50 years ago this week…

June 11: 50 years ago today, a Buddhist monk named Thich Quang Duc calmly sat down in the middle of a street in South Vietnam in front of the Cambodian Embassy, while a fellow monk poured gasoline over his head. A moment later, he set himself on fire.

He was protesting the systemic religious discrimination against Buddhists by the Roman Catholic regime of dictator Ngo Dinh Diem. Although Catholics were very much a minority in the country, they enjoyed majority status and privileges. Buddhists were not allowed to practice their religion in public, serve in the army, and were routinely discriminated against.

[Via Death and Taxes]
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Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh

Martin Luther King and Thich Nhat Hanh

On the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, it’s worth reading the letter he wrote to the Nobel Peace Prize committee, nominating the Buddhist monk-activist, Thich Nhat Hanh:

1967 25, January
The Nobel Institute
Drammesnsveien 19


As the Nobel Peace Prize Laureate of 1964, I now have the pleasure of proposing to you the name of Thich Nhat Hanh for that award in 1967. I do not personally know of anyone more worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize than this gentle Buddhist monk from Vietnam.

This would be a notably auspicious year for you to bestow your Prize on the Venerable Nhat Hanh. Here is an apostle of peace and non-violence, cruelly separated from his own people while they are oppressed by a vicious war which has grown to threaten the sanity and security of the entire world.

Because no honor is more respected than the Nobel Peace Prize, conferring the Prize on Nhat Hanh would itself be a most generous act of peace. It would remind all nations that men of good will stand ready to lead warring elements out of an abyss of hatred and destruction. It would re-awaken men to the teaching of beauty and love found in peace. It would help to revive hopes for a new order of justice and harmony.

I know Thich Nhat Hanh, and am privileged to call him my friend. Let me share with you some things I know about him. You will find in this single human being an awesome range of abilities and interests.

He is a holy man, for he is humble and devout. He is a scholar of immense intellectual capacity. The author of ten published volumes, he is also a poet of superb clarity and human compassion. His academic discipline is the Philosophy of Religion, of which he is Professor at Van Hanh, the Buddhist University he helped found in Saigon. He directs the Institute for Social Studies at this University. This amazing man also is editor of Thien My, an influential Buddhist weekly publication. And he is Director of Youth for Social Service, a Vietnamese institution which trains young people for the peaceable rehabilitation of their country.

Thich Nhat Hanh today is virtually homeless and stateless. If he were to return to Vietnam, which he passionately wishes to do, his life would be in great peril. He is the victim of a particularly brutal exile because he proposes to carry his advocacy of peace to his own people. What a tragic commentary this is on the existing situation in Vietnam and those who perpetuate it.

The history of Vietnam is filled with chapters of exploitation by outside powers and corrupted men of wealth, until even now the Vietnamese are harshly ruled, ill-fed, poorly housed, and burdened by all the hardships and terrors of modern warfare.

Thich Nhat Hanh offers a way out of this nightmare, a solution acceptable to rational leaders. He has traveled the world, counseling statesmen, religious leaders, scholars and writers, and enlisting their support. His ideas for peace, if applied, would build a monument to ecumenism, to world brotherhood, to humanity.

I respectfully recommend to you that you invest his cause with the acknowledged grandeur of the Nobel Peace Prize of 1967. Thich Nhat Hanh would bear this honor with grace and humility.

Martin Luther King, Jr.

See also:

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Vietnam’s Falun Gong under pressure

wildmind meditation news

Ian Timberlake, AFP News: In silent meditation, the Falungong members did not flinch when a shirtless, tattooed man slapped them on the head, or when a burly female security agent dragged a dried palm leaf across their faces.

Vietnamese practitioners of Falungong — a Buddhist-inspired traditional Chinese spiritual discipline practised in more than 70 countries.– say treatment like this has become routine. They say communist authorities in Hanoi have bowed to pressure from China, using police and hired thugs to harass, assault and detain members of the movement.

Their plight has been highlighted with the jailing by a Hanoi court in early November of two Vietnamese Falungong …

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Viet Nam: Falun Gong practitioners detained over meditation protest

Mariah Jen: The beating and arrest of at least 30 peaceful Falun Gong demonstrators outside the Chinese embassy in Hanoi yesterday is an unacceptable violation of freedom of expression, Amnesty International said today.

The demonstrators were protesting the trial and mistreatment of two local Falun Gong broadcasters, Vu Duc Trung (right, wearing white shirt)) and Le Van Thanh (behind, center), who had worked for the movement’s radio station The Sound of Hope. The trial of Vu and Le is due to take place on Thursday.

“The repression of these Falun Gong practitioners by the Vietnamese authorities is a violation of their rights to freedom …

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Buddhist monks: Vietnam police still harassing us

Followers of a world-famous Buddhist teacher who were forced out of a Vietnamese monastery over the weekend have taken refuge at a nearby pagoda, but they say they have once again been surrounded by police.

The monks’ ongoing standoff with Vietnamese authorities has tested the communist country’s sometimes edgy relationship with religion, which the government views as a potential rival power structure. The government closely monitors all churches in the country.

The Buddhists say the police are now pressuring them to leave the Phuoc Hue pagoda in Lam Dong province, even though local officials of the state-sanctioned Buddhist Church of Vietnam have welcomed them to stay.

The 376 monks and nuns are followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnamese-born monk who helped popularize Buddhism in the West, has sold millions of books worldwide and now lives in France. He was once nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize by Martin Luther King.

Nhat Hanh’s Vietnamese followers sought refuge at Phuoc Hue after being forced out of the nearby Bat Nha monastery Sunday by police and an angry mob. Both are located in Lam Dong province in the Central Highlands, near the mountain resort city of Dalat.

“It is now clear that the police and government are not satisfied with the forced closure and violent eviction of monks and nuns from Bat Nha monastery itself, but are intent on continued, aggressive persecution of this one group of people,” Nhat Hanh’s followers said in a press release posted on a Web site called

Nhat Hanh’s followers say police have been guarding Phuoc Hue 24 hours a day, calling individual monks by name and urging them to return to their hometowns. Under police pressure, 15 monks left Wednesday, they said.

“They are using psychological tactics,” said Sister Dang Nghiem, a nun who was traveling with Nhat Hanh in New York on Thursday. “They are trying to break them down one by one.”

Local officials and the police were not available for comment on the standoff Thursday. Officials from the official Buddhist Church of Vietnam could not be reached.

The abbot of Phuoc Hue, Venerable Thich Thai Thuan, declined to comment.

Authorities say they removed the Buddhists from Bat Nha because the abbot there wanted them to leave. They characterize the dispute as a conflict between two Buddhist factions.

Nhat Hanh’s followers say they are being punished because their teacher called on Vietnamese authorities to end government control of religion.

Nhat Hanh has lived in exile for more than four decades. He was forced out of the former South Vietnam in the 1960s due to his opposition to the Vietnam War.

In 2005, he made a dramatic homecoming with the approval of Vietnamese authorities. His return was seen as a sign that Vietnam’s government was easing its controls on religion.

Nhat Hanh’s followers were invited by Duc Nghi, a member of the official Vietnamese Buddhist Church and abbot of Bat Nha, to settle at his mountain monastery and practice Nhat Hanh’s progressive brand of Buddhism.

They practiced quietly at the monastery for four years, spending nearly $1 million on additional land and buildings, including a meditation hall that held up to 1,800 people. It was frequently filled with visitors from around Vietnam on weekends.

Relations between Nhat Hanh’s followers and the authorities began to sour about a year ago.

Since June, there have been intermittent conflicts between Nhat Hanh’s followers and the police. They climaxed on Sunday.

Nhat Hanh’s followers say the police and mob on Sunday dragged the nuns and monks to nearby vehicle, beating them and grabbing their genitals in an effort to humiliate them.

Police questioned two senior monks and escorted them back to their homes in Nha Trang and Hanoi, where they confiscated their identity documents so that they cannot travel, Sister Dang said.

The two are living under virtual house arrest, said Sister Dang, who has been in regular contact with the monks and nuns in Lam Dong province.

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Buddhist monks attacked in Cambodia

Human Rights Watch has called on the Cambodian government to ensure the safety of Buddhist monks whom police attacked during a peaceful protest.

Last week, riot police assaulted a group of 47 Khmer Krom Buddhist monks — indigenous ethnic Khmer from southern Vietnam — when they attempted to deliver a petition protesting the imprisonment of monks in Vietnam to the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh. Phnom Penh Police Commissioner Touch Naroth accused the monks of being “fake.”

“These Khmer Krom monks have suffered police abuse in Cambodia and face imprisonment and torture if they’re sent to Vietnam,” said Sophie Richardson, Asia advocacy director at Human Rights Watch. “The Cambodian government shouldn’t emulate Burma’s generals by brutally cracking down on monks who peacefully protest. They are Cambodian citizens who deserve protection, not more mistreatment, from the Cambodian government.”

Human Rights Watch is concerned that Cambodian authorities will now arrest, defrock, and forcibly send the monks who protested to Vietnam, where they could face severe reprisals. Vietnam has a policy of imprisoning peaceful critics of the government, including Catholic priests, Buddhist monks, human rights lawyers, and trade union activists.

The Cambodian government has previously deported Khmer Krom to Vietnam, even though international law prohibits the expulsion without due process of persons from a country where they legally reside.

In June 2007, Khmer Krom monk Tim Sakhorn, a longtime abbot in Cambodia, was defrocked by Cambodian authorities and sent to Vietnam, where he was sentenced to prison on charges of violating Vietnam’s national unity policy because he had allegedly distributed bulletins about Khmer Krom history and politics and sheltered monks fleeing from Vietnam.

In February 2007, Vietnamese authorities arrested, defrocked, and imprisoned Khmer Krom monks in Soc Trang province, Vietnam, for peacefully protesting in support of religious freedom. Five monks were sentenced to prison in Vietnam on charges of disrupting social order. Afterwards, dozens of Khmer Krom monks fled from Vietnam to Cambodia, where they conducted protests in February and April to call for the release of the five monks.

The recent violence took place on December 17, when a group of 47 Khmer Krom monks gathered at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh to submit a petition calling for the Vietnamese government to release six Khmer Krom monks from prison.

Five monks were allowed by police to approach the embassy gate to deliver the petition, but when no one from the embassy came out to receive the petition, the remaining monks began to approach the embassy entrance. The police used their shields to push the monks back, and one monk was hit on the head. Some scuffling ensued. As the monks tried to make their way through police lines a deputy police chief repeatedly ordered his officers to open fire, although they refused to do so.

When it became apparent that some monks would continue in their efforts to approach the embassy, anti-riot police then used their shields and wooden batons to kick and punch the monks, and shocked them with electric batons.

When monks turned and fled, the police chased them for four blocks, kicking and beating the monks along the way.

Six monks were severely injured, and some of the police officers suffered minor scratches and bruises.

Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian government to promptly and impartially investigate the police’s use of force against the monks and prosecute all those responsible for using unnecessary or excessive violence.

“The police continued to beat the monks even after they had moved away from the embassy, well after the protest was dispersed,” said Richardson. “They were not chasing the monks to carry out lawful arrests, but to beat them.”

In June, the Cambodian Ministry of Cults and Religion issued an order banning Buddhist monks from participating in demonstrations.

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Testing Vietnam’s religious resolve

BBC News: Around 5,000 people, including hundreds of monks and lay followers from overseas, sit listening in a newly-built meditation hall.

Some have spent the night sleeping on mats, waking in the cold dawn to join the morning rituals.

Thich Nhat Hanh, a Zen master, peace activist and bestselling author, has spent the last four decades living mostly in France.

This is only his second trip back to Vietnam since 1966, when he went to the United States to call for an end to the war in his homeland.

He was then forced to live in exile after both South and North Vietnam refused to allow him to return.

In 1969, he led a Buddhist delegation to the Paris peace talks on Vietnam.

Today, he is back in Vietnam on a 10-week tour that is testing the limits of the …

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