The official Police Review, “An Ninh The Gioi”, (World Public Security, No. 651, 5.5.2007) has published a front-page article on a visit by Vice-Minister of Public Security Nguyen Van Huong to the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, 87, Patriarch of the banned Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) on the occasion of 30th April celebrations. Entitled “Lieutenant-general Nguyen Van Huong visits the Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang : a friendly and open meeting”, with a photo of the top Security official and the detained Buddhist monk, the article describes the conversation in which Vice-Minister Huong warns Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang of “evil Intentions” of his Buddhist colleagues, notably UBCV Deputy leader Thich Quang Do and the UBCV International Spokesman Vo Van Ai. “Refuting the false information spread by Vo Van Ai, President of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau and by Mr. Quang Do who say that Thich Huyen Quang is under house arrest, isolated and prevented from travelling to undergo medical treatment, Lt.-General Nguyen Van Huong affirmed that the Patriarch is free to go wherever he wants, to Hanoi, Ho Chi Minh City or even overseas”.
Justifying the Binh Dinh People’s Committee’s order to ban Thich Huyen Quang from travelling to Saigon for medical treatment in December 2006, the article explained : “At that time, Venerable Huyen Quang’s disciples Thich Minh Tuan and Thich Dong Tho didn’t want him to travel because they were worried about his health, that’s why they said that the authorities wouldn’t let him go. But that’s not true. Quang Do and Vo Van Ai twisted this information deliberately, and tried to make use of Venerable Huyen Quang’s prestige to implement their dark schemes and oppose State Buddhism”…
Most surprising was the newspapers account of Vice-Minister Huong’s “explanation” of Buddhist affairs to the UBCV Patriarch. “Lt.General Nguyen Van Huong told Venerable Thich Huyen Quang frankly : Quang Do is not a genuine monk. He uses religion to hide his personal aims and political ambitions. Lately, he colluded with Vo Van Ai and a number of other reactionary exile groups and hostile forces inside Vietnam to oppose the State. Even more recently, Quang Do even abused your name to write a faked Vesak Message, which gave false information and opposed the State…” The article refers to the 2551 Vesak Message reported in this Press Release below, received by the International Buddhist Information Bureau (IBIB) from Binh Dinh. The “false information” which upset Lt.-General Huong was the Patriarch’s clear statement that he is effectively detained under house arrest and deprived of his freedoms.
Reports from Binh Dinh received this morning, and a phone conversation between UBCV Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and IBIB Director Vo Van Ai in Paris on May 8th reveal that the meeting was very different from the newspaper’s report. “Last Monday, 30 April, Colonel Che Truong, Head of the Binh Dinh Security Police, asked if he could bring General Nguyen Van Huong to visit me”, the Patriarch told Vo Van Ai. “I asked if there was any problem. He said no, it’s just a courtesy visit. I received him for half an hour. We simply exchanged pleasantries, nothing more. He told me I was free to travel wherever I wanted, no one would stop me. Twice before, the authorities invited me to be Superior Monk at Soc Son Pagoda (in the North). I declined. If I was stuck out there, it would be like prison or internal exile, just like in Nghia Hanh where I was detained before. Everything in that article is untrue. Tell Buddhists not to believe a word of it !”.
Before leaving, Colonel Che Truong told Thich Minh Tuan, the Patriarch’s disciple, that he could take Thich Huyen Quang anywhere, “except to meet Quang Do”. When the monk asked why, he replied : “Because Quang Do has “joined hands” with the Americans”. Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang inquired : “But I thought the government had “joined hands” with the Americans too ? So sometimes its good to join hands with the Americans, and sometimes not ?” The Security officials made no reply. UBCV Buddhists in Binh Dinh report that the photo in the “World Security Review” was taken at the meeting, but a letter from Thich Huyen Quang published by the paper was an old letter thanking the authorities for authorizing his hospitalization in 2004.
The Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, Fourth Supreme Patriarch of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) has sent a Message to Vietnamese Buddhists around the world for the 2551th Anniversary of the Birth of Buddha (Vesak). The most sacred event in the Buddhist calendar, Vesak is celebrated on the 15th day of the Fourth Lunar Month, this year on 29th May 2007. Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang’s Message was sent clandestinely from Nguyen Thieu Monastery in the central province of Binh Dinh, where the 87-year-old Patriarch is under effective house arrest.
In the Message, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang noted that this year’s Vesak celebrations are overshadowed by great hardships for all members of the outlawed UBCV : “The UBCV is suffering some of the worst repression in over 20 years. I am forbidden to travel to receive medical care. The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do is prohibited to visit me in Binh Dinh. In 20 provinces all over the country, members of UBCV Representative Boards are coerced and repressed”.
Whilst the Vietnamese government claims to the international community that Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do are “totally free”, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang describes his house arrest at “the Nguyen Thieu Monastery, where I am subjected to countless restrictions by the authorities, denied freedom of movement and isolated from my disciples and followers”. Nevertheless, he said, “from our respective places of detention in Nguyen Thieu Monastery in Binh Dinh and Thanh Minh Zen Monastery in Saigon where we are maintained in isolation and surveillance, Thich Quang Do and I continue to “be present in the world to live Buddhism joyfully” (Cu tran lac dao), and I call on all Buddhists to do the same”…
Explaining this expression, leitmotif of the Truc Lam Yen Tu, one of Vietnam’s most renowned 13th century Zen Buddhist schools, Thich Huyen Quang said the role of every Vietnamese Buddhist was to be present wherever there was suffering, and bring the Buddha’s teachings of emancipation to free people from injustice and oppression. The spirit of social justice inherent in Vietnamese Buddhism, he stressed, had inspired a 2,000-year tradition of engagement, and helped Vietnam to win independence and preserve its cultural identity through decades of foreign occupation, from the resistance movement led by the Trung Sisters against the Chinese in 40 AD until today. “Success or failure is not important. What counts is the diamond heart and the unwavering will of every Buddhist follower. As long as this will persists, Buddhism will endure. As long as Buddhism endures, our people will survive, prosper and develop in peace, and humankind will embark on a new era of global friendship and equality”.
Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang emphasized that “Cu tran lac dao” – “being present in the world to live Buddhism joyfully” – included preserving “spiritual integrity”. At a time when Hanoi has conceded large areas of Vietnamese land and territorial waters to its Chinese neighbour, Thich Huyen Quang said : “Spiritual integrity is no different from territorial integrity. If we take the land that our forefathers so painstakingly built, and give it away to foreign powers, what is left of our people’s nation and homeland ? In the same way, the human spirit must not cower or surrender to illegitimate and immoral forces. Only thus can we bring the teachings of Buddha into the third millennium to forge a path of Peace and face the new challenges of global terrorism and violence”.
Welcoming the United Nation’s recognition of Buddha’s Birth as an international religious Festival, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang regretted that, “whereas the light of Buddhism shines ever more brightly in the West”, in Vietnam, “spiritual virtues are being gradually destroyed”. “Imposing Monasteries have been built, costly ceremonies organized, but all this cannot hide the fact that the beliefs of religious followers are not respected in Vietnam”.