Meditation: Our Way to Survive
by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh
Extract by Nyanbhadra from Israel – Palestine Retreat in 2003 at Plum Village
Sister Chan Khong, myself (Thay Nhat Hanh) and other people was in Singapore in 1978, we are organizing a rescue operation for boat people, so many boat people were dying in the ocean, Singapore has a very harsh police on boat people, every time when there is a boat carry boat people come near to the shore, the police push them out to the sea in order to let them die, the police doesn’t want to host those boat people.
The fisher man who has compassion, who are able to save the boat people when they are drowned in the sea, they was punished and has to pay a huge amount of money, so next time they has no courage to save boat people.
I went to Singapore to attend a conference of Religion and Peace, I discovered that the boat people was suffering, so I stay on in order to secretly organize a rescue operation, because I knew that the government of Singapore did not want me to do that. Then I had friend from France, Holland and other countries from Europe to come and help me, we hired a boat to bring medicine, water and food to the sea in order to rescue people.
The police in Singapore was to reject the boat people, Malaysia also, they prefer to let let those boat people die in ocean instead of bring them to the land and put into prison.
I sent several people to go along the coast of Malaysia, they witness so many boat people, they just stare to the space did not know what will happening, they could not believe that there are many boat people living around them, it seems like people did not have a heart, did not have a sense of humanity.
Two boats full of boat people came and the police force them to go out, then one boat capsize because the embarkation is not solid, all of the people in the other boat saw it, those people drowned and no one can swim to the shore, that is why the other boat determine to go in again, and having landed, they destroyed the boat in order not to let the police push them out again, so the police has to bring them to the prison, at the meantime at the prison, the police find another boat to send them out again to the sea.
Immediately our friend called the journalist, because the journalists are the one who can save us, if the journalist knows that there are boat people are being help then they can take a few pictures and put it in the newspaper, then the government did not dare to push them out again to the sea. this is one thing that we did in order to save the boat people. They will put into the prison but they are save.
The UNHCR (United Nation High Commission on Refugees) comes to take notes and name of the boat people those refugee maybe can stay in the prison for several years, no opportunity to be resettle in other country, because the UNHCR didn’t work diligently at all, we discovered that there are so many boat people are kept in certain island and without any hope to be resettle after years and years.
In Singapore, we have done something illegal, we went to the fisher man house and said, each time you rescue a boat person, please call us, we will come to take the boat person, so you will not be punished, so we give our telephone number to the fisher man, from time to time when the fisher man called us, we use a taxi to took the boat person to the France Embassy. I has to say that the France Ambassador in Singapore is a man of heart, he knew what we were doing.
We came at night when the embassy was closed, so we took the boat person out from the taxi and we help them to climb into the compound of the embassy and we tell them to wait there.
In the morning the ambassador came with their staff, they open the gate and saw the someone there, they ask, “Who are you?” then he replied, “I’m a boat person, someone brought me here”, they didn’t reveal my identity, but they said someone brought me here, and then the ambassador understood and then called the police, then the police came and take the name and detail then bring them to prison, that boat person is safe, otherwise the police will push them out to the sea and let them die.
We did many illegal things like that, finally the we discovered 3 boat full of boat people, we intend to sail them to Australia, to Perth, we make sure that they have enough water, medicine, and a little bit of pocket money, when the boat is about to arrive in Perth, we will hold a press conference to announce that the boat people is coming and please don’t push them away. That is the kind of things that we used to do.
We did not speak about compassion, but we try to do the work of compassion, we rent a boat and go to the sea to rescue boat people, we try by illegal way to help the victims of discrimination.
One night, the police of Singapore came and surrounding our office, they had discovered the underground network, in our office we did sitting meditation every morning and evening, because we need spiritual dimension so we can be strong enough and compassionate enough to continue because this kind of work is very difficult.
At that time there were 3 boat full of boat people flowing on the sea, the government just discovered our network, so they arrested one of our boat, in fact that is not the boat who carried the boat people, but the boat for carry food, water, medicine, instant noodle back and forth to the other boat, because that boat was caught then the boat people was hungry. Our boat doesn’t have authorization to help the boat people in the water of Singapore and Malaysia.
I was sitting on the solid ground, but I’m floating because my life is become one with the boat people, imagine that you are responsible for the life of nearly one thousand people, 300 people in one boat, 400 in other boat, and so on, there was a child being born in the third boat, and I was in communication with that boat, it is so difficult and if you didn’t practice sitting and walking meditation you will become insane, you can not be yourself and you can not help.
That very night, my office was surrounded by police, that was already midnight, the came and confiscated our passport, Sister Chan Khong was there and her passport is French passport and was confiscated also, I hold a refugee passport, they gave us the order to leave Singapore in 24 hours, how can you do that while almost one thousand boat people are still in your responsibility, it is a very difficult situation.
So, from 1 o’clock to 5 o’clock in the morning we are all practicing walking meditation, walking meditation is not a luxury, in order to still be yourself, to find a way, and finally at 4 o’clock we got an idea, we have to go to Philip Ghartso (France Ambassador) we have to ask him to help us to extend our staying for 10 more days to finish up the operation, we went out at 5 o’clock and no taxi at that time, and the Embassy will open at 9 o’clock, they are not in a hurry, they don’t have one thousand boat people to take care of, so we have more time to do walking meditation.
When the gate of embassy was opened, we went in and talk to the ambassador, later he wrote a letter to the Government of Singapore to intervening in our favor, asking them to allow us to stay 10 more days, to finish up the operation. We wait until 11 o’clock
We ran to the office of the Prime Minister, Mr. Lee Kwan Yew, when he got the letter he had to convenience a meeting of all the cabinet members, meanwhile we are waiting outside, finally they said “YES”, they said we have to go right away to the Ministry of Interior and the police headquarter to have our visa renew for 10 days. We only need 15 minutes to go there, actually we have to go to the airport and before we embark to the flight they will give us back our passport, so we went through this kind of situation, and we know if we don’t have the spiritual dimension then our life will be lost.
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