Buddhist Calendar Year 2543
Mr. Le Kha Phieu – General Secretary of the Communist Party of Vietnam.
Mr. Tran Duc Luong – President of the Socialist Republic of Vietnam (SRV).
Mr. Phan Van Khai – Prime Minister of the SRV.
Mr. Nong Duc Manh – President of the SRV Congress.
Nghia Hanh, April 21, 2000
The Party and Government have started the celebration marking the end of the war in April 30, 1975 more than a month ago. Such topics as “Great spring victory”, “Liberation of the South”, “National unification”, “Independence and peace”, and so on will be glorified.
On behalf of the Institute for the Dissemination of Dharma (The Institute) and the Bi-Institutional Council of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), I would like to voice some opinions that perhaps the Party and Government will not have a chance to recall during the 25th anniversary.
The two issues I hope you will pay attention to are the ones who died or became disabled by the war, and people’s human rights with all basic freedom that have yet to be recognized.
According to the government’s official statistic, there were 3 million war dead and 300.000 communist soldiers who were missing in action in the last war. In reality, this statistic is multitude higher. The tally failed to include the millions of disabled people, millions of families whose children died in the war who have not been assisted or compensated adequately. The tally did not include numerous of soldiers from the former South Vietnam who died or became disabled and have never been treated as the country’s citizens even though the war ended long time ago and the world’s bipolar struggle has concluded. The tally did not count the victims who died unjustly or were severely brutalized during the land reform campaign, of which 700,000 were admitted by officials who involved in the campaign. The tally failed to include genocide victims, especially in Hue, during the Mau Than’s Tet offensive. The tally did not include more than 100.000 people who were executed in re-education camps, and almost 1 million people who died in sea while trying to seek freedom. There’s countless sorrow in such a simple math of addition.
Those are the ones who either died or have been living in brutality and omission.
Recalling the people’s human rights with all fundamental freedom, I happen to remember Chairman Ho Chi Minh’s declaration “An independence in which people are not liberated or happy is meaningless.” The truth is, today 80% of farmer and working people live in destitute and poverty. Artificial affluence can only be seen in a few big cities, distorting the eyes of Western tourists and diplomats in order to implore for economic aids. The affluence mentioned here is the affluence of corruption and robbing one another; it is not one of a stable and peaceful, harmonious life of a secure society.
In order to know a country’s rise or fall, one only needs to look into an ordinary citizen’s life, an organization, or a religion. Currently in our country, organizations or religions don’t have a right to an independent existence, as Article 4 of the Constitution governs the monopoly of Marxist-Leninism and the Communist Party’s totalitarian rules. All form of organizational and religious activities external to communism are eliminated. Vietnamese in early of the 21st century only have 2 choices: being imprisoned or joining the Party’s apparatus.
Unfortunately, once joining the Party’s apparatus, a person no longer is entitled to an existence according to their independent individuality. Having a mouth but forbidden to speak up, having brains but forbidden to rationale, having a heart but forbidden to love fellow countrymen and the nation in the manner of their individual point of views.
Being imprisoned gives ones the freedom to think and to speak alone. However, that freedom is a mobile freedom of a living chamber of death; nobody knows or hears from, useless towards society and mankind. Is this kind of freedom, the one of which a person’s self-esteem is dissolved, any different from that of the worms writhing in dirt?
As a Buddhist monk of 83 years of life, I have not been allowed to life and spread the Buddha’s dharma of Compassion to my fellow countrymen. From the Democratic Republic of Vietnam regime to the current Socialist Republic of Vietnam, I have only known the taste of prison. For whatever reason is a citizen, a religious person like myself not allowed to live in freedom? And through my situation, why is a people-created Buddhist church with a tradition of 20 centuries in this country, which is the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, not allowed to function freely as declared and guaranteed by The United Nation’s International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights?
The question I have raised here is not a personal anger or religious grievance. Rather, it is an anguishing question about the future of Vietnamese culture and a person’s life and death. As a victim and a witness of history for the past 55 years, I would like the country change while still alive. I do not want to leave this earth with a picture of a society unchanged in its policy of discrimination and repression against freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of press, and freedom of association along with other basic freedom of human rights.
In 1950, while living in Interzone 50 at the time which Chairman Ho Chi Minh initiated the Land Reform campaign, I heard officials and loud speakers relentlessly calling on people to decimate the 5 elements of society: “The heinous intellectuals, wealthy, landowners, gifted, and religions.” What’s the use if 5 out of 10 fingers are chopped off? In 1951, Mr. Nguyen Duy Trinh, President of Interzone 50’s War Management Committee, representing the Central government, declared that “The end of Buddhism has arrived.” Mr. Trinh specifically singled out Buddhism without mentioning or attacking any other religion. In 1952, the revolutionary government forced Buddhists to abandon Buddhism and join Inter-Viet, a Party’s fringe organization. I protested and thus was arrested in Quang Ngai. Our National Salvation Buddhist Association was disbanded. Thanks to the Geneva agreement in 1954, I was released. The release document did not say that I committed any crime.
After April 30, 1975, the Revolutionary government was enthroned. Everybody thought that all social backgrounds, ethnic groups, and classes of people would be able to live peacefully and freely function in the spirit of harmony and conciliation specified by the Paris Agreement. But no, old tales reappeared. The majority Buddhist public and the UBCV, an organization with a tradition and magnitude, were the first victims of discrimination and repression, even though our Church’s point of view has been unbendable: “the nation, peace, compassion, and salvation”
The policy of discrimination and repression was expressed through forced defrocking against Monks and Nuns, coercing them to go to undeveloped economic regions or join the army to be sent to the war in Cambodia, or sending them to Re-education camps; seizing all temples, offices, and buildings that belonged to the Church in Saigon and all over cities and provinces in the south; all cultural, educational, social, and economic offices, Van Hanh university, Bo De elementary and high school system, the school of Youth Serving society, charity office, kindergartens, orphanages, temple’s land, sutras, books …etc. This policy lead to the group immolation by the 12 monks and nuns at Duoc Su Temple in Can Tho on November 2, 1975 to protest the policy and demand for the rights to religious freedom.
In a letter signed on September 20, 1975, number 0278-VHD/VP sent to Mr. Chairman of the Interim Revolutionary Government of the Southern Republic (Respectfully the lieutenant general Tran Van Tra, Chairman of the Military Management Committee in Saigon – Gia Dinh), on behalf of the Institute for the Dissemination of Dharma, I requested for an cessation of activities to demolish Buddha statues. In the letter, I clearly listed 3 specific situations of the demolition at Buu Long temple in Soc Trang on September 2, 1975; using dynamites to destroy the 9-meter outdoor Avalokiteshvara statue in Phu Hai Hill in Phan Thiet on September 11, 1975; using dynamites to destroy Avalokiteshvara status in Bien Ho in Pleiku on September 11, 1975.
Situations became worse and worse, hence on March 17, 1977, on behalf of the Institute for the Dissemination of Dharma, I sent another letter, number 044/VHD/VP to Prime Minister Pham Van Dong, detailing the systematic repression of religions in the former South. In the letter, I detailed 88 incidents of repression and forced seizure of the Church offices in 29 cities and province: Phu Bon, Long Khanh, Khanh Hoa, Nha Trang, Da Nang, Quang Ngai, Binh Thuan, Soc Trang, Chuong Thien, Saigon, Thu Duc, Long Chau Tien, Kien Giang, Tuyen Duc, Gia Lai, Komtum, Pleiku, Ban Me Thuoc, Dinh Tuong, Phan Thiet, Binh Tuy, Hau Giang, Kien Phong, Thuan Hai, Dong Nai, Binh Chanh, Bien Hoa, Long An, Minh Hai. The destruction of sacred Buddhist statues continued. By early 1977, nearly 20 statues of Sakyamuni Buddha and Avalokiteshvara were destroyed by dynamite or hammers, dismantled, or thrown into rivers. Some of these specific situation happened at Tinh Hoi Temple in Gia Lai, Kontum, Ban Me Thuoc, Van Hoa Temple in Kien Giang, Khanh Minh Temple in Can Giuoc, Thien Ton Temple in Minh Hai, Buddha recitation hall in Nguyen Van Nhut hospital, and so on.
The Most Senior Venerable Thich Don Hau returned to the South from the North, having witnessed human rights abuse in general and repression against Buddhism specifically, lamented in a tribute tape that the Venerable recorded which we still keep, that “Southerner’s unity, love, and respect lasted for only 10 days. After 10 days (“liberation”): the unity disintegrated, love turned into utter hatred, and people’s respect now turned into extreme despise.”
In spite of difficult and violent circumstances, the Institute for the Dissemination of Dharma, the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (The Institute) still contemplated about contributing to the country’s revitalization after the war, about unifying Buddhism in both Southern and Northern regions as it had been before the country was divided by Geneva Agreement in order to remedy virtual, protect national peace, wrap up the conflict and disharmony wounds, and to eliminate social problems. The Institute respectfully nominated the Most Senior Venerable Thich Don Hau to represent us at a meeting with Mr. Nguyen Van Hieu, President of Cultural Bureau to rationale our idea. However, Mr. Hieu responded “It is good to unify, but do not unify with reactionary Buddhists.” When asked who were reactionary Buddhists, Mr. Hieu did not answer. Was this the case of Mr. Hieu and the Revolutionary government not wanting Buddhists in Northern, Central, and Southern regions to unify in the spirit of Dharma but only wanted to force buddhist followers to “unify” with politics?
Those who did not want to secularize Buddhism thus was imprisoned and falsely accused with all crimes. This is evidenced in 1977 when I was arrested at Phan Dang Luu prison, along with The Institute’s high ranking clergies such as the Venerable Thich Thien Minh, Quang Do, Tri Giac, Thong Hue,…etc. At the end of 1977, the Most Venerable Thich Thien Minh was tortured to death in prison, the Church leaded to retrieve his body for a proper funeral and was rejected. Two years later, all of us were tried in court without even knowing what crimes we had committed. This was because we only stood and listened to the slandering judgement and did not get our rights to defend for ourselves; there was no defend attorneys as seen in countries that respect legal rights. Some of us received probation sentences, some were released, some were sent to prison for 2, 3 or 7 years.
At the end of 1981, the Party and government installed a Buddhist organization which acted as political instruments and abandoned Vietnamese Buddhist’s special unified characteristics, coiled into the label “Vietnamese Buddhist Church”. In the past 70 years, since the Buddhist Flourish movement in the early 20th century, we practice our desire for a unified national Buddhism, now the Party molded a government Buddhist Church. That was why we protested. Church’s business is decided by Monks, Nuns, and Buddhists; why did the Party have its hand in arranging and deciding the church’s business for Church’s clergies and the Buddhist public? The Party and government’s newspaper used a few popular monastics as a cover to assure domestic and international public opinions. However, besides the people who hide under the monastic covers, the rest was individuals who were coerced, corrupted, pressured; many of these individuals pretended to go with the flow. This made Buddhists nationwide to grievingly witness the scene of: A government Buddhist Church that is dead but not yet buried! A people-created Buddhist church (the UBCV) that has been buried but still lives on!
The Church is a collection of individuals with the same commitment to carry out Truth, Goodness, and Elegance and to liberate human beings from sufferings. It can not be a place to bravo or dissent all day long. That was why we rejected the forms and contents of an instrumental Church. Thus, on February 25, 1982, I received Decision number 71/QD-UB from the People’s Committee of Ho Chi Minh city, signed by Mr. Mguyen Minh Dam, Vice President of the City Police, and Mr. Le Quang Chanh, acting on behalf of the President of the city People’s Committee, to expel me from Saigon city and escort me to exile in Nghia binh city until now. The Decision document said my crime was “exploiting religion to cause national division (…) causing danger to the city’s security.” What authorities does the city People’s Committee use to decide and arrest, exile a monk who is also a citizen like myself without going through trial in any court? Does that manner constitute respect for legal rights? Also arrested and sent to administrative house arrest in native birthplace like me was the Most Venerable Thich Quang Do who was escorted to Thai Binh in the north.
In 1992, the Most Senior Venerable Thich Don Hau passed into paranirvana in Linh Mu temple, Hue. In late April of that year, I asked for permission to travel to Hue to mourn his death with the Church’s high and middle ranking clergies and Monks, Nuns, and Buddhists from the North, Central, and Southern regions. In this posthumous ceremony, I was entrusted to be Acting President of the Institute, by clergies who were present, as per the late Most Senior Venerable’s will, so that I, along side with the 2 Most Senior Venerables Thich Quang Do and Thich Phap Tri, could lead the Church and lobby for the restoration of rights to function for the Church, and organize the 7th Conference to reinforce personnel for the spreading of dharma to benefit sentient beings.
Having received the Church’s seal and responsibilities bestowed upon by the Church’s clergies, on returning to Quang Ngai I wrote “Petition for Reconsiderations of Multiple Matters”, signed on June 25, 1992 that included 9 requests sent to the Party’s General Secretary, President of Congress, Chairman of the Council of Governance, Chairman of Council of Ministers, President of Supreme Court, and Chairman of the Fatherland Front. Strangely, we did not receive any response for that petition. We never receive any response, including previous letters and many letters later. The Party and government regularly declared that the democracy of Socialism is 1 million times greater than that of Western capitalist democracies. Why then the Party and government uphold such a despicable attitude towards people’s cries for help? How valid is the meaning of the Party and government’s propaganda slogan “People know, people act, people control”?
The indirect response that we received in 1993 were the 2 “Secret” documents number 125/TUDV by the Committee of People’s Campaign and “Top Secret” document number 106/PA 15-16 by the Internal Bureau’s Police office. These 2 documents directed police officials and religious agents to “cut off hands and legs” and use “religious and legal rules” to isolate me and against the UBCV clergies, all of whom were indicated very impolitely and unpolitically, “The revolutionary An Quang Buddhist thugs”!
Reactionary or not, is only one way that the Party distinguishes between friends and foes. In reality, religions in general and Buddhism specifically, no-one can escape the maximum clampdown and restriction, if not suppression, by religious laws, decrees, and directives.
Throughout 2,000 years of Vietnamese history, under sovereign and independent regimes, never did Buddhism receive religious legislations like that. From Instruction 297/CP, then 69 of the Council of Ministers in 1991, to Decree 26/1999/NDCP, from such Decrees and Directives as 379/TTG, 500/HD/TGCP to the Government Religious Committee’s Decree Directives 26 about issues not at all related to spiritual affairs, enlightenment or liberation from illusions and sufferings. There is no such thing as freedom.
That is the reality and situation that the pubic in general and monastics and Buddhist followers specifically have suffered in repression and destitution in the South for the last 25 years, and in the north for the last 45 years.
The dying bird sounds agonizingly. An old monk like myself who is about to go to Buddha’s realm never utters a single word of lies: The Party and government can not hide their mistakes forever in order to commit immoral acts of which consequences bring impoverishment to people, repression against religions, loss of freedom to the intellects, loss of freedom of speech to journalists, loss of rights to creativity to artists, and loss of freedom of association to the working public …
It is time to end the situations that cause poverty to the people and vulnerability to the nation, decimation towards the talented and intellects.
Regarding Buddhism, we request that the UBCV must have its freedom to legally function restored, a right which has been declared and guaranteed by the United Nation’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights and International Agreement on civil and political rights. The Most Senior Venerables, Most Venerables and lay Buddhists who are released from prison must have their rights to residence, citizen’s rights, and rights to freely practice religion restored. Decree 31 must be abolished in order to permanently end the illegal practice of administrative house retention that makes those who are released from prison still feel they are being marched from a small prison to a big prison and thus making everybody anxiously nervous, unsure about being arrested arbitrarily at any moment. The Venerables and lay Buddhists who are still imprisoned or under house arrest must be released and exonerated. If they are still considered to be guilty, they must be publicly tried in a court with rights to defend attorneys of their choice and with the presence of international press.
In addition, we would like to return “the reactionary hat”, “the sabotaging hat”, and “the slandering rebellion hat” to those who put on our heads. Buddhism is the practice of Enlightenment and Salvation. Buddhism is the construction of a realm of compassion and brotherhood. Buddhism is not against generational thoughts, as those thoughts will pass with the generation. Buddhism only employs Righteous Concepts to shine into unfair and biased concepts.
In Celebrating 25th anniversary of the end of the war, in my opinion, the Party and government should carry on a uniqueness, something nobody else dares to do except those with courage and might. That is to practice the three actions of civilization:
Firstly, permanently end the belligerence in thoughts as well as in actions towards all elements of people and religions external to the Communist Party. That belligerence has long been disguised with the policy of class struggle and proletarian dictatorship;
Secondly, dedicate April 30 as the “Day of National Repentance and Longevity.” Repentance towards the dead and Longevity for the living. Democratic western nations perform repentance for their mistakes daily by the structure of free press, free speech and free criticism so that the governments can correct its mistakes. For such a main Western religion as Christianity, the Pope recently apologized for the church’s mistakes and violence towards mankind and other religions throughout the last 2000 years. How can the Party and Socialist Republic government have the audacity to declare that they have not committed any infringement in the last 55 years? So much resentment from the two wars, in the Land Reform campaign, in the Tet offensive in Hue, in undeveloped economic areas, and in Re-education camps. No matter how much denial, it is still hard to avoid a reality, that is the number of innocent victims forced to die was innumerable. The Party and government should show sympathy towards the dead. Be mindful about their spiritual rights and show repentance and organize postmortem praying ceremonies so that their spirits no longer wander calling for revenge.
Spiritual rights for the dead, Human Rights for the living: This is the meaning of the Longevity celebration. In ancient times, Kings and Lords organized annual grand ceremonies at Nam Giao to wish for national peace and sovereignty. In the current modern time, the government should apply the laws to guarantee fundamental civil and political freedom for all citizens as one way to worship human beings.
Thirdly, issue laws in the seeking bodies of the ones who died in the war, regardless whether they were Northern soldiers or Southern troops, for proper burial and so that their families can stop grieving. Release all religious prisoners and prisoners of conscience; restore the honors of those who died innocently, and adequately accommodate those who was disabled by the war, regardless of their Northern or Southern origin and political orientation.
If successfully carrying out the above three issues, along with respecting the UBCV’s rights to freedom of functioning, then it is can be said war has truly ended and that the 25th anniversary truly has the meaning of a start for a genuine national harmony.
With Sincere Hope.
Acting President of the Institute for the Dissemination of Dharma
The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnamese
Bhikkhu Thich Huyen Quang
– The Most Senior Venerable Thich Quang Do, President of The Institute for “Reference”
– The Second Office of The Institute in The United State “For Your Information”
– The International Buddhist Information Bureau in Paris “For Publication”
– For filing