Oral Histories

Interview of Hang Truong

Immigrant from Vietnam and student of Chinese Chan Buddhist Master Hsuan Hua. Founder and teacher of the Compassionate Service Society.
Many Branches, One Root: Buddhist Traditions in the Los Angeles Area
Asian American History
Biographical Note:
Immigrant from Vietnam and student of Chinese Chan Buddhist Master Hsuan Hua. Founder and teacher of the Compassionate Service Society.
Cline, Alex
Truong, Hang
Persons Present:
Troung and Cline.
Place Conducted:
Compassionate Service Society in Anaheim, California.
Supporting Documents:
Records relating to the interview are located in the office of the UCLA Library’s Center for Oral History Research.
Interviewer Background and Preparation:
The interview was conducted by Alex Cline, series coordinator, UCLA Library Center for Oral History Research; musician; member, Order of Interbeing, Plum Village Community of Engaged Buddhism, ordained 2009 by Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh.
Processing of Interview:
The interviewer prepared a timed log of the audio recording of the interview. The interviewee was given the opportunity to review the log in order to supply missing or misspelled names and to verify the accuracy of the content but made no changes.
9.5 hrs.
Interviewee Retained Copyright
Series Statement:
The Many Branches, One Root series traces the histories and practices of a range of Buddhist traditions and communities in the greater Los Angeles area. Beginning in the early twentieth century, a succession of Buddhist traditions have put down roots in Los Angeles, each one providing spiritual support and a sense of community for the tradition’s immigrant population. By the late twentieth century many of those traditions had extended their reach beyond their original ethnic base to include an American-born, often largely Anglo, constituency. The series seeks to document the ethnic and immigrant roots of these traditions, as well as the changes that have resulted as traditions have accommodated to an American context. Series participants included monks, nuns, and lay people from Buddhist traditions from Japan, China, Tibet, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam and a mixture of immigrants and American-born practitioners.
Born in Hue, Vietnam— Father’s background and political imprisonment— Relocation to Saigon with father— French cultural influence in family— Impact of classic Chinese Buddhist story “Journey to the West” on Truong— Father’s cancer and miraculous relief from a monk— Studying Buddhism with the monk— Mother and grandmother’s kindness— Relative safety in Saigon during Vietnam War— Father’s uncomfortable political position— Contracts life-threatening hepatitis A— Speed-reading Mahayana Buddhist sutras while receiving IV— Ability to speed-read books and see people’s thoughts— Loses abilities after father’s death— Resolves to become a monk after father’s death— Excelling in school with extraordinary abilities— Uncle opens laundromat and aunt marries an American— Western influence on family in Saigon.
Meaning of birth name— Involvement in class communist youth organization after 1975— Brother sent to reeducation camp for eleven years— Political neutrality while active in youth organization— Realizing government’s nature and ending participation— Spending one week in seclusion with teacher— Receiving mantra to stop rain and further dedication to spiritual path— Teacher’s Shingon-like Buddhist teachings— Conflict between spiritual training and communist regime— Brother advises family to leave Vietnam— Decides to stay at the last minute as family moves to U.S.— Teacher advises Truong to relocate to U.S.— Early attempts before escaping to Malaysia on a small boat— Capture by Singaporean coast guard and relocation camp in Malaysia— Pact with two fellow students to stay together and circumstances of separation— Encounter with repeatedly abused young woman who ultimately commits suicide— Arriving in Oakland after months in relocation camp— Resolves to become newly righteous after one night in Oakland.
Sense of guidance and protection in difficult experiences— Arrival at sister’s house in Sparta, New Jersey— Coaching in American culture by Jack Garrity— Recommitting to spiritual path— Attending Rutgers University and deciding to study Buddhism— Accepted as transfer to Dharma Realm Buddhist University in California— Flying to City of 10,000 Buddhas and meeting Master Hsuan Hua— Surprise at number of monastic students at Dharma Realm— Feeling of blending in while in New Jersey— Challenging curriculum at Dharma Realm, including English and Mandarin— Monks’ detached demeanor— Emotional and fateful meeting with Master Hsuan Hua— Master accepts Truong as student— Lingering confusion and uncertainty— Distant relationships with monastics— Moving into monastery— Becomes a monk in 1982— Master was Truong’s teacher for many lives— Contrasting clarity and confusion in direction— Learning Chinese in six months— Extreme practices and challenges in mediation— Reflections on coldness of teachings— Memorizing the Avatamsaka Sutra.
Composing vows for full ordination— Master Hsuan Hua sends Truong to head Avatamsaka Monastery in Calgary, Canada in 1986— Striving to help Vietnamese community while scheduling Master’s travel— Growing discomfort with City of 10,000 Buddhas’ culture— Becoming director of renovations at Dharma Realm Buddhist University and general manager for City— Disrobing in 1992 and hearings around false wrongdoing— Punished with seclusion and memorizing Avatamsaka Sutra— Shaming of disrobed monastics in Chinese Buddhism— Isolation and abuse from community— Decision to leave City and continued private support from Master— Exile at Snow Mountain Monastery— The Master’s final days in West Covina— Master reinstates Truong as a monk and appoints him head of Dharma Realm board of directors— Contrast between Vietnamese communities in Calgary and Orange County— Present for the Master’s death— Overseeing the Gold Wheel Monastery’s renovation and establishing Dharma protectors—Training and educating young monks in Los Angeles— Accused by City of 10,000 Buddhas leadership of mishandling education and return to seclusion— Leaving tradition to stay at sister’s property in Hawaii— Discovering basis of Integral Tai Chi in Hawaii.
City of 10,000 Buddhas’ acceptance of Truong after reinstatement— Discomfort with rigidly elitist Chinese culture— Depression and confusion after leaving community again— Independence as teacher fuels anger against Truong— Realizing desire to be a leader— Community response to 2004 Sri Lanka tsunami— Lectures at UCLA and interfaith activities with International Buddhist Meditation Center— Visits to Ground Zero after 9/11 and decision to end seclusion— Meditation vision that becomes Compassionate Service Society— Beginning to settle in Vietnamese American community in Orange County— Developing unique symbolic language to clarify Avatamsaka Sutra— Images reveal patterns within sutra— Teaching Integral Tai Chi to Vietnamese community— Registering Compassionate Service Society as a California nonprofit— Traveling the world to teach meditation— Drive to meet needs of Vietnamese population— Shifting focus to teaching and practicing through media.
Inspirations for Compassionate Service Society’s activities— Focusing on physical assistance in teaching— Guidance from Avatamsaka Sutra— Addressing Vietnamese community’s physical health— Taoist inspirations for Integral Tai Chi— Ten forms of Integral Tai Chi— Focus on Integral Tai Chi for ten years and recent meditation focus— Principles of Integral Tai Chi— Expanding reach while remaining in contact with Avatamsaka Sutra— Engaging with younger generations through society activities— Gradual introduction of new ideas to older generations— Creating temporary monastic sangha— Balance of monastic practice and well-rounded training— Building a lay community instead of a monastic one— Creating a new generation of inclusive lay practitioners through the society— Origin of World Peace Gathering— Creating mandala of Huayan and Prajna Paramita teachings— Different Buddhist traditions attend gathering— Hopes to expand non-Asian audience— Thoughts on mainstream mindfulness.