Author  Bach Nguyen

How do you feel at the moment?

Right now, I think I’m in a state of [being] “vague,” like mist, faded, twilight… I mean, I couldn’t see clearly what I’m going to do. It’s like a state of wandering around without knowing the destinations. But I still have a strong belief in what I’m doing here and what will happen in the future. These days, I feel a little bit depressed because of the amount of paper, reading, writing that we have to handle and also the work-study, and I have to cut a lot of time for my personal activities, like sports. I think last week I cut almost all of the time I played sports to do the reading. This week is a little bit better. I hope it will be better next week, too. But yeah, maybe the best word to describe me right now is “vague.”

Do you have any practice that helps you when you feel overwhelmed?

Yeah. I recite the Shurangama Mantra and Compassion Mantra every day. The feeling is alleviated at that moment when I recite the mantras, but then I wake up in the morning, it comes back and then becomes even more intense than before I recited the mantras. And I think running away from it, like using soccer, which is my favorite hobby, as only a temporary solution to get away from this kind of feeling and reality. When I play soccer, I don’t feel it anymore. I don’t like having this feeling anymore. But then, just as I mentioned, it’s just temporary. So I think I’m still working on it and figuring out the way.

But even when you are dealing with this struggle, you feel this is the right place to be and you’re doing the right thing. It’s just going through the process.

Yeah, that’s right. I think it’s going through a process, some kind of process that takes a lot of time. I think this process is actually necessary for my growth. Maybe; maybe not. Because I’m not sure, but still, I have a strong belief in what I’m doing.

What made you want to come to DRBU?

The story goes back to the year of 2015. When my mom and I came to CTTB for me to join the summer camp in the boys school, we also went to the Buddha Root Farm retreat in Oregon.

But before that, in 2010, I think my mom already knew about Venerable Master Hsuan Hua from the internet because before that she was already a Buddhist. She often took me and my family to temples, pagodas in Vietnam. Buddhism is our main religion. So there are a lot of people who are also Buddhists.

So my mom, somehow, I don’t know exactly, found out about Master Hua on the internet. And then, she started listening to Master Hsuan Hua and his Dharma lectures, and then she learned about Rev. Heng Sure and Dharma Master Heng Son in Long Beach. And in 2015, me and my mom came here for me to have an opportunity to dwell in this amazing environment, to nurture myself and then to experience, I think, mainly to experience a kind of international summer camp and an environment that my mom wanted me to grow up in.

So the summer camp counselors back then were, I think, DRBU’s students. And they were like, I was just amazed by their qualities, their characteristics, the way they behaved and talked to each other, the way they acted and helped each other, and of course, our campers too. I was just really amazed by their characteristics. And that’s why I decided to come here to study in the future.

I actually applied for the boys’ school right after that, but my English wasn’t that good. So I didn’t get qualified. And there were some other problems too, like visa and finances.

So after the summer camp, me and my mom went to the Buddha Root Farm retreat in Oregon with Rev. Heng Sure. And there was this feeling of loving kindness. This feeling was really, really kind of grounded, but excited and happy when I was around Rev. Heng Sure. So, I didn’t understand any lectures at all. I was just like a kid running around.

How old were you then?

I was ten years old. Oh no, actually…Yeah, ten years old. I was just running around, playing with some [who were] like older brothers. Frank was there too. Doug-Frank’s brother, I believe, was there. And there were some other people I met when I came here last August who were there at the Buddha Root Farm too.

When I’m around Rev. Heng Sure, there’s this feeling of loving kindness that is really happy and exciting. So I really really like being around him. And then after the retreat, we had a kind of gathering at the home of one of the head translators of our translation group. Our translation group is translating the One Heart Bowing, Rev. Heng Sure and Marty’s diary from the Three Step One Bow pilgrimage.

Is it to translate it from English to Vietnamese?

Yeah, from English to Vietnamese. Uncle Hong Ha is the head translator of the translation group. And we went to his house to have a gathering and a meal.

Before we left, I asked Rev Heng Sure: How can I come here to study? And he said: Cultivate. So after that, for about seven years, it took me seven years to recite. I was already reciting the Shurangama Mantra and Compassion Mantra before I came to the summer camp in 2015. But I still kept on that process of daily practice. I also learned English for seven years.

So you went back and really tried to learn English?

Yeah, I trained my English. And then I applied to DRBU, maybe the earliest among my cohort. Like, fifteen days after the admission open date, which is October 1st. I applied on the 16th of October or something like that.

You mentioned that you recited the mantras even before you were ten. Could you tell us more about your affinity with the mantras and some background when you started Buddhist practices?

My mom knew about Venerable Master Hsuan Hua in 2010. And then in 2012, either 2012 or 2013, my mom started instructing me and my sister to learn by heart the Shurangama Mantra and the Compassion Mantra. And we did. We learned by heart the mantras. When I came here, a lot of people knew me because I learned by heart the Shurangama Mantra. But now I already felt I forgot most of it because after 2015, we got offered two books, two Daily Recitation books, and I started to look at the book and read. So it’s gradually fading, the memory of the mantras.

But yeah, my mom instructed me and my sister to recite the mantras. I didn’t think too much about why I should recite or what this will bring back for me. I just do it. I don’t know why, or specifically, how I felt. It’s like eating; just do it everyday without thinking much about it. Every evening, me and my sister came to my small room, which is on the top floor of my house in Vietnam, to learn and recite the mantras. And we did it just casually, normally, without thinking too much about it. Maybe we did it because our mom told us so, and we did it because it has become a habit that is deeply rooted in us. We just started reciting.

The first time when I recited the mantras was one time Shurangama Mantra and three times Compassion Mantra. But then my mom raised the number of times that we recite mantras to three times Shurangama Mantra and five times Compassion Mantra. We just gradually learned, like five sentences in Shurangama Mantra each day. And after, like three years, when I came [for the first time], I already learned by heart the Shurangama Mantra. And, yeah, I think that’s the affinity.

You were motivated to learn English because you wanted to study in this community. What was that experience like?

Actually, English was kind of the very first language that I interacted with when I was really small. My mom and dad bought a lot of English CDs, movies. And they actually, I would not say push or force, but like, they gave me English books, notebooks to study when I was really small, even before I went to school. At that time, English was already a mandatory subject in school, so every student had to learn English, but then because I learned English before, I had a really good foundation and I was quite good at English. But then when I came here, my confidence wasn’t there anymore, because it’s a different kind of environment. And people here don’t speak in Vietnamese, not the majority. So I knew how to speak very simple sentences. Even now even though I understand really clearly what people are saying, there’s something that blocks me from responding to them. And then I had this feeling that I had to learn more to come here because during the interview, my application to boys school, when Roger spoke in English to interview me, I understood everything. I really understood them all. But then, I just couldn’t respond because the word didn’t come up, it came up in Vietnamese.

There was a translator and also the camp counselor at that time. But I actually already understood it, but then I just didn’t know how to respond. And then I knew my weak point that I needed to improve. When I went back, I studied, I would say, quite hard. My grades in English were like a parabola kind of graph. It’s coming up and coming down like waves, like in school. Because sometimes I have this kind of rushing. I’m doing things too fast that makes the whole process spoiled by my rushing and uncalm characteristics. I’m always rushing things too fast, and I make a lot of mistakes. And that is what I’m also trying to improve right now. Still working at it. When I was in high school, I was seriously dedicated to studying English to get a certificate, and it’s because in order for me to take a test and get this certificate, my family had to spend a great amount of money for me to study so that I could have the test for this certificate. When I saw the amount of money that my parents spent, it was a great motivation for me to seriously study for this kind of English certification.

Could you say more about how you studied English? 

So like this certificate of IELTS (International English Language Testing System), it has four parts, reading, listening, writing, and speaking. So my speaking skill can only be practiced when I come to the class, or to the extra class, but I practiced reading and listening all the time. I would say four hours in the morning and three hours in the afternoon. And in the evening, I would have two hours listening and one hour of translations. And sometime over the weekend, I even did more in the afternoon, which was like 12 hours a day. Because translation also helped me improve my English skills. I did a lot of translation back then and I’m still doing it right now. Like from English to Vietnamese on the One Heart Bowing Diary.

We are now on volume five, 1979, I think. I just remember the month and the date is the third of August. The latest text we translated one week ago was August 3, 1979, if I’m right. That is the whole process of me learning English and yeah, I got an acceptable grade, which was not what I expected. I expected a higher score. I expected to get an 8.0 out of 9.0 for the certification but I only got a 7.0. So I guess I was kind of a little bit irritated because things didn’t go as I expected. But 7.0 was still quite good, I will say. I mean, if you got seven on this IELTS, you can have a direct entrance to a lot of big universities in Vietnam without…they won’t consider your grade on the university entrance exam; if you just got 7.0 on IELTS, they just let you in, like a direct entrance. Yeah, so I think that’s my study process.

So you met Rev. Heng Sure again on Monday, right? How did it go?

Yeah, on Monday! This is the first time after Buddha Root Farm! How was it? Because last Monday, I was still in this kind of feeling of depression. I felt like: “This is not the time. Why is this the time that he came?” I felt uncertain. There was a great amount of uncertainty in my mind. I didn’t say hello to him when I came early for the gathering. I hid in the last row of the seat, but then he said, “Come closer.” All my friends and I all sat together in the last row, like quite far. He said, “Come closer!” He saw me and all my peers. So we went to the first row. Yihuan bought the flower and gave it to Sehen to offer to Rev. Heng Sure. But then, because Sehen is such an amazing person. He’s helped me so much. He is like a really good friend. He knew that I’m depressed and I have an affinity with Rev. Heng Sure. He gave the flower to me to offer to Rev. Heng Sure. And when I took the flowers and offered them to Rev. Heng Sure, I’m sure I was shaking, I’m not sure. What should I say to him? And what if he sees through me, the great affliction that I’m holding? And that will be so embarrassing. And he may have said only one sentence that made all this feeling disappear. He said, “Oh, Bach, I remember you!” And wow! That’s eight years. Oh! Eight years, like really long. I didn’t expect that. Because it was a really long time. And he’s really busy. And he met a lot of people too. So this feeling of loving kindness, compassion, happiness and excitement eight years ago came back and it’s just getting better and better after the meeting. And he said to me one thing that it is great that I have this feeling towards him, but then loving kindness shouldn’t go direct and aim to one specific person. He said to me also, “Try to have this feeling even when I’m not here.” So I’m practicing on it. But first I have to get over this process of depression. But yeah, after the meeting, I think I’m doing better after Monday.

Do you feel that loving kindness for yourself?

To be honest, I’m really strict on myself in many aspects and areas, such as sports. I’m strict to myself in my daily routine of going to the gym and soccer. In studying, I’m also strict to myself in finishing homework on time, never late for tasks and always try to submit the paper on time. And I feel this self-discipline has really helped me in a lot of things, not just improving my stability in studying and sports. It’s also helped me make things become more organized. Maybe at some point in the future, I will be more kind to myself. But then at my age right now, which is the age of 18, when I don’t yet have a firm way of thinking, I still want to be more strict with myself so that I can push myself into being more disciplined.

I’m not kind to myself, I would say. Whenever I feel something’s not going to the right plan, there’s this voice in my head that pushes me and sometimes like yelling at me to make something go in the right schedule and my expectation.

Do you think there is a way to integrate the loving kindness that you felt in Rev. Heng Sure’s presence and your strict self-discipline?

Yeah. I’m trying. But whenever I feel I’d like to be comfortable and relax, things are just going in the wrong track. It’s like falling apart from my routine. I don’t want that to happen. Still, I want to have both this kind of feeling of relaxing to myself and then self-discipline, but I haven’t found that path yet.

Is there anything in One Heart Bowing Diary (aka. Highway Dharma Letters) that inspires you? 

Everything! Everything in the diary is so amazing! I’m so inspired. While I was translating it, I realized that Marty will describe the external, he will reflect on the external circumstances, while Rev. Heng Sure will reflect on the internal. They both have their unique trait that is really interesting. I don’t remember a specific story that they wrote in the diary, but the nuance of the literacy is really, really dense and thick. And there are a lot of self-cultivations, self-discipline, and also that let go, relax, and be comfortable, and in a sense, still in a safe boundary. And every story they wrote was so… It’s just astonishing. It feels so real that I didn’t even believe that it had happened in the past when they did their pilgrimage, But it was like it happened right in front of my eyes when these dangerous threats approached the Dharma Masters. I’m really, really amazed by their journey. It’s my great honor to help translate it and help people know more about this amazing journey.

So how long have you been on the translation team?  

I think I have been translating this since 2018, I think, when my English got better. My mom started to give me texts for me to translate and I’ve just started since then. A few years ago, I translated more. I would finish a lot of texts in a week. But now I have too much work. But still, I try to focus and do as much as I can.

As a full-time student these days, how do you find time to do so?

I often translate after I finish studying for at least half an hour a day. But sometimes, the readings [for classes] took me to finish like two or three in the morning. So I couldn’t do it those days, but I still try to do at least half an hour of translation a day.

What are you grateful for these days? Anything that holds you up?

I think the thing that’s held me up these days is, first, my strong faith in what I’m doing. I believe that it will definitely help me a lot in the future. And the other is soccer. I love it so much. So it’s like a kind of daily dose of medicine, of happiness, I think.

Can you talk about faith a bit more?

Yeah, I would say, as I mentioned, it’s a strong belief that what I’m doing here can help me in the future. So taking mathematics as an example, obviously, we’re not going to use the laws of Logarithms for the future, like buying food or doing anything with those kinds of complicated formulas in mathematics. But this studying mathematics is to develop our logical thinking. Similarly, studying philosophy is like mathematics. We’re not going to come out of here and talk about, say, Mengzi, Mencius to other people, unless they want to hear it. I mean, a lot of people want to hear about philosophy, but we’re not going to apply it directly to our daily life. But it’s developing this thinking of life decisions. We’ve created another way, another path that gives us a choice that is different from our habituations. In that sense, it can control and help our future life on a right path, keeping us on a right path, and also still feeling happy and grounded.

Wonderful. Do you have anything else to say before we close? 

Never give up. Because no matter how long it takes, as long as you have a strong faith and believe in self-cultivation and daily practices, we can make it. You can make it. It is a precious and remarkable period of life to study here in DRBU. So apply before the application due date! (laugh) Thank you very much!