|Bat Nha: a Koan|
I AM A MEMBER OF THE BUDDHIST CHURCH OF VIETNAM. Bat Nha haunts me night and day. I know those young monastics are practicing the true Dharma. Everyone who has come into contact with them confirms this. So why are we powerless to protect them? Why do we have to live and behave like government employees? When will I realize my dream of practicing religion without political interference? During the periods of foreign colonization, or the Diem and Thieu regimes, Buddhists faced hardships; but monastics were never as tightly controlled as they are now. What the officials want today is a Buddhism based on blind faith and rituals, not a Buddhism that offers true spiritual guidance and has the capacity to promote an ethical way of living. They are afraid of a Buddhism that offers powerful spiritual leadership, and only accept religious organizations that can be controlled and manipulated. But when the Buddha was alive, he refused to submit to domination, even that of King Ajatasattu. During the French colonization and the Diem, Ky and Thieu regimes, our ancestors fought for liberty. Why are we not continuing that work? Why have we allowed ourselves to become the instruments of a policy that is trampling our ideal of service, our noble aspiration of awakening?
At first, I thought that if I went along with the government, I would at least have a chance to do some of the ‘Buddha’s work,’ whereas if I opposed the government totally then I wouldn't be able to do anything. And so I had to silently suffer the criticism and scorn of my colleagues for being in the system. After a while, however, I saw that it was thanks to the ability and courage of those outside the Buddhist Church to voice their protests that I was permitted to do Buddhist work, albeit in a limited way. When the history of Vietnamese Buddhism is written, how will I answer for this? My aim was to revive Buddhism in order to serve the people and the nation, not to become part of a system that exists to monitor and control Buddhists.
That venerable, who was pressured into withdrawing his sponsorship for the monks and nuns to stay and practice at his temple: he did not have the strength to resist. He was compelled to betray his teacher and his friends and break the deep vow he made just a few years ago. It is a tragedy for him. But who is that monk? Is he someone else, or is he none other than myself? He is in me. I am also being pressured, and don’t dare to do or say what I really believe in order to protect my spiritual children and young brothers and sisters. Isn't it my deepest desire to ‘Guide the future generations, and repay my debt of gratitude to the Buddha?’ If so, then how can I justify the fact that I stood by helplessly and watched as the young monks and nuns, my spiritual descendents, were oppressed, humiliated and trampled upon? How can I dare to look my spiritual children, my continuation, in the eyes? What is my true face? Who am I?
We are brothers and sisters, children of the Buddha. Is it because our practice of brotherhood is not solid enough that they have been able to divide us, that we have fallen into blaming and hating each other? According to the Buddha’s teaching of non-dualism, whether we follow the Unified Buddhist Church or the Buddhist Church of Vietnam, we are still brothers and sisters in the same family. We can do what we have to do without fighting or opposing each other, without having to consider each other as enemies. Has this enmity arisen because our practice is still weak? Has this happened because our spiritual power is not great enough? But surely we have learned a lesson: if we can accept each other and reconcile with one another, we can still resurrect our brotherhood and sisterhood, inspire the confidence of our fellow citizens and be role models for everyone. Even though we’ve left it until it’s too late, the situation can still be saved. Just one moment of awakening is enough to change the situation.
It seems the monks and nuns of Bat Nha have learned this lesson. Even when they were attacked and expelled they never showed any resentment toward the venerable abbot who had taken them in during these years. They knew that he was under intense pressure to force them out and that eventually he crumbled. If we in the Buddhist Church have been cornered into betraying our own brothers and sisters it is because our spiritual integrity is not yet strong enough. How can we be wholehearted and determined enough in our daily practice to attain the spiritual strength we need? Only when we understand can we love. When we love each other we cannot see each other as enemies. As long as we see each other as enemies, we will fall prey to schemes of division and separation.
Bat Nha isn't just an issue for the Central Buddhist Church of Vietnam to resolve. Bat Nha is a koan, the challenge of our lives. How can we solve it in such a way that we are not ashamed before our ancestors? Why can’t I share my thoughts and feelings with my friends in the Central Buddhist Church of Vietnam? Why aren't we allowed to harmonize our views? Why do we have to hide our thoughts and feelings?
Vietnamese Buddhists have respected and followed the Buddha, the Dharma and the Sangha for the last two thousand years. But now groups of people were hired who wore shoes into the Buddha Hall, who put up offensive banners on the altar, who yelled and cursed and threw human excrement at venerable monks, who destroyed sacred objects, and who violently attacked, beat and expelled monks and nuns from their temple. It was government officers who hired them and said they were Buddhists. This is an ugly stain on the history of Buddhism in Vietnam. It disgusts us and sickens us, yet why don't we dare to speak out? Can the Buddhist Church of Vietnam, whose members were slandered, falsely accused and framed by the government, shake off this insult and prove the innocence of Vietnamese Buddhists?
- 23/06/2011 05:44 - 100 Days Tsunami
- 23/01/2010 08:35 - The Indestructible Seed of Awakening
- 12/11/2009 00:00 - Rekindling the Sacred Fire: Thay’s letter to the Bat Nha monastic brothers and sisters
- 17/10/2009 12:53 - Magical Sound of the Sitar: Thay’s letter to the Bat Nha monastic brothers and sisters
- 10/10/2009 12:01 - Diamond Body: Thay’s letter to the Bat Nha monastic brothers and sisters
- 01/09/2009 06:01 - A Young Monastic’s Dream
Last Updated (Monday, 25 January 2010 01:53)