Jeannie Parent

Go to content

Main menu

Chan Da Monk

Vietnam Project > Oral Histories

Interview with Buddhist monk, Chan Da, at Can Tho. Also present; Debbie Whitaker (D), Florence Baker (F), and Victoria (Duong) Nguyen (V).

J: So I just wanted to ask questions. This is Chan Da. So you… Are you the abbot? Are you number one monk?
C: Yeah. Me, Um…I’m oldest monk.
J: The oldest monk – you?
C: Headmaster monk.
J: The headmaster monk?
C: Next master.
J: Master? You are. I see. But you look very young.
C: Maybe I young, also.
D: How old are you?
C: I’m 31 years.
D: Ohhh.
J: So this is a Mahayana Buddhist temple?
D: No,
C: Theravada.
J: Theravada, Theravada.
C: Theravada, yeah.
J: Oh, Okay. And how many monks are in the monastery?
C: Fifteen monks living here.
J: Fifteen? Very small.
C: Yeah. Very small.Because other monks come from countryside, they also here study in university school, and study some professional.
J: So how young are the monks when they start studying? Small boys, or…?
C: Maybe, about fifteen years. Or twelve years can become monks.
J: So do families often send one boy to become monks, or not so much?
C: Yes, some families, they also send to temples and study become monks, and some families, no. Yeah, this for them beliefs themselves. Believe about Buddhism or no.
J: Do you know how many people are Buddhists in Vietnam now?
C: I think are two – Mahayana and Theravada.
J: So what percent of Vietnamese people are Buddhist? How many Vietnamese people are Buddhists, do you think?
C: Um. Maybe 60%.
J: 60%? That’s a lot.
C; Yeah. That’s a lot. Because, another place, from Hanoi or the South, from the Mekong Delta. (Phone rings.)
J: (Everyone laughs.) That’s okay. Take your phone. From the Mekong Delta?
C: Yes. From the Mekong Delta have most Buddhism in the Mekong Delta.
J: Most of the Buddhists come from the Mekong Delta?
C: Yeah, yeah.
J: Not from Saigon, or from Hanoi…?
C; Yes, from Saigon, also. But from Hanoi, and Hue or Danang, is the Mahayana Buddhism.
J: Oh, I see. In the Mekong Delta is Theravada Buddhism.
C: But in the Mekong Delta have two groups: Mahayana and Theravada.
J: I see. So Theravada comes from Cambodia more. Is it like Cambodian Buddhism more?
C: Yes. Like Cambodian
J: So what age did you become a monk? How old were you?
C: Me? Before I have 17…I become monk.
J: What region… Where did you live as a boy? What area are you from? Mekong Delta?
C: Mekong Delta. My countryside,  …(?) province. From here about, over 10km, 10 – 100 km.
J: 100 km?
C: 100 km.
(Side conversation about the noise.)
J: Why did you decide to become a monk?
C: This is my belief in Buddhism. Because I see in Buddhism happy, also. And I think to learning from Buddhism for – to see – educate myself, also help some people, or education or teaching, so easy for myself. I like to practice Buddhism.
J: What age did you know that you wanted to be a monk.
C: Yes. I know that easy to get happy - happiness.
J: How old were you when you decided, “I want to become a monk?
(Victoria translates.)
C: Aha. Just ten years.
J: Ahhh.
C: I like – I want to become monk, but my father, “you’re small.
J: Too small. How many brothers and sisters do you have?
C: My family - big family. I have seven brothers and sisters.
J: Any other monks?
C: No. Only me.
J: So, how many people come to the temple?
C: About, also a lot. Vietnamese people and Khmer people also. They’re together. Offering something. Giving something memorial, money, to build the temple. They ask us to pray for your mother and father, good, happy.
J: So is part of your job to go out to families, and do ceremonies with families?
C: Here?
J: do you go out to families like if someone dies or something?
C: Yes, I also, my family gives me some money. For example, I study – go to study another temple. For example, temple here,  I come here to study, my mother, father give me money go to study. My family helps all the time. Yeah.
J: And how about meditation? Do you have mediation for other people besides the monks?
C: Meditation you can talk about the monks – Buddhist monks. They also can meditation. For example, you all - you can meditation, also. Easy for your belief. Meditation for your mind. You think for yourself, some about knowledge. What do you think? What do you mean?
D: We understand. We all are Buddhist.
C: Oh. Okay…
V: The happy Buddha…Actually Mahayana..
C: Mahayana and Theravada – only one Buddha. Sakyamuni Buddha.
J: Do you have times every day that you have mediation i9n here?
C: Also I have meditation in my bedroom – also texts of the Buddha.
J: Can people come and meditate together?
D: Can we come and meditate here today?
C: I think you have only few time.
J: A little time.
D: Okay.
C: Because you know,  Meditation a have a long time. You know…
D: Not five minutes.
C: Because you have a little bit time. Meditation very difficult. If you have  (?) …look at everything.
J: Are Theravada Buddhists vegetarians? Do you eat meat?
(Victoria translates)
C: Yes. I’m eat meat. But we have only two times eating; morning and afternoon. After twelve o’clock, I can eat nothing. Drink water, or milk, or some (?), also.
J: If we see monks begging in the market, can you explain?
C: Yes, can. If I want to borrow something, or to buy something, I can go to the supermarket, no problem.
J: But they’re holding their bowl.
C: Collect some.
J: To collect some money.
C: In here, no. Because has a lot to motorbikes, very busy on the road, therefore, we cannot collect money. If in the temple in countryside, an neighborhoods, they also, every time to collect some…
J: So when the monks are collecting money, do they look down? They don’t look at people?
C: Yes. Look down. Don’t look at people. Because we don’t have _____ We have to guess __________  about people . Six _____ about people.
J: I don’t understand.
C: Look like meditate.
J: Ahhh.
C: You can go around, walking around the road, you can just look about only one meter. Yeah. No  looking around. Therefore in Can Tho city, very busy, many motorbikes, cannot look everything.
J: very interesting. So you have two Buddhas here. Are they the same?
C; Have two cultures. This is the Buddha Vietnam. And Cambodia. Buddha Vietnamese and Buddha Cambodia.
J: Ahh. And Khmer. On the right is Cambodia. I see.
F: And the picture behind?
C: The picture – for your looking. Up high Buddha – awakening high Buddha. Now, in the world, have four Buddhas awakening, and just only one Buddha in the future.
J: Which one is the Buddha of the future?
C: On the left. The future Buddha. The closest one…
J: In the middle or on the left?
C; In the middle.
(Discussion about picture and which Buddha is which.)
V: There are three types of Buddha, the past, the present and the future.
D: When we go back to America, and teach students about Buddhism, what do you think is most important for Americans to know about Buddhism.
C: I think nowadays is some Buddhism in America because I have my friends living over there. They are also monks because they go there living there a long time, about ten years. Also he telling me about Buddhism over there, has many people Cambodia and Vietnam. they follow Buddhism. I think have about 500 million followers Buddhism. All around the world, in America, or Canada, and Australia, also.
D: We have very many Vietnamese and Cambodian students at our schools. I live in Long Beach, CA. It has the largest Cambodian population outside Cambodia. So we have many Cambodian Buddhists. But what about Americans like us, white-skinned.
J: What do you want them to know about Buddhism? What do you want Americans to know? What is good for Americans to know about Buddhism?
C: I think maybe the Cambodian Buddhists, they also can to …they (laughs), how do you say… very different about Americans or Canadian. Yes, I don’t think a lot of things about this because…(speaks in Vietnamese to Victoria)
J: If we want to go back to America and we want to tell people what we learned from Chan Da…I learned something from him about Buddhism, what one thing should I tell Americans about Buddhism?
C: What you learned? Have some books.
J: No from you. We want to tell them what you said.
C: You want to hear to listen about Buddhism.
J & D: One thing – the most important thing.
(V: Translates into Vietnamese.)
C: Important in the Buddhism, mediation.  You can meditate about “asuper?” (suffering.)
J: to end suffering.
C: Pali language is called “asufer.” In English, end of suffering.
J: the end of suffering - the four noble truths.
V: the monk has to go outside, and then to practice, sedate, it’s very difficult…
J: So you are talking about the four noble truths?
C: Have four. The Truth suffering,
D: We know,
J: We know, we know.
V: Meditation is different than sedate. It’s difficult.
J: You maybe have other people.
C: Also have some students.
J: So you’re busy?
C: No, I haven’t busy. Free time.
D: Can we walk around?
J: I have a question about money to build – to construct. Where do you get the money to construct? (Construction is currently going on.)
C: To building the temple? Yes. You can write your name or write your family name. After that, we can build the temple, and write in the stone. Yeah. For example, you life in California, U.S.A.
J: So if I give you money, my name will be in the stone.
D: How much?
C: For yourself believing.
J: How long will the construction take?
C: Maybe about a year building. One year to finish the temple.
J: And how many people can live here then? Twenty?
C: Maybe about 50.
J: Fifteen?
C: Fifty.
J: Oh, that big!
C: Yeah. Students and monks.
D: We have to go, because I wanted to walk around.
J: One more question. Are there any old monks?
C: Yes, have old monk, but he lives in town.
J: Okay. Thank you so much for answering our questions.

Back to content | Back to main menu