Thich tri quang, 95, galvanizing monk in south vietnam, dies

Long ago, there lived three monks: Thich Nhat Hanh, Thich Tri Quang, và Thich quang quẻ Do. All three were well-versed in the Buddhist Dharma. Nhat hanh hao spoke eloquently & wrote well. Tri quang quẻ had talent for leadership và was trusted by the masses. Quang đãng Dao was well-studied và excelled in foreign languages.

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Long ago, there lived three monks.

When Ngo Dinh Diem’s regime cracked down on Buddhism, these three combined forces lớn fight back. Nhat khô nóng campaigned overseas, calling for peace và religious freedom in Vietnam. Tri quang led tens of thousands of monks và Buddhist adherents as they protested in Saigon. Và Quang Do, the youngest of the trio, stood side-by-side with these Buddhists as they marched on the streets.

Long ago, there lived three monks.

When the communists arrived, the paths of these three diverged. Nhat khô hanh became world-famous with his Plum Village Monastery. Tri quang đãng was imprisoned và refrained from speaking about politics again. Quang vày continued the struggle for religious freedom & human rights, ultimately serving the longest period of house arrest of any monk in Vietnam.


One day in October of 1997, in a theater in Berkeley, California, approximately 3,500 people, who paid US$20 a ticket lớn meet their most beloved monk, sat in silence.

A ringing bell echoed across the theater, and a monk’s voice loudly called out: “All rise!”. Zen Master Nhat Hanh, draped in a deep brown robe, lead 35 monks & nuns as they slowly spread out across the stage.

Many in the audience clasped their hands before their chests and directed their eyes towards the stage. Sitting on a high podium next to a large, bronze bell và an arrangement of giant sunflowers, Zen Master Nhat hanh khô began expounding on mindfulness. “Learn how to stop running,” he advised his audience. “Many of us have been running all our lives.”

“Society is very individualistic, selfish, with people thinking about himself or herself alone. Each for himself, each for herself alone. But in fact even if you have the desire, the intention, khổng lồ help others, it would still be difficult for you to vị so, because when you are not in peace with yourself, it’s very difficult lớn relate khổng lồ people in a peaceful way in order to lớn help them,” he stated khổng lồ reporter Don Lattin of the San Francisco Chronicle.

By that point, Zen Master Nhat hanh hao had become internationally renowned for this talks on mindfulness and world peace. After 1975, he stopped speaking lớn the international truyền thông media about human rights in Vietnam, even though Buddhism there was suffering through hardship.

At the same time, in a prison cell thousands of miles away from America, Venerable Quang do was compiling a Buddhist dictionary. He was sentenced to five years in prison in 1995 for helping flood victims in the Mekong Delta. Ten years before that, he witnessed his mother pass away in hunger and poverty after the government exiled both to lớn Thai Binh.

In 1997, Venerable Tri quang quẻ grew accustomed khổng lồ his comfortable life. He no longer spoke about politics or peaceful resistance.

After 1975, he was confined to a wheelchair lớn heal his feet, which had atrophied after government torture, according to a monk who was imprisoned with him at the time. From the 1980s onwards, the international truyền thông media stopped mentioning him and the tragedies of Buddhism in the south.

Childhood in chaos

Born during the tumult of French và Japanese fighting over control of the country, the three monks were all witness lớn the historical crises of that era.

One day in Diem Dien Village, quang đãng Binh Province, the mother of Tri quang quẻ met two monks who left a deep impression on her, he relayed in his autobiography. Upon returning home, she told her husband that the family should have someone join the monastery, as the two monks had. Thus, on the eve of the lunar new year in 1938, Tri quang đãng shaved his head và entered the monastery at Pho Minh Pagoda; he was only 15 years old. The next year, he was transferred khổng lồ Hue lớn study for another six years. When he was put in charge of the quang quẻ Binh Province Buddhist Committee for National Salvation (seen as a part of the Viet Minh Front), he saw many of his classmates sacrifice their lives in the resistance war against the French.

Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, in Hue, when he was 16 years old. Source: Plum Village.

In Hue, Nhat khô cứng grew up the son of a man who worked for Emperor Bao Dai’s government. Nhat khô giòn stated the seed of the Great Buddha blossomed within him from when he was very young. Responding khổng lồ reporter Don Lattin about his childhood, he stated that while he was studying at the village school, he và his friends would go door-to-door begging for bowls of rice lớn give to those dying of hunger. He relayed that the kids had to lớn decide early on who would get to eat & who wouldn’t because there simply wasn’t enough rice lớn go around. In 1942, Zen Master Nhat hanh hao left his family và entered the monastery at Tu Hieu Temple in Hue. He was only 16.

In the same year, a 15-year old teenager in thai Binh traveled lớn Ha Dong province (today’s Hanoi) to lớn enter the monastery at Thanh Lam Temple. He took on the Buddhist name quang quẻ Do. He recalled, only three years after he left his family, he witnessed his master tied up and brought out khổng lồ the village courtyard like a criminal, after the Viet Minh suspected him of being a traitor. His master was then denounced & executed by three bullet rounds. It was then the young 18-year old swore to lớn himself that he would use Buddhism’s mercy, forgiveness, và non-violence to fight against fanatics và the unforgiving.

A united sense of purpose

After the tragedy at Thanh Lam Temple, Thich Quang vày went khổng lồ study in Hanoi. During this time, Tri Quang & Nhat hanh likely met one another in Hue.

At the time, the Bao Quoc Buddhist Institute had just been established in Hue in 1947. A year later, Tri quang đãng became a teacher there, và Nhat khô hanh a student.

In 1950, Tri quang went to lớn Saigon for the first time, concurrent with Nhat Hanh. In Saigon, Tri Quang, along with some other monks, unified three Buddhist institutes into one, locating it at An quang quẻ Temple. Nhat hanh hao began teaching here.

Both Nhat khô hanh and Tri quang quẻ had a common desire to unify Buddhism và develop it into a national religion <1>. Both pursued this desire through journalism.

After the Geneva Accords were signed in 1954 and the country was temporarily divided in two, Tri quang đãng became the editor-in-chief of the Vien Am paper. A year later, Nhat khô nóng was made editor-in-chief of Vietnamese Buddhism, but after two years, he was forced to lớn suspend the paper after pushing for Buddhist unification too vociferously.

During this time period, both individuals suffered enormous mental anguish. Nhat khô cứng was completely “defanged” in his struggle and afterward temporarily withdrew from the limelight, retreating lớn a solitary location with allies in Lam Dong. Tri Quang, haunted by images of his mother being publicly denounced in 1956, wandered to lớn Nha Trang before returning lớn Hue in 1960. Buddhism’s suppression (by Ngo Dinh Diem’s government) would địa chỉ cửa hàng an extra layer of pressure on đứng đầu of his mother’s tragedy.

In 1958, Quang vị returned to lớn Saigon after studying abroad in Sri Lanka and India. Under Ngo Dinh Diem’s religiously discriminatory regime, và the conflict brewing between the Nationalists & the Communists hanging over their heads, young Nhat hanh hao and Quang bởi were not able khổng lồ accomplish much in the way of big tasks. But it seems all three were able khổng lồ sense impending disaster for Buddhism in the south.

In his book Intention’s Road Home, Zen Master Thich Nhat khô giòn explained that in 1961, when he và his friends’ place of residence was raided, he had lớn retreat to Saigon for safety. During this difficult time period, he traveled to the United States, where he conducted research on Buddhism at Princeton University và then taught at Columbia University.

Pictures of Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh, Venerable Thich Tri Quang, & Venerable Thich quang Do, taken in 1960. Source: PVCEB, AP, và Vietnamese Buddhists.

Days of struggle

On the night of May 8, 1963, as Venerable Tri Quang, head of central Vietnam’s Buddhist Association, stepped into Hue’s radio station together with the provincial leader khổng lồ resolve ongoing protests as gunfire rang out among the Buddhist crowds surrounding the station. That night, Hue Radio did not broadcast as promised the program celebrating Vesak, recorded earlier that morning. Compounding popular anger was the fact that the government had prevented the flying of Buddhist flags. The crowds did not disperse until two in the morning. That night, many were seriously injured, resulting in eight deaths.

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In the gloom of the next morning, as Venerable Tri quang was resting, roiling crowds of young people began filling the streets, holding Buddhist flags. That same day, Buddhists in Saigon decided lớn establish the Inter-party Committee to Protest Buddhism (abbreviated as the “Inter-party”), confirming a drawn-out struggle. Venerable Tri quang quẻ sat on the Advisory Board, while Venerable Quang bởi vì worked as assistant lớn the public relations committee of the Inter-party.

The objective of the Inter-party was khổng lồ get the government to respond to five demands: withdraw the decree banning the flying of Buddhist flags, put Buddhism on equal footing with Catholicism, end the suppression of Buddhist followers, grant Buddhist monks and nuns the freedom to proselytize, & compensate for the deaths caused (during the crisis) và punish those responsible.

In the two days following the incident at the Hue radio station, Buddhists protested spontaneously, but thereafter, they gained a sense of order & organization with Venerable Tri Quang’s direction, the monk recounted in an autobiographical short story. He also found ways for Buddhists to lớn come lớn Tu Dam Temple to lớn pray each week for those who had passed away. In Saigon, monks organized spiritual processions from one temple khổng lồ the next, as well as protests và hunger strikes.

The government only ramped up its repression; many temples in Hue were blockaded, và monks và nuns were publicly attacked. It wasn’t until Venerable Thich quang quẻ Duc, 73, immolated himself on June 11th, 1963 that the situation improved in any meaningful way. Tri quang traveled from Hue khổng lồ Saigon to enter into discussions with the government.

In the weeks and months that followed Venerable quang quẻ Duc’s self-immolation, the Inter-party signed a joint communiqué with the government responding lớn Buddhism’s five demands. However, the government never implemented the communiqué, greatly angering monks, nuns, & the general population.

According lớn Thich Nhat Hanh, at the time he was in America campaigning for religious freedom and a cessation of war in his own homeland. He appeared on television, met journalists, translated materials detailing the human rights violations in Vietnam, và pushed international organizations, including the United Nations, to lớn intervene in the increasingly volatile situation in South Vietnam.

As Thich Tri quang đãng relayed in his autobiography, on the morning of July 17, 1963, Venerable Quang do was unable to lớn deliver translated international press updates to lớn Xa Loi Pagoda. That day, countless Buddhists poured into Giac Minh Temple, where the monks were on a hunger strike. These crowds quickly morphed into an enormous protest. As the Buddhist adherents tried to lớn approach Giac Minh Temple, they were blocked by police. Venerable Quang vày was among them, directing the protests to struggle not only against the police barricade but for Buddhism itself. In his book History of the Vietnamese Buddhist Struggle, Monk Tue Giac writes that after 10 am that morning, the protests had devolved into a fighting match with police. Venerable Quang vì suffered a head injury, blood pouring down his face. Any Buddhist who had not been arrested by police returned lớn Giac Minh Temple, resisting as barbed wire fencing kept more than 600 monks, nuns, và adherents barricaded for 54 hours.

Thich Quang vì (circled) directs a protest on the streets of Saigon, July 17h 1963. Source: HORST FAAS/AFP.

By August 20, 1963, Ngo Dinh Diem’s government was determined to lớn restore order. A day after martial law was imposed, monks were arrested and adherents attacked. Venerable Quang bởi was apprehended. Venerable Tri quang quẻ went to the American Embassy to apply for amnesty.

From that point until President Ngo Dinh Diem’s assassination on November 2, 1963, the struggle raged between Buddhists, the Army, và international pressure.

In December 1963, after the struggle had succeeded, Venerable Tri quang along with other monks established the Unified Buddhist Church, Venerable Quang vị went overseas for medical treatment, và Venerable Nhat khô cứng returned khổng lồ Saigon.

While Venerable Tri quang đãng mobilized Buddhist adherents, monks, and nuns khổng lồ continue the political struggle, Nhat hanh was able lớn fulfill his wish of establishing several campuses, including the La Boi Publishing House, Van hanh hao University, the Youth School for Social Services, and the Tiep Hien Congregation (a congregation centered on the full integration of Buddhism into daily life).

Thich Tri quang walks among South Vietnamese soldiers in Danang, January 1965. Source: Christian Simonpietri/Sygma/CORBIS.

In May 1966, Thich Nhat hanh hao headed khổng lồ the US to campaign for an end to the war in Vietnam. After three months, the South Vietnamese government refused khổng lồ let him return home. At the time, Thich Nhat khô cứng began becoming world-renowned as the face for peace in Vietnam. The next year, Reverend Martin Luther King nominated him for the Nobel Peace Prize.

Thich Nhat khô hanh on his way khổng lồ the United States to campaign for the over of war in Vietnam. His trip was originally planned to lớn span three months, but after he left, the South Vietnamese government refused to lớn let him return trang chủ again. Source: PVCEB.

A road diverged three ways

At the beginning of 2005, as the people proudly và warmly greeted his arrival, Zen Master Nhat khô nóng was finally able lớn return home after more than 40 years away, accompanied by a Sangha of approximately 200 adherents. He conducted talks with audiences that included buổi tiệc nhỏ members in Ho đưa ra Minh City, Hue, và Hanoi.

Meanwhile, Venerable Quang vì chưng lived in solitary confinement, locked in a room at bộc bạch Zen Monastery in Ho đưa ra Minh City. Across the street were police whose only job was khổng lồ keep an eye on him day và night.

During his trip, Zen Master Nhat was able khổng lồ visit Venerable Tri quang quẻ but not Venerable quang quẻ Do.

In the eyes of the Vietnamese media, Zen Master Nhat khô cứng was someone khổng lồ be immensely proud of, he was “flesh and blood” who had returned lớn his homeland to lớn further contribute to lớn the people’s well being. Venerable quang quẻ Do, on the other hand, was a boil that the government tried every means to lớn remove. But back then, both monks were cut from the same cloth, up until the day Saigon fell.

After 1975, as Zen Master Nhat khô giòn set up his Plum Village Monastery in France, Venerable Tri quang đãng was imprisoned for a year & a half in a hole the kích cỡ of a coffin, which he was only allowed to lớn leave for 15 minutes each day khổng lồ wash up. From then on, people no longer saw him calling for protests or making demands for Buddhism; the international truyền thông was never able khổng lồ make direct tương tác with him again for as long as he lived.

After the war, Venerable Quang vì along with a number of other monks fought for those who had self-immolated in the name of religious freedom & in protest of the new regime’s intention lớn eliminate the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam. In a country with no international media, no independent courts, and no freedom of association, these efforts would be in vain, the number of immolated corpses perhaps outnumbering that of the old regime. He was never able to lớn reach a compromise with the government, up until the day he died.

Long ago, there lived three monks: Nhat Hanh, Tri Quang, and Quang Do. When the communists arrived, the lives of these three diverged completely.

Correction (April 12, 2020): in a version of this article, we had written that Zen Master Thich Nhat khô cứng had entered the monastery at Tu Dam Temple. We wish to lớn correct this to lớn Tu Hieu Temple, in Hue.

Footnote:<1> See numbers 2 lớn 28 in Buddhism Magazine, & Intention’s Road Home (Zen Master Thich Nhat Hanh).


(Original: Việt nam giới Phật giáo trổ tài sử), Tue GiacAuthentic Power (Original: Quyền lực đích thực), Thich Nhat Hanh.

This article was written by Tran Phuong và published by Luat Khoat magazine on April 12, 2020. It was translated by Will A. Nguyen.