Khế Iêm

SAD CONFIDENSES, essay by Khế Iêm, Vietnam



Khe Iem

Human beings are born with sufferings: birth, aging, sickness and death. That is natural for all species – except for humans with super hearts and minds, who create civilizations and violent wars, destroy civilizations which humans have created, and who massacre the innocents. But what about the ancient times?

A miraculous story about a monk name Ngo Dat1 is still being passed down by tradition. Ngo Dat monk was an intelligent man, with talents in literature. During the era of Emperor Xuanzong of Tang (810-859), Ngo Dat was summoned to the capital to preach, and he was awarded the honorable name of Venerable Shaman. One day, the monk met a bhikkhu, the venerable teacher Kana­kavatsa2, who had been incarnated to the world to redeem living beings. The bhikkhu had scabies, and was dying on the side of the road and no one dared to come by. But the monk felt sorry for the bhikkhu and thus made a food offering. Not long afterward, the bhikkhu said goodbye and told Ngo Dat, “I’m from Sichuan. If you ever get any illness in the future, please come to Jiu Long Mountain, in Peng Zhou, Sichuan Province, to find me. There you will find two very tall trees with big, round shades.”

A few years later, Ngo Dat became Chamberlain for Ceremonials of the court and was well respected by the king and mandarins. He was living a hedonistic life and he had become arrogant. Then oneday, on his knee suddenly appeared a growth like a human face, with a nose and mouth.The growth made the monk suffer much pain. Physicians from many places could not treat him. Then, sud­denly, the monk remembered the words of the bhikkhu and went to Jiu Long Mountain. When the monk met the bhikkhu, the bhikkhu said “Please don’t worry. There’s a mountain here, and be­low the mountain cliff is a spring of water. Whoever is sick needs only to use this spring water to wash, once and he or she will be healed. It’s already dark now why don’t you rest, and I will take you to the spring tomorrow morning to wash “your knee”.

Early the next day, when the monk was about to wash his knee, the growth shouted, “there’s no need to wash. I have important infor­mation to tell you. You are well read, but have you read the story of Yuan Ang killed Chao Cuo in the Western Han Classics?” The monk answered, “I have read them.” (Yuan Ang and Chao Cuo were both politicians at the court of Han Emperor Jing and were against each other. In the 2nd year of Emperor Jing, before the year 155, Yuan Ang used tactics to kill Chao Cuo in the west city.)

The growth said, “You were Yuan Ang in your past life, and I was Chao Cuo. One day because of words, you slaughtered me across my back and “killed me” at west city. That was so unjust. From that day on, I have been trying to seek revenge, but, sadly, I did not have an opportunity because, after ten lives, you’re a veteran bonze of high virtues. In this lifetime, you are much favored and have earned many grand awards by the Emperor. Hence, your greed is sprouting, causing your righteousness and high moral to fade, which allows me a chance to make you sick. Now I hope that the venerable Kanakavatsa uses the holy Sarcasm water to wash you and help heal you, thus also helping me to be greatly promoted. From now on, you and I are no longer holding grudges.”

The monk after hearing the story, his hairs stood up as he was frightened. He then scooped water to clean the growth. He felt such an excruciating pain deep into his marrow and bone that he fainted. The monk finally woke up for a very long time before he was conscious. Then the growth was gone, but there was no sign of the bhikkhu. The monk paid homage and gave thanksgiving. The monk returned to the capital and wrote the “Samadhi Water Repentance”, which contains three volumes, as a tool for followers and believers to repent their ill karma.

This story of ancient China lets us know that everyone is a sinner, if not a lot then at least a little. The Book3 stated, “An ordinary man is guilty every time moves his feet “. Body, speech and inten­tion4. In human life, sins are found within three things: ill karma is caused by sadness; because of ill karma humans must suffer pain and grievances. Thoughts and interactions cause sadness. Billions of people, hence billions of different thoughts and intentions; there are no correct thinking or intentions. And, when an inten­tion or thought arises, then both body karma and verbal karma with body karma also arises. Indulging in or desiring material or sensual pleasures produce the taints of the mind with disturbing desires. Anger or frustration produce the taints of the mind with harmful afflictions. Superiority-conceit cause the taints of the mind with haughtiness and thus arrogant afflictions. Human be­ings are forever drowning in the worldly life full of miseries due to their habits of covering up sins. If humans know to repent, then there will be no more sin.

But the Covid-19 virus lets us know, with millions of people be­ing infected and almost a million have passed away, that all are innocents. If humans are innocent and still suffering, then they are also pitiful. We are already lucky being born as humans; thushappiness or suffering are essential, as they help us to know who we are in this life. Humans all have an ego (a self), big or small depending on one’s happiness or suffering. Sufferings let us feel that we have sins. If humans have sins then humans must repent. Repenting will not create envy or jealousy. Without envy or jeal­ousy, our souls and hearts will be at peace. A peaceful heart will mind other people’s pain and sufferings, will discover selflessness, will have a forgiving heart, and will be to help everyone. Seeing no one suffering, one then will feel happy. Thus, like French writer Alexandre Dumas (1802-1870) wrote, “Only a man who has felt ultimate despair is capable of feeling ultimate bliss”. When hungry, we should enjoy eating whether the food is good or bad. These aspects are normal except when we are fasting to cure an illness or stimulate our intelligence. But, when people are starving because of circumstances such as a poor environment or crop failure, their pain and suffering are extreme. someone with help would bring tremendous happiness.

“Pain and suffering are friends, and tribulations are teachers.” Thus, should there be a need for pain and suffering? Right hemisphere involve emotions, intuitions, subconsciousness, creativity, holistic perception, present and future. Left hemisphere involve analysis, logic, knowledge, orders, events, explanations, acknowledgement, present and past. In the daily life, left-brain dominant people are more pessimistic and have great verbal communication skills, and right-brain dominant people endure more and are less competi­tive. Scientists have a balance of both dominances. But, with true artists, creativity is dominant in the right brain, and artists thus tangle with feelings than non-artists. And these feelings are the roots leading to pain and suffering. If there’s no pain and suffering, then how can one have feelings to create works of art? Everything has a price. The more the fame or popularity, the more the attacksand thus the more tolerance for suffering. There are even enemies from within and rivals outside.

All human beings are born, and all wish for happiness and to live a meaningful life. Conversely, pain and misery make life meaning­less, and human being has the tendency of motivating the needs to find meaning of life. Historians record more about the great wars, crimes and tragedies of history than about the eras of peace and wealth. Psychologists emphasize illness, failures and mishaps more than success and joy. Novels portray the details and events of life which everyone wants to read about, even if they have happy end­ings, but very few novels have happy settings. Instead, the settings of novels are about crimes or family issues, pushing humans to pain and suffering. To recover, people can find certain meanings to resolve these issues, perhaps, walking into the world of creative arts, or living a spiritual life of ecclesiastical.

Thus closes the door of Sad Confidences.

Wednesday, Sept 2nd, 2020


(1) The name Ngộ Đạt means Achieved Enlightenment

(2) Kanakavatsa

(3) “Samadhi Water Repentance” book

(4) There are three types of Karma: Body, Speech, and Mind (or Inten­tion). Or we can also think that actions of the body, speech, and mind create Karma.

Immagine & poesia, Khế Iêm, Lidia Chiarelli

“THÊM MỘT NGÀY” by Lidia Chiarelli, Khế Iêm chuyển dịch

Hy vọng lớn đã mất Bạn không nghe thấy tiếng ồn

Sự đổ nát đã tới

Emily Dickinson

Thêm một bình minh của một ngày dài mãi khác.

Sự tĩnh lặng kỳ lạ như một màng mờ đục bao bọc thành phố.

Đôi khi những hình dạng phù du ra khỏi góc tối

vượt qua và biến mất

chìm sâu trong nỗi đơn độc đổi thay.

Chỉ những con chim nhạn những bậc thầy của bầu trời lặp lại trò chơi của chúng trong gió tháng Tư.

Hôm nay một lần nữa Tôi sẽ vào

mê cung ảo

nơi mất đi sự im lặng.

Hôm nay một lần nữa

Tôi sẽ lật – lần lượt – mỗi trang trống của thời gian khác biệt này.

Fine Art Photo by Lidia Chiarelli
Immagine & poesia, Khế Iêm, Lidia Chiarelli

“CHAIRS” poem by Khế Iêm (Vietnam), image by Lidia Chiarelli (Italy)



Chairs not of the same colors,

chairs not used for sitting,

the words for chairs, not chairs; chairs

that can be touched, chairs that can


be called names, chairs that are

indeed chairs, that are not chairs;

chairs that can never be drawn,

chairs that can never speak, chairs


that can never be had,

because they are chairs that

never change their form, chairs that

can never be misplaced or


lost, chairs that are not present;

chairs, alas, that is what they

are indeed chairs, alas, not

of the same colors, chairs, alas


not used for sitting; chairs that

are not far away, chairs beyond

all things; chairs that are just

what they are chairs.

Khế Iêm





Sedie non degli stessi colori,

sedie non utilizzate per sedersi,

parole per sedie, non sedie; sedie

che possono essere toccate, sedie che possono


essere definite con nomi, sedie che sono

davvero sedie, che non sono sedie;

sedie che non possono mai essere disegnate,

sedie che non possono mai parlare, sedie


che non si potranno mai avere,

perché sono sedie che

non cambiano mai forma, sedie che

non possono mai essere fuori posto o


perse, sedie che non sono presenti;

sedie, ahimè, ecco cosa

sono in effetti le sedie, ahimè, non

degli stessi colori, sedie, ahimè


non utilizzate per sedersi; sedie che

non sono lontane, sedie oltre

tutte le cose; sedie che sono proprio

cosa sono le sedie.



Khế Iêm (Vietnam) Khế Iêm was born in 1946. Founder and editor in chief of Tạp Chí Thơ (Journal of Poetry from 1994 to 2004), Editor of online Journal for New Formalism Poetry Club, since 2004. He has published Hột Huyết (Blood Seed) play, 1972, Thanh Xuân (Youth) poetry, 1992, Dấu Quê (Traces of the Homeland), poetry, 1996, Thời của Quá khứ (A Time Past), stories, 1996, Vu Dieu Khong Van, essays, 2018.