HANOI, Vietnam – One of the world’s most famous Zen masters made a plea Monday for religious freedom in his homeland, saying Vietnam’s communist leaders have lost touch with their revolutionary ideals and Buddhist traditions.
Thich Nhat Hanh, who helped popularize Buddhism in the West and has sold millions of books worldwide, portrayed Vietnam’s leaders as corrupt and out of touch with regular people.
Authorities forcibly evicted Nhat Hanh’s followers from the Bat Nha monastery on Sept. 27 and from the Phuoc Hue temple late last month.
“All we want is to practice – why can’t we?” Nhat Hanh wrote. “Why is it that in other countries people can practice this tradition freely, and we can’t?”
The 83-year-old Zen master, who has lived in exile for more than four decades, shared his thoughts in a nine-page Buddhist “koan,” a sort of Zen riddle meant to inspire meditation, reflection and enlightenment. He now teaches at his Plum Village monastery in France.
Nhat Hanh wrote each section of the koan from the perspective of a different player in the tussle over Bat Nha, speaking from the point of view of a monk, a government official and a police officer, among others.
“This is an ugly stain on the history of Buddhism in Vietnam,” Nhat Hanh wrote from the view of a member of the official Buddhist Church of Vietnam. “It disgusts and sickens us.”
Vietnam tightly controls religion, and only officially sanctioned churches are allowed to operate. The government, however, initially gave Nhat Hanh’s followers permission to worship on a temporary basis. Now it says that authorization has expired.
But Nhat Hanh’s followers say they have been harassed because their teacher called on Vietnamese authorities to abolish government control of religion during a 2007 meeting with President Nguyen Minh Triet.
The koan praised Nhat Hanh’s followers for remaining peaceful in the face of violence, and accused police and government officials of orchestrating the angry mobs that forced them from the two temples.
“We hired mobs to destroy their community, to assault them and expel them,” Nhat Hanh wrote from the perspective of a police chief.
Government officials could not be immediately reached for comment Monday.
Authorities have previously said police did their best to maintain order at both temples and have blamed the conflict Nhat Hanh’s followers and members of the Buddhist Church.
In his koan, Nhat Hanh called on officials to listen to the desires of the people. If they did so, he wrote, support for the government would only grow stronger.
“The people’s deep wish is for every citizen to be able to speak his or her mind without fear of denunciation or arrest,” Nhat Hanh wrote. “The people’s deep wish is to separate religion from political affairs and take the politics out of our religion.”
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