An Opportunity to Lead

The Wall Street Journal hosts an opinion piece by Thich Chan Phap Dung on the situation of monks and nuns at Bat Nha monastery in Vietnam.

The government of Vietnam now must respond. Will it disband a peaceful Buddhist organization, or move to fully protect religious freedom as required by international covenants and treaties to which Vietnam is a party, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and as Vietnamese citizens demand? Vietnam is currently serving as president of the U.N. Security Council and chair of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations in 2010. There is no better time to show the world its leadership on these important issues of human rights.

The monks and nuns still wish to return home to Bat Nha monastery. If this is not possible, the government, through its established Buddhist church, could at least reaffirm the monks’ and nuns’ legal right to practice together as a religious community at another location. These young monks and nuns want nothing more than to serve their country and humanity and are fine examples of the true beauty and determined spirit of the Vietnamese people.

Thay Dung provides some context on the situation that I hadn’t seen elsewhere (such as Hoang Hung’s petition, also in English). Hopefully this piece on the WSJ will spark enough interest to pressure Hanoi to finally fulfill its self-proclaimed commitments to religious freedom.

Bat Nha Back and Forth

Ven. Kobutsu Malone writes on the Buddhist Channel to offer another perspective on the events at Bat Nha monastery.

It appears the “Buddhist world” is getting behind the Thich Nhat Hanh followers without question. There are however, a lot of questions: It is obvious that the Thich Nhat Hanh people have a well-oiled propaganda machine going. The site purported to represent the monastery only represents the voice of the Thich Nhat Hanh clergy at the Bat Nha Monastery. The site is registered to Deer Park Monastery, Thich Nhat Hanh’s facility in Escondido, California. Is it possible that this perhaps inflames the local residents who may feel that the Thich Nhat Hanh followers had taken over their temple?

His thoughts drew a quick reply from Visakha Kawasaki.

Cracking down on Thich Nhat Hanh and his followers might just prove that his work for human rights and community development is proving too successful for the Communist party to tolerate. If the monks and nuns who look to Thich Nhat Hanh as their leader are being beaten and humiliated by police and mobs, does it make sense to blame them rather than see them as victims whose human rights are being violated? Perhaps the rulers of Vietnam regret loosening the rules and allowing Thich Nhat Hanh to return at all. Perhaps they just want to reassert their control and remind everyone who is really the boss.

The discussion over the situation at tu vien Bat Nha involves local, national and global issues and relationships. I am personally most concerned with the individual rights of monks and nuns. I’m much less concerned about the political exchanges between Thich Nhat Hanh and the Vietnamese authorities. But I need to have a grasp of both situations (and more) to have a better understanding of what exactly is going on at this monastery in central Vietnam—especially if I’m only reading news reports in English.

More Background on Bat Nha

Reuters’ Faithworld blog provides a broader picture behind the situation of monks and nuns at Bat Nha monastery in Vietnam.

A local government document from last month obtained by Thich Nhat Hanh’s followers and shown to Reuters stated that the group was not recognised by the state or the official Buddhist congregation and was staying at Bat Nha illegally. The roots of the problem may go back, in part at least, to Thich Nhat Hanh’s late 2007 visit to Vietnam. During that trip, he told Vietnamese President Nguyen Minh Triet that the government should abolish the arm of the police that tracks religious groups and disband the government’s Religious Affairs Committee, which regulates religious activities.

In the same shoes, I probably would have avoided giving a Communist leader unsolicited political advice, although I heartily agree that Viet Nam would be better off without the Religious Affairs Committee.

Bat Nha Perspectives

Not long after my previous post, Dr. Scott Mitchell relayed a comment he received in an email, which presents another side to the events at Bat Nha monastery.

The criticism is, in short, that there may be more going on here than meets the eye or that we are only getting one side of the story. This person suggests that the monks and nuns in Vietnam may be “making nuisances of themselves” and that the locals had had enough, driving off the “elitist followers” of Thich Nhat Hanh.

The government press releases that I’ve seen don’t exactly piece together an alternative narrative. But it’s important to understand that this situation can be viewed from multiple perspectives, and they’re all worth honestly discussing. My real concern here is that the monks and nuns—regardless of their affiliation—should be entitled to due process under the law, which is apparently not an option being afforded to them. I have never been all too enthusiastic about Thich Nhat Hanh or the Order of Interbeing (another story for another time), but this situation really hits home for me. For some reason, I cannot silently condone the breach of human rights against the monks and nuns at Bat Nha monastery. It’s them today, but who’s next?


The teachers’ situation is extremely difficult. This headline—the translation of the post title—is what drew me into a post on Pháp nạn Bát Nhã, which alerted me to current actions by the Vietnamese government to forcibly remove monks and nuns from Bát Nhã monastery. At the bottom of the page was a link to a list of YouTube videos that report directly on recent events.

Monks sitting in the rain after being forced outside by thugs.

Monks being forced outside by thugs.

Another video of monks being forced outside by thugs.Regardless of what you think of Thích Nhất Hạnh or Vietnamese people or Angry Asian Buddhists, this situation involves basic violations of human rights on many levels. Qui tacet consentit—if we do not speak out about this situation, we are effectively condoning the oppressive actions by the government in Vietnam, and by extension, those of governments elsewhere.

You can learn more about the situation of Bát Nhã monastery at the Help Bat Nha Monastery website, and also through recent posts on Shambhala Sun SpaceThe Buddhist Blog and Barbara’s Buddhism blog.

Buddhism in not a Religion

It is a dolphin. </justkidding>

Inspired by a post on Racialicious.

I’m 100% fine with people who insist that Buddhism isn’t a religion. But if they’re going to make that stand, then they should be fine with telling self-professed Buddhists that because Buddhism isn’t a religion then…

  • Freedom of religion doesn’t apply to Buddhism.
  • Buddhism doesn’t belong in interreligious dialogue.
  • Monks and nuns should not be eligible for visas as religious workers.
  • Buddhism doesn’t belong in religious studies.
  • Persecuted Buddhists shouldn’t get religious amnesty.

I’m probably preaching to the choir here. But in all honesty, if I find such a person who’s willing to do all that, I want to meet them. I want to bring my video camera too.