A few days later, I received an official letter from the City Police Bureau requesting me to come to meet Mr. Quang Minh (I’d like to whisper here that in this country of Vietnam with independence, freedom, and happiness, if one receives a letter from the police bureau, all the hair would have raised up in the back of his or her neck). Personally, I’ve had the “honor” to experience that many times. When I got to the meeting location, and after a few socializing sentences, Mr. Quang Minh said that “The Party” needed to unify Buddhism in this period, and he forced me to agree (of course with the familiar threatening tone of voice). I said I had been told by the elder monk Pham The Long at An Quang Temple, and then I presented the UBCV’s Constitution to explain just like above-mentioned; the decision had to come from the UBCV’s Conference and neither from an individual nor a group of individuals. And I requested Mr Quang Minh to allow us to call for an Emergency Conference. I told him clearly that, normally each province nominated from 3 to 5 representatives, but at the current situation, I only requested each province to only send a Chief representative; if the chief representative is sick, the Vice-Chief representative or the Secretary, or any member in the representative would be sufficient. And I asked Mr. Quang Minh for an understanding that I had to act by the Constitution, which he would do the same in political management. However Mr. Quang Minh said there was no time! I said that Buddhist unification was not like an army operations, why rushing! Mr. Quang Minh said to me, in verbatim “You only want to be a hero!” I said “What kind of a hero can a practicing monk like me be? Straw hero?” Mr. Quang Minh said “Such a hard-headed monk, not an average one!” I stood up, said goodbye to him, and “leisurely” went home.
Around September, 1981, the late Most Senior Venerable Tri Thu, in his position as the President of the Committee to Campaign for Buddhist Unification, proposed that The Institute send representative from the UBCV to the Conference on Buddhist Unification to be convened in Hanoi at the end that year. I suggested that since the government did not allow the UBCV to organize the Emergency Conference, the UBCV had to to gather The Institute’s Council consisting of 11 Capital’s District Councils to announce this proposal. The late Most Senior Venerable Tri Thu agreed.
The next day, I sent invitation letters to Representatives of the 11 districts to the meeting at An Quang temple. It seemed like they had predicted this was a very important meeting, so they came to the meeting en mass. Not only were the official representatives present at the meeting but there were also monks and nuns who came to listen; they packed the lecture hall, standing outside in the yard and in the temple’s hallways. The late Most Senior Venerable Tri Thu chaired the meeting (I’d like to remind readers that, as President of the Committee to Campaign for Buddhist Unification, he was a guest, thus the last time he came to “socialize visit” his home. However, today, as President of The Institute, he chaired the meeting). As General Secretary of The Institute, I stood up and stated clearly the reason for the meeting. First, I re-read the documents that The Institute sent to the Prime Minister’s Office in Hanoi detailing the creation process of the UBCV in South Vietnam prior to the country’s unification, along with the UBCV’s Constitution and Regulation in order to thoroughly report to the government. Next, I addressed the UBCV representatives at the meeting “Today, the Most Senior Venerable President of The Institute became the President of The Committee to Campaign for Buddhist Unification; nobody knows who created this committee, where this committee was created, and who nominated the Most Senior Venerable to be President. The Institute absolutely did not know about that, and up to this point, The UBCV still has not been officially invited to any meeting to discuss Buddhist Unification. Therefore, the UBCV does not know what foundation the unification is based on, under what form the unification would be, and after the unification, what the UBCV’s legal status would be. This is a life-and-death issue for the UBCV, which according to the UBCV’s Constitution, must be decided by the Conference. A few days before, I was told by the police bureau that I had to agree to the unification, and I told Mr. Quang Minh (the one who admitted me) that Management Board of The Institute did not have enough authority to decide in this important event, that decision had to come from the Conference. And I requested Mr. Quang Minh to allow us to call for an Emergency Conference, each province needed to send a Chief representative or a Secretary, but he rejected my suggestion with the excuse that there was not enough time! Now, the Most Senior Venerable President proposed to The Institute to send representatives to the Conference for Buddhist Unification in Hanoi, I’ve realized that the government did not allow the UBCV to hold an Emergency Conference, therefore, today, The Institute invited you all to this meeting to ask for your opinions and decisions.” Before finishing my statement and returning the meeting’s governance authorities to the Most Senior Venerable chairman, I expressed a few thoughts as the following:
“Dear the Most Senior Venerable chairman of the meeting, dear all. Perhaps you all, like myself, have clearly seen that the UBCV boat is currently drifting in the middle of an ocean amid powerful winds and huge waves, uncertain when it will sink. Therefore, if those who are present here today feel afraid of the predicament and want to step onto another boat to save their own lives, please feel free to do so; nobody will stop you. I only ask for one favor from you: Before stepping onto another boat, please let the UBCV boat drift in the storms with the people remaining on that boat; these people will strive to steer the boat. If they are lucky to be able to sail through the danger and reach the shore safely, then they will live. Unfortunately, if the boat sinks, they are willing to die with it. Before stepping onto another boat, please don’t be so cruel as to heartlessly sink the boat that once ferried you to the shore of prestige and advantages. I only ask for that from you. I am done speaking, thank you all.”
As I had finished my statement, there were loud hand claps from the audience in the lecture hall, in the courtyard and hallways. Then I saw The Most Venerable Tri Tinh stand up and leave, followed by The Most Venerable Minh Chau, and lastly by the Most Senior Venerable chairman! The meeting thus ended on its own. After that I heard an voice echoing “Today the Venerable Quang Do invited us here to ridicule us”. There were only The Most Venerable Huyen Quang and myself; we looked at each other briefly then dismissed ourselves.
Three days later, The Institute’s office received the “Report” by The Committee to Campaign for Buddhist Unification signed by the Most Venerable Minh Chau. It was very long, I can only remember a short paragraph, perhaps it was the most important paragraph in the Report. That paragraph reads:
“… The Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, General Secretary of The Institute, has destroyed the reputation of the Committee to Campaign for Buddhist Unification, sabotaged the endeavor to unify Buddhism, stubbornly challenged the Vietnamese government and Fatherland Front who are the ones encouraging and assisting the cause of unifying Buddhism nationwide!”
The Committee to Campaign for Buddhist Unification’s Report above was later sent to provinces all over the South, forcing monks and nuns to re-educate and then signed their names in a protesting letter to An Quang Temple, demanding the UBCV to expel me from the UBCV and never to allow me to set foot in An Quang Temple! It was not known who helped the Committee to Campaign for Buddhist Unification to do that, but regardless of who it was, I felt I had a responsibility to give them a hand by putting up the Report in front of The Institute’s office and copy it to tens of reams of paper to distribute to monks, nuns, and lay Buddhists so they could “study” more effectively. A lay Buddhist asked me “They demanded to force you out of the UBCV and An Quang Temple; why do you help advertise for them?” I responded “I will know it when they they come to evict me. Since I still work here, I have no problem giving them a hand, and if you still have old paper please give me some more!”
I’d like to clarify that I don’t champion “sabotage of Buddhist unification.” I only wanted to unify in the spirit of harmony and accordance, according to Buddhist sila “are the venerables in harmony? We are harmonious!” This means Buddhist unification is an affair between monastics in the North and South regions, thus it must be left to the monastics in the two regions to decide harmoniously and in accordance. I did not want the communist government to intervene and force us to unify according to what the government wishes so that later on it could easily take advantage of the UBCV for political purposes and legalize the Communist Party and government’s policy to exterminate Buddhism.
To state that I “stubbornly challenged the Vietnamese government and Fatherland Front”, good Heaven! Who dared do that? This is because everybody knows that the government and Fatherland Front were created by the Communist Party of Vietnamese; these are the two most powerful organizations in the country, combined with who knows how many airplanes and trains, tanks and armors, missiles and rockets, abundant guns and bullets, prisons all over the country, as many police as there are flies; I am a monk who does not possess even an inch of iron in hand, then I must have been insane or wished to go meet my forefather to dare “stubbornly challenge”! The Most Venerable Minh Chau was so malicious; he wanted to use a sledgehammer to crush a small pea! Why so malicious being a practitioner since young age! The Most Venerable Minh Chau and I were not strangers; we studied together in Sri Lanka then later India, only different schools. When the UBCV opened Van Hanh University, we worked together in The Institute and Van Hanh University very closely and amicably. Every time the Most Venerable had to travel abroad for business, he relegated the authority of Acting President of Van Hanh University to me. Thus it is understood that prestige could easily spoil a person, and it was also known that wherever the communists arrived, humanity at that place was shattered. And only a few months later, The Most Venerable Huyen Quang and I were arrested and sent into exile, thanks to that Report. I know this because only a short time after I had arrived in the North, people told me that when they were curious and asking the police why I was sent into exile there. The police told them that I was sabotaging the Church, therefore the Misters Tri Thu, Tri Tinh, and Minh Chau asked the government to send “the thug” (me) there so that they could easily work; the government never jailed “the thug”. That was a benefit from Buddhist unification under the orchestration of the communists.
Perhaps the Most Venerable Minh Chau only wanted to live in “paradise” alone, as during a trip home from the Soviet Union with the late Most Senior Venerable Tri Thu, The Most Venerable Minh Chau declared “Moscow” (the formerly capital of the Soviet Union), was a paradise on earth. The Most Venerable Minh Chau had traveled to Washington D.C in the U.S, but maybe the cheese and milk in Washington D.C were not as good as those in the Moscow paradise! Not only that, after the Most Venerable Minh Chau was ordained as a monk, the first bowl of rice he ate was a Northern Sect (meaning Mahayana Buddhism), his dharma master was the First Patriarch of the UBCV. After the Most Venerable went to Sri Lanka and India to study Southern Sect (meaning Theravada Buddhism), he put on a monk robe and declared that Mahayana Buddhism’s sultras were not spoken by the Buddha (he implied Mahayana Buddhism’s sultras were spoken by Mara or devil); the Buddha only spoke dīgha-nikāya, majjhima-nikāya, aṅguttara-nikāya, … and so on that he translated into Vietnamese. Thus, according to The Most Venerable Minh Chau, those who practiced Mahayana Buddhism such as myself were non-believers and did not have the dignity to live in paradise, as Saigon would also be a paradise, therefore “the thug” had to be booted out to hell!
At the end of 1981, the Conference to Unify Buddhism was officially opened in Hanoi. I learned that The Most Venerable Thich Thien Sieu lead a 10-person delegation claiming to be representatives from the UBCV with nominating document signed with The Institute’s seal. I was very surprised. Since the Most Venerable Thien Sieu held no position in The Institute, he would not have been nominated by The Institute to be her representative to go to the Conference. The Institute’s seal was kept by me; I only brought it to the office, and after hours I brought it home with me. Then where did the other seal come from? At first I did not believe the story, since I knew the Most Venerable Thien Sieu was an intellect who upheld righteousness and good character; the majority of monks and nuns in the South and I respected him very much. I could not believe The Most Venerable could do something like that, but later on I found out it was the truth!
During that Conference, the late Most Senior Most Venerable Tri Thu was voted Chief Central Monastic Manager of the Vietnamese Buddhist Church (which was controlled by the communists), The Most Venerable Tri Tinh Primary Vice-Chief Central Monastic Manager, The Most Venerable Minh Chau Secretary of the Second Office headquartered at Xa Loi Temple in Saigon, The Most Venerable Thien Sieu and others all had positions, meaning all were rewarded according to how much or little their contributions were!
I still remember, in December 1978, after I was released from Phan Dang Luu prison, a student of The Most Venerable Tri Tinh, who previously had been my student at Van Hanh University, came to visit me from Thu Duc. That Venerable said to me “my teacher (i.e., The Most Venerable Tri Tinh) said he was a person of such great wisdom who was able to avoid misfortunes.” Thinking back now I realized The Most Venerable Tri Tinh and The Most Venerable Minh Chau were indeed people of great wisdom. In 1963, Mr. Ngo Dinh Diem repressed Buddhism; monks, nuns, and lay Buddhists had to stand up to protest. At midnight August 20, 1963, Mr. Diem let police attack temples all over the South and arrested all monastics. The next morning, Buddhists in Thu Duc received that news, went to Van Duc Temple to let The Most Venerable Tri Tinh know and cried to him. The Most Venerable Tri Tinh told them “Stop crying! Cultivating monks who participate in politics are justified to get arrested!”
However, after Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime was overthrown, the UBCV was formed, The Most Venerable Tri Tinh held the title of Chief of The Sangha Bureau. By April, 1975, The Most Venerable Tri Tinh no longer participated in any meeting by The Institute. On April 30, 1975, the communists were victorious and took over Saigon. On May 15, 2975, the communists organized a victory celebration with a military parade in front of Independent Mansion which was shown on live television. When I looked at the TV, I saw The Most Venerable Tri Tinh comfortably sitting in the honored guests row; he was indeed a person of great wisdom!
The Most Venerable Minh Chau came back from India in 1964 and was invited to be Chief of Educational Bureau and President of Van Hanh University. In 1972, the Vietnam war took a turn to a deadly period. People still did not yet forget the fiery summer in Quang Tri. At that time, The World Conference on Religion and Peace was lobbying for peace in Vietnam and invited the UBCV to join. The war situations was more and more effervescent and by around March, 1975, The Most Venerable Minh Chau also no longer participated in any of The Institute’s meetings, and he declared his detachment from the UBCV’s policy of promoting peace. The Most Venerable Minh Chau said he only specialized in the field of cultural education. But in 1976, The Most Venerable Minh Chau was running for an election to the first unified communist Congress, and to-date (1992) he still sits in that office. Turns out The Most Venerable Minh Chau likes to participate in communist politics instead of lobbying for peace. Also a exceptional person of great wisdom.
Ever since the day the late Most Senior Venerable Tri Thu was voted Chief Monastic Leader of the government’s Buddhist Church, the UBCV no longer had President of The Institute. In the spirit of the UBCV’s Constitution, in case there was no President, it would be appropriate to promote the Vice-President to be President of the Institute until a new President was nominated during the next Conference. Therefore, The Most Venerable Huyen Quang, who was First Vice-President, became Acting President of The Institute and we continued to perform the UBCV’s functions like usual. Perhaps the Vietnamese communist government thought that, if The Most Venerable Huyen Quang and I continued to be allowed to function like that, it would be hard for the government’s Buddhist Church to take over The Institute. Failure to take over The Institute meant it would also be hard to force local Buddhist Churches to join the government’s Buddhist Church; therefore whatever came did come and based on The Most Venerable Minh Chau’s Report accusing me of “stubbornly challenging the Vietnamese government and Fatherland Front” as I said above as a foundation.
At 4PM February 24, 1982, I received a letter from the City Police Bureau, with “Urgent” written on the envelope. I opened the letter to find out I was “invited” to the Police Bureau right at 8AM on February 25, 1982 with reasons to be told later and to be received by Mr. Quang Minh (Quang Minh again!) It can be said I had “fate” with this man, maybe from many previous lives! I did not know his title, but perhaps he occupied a very high ranking. Throughout the time I was jailed at Phan Dang Luu prison, each week, eventually every month, I was to “welcome” him to “work” (meaning for interrogation). And after I was released from prison, I was also “welcomed” by him all the time and perhaps this is the last time. The second person with whom I also “closely bonded by fate” was Mr. Mai Chi Tho, Chief of the City Police Bureau and later on President of The Bureau of Internal Affairs; I was also “checked up for health”. Another time to have “all the hair in the back raised”.
Right at 8AM on February 25, 1982, I came to the Police Bureau and was taken to a waiting room with 2 policemen wearing revolvers standing guard. It was indeed that all the hair in the back raised up. I thought to myself “Another turn to be sent to vacation?” About an hour later, perhaps they felt they terrorized me enough, I was led to meet Mr. Quang Minh. He said “You perform religious activities which is the same as doing political activities (!). We will show you our attitude.” Then about 5 minutes later, Mr. Quang Minh stood up and read a decision paper signed by Mr. Le Quang Chanh; this man was Vice President of the City People’s Committee, to evict me from the city. After a few minutes, someone referred to as group leader lead me to assume my duties and a policeman armed to his teeth escorted me to a car, exactly like a kidnapping for ransom! It was 9:30AM. At the Dau Day three-intersection of Long Khanh province, the 10-car entourage stopped at a rubber plant for a lunch break; at that time I saw The Most Venerable Huyen Quang sitting about 10 meters from me. I realized then that The Most Venerable Huyen Quang was also taken to “visit mountains and rivers” in this trip.
(to be continued)