The Buddhist nun, and her beauty school

Today, right in the heart of Koreatown near where I live in downtown Los Angeles, I had the amazing pleasure of meeting Dieu Dao, a nun who was born in Vietnam, fled to the US at the fall of Saigon in 1975, and now lives in Santa Ana where she lives a double life in the service of Buddha.

Rev. Kusala at the International Buddhist Meditation Center, where I am a student, tipped me off to this story. On Sunday, a 2500 pound marble statue in the likeness of Dieu Dao’s teacher, who happens to have been the founder of the IBMC, was dedicated. Dieu Dao was the driving force behind the statue; she commissioned it, and paid for its transport from Vietnam, and orchestrated its installation, all 100 pounds of her.

She said she wanted to make sure the life of the man she revered, Venerable Dr. Thich Thien-An, was properly commemorated on the thirtieth anniversary of his death.  He is said to be one of the first to bring Buddhism to the United States; he came to teach at UCLA in 1966.

Perhaps the most amazing part of the story is how Dieu Dao paid for the statue and the shipping. She runs a beauty school, the Asian-American Beauty College in Westminster. She’s a licensed cosmetologist. Her mother used to cook for the Ven. Thich Thien-An, and she herself credits him with her decision to dedicate her life to service. But in order to afford to be able to do that, she runs her school. She said she’s cut back her hours there a bit lately in order to have more time for her spiritual work.

I wanted to stow away in Dieu Dao’s pickup truck and run off to Bodh Gaya with her, where she’s headed Thursday on pilgrimage. But instead I’ll wait till she returns so I can see her in action at the school that helps her fund her passion: helping others. She has visited Bhutan twice and lit up at the mention of the country, where she’d gone on a retreat.

Meeting Dieu Dao, whose lay name is Tuyet Nga Thi Nguyen, was an unexpected and a great early thanksgiving.


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