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Australian Monk Protest Letter to Vietnamese Prime Minister on UN Vesak 2008, Hanoi

by Venerable THICH QUANG BA, The Buddhist Channel, May 14, 2008

Open Letter To the Prime Minister of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam,
H.E. Nguyen Tan Dung, Hanoi, Vietnam

Dear Mr. Prime Minister,

I am writing this letter to protest against the Government of the Socialist Republic of Viet Nam (GSRV) for its misuse of its position as the only country seeking to hold the United Nations Day of Vesak (UNDV) Celebrations in 2008, after Thailand had discontinued of its sponsorship after 4 years as the host nation.

Obviously, as the Celebrations hosting was not contestable, the GSRV was given the opportunity to hold the 2008 Celebrations in Hanoi. It is indeed deplorable that your GSRV does not respect the well-accepted requirements which the UNDV International Organising Committee (IOC) followed for the 2004-07 Bangkok annual Celebrations’ formula. Instead, your government controls the whole organising processes, takes all decisions and politicises these religious and cultural celebrations to sideline the IOC of which I am a member from Australia.

I also protest against:

(1) your GSRV’s misuse of its sponsoring position to take over the whole procedures and responsibilities for the 2008 UNDV as stipulated in the IOC Charter (http://vesakday2008.com/lichsu/index.php?menu=detail&mid=53&nid=159) whereas the IOC should have played the major role in all organizing matters;

(2) your GSRV’s unilateral decision to set up, no later than September 2007, a National Coordinating Committee led by the Head of the Government Office for Religions and other government Deputy Ministers and a National Organising Committee led by the State-controlled Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS- which was established in 1981 by the Secretary General of the Communist Party of Vietnam –CPV-, Mr. Nguyen Van Linh, in order to de-legitimatizing my Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBC-V) and other traditional lineages of long standing before 1975) to run the UNDV 2008 without verifying, consulting and getting our approval for it;  and

(3) your GSRV’s delaying tactics in preventing the IOC to conduct its own Preparatory Meetings in a timely manner, until November 2007 when only a few IOC members could meet for the first time and at short notice just to hear “reports” from the two Vietnamese members of the IOC (the IOC Chair and the Head of the IOC’s International Secretariat, according to the IOC Charter) without opportunities for input or change as everything was decided and controlled by your government.

For my part, as an IOC member who took his responsibilities for the 2008 UNDV seriously and intended to attend those preparatory meetings in Vietnam to share ideas with fellow IOC members, I was put in such a difficult position that led me to decide not to go, because a formal invitation email was just sent to me, perhaps purposefully, only a few days before the meeting and an entry visa was only reluctantly granted to me 20 hours prior to the November meeting.
As everyone has seen and will soon be seeing, your government’s total control of the event has prevented the IOC members from fulfilling their collective wisdom and organising responsibilities for the 2008 UNDV whether they reside outside Vietnam, or inside Vietnam including the two IOC Vietnamese members, or in my case in Australia who was invited by the former Bangkok-based IOC Chair to contribute to the three Celebrations from 2005 to 2007.

Even though I did not enjoy the best of health, I was pleased to join my fellow Buddhist representatives from the five continents in organising the UNDV Celebrations to honor Lord Buddha as a great cultural leader of the world and the founder of one of the greatest religions of humankind as the United Nations has respectfully declared.

For all those VBS Sangha from North and South, who may feel temporary happy and opportunistic liberation from circle of 33 or 62 years struggling with your government for their limited freedom –even just for celebrating our Buddha Vesak Day  in the ways that we feel suit is still not impossible this time for this show-up UNDV 2008 due to the total control power exercised from the top of your GSRV- or those who even sincerely and wholeheartedly enjoy this political, not faith, initiated UNDV 2008 occasion, they may even deem it as your GSRV’s favorable treatments to them after so many years of disallowance and prohibition, we understand their mentality.

But for me, an ordinary Australian Sangha from Vietnamese backgrounds, my vision and knowledge tell me that your GSRV needs to do lots more, in sincere ways on reconciling your past and present mistakes toward Viet Buddhist community as a whole and toward my UBC-V in particular, both have in the last 62 years received so much suffering from your GSRV, before you could ensure any true confidence from VBS and from UBC-V leadership, both in and out of country.  The staging of this opportunistic UNDV 2008 is far from achieving this simple goal.

Thus for now, even I will be willing and able contribute my small part to the future UNDVs, due to your Government’s above listed politicization, political and technical tactics, gross interventions, total control and disregarding the original rights and roles of IOC and of myself, regrettably that I have no choice but to boycott this UNDV 2008, that will be staged in Hanoi soon.

The international Sangha and dignitaries, presence in Hanoi for 13-17 May, 2008 ceremony, will also be understanding much deeper and broader than whatever words of praising toward your GSRV that surely many leading VBS Sangha will have to be given to the UNDV 2008 audiences for repaying the ‘ceremonial debt’ that they might feel ‘owing’ your GSRV and for buying a short-term ‘safety’ for their own temple and current position.

Since 1946 in the North, and 1975 in the South of Vietnam, your GSRV still pursues an erroneous policy regarding Buddhist affairs in general and a mischievous one towards my UBC-V in particular. For example, your government has persecuted scores of members of the Sangha, has detained hundreds and tactically disrobed many thousands of them, and has continued to take punitive actions against more than 45,000 Buddhist monks and nuns and 50 million lay Buddhists who want to, and ask to be left alone to, practice their faith in the way of their choice, not the way your Government wanted.

While continuously prevent and illogically condemn us to implement our UBC-V Charter and to honor our current structure of Sangha leadership, your government keep enforcing the VBS to declare its absolute loyalty to your Government, and to exist for the old-fashioned and discredited, socialist ideology of the Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) – which has been discarded by the former communist bloc –. Concerned Governments, world Sangha organizations, public media, international human rights bodies and UN Human Right Council are all recognize, aware and disapprove your hostile attitudes towards my UBC-V and frequently request that your SRV government should not be denying our UBC-V the right to maintain the tradition of religious practices and the ideals of service to our Faith and our People which have been passed on throughout the 2,000 year-long history of Vietnamese Buddhism. It seems that your Government has never been able to accommodate these rightful requests and to reject practicing the freedom of religion at the internationally agreeable standard.

We also want to highlight here the factual record that your Socialist State, since 1946 in North Vietnam and 1975 in Vietnam, has occupied or even destroyed numerous temples, has closed down or taken over numerous educational, social and cultural centres, mostly belonging to the UBC-V, without proper compensation or return to their rightful owners after more than three decades.

For human rights and human dignity of the Vietnamese people to be respected, for the moral and social standards of the Vietnam nation to cease deteriorating as a result of your irresponsible and dictatorial regime, we demand that your GSRV to stop all harassments and ill-treatments against the 45,000 member-strong Vietnamese Sangha and 50 million Buddhist believers belonging to all Buddhist churches. Your GSRV should allow and respect the independency and the self-governing of all Buddhist churches in managing the practices, the disseminations, the promotions and the executions of their faith according to their traditions.

We must have the right to inherit, to serve and to maintain the religious practice as taught by Lord Buddha, as developed by our Buddhist Ancestors over the past 2,000 years, as renovated by our UBC-V and that means that no monks and nuns are forced to serve the temporal power, no religious orders are forced to take part in political activities or to be supportive to any political force, as evidenced by your government’s gross attempt to direct and control members of the VBS.

We regret to note that in the coming days, when over 600 of our IOC distinguished invitees, also as our international fellow Buddhist leaders, including those from Asia, arrive in Hanoi as your GSRV paid guests, my respected senior members of the UBC-V could not be amongst the welcoming party, as in the case of Sangha members of the State-controlled VBS (it grossly and strongly over-claims that the VBS alone representing the whole Buddhist community in Vietnam and in exile (many of these guest-hosting VBS members are either CPV cadres, GSRV’s National Assembly members, People’s Councils’ or People Committees’ Members, CPV’s Fatherland Front board members, etc. who also wearing Sangha robes, or are former UBC-V Sangha members who unable to resist GRSV political or administrative pressures had joined the State-run VBS throughout the last 27 years).

In other words, the IOC was not allowed by your government to invite any amongst the UBC-V Sangha to attend the forthcoming UNDV in Hanoi in their official capacity as important leaders of the UBC-V, a religious body of 57 year-long standing which only serves the Vietnamese nation rather than any regime or political ideology.

Those respected UBC-V senior Sangha members – currently in Vietnam or residing overseas – unseen at the UNDV 2008, were in fact previously invited to the 1951 Conference in Colombo for jointly setting up the World Fellowship of Buddhists, to the 1966 Conference in Taipei as co-founders of the World Buddhist Sangha Council, and to such other important meetings in 1972 in Belgium, in 1974 in Tokyo, in 1989 in Melbourne and so on to attend the World Conferences for Religion and Peace, etc. While these UBC-V Sangha were delegates to various regional and global Buddhist conferences during the past decades, they are not able in 2008 to meet again their fellow delegates in Hanoi representing the UBC-V that known to them, because some of the UBC-V have been forced to join the State-controlled VBS, some disappeared during detention, some passed away in solitude, some are still detained or live in exile to continue their efforts in Dharma promotion and teachings, but decided to boycott this

UNDV. It’s a shame for your GSRV for not having any UBC-V official delegates at the UNDV 2008.

In other words, the IOC was seemingly not allowed by your government to invite any amongst the UBC-V Sangha to attend the forthcoming UNDV in Hanoi in their official capacity as important leaders of the UBC-V (initially formed in 1951), a legitimate Buddhist body of 57 year-long standing which vows only to serve the Vietnamese nation and its people rather than any regime or political ideology.

Dear Prime Minister, Therefore, we’d like to ask you, as the SRV Prime Minister, to urgently review, admit and rectify your erroneous and hostile policy that your CPV and GSRV have followed in their dealings with the Sangha of Vietnam and with our UBC-V during the past 62 years, since 1946 the year your CPV initially enforced a totalitarian Communist Government on Vietnamese people.

If your GSRV wants to regain some trust and win some good will amongst the respected international Sangha and scholars – including those from Asia (where information about your policy and practices of persecutions against the UBC-V are popularly known), you should refrain from lying and hiding the true situations and from claiming credits for non-existent achievements or for any achievements not of your making (many but limited Buddhist revival movements happening during the past 10-15 years, on temples’ reconstructions, young Sangha trainings and educations and on certain social, charitable and welfare works, etc, are mostly aspired and funded by our 400 UBC-V and its affiliated congregations abroad with quiet cooperation fruitfully enacted by many VBS Sangha in Vietnam). Only the honoring the sad truth bravely, and thereby wanting to solve it resolutely, may help your GSRV to be truly, not as a diplomatic gesture, respected by our IOC guests.

I want to take this opportunity to repeat the four requirements which were conveyed to your GSRV few years ago by the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, the Head of my UBC-V’s Institute of Dhamma Propagation, and to which no response has been received from your government. A GSRV’s complete and genuine response to our demands would form the basis for Vietnam to become fair and democratic. These four requirements are:

  • Firstly, the SRV Government must recognize the rights to be legal existence and legitimacy activities by the UBC-V (note: by its original Charter and structure; without going thru a new re-registering process as in case of other newly formed faith groups);
  • Secondly, the GSRV must return to the UBC-V all of its offices, temples, cultural, educational, charitable centres which have been occupied / confiscated by the State since 1975. As a first step, the SRV must immediately return the two main UBC-V properties, namely the “Viet Nam Quoc Tu” (Vietnam National Temple) and “Trung Tam Van Hoa Quang Duc” (Quang Duc Cultural Centre) for the UBC-V to re-establish its Patriarch’s Headquarters and its Institute of Dharma Propagation.
  • Thirdly, the GSRV must detach from the Fatherland Front, the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha, which was set up by the CPV and the GSRV in 1981.
  • and fourthly, the GSRV must disclose all the facts relating the death of the Most Venerable Thich Thien Minh in 1978”.

Over the past 24 years, as an Australian citizen and a practicing monk sharing the task of world Buddhist development, I feel sad to see, to hear and to know that Vietnam remains backward in all fields compared with its neighbours, particularly when its spiritual and moral bases crumble amongst the majority of the governing elites and part of the population.

I have often conveyed, through the good offices of the Presiding Officers of the Australian Parliament, to the GSRV official Delegations during their visits to Australia, our request for bilateral dialogues between our UBC-V leaders and competent representatives of your GSRV to take place preferably in Vietnam or at an agreed place overseas, in order that your government may seriously listen to and take actions to resolve the UBC-V reasonable demands including first of all our UBC-V’s four above-mentioned requirements. But my requests have not been responded by your official delegations positively.

Also on the basis of moral standard between Vietnamese, we request that your GSRV must cease to use the mass media, that is totally and strictly controlled by your Government, to defame, to falsely accuse and to divide our UBC-V leading Sangha members, both within and outside Vietnam.

Only when all the traditional Buddhist lineages and churches in Vietnam enjoy the freedom to practice their own faith without political interventions, and operate independently from Government control, within a national legal framework that consistent with international human rights and social justices, as all or most of your UNDV 2008 guests are being enjoyed and even taken for granted, can the Vietnamese Buddhism contribute effectively towards a peaceful life and meaningful prosperity with dignity and full freedom for the people. By disallowing any of these minimum social standards to be happening, your CPV and SRV Government are wholly responsible for all failures of our nations and for all destructions of our long lasting historic civilizations.

We urge you, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, to take urgent actions to resolve the four requirements conveyed by our Most Venerable Thich Quang Do.
We wish you and your GSRV wisdom and strength to initiate important political reforms in responding to people’s demands for a free and democratic nation where human rights are respected and where they will no longer live in want.

Most Venerable Thich Quang Ba
- Abbot, Van Hanh Monastery, Canberra
- President, Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation of Canberra, Inc.
- Member, International Organization Committee, UNDV 2008.
Canberra, Australia

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