Thich Man Giac, 77; U.S. Buddhist Leader

By Mary Rourke, LA Times, October 20, 2006

Los Angeles, USA -- Thich Man Giac, the Supreme Patriarch of the Vietnamese United Buddhist Churches of America, died Oct. 13 at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles. He was 77.

The cause was cancer, said the Rev. Chan Tu, an American Buddhist disciple of the patriarch. For some years Man Giac resided at the International Buddhist Meditation Center in Los Angeles.

In 1977 he was one of 79 Vietnamese who fled their country in a fishing boat, after he and other leaders of the Buddhist community sent government officials a list of 85 cases of rights violations against Buddhist monks, nuns and others.

The fishing boat was so crowded, "there was no room to lie down," Man Giac recalled in a 1978 interview with the Washington Post. "We were at sea for eight days."

The group landed in Malaysia, where Man Giac spent three months in a refugee camp before Thich Nhat Hanh, a prominent Vietnamese Buddhist monk living in France, arranged for Man Giac to go to Paris. From there he toured Europe with the help of Amnesty International and spoke about religious intolerance in his home country.

Man Giac had been a peace activist from the outset of the Vietnam War in the late 1950s. He went on a hunger strike in 1964 in solidarity with prominent Vietnamese monks in France and India to protest oppression of Buddhist monks, nuns and others by the Vietnamese government.

"His whole impetus was to end suffering in this world, a vow that all Buddhists take. Man Giac was not at all political," Chan Tu told The Times on Thursday.

Man Giac came to Los Angeles in 1978 and was appointed abbot of the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple that had been founded two years earlier by his longtime friend and fellow monk Thich Thien-An. There are now more than 20 Vietnamese Buddhist temples in cities throughout the United States.

Man Giac became a U.S. citizen in 1978.

Born Vo Viet Tin on Sept. 29, 1929, in Hué, Vietnam, he came from a traditional Buddhist family and was deeply drawn to the religion. He entered the monastery at 10 and was fully ordained at 20.

He went to Japan in 1960 to attend Toyo University in Tokyo, where he majored in Buddhist philosophy. After graduation he earned a master's degree in philosophy at the University of Tokyo.

He returned to Vietnam in 1967 and joined the faculty at the Buddhist Van Hanh University in Saigon. He taught philosophy and later became vice president of the school.

When he settled in Los Angeles, Man Giac worked with Vietnamese refugees, helping them locate relatives who were already in the city, as well as find temporary housing and jobs. He translated several Buddhist texts into Vietnamese and published a number of poems under the pen name Huyen Khong.

A wake for Man Giac will be held from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m. today at the Vietnamese Buddhist Temple, 863 S. Berendo St. in Los Angeles.

A farewell ceremony is scheduled for 11 a.m. Saturday at the Buddhist Chapel on the grounds of the Turner & Stevens Live Oak Memorial Park and Mortuary, 200 E. Duarte Road in Monrovia.