Monk’s Followers Flee

Followers of an activist Vietnamese monk are forced underground.

Thich-Nhat-Hanh-305.jpg Thich Nhat Hanh (R) at a pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City, March 16, 2007.

BANGKOK—Followers of a hugely influential Zen Buddhist monk say they have been forced to go underground after being evicted from the pagoda where they had been living.

Some 200 monks and nuns—devotees of Thich Nhat Hanh—fled Dec. 31 from the Phuoc Hue pagoda in central Vietnam after visits by what U.S.-based Human Rights Watch described as “orchestrated” mobs that included police.

“We are now scattered everywhere, and it’s hard to settle down,” one nun said in an interview. “The authorities won’t let us stay wherever we go. They are trying to split us up.”

“So we travel in small groups. Some people who have families in the same area go together—and we can stay in one place for only a short time,” she said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“If we stay more than a week, the local authorities come and ask for our papers. So we have to move all the time.”

“At first, we wanted to go together and stay in one place—we wanted legal papers that allow us stay together, all 400 people, in our country,” the nun said.

Some 400 disciples of Thich Nhat Hanh, who has helped to popularize Buddhism in the West, were evicted from the Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province in September.

Nearly 200 then took refuge at the nearby Phuoc Hue pagoda, but they were ordered to leave by Dec. 31 and have asked for asylum in France.

Vietnam’s communist government, which closely monitors religious affairs, had been trying to remove the monks and nuns from the monastery for several months.

Harassment reported

This was the second time since September the group was forced to flee after a stepped-up government effort to disband the community of young monks and nuns.

They first fled from Bat Nha monastery after “thugs and undercover police” armed with hammers descended upon it, Human Rights Watch said.

Both the U.S. embassy and the European Parliament have voiced concern.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen monk and peace activist, is based at the Plum Village monastery in France and teaches “socially engaged” Buddhism.

He traveled to the United States in 1966 to call for an end to the Vietnam War and was barred from returning by both the U.S.-backed Saigon regime and the communist government that has ruled reunified Vietnam since 1975.

He visited the country in 2005 and 2007.

Ven. Thich Toan Duc, vice president of the state-run Vietnamese Buddhist Association of Lam Dong province, said he didn’t know where the group might have gone.

“Right now, there are no followers of Plum Village in Lam Dong. I don’t know where they are now,” Duc said.

Local police declined to comment and said they knew nothing about the fleeing nuns and monks.

Official stance

In October a foreign ministry spokeswoman described the matter as an internal Buddhist dispute and denied that hundreds of people had been forced from Bat Nha.

The government of Vietnam says it respects freedom of belief and religion, but all religious activity remains under state control.

Human Rights Watch has said the ousting of Nhat Hanh’s followers was “clearly linked to his call for religious reforms.”

The government accuses Nhat Hanh’s followers of sowing discord and defying central authorities by worshiping without official approval.

But Nhat Hanh’s followers say they believe the government is cracking down on them because their teacher has called on the communist government to end its control of religion and disband its religious police.

Original reporting by Do Hieu for RFA’s Vietnamese service. Translated from the Vietnamese by Hanh Seide. Vietnamese service director: Khanh Nguyen. Executive producer: Susan Lavery. Written for the Web in English by Sarah Jackson-Han.


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Jan 20, 2010 02:01 PM

Sure. It is great idea from Ven.Thich nhat Hanh. Dog is just eating and sleep but Hanoi regime, after eating is biting.

Jan 10, 2010 04:22 PM

Don't believe Vietnamese communist again, Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh. Trust Dog is better and safe than Hanoi regime. Buddha bless you all till you win.