- Comment by Da Le
By a chance, I have read a website,
entitled Vietnam Buddhism (by Suzanne Brown and Laura Clark) (1) and
found some inaccurate information related to Vietnamese history, especially history of
Buddhism in Vietnam. Tracing the source, I knew that that website belonged to the
Department of Asian Studies of Pacific University, Oregon State, and was written by two
undergrad students as a research for a history course (2). Since this is an academic
research, the readers supposedly to get from it as much accurate information as possible
in order to enrich their knowledge, otherwise it may lead people to the confusing and
misunderstanding of the subject, and at the end, causing damage to the reputation of that institute.
This article is a comment and not a
critique of the Vietnam Buddhism website. It will point out some inaccurate
information in the context in hope to share with the authors some accurate facts to
clarify the ill-information related to the history of Buddhism in Vietnam that contained
in that web.
1. About Vietnamese Buddhism: Environment, Timing and Norm
The authors wrote:
The classical period of Buddhism in South East
Asia was from the 11th to the 15th century.
At the beginning of the article Buddhism
in Vietnam, the authors placed Vietnamese Buddhist into the environment of Southeast Asia Buddhism and limited their study within 11th to 15th
century, named it as The classical period of Buddhism in South
East Asia. How does Vietnamese Buddhism fit into this anthropographic area and
the chosen time period, would be a big question that we need to focus on.
First, Southeast Asia is not a
principal nest to nurture Buddhism in Asia. Five countries in this region -Indonesia,
Malaysia, Singapore, Brunei, Philippines- are
not influenced by Buddhism at all, thus we can not claim that Buddhism played a significant role in the
definition of the classical South East Asian states . So, it does not make sense to place Vietnamese
Buddhist into this area unless it serves the purposes of teaching some history courses
that related to the Viet nam War as authors mentioned earlier in the Introduction, look
at some of the impacts of the American conflict in Vietnam in hope that it
addresses some of the general questions that educators and students have about the
Buddhist side of the conflict. However, as everybody knew, US s direct
involvement in Vietnam War just expanding to the Indochina region (Vietnam, Laos,
Cambodia), not all of Southeast Asia countries. Therefore, the authors might have mistaken
in distinguishing between the Indochina and Southeast Asia or know nothing about there is
a geopolitical region named Indochina.
Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia are three countries strongly influenced by Buddhism; study
Vietnamese Buddhism within that framework may be more reasonable than the whole Southeast
The authors then set a timing boundary for Southeast Asia Buddhist,
from 11th to 15th century- and named it as The classical period of Buddhism in South East
Asia. The readers, even a devout Buddhist, may have a hard time to understand what does it means by The classical period
of Buddhism in Southeast Asia, from
which sources that divide Buddhist history in this area into different periods like that,
and why did the authors just limit the timing
boundary within 11th to 15th century to study?
To say this classical period
had a norm such as had homogeneity of form and institutional
orthodoxy, as well as helped to formulate kingship didnt give the readers
any impression about that particular period, in fact, those characteristics are not only
Southeast Asian Buddhism s characteristics but may apply for all religions including
Roman Catholic, Muslim, etc... in any place, at all times, especially under feudalism.
Obviously, any religion must have homogeneity of form and institutional
orthodoxy in order to survive and develop.
In theory, religion doesnt
participate in any political activities, but in the realty, from the past up to now,
religion always finds the way to exercise its influences onto the current government and
vice versa. Under feudalism, the King has absolute power to his subjects, if religion didnt
find the way to gain the support from the Royal Court, it may be persecuted and can not
survive. In predominant Buddhist countries, there has been a good relationship between the
Sangha, and a king. The Shangha advises the King, guides
him in the Dhamma , and supports him in his administration of the state. In return, the
King provides protection for the Shangha, ensuring optimum conditions for the pursuit of
the Buddhist way. We would find exactly the same pattern in Christian countries as well as
Muslim countries. The above norm, therefore, is not the special
characteristics of a historical period from 11th to 15th century, especially for Buddhism.
To place the Vietnamese Buddhism into
that timing boundary, the authors might think that Buddhism in VietNam just began active
only since 11th century, after Vietnam gaining independence from Chinese. If
so, its not correct. Many Chinese historical sources as old as from Han Dynasty
Archives, many Chinese and Vietnamese scholars who worked on Vietnamese Buddhist history,
all agreed that Buddhism was developed in Vietnam as early as 3rd century B.C.,
even before China. Some well known, respected Vietnamese Buddhist scholars including Dr.
Le Manh That in Vietnamese Buddhist History, The Most Venerable Thich Duc
Nhuan in Buddhism in Vietnamese History Mainstream, ... all claimed in their
published studies that Buddhism came to Vietnam directly from India. We may take closed
look at this topic later.
Ideas Contradict themself within one paragraph
The authors wrote:
Vietnam, however, is different from the
"norm" of the traditional South East Asian period of Classical Buddhism, since
it was strongly impacted by the Chinese.
At first, the authors set a norm
for Southeast Asia Buddhism and later disclaimed that Buddhism in Vietnam didnt
belong to that norm, because it
was strongly impacted by the Chinese. Though, the authors didnt give us
the clear picture of Buddhism in Vietnam, but based on authors logic, this sentence
implied that Buddhism in both China and Vietnam has no homogeneity of form and institutional orthodoxy, as
well as helped to formulate kingship. If so, what does Buddhism in China and
Vietnam look-alike? Are they not belonged to
any Buddhist tradition but a gallimaufry
stuffs which doesnt follow exactly what the Buddha taught?
To have the answer, one can see clearly from Buddhist history that
both Chinese and Vietnam had been sharing the same characteristics or a norm
as author may call it. They all pay homage to the Three Jewels: Buddha, Dharma and
Shangha. The homogeneity of form of Buddhism
may be represented well by the Shangha as recognized by Paul Williams, a Western scholar:
What unifying element there is in Buddhism, Mahayana and non-Mahayana, is provided
by the monks and their adherence to the monastic rule. (Paul Williams, Mahayana
Buddhism, London: Routledge, 1989, 4).
In Vietnam, from the past up to present
day, the Shangha is always well organized and unique because it has been governed by
Vinaya and moral precepts. The fate of Vietnamese Shangha may be up or down sometimes in
history depends upon the fate of the country, but basically it followed exactly the rules
that Buddha taught in Vinaya. For example, to become a Buddhist monk, one must go through
a sectarian school, usually located in Buddhist temples around the country accordingly to
which Buddhist sect they belong to: Zen, Pure Land, or Esoteric ... school. He must study
very hard in a discipline way about basic Sutras, Vinaya and practice meditation. At
first, he is called a Samanera -a Novice Monk- when he receives his ordination. He
supposes to observe Ten Samanera Precepts with certain disciplinary codes for leading a
monastic life until he receives his higher ordination, Upasampada, to become a Bhikkhu.
The ordain protocols thus remained unchanged up to present day. Moreover, the rituals that performed in Buddhist temples, the sutras that
Buddhists recite on different occasions such as celebration of particular events, pay
respect to the death, etc... considered as universal and the context did not change much
Was Buddhism in this period helped to formulate kingship? The answer is Yes.
History showed that Buddhism had played
an important role in shaping the country of China as well as Vietnam. In Vietnam, under the Dinh, Le, Ly, and Tran
Dynasties, the relationship between the Sangha, and Royal Court was always smooth.
Buddhist Church had produced many talent monks, scholars as well as public administrators
to form a backbone of country's intellectual class at that time. The Shangha, thus made
the significant contributions to the founding and protecting of the country. They worked
closely with the current government to build Vietnam from a young nation to become a
strong, and civilized state. In return, the Royal Court of those dynasties treated Shangha
with grateful and respect . The Kings, most of them also were devout Buddhists, had
employed the supporting policies toward Buddhism. Though, they did not declare Buddhism as
a national religion but the Kingdoms officialdom did have position called State Monk
who was selected from special examinations to help the King to look after the Buddhist
affairs. Those monks were actually state officials who working as a mandarin for the Royal
Court. Besides that, the King named some highly respected, good reputation monks as Master
of State and asked them to live in pagodas as close to the capital as possible so that whenever needed, he can visit them to seek
So, one may see that Vietnam is not
different from the norm that the authors have set.
Misrepresent the History of Buddhist Development
The authors wrote:
Buddhism, in this time period,
tended to follow the Theravada tradition.
The author claimed that Buddhism, in this time period, (from 11th
to 15th century) tended to follow the
To examine this claim, one should have
basic knowledge about the history of Buddhist development, the Mahayana and Theravada
traditions. Rev. Mahathera Piyadassi, one of Sri Lankas most popular, well known
Buddhist scholar monks give us a brief history of Theravada, Mahayana in his recent
publish as follows:
In the 3rd Century B.C., after
the Buddhas passing away, during Emperor Asokas regime, the Third Council was
held to discuss and recite both the Dhamma and the Vinaya. The Teachings approved and
accepted by the monks of this Council became known as Theravada -the Teachings of the
Elders. After this Third Council, Emperor
Asoka's son, the Arahat Maha Mahinda, who came to Sri Lanka, brought with him the Tipitaka
or the Buddhist Canon, the texts with the commentaries that were recited at the Third
Council. The texts were written in Magadhi (Pali), the language spoken by the Buddha.
The first mention of the terms Mahayana
and Hinayana is found in the Sutra of the Lotus of the Good Law (Saddharma Pundarika
Sutra) (1st Century B.C. - 1st Century A.C.)
The term Mahayana was clearly defined
and designated about the 2nd Century A.C. and Nagarjuna, the great exponent of Mahayana,
developed the Mahayana philosophy emphasizing the importance of Sunyata -everything is
Void (see his Madhyamika-karika). Later came Asanga,Vasubandhu, etc... stalwart supporters
of Mahayana who enriched the Mahayana literature. So it was about 700 years after the
passing away of the Buddha that the two terms Mahayana and Hinayana were introduced.
The ill-informed refer to Theravada as
Hinayana, they do not know what they are talking about. When Buddhism was introduced to
Sri Lanka by Ven. Mahinda in the 3rd Century B.C., there were no yanas. The Hinayana sect
developed in India and has nothing to do Theravada Buddhism. The Theravada was not
involved in either the schools of Mahayana (the Great Vehicle) or Hinayana (the Low
Vehicle). Theravada exists independent of any yana.
In 1950 when the World Fellowship of
Buddhists (WFB) was inaugurated in Colombo, Sri Lanka, the members of the WFB from both
the East and the West unanimously decided to
drop the contemptuously used term Hinayana when referring to Theravada
Buddhism existing today.
Mahayana and Theravada are the two
great Buddhist schools in existence in the world today. Mahayana spread to the Far East
-to China, Japan, Korea, Tibet, and Mongolia. Theravada spread throughout Southeast Asia
-Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Campuchia, Laos,...
(Rev. Mahathera Piyadassi, The
Spectrum of Buddhism, Reprinted by The Corporate Body of the Buddha Educational
Foundation, Taiwan ROC, June 1966, 427.)
Thus, looking into Buddhist history, we
may see that both traditions were developed at the same time accordingly to which country
adopt them first, so we cant jump to the conclusion that Buddhism, in this time period, tended to follow the
Misrepresent Buddhist Ethics
comparison with Confucianism:
The authors wrote:
were all equal whereas Confucians existed primarily in the five relationships. Buddhism
offered the people a Way out of Confucianism's confining restrictions.
comparison between Confucianism and Buddhism on social relations, the authors said Confucians
existed primarily in the five relationships which are Husband to Wife, Father
to son, Elder brother to younger brother, Emperor to subject, and the relationship amongst
friends while Buddhists were all equal.
We knew that the social relations is
not only but one way to define the morality of one society. To say Buddhists were
all equal, the authors misrepresented that Buddhism has no social norms for any
relationship: father equals to son, elder equals to younger, emperor equals to subjects,
etc... and thus, Buddhism seems pay no respect to any moral values.
To draw that conclusion, the author
might not understand the concept of Equalities
in Buddhism. From the Buddha teaching, not only men but all living things are born
equally, that means, they all have the same Buddha nature, have the abilities to reach the
Enlightenment, and attain the Buddhahood. Therefore, Buddha denied the existing of caste
system and the discrimination because of social classes as he said There were no
social classes when mens tear are all salty. Thus, Equality in
Buddhism does not mean all equal in social relations. In contrary, Buddha, in
many discourses, advised men how best to act for their own happiness and for the benefits
of others, how to behave in social relationships. Thats morality. Thats
Buddhist ethics. Because morality is one of the most important aspect of living and the
need for ethics arises from the fact that man is not perfect by nature, therefore, he need
to train himself to be good.
A Western scholar, Nelson Foster, gave
us a clear picture of Buddhist morality:
It is clear from the Pali text,
apocryphal or not, that early Buddhism was aware of itself as a force for social good.
Shakyamuni appears in the Pali sutras as a peacemaker, provides guidelines for good
rulership, criticizes Indias caste system, emphasizes
morality as the foundation of practice, and so forth.
(Nelson Foster, To enter the
Marketplace, in Fred Eppsteiner, ed., The Path of Compassion: Writings on Socially
Engaged Buddhism, rev.ed. -Berkeley: Parallax Press, 1988-, 49.)
And the Sigala-Sutra shows
us the good example of Buddhas teaching regarding social relations:
In obeying and observing the last
instructions given to him by his dying father, a young man named Sigala used to worship
the six cardinal points of the heavens: East, South, West, North, Nadir and Zenith. The Buddha taught him that in the noble disciple
of his teaching, the six directions were different: East means parents; South means
teachers; West means wife and children; North means friends, relatives and neighbors;
Nadir means servants, workers or employees; Zenith means religious masters.
The Buddha told Singala to worship
these six directions by performing duties towards them in which he explained as follows:
First: Parents are sacred to their
children. The Buddha says: Parents are called Brahma, which is the highest and
most sacred conception in India thought. Therefore, in good Buddhist families at the
present time, children literally worship their parents everyday, morning and evening. A
noble disciple have to perform certain duties towards their parents such as they should
look after their parents in their old age; should do whatever they have to do on their
behalf; should maintain the honour of the family and continue the family tradition; should
protect the wealth earned by their parents; and perform their funeral rites after their
Parents in return, have certain
responsibilities towards their children: They should keep them away from evil courses;
should encourage them to do the good things, should give them good education and skills;
should marry them into good families; and should hand over property to them at the right
Second: The relation between teacher
and student. Student should stand in respect to salute his teacher ; should attend to his
needs if any; should study hard and pay attention to learn the skills.
Teacher in return should train and
shape his student properly, should give them fine education and skills; should praise him
to his friends for good work; and should try to secure employment for him when he
Third: The relation between husband and
wife. Love between husband and wife is considered almost religious or sacred. The Buddha
used term sacred family life to indicate this relationship. In summary, wives
and husbands should be faithful, respectful and devoted to each other. They should perform
certain duties towards each other in their daily lives.
Husband should respect his wife, love
her and be faithful to her; should give her the appropriate authority to perform; and
should give her jewelry too.
Wife in return, should supervise and look after household affairs; should entertain
guests and relatives, should love and be faithful to her husband; should protect well his
property; and should be energetic and clever at all activities.
Fourth: The relation between friends.
They should be hospitable and
charitable to each other; should speak pleasantly and agreeably, should work for each
others welfare, should work together without cheating.
They, therefore, help to protect and
maintain friends property if he is wasting; should give them the shelter whenever he
is in dangerous situation, should not forsake each other in difficulty; and should respect
friend familys tradition.
Fifth: The relation between employer
The employer has several obligations towards his employee: work
should be assigned according to employees ability; provide them adequate wages and medical needs, share with them fine food
and sometimes, give them leave with pay.
Employee in his return, should be
diligent and not lazy, honest and obedient, should be satisfied with what employer gives,
should be earnest in his work and should do whatever he can to bring good reputation to
Six: The relation between the religious
master and the laity.
Lay people should always s have
compassion in their activities, in speaking and thinking; should open the door to invite
the master; and should look after the materials needs of the master with love and respect.
In return, the master with loving heart
should lead them along the good path away from evil, should teach them the valuable
lectures sothat they can live a good lives and the way lead to heaven after passing away.
(Digha-Nikya, vol. III. 180-93)
3.2 In comparison with Taoism
The authors wrote:
Taoism also played a necessary
part in the development of Vietnamese Buddhism. The natural tendency of Taoist philosophy
towards meditation and contemplation was a compliment to many of the Buddhist techniques.
As a result, many Taoist symbols and meditation tools became mainstreamed into Vietnamese
Buddhism, Confucianism, and Taoism all together coexisted in harmony, there
are no special Taoist activities in Vietnam. For Confucianism, there are shrines to
worship Confucius called Temple of
Letters (Nha Van Mieu) in each administrative district or province and the Confucian
Shrine in Hanoi has become a sacred symbol of
Vietnams Confucian civilization. Even Confucianism has no clergy, we may consider
the mandarin, as well as the Vietnamese-Confucian intellectual class as the Confucius
applied the code of social and political behavior in helping the king to
govern the country.
Taoism does not have any church and
clergy at all, thus it was considered as a philosophy, a way of life and not officially
recognized as a religion in Vietnam. According to Lao-tzu, the founder of Taoism, Tao
meant nothing and nothingness was the essence of Tao. Later, a famous Lao-tzus
disciple, Chuang-tzu, raised a question about the difference between realty and illusion,
and contended that a realty might be an illusion, and vice versa. A famous story that
describes his idea was, one day he dreamed of becoming a butterfly fluttering around and
when he woke up, he wondered whether he dreamed of becoming a butterfly or the butterfly
dreamed of becoming him.
So, for Taoist, if you see life that
exists as a big dream, why you have to work so hard for living? The right thing to do is
turning your back to the society, go to the remote forest to live an easy way for leisure.
The disengaged attitude toward social life of Taoism, at first, looks very different with
the socially aggressive engagement of Confucianism but infact in the past, both ways of
life are integrated in the life of Vietnamese-Confucian intellectual class. A mandarin,
after fulfill his duties with the country, will choose to live for himself in leisure.
Thus Taoism was associated with
Confucianism but different from Buddhism both in ideology as well as the attitude toward
One may misunderstand when comparing
the disengaged attitude of a Taoist as the way renouncing the household life of a Buddhist
monk. Both attitudes, infact, are totally different. The Taoist attitude toward life is
passive while Buddhist attitude is very positive. Man who leaves everything behind to
become a Buddhist monk does not mean that he avoids human society to seek a happy life for
himself. He renounces the household life but does not renounce the world because Buddhism,
in nature, was not world-rejecting and passive. He is still a member of his society,
trying to help the others to relieve suffering and live in happiness.
Moreover, at the very first beginning,
Taoist focus mainly on searching for immortal
drugs and later, by the end of First Century BC, Taoist mysticism became more popular by
the infusion of augury and prognostication. The thirst for enjoy life forever or to
prolong longevity drove Taoist to develop some techniques in making drugs and meditation,
but one may see that the way to cultivate mind, the meditation practice ... are very
different between Taoism and Buddhism. Buddhist
meditation or Zen was a special technique to train, cultivate mind to reach the
Enlightenment which was developed by the Buddha, experienced by himself as well as many
Buddhist generations. That technique did not associate with any Taoist technique at all,
therefore, no way to say that many Taoist symbols and meditation tools
became mainstreamed into Vietnamese Buddhist thought, and there is no evidence
in Vietnamese history to show that Taoism
also played a necessary part in the development of Vietnamese Buddhism.
4. Misrepresent history of
The authors wrote:
The second wave of Buddhist
thought occurred about two hundred years after the common era. This was a style of
Buddhism filtered first through China, the Theravada school.
Of the various
forms of Buddhism that developed after the Buddha went into Nirvana, Mahayana became the
dominant tradition in East and parts of Southeast Asia that includes China, Tibet, Japan,
Mongolia, Korea and Vietnam. No one should make a mistake about that. Because Buddhism in
China and Vietnam followed Mahayana tradition, its
not right to come up with conclusion that
The second wave of
Buddhist thought occurred about two hundred years after the common era. This was a style
of Buddhism filtered first through China, the Theravada school.
But how did the Buddhism come to
Vietnam? Many people at first believe that it came from China. The reason is that China is a big neighbor and Vietnam was influenced strongly
by Chinese politics as well as culture for many centuries. Actually, it's not true. Many
well known Vietnamese Buddhist scholars including Dr. Le Manh That in Vietnamese
Buddhist History, The Most Venerable Thich Duc Nhuan in Buddhism in Vietnamese
History Mainstream,... all claimed in their published studies that Buddhism came to
Vietnam directly from India.
In summary, back
to 3rd century BC, after King Asoka organized the Third Council -a Conference to Collect
the Dharma- at Pataliputra, India, he sent 9
Buddhist monk delegates overseas. The monks went from Afghanistan to the Mediterranean to
teach Dharma. One of these, lead by Sona and
Uttara went to Burma then Indochina, including
Vietnam. Now, in Haiphong -60miles north east of HaNoi- there is a memorial tower to commemorate King Asoka that was
built by local Vietnamese Buddhists at that time to express their gratitude to King Asoka.
From that evidence, we may come up with conclusion that Buddhism came to Vietnam as early
as 300 years BC, even before China.
Then in 2nd century (168-189), Buddhism in VietNam became
more popular and developed with the
contribution of three great Buddhist monks
who came from India: MARAJIVAKA, K'ANG SENG HOUEI, TCHI KIANG LIANG and a local scholar,
MECU -FO (MAU - BAC or MAU - TU in
MECU - FO was
born in between the time 165 -170 in
TS'ANG-WU and was a mandarin. He took advantage
of his position to teach his people about Buddhism. Because of his important contribution,
Vietnamese Buddhists always consider him as a
first lay man to help build a Buddhist stronghold in Southeast Asia, particularly, in Luy
Lau, the capital of Vietnam at that time. In his famous book, "Reason and Doubt"
-the first one written at that time about Buddhism, not only in Vietnam but also in East Asia-, Mecu Fo presented to us a vivid
picture of Buddhism in Vietnam at that time. According to his book, there were a lot of Indian, Chinese, Vietnamese Buddhist monks lived
and practised Buddhism in LuyLau. Their activities, rituals and clothing mostly followed the norms of
Indian Buddhist tradition. There were thousands of Sutras that
circulated among Buddhist temples, many of them were already translated into Chinese
Its no doubt that Vietnam was
strongly impacted by China, a big neighbor which has highly civilization and rich culture,
that explained why Buddhism in Vietnam followed Mahayana tradition.
But how the Theravada tradition was
introduced to Vietnam?
Back to 17th century, the
southern part of present Vietnam from Quang Nam province was occupied by two kingdoms,
Champa and Cambodia (Khmer). Begin with Nguyen Hoang, the founder of Nguyen Dynasty, the
Vietnamese started a movement that Vietnam's history calls "Southern Forward
Campaign" aiming at expanding Vietnams territory to the South. Then under the
reign of King Nguyen Phuc Chu (1691-1725), Vietnamese accomplished the first phase of
"Southern Forward Campaign", took control over last piece of land of Champa
Kingdom, now Binh Thuan province, in 1692 and began set foot on Cambodia territory, a
country strongly influenced by Theravada tradition, in 1698. Since then, Theravada has
become a new factor of Buddhism in Vietnam and people refer this new tradition as NAM
-TONG (Southern Tradition) to distinguish with the old tradition, BAC-TONG (Northern
Tradition or Mahayana). But Theravada at that time was active only in some Khmer ghettos
-a community of Khmer minority groups-, mostly in SocTrang and TraVinh provinces. The
Vietnamese who followed Mahayana tradition did not pay attention too much about Theravada,
and considered it as Khmer Buddhist.
Theravada just gained a big boost in
Vietnam in three decades of the twentieth century, from 1920s to 1940s. Two pioneers who
got credit of spreading Theravada Buddhism into Vietnam would be Mr. NGUYEN VAN HIEU and a
veterinary doctor named LE VAN GIANG, who worked for French colonial government in
Phnompenh, Cambodia. Dr. Giang later decided to ordain and became one of few Vietnamese
Theravada Buddhist monks at that time whose Dharma name is Venerable HO-TONG.
Vietnamese Theravada Buddhist gradually
developed to become a part of Vietnamese Buddhist and the first Vietnamese Theravada
Buddhist temple, BUU QUANG, was established in 1938 in THU DUC, the vicinity of Saigon,
under the management of Mr. Nguyen Van Hieu.
On May 14, 1957, Mr. Hieu formed the
Vietnamese Theravada Buddhist Federation as an organization which represents the interest of Theravada Buddhist in Vietnam. Then on December 18, 1957, the
Vietnamese Theravada Buddhist Sangha Congregation (VTBSC - Giao Hoi Tang Gia Nguyen Thuy
Vietnam) was formally established and recognized by the Diem government, with Venerable
Ho-Tong as its first President. VTBSC later joined the Vietnamese Buddhist movement
struggle against Diem regime in 1963 and became a member of Vietnamese Unified Buddhist
Church when it was found in 1964.
Thus Theravada Buddhism came to Vietnam from Cambodia, not from China or
India. It had been active in southern part of Vietnam -not the whole country- just few
decades ago therefore, its not correct to say the two step development of Mahayana and Theravada
schools throughout the country, and thus make a serious mistake to conclusion
that These two schools not only reflect
differences in doctrine and basic theology, but also two different cultural influences:
India and China.
With those mistakes, the authors
already misrepresented the Buddhist history
in general as well as the history of development of Buddhism in Vietnam to the readers,
caused them misunderstanding and confusing on some basic knowledge about Buddhism.
5. Misrepresent Vietnamese
5.1. The role of Vietnamese Buddhist in a struggle
against Diem regime.
The authors wrote:
With Buddhism, when a country
was dominated by a colonial power, nationalist movements grew out of and identified with a
religious context. An example of this is the 1960 Buddhist protests, in which the Buddhist
monks immolated themselves in fire.
a Vietnamese Buddhist, one may be happy with what the authors say nicely
about Vietnamese Buddhism at some points such as with
Buddhism, when a country was dominated by a colonial power, nationalist movements grew out
of and identified with a religious context.. But, here we are dealing with an
academic issue, therefore we dont examine and judge history by emotion, but by the
analytical methods that based on the facts, the accurate information. Therefore,
everything should be judged fairly.
Of course, there is nothing wrong with
the above judgment but the example that authors use to clarify their opinion goes to the
awful way: An example of this is the 1960
Buddhist protests, in which the Buddhist monks immolated themselves in fire.
This example, somehow identified that
US was a dominant colonial power and admitted that the Vietnam War, obviously was
an US invasion, trying to dominate Vietnam. Based on authors point of view and the
example, the war therefore couldnt be justified. The Vietnam War wasnt a Noble War as former president Reagan
declared, and the American blood that spilled over Vietnam soil was for nothing.
The readers may raise the question: Is
this the official point of view of Asian Studies Department of Pacific University - with
Dr. Barlow as its chairman- toward Vietnam War?
Right or wrong, this point of view will
create a controversial issue.
soldiers who fought for that war, the veterans and their relatives, the families of KIA
and MIA,... may considered it as a traitors view.
South Vietnamese people who fought along side with US in that war,
especially more than million Vietnamese overseas who resettled in the US as political
refugees, that point of view is not acceptable. It made them look ugly as the mercenaries
for a puppet government!
But this article supposes not to dig in
deeply into the Vietnam War topic, lets back to the role of Vietnamese Buddhist in a
struggle against Diem regime. After asserted that the 1960 Buddhist protests was a nationalist
movement, the authors said: After
the removal of Deim and his brother Nhu, the United Buddhist Association, which was under
the leadership of Thich Tri Quang and Thich Thien Minh, remained politically active.
This would be ill-information.
First, there is no 1960 Buddhist protests in Vietnamese
Buddhist history. The Buddhist struggle movement against Diem regime just broke out on May
8, 1963, while the Buddhists in Hue -a Buddhist stronghold- prepared to celebrate the
Buddha's Birthday. At first, they protested the discrimination from the central government
that prohibited them to display the International Buddhist Flag. While thousands of
Buddhists gathering at a local radio station in Hue, the government dispatched five
armored cars to the scene to disperse them with the result of 9 Buddhists lying dead in
blood. Vietnamese Buddhists had no choice but to stand up to condemn the killings and
struggle for the religious freedom. The
movement quickly gained the momentum and spread rapidly to the whole country.
Second, the Buddhist movement in
Vietnam was the contribution of different Buddhist sects and organizations, Buddhist
intellectual as well as working class... To judge or view that movement and later, the
Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Church (UVBC), one can not focus on some figures such as Rev.
Thien Minh and Rev. Tri Quang. The authors merely influenced by Frances Fitgeralds
view in his book, Fire in the Lake, or its only source that they gained
knowledge about Buddhism in Vietnam. The authors might not know that, one of the leaders of that movement whom they just
honored above, Rev. Tri Quang, on the darkest time of the struggle, the night of August
20, 1963, escaped the assault of Diem regime by taking refuge in the US Embassy in Saigon
where by authors definition would be the real enemy of the Buddhist
nationalist movement. So, it doesnt make sense if a bright leader of the nationalist
struggle went to the enemy asking for protection to save his head! By that action, we may
fall into two hypothesis: The Buddhist movement is not a nationalist movement or Rev. Tri
Quang is not a nationalist. Either hypothesis would be contradicted to what authors have
And finally, the UVBC may be very upset
because authors considered them as a political organization rather than a religious
organization when said it remained
politically active after the fall of Diem regime in 1963. Someone -Buddhist monks or laymen- might take
advantage of this organization to build a political base for their own interest, but the
UVBC itselft, as far as I knew, was not a political organization.
In this website, the readers may find
another ill-information related to history of religion in Vietnam. In a short article
introducing Caodaism in Vietnam, authors wrote: Respected saints of the Cao Dai include: Joan of Arc,
Rene Descartes, William Shakespeare, Victor Hugo, Louis Pasteur, and Lenin.
Its a incredible mistake when
said Caodaist worship Lenin!
This fact is totally fabricated and
would cause a big damage to the reputation of Caodaism.
First, there is no reason for a religion to worship a political figure, especially that
person is one of the big founders of Communism. Second, this information would be
interpreted that Caodaism is a pro-Communist religion, in fact, its not.
In the contemporary Vietnamese history,
Caodaism was known as a nationalist movement. Caodaists supported Prince Cuong De, who
sought Japanese support his struggle to liberate Vietnam from French colonial. To reach their goal, Caodaists employed both
political struggle as well as military means. The Caodaist militia had been formed which
was active mainly in the Eastern part of South Vietnam. They fought both the French as
well as the Communist. Therefore when Communist took over the government in 1945, they tried to wipe them out of political stage by
force. Suffer heavy loss from Communist attacks, Caodaist had no choice but to cooperate
with the French to survive and later, after Saigon government was established in 1954,
Caodaist militia was assimilated into Republic South Vietnam Army.
its not reasonable to say that Caodaist worship Lenin because as
everybody knew, the French colonial government in Vietnam be÷ore 1954 and later, the
Saigon Government (from 1954-1975) were fierce anti-Communist governments, how can they
let the Caodaist freely worship a top leader of Communism -father of Communist Revolution
in former Soviet Union- in South Vietnam? The truth is so clear that we dont need to prove by any evidence. This
ill-information would be considered as a defamation and would cause a big uproar among
Caodaist communities overseas!
6. Some Suggestions
As mentioned early, the purpose of this
article is to clarify some ill-information related to Vietnamese history, especially
history of Buddhism in Vietnam. First of all, we believe that the web was created in
goodwill and we are very appreciate about authors and Asian Studies Department of Pacific
Universitys efforts to expose to the readers some positive information about
Vietnamese Buddhism . However, since the website went to public under the domain name
Vietnam Buddhism, and carried some incorrect information that may misrepresent
the Vietnamese Buddhism, as a member belonged
to that community, we need to make some comments.
Before to do that, I have also made
contact to the author of that website, Ms. Susan Brown, and got a very positive response
from her. In her email wrote to me, she agreed that, I c0-wrote that page well over
5 years ago as an undergrad, with another student. I am sure you are correct that there
are unclear portions of the page, and your input would be helpful. There are many things I
wish I could change myself, but since I am no longer a student I am unable to upload
changes (3), (See the attached Email).
So, I understood that an undergrad
research cant be perfect and the staff s lacking of Vietnamese expertise may
contribute to that problem, therefore, it would be a great benefit to the public as well
as for the reputation of Pacific University, the place supposedly to give people the
rightful knowledge, who are responsible for that website should make the correct changes.
Here are some suggestions:
The Asian Studies Dept. of Pacific
University may keep it as it is if they want to but its better publish it under
different domain name rather than Vietnamese Buddhism. The new name should be
made clear to the readers that it belong to the Pacific University sothat readers dont mistaken the identity of the website,
The author of the Vietname
Buddhism website admitted that there are unclear portions of the page
so, the appropriate thing to do is to rewrite that article or correct the inaccurate
information that I already mentioned above. The author, Ms. Suzan Brown, may be happy to
do that as she mentioned in her response email to me: There are many things I wish
I could change myself.
- Subj: Re: (no
2:02:39 PM Pacific Daylight Time
firstname.lastname@example.org (Suzanne Brown)
Thank you for your comments. I co-wrote that page well over 5 years ago as an
undergrad, with another student. I am sure you are correct that there are unclear portions
of the page, and your input would be helpful. There are many things I wish I could change
myself, but since I am no longer a student I am unable to upload changes. But please, forward it to the folks at
Pacific University who can make the changes.
Thank you again for your respectful