PARIS, 29 November 2011 (IBIB) – The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, prominent dissident and 2012 Nobel Peace Prize nominee was consecrated Fifth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) at the UBCVs 9th Congress from 18-20 November 2011. Because of continuous government repression against the outlawed UBCV, the 9th Congress could not be held in Vietnam as required by the UBCV Charter. It was therefore held at the UBCVs overseas office in the Dieu Ngu Pagoda in Westminster, California (also known as “Little Saigon”, home to the largest Vietnamese community outside Vietnam). In advance of the Congress, on 12 November 2011, a Preparatory Assembly was organized clandestinely at the Giac Hoa Pagoda in Saigon. UBCV elders travelled secretly from the provinces to attend this assembly, where they approved the consecration of the new Patriarch and appointed a new leadership for the UBCV.
Most Venerable Thich Quang Do
The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do (see profile) effectively became UBCV leader after the death of former Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang in July 2008. However, the UBVC, which is not recognized by the government, was unable to hold a Congress to officialize the consecration. In fact, the UBCV has not held a Congress in Vietnam since 1977, after the country was reunited under a communist regime. After this event, the authorities launched a brutal crack-down on the UBCV, arresting virtually all its leadership and confiscating its property. In November 1981, the State-sponsored “Vietnam Buddhist Church” was set up by the authorities under communist Party control. The UBCV was effectively banned, and remains outlawed in Vietnam today.
Over 600 representatives of 125 overseas UBCV chapters and Buddhist Youth Movement sections in the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia gathered at the Dieu Ngu Pagoda for the UBCV 9th Congress, participating in workshops on a broad range of issues such as “Vietnamese Buddhists position on Chinas incursions into Vietnamese territories”, “spreading Buddhism in a non-democratic environment – how to assist people in poor, remote areas”, “the UBCV movement for human rights, religious freedom and democracy” etc. A revised UBCV Charter was approved (the fourth since 1964) as well as a new leadership of 36 monks and nuns.
Most Venerable Thich Vien Dinh
Most Venerable Thich Vien Dinh, Superior monk of the Giac Hoa Pagoda (see profile) will take up Thich Quang Dos former post as Head of the UBCVs Executive Institute Viện Hóa Đạo (the Institute for the Dissemination of the Dharma). Most Venerable Thich Chanh Lac becomes President of the Overseas UBCV, and Venerable Thich Vien Ly becomes President of the UBCVs US chapter, the Vietnamese American Unified Buddhist Congress in the USA for 2011-2015.
The Congress adopted a 12-point Resolution committing UBCV members at home and abroad to: stepping up efforts to develop the participation of young people by creating new educational tools and organizing the Buddhist Summer University; exploring new technologies to enhance the understanding of Buddhism and ensure its relevance in a globalized world; mobilizing international support for Thich Quang Dos “Appeal for Democracy in Vietnam” towards a peaceful process of democratization in Vietnam and campaigning for the reestablishment of the UBCVs legitimate status.
The 9th Congress ended on Sunday 20th November with a Ceremony of Prayers for World Peace, Security in Southeast Asia and Territorial Integrity in Vietnam, and a special tribute to the Fifth Supreme Patriarch Thich Quang Do. Over 150 monks and nuns, and over 4,000 lay-Buddhists and members of different religious groups and civil society associations in Little Saigon attended the event.
International speakers included Mr. Arne Liljedahl Lynngård from the Rafto Foundation in Norway, Egyptian democracy activist Sherif Mansour, Euro-Parliament member Marietje Schaake from Holland, US Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez as well as members of the Californian State Assembly and many local officials.
In an audio message recorded at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon where he is under de facto house arrest, the UBCVs new Patriarch Thich Quang Do said: “Vietnam today is like a burning house, ravaged by the flames of extremism, violence and terrorism that are sweeping our globe today. How can we put out these flames? We cannot trust in pyromaniacs to put out the fire. Only enlightened individuals can take on this task. Only those who have extinguished the flames of greed, anger and ignorance in their own hearts can bring peace to others and to the world.
“Almost 3,000 years ago, Lord Buddha offered humankind the principles of living in tolerance and wisdom, teaching us how to free ourselves from suffering, ignorance and the bonds of social injustice and reach the summits of deliverance and enlightenment.
“Putting these principles into practice is the goal that Vietnamese Buddhists have followed for the past 2,000 years. Their engagement has deeply marked the history of Vietnam. A history of Buddhisms commitment to the people, to save them from suffering and bring them enlightenment. A history of Buddhisms commitment to the nation, to protect its sovereignty and make its civilization flourish. This is the unifying essence of Vietnamese Buddhism, grounded in the spirit of non-duality and interdependence. Vietnamese Buddhists have learned how to sanctify death by transforming it into Life, for the respect and protection of living beings, in order to elevate humankind to the heights of Absolute Wisdom”.
Speaking of the present regime in Vietnam, he said: “Sadly, in 1975, another regime driven by an alien ideology took power in Vietnam, stifling the development of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam until today. This regime prohibits UBCV monks, nuns and lay-followers from contributing their vast human resources to the post-war reconstruction of Vietnam in every domain – spirituality, culture, education, health, humanitarian and social aid, and the defense of human rights.
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez
“The suppression of the UBCVs participation in national development, coupled with the Communist Partys repressive policies, have resulted in increasing poverty, lack of political freedoms and stalled development for the people of Vietnam. This stark reality is reflected in a recent United Nations report: 36 years after the end of the Vietnam War, Vietnam ranks 128th out of 187 on the scale of human development! Another danger we cannot ignore is the threat of Chinese incursion into Vietnamese waters and lands. This is a problem that has deeply disturbed our people in recent years”.
Congresswoman Loretta Sanchez, who once visited Thich Quang Do at the Thanh Minh Zen Monastery, said: “I had the privilege to meet Thich Quang Do, who is now the Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. Today is a wonderful day of celebration. Congratulations! We must continue to fight, not just for Vietnam, but everywhere in the world, for the right of all people to worship as they wish, and for every other type of freedom. Every day, when I go to Washington DC, I will fight for that. Today, I say to you all – congratulations on this beautiful day”.
Arne Liljedahl Lynngård
Mr. Arne Liljedahl Lynngård from the Rafto Foundation in Bergen, Norway, paid a vibrant tribute to Thich Quang Do, who received the prestigious Rafto Prize for human rights defenders in 2006. “I am very proud that Vietnams most prominent defender of democracy, religious freedom and human rights, the Venerable Thich Quang Do, is a Rafto Prize laureate. He received the prize for his personal courage and perseverance through three decades of peaceful opposition against the communist regime in Vietnam, and as a symbol for the growing democracy movement in his country.
“Vietnam is blessed to have a religious leader like Thich Quang Do who inspires his people in their pursuit of justice, religious freedom, human dignity, and democracy. The Rafto Foundation joins hands with our Vietnamese friends as we share Thich Quang Dos all-embracing vision of democracy”. (Full speech)
Prominent Egyptian democracy and human rights activist Mr. Sherif Mansour shared his experiences of the “Arab Spring” and the dynamics of the Egyptian revolution, identifying five lessons and principles for Vietnamese human rights defenders. Firstly, he urged them to “focus on what you and your movement can do, not what your oppressor does. It is easy to curse darkness, but much more useful to light candles. The regime can put out one candle or more. But if the light is bright enough, their eyes will be blurred and their hands will be shaken. They can crush the followers but they cannot stop the spring.
He concluded: “For five years I was an exile in the US. I always told my fellow Egyptians abroad, “Next Year in Cairo”. Most of them doubted this. But guess what? I have been to Cairo three times this year, and I am sure I will see you all soon in Saigon to celebrate with each of you your victory against the Communist Party. That day, I am sure Thich Quang Do will be there to celebrate with us. For him, I say your courage and perseverance will continue to inspire us all. And your sacrifice wont go unnoticed”. (Full speech)
Ms. Marietje Schaake, MEP
Ms. Marietje Schaake, member of the European Parliament from the Netherlands who is a specialist in Internet freedom, said in a video message to the UBCV Congress:
“Today we pay tribute to THICH QUANG DO, who is a symbol of the ongoing struggle for human rights in Vietnam. His continued dedication to promoting and defending human rights should serve as an inspiration for a new generation. A generation that needs to find new ways and use new tools in our changing world to address both existing and new problems.
“In a globally connected world, geographic distances have become less important, creating new opportunities. But that also means that we cannot ignore problems that are far away from our own homes. Therefore I can assure you that the European Parliament will be a staunch defender of global human rights, also in Vietnam.
Let today’s conference be a celebration for those who have contributed so much to improving the lives of others, but also as an inspiration for those who will continue in fighting for freedom, democracy and human dignity.”