Learning True Love

Learning True Love:

How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam


Sister Chan Khong

(Cao Ngoc Phuong)




Sister Chan Khong’s autobiography tells the story of her spiritual and personal odyssey through the many years of her life. The book’s centerpiece is her moving account of her return to Vietnam, her homeland, after 40 years of exile. She describes in refreshing detail her emotional reactions, the reunions with many old friends and fellow activists, and her impression of the “new Vietnam” where Buddhists still struggle for religious freedom. Often compared to The Autobiography of Mahatma Gandhi, this memoir connects to larger themes, especialy when the author discusses the life and teaching of her fellow exile, Thich Nhat Hanh, gives an overview of the development of the European and American peace and human rights movements, and introduces readers to the Vietnamese style of Buddhism. Learning True Love is a testament to the power of tenacity and faith.

It seems there’s a former edition, not as good as this one:ISBN 0-938077-50-3 (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 1993)



SISTER CHAN KHONG was born in a village on the Mekong River Delta in 1938. As a teenager propelled by her passionate dedication to social change, she began working in the slums of Saigon distributing food, helping the sick, and teaching children. At the age of 21, she joined Zen master Thich Nhat Hanh in founding the School of Youth for Social Service, which grew to an organization of over 10,000 young people organizing medical, educational, and agricultural facilities in rural Vietnam, and rebuilding villages destroyed by the war. Sister Chan Khong became well known in the anti-war and peace community for her work promoting human rights and protesting repression and violence, often at risk of her own life. Sister Chan Khong continues to work closely with Thich Nhat Hanh in Vietnam and in Plum Village, his retreat center and community-in-exile in France.

To know more about her, before reading this book, which is an autobiography, see: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chan_Khong



When I was 9, living in a tiny 200-inhabitants village in Champagne, one day came to live in an old abandoned house a group of Vietnamese people. I was very social already and would often go and talk with them. I was especially fascinated by a man who was very gentle, walking very peacefully, often sitting on his heels looking at his garden, or cultivating his mint garden (I remember to this day their mint salads!!), or even sleeping in his hammock between 2 trees!

I’m sure they told us they were Buddhists, but at the time, this meant absolutely nothing to me.

Another very interesting person in  the group was a beautiful woman with very long and dark black hair.

I have lots of memories of that place, but let me go to the point here.

I left this little village the following year, and a few years later, I was told that they had also left.

Now, about 15 years later, while browsing in a library, I came upon a special book; when I turned it over, and saw the picture of its author, I was almost shocked: Oh my God, I know this man! He was this intriguing Vietnamese man. And I discovered that he was worldly famous. His name is Thich Nhat Hanh! I just wished I had been a bit older and more cultivated as well at the time!

Recently, some events occurred related to my history in this village, so I just browsed ion internet to see pictures and whatever was said about Fontvannes, the name of that village. I stumbled upon the name mentioned several times in the autobiography of Cao Ngoc Phuong. I knew her name. Interestingly, I remembered her name, not Nhat’s! BUT I didn’t know she had written her autobiography. This is the book I’m presenting here.

In her book, she mentions Jim Forest, fanous Peace activist, writer, and convert to Orthodoxy, and I suddenly remembered that he was part of my Facebook connections. So I shared this story with him, and we started exchanging some emails. I may even have met him in my village when I was 9, as he often went there.

As an old monk told me one day, the world is small, and God’s heart is so large.

This book shows her incredible commitment to the poor, and how her action is nurtured by her deep faith. This is not for the faint-hearted.



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