experiencing in that moment. Na Mô A Di Đà Phật translates to ‘mindfulness of the Buddha’. This really resonates strongly with what I had experienced, a sort of ‘mindfulness of the self’. Whether mindfulness contributes to us being better humans, I am not sure. It definitely brought me to a place where I found a lot of calmness and then compassion. Somewhere inside there was just more space for compassion — for others and for myself.

So it certainly made me proud that my grandmother was one of the people behind planning for this event. She’s the Head of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association in the Czech Republic so these ceremonies are just one of the activities she engages with all day long; 7 days a week; year in, year out. I often tease her that if I want to see her, I actually have to pay a visit to the Buddhist temple in SAPA, the Vietnam ‘town’ in Prague.

So that day I came to see my grandmother. But I left seeing a bit more humanity inside myself than before.

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