Thich Chân Không
Sister Chân Khong rings a bell of mindfulness.
School Lâm Tế Dhyana
Born Cao Ngoc Phuong
Ben Tre, Vietnam
Senior posting
Based in Plum Village (Lang Mai)
Title Zen master
Religious career
Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh

Chân Không; born in 1938, is an expatriate Vietnamese Buddhist nun, peace activist, and has worked closely with Thich Nhat Hanh in the creation of Plum Village and helping conduct spiritual retreats internationally. She wrote her autobiography, "Learning True Love: How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam" in 1993.


Chan Khong was born Cao Ngoc Phuong in 1938 in Ben Tre, Vietnam in the center of the Mekong Delta. As the eighth of nine children in a well-to-do family, her father taught her and her siblings the value of work and humility. She quotes her father as saying: “…never bargain with a poor farmer because for you a few dong may not be much, but for him it is enough to support his children."[1]

In 1958 she enrolled in the University of Saigon to study biology. She was also involved in political action, becoming the student leader at the University, spending much of her time helping the poor and sick in the slums of the city.[1][2]

She first met Thich Nhat Hanh in 1959 and considered him her spiritual teacher. In 1963 she left for Paris to finish her degree in biology which was awarded in 1964. She returned to Vietnam later that year and joined Thich Nhat Hanh in founding the Van Hanh University and the School for Youth and Social Service (SYSS). She was central in many of the activities of the SYSS which organized medical, educational and agricultural facilities in rural Vietnam during the war. At one stage the SYSS involved over 10,000 young peace workers who rebuilt many villages ravaged by the fighting. When Thich Nhat Hanh returned to the United States, Chan Khong ran the day to day operations.[1][2]

On February 5, 1966 Chân Không was ordained as one of the first six members of the Order of Interbeing, sometimes called the "Six Cedars". Following her ordination, she was given the name Sister Chan Khong, True Emptiness. In explaining the meaning of the name, she says: "In Buddhism, the word 'emptiness' is a translation of the Sanskrit sunyata. It means 'empty of a separate self.' It is not a negative or despairing term. It is a celebration of interconnectedness, of interbeing. It means nothing can exist by itself alone, that everything is inextricably interconnected with everything else. I know that I must always work to remember that I am empty of a separate self and full of the many wonders of this universe, including the generosity of my grandparents and parents, the many friends and teachers who have helped and supported me along the path, and you dear readers, without whom this book could not exist. We inter-are, and therefore we are empty of an identity that is separate from our interconnectedness."[3]

The Order of Interbeing was to be composed of monks, nuns, laymen, and laywomen. The first six ordainees were free to choose whether they preferred to live and practice as formal monastics or as laypersons. The first three women chose to live celibate lives like nuns, although we didn't shave our heads, while the three men chose to marry and practice as lay Buddhists. Among the three women was Nhat Chi Mai, who immolated herself for peace just a year later.[1][2]

From 1969 to 1972 she worked with Thich Nhat Hanh in Paris organizing the Buddhist Peace Delegation which campaigned for peace in Vietnam. Since then she has worked with Thich Nhat Hanh establishing first the Sweet Potato community near Paris, then Plum Village Sangha in 1982. She accompanies and assists Thich Nhat Hanh when he travels. In addition, she has continued to organize relief work for those in need in Vietnam, coordinating relief food parcels for poor children and medicine for the sick, and helps organize activities at Plum Village.

Sister Chân Không ordained as a nun by Thich Nhat Hanh in 1988 on Vultures Peak, in India.[4]

During the three-month return to Vietnam (January to early April, 2005), Thich Nhat Hanh spoke to thousands of people throughout the country - bureaucrats, politicians, intellectuals, street vendors, taxi drivers, artists. In addition to Thich Nhat Hanh’s Dharma talks, Sister Chan Khong also taught and conducted additional mindfulness practices. She led the crowds in singing Plum Village songs, chanting, and leading "total relaxation" sessions. Other times, it was her simple, application of Vietnamese heritage to modern ways of life that appealed to the people they met. During Tết (Vietnamese new year) celebrations in February, she performed an "oracle reading" for hundreds of Buddhist followers.[5]


  • My students are also my teachers. I learn so much from them. Sister Chan Khong (True Emptiness) is among the foremost of these. [She] has a great capacity for joy and happiness. That is what I appreciate most in her life. Her unwavering faith in the dharma is strengthened each day as she continues to enjoy the fruit of transformation and healing born from the practice. Her stability, joy, and happiness are wonderful supports for many of us in Plum Village and in the circle of the greater `sangha'. Working for social change and helping people are sources of joy for her. The love and concern that underlie her work are deep. True Emptiness is also true love. Her story is more than just the words. Her whole life is a dharma talk."
    • Thich Nhat Hanh[5]
  • There are many problems. Sometimes I feel overwhelmed. But I try to work one day at a time. If we just worry about the big picture, we are powerless. So my secret is to start right away doing whatever little work I can do. I try to give joy to one person in the morning, and remove the suffering of one person in the afternoon. . . . That is the secret. Start right now.
  • But I don't always feel happy. Even in our sangha in Plum Village we are not always at peace. When one sister or brother is unstable, the whole community is affected. So we try to be always fresh and happy and when somebody is sad, you have the serenity to overcome the difficulty.
    • Sister Chan Khong[6]

Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong about the Eight Observations of Respect

  • Yes, but in Plum Village, we do not observe them ["the Eight Observations of Respect that nuns have to observe towards Buddhist monks"] because Thay says that these Eight Observations were invented to help the stepmother of the Buddha only. He says you need to keep the 14 precepts properly. That's all. But of course he doesn't despise the traditional precepts. And I can accept them just to give joy to the monks who practice in the traditional way. If I can give them joy, I will have a chance to share my insights about women with them, and then they will be unblocked in their understanding.[7]

See also


  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Chan Khong. (2005). Learning True Love: How I Learned Social Change in Vietnam. Autobiography. Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press. ISBN 0-938077-50-3.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 [1]Chan Khong, (Sept. 2005) Learning True Love, Order of Interbeing website excerpt from book
  3. [2]Sister Chan Khong, "Learning True Love"(2004) Fellowship of Reconciliation website article
  4. [3]Biography of Sister Chan Khong on the Order of Interbeing, UK website
  5. 5.0 5.1 [4]Chinvarakorn,Vasana (May, 2005) "No trace left behind", The Buddhist Channel
  6. [5]Senauke, A and Moon, S (1994) "Walking in the Direction of Beauty--An Interview with Sister Chan Khong", The Turning Wheel
  7. ibid.

Further reading

  • “Learning True Love: How I Learned & Practiced Social Change in Vietnam”, 1993, Parallax Press, Berkeley, CA, ISBN 0-938077-50-3.
  • “Be Free Where You Are”, Thich Nhat Hanh, foreword by Chan Khong, Parallax Press, 2005, ISBN 1-888375-23-X.
  • “Drops of Emptiness”, Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Sounds True Direct, 1998, ASIN B00000379W.
  • “The Present Moment: A Retreat on the Practice of Mindfulness”, Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Sounds True, 1994, ISBN 1-56455-262-4.
  • “Touching the Earth: The Five Prostrations and Deep Relaxation”, Thich Nhat Hanh and Chan Khong, Sounds True, 1997, ISBN 1-56455-278-0

External links



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