How Do the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam and Vietnamese Buddhist Association Differ From Each Other? (Part 1 of 7)

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Thich Vien Dinh

During interrogations of The Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam members, police often asked tensely and provocatively: “Why do you support the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) instead of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association (VBA)?” This is a tremendous political intimidation. In this article, we analyze to distinguish the difference explicitly.

The atheistic Marxist-Leninist ideology aims to eliminate all religions, as it considers religions narcotics. If religions can not be eliminated, they must be, in all possible ways, be controlled so that they could be exploited as tools for the Communist Party, according to Lenin’s motto “The Party has to penetrate into religions to convene the public”.

In 1980, Mr. Nguyen Van Linh, City of Saigon’s Secretariat, declared at a meeting with all Buddhist churches and organizations that “We must unify Buddhism in order to employ it as a firm bastion for the Communist Party of Vietnam

In 1981, after 6 years of repression, imprisonment, terrorism, threats, and so on, the Communists were able to bribe, lure, and persuade a number of UBCV’s monks to participate in the creation of the government’s new church called Vietnamese Buddhist Association (VBA). Excluding a number of monks who fled to abroad and the late Most Venerable Thich Thien Minh who was tortured to death in prison, only the two Most Venerables Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do were resisting until the end against merging the UBCV, a people-established traditional church, with the government’s new church. For this, the two Most Venerables were arrested and sent to exile by the communist government: one to an isolated area in Central Vietnam, and the other to the far-flung North.

Why were the two Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang and Thich Quang Do vehemently opposing the integration of the traditional UBCV and the government’s VBA?

In the Proclaim to Abolish National and Dharma Disaster on November 20, 1993, the Most Senior Venerable Thich Huyen Quang wrote “Having failed to achieve its objectives that had been started after April 30, 1975 to repress religions in general and to eliminate the UBCV specifically, in 1981, the communist government changed its strategy by concocting a toady church that acts as its tools to use Buddhists against Buddhists according to the policy of divide and conquer.”

And in his letter to the government of Hanoi highlighting “The communist government’s six wrongdoings and the UBCV’s five substantiations”, the Most Senior Venerable Thich Huyen Quang also attested that:

Our Church does not want to turn herself into a chair so that the Communist Party of Vietnam can sit on firmly, as Mr. Nguyen Van Linh declared in a meeting with us on the two days February 12-13, 1980. We view that declaration a grave infringement against our sacred religion. The communist government degrades our Church as it sees the Church its own temporary chair for the Communist Party.”

Speaking generally about the UBCV, in the “Nine Petitioning Points” sent to the communist government of Hanoi while he was in exile in Quang Ngai by the Most Senior Venerable Thich Huyen Quang, he pointed out:

At the end of 1981, an organization called “Vietnamese Buddhist Association” was installed by the government in Hanoi. The government uses its Church to incriminate against our Church. Even though the government’s Church was created through a Conference; that conference had been rigged and directed by the government throughout and was not a Conference in which respected Senior monks, nuns, and Buddhist followers elected according to Vietnamese Buddhist tradition. Therefore we determine that the government’s Church is a temporal, political church, a tool for the current government, and has strayed away from the Buddhist public. A Church like that does not have the honor to experience the authentic Vietnamese Buddhism inheritance. That Church is only a progeny of (former propaganda organizations called) “Buddhist Affairs” and “Patriotic Buddhists”.

Glancing through above-mentioned excerpts and comments already reveals the distinctions between the two Churches, from goals to the creation, from subject matters to structure.