Buddhistdoor Global interviewed Cuong Lu, author of The Buddha In Jail.

BUDDHISTDOOR GLOBAL: In the introduction to The Buddha in Jail, you write: “I saw that I could help others overcome loneliness, as I had, and find meaning again in their lives.” Did your experiences growing up in a war zone have a bearing on your decision to serve others who are suffering?

CUONG LU: I was born during the Vietnam war. My thinking and consciousness were programmed by the war, full of violence and fear. I didn’t notice that until I came to Holland, a peaceful country. In that peacefulness, I saw for the first time the suffering in me, brought with me from the war zone. Step by step, I have gone through that suffering and found peacefulness in me with Buddhist practice. I am a lucky person.

This experience has helped me to recognize the violence and fear in others. I want to help because I know how painful it is to have a war inside of you. It makes you feel lonely and hopeless. And I have also discovered that I can help. I can share with others my practice in a non-Buddhist way. Sometimes, I don’t even have to say something to help. When you are there without a war inside, other people can see that.

BDG: Can you tell our readers about your experiences as a monk in the Plum Village community and then as a prison chaplain?

LU: I was trained as a monk by Thich Nhat Hanh. That was a wonderful time. You are taken care of by your spiritual father. The connection between him and me was totally necessary for my spiritual growth. A teacher is much more than we think. A real teacher doesn’t transmit only his knowledge to you; he transmits himself to you. When you look into me, you see Thich Nhat Hanh.

As a prison chaplain, my role was taking care of the prisoners. These are people who have gone through a lot of suffering and they have caused suffering to many victims. I don’t agree with what they have done, causing suffering to others and to themselves. But I believe in their capacity to begin anew. As a prison chaplain, I give myself to each prisoner. I give them my deep trust as I have received it from my teacher Thich Nhat Hanh.

Read the full interview here.

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