Mob, police force monks to leave


Tue, Sep 29, 2009 - Page 5

Followers of a world-famous Buddhist teacher say police and a mob of villagers have forced them out of a monastery in central Vietnam, ending their monthslong standoff with the communist authorities over religious freedom.

Followers of Thich Nhat Hanh, a Vietnam-born monk who has popularized Buddhism in the West, said about 150 monks were forced from the Bat Nha monastery in Lam Dong province on Sunday, and about 230 nuns left on their own yesterday morning.

“The Vietnamese government has won,” said Sister Dang Nghiem, speaking by telephone yesterday from a monastery in San Diego, California, where Nhat Hanh was visiting. “Their ‘victory’ is that Bat Nha is completely destroyed. Everything is smashed.”

The dispute is a remarkable turnaround from four years ago, when Nhat Hanh returned to Vietnam after 39 years of exile. His return made the front pages of state-owned newspapers, and many saw his return as evidence that the government was easing restrictions on religion.

Authorities originally approved of his group’s activities, but the relationship began to deteriorate about a year ago. The government has been trying to remove the monks from Bat Nha for several months, describing the standoff as a conflict between two Buddhist factions.

Nhat Hanh’s followers, however, said the government was cracking down because their teacher had urged it to end its control of religion and disband the religious police.

Authorities said the followers ignored requests to leave from the monastery’s abbot, Duc Nghi, a member of the official Buddhist Church of Vietnam, who invited the followers to settle there in 2005 but changed his mind last year. The followers, however, said Duc Nghi embraced Nhat Hanh as his teacher for life but was pressured by the government to renounce him.

Nhat Hanh’s followers said about 150 local residents and plainclothes police descended on Bat Nha early on Sunday, smashing windows, dragging monks from their dormitory and herding them into vehicles that took them to other locations in the province.

Nguyen Phuoc Loc, a follower from Ho Chi Minh City, said he helped relocate the nuns to a nearby pagoda early yesterday, leaving Bat Nha empty.

Reached by telephone yesterday morning, Huynh Duc Hoa, the head of Lam Dong’s provincial government, denied that anything had happened at the monastery and hung up without answering further questions.