story list .......



"I don't think, without all that suffering, that I could be the person I am today, and do the work I have done."

Antonio Phan and his younger brother breathed in the pungent smell of the sea as they lay hidden beneath fishing nets on a boat in Vietnam in 1984, waiting for their father to spirit them out of the country.

They left behind family members and spent a month at sea, surviving on rations of rice and water. Then came two years in a refugee camp in Hong Kong.

In 1986, the trio arrived in Kansas. At 16, Antonio, whose life had been shaped by struggle and loss, could barely speak English. He had lost his mother to cancer at age 5. He had witnessed the death of soldiers and civilians. He had a bitter relationship with his stepmother, had very little education and no sense of his own culture.

But today, at 39, the man embodies peace.

Now a Buddhist monk, Antonio goes by the spiritual name "Thich Tinh Man." And visitors travel great distances to learn the art of mindfulness from him at Compassionate Dharma Cloud Monastery near U.S. 285 and Settlers Drive.

"I have listened to many, many stories(from) young and oldhe has definitely made a significant change in their lives," said Dr. Gratia Meyer, a licensed psychologist from Greenwood Village who attends weekly gatherings at the monastery.

"He is a true healernot the laying-on-of-hands kind. He gives you the responsibility, teaches you the tools to change."

Meyer's professional training includes developmental neuropsychology, and she believes that Tinh Man's techniques, which include deep breathing, walking meditation and yoga, can connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain and help diminish fearful or stressful reactions to life.

His approach, grounded in Buddhism, provides a different perspective on the human struggle.

Westerners who suffer emotional or physical pain tend to go to a doctor for the sole purpose of eradicating that pain, Meyer said, whereas the mindfulness approach teaches people how to observe the pain and learn from it.

"Rather than searching for ways to get rid of it, you learn to live with it and decrease it within your daily life," she said.

Meyer met the abbot in Lakewood in 2004 when she walked into a Vietnamese temple and he offered her free tickets to hear Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh speak at the Buell Theater. They met again at the Pepsi Center in 2006 during a presentation by the Dalai Lama.

"He came down the sidewalk and said, 'I think I have an opportunity to open a monastery,' " said Meyer, who is Jewish. "I said, 'I will do anything to help you.' "

Meyer believes the abbot "walks the talk." And he also has a system designed to teach young children to avoid violent behaviors.

"This monk is single-handedly starting day camps and overnight camps to help (children) learn how to diminish their violent thoughts and to learn how to communicate with their classmates and peers in a non-discriminatory way," Meyer said. "He started the first one this summer. He had over 200 children and adolescents and 20-somethings."

In times past, the abbot traveled to other states to promote his peaceful message, but this year "they came to him," Meyer said.

Attorney Cindy Dang enjoys the "dharma talks" by Tinh Man. She travels from the metro area to hear the Buddhist teachings in English on Tuesday nights, and she also values his "mindfulness" message.

Dang, Meyer and Dr. Bob Sparrow helped the abbot make his way through the county process to establish the monastery after he purchased the abandoned, 10-acre horse property less than two years ago. He has since refurbished the main structure and hopes to transform outbuildings into usable space for the youth camp.

"I come for the meditation, to relax my body and my mind and realize what a beautiful moment it is," Dang said.

A winding educational path

Upon their arrival in Kansas, Antonio Phan's father, who wanted the best possible education for his 16-year-old son, told teachers the boy was only 10 so he would be placed in the fourth grade. Antonio quickly advanced to the seventh grade but was uprooted again when his father, a fisherman, followed work to New Orleans. There, Antonio experienced a deep-rooted prejudice against Asians among the locals.

He finally finished high school at age 23 in Hawaii. And it was there that Antonio experienced a spiritual and cultural crisis. Buddhism was the family faith, but his exposure to the teachings as a child attending the temple with his grandmother was limited.

"There were different paths; I didn't know which one really fit me, which I could really practice," Tinh Man said.

He pondered his role in the material world and entertained the possibility of marrying and raising a family. But he had witnessed too much turmoil in his own family, and he forsook that path in favor of a life serving others.

Tinh Man attended community college, then traveled to France, where he crossed paths with Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, who invited him to a meditation center. Thich was a poet, scholar and peace activist, and Tinh Man stayed at the center and learned.

Tinh Man later completed a bachelor's degree in psychology at California State University, followed by a master's degree in Indo-Tibetan Buddhism from Naropa University in Boulder. He opened the monastery in October 2006. He is the only child in a family of nine siblings to become a monk.

"I don't think, without all that suffering, that I could be the person I am today, and do the work I have done," the abbot said.

A spiritual sojourn

On a recent Sunday, 285 traffic whizzed past the monastery as a man in a long robe played a drum and another rang a bell. As the voices of the teacher and his practitioners' rose in song, the sounds of traffic diminished.

"May we awaken from forgetfulness and realize our true home …," the group sang in Vietnamese. "(May) wisdom envelop all life forms (and) compassion spread to all mountains and rivers …"

The modest number of men and women, there for a monthly repentance ceremony, had left their shoes at the front door and settled yoga-style on the rose-colored carpet before a giant gold Buddha.

"He brings in monks and nuns from all over the world," said Meyer, who has seen spiritual leaders twice his age "sit" with Abbot Tinh Man.

But the practitioners on Aug. 30, who had traveled up the mountain from the suburbs, were ordinary Americans with a simple purpose. They were there to touch the Earth, to connect with fellow humans, to chant from the heart and relax into the present moment with a teacher who is wise beyond his years.

For more information about the monastery, visit,







































Website copyright 2008
Pamela Powers Lawson.
Articles copyright LCNI.
All rights reserved.
This material is being displayed
for portfolio purposes only.