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Compassion in Action
By Manpreet Singh in Gujarat (India)

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A compassionate smile lights up his firm face when Thay Nhu Dinh sits in a sea of rubble amidst the Indian villagers in Gujarat rendered homeless by the country’s deadliest earth quake this January. A little careless move by his team members in distributing the relief material makes him talk tough—he came on his individual initiative to personally help the quake-stricken victims—and means business.

Dinh, a 42-year-old Vietnamese Buddhist monk from Australia, was here in February to share the grief and burden of India’s earth quake victims. The quake according to rough estimates left over one lakh people dead and caused massive destruction and suffering.

And suffering motivates Dinh, since he has suffered much and knows what suffering can be; and what it can do to human personality. Twice he was jailed in Vietnam and tortured too before he finally escaped to Australia to carry on his social relief work.

Exceptionally sprightly for his age, Dinh has fished out rotting bodies abandoned by families and relatives in Vietnam floods. He has collected material for Turkey quake relief too. He believes in putting into practice the compassion that the Buddha preached. There is an unusually soft heart behind his determined, business-like face; when you see him donning the monk’s robes in the Indian rural sites; he symbolizes the Buddha’s compassion, but in a practical way. The nose piercing smell of rotting dead bodies under the mass of debris did not deter him.

He is used to the smell of the dead and knows too well that life and death are part of the same human experience; and says, "We will all be dead like them—the smell comes as we are living—one day we all will be with them." And he went, wherever the help was needed the most; to the poorest and the farthest.

"Go deep" were his mandatory words to his team of seven when distributing the relief materials in the remote villages. When most of the International agencies were dumping the relief materials in the most publicized and already over-supplied cities; Dinh took care and hectic effort to reach the neglected interior villages of Gujarat and distributed personally alongwith his team, three truckfuls of tents, blankets, buckets, clothes, medicine and food items. Squatting amidst the grief-stricken villagers, he would talk and listen to them with the help of spontaneous gestures though he did not know their language. Warmth and empathy need no words.

"I am moved by the patience of Indians. They have suffered so much in this calamity, yet they have accepted it as part of their destiny and not lost hope," admires Dinh while comparing Indians’ patience with that of the Vietnamese.

Life has brought Dinh to experience suffering very closely. His intimacy with suffering has not depressed him or made him a cynic but goaded him to reach out to the suffering humanity and lend a helping, humane hand. The only explanation he finds about the cause of suffering is in one’s Karma.

What was his closest encounter with individual’s suffering? you ask. He becomes pensive; his forehead becoming a little narrow with sad lines: "In Australia, I went to a Vietnamese home where the man had hanged himself because of his wife’s betrayal and infidelity. The cries of the couple’s child, a boy, were so heart-rending. The boy’s wails for his dead father made my hair stand in horror. And sadly, the woman after her husband’s death took to prostitution."

However, in India, Dinh says he has seen people suffering in silence and taking poverty as their destiny. While the poor in Vietnam try to improve, the Indians seem to rest too much in destiny and neglect individual effort towards improvement. And the gap between the rich and the poor in India is too vast. "India is the only place in the world I have seen where you can see heaven and earth co-existing," explains Dinh looking out of his hotel room in Ahmedabad. "Here we sit comfortably in this cozy room while we can see out of the window the shabby dwellings and the poor who may not have eaten for many days."

How would he describe his relief efforts in India? Dinh says, "We tried to do whatever we could; but I am not satisfied with the Indian authorities’ efforts towards relief. There is no co-ordination in relief activities. Even the relief material provided by the international agencies and non-governmental organisations (NGOs) is too less, considering the magnitude of destruction."

Dinh would not like to compare his relief activity in India to his earlier relief works. You ask him and he replies plainly: "I forget my previous works; and every time I go for the relief work it’s always the first one for me."

About to leave India after having done the job he came for, you ask Dinh to describe his Indian experience with the victims. Dinh becomes silent again--and emotional too, his eyes turning moist: "Physically and geographically I might be away from them but my mind is still with them."


Updated: 3-3-2001

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