Vietnam Buddhist Sangha on journey with nation

Nhan Dan, Dec 12, 2007

Hanoi, Vietnam -- On the occasion of the sixth Congress of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha (VBS), Nhan Dan newspaper interviewed Most Venerable Thich Thanh Tu, Vice President of the Standing Board of the Sangha Council about activities of the Sangha in the fifth tenure, tasks for the 2007-2012 period and preparations for the United Nations Day of Vesak 2008 (birth anniversary of Lord Buddha).

Q: Can you tell us about the outstanding achievements of the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha in the fifth tenure?

A: Having been present in Vietnam for around 2,000 years, Buddhism has experienced ups and downs, but has always been in the nation's journey. Since the country's reunification on April 30, 1975, and the inception of its sects, the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha has proven to be the religion of peace, while making a great contribution to the nation’s construction and development.

In January 1980, a board for the inception of Buddhist sects was established with 23 members from the nine sects at that time. The board negotiated with leaders of each sect to reach agreement on working principles and the draft of its Charter, as well as the preparation for the congress on the inception of Vietnamese Buddhism.

The congress took place in Hanoi from November 4-7, 1981, with the participation of 165 delegates, representing nine Buddhist sects in Vietnam. The congress decided to unify the sects into one organisation, the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha to represent Vietnamese monks and nuns, and Buddhist followers in Vietnam and abroad.

The event has facilitated the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha to bring together Buddhist monks and nuns and followers inside and outside the country under a common umbrella.

As a result, the number of places for worship has increased from 12,000 in 1981 to 15,000 at present, while the number of dignitaries, monks and nuns has doubled, from 20,000 to 40,000, not to mention almost 10 million followers of Buddhism.

In addition, from having only the one Buddhist institute - the Van Hanh in Ho Chi Minh City and a few high schools built before 1981, the VBS now runs four institutes in Hanoi, Hue, Ho Chi Minh City and Can Tho, together with six colleges, 31 high schools and hundreds of grassroots Buddhist schools in provinces and cities.

In its early days, the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha had only 10 doctor degree holders. Now, the figure is at 200, not to mention hundreds of monks and nuns joining training courses for master degrees in Vietnam and abroad, and tens of thousands of others received training at domestic Buddhist academies.

The Sangha also has some newspapers and magazines, including Giac Ngo (Enlightenment) Weekly, Buddhism Study and Buddhist Culture magazines.

The Sangha has established and effectively runs 126 Tue Tinh medical houses and 115 traditional pharmacies, 1,500 classrooms for disadvantaged children and 36 orphanages across the country. Each year, the Sangha calls for about VND 200 billion for charitable activities.

The Vietnam Buddhist Sangha has won a great reputation in Vietnam and abroad. As a result, more and more Vietnamese nationals in foreign countries, such as France, Germany, Poland, Laos, Cambodia, Thailand, the Czech Republic, and Ukraine have followed the Sangha. Recently, the Technocom and An Vien Group, and Vietnamese Buddhist followers in Ukraine have contributed VND 10 billion to build the Truc Lam pagoda in Kharkov as a place for worship.

Over the past five years, under the leadership of the Sangha, monks, nuns and Buddhist followers have launched many activities in the interest of the country and society.

In addition, the Sangha's activities have been developed to even the most remote and mountainous areas. A focus has been given to the restoration and upgrading of pagodas, study and the exchange of information.

Furthermore, the Sangha has actively participated in international activities and promoted international co-operation to improve the image of the Vietnam as a country and Buddhism.

Vietnamese Buddhism has also always set an example in the country's movements, including the movement for the building of new cultural life, and made great contributions to national and religious unity, thus making a contribution to the building of a socialist Vietnam.

In recognition of its contributions and achievements, the Sangha has been awarded the Ho Chi Minh Order and many monks and nuns have been rewarded.  

Q: What are the Sangha's tasks in the new tenure?

A: The renovation process under the leadership by the Communist Party of Vietnam has proven to be an important process for Vietnam. Therefore, in the next tenure, the Sangha will continue to focus on developing unity and solidarity for the sake of the country.

A concentration will also be given to the propagation of Buddhism's fine ideology, thus making a contribution to the building of a happy and prosperous society, accordance with the fine tradition of the people.

In addition, the study of Buddhism will be promoted, meeting development requirements of the Vietnamese Buddhist Sangha in the new period.

The Sangha will promote its co-operative ties with the international community for peace, and friendship.

Q: Vietnam will host that United Nations Day of Vesak 2008 (birth anniversary of Lord Buddha). What is the meaning of the event?

A: This is an important event for monks, nuns and followers under the Vietnam Buddhist Sangha as it will be held for the first time in Vietnam.

The aim of the event is to spread Lord Buddha's message on intelligence, compassion, peace and social progress.