It is my pleasure to interview Dat Phan, author of “The Changing River: A Meditative Fiction.” My review of this title can be seen here. This work of fiction depicts one man’s journey of life as he overcomes alcoholism, lives in poverty with purpose, and faces tigers to survive.
Dat Phan is a graduate of The University of Texas at Austin where he received a bachelor’s degree in science. Ordained as a Zen monk at Plum Village headed by Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh, he left the order after four years of practice. He now resides in France (Haute-Loire) with his wife and daughter, where he teaches English. He enjoys roaming in nature, and is passionate about playing music and basketball.
Feel free to visit changingriver.com and drop the author a line.
Heather: A traditional question here: Are any of the characters based upon yourself?
Dat: As any author draws from his life experiences to bring authenticity to his characters, I see myself a lot in Mr. Dubois and Rice Boy. But just as in a dream where we think that the people in it are outside of us, in reality, they are only aspects of ourselves, each character is a portrait and reflection of my own self.
Heather: This is very insightful and not something every author would readily admit. Thank you!
Heather: Have you faced your tigers?
Dat: My Chinese astrological sign is actually a tiger. I guess, if tigers represent fear, then I have seen its face and smelled its odor. The other week, I was driving on the highway in France near Lyon and a rock went straight into my windshield. It pierced a hole right through it like a bullet. Bits of glasses were everywhere on the driver and passenger seat. Some actually got into my eye. At that moment, panic arose. I became blind. But it's strange how fear can quickly transform into courage when there is a little calm and clarity. I kept the steering wheel straight and guided the car into the emergency lane. That day, I had an appointment with death, the great tiger that awaits us all. I was really close, but I guess it wasn't my time yet. Just after, I had this feeling of reverence that overwhelmed my heart. There was this deep appreciation for the most simple things. The more we touch our deepest fear, I think the more we'll appreciate our time on earth.
Heather: What a scary and intense gift you were given!
Heather: Will there be other books that follow Rice Boy and his family or Mr. Lee and his family?
Dat: I'm in the middle of writing "An Autobiography of a Hermit." It's the story of the wise man in the tree and what he did before he was on it. I really liked writing this one because it helped me look at my monastic path in another light. I kind of based the story on a dear monk that was a teacher, a big brother, and a true friend of mine. He has now passed away, but his spirit lives on with me each day.
Heather: It sounds like it will be wonderful to read.
Heather: Are you a student of meditation? Zen practices?
Dat: I have practiced both in the Tantric yoga and Zen tradition; about 10 years of formal training. But now, I just consider myself a student of life. I think any form of meditation should eventually free us from the form itself, like using a match to burn a fire, then the fire ultimately consumed the match. Some of us burn the fire but still hold on to the match.
Heather: I deeply agree.
Heather: Have you other books in the works? Others published?
Dat: I have one that I am writing with another author called "Chronicles of the Wanderer." It's a story of some persons traveling but you don't know how many or who. Most of the passages I wrote are in France and all the different towns and cities. I wanted to write and show how each one is so different, and also touch on different topics that relate to living life with all its surprises and learning to accept death. The other author explores other themes based in the US and also in a Buddhist monastery. This will hopefully be published next year by Linh Son Literature, books written for the "spiritually inclined and unconditioned mind."
Heather: I’ll be watching for it!
Heather: Have you been writing long?
Dat: I've been writing for about four years now, so I am still learning the ropes.
Heather: The ropes change course, so we are all in the same position.
Heather: What is the greatest message you wish readers to gain from The Changing River?
Dat: That meditation, freedom, and love is accessible for anyone. It isn't a sacred thing chosen for the few, but it is the foundation for being a compassionate human being capable of looking beyond the form as one day, one moment we would have to let go of everything that we know, might as well try do it now and see what happens!