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Cablegate: Zen Master Meets with Ambassador

VZCZCXRO4896
RR RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHHI #0571/01 1360848
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 150848Z MAY 08
FM AMEMBASSY HANOI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 7833
INFO RUEHHM/AMCONSUL HO CHI MINH 4726
RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 HANOI 000571

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS AND DRL/IRF

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: KIRF PHUM PGOV VM
SUBJECT: ZEN MASTER MEETS WITH AMBASSADOR

REF: 07 Ho Chi Minh 0261

HANOI 00000571 001.2 OF 002


1. (SBU) Summary: In a May 12 meeting with the Ambassador, the
Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh noted improvements in religious freedom in
Vietnam but said corruption and bureaucracy had hampered their
visit. Hanh and a delegation of the order of Lang Mai from France
are visiting Vietnam to attend the United Nations Day of Vesak
meetings in Hanoi May 14-17, 2008, and to hold religious retreats
and meet with followers throughout the country. His visits generate
huge excitement amongst Buddhist followers in Vietnam, as he is seen
as one of the world's leading Buddhist thinkers. This time is no
exception. End Summary.

Background: Long History of Promoting Peace
-------------------------------------------

2. (SBU) Holding the title "Zen Master," Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh
is considered one of the most prominent figures in the international
Buddhist community after the Dali Lama. A former member of the
Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV), Thich Nhat Hanh went to
the United States to study religion in 1961 and to teach at
Princeton and Columbia Universities. He returned to Vietnam in 1964
and founded the Buddhist College in Saigon, which later became Van
Hanh University. In 1966, he again traveled to the United States,
calling for U.S. withdraw from Vietnam. As a result of his vocal
opposition to the U.S. involvement in Vietnam, the then Government
of South Vietnam refused him re-entry, effectively exiling him from
the country. He ended up settling in France, and has built a global
following.

3. (SBU) The current Government of Vietnam (GVN) permitted Venerable
Hanh to return to Vietnam in 2005, and again in 2007. The UBCV has
been reluctant to support Hanh, fearing his trips to Vietnam would
be used as propaganda by the GVN. During his first visit to Vietnam
in 2005, Patriarch Thich Huyen Quang and Venerable Thich Quang Do of
the UBCV refused to meet with him and the UBCV has repeatedly called
on Hanh to make public statements against the Vietnamese
government's record on religious freedom. During his first and
subsequent visits, Hanh has enjoyed increasing popularity amongst
Buddhist followers in Vietnam and his lecturers are very well
attended, particularly by young people. On this visit, he again led
a popular retreat, and plans a second following the UN Vesak
celebrations.

Zen Master Returns to Vietnam with Conditions
---------------------------------------------

4. (SBU) During his meeting with the Ambassador, Venerable Hanh
detailed his history of travels to the U.S. to protest the Vietnam
War, as well as his leadership of the Buddhist delegation to the
Paris Peace talks and eventual establishing of an order in southern
France. Though he has been critical of Vietnam's communist
government, Venerable Hanh's sometimes rocky relationship with the
GVN seems to have improved somewhat in recent years. Hanh stated
that despite the GVN's unhappiness with his past criticisms, he was
granted permission to teach, to have select titles of his books
published in Vietnamese, and to have monastic and lay members of his
Order accompany him around the country. Hanh noted that he tries to
be a voice of reconciliation in the community, supporting new monks
in his order, conducting prayer ceremonies to help heal remaining
wounds on all sides from the Vietnam War and leading retreats for
monks and lay people.

5. (SBU) Venerable Hanh stated that he agreed to attend the UN Vesak
Day celebrations of the Buddha's birthday on the condition that his
order be permitted to hold several retreats while in Vietnam. He
emphasized that he does not attend many international conferences,
preferring the practice of Buddhism through study and retreats to
the papers and speeches prevalent at conferences and seminars. He
went on to explain that he espouses an updated version of the
Buddhist faith called "Engaged Buddhism" that practices mindfulness
adapted to Western sensibilities.

Conditions Improving, Corruption a Challenge for Religion
--------------------------------------------- ----------

6. (SBU) Citing Vietnam's systemic corruption as the major challenge
facing religious freedom in Vietnam, he and his followers shared
details of a number of bureaucratic challenges thrown up by the GVN
in connection with their visit: long delays for visas, police
pressure on the hotel management to cancel the group's contract,
cancellation of conference rooms, delays in getting the correct
permits for the retreats, and attempts to charge unreasonable fees
for services not provided or received. However, after Venerable
Hanh contacted "a friend" in the Office of the Prime Minister, most
of the issues were resolved and the group was able to hold one
retreat in Hanoi and plans to hold a second retreat in Hoi An
following the UN Vesak celebrations. Venerable Hanh noted that the
GVN required both retreats and all other religious activities of the

HANOI 00000571 002.2 OF 002


group be conducted at Buddhist temples or pagodas, based on the fact
that the group's visit was sponsored by the GVN-sanctioned Vietnam
Buddhist Sangha.

7. (SBU) Venerable Hanh expressed his view that although
difficulties remain, conditions for religious groups in Vietnam are
clearly improving. Hanh also suggested that one of his future trips
to Vietnam might be sponsored by the U.S. Embassy or the Embassy of
France, in the hopes that he and his followers could conduct
seminars, workshops and retreats outside of the Buddhist temples and
pagodas.

MICHALAK

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
 
 
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