PARIS, 13 May 2008 (IBIB) – The International Budhist Information Bureau is deeply concerned by the disappearance and likely arrest of Buddhist monk Thich Tri Khai, Superior monk of Giac Hai Pagoda in Lam Dong province and member of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV).
After Security Police broke the locks of Giac Hai Pagoda on 29.4.2008 and seized the Pagoda for State-sponsored Vesak celebrations, they locked Thich Tri Khai in a room and placed the pagoda under State control. On 7.5.2008, Thich Tri Khai disappeared. Security Police said he had gone to Saigon for medical treatment, but he has never been seen since. His cell phone has been cut, and his followers have lost all contact with him. “With this disappearance, Vietnam has descended to a new level of baseness. To avoid international outcry, it is deviously kidnapping Buddhist monks without a modicum of respect for a due process of law”, declared IBIB Director Vo Van Ai.
At the same time, Venerable Thich Nhu Tan and Thich Tam Man, President and Vice-President of the UBCV’s representative board in Lam Dong Province, have been subjected to continuous interrogations and threats by Security Police. After a week of non-stop interrogations, on 9.5.2008, Thich Nhu Tan took the vow of silence, and will not reply to any further Police questioning. IBIB is extremely concerned about the situation of Thich Nhu Tan, who has already received death threats from Security Police.
The UBCV report similar Police harassments, evictions of UBCV monks and seizures of UBCV Pagodas by the State-sponsored Vietnam Budhist Sangha. Despite this increased repression, the UBCV is determined to carry on Vesak celebrations in UBCV Pagodas all over the country.
l Against this backdrop of increasing repression in Vietnam, the Overseas Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam commemorated the Vesak with a great celebration in San Gabriel, California, with the participation of 200 international personalities and Buddhist Sangha from the USA, Burma Tibet, China, Cambodia, Thailand, Sri Lanka, and 5,000 Buddhists. Leading UBCV monks from Europe, the US, Canada and Australia attended the event. One of the international speakers, Professor Ananda Guruge, former Ambassador of Sri Lanka in the USA and currently Vice-President of the World Fellowship of Buddhists, told the gathering he had turned down an invitation from the United Nations to attend Vesak Day in Hanoi. “I am here by choice. I would rather stand beside Vietnamese Buddhists in the fight for freedom than attend the commemoration in Hanoi. I am here in recognition of your struggle, not only for religious freedom, but for all human rights for all”.
The highlight of the ceremony were two Messages from the UBCV’s Fourth Supreme Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and the UBCV’s second ranking leader Thich Quang Do. The two Messages, sent clandestinely from the Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh and the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon, called on Buddhists to engage in the movement for the UBCV’s right to existence and the peaceful struggle to “defend our country, promote freedom, justice and human rights”. These Messages, which will be read out during the Vesak in UBCV Pagodas all over Vietnam and within the 2-million-strong Vietnamese Buddhist Diaspora, send a strong signal to the Communist leadership of the outlawed UBCV’s determination to pursue its peaceful struggle in spite of government repression.
UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, 88, reminded Budhists that the Vesak is an occasion to “joyously celebrate and embrace Lord Buddha’s teachings with their hearts and minds”, but also to “solemnly pledge to spread his teachings all over the world, to emancipate all beings from suffering… to bring peace to this world and harmonious existence to all people”.
The UBCV Patriarch stressed the specificity of Vietnamese Buddhism, with its unique tradition of social activism: “The two-thousand-year tradition [of Buddhism] in Vietnam is a history of unending engagement to bring enlightenment to all beings, to liberate peoples and nations from oppression, to awaken the Buddha-hood inherent in each person”. Following the Mahayana tradition prevalent in Vietnam, he stressed, “Buddhism does not turn its back on society. On the contrary, Buddhism boldly confronts society’s challenges, restoring peace to societies where repression rules, false thinking dominates and people are driven into perpetual conflict”.
Under Vietnam’s policies of economic liberalization under authoritarian control, he observed: “we can see that Vietnam’s economic development has brought some improvements. But at the same time, the poverty gap is rocketing. This is not just the gap between rich and poor, but the gulf between the rulers and the ruled. Vietnam’s policies have produced a “rich country with poor people”, the very contrary of the prosperity that the government’s slogans claim”… “In terms of human freedoms, we have nothing – all basic rights and liberties are denied. The religious communities cannot act freely, and as a result, social problems are persistent and increasing. It is impossible to bring enlightenment where poverty and lack of freedom prevail”.
Condemning Vietnam’s concession of territorial lands and waters to China: “We have virtually lost the Spratly and Paracel islands, to the total indifference of our government. How starkly their attitude contrasts with that of the Dinh, Le, Ly and later Le, Ly and Tran dynasties, where the kings, great Zen masters, Buddhists and the entire population shared a common determination to defend and preserve the nation. Thanks to their efforts to defend our country, the Vietnamese people have a land on which to live. Thanks to their efforts to maintain our independence, the Vietnamese people have preserved their identity and developed the spiritual and cultural values that distinguish Vietnamese civilization today”. By developing their spirituality and fulfilling Buddha’s teachings, Buddhists could serve their country and help to “ensure that the Vietnamese people will never again be slaves”.
“Buddha’s teachings cannot flourish in a country reduced to slavery; human beings cannot enjoy happiness if they are poor and oppressed. The ultimate vow of all Buddhists is to emerge wherever such suffering exists, and show all beings the Path to liberation”.
Following the exodus of millions of Boat People, noted Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang, “For the first time in our history, large numbers of Vietnamese people are settled in countries all over the world”. He called upon them to “sow the seeds of Vietnamese Buddhism” in their countries. “This will be our way of contributing to world peace, by stemming the rise of intolerance and the advocacy of violence and terrorism by fanatical ideologies. With the global tendency of today’s world, and its increased trends of dialogue and cooperation, there is more than ever a need for Buddha’s teachings of wisdom and compassion The more radiantly Buddhists overseas can spread this message, the more it will shine back upon our homeland, and one day soon, restore Vietnam’s resplendence once again”.
l The Vesak Message from Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, 80, prominent dissident and 2008 Nobel Peace Prize nominee, also stressed the essence of Buddha’s teachings to liberate humankind from ignorance and oppression. “Buddhism’s aim is not to dominate the world, but to help to save it, to help free people from suffering as one would help to free them from a burning house”. Vietnamese Buddhists should stand up for religious freedom, democracy and human rights, and press for the re-establishment of the UBCV’s legitimate status, the release of all UBCV followers and a halt to religious repression.
On the UN Day of the Vesak hosted by the Vietnamese leadership and the State-sponsored VBS in Hanoi this week, Thich Quang Do issued strict instructions to all UBCV Buddhists: “At a time when the Vietnamese people are deprived of their basic rights and freedoms, the UBCV is banned and its followers detained and harassed, the government is hosting grandiose celebrations of the Vesak”. The most sacred event in the Buddhist calendar, marking the Birth, Enlightenment and Passing away of the Buddha “is transformed into a political event. It is simply window-dressing, a façade of so-called “religious freedom” aimed at enhancing Vietnam’s international image and deceiving the international community. Hanoi’s Vesak celebrations make a mockery of Buddhism. The UBCV will not participate in this event and will not send any representatives. I enjoin all monks, nuns and lay-followers in Vietnam and overseas to strictly follow these instructions”.