BUDDHISM IN VIETNAM

BUDDHISM IN VIETNAM

Most Vietnamese are "at least nominally Buddhist." Even under Communism Buddhist monks have retained their influence. Vietnamese Buddhism is similar to Chinese Buddhism and has elements found Japanese Zen, Chinese Cha’n, Tibetan Buddhism and Amitabha ("Pure Land") Buddhism. Most Buddhists in Vietnam belong to the Mahayana school. The main exception is the Mekong Delta area, where many belong to the Theravada school.Theravada Buddhism is the dominate school in Thailand, Cambodia, Myanmar and Sri Lanka. Mahayana Buddhism is the dominate school in China, Japan and Korea.

Buddhism has a great influence on the thinking and behaviour of Vietnamese people. For them it is not only a religion, but also a way of life that emphasizes disconnection to the present. People believe that "to the same degree, they reap today what they have sown in the past". In other words, they believe in rebirth and that their present life is a reflection of actions in a previous life.

Buddhism was first introduced to Vietnam in the 2nd century, and reached its peak in the Ly dynasty (11th century). A that time it was regarded as the official religion and it dominated court affairs. Buddhism was preached broadly among the population and it enjoyed a profound influence on people's daily life. Its influence also left marks in various areas of traditional literature and architecture. As such, many pagodas and temples were built during this time.

Mahayana Buddhism reached established itself under Chinese rule in the 11th century. In 1010 a Buddhist emperor ruled the country. Over time the Vietnamese emperors built monasteries and relied on monks for advisors but had a Chinese administration system. Dynasties through the 13th century were adherents to Mayahana Buddhism. In the 15th century Chinese domination brought Taoism and Confucianism nback to the forefront and the activities of Buddhist were curtailed. At the end of the 14th century, Buddhism began to show signs of decline. The ideological influence of Buddhism, however, remained very strong in social and cultural life. In the 19th century Buddhism suffered again with the introduction of Catholicism by the French. Faithful monks practiced their religion in seclusion.

Few Vietnamese outside the clergy, however, are acquainted with Buddhism's elaborate cosmology. What appealed to them at the time it was introduced was Mahayana ritual and imagery. Mahayana ceremony easily conformed to indigenous Vietnamese beliefs, which combined folklore with Confucian and Taoist teachings, and Mahayana's "enlightened ones" were often venerated alongside various animist spirits. [Source: Library of Congress]

Presently, by some estimates, over 70 percent of the population of Vietnam are either Buddhist or follow Buddhist practices. Still only a few million are active in Buddhist temples in an organized way. Many of these people are in Ho Chi Minh City and Hue. There is government-sanctioned Buddhist church and Hanoi Buddhist Association.

In 1920, an organized movement for the restoration of Buddhism began throughout the country. Starting in 1931, Associations of Buddhist Studies were established in the South, the Center, and North Vietnam. Many translations of both Greater and Lesser Vehicle Buddhist Texts were distributed. Finally, after many assemblies of monks and National Delegate Congresses, the Buddhist Institute for the Propagation of the Faith, the Viean Houa Naio, was established. The most important Buddhist sect is Cadoaism. Formally inaugurated in 1926, this syncretic religion is based on spiritualist seances with a predominantly ethical content, but sometimes with political overtones. Several other sects exist, like the Tien Thien and the Tay Ninh. It is estimated that these Buddhist sects have two million adherents. Another influential sect is Hoa Hao. Founded in 1939, it has one and a half million adherents. [Source: Encyclopedia of Sexuality, 2.hu-berlin.de/sexology ]

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Early History and Introduction of Buddhism in Vietnam

Historically, most Vietnamese have identified themselves with Buddhism, which originated in what is now southern Nepal around 530 B.C. as an offshoot of Hinduism. Its founder was Gautama, a prince who bridled at the formalism of Hinduism as it was being interpreted by the priestly caste of Brahmans. Gautama spent years meditating and wandering as an ascetic until he discovered the path of enlightenment to nirvana, the world of endless serenity in which one is freed from the cycle of birth, death, and rebirth. According to Buddhist thought, human salvation lies in discovering the "four noble truths"--that man is born to suffer in successive lives, that the cause of this suffering is man's craving for earthly pleasures and possessions, that the suffering ceases upon his deliverance from this craving, and that he achieves this deliverance by following "the noble eightfold path." The foundation of the Buddhist concept of morality and right behavior, the eightfold path, consists of right views, or sincerity in leading a religious life; right intention, or honesty in judgment; right speech, or sincerity in speech; right conduct, or sincerity in work; right livelihood, or sincerity in making a living; right effort, or sincerity in aspiration; right mindfulness, or sincerity in memory; and right concentration, or sincerity in meditation. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Buddhism spread first from China to Vietnam's Red River Delta region in approximately the second century A.D., and then from India to the southern Mekong Delta area at some time between the third and the sixth centuries. The Chinese version, Mahayana Buddhism, became the faith of most Vietnamese, whereas the Indian version, Theravada (or Hinayana) Buddhism, was confined mostly to the southern delta region. The doctrinal distinction between the two consists of their differing views of Gautama Buddha: the Mahayana school teaches that Gautama was only one of many "enlightened ones" manifesting the fundamental divine power of the universe; the Theravada school teaches that Gautama was the one-and-only enlightened one and the great teacher, but that he was not divine. The Mahayana sect holds further that laypersons can attain nirvana, whereas the Theravada school believes that only ordained monks and nuns can do so. *

Buddhism came to Vietnam by the maritime route from India and from China by land. Those who first carried this religion to Vietnam seem to have been refugees from persecution in China and religious pilgrims from India. The noted Vietnamese scholar, Tran-van Giap ("Le Bouddhisme en Annam, Des Origines au XIII Siecle" Bulletin de L’Ecole Francaise d’ Extreme Orient XXXII, 1932 (1933) p. 205), insists that Buddhism could be found in Tonkin (North Vietnam) in the second century A.D. North Vietnam was the cradle of the ethnic Vietnamese culture as it was not until 1802 that the southern area, including the delta, was conquered and consolidated into the approximate area of Vietnam today.[Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Mou Po (in Chinese; Mau Bac in Vietnamese) is credited with bringing Buddhism to Vietnam. He was a native of Wu-chou, born between 165-170 A.C., who accepted Buddhism in place of his Taoism about 190 A.D. Because Confucianism was opposing Buddhism in China then, he came to Tonkin and propagated Buddhism by winning converts about 194-195 A.D. Another figure of Vietnamese Buddhist history is Kang Seng-huei (Khang-tang-Hoi) who with his father left India for trading purposes. He was converted to Buddhism in Tonkin and was later ordained as a monk. Before his death in 280 A.D. his fame as a translator of Buddhist sacred writings from Sanskrit into Chinese enabled him to win the King of Wu, Suen Kuian, to Buddhism. A third figure was Marajivaka, also known as Jivaka, who arrived at Lo-yank after coming by ship to Funan and to Tonkin by 294 A.D. (Tran-van Giap, Op. cit., pp. 212-213). Others, like Ksudra, formerly a Brahman of western India, traveled, taught and won converts in North Vietnam so that Tonkin served as an intermediary for religion, trade and diplomatic exchanges between China and India. ++

Because Tonkin was on the direct sea route between China and India, it became a center for the propagation of Buddhism and the translation of Buddhist sacred scriptures. While Buddhism in Vietnam was started by pilgrims and refugees; diplomatic envoys, merchants, and immigrants promoted and spread it. Their activities resulted in many pagodas and monasteries being evident in Tonkin according to Giap (Op. cit., p. 227). Popular Buddhism with lay-adherents did not establish itself until later (Op. cit., 235). The founding of a dhyana (meditation) school of Buddhism dates from about the close of the sixth century. Dhyana translates as chan in Chinese, zen in Japanese and thien in Vietnamese. ++

By the seventh century the Chinese governor of Tonkin, Liou Fang, was reporting that "One sees in Giao-Chau (North Vietnam) numerous eminent priests spreading Buddhism among all the people and also pilgrims flocking from all parts of Asia" (Le Thank Khoi, Le Viet-Nam, Historie et Civilization, Paris: 1955, p. 128). The Chinese dynasty of Suei encouraged Buddhism by granting financial aid, requiring stupas (memorial towers often containing sacred relics of noted persons) to be built, while the Tang dynasty continued to show favoritism to Buddhism. ++

Buddhism Gains Strength in Early Imperial Vietnam

The independence of Vietnam from China in 939 caused a slowdown or even a temporary setback for Buddhism in Vietnam. But with the rise of Dinh Tien-hoang (969-980) the policy of supporting Buddhism was officially practiced. The basic reasons that Vietnamese rulers sought the support of the Buddhist monks and aided Buddhism were (a) the pagodas were almost the sole repositories of culture in both writings and personalities; (b) the scholars of Confucianism were exiled from political life as it was felt that their Chinese education might make them of questionable loyalty. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

The Vietnamese ruler granted titles to various Buddhist clergy. The ruler also decreed the establishment of a Buddhist hierarchy that closely resembled the levels of civil government. He raised the monk Ngo Chan-Tuv to the rank of Imperial Counselor and gave him the title "Khuong-Viet Thai su" (Great Master and Supporter of the Viets) while titles were bestowed upon other monks also (Khoi op. cit., p. 142). This royal policy of support was continued by the Le dynasty. The ruler, Le Dai Hanh, used monks as political, social, economic advisors and consultants in military matters. The monks were the official representatives of the ruler and of the State on state-occasions both at home and abroad from time to time. When this occurred at Tonkin, formal visits by dignitaries to such pagodas as that of Sach-giang were included on the official agenda. The Ly dynasty (1009-1225) practiced a similar policy and formed the high-water mark of official support for Buddhism until the present time. Khoi (p. 147) states that the Ly dynasty gained their accession to the throne by the support of the Buddhist clergy. Throughout their reign the throne and clergy were closely linked together with at least 95 pagodas being erected by Emperor Ly-Thai-ton (1028-1054). He caused restoration to numerous Buddha statues in other temples. It was in accord with a dream of his, that the One Column Pagoda of Hanoi was constructed standing in a water pond like a blooming lotus. It was Ly-Thanh-ton who first called himself Emperor of Dai-Viet (Greater Viet) in 1069 with his title continuing until 1832 when Gia-Long subdued the Champa Kingdom and united Vietnam. ++

The later years of Thanh-ton's reign like the rule of Le-Nhan-Ton gave official favor to Confucianism. Mandarins who were scholars highly trained in Confucianism and Chinese classics became government officials. Before this the ranks had presented candidates from which the government would choose the officials. Now it became possible to secure government positions without clergy approval. However, in many cases, the monks continued their leading roles. They were active in both the religious and political life of the kingdom as Kho-dau was named in 1088 Master of the Kingdom (Quoc-su) and served as Imperial Counselor. ++

As Buddhism increased its number among the Vietnamese laity, it also gained the appearance of a bureaucracy. In 1169 the Emperor Le-Anh-Ton (1138-1175) established a school for the study of the three religions, Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism. The same ruler gave recognition as the official state religion to Buddhism, and granted it high privileges. The Buddhist clergy were placed under the Master of the Kingdom while retaining the hierarchy established by Dinh-Tien-hoang. They were given tax and military exemptions by passing an examination which gave an official certificate of authorization to their status. Occasionally they would receive pagodas with attached domains as princely gifts or as alms. The Master of the Kingdom would assist the Emperor in his prayers for the prosperity of the kingdom and serve as a counselor of State secrets. The Buddhist monks were much involved in Vietnamese politics during these years. ++

Royal support included money, power, and gifts of pagodas as the reigning monarchs continued the securing and copying of various Buddhist sacred writings. In 1018, Le Thai-Ton sent an official mission to China to secure and copy the texts of the Tripitaka (Tam-Tang: the three parts of Sacred Buddhist Scripture) and housed them at Dia-Hung. When the Sung Court in 1034 sent other copies of major canons as gifts, the royal court marked the arrival with a solemn reception. ++

Influences and New Ideas in Imperial-Era Buddhism in Vietnam

Buddhism began its major Vietnamese adulteration about this time as its purer doctrines were mixed with philosophies such as Taoism, etc. Some monks turned to the study of the elixir of immortality while others engaged in the study of Taoist magic. Some monks became doctors of fame and some were credited with supernatural powers. By the close of the eleventh century, Buddhism had planted its roots so deeply into Vietnamese culture that it was no longer considered as an imported religion. It had been introduced and utilized as a court-religion; now it had filtered down to the villages and hamlets. Here mixed with Confucianism and Taoism, it became an indigenous part of the popular beliefs of the common people. The mixture of spirits and deities into the pantheon of Buddhists and Bodhisattavas created little difficulty because of its apparently flexible format. The various elements appear to have provided a ritual which satisfied the formalistic and spiritual demands of the Vietnamese peasantry generally. Having become deeply ingrained in Vietnamese thought and life, its eradication would be difficult, if not impossible, short of such tactics as the communists employ. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

During the Tran Dynasty (1225-1400) two writings, Viet-Dien U-Linh Tap (Collection of the Invisible Powers of the Country of Viet) by Le Te-Xuyen in 1329 and Thien-Uyen Tap-Anh Ngu-Luc (Chronicle of the Eminent Monks of the garden of Dhyana) are important. The latter book contains the biographies of famous monks in Vietnam from the Dynasty of Tang through that of Tran. The first book seems to stress animism and Taoism while the second argued for Buddhism. As the Tran Dynasty continued, native animistic beliefs and Taoism affected the concepts of Buddhism held by the Vietnamese even among the higher echelons of its society. Magic and sorcery became the accepted practices among some Buddhist monks. As the apparent decay of Buddhism and a unifying ritualistic structure increased, the processes of adoption speeded up. ++

The Tibetan Phags-Pa had introduced Lamaism (Mantrayana) from Tibet into the Chinese court. From there it quickly moved to Vietnam and added to the ever increasing adulteration of Buddhism. The funeral processions and mourning rites of ethnic Vietnamese are a reflection of that Mantrayana (one of the major forms of Buddhism formerly found in Tibet) introduced in bygone centuries. ++

Even as the introduction of philosophies continued to almost drown Buddhism in Vietnam, some beholders accused the Songha (Buddhist order of clergy) as being anti-civic, antisocial, etc. This was due to the accumulated wealth of the pagodas, monasteries and convents. The indigenous forces of animism and the strength of Taoism so changed Buddhism that by the end of the 14th century, it gave way to Confucianism as the primary religion of the government. Confucianism remained the court religion and practice until the impact of the western world in the nineteenth century took effect. However, Buddhism is such an inherent force in the culture of Vietnam that irrespective of its actual numbers, no comprehensive valid understanding of the people can be gained without awareness of its origin, development or influence. ++

Buddhism Declines in Late Imperial Vietnam

The Chinese invasion of 1414 also brought many Confucian writings. During their short stay, the invading Chinese ordered the destruction of many pagodas and the confiscation of the Buddhist sacred writings. When the Vietnamese regained their independence fourteen years later in 1428, the Ly dynasty continued in favor of Confucianism with persecution of Buddhism according to Buddhist sources. The Emperor Le Thai-to (1428-1433) in 1429 instituted competitive examinations for all Buddhist and Taoist monks with failure requiring a return to lay life. No new temples of Buddhism could be erected without authorization and all monks were subject to surveillance. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Khoi states that most monks of this time were very poorly educated, and had little understanding of the doctrines of Buddhism now so greatly affected by Taoist, Tantric and animist elements. It is recorded that from time to time the Taoist or Buddhist monks would lead peasant uprisings against the government. "Faced with official Confucianism, guardian of the established order, doctrine of the feudatories and mandarins, these two religions Buddhism and Taoism in their most popular context served as a vehicle for social discontent" (Jean Chesneaux, Contribution a l’ Histoire de la Nation Vietnamienne, p. 33). ++

Chesneaux says that in 1442, the monk Than-Loi tried to become King by self-proclamation, even as earlier in 1391 a band of peasants under the leadership of the monk Su-On had attacked the capitol city Hanoi (Ibid., p. 33). In 1516 at Hanoi in Hai-Duong province, the monk Tran-Cao tried to pass himself off as a reincarnation of Buddha while leading a revolt against the Emperor. In doing so he required his soldiers to have shaven heads and wear black clothing. Even though such events did not basically cause any extended changes, they are indicative of the political and military involvement of Buddhist leaders. Understanding these factors aid to evaluate the current religio-political-military struggles in Vietnam. ++

During the civil war of the sixteenth century both the Nguyen rulers of the south and the Trinh dynasty of the north sought to claim the loyalty of their people by identifying themselves with Buddhism. Thus used as a political strategy, Buddhism began a limited recovery. The rigidity of Confucianism tended to reduce scholastic training to rhetorical exercises and philosophical speculation so that new schools of Buddhism coming from China were almost eagerly accepted by the courts. Such seems evident as Trinh Tac in 1662 issued a decree in Tonkin which banned all books on Taoism, Buddhism, and the "false doctrine" (Christianity). He urged all to remember and adhere to their traditional values, but new Buddhist schools were established anyway. So effective were some of these schools that the Empress Dieu-Vien (Trinh-thi Ngoc-Hanh), wife of Le Than-ton (1619-1643) and her daughter renounced palace life and became nuns after becoming converts to Buddhism. ++

The Trinh dynasty (fervent Buddhists) restored many Buddhist temples and built numerous temples. They welcomed Chinese Buddhist monks fleeing the Manchu conquest. Among these was Ta Nguyen Thieu (d. 1728) a noted builder of temples and monasteries, including the monastery at Vinh-An (later called Quoc-An, meaning Grace of the Kingdom) at Phu-xuan (Hue’) with his temples at Hue’ rivaling those of Thanh-Long in the north. ++

Buddhism in 19th and 20th Century

Even with the protection and support of the rulers, Buddhism was weak and Confucianism was not aggressive in the late 18th century and 19th century. This period may have given rise to the fusion of the three religions of Confucianism, Taoism and Buddhism, as the various scholars changed from religion to religion. The syncretism of this time formulated the religion of many contemporary Vietnamese by the absorption and modification of many beliefs and rites into a common folk-religion. The Nguyen family, while being strongly Confucianist, attempted to achieve a sense of national unity, and was hostile to the popular beliefs of Taoism and Buddhism. The monks were reduced to temple guardians and masters of ceremony. The spirit of Buddhism seemed lost by the discipline of the monastery being relaxed while Buddha was given offerings for favors granted and worshipped as a God. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

While Gia-Long, a strong adherent and advocate of Confucianism and ancestral cult, reigned, he disapproved of Buddhism and forbade any favors to its monks. His code expresses this in article 143 as it prescribed "forty blows of the cane to officials who permit their wives or daughters to go to the temple of Buddha, Dao or of genii...", while "eighty blows of the truong to those who without permission shave their heads or wear the Taoist headdress" is a part of article 75 (Chesneaux, op. cit., p. 88). ++

Buddhism increased its syncretism due to governmental pressures and multiple controls so that it came to be a religion thoroughly mixed with mysticism, tantrism, animism and polytheism. However, it played an active role in the religious nationalism of southern Vietnam during the period of 1860 to 1880. Later in 1885 it provided a structural unity for the anti-French nationalist movement and part in the 1885 insurrection. ++

In 1931 an association of Buddhist Studies was established in Saigon; a year later in Hue’ and in 1934, in Hanoi. Immediately a number of translations and publications were prepared, but the Second World War halted this Buddhist revival. In 1948 the monks of Hanoi reorganized their order of Buddhist clergy (Sangha) and their lay association as they established an orphanage, a college, a printing press, and took steps to care for the war victims. This was followed in 1930 by a new Association for Buddhist Studies being organized in Saigon. In Hue’ a year later (1951) a Buddhist Congress met and voted to merge the three regional associations, codify the rituals, develop adult religious education, organize a Buddhist youth group, and join the World Buddhist Organization. Again this was disrupted as the terms of the 1954 Treaty divided the country. The General Buddhist Association of Vietnam was formed in 1956, composed of three monk communities and three lay associations with the former being the Association of Buddhist Studies in South Vietnam, the Buddhist Association of Central Vietnam, and the Vietnamese Buddhist Association. As this was organized in Saigon, the Vietnamese United Buddhist Association was formed at the Fourth Buddhist Congress in 1958 (Hanoi) with the stated aim of uniting all branches and sects of Buddhism and more effectively continuing the plans established in the 1930's. Since this organization must have the permission of Hanoi to exist and operate, and since the communists are opposed to religion, there is some question to just how much freedom a religious organization may have there. ++

Buddhism in Communist Vietnam

Before the country was unified under communism, Buddhism enjoyed an autonomy from the state that was increasingly threatened once the communists gained power. For pragmatic reasons, however, the regime initially avoided overt hostility toward Buddhism or any other organized religion. Instead, it sought to separate real and potential collaborators from opponents by co-optation and control. For example, within months after winning the South, the communist regime set up a front called the Patriotic Buddhist Liaison Committee. The committee's purpose was to promote the idea that all patriotic Buddhists had a duty to participate in building a new society liberated for the first time from the shackles of feudal and neo-colonialist influences. The committee also tried to show that most Buddhists, leaders and followers alike, were indeed rallying behind the new regime and the liaison committee. This strategy attempted to thwart the power of the influential, independent groups of Buddhist clergy, particularly the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, which had been a major pre-1975 critic of the Saigon government and of the roughly twenty Buddhist sects in Vietnam the most vocal in opposing the war. [Source: Library of Congress *]

Communists also pressured monks and nuns to lead a secular life, encouraging them to take part in productive agricultural labor or to become actively involved in the work of the Patriotic Buddhist Liaison Committee. For their refusal to collaborate, some prominent clerical leaders in the South were placed under house arrest or imprisoned, their pagodas were converted to public use, and their holdings were confiscated. Such activity closely paralleled communist actions against Buddhists in the North in the 1950s. In addition, the party prevented Buddhist organizations from training monks and nuns in schools that previously had been autonomous. In April 1980, a national committee of Buddhist groups throughout the country was formed by the government. The government-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Church was established in November 1981, and it emerged as the only officially sanctioned organization authorized to represent all Buddhist groups both at home and abroad. *

As a result of communist policy, the observance of Buddhist ritual and practice was drastically reduced. A 1979 study of a Red River Delta commune, reported to be "overwhelmingly Catholic," disclosed that the commune's two pagodas were "maintained and frequented regularly by the faithful (the majority of whom were old women), especially on the Buddhist feast days." No monks or nuns had been observed, however, and the study went on to note that pagodas had been eliminated entirely in nearby Hanoi. In 1987 occasional reports suggested that the observance of Buddhist ritual continued in some remote areas. *

The communist government's attitude toward Buddhism and other faiths being practiced remained one of tolerance as long as the clergy and faithful adhered strictly to official guidelines. These guidelines inhibited the growth of religious institutions, however, by restricting the number of institutions approved to train clergy and by preempting the time of potential candidates among the youth whose daily routine might require study, work, and participation in the activities of communist youth organizations. In an apparent effort to train a new generation of monks and nuns, the Vietnam Buddhist Church reportedly set up one Buddhist academy in Hanoi in November 1981 and another in Ho Chi Minh City in December 1984 . These academies, however, served as an arm of the state. *

Buddhist Groups in Vietnam

While there are at least sixteen members of the United Buddhist Association only five are significant enough to be included here. They are: 1) Ethnic Cambodian Theravadists: primarily found in the ten delta provinces with 400,000 to 500,000 people. Their Buddhist customs are very similar to those of Cambodia and Thailand. With the histories of Wats (temples and temple grounds) totaling less than 75 years, it is believed that these Theravadists have been in Vietnam less than a hundred years. This group may have up to 20,000 monks, but no nuns although some women seem to aspire to this office. Being generally nonpolitical, it has been largely ignored by the Vietnamese government until now. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

2) Ethnic Vietnamese Theravada: A very small group with perhaps 30 monks with discipline and learning processes not to well organized yet. Its adherents, while few in number, are found in a half-dozen or more provinces as well as in Saigon and Danang. 3) Ethnic Chinese Mahayana: This group has nine temples in the Saigon/Cholon area with some five associations based in the provinces where in the larger cities the Chinese are found as rice-merchants. Like the Chinese in general throughout much of the Asian scene, they do not take a noticeably active part in political activity, but are Members of the Chinese Buddhist Association and the World Fellowship of Buddhists. ++

4) Vietnamese Mahayana: This is the major group of Buddhists found in Vietnam. They are almost everywhere except in the tribal areas where few wish to linger. It has some 12,000 monks and about 4,000 pagodas or wats. Its leaders are the vocal spokesmen of Buddhism in Vietnam today with some apparently being more radical than others. As a religious faith, its doctrines are much the same as that of the Japanese Mahayana Buddhism, but its practice is modified by the same cultural patterns and influences which affect other Vietnamese. ++

5) Hoa Hao (Pronounced "Wah How"): This reform Buddhist group has doctrines which stress simplicity of basic Buddhist precepts, and was founded by Huynh Phu So in 1939. As "puritan" Buddhism, physical symbols, hierarchy and ritual are not stressed so that elaborate pagodas, expensive monk clergy and large offerings are not needed. The Hoa Hao are accepted as Buddhists by other Buddhist sects even though the Cao Dai are not so accredited. Since both the Hoa Hao and the Cao Dai differ so radically from the various Buddhist organizations, studies on each of these two have been included as separate sections. ++

Temples and Pagodas in Vietnam

Giac Vien Pagoda has typical feature of a southern Vietnamese pagoda. The main shrine, also a big hall, is 360 square meters in area, and used to worship Buddha. To its east and west, there are corridors, a room for the monks to prepare clothing before assisting the Superior Monk, and a large and spacious compartment at the rear. Along the corridors, there are small altars with worshipping items. In particular, there are rows of wooden pillars engraved with parallel sentences. The letters are carved delicately and painted with red lacquer and trimmed with gold. Around them there are decorative designs of leaves and climbing plants. All 153 statues in the pagoda are made of jack wood. The faces and postures of the statues look honest and they are placed low, creating a close feeling between them and the viewers.

On the weekends. Buddhist associations made up mostly of women travel by bus to visit different pagodas and temples. The members are quite serious about their trips and listen carefully when the guides provide explanations. The temples themselves fill with families, young couples and groups of civil servants and factory workers. Outside some Chinese temples there are hawkers with caged sparrows. For a dollar or so they will set the birds free. The person who pays the dollar earns merit in his or her next life.

Religious architecture includes pagodas, towers, temples and tombs. Pagodas are "the base of operation and propagation of Buddhism. Types of pagodas include the: 1) the Dinh type with the outer space of five apartments or 7 apartments; 2) the Cong character; also called inner Cong, outer Nation includes a general monument with many separate monuments with the walls surrounding or lobby. [Source: vietnamarchitecture.org For more detailed information check out this site **]

Temples are the honoring places of Taoism. The places are often chosen to be related to the legend of supernatural God or people. The outer architecture is basically similar to the pagoda but the inner honoring content and decoration is different.

Van Mieu, Tu Mieu, Van chi are the monuments of Confucianism of Confucius Period. The complex of Van Mieu – Quoc Tu Giam is built on the axis of North South. In front of VanMieu, there is a lake called Van Chuong Lake. In the main gate, there are four pillars with stele in two sides. Van Mieu gate was built in three steps style with three big Chinese words Van Mieu Mon (Gate of Van Mieu)

Tomb architecture embraces old mausoleum and tombs. Some ethnic groups have charnel house. There are two types of tombs: Tombs of normal people and Tombs of people who follow Buddhism. The materials used for these are burnt bricks with the dimensions of 40x30 centimeters. The other two types are pumelo section brick and s-shaped bricks for decoration.

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Buddhist Temple Customs

People are supposed to take off their shoes before entering a temple. They are also expected to be neatly dressed. Hats should be removed. Short sleeve shirts and short pants and skirts are generally regarded as inappropriate attire but are often grudgingly tolerated from foreigners. Some cultures require visitors to take their shoes when entering the temple grounds. Others only require that they be removed when entering a shrine or pagoda. Some people wash their feet before entering a temple.

Always walk clockwise around Buddhist monuments, thus keeping the religious landmarks to your right (this more important in Tibet and Himalaya areas than it is in Southeast Asia) Don’t take photos during prayers and meditation. As a rule don’t photos without permission and don’t use a flash. Buddha images are sacred object and one should not pose in front of them or point their feet at them. When sitting down many Vietnamese employ the “mermaid pose” to keep both feet pointed towards the rear.

Praying is done by prostrating oneself or bowing with hands clasped to their foreheads from a standing or seated position in front of an image of Buddha. Prayers are often made after tossing a coin into an offering box and leaving an offering of flowers or fruits or something else. Many people visit different altars, leaving some burning incense and praying at each one. Other bow at the altar and sprinkle water, a symbol of life. Other still, kowtow before shrines, bend down and stretch three times.

When talking to a monk try if you can to have your head lower than his. This can be achieved by bowing slightly or sitting down. If a monk is sitting down you to should also be sitting down. Women should not touch a monk or give objects directly to him (instead place the object on a table or some other surface near the monk). In big temples money can be left in a donation boxes near the entrance. If there is no donation box. You can leave the money on the floor.

Monks, Politics and Self-Immolation in Vietnam

Buddhist monks are found in many communities. They do not enjoy the kind of automatic respect they receive in other Southeast Asian countries but sometimes they achieve high, respected status. Poor parents have traditionally wanted their children to become monks and nuns because they receive free education and they get enough food. Many Buddhist monks in Vietnam are also experts in the martial arts. Buddhist nuns have shaved heads and wear saffron robes. Their hair is buried under a tree. See Southeast Asia

Buddhist monks were involved in the nationalist movement during the colonial period and the struggle for nationhood. Monks have traditionally been leaders in anti-government political activity in Vietnam. Thich Huyen Quang, a dissident and Buddhist leader, told Time magazine, "When we are struggling for a right cause, we are not reluctant to make a sacrifice, If we lose freedoms of religion and expressions, we are like beasts. That is why we are ready to burn ourselves.

Self immolation like that performed in Vietnam is an ancient custom intended to indicate faithfulness to the peaceful Buddhist tradition. In the early 2000s, Nguyen Thi Thu, an important figure in the Hoa Hao Buddhist cult, died after setting herself on fire to protest curbs on religion in Vietnam. Tragically she was protesting the imprisonment of a monk who was released hours before her death but the news of the release hadn’t made it to her.

Burning Buddhist Monks in Saigon

As part of a widespread Buddhist revolt, a monk named Thich Quang Duc was taken in an old Austin motorcar from Hue to Saigon, where he doused himself with gasoline and set himself on fire at a major intersection in 1963. A photograph of the self immolation taken by Malcolm Browne of AP appeared on the front pages of newspapers around the world.

Quang Duc was a members of the Unified Buddhist Church, which had a history of political activity and now is currently outlawed by the Communists. Many monks, and even some nuns, burned themselves. After the AP photograph was published public confidence in the Diem government plummeted and attacks from the North Vietnam increased. Later protests by Buddhist drove South Vietnam close to civil war after an powerful warlord allied himself with the Buddhists.

Ula Ilnytzky of Associated Press wrote: "The phone calls went out from Saigon's Xa-Loi Buddhist pagoda to chosen members of the foreign news corps. The message: Be at a certain location tomorrow for a "very important" happening. The next morning, June 11, 1963, an elderly monk named Thich Quang Duc, clad in a brown robe and sandals, assumed the lotus position on a cushion in a blocked-off street intersection. Aides drenched him with aviation fuel, and the monk calmly lit a match and set himself ablaze. Of the foreign journalists who had been alerted to the shocking political protest against South Vietnam's U.S.-supported government, only one, Malcolm Browne of the Associated Press, showed up. [Source: Ula Ilnytzky, Associated Press, August 28, 2012 /+\]

The photos he took appeared on front pages around the globe and sent shudders all the way to the White House, prompting President John F. Kennedy to order a re-evaluation of his administration's Vietnam policy. "We have to do something about that regime," Kennedy told Henry Cabot Lodge, who was about to become U.S. ambassador to Saigon. Browne recalled in a 1998 interview that that was the beginning of the rebellion, which led to U.S.-backed South Vietnamese President Ngo Dinh Diem being overthrown and murdered, along with his brother, Ngo Dinh Nhu, the national security chief. "Almost immediately, huge demonstrations began to develop that were no longer limited to just the Buddhist clergy, but began to attract huge numbers of ordinary Saigon residents," Browne. Hal Buell, who was a deputy photo editor in New York City when the photo of the burning monk was taken, said, "That picture put the Vietnam War on the front page more than anything else that happened before that. That's where the story stayed for the next 10 years or more." /+\

Buddhist Mummies and the Monk Who Died in Lotus Position in 1723

In 2004, AFP reported: "The corpse of a Buddhist monk sitting in a lotus position has been uncovered in a pagoda in northern Vietnam over 280 years after he died, a museum official said. The body of the monk, Nhu Tri, who died in 1723 in a tower at the Tieu Pagoda in Bac Ninh province, was covered in a layer of special preservative paint. His internal organs remained intact but one eye socket was damaged and his arms were broken off at the elbow, according to Nguyen Duy Nhat, deputy director of the Bac Ninh Museum. The corpse was first discovered around 30 years ago during the Vietnam War but local authorities were not in a position to preserve it. "In early 2002 a delegation of high ranking monks from the Truc Lam and Yen Tu Monasteries visited the pagoda and read the inscription on the tower. They asked for it be opened up and preserved," Nhat said. On March 5 this year, the Ministry of Culture and Information's heritage department granted a licence to the Buddhist Church to restore the corpse, and a week later it was moved to Bac Ninh's Due Khanh Pagoda for the work to begin. [Source: Agence France Presse, March 16, 2004]

In November 2003, Reuters reported: "Vietnamese scientists on Saturday said they had completed the restoration of two mummies from the 17th century which depict Buddhist monks in a position of meditation. The figures at Dau pagoda in Gia Phuc village, 25 kilometers south of Hanoi, are embalmed Zen Buddhists Vu Khac Minh and Vu Khac Truong. The pair died aged around 50 and 40, respectively, in the 17th century. [Source: Reuters, November 29, 2003 *=*]

"Using a sticky plant extract, sawdust, soil from termite hills and muslin netting, a team that includes two sculptors spent more than six months to restore the bodies. They also placed the mummies into glass boxes filled with nitrogen to avoid damage by oxygen. "The statues now can last for hundreds of years," said Nguyen Lan Cuong, associate professor of ethnology and head of the restoration project. He was speaking on the sidelines of a ceremony to return the mummies to Dau pagoda. About 400 villagers turned up to show their respect. "We old people are very happy to watch this," said 82-year-old Tran Thi Quyet, a Buddhist who has been praying at the Dau pagoda for nearly three decades. Cuong said the two bodies had been damaged by Vietnam's tropical climate. Truong's body had been restored previously after flood damage in 1893. Buddhism is Vietnam's most popular religion, with more than 10 million believers among the 80 million population." *=*

MCN International reported: "Dau Pagoda is the oldest of its kind in the country. Built in the third century, it is a renowned Buddhist center, made even more famous after the mummified remains of two monks were discovered. They are the corpses of Vu Jhac Minh and his nephew Vu Khac Truong. To this day archaeologists have been unable to explain why their bodies, including their internal organs and brains, remain intact for 300 years. [Source: MCN International Pte Ltd, August 28, 2003 ////]

"Worshippers say the monks achieved this by secluding themselves to meditate for 100 days."The superior had reached the height of his journey. In Buddhist thought, only these monks can remain intact after death. No one on earth can imitate them," said Thich Thanh Tu, deputy chairman, Vietnam Buddhist Sangha Executive Council. The remains of the monks continue to be worshipped in the pagoda, but floods, damp weather and rats have caused considerable damage. ////

"Professor Nguyen Lan Cuong, who discovered the remains 20 years ago, is confident he will be able to restore them. "Our preservation work includes two stages, each lasting for more than half a year," Prof Nguyen, head of the preservation team. "First, we'll work on Superior Minh's remains with a new and special kind of lacquer coating. In the second stage, the broken arm and cracks of the more damaged corpse of Superior Truong will be glued and re-sealed." Once the preservation work has been completed, the mummies will be placed into specially sealed glass boxes to ensure proper air quality and humidity levels. ////

Buddhism, Suicide and Vietnamese Self-Sacrifice Customs

Vietnam is a land of tradition and ancient customs. From time to time the American is "shocked" to see, read or hear of Buddhists who set themselves afire as part of a technique to achieve certain goals in which they believe. The difference of religiously influenced cultures may create an obstacle to ready understanding of this custom. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

According to ancient Vietnamese custom, anyone who feels themselves to be mistreated, or has a claim which demands satisfaction but does not receive attention, may secure redress by going on a "hunger strike", by lying down and refusing to move until the "guilty party" gives in. This may continue until death occurs if necessary. The origin of this custom seems to have arisen from the Vietnamese horror of scandal in a society which has a basic tenet of getting along with one's fellowman. Such a sense gives vivid evidence that the accused must not be a good person, or such a scene would not be necessary. By such actions as lying down, refusing to move or eat, etc., the victim attracts attention of neighbors and even the authorities to his claims, and these increase pressure on the "guilty" and promote chances of success in "obtaining justice". It is a personal martyrdom as a protest against bad judgment! ++

Suicide is not uncommon, but in such cases either someone is told the reasons of this drastic action or else a note is left in which the grievances are set forth as the cause of the action. Ancient Vietnamese law incriminates those who cause such suicide and classify it "murder by oppression". The procedure for creating such scandal is an outgrowth of the Confucian teachings of the ideal relationships that are to exist between child and parent, wife and husband, ruled and ruler, individual and society. When the Buddhist concept of the endless "Wheel of Existence" is added, the climate is established wherein suicide for cause is given a radically different slant than most Americans accept. ++

Awareness that hunger strikes and "suicide for cause" have a long tradition in Vietnam should provide a better understanding of such actions when these occur. Should one be present when self-destruction is about to occur, intervention to save life is acceptable if timed to "save face" as it provides adequate opportunity to express one's grievance without the necessity of painful death. Since such possibly violent actions are viewed in a different context by the Vietnamese population as a whole than is normal for Americans, it is imperative that acceptable solutions which do not violate principles be sought when possible. Having considered all possible solutions to a situation and having accepted one as being the only valid recourse of action, it may be just as necessary to act or refrain from acting as it is for the sincere Buddhist to set himself afire to express protest. ++

Burning Monks and Vietnamese Self-Sacrifice Customs

Since it is normally the Mahayana Buddhists of Vietnam who engage in this fiery death voluntarily, the statement of a leading Vietnamese Buddhist monk may be of help in understanding just how such deaths are viewed by the Buddhists, and to what extent these may be either encouraged or discouraged by religious doctrines found in Vietnam. "Reverend" Tich Tam Giac is a graduate of the Vietnam Institute of Buddhist Studies, Saigon, South Vietnam and his statement "The Meaning of Self-Burning in the Doctrine of Buddhism", was in December 1963 "World Fellowship of Buddhist Bulletin", p. 3. [Source: The Religions of South Vietnam in Faith and Fact, US Navy, Bureau of Naval Personnel, Chaplains Division ,1967 ++]

Since he is a Mahayana Buddhist monk speaking about a Mahayana Buddhist custom in Vietnam, his words are quoted: "To burn oneself by fire is to prove that what one is saying is of the utmost importance. There is nothing more painful than burning oneself. To say something while experiencing this kind of pain is to say it with the utmost of courage, frankness, determination and sincerity. During the ceremony of ordination, as practiced in the Mahayana tradition, the monk-candidate is required to burn one or several small spots on his body in taking the vow to observe the 250 rules of a Ghiksu (Monk), to live the life of a monk, to get enlightenment, and to devote his life for the salvation of all beings. One can, of course, say these things while sitting in a comfortable arm chair, but when these words are uttered when kneeling before a community of Sangha (Buddhist clergymen) and experiencing this kind of pain, they will express all seriousness of one's heart and mind, and carry much greater weight. In the Sadharma Pundarika, one of the most famous suttras (Chapters of Scripture) of Mahayana Buddhism, we see a Bohhisattawa burning one of his arms to express the determination to work for the salvation of all beings. ++

"The Vietnamese monk, by burning himself, says with all his strength and determination that he can endure the greatest of suffering to protect Buddhism, that he is protesting with all his being the policy of religious oppression and persecution. But why does he burn himself to death? The difference between burning oneself and burning oneself to death is only a difference in degree, not nature. A man who burns himself too much must die. The importance is not to take one's life, but to burn. What he really aims at is the expression of his will and determination, not death. In the Buddhist belief, life is not confined to a period of 60 to 80 or 100 years. Life is eternal. Life is not confined to this body--life is universal. To express will and protest by burning oneself, therefore, is not to commit an act of destruction but to perform an act of construction (or consecration), i.e., to suffer and to die for the sake of one's religion and one's people. This is not suicide. Suicide is an act of destruction having the following causes: 1) lack of courage to live and cope with difficulties; 2) despair of life and loss of hope; and 3) desire of non-existence (Abhava). ++

"This self-destruction is considered by Buddhism as one of the most serious crimes. The monk who burns himself has lost neither courage nor hope, nor does he desire nonexistence. On the contrary, he is very courageous, hopeful and aspiring for something good in the future. He does not think he is destroying himself; he believes in the good fruition of his act of self-sacrifice for the sake of others. Like the Buddha in one of his former lives--as told in a story of Jataka--who gave himself to a hungry lion which was about to devour her own cubs, the monk believes he is practicing the doctrine of the highest compassion by sacrificing himself in order to call the attention of, or to seek help from, the people of the world. " ++

Thich Huyen Quang: Buddhist Leader and Dissident in Vietnam

Simon Blomfield wrote in The Guardian, "In 1981 Vietnam's ruling Communist party, the VCP, presented a choice to the country's Buddhist monks. They could affiliate to a state-controlled "patriotic" Buddhist church, or remain independent and face the consequences. Many accepted, but not Thich Huyen Quang, a leader of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV). He suffered harassment, imprisonment and internal exile, but he also found international recognition as a moral leader of the Vietnamese opposition. [Source: Simon Blomfield, The Guardian, September 3, 2008 |-|]

"Born Le Dinh Nhan in 1920 in central Vietnam, he entered a monastery aged 12 and received the name Huyen Quang at his ordination - "Thich" is a title used by Vietnamese monks. He was a brilliant student, but from the start his Buddhist practice included a commitment to society. He supported resistance to French colonial rule, but when communists gained control in the north he opposed their attempts to control religion and was imprisoned between 1951 and 1954. Quang was in South Vietnam in 1963 when Buddhists were caught between the attacking communists and the south's Roman Catholic Ngo Dinh Diem regime. Seeing the need for Buddhists to work together, he helped to found the UBCV, which combined 11 sects and claimed the support of most Vietnamese people. Quang threw himself into the new church's opposition to Diem, helped to develop its network of hospitals and schools and represented it at the Paris peace talks. |-|

After the 1975 communist victory in the Vietnam war, the VCP tried to destroy Vietnamese Buddhism altogether. UBCV property was confiscated and leaders including Quang were arrested - he spent 18 months in solitary confinement. International protests followed and, in 1978, he and his colleague, Thich Quang Do, were nominated for the Nobel peace prize. The years of opposition to Diem had toughened the South Vietnam Buddhists and the UBCV's social work had won them support, so Buddhism did not crumble there as it had in the north. When Quang and other UBCV leaders refused to join the patriotic church he was sent, in 1982, to a remote temple. Later he was isolated entirely in a small house on a deserted patch of farmland accessible only by ox cart. In 1992 the UBCV leader died and Huyen Quang became the church's fourth patriarch. The regime launched a new crackdown on UBCV activities and anyone found possessing one of Huyen's speeches was arrested. More than 40,000 Buddhists marched through the central Vietnamese city of Hue in protest. |-|

Quang had become Vietnam's leading religious dissident, and he produced a series of articles calling for religious freedom and the end of communist supremacy. Western human rights groups took up his cause and, eventually, the Vietnamese government sought an accommodation. In 2003 he was summoned to meet Vietnam's prime minister, who apologised for the VCP's "mistakes" in its treatment of Buddhism. During this brief thaw Quang was greeted by rapturous crowds in Hue, and a new UBCV leadership was formed. But renewed suppression followed. As his health failed he was allowed to move to the monastery in Binh Dinh, where he eventually died. Quang died in 2008 at the age of 87. His final message to Buddhists two months before his death expressed the creed by which he had lived: "Buddhism does not turn its back on society." Earlier he had said of himself: "I have lived without a home, will die without a grave, I walk without a path and am imprisoned without a crime." |-|

Fighting Monks of Vietnam

Thich Quang Do, a Vietnamese Buddhist monk fighting for religious freedom and democracy in Vietnam, has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. ‘He has been a systematic opponent to the regime,’ one human rights activist said.

Kay Johnson wrote in Time Magazine, "As a world-renowned Buddhist scholar, Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh has become almost synonymous with the words reconciliation and healing. Exiled by both North and South in the 1960s, he focused his concepts of mindfulness and "engaged Buddhism" into retreats for American veterans struggling to build inner peace from the ravages of the Vietnam War. He's published more than 80 books, built monasteries in France and the U.S. and was nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King Jr., who said his anti-war stance was inspired by the Zen master's teachings. [Source: By Kay Johnson, Time Magazine, March 2, 2007 <*>]

"Now, at age 80, Nhat Hanh has turned his attention to healing the wounds of war in his communist-run native land. But his mission faces opposition from a surprising front — fellow Vietnamese Buddhists. Last week, Nhat Hanh arrived in the former Saigon for a 10-week tour, his second in two years. His plans include a series of three-day Buddhist mass-chanting ceremonies, the first starting March 16, to pray for the dead on all sides of the Vietnam War, unprecedented "Grand Requiem" ceremonies that Nhat Hanh's followers hail as a leap forward in Communist-Buddhist relations. <*>

"But the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam sees Nhat Hanh's pilgrimage as betrayal, not breakthrough. The UBCV's two top officials, Thich Huyen Quang, and Thich Quang Do ("Thich" is an honorific held by most Vietnamese monks) have been under house arrest in their respective monasteries due to their pro-democracy stance and opposition to strict government control of religion, which was established after the communists won the war in 1975. A spokesman for the outlawed sect said he is "shocked" that Nhat Hanh is willing to work with his co-religionists' oppressors. "I believe Thich Nhat Hanh's trip is manipulated by the Hanoi government to hide its repression of the Unified Buddhist Church and create a false impression of religious freedom in Vietnam," said Vo Van Ai, a Paris-based spokesman for the UBCV. About the Requiem plans, Ai said pointedly, "I think it is time to think about the living, not only the dead." <*>

"The controversy pits Vietnam's best-known Buddhists against each other. The Unified Buddhists' patriarch, 87-year-old Thich Huyen Quang, who lives in a monastery in central Vietnam, has been ailing recently, but his deputy, Thich Quang Do, 77, has been a high-profile dissident operating out a monastery in Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) and proponent of Buddhism free of state control. (An estimated 80 percent of Vietnam's 84 million people are Buddhist, but after the Vietnam war the Communist Party folded the religion's many sects into one state-controlled church.) Quang Do smuggled his messages to his supporters in Paris who then channel the word back to Vietnam. He has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize several times. <*>

"Despite the sequestration of the dissident Buddhists, Hanoi's communist leaders have been working hard to dispel the country's reputation for persecuting religion. After the U.S. in 2004 placed Vietnam on its list of "Countries of Particular Concern" for blocking religious freedom (North Korea, Iran, Saudi Arabia and China are all on the list), Hanoi passed a new law outlining ways for non-state religions to gain official approval. The next year, it allowed Nhat Hanh to return to Vietnam for the first time in 40 years. Late last year, Washington removed Vietnam from the religious-freedom blacklist. <*>

"The Unified Buddhists say the Communist Party's strategy is to promote Nhat Hanh's non-political teachings in order to sideline the religion's legitimate leaders, those who stayed during the war. But Nhat Hanh's followers say that he only wants to promote Buddhism among ordinary Vietnamese and point out that both of the banned sect's leaders refused to meet with Nhat Hanh during his first visit in 2005. Quang Do rejected overtures for a meeting and when Nhat Hanh led a delegation to the monastery where Huyen Quang is confined, the UBCV patriarch locked himself in his room and refused to come out. "We understand for sure that they are in a difficult position," Nhat Hanh's spokesman Phap An said of the UBCV leaders. "We just sat there outside and sang the songs to [Huyen Quang] to express our love." <*>

"Thich Nhat Hanh's followers say he has also has had to contend with communist obstruction. Originally, the Grand Requiem ceremonies were to be billed in Vietnamese as the "Grand Requiem for Praying Equally for All to Untie the Knots of Unjust Suffering." But Vietnamese officials objected, saying it was improper to "equally" pray for soldiers in the U.S.-backed South Vietnam army, not to mention American soldiers. "The spirit of the Vietnamese people doesn't agree with the idea of praying for foreign imperialists coming to kill millions of Vietnamese," says Bui Huu Duoc, director of the government's Religious Affairs Committee for Buddhism. So Nhat Hanh agreed to change the name to simply "Grand Requiem For Praying," though his supporters say the spirit of the ceremony remains the same. In fact, Vietnam's clash of Buddhist leaders reflects the country's new religious reality in which ordinary worshipers are enjoying unprecedented freedom. Still, even a hint of political activism is snuffed out. "As long as you play by the rules and are loyal to the regime, they'll leave you alone," says Carl Thayer, a professor and Vietnam expert at Australia's Defence Academy. And if religious leaders focus on fighting each other, the regime must be even more pleased. <*>

Repression of Monks in Vietnam

The Unified Buddhist Church, once the most influential religious organization in southern Vietnam, and other independent groups have been banned by the Communist government since the early 1980s. The Unified Buddhist Church was involved in protests against the South Vietnamese government, in which burning monks participated, in the 1960s.

Tensions between Buddhist monks and the government escalated in 1993 after a monk entered Linh Mu pagoda in Hue and set himself on fire and burned himself to death. When police tried to arrest the pagoda's head monk, there was a large anti-Government demonstration. The monk and three other monks were charged with inciting a demonstration and given prison sentence of three to four years. A government official told the New York Times, "When any religious group challenges the Government, the Government naturally reacts. What would you expect? For some party members, Communism is a kind of religion. When they are challenged by leaders of another religion they feel threatened."

Monks in Vietnam have been arbitrarily arrested and detained. Some are watched carefully by the government; their activities closely monitored. Some have even been strip searched. Buddhist leaders and other dissidents have been given lengthy prison sentences.

Shawn W Crispin wrote in the Asia Times, “At least one other prominent Buddhist leader is currently under so-called "pagoda arrest"; many others, including some monks and friars recently released from prison, live under strict administrative controls and travel restrictions. [Source: Shawn W Crispin, Asia Times, July 6, 2006]

One Pillar Pagoda (near the Ho Chi Minh Mausoleum in Hanoi)is a small but elaborate temple sits on a 1.2-meter-wide stone pillar in the middle of a lotus pond. In the early 2000s, the pagoda was at the center of a controversy pitting two elderly monks against the government. For a long time the pagoda had been overseen by two elderly monks. The government wanted to replace the monks with state-appointed monks. The resident monks refused to go, claiming the government wants the temple for the money and donations it brings in, and people who prayed at the temple rallied to their support. In the 1980s the government tried to seize the pagoda and turn it into a shrine for Ho Chi Minh. Objections from the public kept that from happening.

Imprisoned Monks in Vietnam

Thich Huyen Quang, the patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church, was indicted in 1998 at the age of 77 for "sabotaging religious solidarity." He had been under house arrest since 1982. At least six other Buddhist monks were arrested in the same charge. He was released in 2002. In 2003, he met with the U.S. ambassador. (See Thich Huyen Quang Above)

Quang Do, a Buddhist monk, was sent to prison for 22 months in 1981 after complaining that the government was using a pagoda to store grain and keep water buffalo. In 1994, he was sentenced to 20 years in prison for organizing a food drive for flood victims which was labeled as an anti-government activity.

In March 2004, a monk with the Unified Buddhist Church was given a 20 month prison after he had been granted refugee status by the United Nations but was forcibly brought back from Cambodia.

Vietnam Says Booting Buddhist Monks Not Repression

In August 2009, Associated Press reported: "Monks following a world-famous Buddhist teacher are being evicted from a Vietnamese monastery for failing to clear their activities with the government, an official said Tuesday, but he denied the dispute was about religious freedom. Followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, who has sold more than 1 million books in the West, say the government is punishing them because their France-based leader suggested that his native Vietnam's communist government should abolish its control of religion. However, Bui Huu Duoc of the government's Committee on Religious Affairs, blamed the dispute on a failure to abide by local regulations and said it is normal for governments to oversee the operations of religious groups operating within their borders. [Source: Ben Stocking, AP, August 4 2009 <<>>]

"Managing religious groups doesn't mean controlling them," Duoc, who oversees Buddhist affairs for the committee, said in an interview with The Associated Press. "We're here to facilitate their efforts to do good things for the country." However, Duoc did allow that officials were "very surprised" at postings on the main Web site for Hanh's main monastery in southern France calling for the government to disband religious police. Hanh's followers have been asked to leave the Bat Nha monastery in the Central Highlands by early September. <<>>

"Tensions at Bat Nha boiled over in late June, when a mob descended on the site with sledgehammers, damaged buildings and threatened the Plum Village monks and nuns. Authorities also cut off electricity at the site. The dispute represents a remarkable turnaround from four years ago, when France-based Hanh returned to his native land after 39 years of exile. He had been forced out of what was then U.S.-backed South Vietnam in 1966 for criticizing the Vietnam War. His return in 2005 made the front pages of state-owned newspapers. <<>>

"Hanh's brand of Buddhism is very popular in the West. Followers from around the world travel to his Plum Village monastery in southern France to study with him. He is perhaps the best known Buddhist after the Dalai Lama. When Hanh's followers first came in 2005, Duoc said, Vietnamese authorities approved their activities. But since July 2008, he said, they have offered 11 courses at the Bat Nha monastery without permission. <<>>

"Hanh's followers say they have kept the official Vietnam Buddhist Church fully informed. They were invited to practice at Bat Nha by Abbot Duc Nghi during Hanh's 2005 visit and say they have since spent nearly $1 million expanding the property and adding new buildings. Nghi could not be reached for comment, but Duoc says the abbot now wants the nearly 400 Hanh followers at the monastery to leave. Hanh's followers believe Nghi is simply responding to pressure from above. <<>>

"Duoc also said that Vietnamese officials were "very surprised" by postings that appeared on the Plum Village Web site in February 2008. These included suggestions that Hanh made to President Nguyen Minh Triet during a 2007 visit to Hanoi, he said. Among them was a proposal to abolish the Committee on Religious Affairs, disband Vietnam's religious police, and make modifications to the formal names of both the communist party and the state, known as the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. "When we first saw that information posted on the Plum Village Web site, we thought it must have been a mistake," Duoc said. <<>>

Vietnam Police to Punish "Billionaire Monk"

In 2005, Reuters reported: "Vietnamese police are to prosecute a self-proclaimed monk and medicine man who claimed he had $2.5 billion in cash, gold and diamonds stolen from his house, state media reported on Thursday.The 46-year-old showed reporters $400,000 in cash as proof of his claims that thieves had broken into his Hanoi home and made off with the loot, which would amount to more than 5 percent of the communist southeast Asian nation's economy. [Source: Reuters, October 20, 2005 ||||]

"According to the Lao Dong daily, Vietnamese police were not taken in and, on probing his past to unearth the source on his extraordinary wealth, discovered he had been illegally operating as a doctor. They found that some patients had sued the man, who never finished high school, for mistreatment and overcharging -- in some cases as much $50,000.The paper said the man gained the trust of patients by claiming to have cured world figures including U.S. First Lady Laura Bush during a recent trip to the White House. However, the man had no passport and had never left Vietnam, police said, adding that they had also found no evidence of the missing $2.5 billion. ||||

Vietnam Orders Fake Temples Be Shut Down

In December 2001, Associated Press reported: "Vietnamese authorities have ordered the owners of 42 fake temples at a famous pilgrimage site to demolish their shrines or turn them over to authorities. The move comes in response to public outcry that the false temples were a blight on the famed Perfume Pagoda, officials in the northern province of Ha Tay said Friday. A cluster of Buddhist temples built into limestone cliffs, the Perfume Pagoda, or Chua Huong, attracts a half million visitors during the three-month New Year season. Unscrupulous entrepreneurs set up the fake temples to lure unsuspecting pilgrims and needle them for donations. [Source: The Associated Press - December 14, 2001 ~~]

"The Perfume Pagoda, 70 kilometers (45 miles) west of Hanoi, is one of Vietnam's most popular sites. Thirty-one temples and caves are recognized as historical relics in the Perfume Pagoda area, where people go to pray for good health and prosperity. The network of temples and limestone caves pulls in 300,000 visitors and an estimated $500,000 during the festival, which is part of Vietnam's new year season. Officials near the site are seeking federal recognition for the five pagodas.

Thirty-two operators signed agreements to meet the deadline, said Le Van Nguyen, deputy chair of the People's Committee of My Duc district. Since no temples had yet been destroyed, it's likely they will be handed over to authorities, he said. Nguyen said most of the fake temples will be demolished before the new pilgrimage season starts. Others may be renovated into rest areas for pilgrims. In the past, three villagers have been sentenced to probation for setting up fake temples, Nguyen said. ~~

In February 2003, Margie Mason wrote in Associated Press "As pilgrims scale the steep path to Vietnam's sacred Perfume Pagoda, many slide money into a box at a small Buddhist altar in the Hinh Huong temple along the way, unaware it's embroiled in a fake shrine controversy. Officials near this famous religious and tourist site have encouraged everyone to donate freely, assuring pilgrims that fake shrines - illegally built by villagers as a moneymaking scam - would be shut down. But as thousands make the climb to pray during this year's three-month Huong Pagoda festival season, five of 42 temples deemed illegitimate by the federal government last year are still running, sanctioned by local officials. [Source: By Margie Mason - The Associated Press - February 07, 2003 /+\]

"The local officials say the five temples are legitimate because they were built by villagers more than half a century ago and have long been used for worship. The other 37, shut down last year, were built by individuals in the 1990s solely to make money. Some pilgrims say they still feel cheated by the five temples remaining open. "I think some people had taken advantage of religion to make money," said Nguyen Huu Thanh, visiting from Hanoi. "We've spent a lot of time and energy to come to the pagoda to pray for happiness and wellness for the family." Pilgrim Nguyen Thi Thao said the government should take concrete measures to shut down all the fake pagodas. "It's harming the traditions of Vietnam," she said.

"They've been in the village for a long time," said Nguyen Xuan Sinh, deputy chairman of the area's People's Committee. No one has been charged with any crime. Villagers who built fake shrines - and sometimes dressed up as monks - have even asked to be compensated for religious statues and other paraphernalia confiscated from the sites, Sinh said. Some villagers freely admit they took advantage of phony shrines. Nguyen Duy Tan, of nearby Yen Vi village, said his small tea and fruit stand off the main trail boomed after fellow villagers invented a myth about a nearby rock that resembled a fish transforming into a dragon - and put up a nearby altar to collect money. Tan said the fake site brought in about $670 a year during its nine years of operation. "A lot of people came and believed it," he said, pointing to the rock formation." /+\

Image Sources:

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Times of London, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Vietnamtourism. com, Vietnam National Administration of Tourism, CIA World Factbook, Compton’s Encyclopedia, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Newsweek, Reuters, AP, AFP, Wall Street Journal, The Atlantic Monthly, The Economist, Global Viewpoint (Christian Science Monitor), Foreign Policy, Wikipedia, BBC, CNN, Fox News and various websites, books and other publications identified in the text.

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© 2008 Jeffrey Hays

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