By Thi nghia Tran Trung Dao: The Real Big Brother of Today
“…Oi than yeu bong chua Tu Dam, noi Bac Nam noi lien mot nha,tay trong tay quyet vi loai nguoi, doi lam than…” (Oh my sweet silhouette of the Tu Dam pagoda, where the North and the South would be abridged into a united home, hand in hand determined for the humanity, what a poor and lamentable life). If not a thousand, it would be hundred times that I were listening to this tune, the Tu Dam my sweet home; for my desktop at my working place stores this as an only song. When not so busy, I listen to this song. Again and again. Every time it brings my mind back to Hue, reminds me of the historical Tu Dam Pagoda of the Vietnam Buddhism.
In Hue city, there’s a space located at 1B Nguyen Hoang St. In this very room, the Directory Section for the Pho Hoa Buddhist Family was formally established. The first bricks. youthful and effervescent were laid down in the full course of 60 years dotted with fierce ups and downs of the Viet Nam Buddhist Family. By very venerables, the first members were pinned with the Lotus emblems on their traditional grey shirts, showing kindness and honesty, very spiritual symbols of the Vietnam Buddhism. From this day on, generation after generation of senior brothers and members have been succeeded, and waves of young toddlers had washed their life in the Grey River of Compassion, Wisdom, Strength. Those small boys and girls of the deep past, though deceased or alive, still remain in the rang or defected ’cause of individual choice, I believe the Grey color of the shirt still sticks to their mind, heart, and blood of every members, every big brothers and sisters. Not mentioning the supremely finest and wonderful teachings that Buddha, the Loving Father, had entrusted into Three Forms of Holy Book, it would be an admirable hard work to improve good qualities as we had learned from Five Guides of the Buddhist Family.
Although cherishing and longing for Hue, I was not born in Hue nor grew up in it. I come from Quang Nam. I had not ever set foot on premises of Tu Dam Pagoda in several visits of the city. I did not crossed over the doorsill of the 1B Nguyen Hoang St. I did learn of those famous sites through works of the Vietnamese Buddhism. On the high school graduation day, my father advised me to continue my education in Hue and would get help from his adopted sisters and brothers. I did not follow his words. Hue was a so calm, and so serene and quiet corner; it didn’t suit my character of adventure. Therefore, the young of Quang province must say goodbye to two old banyan trees, and left the Vien Giac pagoda, and the Quang Nam Buddhist Directive Committee to go down on to real life bearing on his back his treasure of Compassion, Wisdom and Courage. Nowadays, in this foreign land, whenever listening to the female voice, particularly endowed with special accent to Hue people, of the singer whose name is still unknown to me in the song “Que huong toi mien Trung” (My sweet Central homeland), I feel deeply blue, thoughtful of Hue, of merits of venerable Sangha, of senior sisters and brothers; they all, from that impose ancestor leaders’ Court or founding ancestors temple, a modest room in the beloved city, had raised a restoration movement for the Viet Buddhism after many years of mistreatment, oppression in Monarchial rule and Colonial times.
The simultaneous appearance of the Restoration movement and the Buddhist Family organization was merely a natural response or reaction of an oppressed religion whose fate and live activities have been going in pair with the fate and history of the Nation. Thousands of years ago, since the ancient ancestor venerable monks shed lights of Compassion upon arriving on this land of Kings Hung, Buddhist teachings were not only teachings of Buddhism, but they set up a truly Buddhism of Vietnam. Vietnam Buddhism, as a religion, had not only brought in to citizenry well disposed means to reach liberation, happiness, but, by harmonious integration and transcendalism, it has been assimilated into the heart of the Nation, and does contribute its important part in establishing the cultural, ethical base for the Vietnamese Nation as a whole. Buddhism came to Vietnam not as beautiful indiscriminately and unintentionally flying yellow seeds of pine trees or as parasite strings but as the suave latex that dissolves and nurtures the old tree of four thousand year Vietnam. If Buddhism were taken out of the Vietnamese Nation, the living force would be sucked out and away from the old tree. Buddhism and the Nation is glued together so that once the famous thinker and writer and activist Phan Chu Trinh said: “Every time Buddhism is weak, the Nation goes down with it”.
Back to the Vietnamese History, after, in nearly three hundred years, enclosed into the Chinese Confucianism era of Four Books Five Litanies or the Chinese Cynic reign and the North and South separatist situation, the Vietnamese Nation has declined backwards, lost its vision to future, distanced itself from the national identity and almost thrown into exhaustion.. Our ancestors were amazed and blazed of mechanical strength of the Colonialism. Thousands and thousands and even ten thousands Vietnamese were cut down as rice thaws in front of firearms of the Invaders. Throughout the second half of the 17th century and in the beginning of the 18th, the Dark Invasion was tightly covered the whole country. Slavery. Chains and jail times. New Guinea. Reunion. White bones of poor and unfortunate Vietnamese labor workers were fertilizers to the roots of rubber trees. The guillotine was never dried off the red blood of Vietnamese patriots. However, the confidence in Independence, Self-Determination, Openness rooted in Van Lang Nation Building time, nurtured alive in every Viet heart in general, in every Viet Buddhist in particular, is always burning. Struggles for Independence were stirred up everywhere and under assorted forms.
In cadence with The World Buddhist Restoration Movement, and in pair with the patriot movements, in particular, the Duy Tan Movement, the highest ranking and most venerable ancestor Monks as Giac Nguyen, Khanh Anh, Giac Tien, Giac Nhien, Tinh Hanh, Tu Quang, Phuoc Hue, To Lien, Tri Hai… they also left their remote and discrete Zen room to go along with the Nation, securely leaning on their bamboo sticks. They were taking great care of the national sufferings, waking up patriotism, knocking at the door of the awareness house of Independence and Self-Determination in every Viet heart; they hoped to restore the spirit of the Nation through education and the ability of change of the Buddhism against the negative forces. Wake up, Vietnam! The call of Lac Viet Ancestors seems to make echo from Phong Hoa, Me Linh, Nhu Nguyet, Bach Dang. To restore the Buddhism in that direction and sense should be regarded as a great pilgrim of the whole nation in search of the return point to the very original and ancient primitive source that had brought out the Vietnamese Nation.
The Buddhist Family Organization, a loyal son of the Vietnamese Buddhist Pan-Association, precursor of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Organization, has grown up from the light of the efforts of Buddhist restoration movement. The Organization ceased to be merely comprised of a band of young gals learners and practitioners of Buddhist teachings under the leadership of The Senior scholars Tam Minh Le Dinh Tham or the respectable elder Ton That Tung in Hue city, but it did regroup hundred thousands of ardent and efficient activist members in all three parts of the land. It no longer becomes a mob of lonely travelers through a deserted path, but a movement that integrates active youth and stands up and explore every bit of land of the country. From active and developed cities till remote hamlets, from the old respected capital Thang Long till the recently exploited wet land of Ca mau, one can pinpoint the same grey color uniform, expecting to find a kind and nice, and generous souls that would put behind his or her back everything except the solidarity spirit ending up in loving each other and always ready to help. They dig water ditches, build roads, set up levees, and Viet classrooms for illiterate general populace. I would be amazing to hear patriot Vietnamese songs everywhere in the country, that could be raised up unexpectedly on boat trip along the banks of Hong river, and on the famous river of Parfums, Huong river, and Thu Bon, Vam Co; or from fragile bikes on rice ditches of Can Tho, Soc Trang; or on almost all bus lines that draw their traces along the length of the land. French songs very popular among the youth at that time like La Vie est belle, Chanson d’adieu etc.. were replaced by Day Than Ai, Ve Ben Ngu, Tram Huong Dot (Lovely relationships, Return to Royal Dock, Incense offerings) suggested by senior leaders Le Lung, Buu Bac. Flares from campsites start to send out signs proving confidence among the Viet youth still very alive; and whistle and horn blows woke up the young generation off the terribly bad dreams they were being subjected to. Children of Buddha, leaders with their burden of big brothers and sisters of Buddhist reorganization and restoration era on their shoulders are voluntarily determined to take the road.
With load of Compassion, Wisdom and Courage, Viet Buddhist Family took an important role in carrying out projects of expanding teachings and protecting living things or sentient beings of the Church. Viet Buddhist Family are the vanguard forces in the efforts to bring in Peace on the land, in the struggle for religious equal rights and justice and in the advocate for democracy that the Church has called for in sixty years. Of course, there won’t be any success or achievements without sacrifice. Under the great achievements in 60 years of growth the Buddhist Family Organization has enjoyed, there had been a mount of sufferings generations and generations of its members had to endure, in oppression, jail time and tortures. These tragic scenes had never faded out of the mind of the Buddhist Family leaders. And, on the land impregnated with bones and blood of the senior leaders, there was blossoming many finest religious flowers. They sacrificed themselves in order to let our present generation, our children and there offspring in the future continue to live in love, peace and happiness. The senior leaders had used their bones and blood, their skin and flesh to make segments for the long Kind and intimate Relationships Thread. At this moment, let us keep one minute silence to remember beloved male and female deceased leaders of our Viet Buddhist Family.
Reviewing many changes, ups and downs in life, many “laic Buddhist shangha” had left, refused the past; they seem indifferent when witnessing the boat of Church, Karma nearly in distress and sinking; they no longer care about the life and security of the venerable rank that once had educated them, protected them. Away from them, members of the Family behave differently. Among six Services under the direct leadership of the General Service for the Youth, the only one survive is the Buddhist Family Service; it’s the only one that would and could resist against oppressions and crackdowns, even in times when the fate of the country and the Church would be critical. Looking at a leader in his traditional grey shirt, mended with tens of small cloth pieces, helping toddlers practicing singing songs with a very old and used guitar in a culture and arts program celebrating the Great Birthday of Buddha on a pagoda yard after 1975, anyone wouldn’t feel sorry and pity for him. Tomorrow, he could have to sit down lonely in a corner to write down a long self-examination report of tens of pages and it would be very likely he could be found in any jail anywhere. But he is not afraid. It is the ideal of a leader has help him to stand up and continue his trip. Despite of great storms and heavy rains, leaders and members of the Family are always flying wings, loyal and pitiful; they are trying to fly back to their old nest, and always raise their thin wings to protect their teachers and safeguard their teams or groups.
The event of April 30, 1975 had pushed out of their nest millions of Vietnamese, among them thousands of members of the Buddhist Family organization . Fortunately, although they had to leave, members of all level of the Family had never forgotten their solemn oath when registering in the organization. Where one can find a Family leader, one can be assured to see Buddhist Family activities. From refugee camps till resettlement in different 3rd countries, senior brothers and sisters always tried their best to re-set up the organization. Where one could find a pagoda, Family would be active in there. If there are no pagoda at all, Family could move their activities to the public park, in schools and even in the church yard of other faiths. Through many sweats and tears, they all believe that, with a beautiful ideal, great tradition, disciplinary formation, the Vietnamese Buddhist Family would survive and expand overseas.
After 28 years, with a lot of efforts and sacrifices, it would be detrimental to admit that the reality won’t be like they had expected. Time after time the Buddhist Family becomes weaker and weaker. In 1980 there were hundreds of accounted Buddhist Families, nowadays the number of units and names could remain as before, but strength could wear out a lot. Leaving are numerous, newcomers scarce and who remain look much tired out. At this moment, as a member of 40 years of the Vietnamese Buddhist Family and also as a diligent watcher of their activities throughout 10 years, I would tell you that if we would not be courageous to carry out changes, basic and immediate, in a very short span of time, the Overseas Vietnamese Buddhist Family could cease to exist.
Why? Who’s at fault?
I read many accounts, essays, assembly minutes explaining why the Organization was in decadence. On many occasions of making greeting bows to venerables, I listened to their concerns to the future of the Organization. I had many chances to exchange ideas and opinions with man and woman leaders of all ladder in the North-East of America and overseas, about the situation of the Organization we could evaluate as weaker and weaker. Hundreds of reasons, objective and subjective, active and passive were put forwarded and based on to assess the actual situation of the Overseas Vietnamese Buddhist Family. Every reasons seem rightful, every references logical, any argument fully oratory. Nevertheless, there’s a question I didn’t hear anyone raise, or satisfactorily answered that what is the right direction the Overseas Vietnamese Buddhist Family should go.
At first glance, the above question seems naive and expendable. Did we wander around in the jungle in 28 years? Does the aim of the Buddhist Family that is to educate the adolescents, teens and children and form them to be real and formal Buddhists and to take part in making better the society in the spirit of Buddhism has to change?
Of course, the aim to educate them to be truly Buddhists doesn’t change, but objects of this formation have completely changed. Likewise the purpose of educate the society in the Buddhist spirit doesn’t change, but social objects the Buddhist like to educate are changing by hour and by minute. Universe is a river that never stops flowing and changing in every split of a second of the consciousness; it is no need to mention so many changes in 6o years. In view of Buddhism, there is not anything that could last eternally, and exist alone and independently. Society in present time is not the society of 60 year before. Thoughts, concerns, anxiety, expectations, inclinations of the present young generation are fully different from the ones of the 60 years before. Objects of education change, so methods, means do follow accordingly.
In a word, will the aim of educate the young to be truly Buddhists and participate in ameliorate the society of the Overseas Vietnamese Buddhist Family be reached and even the Organization can survive or not depend on what we would choose between 2 following alternatives:
Do we want the Vietnamese Overseas Buddhist Family Organization to be an organ undivided and inseparable from the one in the country, with a leadership based on pyramid hierarchy, limitation of power and responsibilities distributed on standardized levels Tap, Tin, Tan, Dung; ranks of Buddhist knowledge and talents of leadership for members should be based on camp trips (Loc Uyen, A duc, Huyen Trang, Van Hanh); patriarchal manners in internal relationships should be kept, with love but stern, sacrifice and obedience, respect and follow orders from seniors, study documents, teaching works in Vietnamese designed and written from decades before, and enclosed in forms, organizational charts inclined to centralism?
Or do we want a Buddhist Family, though originated within the country from the Vietnamese Buddhist Family, that would make progress accordingly to new environment within an open society? It would respect principles of democracy and equality and within internal affairs, all sworn members would have equal rights and equal responsibilities upon the fate of the organization, including vote for leaders at all level of leadership; it expands recruit membership into high schools, colleges and into specialists and experts rank in public and private sectors, it will promote Buddhism Study movement among the Youth in Universities; it will set up united network between Youth for Buddhism Study and local Buddhist groups, organizations in countries where we are resettled; Buddhist catechism lessons taught in pagoda and summer bi-linguist Buddhist Study conferences directed by venerable teachers will replace training camps; it encourages members to engage in Buddhist studies taught in universities; it organizes special conferences on education, culture, science and technology to form members finest specialists, with diversity on specialties as well as on leadership; volunteer into cultural and social activities for the benefits of local areas where members are dwelling instead of going around in perimeter of our team headquarters dedicated only to children’s songs; simplify procedures and formal appearances including uniforms, rejuvenate and make activities more excited.
We do not need much profound reasoning or analyzing, we are prompt to recognize that the latter proceedings are necessary and appropriate to the pace of progress of nowadays human society.
In 28 years, we have been going on the old path of the past while still thinking or deceiving ourselves that we are looking forward to the future; in 28 years we had gone counterclockwise with our era but are still convicting ourselves we are heading to new horizon. There’s no future nor new horizon. The most part of our overseas group activities in 28 years, from our mind to character, from concepts to action, are linking segments of Hue, Saigon, Can Tho, Dalat, they do not belong to actual active land of Santa Ana, Boston, London, or Victoria.
Indeed, nearly all of senior leaders, men and women, in Overseas Vietnam Buddhist Family central committee belong to the leaders promotion in the period from formal foundation day in 1951 to 1964 assembly, after religious oppression season 1963. At that time, they were a little bit beyond 20 year old. Half a century had gone. The tamarind row in front of Gia Long High School, the formal 1964 Buddhist Family assembly site, had gone through 40 burgeoning seasons. When setting foot on America land many, leaders were at downhill age, after many long years in jail, in chains, starvation and disease. The Grey Color is not fading away, the ideal is still intact, but strength is not going in pair with willingness. The bloody war had inflicted deep wounds on their body and even in their mind; they won’t go away easily. The passive results of those wounds are showing themselves in every sayings, every acts and in every solutions they are trying to adopt.
They have also to face the new society, in which almost every daily activities are like automatic instincts and standardized. They have to lead groups and teams of most youngsters born and raised overseas. They could be born on a freighter, a battleship, in refugee camp, on the first days of resettlement; now they are almost 30 year old. Their food are hamburgers and language English; they did not enter this world in folk ballads, but by computer games, animation. Their mother tongue are not Vietnamese, but English, German, French. While listening to the original Vietnamese culture impulses and going to pagoda to study Buddhism, at the same time they are feeling lonely, lost, stranger to even their organization. Many of them are medical doctors, engineers, economists or financial specialists. They could play very important roles in American companies, in American society, however in Family group they are treated as toddlers learning how to walk. The reason is that they are not accustomed to Buddhist Family artisan activities, and moreover they could not speak fluently Vietnamese. They have to abandon the Family. In present day, the most part of our Family members are children at pre school, school age, and teens, although the Buddhist Family is not only for children and not merely a performing arts group. Many of them are patient enough to overcome language barrier by learning Vietnamese at home, in pagodas, at Vietnamese centers. Despite of all their terrific efforts, their Vietnamese capital are only big enough to order their food in restaurant, greet people on streets; how can they fathom Buddhist teachings. How could any Vietnamese center help explaining Four Graces, Six Harmonious, and nearly impossibly Eight Righteous Paths, Four Finest Concepts.
No one could refute the loving willingness of our leaders, men as well as women, toward organization and generations of members. Proofs of this kind are plenty enough in our Family history; if death were necessary, so be it to let the organization survive, children grow, they had never hesitated to sacrifice. The Buddhist Family is their breath, their very first life of all, it would be more important than their private family life. The Buddhist Family would be their starting point as well as their return destination from this in-corporation, incarnation . Here’s the right moment we have to grant occasion for younger generation to engage the new challenge in our Family history. Give them the key Compassion, Knowledge, Courage and let them start their trip, don’t put on their back burden of the past and the sadness of the generation you all dear leaders are bearing.
We often hear of and read on phenomenon of disaccord, disputes in Buddhist Family and in Vietnamese communities. These rupture in reality do not come out from any special deeply important causes, objective or subjective. But it is simply because we do not know really true aims of the organization and its capability to respond to these requirements. In a larger sense, in countrywide, if everybody has his farther vision for the future of the country, knows his or her own position and responding capability to the country needs, the path of our country history should not be entangled in the present insurmountable fiasco. We are inclined to act beyond our capability, accept responsibility out of our talent and resource and most of all try to occupy position not fitting us. Water always comes back to its source; and blood to its heart; and leaves to their branches. Yes they will do. But first of all, blood must circulate, water flows to ocean and leaves live their green cycle.
We are away from the original 60 year tradition establishments and even traditions must also go through changes and adjustments to environment, if not, what is regarded as tradition would be merely backward and inappropriate habits. Noble traditions of the Vietnamese Buddhist Family will not die out, if we know how to preserve and expand. When transplanted to Garden Grove a longan of Hue city should not be expected to grow, blossom and bear fruits, and taste like when it remain at its natural natal place. Buddhist essence is the only one but individuality in every person is different. Enlightenment seeds in every heart take their birth from Animisalocana; it’s where The Great Teacher of all times had thanked the old tree for its shade, cover from rains and fierce sunlight; however, not for that same reason, boh in Berlin, Sydney would grow into the same silhouette as the old one in Animisalocana.
If, in the era of 1930 Buddhist Restoration, we have great leaders, men and women, who had played their role of pioneers, preparing roads, so in the present time, in order to continue its existence and progress in new lands, the Overseas Vietnamese Buddhist Family should have newer leaders, new big brothers and sisters, seniors who would bear in their mind knowledge of the era, and would be capable to cope with the needs of new whole world times.
The new big brothers and sisters of the era, or to adopt the term 21st century of master Tu Luc, religious alias Tam Minh, will bring forward lights of Compassion-Wisdom-Courage, beautiful motto of the Vietnamese Buddhist Family into the people hearts with a young zealot audacity, with means suitable to the time and language that fits their actual generation. Kindness does not stop at Compassion, giveaways of material things but, it’s an offer of overflowing energy of twentieth to noble purposes aiming at bring forth joyful things to human neighbors where seniors, older brothers and sisters, limited with their age and health and tiresome psychology could not implement. In Western societies where prevail wrestle with living, struggle, killing because of low desires and illusionary temptations, the Compassion and Serene Calmness bell sounds of Buddhism will be expected with joy and acceptance. Members of the Buddhist Family will be called for writing letters True Love in the expected vacuum in the hearts of those aimless and uninteresting materialistic people.
The Big Brother or leader in our present time would be birds that fly high into blue sphere to embrace the whole mankind. Youth is the ocean ready for unselfishness, non-profitable, transparent and holy. Therefore, Youth is opened to Knowledge, sensible to decipher and receive true meaning in words, teachings of the Holy Kind Father. Light of Wisdom will be the torch of the lighthouse leading to Enlightenment, away from dark inclinations and helpful to nil all undesirable Ignorance and troubling delusions. Knowledge, like a chariot, rather light, less baggage, becomes rather faster. Youth is exactly lighter, bearing less baggage and mostly not haunted by the past.
A leader of the new era, with that kind of spirit of unselfishness and transparency, would be overflowed with Strength and Courage to win over challenges and difficulties, would fly high over stagnant wetlands and water bodies of disbeliefs, assorted complex of repressed emotions of the past and to head into a future of openness, tolerance, and truly human, not only for the Buddhist Family, the Youth, but also for the country, or for the mankind of the future in a larger scope. They could be wrong, subjected to falls and breakdowns multitude of times, but at the end they could recognize courageously their shortcomings, stand up and continue their travel and their operations.
A leader of the new era contribute or take part effectively in strives to lighten up the Scientific Buddhism beyond limits of scientific knowledge. Buddhist religion is not a asylum for psychologically distorted minds, leaning to self safety, favors, passiveness, anti-society, prone to hitch beliefs, fortuneteller readings, but the active living path the whole world is needing. Buddhism is for humans. Buddhism is stressing on humans not otherwise as the center of the world, the universe; it’s man not whoever or power, should be the master of his own fate. Buddhism is religion of Love. In its 2600 plus years of its history, not a single drop of blood of the humanity would have streamed out among plenty of wars that had caused a lot of bones and blood based on supernatural powers. The great English historian, H.G. Well had a chance to thank Buddhism through his words: “Buddhism has waked up, cleansed and made serene, and also played an important role in directing, leading human destiny“ (from Vietnamese version).
Because Buddhism is the religion for the Youth, the Spring for human thinking, the ideal for youth education of the Vietnamese Buddhist Family; it is needed, not solely for Vietnamese Youth but also for the youngsters of the world. Methods to introduce the ideal of the Vietnamese Buddhist Family to young hearts of Vietnamese young generations, to young hearts of the local or native youth, of course, would be very complicated and challengeable. It should be wise to start with a small handful of members and it needs many years to witness desirable results. The path in front of the eyes of a leader or a big brother of today is a difficult, but also a hopeful one.
I have a tiny dream; some day on my return home to the country, I will pay visit to Tu Dam Pagoda. I would be sitting totally in deep silence on the pagoda steps, in order to seize in litanies, in bell resonance blows, from earth center, advices , recommends, and recognize the steps of plenty of Buddhist clergy and elder leaders resonate in my thoughtful small heart. In the same manner, I believe there’ll be a day, young ones, great children members of the Buddhist Family, who are recently born, or would be born and grow up in the States, Germany, France, United England, Australia… would return. Like myself, they would sit down on steps of Tu Dam and could talk among themselves in Vietnamese without accent: “It is here, from here, one hundred, two hundred, three hundred years ago, there were real leaders of the Vietnamese Buddhist Family in Grey shirts like ours and with the same motto Kindness-Knowledge-Courage like ours, had started the journey of educating the Adolescents, Teens, small children into truly Buddhists and taking part in making the society better according to the spirit of the Buddhism, and therefore here we are today”. And, among those young generation, there would be some who would sing lightly but soundly the “ Que huong toi la day…” (This is here my country).