The Precepts are the life of the Buddha Dharma, if the Precepts survive so too the Dharma. This truth lives with all Buddhists in the spirit with which they propagate the Dharma to all beings. It was in this spirit that the Fifth General Congress was solemnly organised at the Quang Duc Monastery in Melbourne at a time when the weather was changing to the coolness of Winter.
Fresh is the Autumn, the fervour so warm,
Vihara Quang Duc to meet and reform.
Buddhists Vietnam their Congress now Five,
Once in four years they review and revive…
Having been entrusted with the responsibility of organising the Fifth General Congress by the Congregation, for ten months the Venerable Abbot Thích Tâm Phương, the Venerable Prior Thích Nguyên Tạng, together with the Buddhist Laity of the Quang Duc Monastery, have been continuously improving the venue, arranging and organising activities for publicity, fund raising and preparing everything in readiness for the Congress.
Selflessly the Venerable Abbot, though suffering illness, in a spirit of sacrifice looked to serving the Dharma, but due to all the difficulties and to his illness he had to yield. The Venerable Prior did not baulk at taking over the task of organising the General Congress, though he was much engaged in his own duties of external liaison, organising religious training for the Laity and in particular the day to day running of the Monastery and its development. Nevertheless though members of the Sangha and Laity had been looking to all the material aspects of transport, catering, accommodation and other Congress duties from early in the beginning to the last day, they had all been well prepared, and performed their tasks assiduously and extremely well.
As had been decided previously, the Fifth General Congress of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand, was to be held at the Quang Duc Monastery, Melbourne, Victoria. 117 delegates, both from the Sangha and Laity, from 37 institutions around Australia and New Zealand were to attend for the three days of 8th, 9th, and 10th of May, 2015. At 8 p.m. on Friday May 8th, a Preparatory Meeting was held to lay down the actual procedures to be followed during the Congress. In particular there was a meeting of the Central Sangha Council prior to which was a meeting of the Council of Clergy during which were raised a Bhikṣu to the rank of Venerable and three Bhikṣunīs to the rank of Reverend Sister, and also were selected and appointed a new Head of the Congregation and two Deputy Heads of the Congregation who, under the Constitution, are the most important office–bearers in the Congregation for the direction of Buddhist activities during the next term of office.
At exactly 10:30 on the morning of Saturday, May 9th, the Grand Opening Ceremony of the Fifth General Congress formally began. Witnessing the Ceremony were the Head of the Sangha Most Venerable Thích Huyền Tôn, Head of the Congregation Most Venerable Thích Như Huệ, Executive Deputy Head of the Congregation Most Venerable Thích Bảo Lạc, and Most Venerable Thích Tịnh Minh, Most Venerable Thích Quảng Ba, Most Venerable Thích Trường Sanh, Most Venerable Thích Minh Hiếu, Most Venerable Thích Tịnh Đạo, Most Venerable Thích Bổn Điền. Among the honoured guests from Australian governments were: Parliamentary Secretary to the Federal Minister for Social Services, Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti–Wells representing Prime Minister Tony Abbot; the Victorian State Minister for Multicultural Affairs, the Hon. Robin Scott representing the Hon. Daniel Andrew Premier of Victoria, President of the Vietnamese Community Victorian Chapter Mr. Nguyễn Văn Bon, President of the Vesak Association of Victoria Mr. Frank Carter, Director of Allison Monkhouse Mr. Ian Allison, Mr. Dương Ngọc Lợi and Mr. Nguyễn Khương Ninh of the Vietnamese Naval & Merchant Marine Fellowship, Mr. Hoàng Chính Đan President of Ex-Thủ Đức Reserve Officer Cadets Society, Mr. Nguyễn Huy of ICRA. Representing the Vietnamese media were the Editor of Human Rights Weekly Mr. Long Quân, Editor of TV Weekly Magazine Mr. Nguyễn Hồng Anh, Dr. Kiều Tiến Dũng from VNTV, Ms. Kim Hoàng of Vietface Tivi. Additionally were some 300 fellow Vietnamese Buddhists from near and far who participated.
After saluting the flags of Australia, Vietnam and Buddhism there followed a minute of compassionate reflection remembering the ancestors, those who sacrificed their lives for the ideal of freedom, and the victims of natural disaster in Nepal. Next was a speech of welcome by the Chairman of the Organising Committee, the Venerable Thích Tâm Phương, Abbot of the Quang Duc Monastery, who thanked the members of the Sangha and Laity for their attendance and suggested:
“…the Delegates should be having more discussion on ways to deliver the Buddha’s message of compassion, wisdom, peace and harmony to people from all walks of life, on the one hand to restore people’s faith in our Constitution and our direction by not placing our existence or development on an individual level but rather on the level of the people and humanity, while on the other hand helping everybody to know how to live good lives and to know how to look after themselves and keep the natural environment clean and wholesome.”
Following this was the opening address by the Head of the Congregation, the Most Venerable Thích Như Huệ. The central theme of his address spoke of the importance of the inheritors of the Buddhist vocation to enlightenment, peace and liberation, as in this paragraph from his address:
“The Sangha is the strength for the Dharma to survive, its members are the Tathāgata’s messengers, having resolved to follow the Middle Way, the path discovered by the Lord Buddha who followed it living in harmony and in accord with the conditions. By being in harmony and in accord with the conditions, our Congregation has thrived and developed; by being in harmony and accord, every member of the Congregation has made daily progress, knowing to show respect for all, knowing mutual respect, how to instruct, to forgive, and to harmonise with one another, how to empathise with one another to be united in purpose and be able to accept that if one wants to improve one’s religious practice then one must examine one’s own consciousness, rid oneself of egoistic attachment and transform one’s own karmic force before there can be any hope of enlightenment and liberation.”
Additionally Most Ven. Thích Như Huệ was also earnestly apprehensive about training for the Sangha in the task of Dharma propagation for the benefit of all beings, a Buddhist activity which is of the highest priority.
From Canada the Most Venerable Thích Tâm Châu, Supreme Patriarch of the World Vietnamese Buddhist Order sent a letter of congratulation to the General Congress. Quoting from the letter:
“…the Australian Congregation has been working in harmony and has progressed very well. We are very pleased and congratulate you… May the Triple Gem bless the Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation both inside and outside the country so that we may soon work in a spirit of harmony and honest unity with all Vietnamese to bring about a new glorious and prosperous system for the land, preserving its territorial borders and waters and building a basis for freedom, democracy, wellbeing, and happiness for the people.”
From the United States, Chief Secretary of the Central Sangha Council, the Most Venerable Thích Thắng Hoan sent a letter of congratulation to the General Congress:
“… unanimously the US Congregation is thinking of Australia and prays that the Patriarchs bless the Congress for it to be a complete success.”
Most Venerable Thích Tín Nghĩa, Chairman of Executive Council of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in America, also sent a letter of congratulation:
“…The Fifth General Congress of the Australasian Congregation is a special event to mark the long journey in the mission by monks, nuns and laity over the past few decades to propagate the Buddha Dharma in Australia and New Zealand with encouraging achievements in preserving and extending the orthodoxy of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation overseas as well as the specific cultures of Buddhism and the Vietnamese people wherever they may live.”
In France The Deputy President of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Europe, the Most Venerable Thích Tánh Thiệt, sent a letter of congratulation. One paragraph of the letter reads as follows:
“…The Congregation in Europe… would like to congratulate the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand for your Fifth General Congress and that there will be further favourable circumstances for your Dharma propagation in Australia, always a light of wisdom illuminating the human realm, and which is always a necessity for the Congregation.”
The Most Venerable Thích Bổn Đạt, President of the Executive Council of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation of Canada sent a message of congratulation which included this paragraph:
“For 40 years, swamped by the torrent of our sad country’s fate, as the Tathāgata’s messengers carrying that aspiration to seek awakening and serve all beings and accepting whatever destiny may bring, we left our homeland. Navigated by an enlightened Sangha and with its combined strength, the Australasian Congregation can now look back on the past, having always been in step with Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregations around the world, and having had firm hands steering Overseas Buddhism’s ship through turbulent seas to overcome any obstacle. Together in the spirit of the Dharma companionship of the Vulture Peak, we rejoice in the firm constancy of our mutual respect and harmony.”
And another honour for the Congregation was that from the nation’s capital, Canberra; Prime Minister Tony Abbot sent his congratulations to the General Congress through Senator the Hon. Concetta Fierravanti–Wells, his representative, who came to participate and read his message:
“I am pleased to provide this message for everyone attending the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand Fifth General Congress. This is an opportunity for Buddhists from around our region to come together in fellowship and celebration of culture. The Buddhist community, in all its diversity, has become an integral part of the Australian story. Buddhism is Australia’s second-most practiced religion. For many, it provides meaning, purpose and inspiration in their daily lives. Your commitment to the Five Precepts of Buddhism: don’t kill, don’t steal, avoid dishonourable conduct, don’t lie, and don’t over-indulge stand as a universal code of conduct that all people – regardless of our religion or culture – should strive towards…”
The Honourable Kelvin Thompson, MP, Federal Member for Wills, sent a letter of congratulation:
“…I know these values are strongly shared by Vietnamese Buddhists, and I know that is one of the reasons you have settled in Australia so well, and have felt Australia to be your home for many years now. I know that the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation held its first Congress barely fifteen years ago, back in 1999 in Sydney, and that you have held subsequent Congresses in Brisbane, Perth and Adelaide. I am honoured that on this occasion you have seen fit to meet at the Quang Duc Monastery in the electorate of Wills. I have had a long association with the Venerable [Nguyen] Tang, who takes very seriously the idea of my Electorate Office being open to all my constituents! Through him I have come to know the values and aspirations of your community, and I have much in common with them…”
Then representing the Premier of Victoria, The Hon. Daniel Andrew, the Victorian Minister for Multicultural Affairs, The Hon. Robin Scott, read the Premier’s message of congratulation:
“I send my best wishes to members and friends of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand on the special occasion of its 5th General Congress. The General Congress brings together fellowship from Victoria and other regions to celebrate the Buddhist values of compassion, understanding and harmony that continue to inspire us after more than 2,600 years. Over the past two decades, Buddhist values have reached across continents through the Congregation and provided services as well as life-changing opportunities to thousands of people in need…”
The Mayor of the City of Moreland, Councillor Meghan Hopper, sent a message of Congratulation:
“…As the Buddhist community has grown in influence it entered our mainstream society delivering a range of community services to those receiving Government benefits. Following the numerous tragedies, such as 9/11, the Tsunami and Black Saturday bushfires and more recently the Haiti earthquake, the Quang Duc Monastery held services and prayers to pray for the victims and raise monies… On behalf of Moreland City Council and my fellow Councillors, may this community enjoy many more years of growth, peace and understanding and bring a true spiritual inner peace into our Moreland community.”
Mr. Nguyễn Văn Bon, President of the Vietnamese Community in Australia – Victoria Chapter, gave an address in congratulation to the Congress:
“…Representing the Vietnamese Community in Australia, Victoria Chapter, we would like to congratulate the Organising Committee and wish every success to the Fifth General Congress of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand. The North Vietnamese forcible takeover of South Vietnam in April 1975 created the darkest chapter in the history of Vietnam; a chapter filled with resentment, revenge, and oppression, with imprisonment in concentation and death camps the harsh sentences reserved by the communists for the soldiers and people of the South of Vietnam. Living under the Vietnamese communist regime the people of the South had to bear such oppression that they had no other choice than to leave. Hundreds of thousands of Southern fellow countrymen fled the country, seeking freedom in other nations…”
After the Opening Ceremony the delegates worked their utmost for two days in nine sessions to report on their activities and results over the past four years and presented Buddhist action projects for the next four years; in particular there were two discussion sessions—The Matter of the Law in Buddhist Activity presented by Dr. Đào Tăng Dực, Solicitor, and Future Buddhist Activity Planning presented by Most Ven. Quảng Ba & Ven. Nhật Tân. In the final two sessions in order to direct Buddhist activity and Dharma propagation for the next term, 2015-2019, delegates chose and elected members to the Board of Patrons, the Central Sangha Council and the Executive Council with its eight Commissions; the results were as follows:
Board of Patrons:
1. Patron: Supreme Partiarch Most Ven. Elder Thích Tâm Châu (Canada),
2. Patron: Patriarch Most Ven. Elder Thích Huyền Tôn (Australia),
3. Patron: Most Ven. Elder Thích Thắng Hoan (U.S.A.).
4. Patron Dharma Master: Most Ven. Elder Thích Như Huệ (Australia).
Central Sangha Council:
1. Most Ven. Elder Thích Huyền Tôn (Patriarch),
2. Most Ven. Elder Thích Như Huệ,
3. Most Ven. Thích Bảo Lạc,
4. Most Ven. Thích Quảng Ba,
5. Most Ven. Thích Trường Sanh,
6. Most Ven. Thích Minh Hiếu,
7. Ven. Thích Nhật Tân,
8. Ven. Thích Nguyên Trực (Chief Secretary),
9. Ven. Thích Tâm Phương.
Head of the Congregation: Most Ven. Thích Bảo Lạc,
Deputy Head of the Congregation: Most Ven. Thích Quảng Ba,
Deputy Head of the Congregation for New Zealand: Most Ven. Thích Trường Sanh;
General Secretary: Ven. Thích Nhật Tân,
Deputy General Secretaries: Ven. Thích Nguyên Tạng, Ven. Thích Giác Tín;
Treasurer: Rev. Sr. Thích Nữ Như Tuyết,
Deputy Treasurers: Rev. Sr. Thích Nữ Viên Thông, Thích Nữ Thể Viên;
Sangha Affairs Commission:– Commissioner: Ven. Thích Bổn Điền,
Deputy Commissioners: Ven. Thích Giác Tín, Ven. Thích Đạo Thông;
Bhikṣunī Affairs Commission:– Commissioner: Ven. Sr. Thích Nữ Phước Trí,
Deputy Commissioner: Ven. Sr. Thích Nữ Chơn Đạo;
Dharma Propogation Commission:– Commissioner: Most Ven. Thích Minh Hiếu,
Deputy Commissioners: Ven. Thích Như Định, Ven. Thích Nguyên Tạng;
Culture and Education Commission:– Commissioner: Most Ven. Thích Trường Sanh, Deputy Commissioners: Rev. Thích Đạo Hiển, Rev. Thích Đạo Nguyên, Dr. Lâm Như Tạng;
Buddhist Youth Groups & Youth Affairs Commission:– Commissioner: Ven.Thích Tâm Minh,
Deputy Commissioners: Ven. Thích Giác Tín, Rev. Thích Đạo Hiển;
Social Welfare Commission:– Commissioner: Ven. Thích Tâm Phương,
Deputy Commissioners: Ven. Thích Phổ Hương, Rev. Thích Viên Trí,
Rev. Sr. Thích Nữ Huệ Khiết, Sr. Thích Nữ Nguyên Khai;
Finance Commission:– Commissioner: Rev. Sr. Thích Nữ Tâm Lạc,
Deputy Commissioner: Sr. Thích Nữ Thành Liên;
Laity Affairs Commission:– Commissioner: Ven. Thích Nguyên Trực,
Deputy Commissioners: Ven. Thích Phổ Hương, Rev. Thích Thông Hiếu;
Protocol and Ritual Commission:– Commissioner: Ven. Thích Thiện Hiền,
Deputy Commissioners: Ven. Thích Nhuận Chơn, Rev. Thích Viên Tịnh,
Rev. Thích Hạnh Tri, Rev. Thích Viên Trí.
On the afternoon of Sunday May 10th, in the Main Hall of the Quang Duc Monastery the General Congress Closing Ceremony was held in a solemn but relaxed atmosphere. Before the Altar of the Triple Gem the Sangha and Lay members of the new Executive Council declared their willing acceptance of their new offices, to propagate the Dharma for the benefit of all, and to show gratitude to their new land, Australia. The Final Resolution of the Congress containing six points was promulgated to clearly affirm the Congregation’s path to pass down the lineage, and to develop the Buddha Dharma by resolving:
“that the land and sea territory of Vietnam’s ancestral motherland must be maintained in their entirety as they were established through the efforts of the forefathers;
“that the Vietnamese communist authorities should release all political prisoners, human rights activists, religious leaders, etc…;
“that with generosity Australia gave us life, therefore we should wholeheartedly and with all effort repay that debt and develop this land to greater prosperity;
“that the number of diligently practising Vietnamese Buddhist adherants should increase, that we should improve Buddhist practice, and though faced with difficult situations or challenges, we should not be discouraged from propagating the True Dharma and serving all sentient beings;
“that we should practice Buddha Dharma and cultivate virtue in order to improve ourselves as well as others in the spirit of the Dharma;
“that we should be prepared to support the Vietnamese people in their struggle for human rights, and the rights to democatic freedom for Vietnam.”
Also during Closing Ceremony the Congregation notified the acceptance of two new institutional members: the Bồ Đề Temple, Melbourne, with Sister Thích Nữ Nhật Liên as prioress, and the Thanh Lương Retreat House, Sydney, with Sister Thích Nữ Thảo Liên as prioress. These two institutions, following determinations by the Executive Council, are now officially active instutitional members within the framework of the Congregation.
The Most Venerable Thích Bảo Lạc, the Head of the Congregation, announced the raising in Sangha rank of four members: to Venerable, the Reverend Thích Nhuận Chơn, Prior of the Kim Cang Temple in Melbourne, to Reverend Sister, Sister Thích Nữ Như Như of Báo Ân Temple in Sydney, Sister Thích Nữ Huệ Khiết, Prioress of Báo Ân Temple in Sydney, and Sister Thích Nữ Thể Viên, of Bảo Vương Temple in Melbourne.
The 5th General Congress of the Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand was a great success as a result of the support of our fellow Vietnamese Buddhists from all around Australia, especially those from Victoria, and as well, the support and assistance of other organisations and the Australian Government. All this shows the strengths and capabilities necessary for the path of the Congregation’s development into the future. However, with the Buddhist activities proposed for the 2015-2019 term so full of creativity and confidence, the most important point is whether or not the Congregation can achieve its solemn destiny which still relies on many karmic elements both favourable and unfavourable as well as the readiness of the two groups, the clergy and the laity, to serve the Congregation.
Namo Amitabha Buddha
Tịnh Tuệ - Hạnh Trung
Translated into English by Philip Coen Chuc Binh