When Heaven and Earth Changed Places

When we resist our fate we suffer.
When we accept it we are happy.

We have time in abundance, an eternity, to repeat our mistakes. But we need only once correct our mistake and at last hear the song of enlightenment, with which we can break the chain of vengeance forever. In your heart you can hear it now. It is the song your spirit has been singing since the moment of your birth.

If the monks are right, and nothing happens without cause, then the gift of suffering is to bring us closer to God, to teach us to be strong when we are weak, to be brave when we are afraid, to be wise in the midst of confusion and to let go of that which we can no longer hold.

Lasting victories are won in the heart, not on this land or that.

- Le Ly Hayslip

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Le Ly Hayslip was born 'Phung Thi Le Ly' in a rural part of central Vietnam in 1949. Coincidentally, the wife of one of my nephews, born in Vietnam after the war, still has relatives living on a farm in that area. Needless to say, Le Ly grew up in turbulent times and suffered greatly, as did so many Vietnamese, alternately at the hands of the French, the Americans, the so-called Viet Cong, and the South Vietnamese (including torture by the South Vietnamese police and rape by the Viet Cong). Whichever power occupied the village punished the villagers for having followed the orders of the previous occupiers. Her life in her homeland was one that we who have lived in highly secure first world surroundings can scarcely imagine in our worst nightmares.

She eventually came to the United States. I will let you discover her full story on your own. She has written two autobiographical books and served as the chairperson of "East Meets West", a humanitarian organization dedicated to helping improve the lives of the Vietnamese people. Her life was the basis for the Oliver Stone movie, "Heaven and Earth", which, though not a documentary, very accurately (and graphically) reflects the origins and conditions of that war, in addition to being a work of the cinematic art at its best. The stark contrast between the pastoral beauty of the country and the horror of war is gripping.

But this post is not about Le Ly per se, the movie, or that particular war. It is simply about what she wrote in the quote above. I have carried this quote in my day planner for several years now and reflect on it from time to time. Depending on your background - cultural, religious, national, political - parts of it can be interpreted in very different ways. The words "fate" and "God" are two glaring examples of words which can have very different meanings depending on your frame of reference. I actually like that aspect of it. If we are to understand each other, we need to attempt to learn about each other - to walk in each other's shoes.

It seems there is always somewhere in the world with the kind of conditions that Le Ly grew up in. And regardless of outward conditions, everyone of us, everywhere, suffers in some way. So, as it speaks to these universal conditions, I also feel the quote offers a bridge upon which many people from many lands may find a meeting place in their hearts and minds for understanding and peace.

That is my perspective. What's yours?


The Moody Minstrel said...

What a fantastic quote! It rings!

"Suffering" is most definitely a relative term. I once read an interview with a Chinese woman who grew up in China during the nightmare that was the so-called "Cultural Revolution". Her childhood was harsh to say the least, and death and deprivation were an everyday part of it.

The interviewer asked her how she had been able to live with such pain, fear, and sorrow all the time, and she replied by saying something like, "Actually, we were happy. For us, that hardship was just life, and we didn't know of anything better. No one wants to be unhappy, and so we weren't."

Now THAT'S a true spirit!

j-apricot said...

I saw Oliver Stone's movie, "Heaven and Earth", but didn't know it was based on a book. I'd like to read the story.

Pandabonium said...

Moody -Thanks, that's a great story. There are many elements I like about this quote. Suffering definitely is relative and also we set our own criteria for what makes us happy or sad. So we are responisble for our own feelings.

J-apricot - or should I say "ume"? - I've not read the book. It would be interesting to me also. The movie condenses a lot by necessity. For instance, she had three husbands and the movie blends them into one.

Another great book about overcoming adversity is "No One's Perfect", by Hirotada "Oto" Ototake, a man who was born with no arms or legs, yet succeeded in life and helped to make everyone's life better.

As the Thai say, "it's up to you".

ihrttl - how to call your turtle....ihrtttl! ihrttl!

j-apricot said...

HIrotada Ototake's book, "No One's Perfect" is really good. Actually, he and his book are taken up in an English school textbook.

YD said...

Thank you for the meaningful post.

Regardless to different religions, philosophy, cultures, etc, one thing remains universal - Faith.

Whether it is faith to God, faith to oneself, faith in goodness, faith in purity, faith in people, etc etc, the existence of faith ensure our very existence. We live on because we have hopes, we believe there is always a better tomorrow. If all hopes are lost, and all meanings of life are gone, where do we get our will to live on?

However, faith should not be just blind faith. Having faith comes with mindfulness, being aware of what is right and what is wrong, upholding the principle of life that brings wholesomeness. Wholesomeness as in harmony, with people, with nature, with the world, with ourself. There is an inner voice in everyone, some call it conscience, some call it awareness, some call it voices of angel, some call it the Buddha in one's mind. This voice, is the source of our faith; is the root of the goodness that exists in everyone; is the point where heaven meets earth.

However, we almost always forget to listen inwards to our inner voice. We are too busy with the world OUTside, we tend to act and react OUTwards; but let's remind ourselves to have some time to listen INwards and be aware of what is happening INside.

Whether it is self-reflection, meditation, or talking to God, if we are aware of our states of minds and be truthful to ourselves, we can understand more about ourselves, our life, and our purpose in life. Various religions teach us ways to do good deeds, practice rightful way of living, and give us guidelines of being good. Let's ponder, if we ourselves have the strength of mind, and the light in our heart that guide us; if we have the wisdom and the awareness, one do not even need to framework of religions to guide us. We live our life, because we understand it.

"When heaven and earth changed places." What is heaven and what is earth and what is hell? They are all in our state of mind. We are what we are because we think we are.

(erm.. did i go overboard again?) *^_^*

@ロウ 。LOW@ said...

Sometime, everything comes with a price tag. As so peace and independence itself.

Practically speaking, real suffering, is when you are the only one who suffers.

Take Okinawa, who accounts for less than one percent of Japan's land. American argued that the peace in Asia mainland region (Taiwan, Korea, Japan, China, etc.) depends on American military presence in Okinawa archipelago.

Ask our fellow local Okinawan, what happend if your home island host about two third of American forces in the country. Price that Japanese government pay so that some other suffers.

Or back in Tahiti, French Polynesia, where some local independence party still fighting for their country's freedom. With half of the total workforce are employed in the government-related jobs, good pay, Tahitian keep voting to remain a French colony.

Not all Tahitian thought they suffers the cultural lost, i guess. Or it's the price itself?

But sometime, you don't even think that you are suffering. So much that the "fate" and "God" can do, for the better or worse!

The Moody Minstrel said...

Very well said. Your insight amazes me. You must have a very old soul.

Once again, you have raised a very good point...or should I say counterpoint...to keep our minds in motion.

They've been trying to relocate the American bases in Japan for years. The problem is that, while most Japanese want the U.S. to continue protecting Japan, no one wants the U.S. military in his own backyard. Consequently, attempts to open new bases elsewhere in the country so they can close some of the ones in Okinawa have always met with strong and determined opposition.

The reason the U.S. military is mainly in Okinawa is that it's the only part of the country that was actually taken by force during the war. In other words, when the war ended, we were already there.

For what it's worth, at least the U.S. didn't do with Okinawa what Russia did with the Kuril (North) Islands. Those were simply annexed and remain under Russian control to this day despite constant Japanese pleading to give them back.

I know...small comfort to the Okinawans, and I don't blame them.

Pandabonium said...

My friends, you have not let me down. Your comments have given me so much to think about that I am actually speechless - a very rare state for this big mouth Panda, indeed.

Thank you all. I will have to retreat into the bamboo and chew on all this for a time. Wonderful. And tasty too.

punpz: What Arnold Schwarzenegger does with weights.

Pandabonium said...

Well, yd, let me start by saying that I agree with almost everything you said (and as usual, said well).

But while faith is a concept that is widespread, I think so for a different reason. Faith is required in order to have people follow what cannot be explained by reason. To me that should be a warning that someone is trying to control you or trick you.

I have no faith, personally. My interest in Buddhism for instance is that I value many of its ideas, but I have no faith - I don't accept anything without reason. I don't take as literal the stories used to explain its precepts. I draw from it for ideas for ways at looking at life and reflecting inwardly. I view it as a philosophy, not a religion.

My thinking is that reason is the human tool for understanding, yet it is a tool, it is not one's total awareness.

My belief in people or hope for the future is based on experience and knowledge, not on faith. One can step into an airliner and be confident that it will arrive safely at its destination, not because of faith, but because one knows something about airplanes, airlines, and the statistics that show it to be a safe means of travel. The more you know, the more confident you can be in assessing risk or making any other kind of decision. Morality can also be derived from knowledge.

I would take far too many words to explain more fully here, so that will have to suffice. But when someone asks me to accept something "on faith" I am very suspicious. An excellent book which describes my view on this as regards philosophy is "Buddhism without Beliefs" by Stephen Batchelor.

And yes, you are right when you say that heaven or hell is all in our state of mind. And no, you did not go overboard. I share Moody's awe (as does K) at your insight and intellect. Your advice to look within is particularly wise. And I totally agree with your statement, " if we have the wisdom and the awareness, we do not even need the framework of religions to guide us. We live our life, because we understand it." What a great line. Perhaps it expresses is a simpler way exactly what I have been trying to say.

As we say in the USA, you are one sharp cookie. (That's a complement even if it is archaic and possibly politically incorrect).

Low, adding another perspective, I agree with you as well. In Hawaii, which was taken over illegally by the USA, some native Hawaiians are still fighting - in the courts, with laws, and in public opinion - to get their nation back. So many examples can be found about people who lose their nation, sometimes repeatedly. Yet, some may accept a short term profit in exchange for their heritage and not realize the real loss they are taking. - As one song about "progress" goes, "don't it always seem to go, you don't know what you've lost 'til it's gone. You pave paradise, put up a parking lot."

Regarding Okinawa and Japan in general, Low and Moody, I would just point out that the USA is in Japan not to protect Japan, but rather to pursue US interests and project its power in the region. Okinawa is after all, strategically located for doing just that. And Donald Rumsfeld has recently shown his contempt for the local people who disagree with his plans.

At any given time, "protecting" Japan may be in the interest of the US, but should that change, America would have no second thoughts about leaving. In fact I suspect that Japan is being played by the US against Japan's own interests at present with regard to competition for energy resources.

Some Japanese have argued for some time that Japan's interests would better be served by allying itself more closely with its Asian neighbors rather than with the US. I am not making that argument here, merely pointing out that the occupiers and the occupied in a given situation may have interests and agendas that are not so apparent. The compexities make me glad I am not in that line of work.

Taiwan has been occupied by both Japan and the ultra right government of Chiang Kai Chek. As ruthless as the Japanese were, there is now almost a nostalgia to be found for Japan after having experienced life under Chiang, who's "republic of China" was no more a republic that the "people's republic" that replaced it on the mainland.

Politics is a dirty business. One panda's opinion.

But that brings me back to the point of this post. How does one deal with all these things at the personal level? That is the crux of it for me. We don't experience events as cultures or nations or religions. We experience things as individuals, in our own hearts and minds.

The Moody Minstrel said...

Even from the Christian perspective, as I'm so fond of pointing out to my more evangelical friends, Jesus once responded to a question as to why he always spoke in parables by saying, "Because the word of God is for people who think and reason."

So why are evangelists and dominionists always quick to tell us that we're not supposed to think or ask questions, just accept what the church says "on faith"?

On another topic, a nationwide referendum was held back in the early '90s concerning the way people felt about the U.S. military presence. The overwhelming majority of respondents said they favored U.S. protection and wanted it to continue, but no one wanted a base in his own area.

mnpco - The next fraudulent energy company to appear replacing Enron.

Pandabonium said...

Amen to that.

lqchwx - code for the Lichtenstein International Airport weather report.

Carlos Echevarria said...


It is one of my favorite Vietnam related movies...kudos, once again, to Oliver Stone.

Coincidentally, I am traveling to Saigon (HCMC) next year.

Pandabonium said...

Carlos: Thank you very much for that clip! Have an enlightening trip to Ho Chi Min City.