Situation of Vietnamese Sangha just as bad as Burma

Venrable THICH QUANG BA, The Buddhist Channel, Oct 16, 2007

Thank you for your marvelous works informing us Buddhist situations as it happening around the world.

I sincerely request you to consider seriously before you publish cheap propaganda news and comments that come out from Government-sanction media in Vietnam (there are no private, free and independent media/press in Vietnam anyway) about the Buddhist situation there.

Since 1981, the ruling Communist Party of Vietnam (CPV) has for its political control and its systematic intervention ordered to disband all Buddhist Nikaya including the largest movement at the time, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) which I belong to and instead ordered to create a new CPV-related structure, called the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS).

Not only the CPV disallows Vesak as a national holiday as it has been practised for Vietnam from 1954-1975, it also banned the international Buddhist five-coloured flag as the offical Buddhist flag. The reason given was that the flag represented the 'imperialist American-backed WFB flag'. Worse to come was the imposition by the CPV on the VBS to indicate its communist tained "socialism" as its third motto and principal aim, as enshrined in its contitution.

I believe that Vietnam is the only country in the whole world that its Government not only created its own version of 'Buddhist Sangha', but also imposed its political idealism onto it.

The VBS is the ONLY religious group among many 'registered / approved religious' groups in Vietnam that was forced to declare its whole 'structural and constitutional' loyalty to CPV, to place itself under the direct control of, and forced to be a member of, the CPV-left-hand Fatherland Front.

In case of Catholic, the second largest religious community in Vietnam, with 1500+ priests and 6+ million lay members, the Government favourably allowed them to keep full and official relation with Vatican, but vetoing its right to appoint bishops who has to get a nod from CPV before to be appointed. The CPV has built certain controlling influence on Catholic Church through a much less prominent group, called 'Solidarity Catholic Group', comprising only few dozens priests and few hundreds lay Catholics, as its members.

Most Sangha of all 10+ Lineages/Orders since late 1980s had no choice but to reluctently register as members of the politicalised VBS structure. Others who were brave enough to disagree, or not to conform with this anti-tradition VBS structure have been imprisoned, or severely punished, intidimated, harrassed and were disallowed to conduct their normal Dhamma works and duties.

The politicisation of Vietnamese Buddhism comes from the very top: most if not all VBS leadership from national to provincial and district levels since 1981 have been handpicked by Government officials.

Despite the fact that there are thousands of CPV officials already working hard day and night assuring all religious personnel conforms with VPC decrees and directives, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has earlier this year announced another big national budget for the recrutment and training of more than 20,000 'officials' to work for the Governmental Committee on religions.

These Governmental staff's main duties are to directly and indirectly control, manage, monitor and intervene on activities and movements of individual monks, priests, temples, churches, ministries, house-worshipping groups. Their purpose and aim is to keep them in 'check' at all times, and disallowing them to follow their true sipiritual practices.

From time to time, as a PR stunt to convince the world media and governments about their version of 'religious freedom', the Vietnamese media publishes news on VBS's charities works, conventions, ceremonies, ordinations and colleges' graduations. There are rarely any news release on the true fact of its repressions on all religions, particularly on the Buddhist community.

Soon after claiming power 1946 in the North, and 1975 in the South, the CPV had engaged in - and are currently are - murdering, imprisoning and disrobing monks and nuns, confiscating and occupying monasteries and temples, taking over all Buddhist university and schools and charitable/ cultural/ social institutions.

The tactics used now are different. Among them are:

  1. Forcefully compelling VBS Sangha to obey and follow their 'socialism'
  2. Dharma institutions are compelled to endure and accept CPV bossy supervision on all of their Dhamma/Sangha internal and external affairs
  3. Using very old but still workable method of 'carrot and stick' to control and brainwash the younger Sangha generation, then claiming that they are given freedom to worship and,
  4. Dispensing favourable treatments on compliant Sangha members, forcing them to continuously pay gratitude to the CPV.

Senior monks in Vietnam are forced to take side with Government agenda. They have to praise and support Government on whatever it is doing and asking, including arresting and defaming the Patriarches (nayaka, or dangharaja) of the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).

For your readers information, the UBCV is the original inhertor of the major three Sangha nikayas and three major Buddhist movements formed during 1920s-40s colonial period. It was initially establishied in 1951 as the Vietnamese Buddhist Federation, and was a founding member of World Fellowship of Buddhists. After 1963 , it was re-named as UBCV. Thich Huyen Quang, 89 is the UBCV Secretary General since 1964 and is now the Fourth Supreme Patriarch. Rafto prize winner Thich Quang Do has been the Secretary General since 1974. He currently heads the UBCV National Administration Council - Vien Hoa Dao) .

There are many untold miserable stories about the 40,000 or more Sangha members and about 60 million Vietnamese lay Buddhists which they have endured in the past 60 year. Most of their sufferings - in their campigns to struggle for religious freedom, human rights - have never been fully informed to the outside world.

Unlike the Sangha situation in Burma in the last 45 years, before the famous protest last month, monks in Vietnam are not respected by their government  but have been continuously manipulated and looked down even bribed and exploited by CPV and its Government systems.

Since the 1970s, more than a 1000 exiled UBCV Sangha community have set up more than 500 temples in North America, Europe, Asia and Oceania to restore restoring their Sangha life and providing Dhamma services to their 1.5+ million lay exile Buddhists and local wider comunities.

I hope the above will give your readers a clear and general idea about the state of Buddhism in Vietnam.

The Most Ven. Thich Quang Ba is the founder and abbot of the Sakyamuni Buddhist Centre, and Van Hanh and Nguyen Thieu Monasteries. He currently resides in Australia.