A bout a Website named
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
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
Moreover, 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 Asia region.
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
Ideas Contradict themself within one
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 through times.
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 the advises.
So, one may see that Vietnam is not different from the
"norm" that the authors have set.
2. Misrepresent the History of Buddhist Development
The authors wrote:
"Buddhism, in this time period, tended to follow the
The author claimed that "Buddhism, in this time
period, (from 11th to 15th century) tended to follow the Theravada
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 Theravada tradition."
3. Misrepresent Buddhist Ethics
3.1 In comparison with Confucianism:
The authors wrote:
"Buddhists were all equal whereas Confucians existed
primarily in the five relationships. Buddhism offered the people a Way out of
Confucianism's confining restrictions."
In 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
(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 death.
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 time.
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 graduates.
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
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
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 and employee.
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 his employer.
Six: The relation between the religious master and the
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
Although 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 followers who 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
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 life.
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 Vietnamese Buddhism.
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 Vietnamese). 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
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
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
5. Misrepresent Vietnamese History
5.1. The role of Vietnamese Buddhist in a struggle against
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."
As 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
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
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
American soldiers who fought for that war, the veterans
and their relatives, the families of KIA and MIA,... may considered it as a traitors
For 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 claimed.
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
5.2. About Caodaism
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
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.
Thus, its not reasonable to say that Caodaist
worship Lenin because as everybody knew, the French colonial government in Vietnam beöore
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
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:
1. 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,
2. 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."
(3)The authors email.
- Subj: Re: (no subject)
- Date: 7/24/2001 2:02:39 PM Pacific Daylight Time
- From: email@example.com
- To: LeCongDa@aol.com
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
Thank you again for your respectful attention.