Thien Mu Pagoda
November 17, 2004
Reflections by S. Smith Patrick
I brought the Peace Belt to Vietnam on what was truly a mission of Peace.
As a documentary filmmaker, I chronicled five Vietnam Veterans who returned to Vietnam for the first time since the Vietnam War for the film Dak To 299. The goal of the journey was to reach some catharsis from the feelings the men had about the mission that had brought them there 35 years earlier. We traveled throughout the country and visited cultural sites and areas of historical military import to them personally and to the history of the war.
We visited the Thien Mu Pagoda in Hue, North Vietnam, monastic home of Thick Quong Duc. Thick was the Buddhist Monk who immolated himself in 1963 in Ho Chi Minh City as a gesture of protest against the war. His action gained attention throughout the world and was a contributing factor in the rise of protest against the war in the United States. He had come from the monastery here, and the grounds had become a memorial for his heroic deed.
John Marcoulier, a nurse and Massage Therapist from Oregon, wore the Peace Belt. John's life ethic is one of helping people to reach a place of peace within them so that they can contribute to the greater whole of humanity in a peaceful and productive way.
Also present were Bill Christie and Christopher Upham. Christopher is a writer from San Francisco who planned the trip. His focus on narrative journey in his work inspired him to organize the trip. He saw it as a natural progression toward reaching peace in the lives of the men who had served there years ago.
It was a rainy day and we had to take a boat to get to the temple. It was cold and we were soaking wet by the time we got there. We walked through an entry garden to the modest temple, which was dark and very dimly lit by a few candles and small lights. I didn't even see a place where we could take a photograph with the belt without being disturbed by similarly wet tourists milling about. Our spirits were also somewhat damp and dark from the arduous boat travel. I asked the men if we should perform a ritual with the belt someplace else, some brighter, drier space.
Our guide, Phuoc, is a veteran from the Vietnamese side. He could see I was deliberating. I told him about the Peace Belt and he was eager to assist. He saw a monk and explained the story of the Peace Belt in Vietnamese. The monk gave a broad smile and before I knew it had beckoned John to an altar.
I put the Peace Belt around John as he was bowing down at the altar. He became very emotional and when he got up, tears were in his eyes.
His comrades, Bill and Christopher went to his side to comfort him. The monk then lead all the men, including Phuoc, to a Buddha and told them to put their hands on his belly and to wish for world peace. Each man did so with heartfelt emotion.
The monk clasped his hands together and bowed toward us and we toward him.
As we left the temple, we barely noticed the rain. Bill said, 'I feel different now. Something changed.' Indeed we were all transformed. Any ill spiritedness that had plagued us had dissolved into the good intentions of the experience with the Peace Belt.
For me, this was great fodder for meditation - the idea that just thinking about peace and ritualizing one's intention allows one to embody the peaceful spirit that in turn contributes toward a greater peace.