Outspoken Buddhist Patriarch Dies

Vietnam's outlawed Unified Buddhist Church plans a funeral for its outspoken patriarch.
2008-07-08
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ThichHuyenQuang200.jpg
Thich Huyen Quang, fourth Supreme Patriarch of the outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. Photo: IBIB <br /> Photo: IBIB
BANGKOK—The outlawed Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) plans a funeral this week for its late patriarch, Thich Huyen Quang, who died in his monastery at age 87 after years under virtual house arrest, his church said.

Thich Huyen Quang, UBVC Supreme Patriarch, died July 5 at Nguyen Thieu monastery in Vietnam’s southern Binh Dinh province. A funeral is planned for Friday, July 11, the organization said.

The Paris-based International Buddhist Information Bureau said Quang had been treated in intensive care since May for kidney, heart, and lung ailments. He returned Saturday to the monastery, where he has lived under tight supervision for years and where he died.

“For his uncompromising determination to stand firm, he paid a high price, spending over half his life in prison, internal exile or under house arrest under a succession of political regimes,” the IBIB statement said.

His death was announced by the UBCV's deputy leader Thich Quang Do, the presumed successor, who has like Quang spent decades under house arrest and police surveillance.

“We can see that Vietnam’s economic development has brought some improvements. But at the same time, the wealth gap is skyrocketing. This is not just the gap between rich and poor, but the gulf between the rulers and the ruled,” Quang said in a sharply worded message for the Buddha’s birthday on May 13, 2008.

In terms of human freedoms, we have nothing—all basic rights and liberties are denied.”
Thich Huyen Quang

“The religious communities cannot act freely, and as a result, social problems are persistent and increasing. It is impossible to bring enlightenment where poverty and lack of freedom prevail.”

“Vietnam’s policies have produced a ‘rich country with poor people,’ the very opposite of the prosperity that the government’s slogans claim,” he said. “In terms of human freedoms, we have nothing—all basic rights and liberties are denied.”

Call to spread Buddhism

After the Vietnam War ended and millions of Vietnamese who had sided with the defeated South fled the country as refugees, Quang urged them to spread Buddhism worldwide.

“For the first time in our history, large numbers of Vietnamese people are settled in countries all over the world,” he said at the time. Quang called upon them to “sow the seeds of Vietnamese Buddhism,” saying, “This will be our way of contributing to world peace, by stemming the rise of intolerance and the advocacy of violence and terrorism by fanatical ideologies.”

“With the global tendency of today’s world, and its increased trends of dialogue and cooperation, there is more than ever a need for Buddha’s teachings of wisdom and compassion The more radiantly Buddhists overseas can spread this message, the more it will shine back upon our homeland, and one day soon, restore Vietnam’s resplendence.”

‘Loved and respected’

The IBIB called Quang “one of Vietnam's most loved and respected spiritual leaders, and also a determined opponent of tyranny in all its forms.”

“For his uncompromising determination to stand firm, he paid a high price, spending over half his life in prison, internal exile or under house arrest under a succession of political regimes,” the statement said.

Funeral planned

The UBCV said it planned to hold Quang's funeral at the Nguyen Thieu monastery early Friday, in defiance of government plans for an official funeral announced in state-controlled media last week.

In an interview, UBCV secretary-general Thich Vien Dinh, who spent many months with Thich Huyen Quang in Nguyen Thieu monastery said, “Everybody inside [Vietnam] or abroad knows for sure that the life of the most venerable Thich Huyen Quang was a process of campaigning for democracy, liberty, and human rights for Vietnam, for Buddhism, and for the people.”

Opposed both sides

Thich Huyen Quang was born on Sept. 19, 1920 in Binh Dinh, with the secular name Le Dinh Nhan.

Over the years, he successively opposed French colonial rule, the U.S.-backed South Vietnamese government of the 1960s, and finally the Communists who took power over all of Vietnam in April 1975.

...There is more than ever a need for Buddha’s teachings of wisdom and compassion.”
Thich Huyen Quang

Hanoi outlawed the UBCV in 1981 because it refused to become part of the state-sanctioned Buddhist church. Quang was arrested in Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, in 1982 for protesting the state-sanctioned church.

Quang was subsequently sent to the Quang Ngai province and became UBCV Patriarch in 1992. In November 1993, he issued a “Buddhist Proposal for Democracy and Human Rights,” in which he called for free elections and a multi-party political system for Vietnam.

Original reporting by RFA's Vietnamese service. Service director: Diem Nguyen. Written and produced in Engish by Sarah Jackson-Han. Executive producer: Susan Lavery.

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