Tu Viện Quảng Đức105 Lynch Rd, Fawkner, Vic 3060. Australia. Tel: 9357 3544. quangduc@quangduc.com* Viện Chủ: TT Tâm Phương, Trụ Trì: TT Nguyên Tạng   

The 40th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement Vietnamese Buddhism in Australia: Development in Changes and Challenges

11/04/201503:54(Xem: 3614)
The 40th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement Vietnamese Buddhism in Australia: Development in Changes and Challenges

ban do Uc

 

               

                 The 40th Anniversary of Vietnamese Settlement
   Vietnamese Buddhism in Australia:
Development in Changes and Challenges  
 
                                         * Tuong Quang Luu, AO


 

Abstract:

 

Born out of a tragedy in Vietnam, the Vietnamese Australians’ presence appears to be different from others within the culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities of Australia, in that, through government refugee intake, their community multiplied by 16 times over its first five years of resettlement since 1975, and 62 times during its first two decades.

 

As more than 50% of the Vietnamese community are Buddhists, this rapid growth posed a great challenge to a handful of Vietnamese Buddhist monks and nuns who pioneered their Dharma journey in the early 1980’s by building temples and providing religious teaching and service for believers around Australia. They had to overcome secular obstacles as well as organisational and demographic changes. In the process, they have made notable contributions to Australia’s tangible and intangible cultural heritage.

 

In the long term, how the first generation of Buddhist leadership can rejuvenate to stay relevant to the increasing second and following generations of Vietnamese Australians may affect the viability of Vietnamese Buddhism in this country [1].

 

                                                       *****

 

For many years, Dieu Kim used to spend her annual leave over the Christmas/New Year holiday period attending summer retreats at Phuoc Hue Temple in Western Sydney. She mingled at ease with young and old participants, mostly of Vietnamese background, to listen to Dharma Talks delivered mainly by Vietnamese monks, and occasionally in English, by non-Vietnamese members of the Australian Sangha.

 

Dieu Kim, a young hospital doctor, is part of the hybrid “one and a half” generation coming to resettle during her teens. She is bi-lingual and bi-cultural.

 

Stephen Nguyen, a young engineer, came to Australia with his family as a toddler. In spite of strong family tradition in Buddhist Faith, Stephen was sent to a Catholic college for his education as a matter of practical choice. He grew up as a de facto Christian, and often felt lost at a Buddhist festival, where he sometimes came to assist his mother with her voluntary work.

 

Vi Phan is a Sydney University graduate and used to be Vice President of Mitra. She was busy promoting this Buddhist Youth Network from behind a stall where information pamphlets on Buddhism were on display during some of His Holiness the Dalai Lama’s teaching visits to Sydney. Born in Australia to a family of strong Buddhist Faith, Vi Phan considers herself a Buddhist, but no longer frequents the Vietnamese temples with her parents as she used to as a child. She felt comfortable in her inter-varsity, English-speaking environment enough to openly learn and practise Buddhism.

 

Liz Thanh, a social worker and Canberra-born second generation of Vietnamese background, is yet to show any interest in Buddhism. Like her peers, she is simply not “religious”.

 

There are many like Dieu Kim, Stephen Nguyen, Vi Phan and Liz Thanh throughout Australia, representing the young generation of Vietnamese Australians who have fundamentally changed not only the demographics of the Vietnamese Australian community,  but also its spiritual  needs, after only four decades of  resettlement [2].

 

   Census 2011:  Australians and Vietnamese Australians by numbers

 

The Australian population stood at 21.5 millions at Census 2011 of which around 1.1% identified as of Vietnamese background. The numbers of Vietnamese Australians vary amongst the three bases for calculation. In terms of birth place, there were 185 039 Vietnam-born, compared with 221 114 persons claiming Vietnamese ancestry and 233 390 persons speaking the Vietnamese language at home [3].

 

Within the Vietnamese Australian community, around 56% identified Buddhism as their faith.

At Census 2011, Buddhism remained the second largest religion after                                           Christianity but ahead of Islam and Hinduism. This second position however                                      does not tell the whole story of Buddhism.

Firstly, Australia is still a predominantly Christian country, albeit as a proportion, Christianity has declined significantly between Census 1911 and 2011 from 96% to 61% (with 13 150 600 persons) while Buddhism in 2011 increased its share to 2.5% of the population with 529 000 believers of whom 104 066 were of Vietnamese heritage or around 20%.

Secondly, amongst the non-Christian Faiths, Buddhism was the third fastest growing religion after Hinduism and Islam. Within a decade since Census 2001 Hinduism increased by 189%, Islam by 69% compared with 48% of Buddhism. At this rate, Buddhism may not remain in the second position during the next decade.

Thirdly, while all these three faiths depend largely on immigration from Asia and the Middle East for their respective growth, the proportion of overseas-born believers in Islam was 61.5% compared with 69.5% of Australian Buddhists. This small difference may indicate that Islam attracts more Australian-born as a percentage. The Australian-born include the second and successive generations born as descendants of first generation settlers as well as other Australian-born across various cultural and linguistic backgrounds.

And fourthly, Buddhists in multicultural Australia come from a variety of ethnicity and mainly from Asia. They belong to all three main schools of Buddhism - Mahayana, Theravada and Vajrayana. Within each school, they may follow different lineage practices. So the Buddhist communities are complex and tend to grow within their own linguistic boundary.

A good illustration of this complex diversity is the ways Indochinese refugees setting up their Buddhist temples and congregations in Australia since 1975. Indochina was of course a creation of the French colonial period. The three peoples called ‘Indochinese’ share little in cultural and linguistic terms and hold different religious traditions. The majority of Vietnamese Buddhists are Mahayanists while their Lao and Cambodian counterparts follow the Theravada. I have visited many Buddhist places of worship and a Vietnamese Chùa (a temple or monastery) is distintively different from a Cambodian or Lao Wat, not only in their architectural appearance but also in ritual practices. Seldom has a Vietnamese Buddhist come to a Cambodian or a Lao Wat for a Dharma talk and vice versa. With the exception of Buddhists of Chinese heritage from Indochina who may frequent a Chinese temple as well as a Vietnamese or Cambodian or Lao monastery, each of the three former Indochinese communities has developed their own congregation for their own spiritual wellbeing.

Structurally at the national and state levels, the Buddhist Federation of Australia (BFA), the Federation of Australian Buddhist Councils (FABC), the Buddhist Council of NSW and the Buddhist Council of Victoria or similar bodies in other states are peak organisations bringing together members of the Sangha from different schools and lineages and some prominent lay Buddhists, for a common voice and shared goals in the promotion of Dharma for peace and social harmony. This kind of co-operation at the leadership level has not permeated to CALD Buddhist communities where inter-personal communication is still by way of a mother’s tongue.


A compact Vietnamese community in early multicultural Australia

 

Some Vietnamese came to Australia literally by accident. Almost a century ago, a French ship carrying Vietnamese workers on its way to New Caledonia had to divert its destination to a port in North Queensland due to medical reasons.

 

In the 1960’s and 1970’s, thousands of young Vietnamese were sponsored under the Colombo Plan to pursue their tertiary education in this country. They were the best and brightest amongst South Vietnam’s young generation to be trained overseas as technocrats for its future development.

 

Before 1975, a permanent Vietnamese community in Australia hardly existed, apart from some 700 who had settled here as spouses or through adoption.

 

When Saigon fell on 30 April 1975, hundreds of Vietnamese students were stranded and allowed to remain in Australia, where Vietnamese-born residents increased to 2 427 a year later [4].

 

Former Vietnamese students were divided amongst themselves due to their personal allegiance. Those who chose to support the new power back home stayed together within their own circle and were reluctant to be involved in the soon-to-be fast growing Vietnamese refugee community.  Many others such as Dr. Tran My-Van at the ANU in Canberra, then later in Darwin, or Phan Dong Bich, and Tran Tan Tai, engineering graduates respectively from the University of NSW and the University of Adelaide, formed part of the educated component of the early social structure of Vietnamese Australians in the late 1970’s. They undertook voluntary work alongside Australian friends from NGO’s to ease the newly arrived refugees’ cultural reorientation.

 

The Vietnamese population increased dramatically and continuously through the four subsequent censuses: 41,096 in 1981, 83,028 in 1986, 121,813 in 1991 and 150,941 in 1996.  At Census 1996, there were also 46,756 second generation of Vietnamese background.

 

Substantial changes to Australia’s immigration and refugee policies in the 1990’s saw a rapid decline of Vietnamese arrivals since Census 1996. The community’s growth in the subsequent decade was due mainly to the Australian-born second generation. In other words, without further significant immigration from Vietnam, the Vietnamese Australian community has changed perhaps more speedily than their other migrant cohorts.

 

These figures show that the Vietnamese came to Australia in greater numbers when the Vietnamese community lacked adequate social, cultural and religious structures to support themselves.  But when these structures were better established, Vietnam had already ceased to be a major source country. This is quite a unique experience, in my view, compared for example with the Lebanese in the mid-1970's as a result of a civil war in Lebanon, the Poles in the early 1980's because of repression against the Solidarity Movement in Poland, and the Chinese students in the early 1990's following the Tiananmen Square Democracy Uprising in June 1989. They came to Australia or were allowed to stay on in Australia when their respective community structure had already been well-established to provide them with support and a voice to the wider community.

 

   Difficult first steps and decade of achievements

 

Apart from Venerable Thich Nhu Dien’s occasional visits from West Germany, there was not a single Vietnamese monk residing in Australia before 1980, let alone a Vietnamese Buddhist temple.

 

Vietnamese Christians could join the mainstream and well-established Catholic Church or other Christian Churches and they did not need to build their own places of worship.  The Vietnamese Catholic communities, nevertheless for reasons of linguistic and cultural adjustment, began to organise their own activities in Melbourne, Sydney and Brisbane thanks to a handful of Vietnamese priests who had lived and worked prior to or shortly after 1975 in those cities. Much smaller Vietnamese Protestant community was also able to set up the first Vietnamese Evangelical Congregation in Sydney in 1978, when Pastor Doan Trung Chanh came to settle in Australia. He was well supported by a group of former South Vietnamese Colombo students, including Dr. Le Duc Hong and Dr. Do Le Minh.

 

Dr. Hoang Khoi recalls that as a Buddhist and a post graduate student at the University of New South Wales, he and his fellow believers held meditation sessions and sometimes celebrated the Vesak and Vietnamese Lunar New Year at an inner suburb Thai Temple, which practises Theravada Buddhism, whereas most Vietnamese are Mahayana Buddhists.

 

Chua Phuoc Hue Sydney
Phuoc Hue Temple, Sydney 
                              

As Vietnamese refugees began to arrive in greater numbers after the Whitlam dismissal in November 1975, the need for a resident Vietnamese speaking monk and their own place of worship and meditation became more acute. Mrs. Be Ha, fresh from a refugee camp with her family, and still in temporary accommodation at the Enterprise Migrant Hostel in Melbourne in 1979, tried to figure out how their religious wellbeing could be fulfilled, especially for her two young children she hoped to grow up as Buddhists.                             

Currently in her voluntary position as the long-serving President of the Springvale Indo-Chinese Mutual Assistance Association in Victoria, Be Ha remembers her profound delight and relief to be among a small group of Vietnamese Buddhists welcoming the first Vietnamese Buddhist monk to Australia at Melbourne’s Tullamarine International Airport on 09 July 1980: Senior Venerable Thich Tac Phuoc, who would become known later as the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, was sponsored from a refugee camp in Hong Kong. He had been a high ranking member of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) in Saigon, which was banned by the new communist authorities after 1975. He was soon joined in Melbourne by another Vietnamese monk from a refugee camp in Malaysia, Senior Venerable Thich Huyen Ton [5].                                                                                        

 Senior Venerable Thich Tac Phuoc conducted the first Buddhist ceremony in the Vietnamese language by a resident Vietnamese monk in 1980. This was held at a Catholic facility in Melbourne, provided by Reverend Father Bart Huynh San. Earlier in Adelaide in 1977, a Buddhist ceremony in Vietnamese had been initiated by the late Mr. Nguyen Van Tuoi and his group of lay Buddhists among the Vietnamese refugees at Pennington Migrant Hostel. The group was also assisted to continue their religious activities by Reverend Father Jefferies Foale CP, the founding President of the Indo-China Refugee Association (ICRA), until they could set up their own Vietnamese Buddhist Association of South Australia in 1981.                                          
                         

Shortly after his arrival, Senior Venerable Thich Tac Phuoc moved to Sydney where he also conducted the first Vietnamese Ullambana Ceremony. Six months later, in February 1981, a third monk, Venerable Thich Bao Lac, came from Japan and also settled in Sydney. In the early 1970’s, young Venerable Thich Bao Lac was sent to Japan for further studies by the UBCV, but he could not return home because of the event of April 1975. While contemplating his re-settlement in the United States, he was sponsored by the newly formed Vietnamese Buddhist Society of NSW and decided to resume his Dharma journey in Sydney.             
                                                                                       

Venerable Thich Bao Lac made a few trips to Adelaide to assist the local Vietnamese Buddhist Association at its new house-temple, Phap Hoa, until the Association was able to sponsor a refugee monk from Japan, Senior Venerable Thich Nhu Hue in mid 1982. The Association worked with its new spiritual leader to embark on the development of Phap Hoa Temple as a symbol of the presence of Vietnamese Buddhism in South Australia.

The growing Vietnamese Buddhist community realised quickly that building a place of worship would prove far more difficult and complicated. Today’s seemingly well-established Phuoc Hue and Phap Bao Monasteries in Western Sydney and other similar Vietnamese temples in  Brisbane, Canberra, Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth disguise the problems of neighbourhood protests, land use zoning and local government’s building regulations they had to overcome when starting out as house-temples in residential areas. “Buddha worship in a garage” was the description given by The Sydney Morning Herald [6] to the very modest brick veneer house known as the first Phuoc Hue Temple, which opened its door as a Hall of Prayer on 1 November 1980 in the working class suburb of Fairfield NSW. These issues remain basically unchanged today for house-temples in residential areas [7].

 

What motivated active Buddhists like Dr. Hoang Khoi, Messrs Phan Dong Bich, Le Thang Tien, Chuc Thanh, Thien Chau, Mrs Nhu Hoa, Mrs Mai Tuyet Anh, Ms Ngoc Han, the late Mr. Tran Ngoc Thach,  the late Mr. Dinh Quang Chinh etc… in Sydney, Mr. Minh Chieu, Mrs. Be Ha, Mr. Tran Hoang, Dr. Tran Quoc Dong, the late Dr. Nguyen Duc Hung etc… in Melbourne, and Mr. Nguyen Viet Trung, Dr. Bui Trong Cuong, Dr. Tran Van Lan etc… in Brisbane and many other cities, was the acute unmet needs of mature aged Vietnamese who joined them for a new life in an English speaking and predominantly Christian country.

 

 

 

 Chua Quang Minh

Quang Minh Temple, Braybrook, Victoria 

 

 

These committed volunteers’ determination, devotion and long-standing involvement in the temple development projects in the 1980’s were instrumental in the completion of many Vietnamese-styled pagodas around Australia. The late Mr. Chu Van Hop, an Ethnic Affairs adviser to Premier Barry Unsworth of NSW in mid 1980’s also provided considerable assistance to Phuoc Hue Temple. Through many stages of its development, Quang Minh Temple in Melbourne benefited from the creative mind of a well-known Vietnamese sculptor and painter, the late Mr. Le Thanh Nhon (1940-2002) and other supporters and advisers.

 

“My mother was a devout Buddhist in Vietnam and here in Sydney, she had nowhere to go for her faith”, said Hoang Khoi who was a driving force for the Phap Bao Pagoda project. An enthusiastic member of the Hoa Nghiem Temple project in Springvale Victoria, Be Ha strongly believed a Vietnamese Buddhist temple would provide the spiritual focus and essential support for the newly established Vietnamese community.

 

Some five years after the fall of Saigon, the Vietnamese community hardly had any Australian-trained lawyers and architects, but some temple building committees were able to enlist the support of knowledgeable Australians to help deal with the bureaucracy, and assist with government lobbying at the local, state and federal levels. Philip Coen, who is fluent in Vietnamese, devoted part of his free time for the Vietnamese Buddhists in Sydney. In Perth, WA, Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Nhon paid tribute to the late Mr. Wilson for similar contribution when Pho Quang Temple celebrated its 25th Anniversary in April 2007.

 

Structurally, Senior Venerables Thich Tac Phuoc, Thich Huyen Ton and Venerable Thich Bao Lac, together with the Vietnamese Lay Buddhist Associations in Adelaide, Brisbane and Perth, resolved in their inaugural Conference in April 1981 in Sydney, to establish the Vietnamese Buddhist Federation of Australia (The Federation - Tong Hoi). The Federation’s aims were to coordinate its Dharma activities and further development across Australia and New Zealand [8].

 

Since the Federation’s second Conference in April 1983, when Senior Venerable Thich Tac Phuoc was re-elected President (and known thereafter as Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue), Vietnamese Buddhism has had its best decades of development.

 

Newly sponsored monks from refugee camps in South East Asia were appointed to head new projects. Venerable Thich Quang Ba went to Canberra for Van Hanh Monastery, Venerable Thich Phuoc Nhon to Perth for Pho Quang Temple and Venerable Thich Nhat Tan to Brisbane for Phap Quang Pagoda. The Congregation also extended its Dharma activities to Auckland and Wellington, New Zealand.

 

In 1982, the Federation and its NSW branch began publishing Phat Giao Viet Nam and Phap Bao Buddhist Magazines respectively, as a means to reach a wider audience. Prior to the age of the Internet, this traditional way of communication was essential as a link for the budding Buddhist community.               

 

   Youth Activities Reactivated

 

For additional face-to-face contact with Buddhist parents and their children, most Vietnamese Buddhist temples across Australia ran weekend language and culture classes with volunteer teaching labour. Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan considered this a ‘quiet achiever’ because an enhancement of bi-lingual ability requires efforts on the part of members of the Sangha to learn English and the Australian-born generation to learn their mother tongue. This is, however a temple-based effort with little national or state-wide coordination.                                     

 

I believe what appears to be a better organised and potentially more suitable response to the young generation ‘turning away’ from religion is the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Family / Association known in Vietnamese as Gia Dinh Phat Tu (GDPT).                                                                                                                 

 

Conceptually, the Buddhist Youth Family is broadly similar to the Scout Movement (Phong Trao Huong Dao) or the (Catholic) Eucharistic Youth Movement (Phong Trao Thieu Nhi Thanh The). All three had been active in Vietnam before 1954 when Vietnam was divided. They remained active and undergone further development in South Vietnam from 1954 to 1975.                           

 

Unlike the other two which are better known internationally, the Buddhist Youth Family is specific to the Vietnamese Buddhism. It was established by a well-know Vietnamese lay Buddhist leader, Dr. Le Dinh Tham in 1940 and became a nationally affiliated youth branch of the Saigon-based UBCV, which has been banned since 1981 by the current Hanoi government. Inside Vietnam today, GDPT finds itself in a delicate and difficult situation because of the concurrent existence of the State-sanctioned Vietnam Sangha and the State-banned UBCV.                                                          

 

Outside Vietnam, as the Indochinese exodus gained intensity in the late 1970s and 1980s, refugee camps were set up and run by local authorities in Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, the Philippines and Hong Kong with financial assistance from the international community and the UNHCR. Like all previous waves of refugees around the world, the Vietnamese brought with them their tradition and religious practices. Churches and temples were built to cater for refugees’ spiritual needs while they stayed in those camps. Pulau Bidong Camp for example, had a Christian church and a Quan Am / Guan Yin Temple. When I visited some of those camps in mid-1980s as an executive of the Australian Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs, I was pleasantly surprised to be welcomed by young members of the Buddhist Youth Family, the Vietnamese Scouts as well as the Eucharistic Youth Movement.                                                          

 

Most Venerable Thich Quang Ba recalled his effort to reorganise the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Family at Pulau Bidong camp upon his arrival there as a refugee in early 1983. Once in Australia, he was chosen to lead the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Association as the Commissioner for Youth Affairs (from 1983 to 1987) of the Federation.

 

Also in 1983 in Sydney, at the time of Le Vu Lan / Ullambana Festival, Venerable Thich Bao Lac decided to reactivate GDPT and Nguyen Man Le Viet Lam, a long time serving and experienced Buddhist Youth leader was tasked with its organisation. Looking back on the 25th anniversary of GDPT Phap Bao in 2008, Nguyen Man put strong emphasis on the healthy and friendly relationship amongst its membership in their shared goal to become good Buddhists in society [9].                                                                                         

 

Each GDPT conducts activities at most weekends in association with, but not under direct control of a Vietnamese Buddhist temple. They are under the general guidance of a national or continental leadership group (Ban Huong Dan Trung Uong) such as in the United States, in Europe and in Australia.                                                                                                              

 

In Australia, all Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Associations operate under a common Constitution (Noi Qui) whose objective states that the Vietnamese Buddhist Youth Family is an educational organisation to train members of the young generation to become good Buddhists and to work with the community for contribution towards a healthy society in the Buddhist spirit. Similar to the Scout movement, the Constitution of GDPT categorises their membership according to age groups and experience and specifies the responsibilities of leaders at various levels.                                                                     

 

During the past 40 years, thousands of pre-teens and teenagers have been enjoying the benefits of week-end learning and playing in groups for character building, mutual support and a culture of community service. Former members who are now young adults return to their temple as team leaders to continue this personal development training. One such leader is Toan Nguyen, a solicitor in Sydney. He recalled:                                                                                                       

 

“Back in the early 1990s (1992 for me) people joined GDPT for friendship, socialising, supporting each other as new migrants to Australia.  I joined GDPT because of Lion Dancing and Kungfu classes that were held at Pho Quang Temple in Perth.  I was travelling home from school one day and met an old friend from primary and he asked me to join because, he said, GDPT is fun…”          

 

“I remember back then it was not as organised like today because of the lack of resources. Many of our activities were outdoors and older leaders had to support junior members with transportation and camp fees etc. Everything was so basic but we had fun and we enjoyed the activities, the friendship and the various scripture classes that were held by the Temple Abbot”.                        

 

Learning through fun and group activities indeed attracted Hai Thanh Nguyen to join a Buddhist Youth Family in the first place. Now a leading Buddhist Youth Family working under the ‘guidance but not control’ by Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan, he and his Buddhist Youth Family represent the young face of Quang Minh Temple.                                                              

 

Both Toan Nguyen and Hai Thanh Nguyen believe that GDPT plays a very important role in introducing Buddhism to young Vietnamese Australians because most temples in Australia cannot really support youth activities and because these activities are educational and fun conducted by leaders who are well equipped with today's trend and culture to work with children.                               

 

As Vice President of GDPT in New South Wales and Leader GDPT Huyen Quang, one of the Vietnamese Buddhist Temples in suburban Bankstown, NSW, Toan Nguyen identified in 2012 where GDPT as a youth organisation might be improved.                                                             

 

“As a leader, I think GDPT needs to improve in many areas, especially in training and procedures. I have been in the association for 20 years and I must admit the support from the Sangha is not nearly enough especially the financial side…As a brand, many people believe in the work that GDPT, especially when it comes to charity work… I believe the failure of our organisation is not to have a long term plan/vision and work with proper procedures…”                                                                                      

 

Hai Thanh Nguyen added that, the internal division amongst the Vietnamese Sangha within and outside Vietnam affects the Buddhist Youth Family  in its effort to become a unified Buddhist youth institution.                                                                    

 

Of course, these are common weaknesses of any NGOs, especially those which are not incorporated and Buddhist organisations are not an exception.

 

In 2013, Toan Nguyen started his fundraising for long term planning and towards the end of 2014, purchased a property in the Fairfield LGA to facilitate his GDPT group’s activities. Toan Nguyen’s enthusiasm was shared by other GDPT leaders with longer involvement.

 

“Properly motivated and led, it is potentially an effective way for generational renewal for the lay Buddhist community in Australia”, said Phap Loi, a Buddhist Youth Leader with training experience both in Vietnam and in Australia.

 

Phap Loi came to resettle in Canberra in 1981 from Songkla, a United Nations Refugee Centre in southern Thailand where he had been active in Buddhist activities for young Vietnamese at the camp. He and others like Nguyen Man Le Viet Lam, as lay Buddhist leaders, guided the Buddhist Youth Family during its formative years in the 1980’s and early 1990’s, together with Venerables Thich Quang Ba and Thich Nhat Tan, as successive Heads of Lay Buddhist and Youth Affairs Office of the Congregation.



From Federation to Congregation: Organisational Challenges

 

Another milestone was reached in 1987 when the Federation adopted a new Constitution to become the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia & New Zealand (The Congregation – Giao Hoi).

 

The Federation/ Congregation’s focus during the 1980’s and early 1990’s was to build temples and to enhance its organisational structure for its ultimate objective – to serve the spiritual needs of Buddhist believers who were mainly first generation Vietnamese settlers. For its efforts, the Congregation as a whole and individual temples were fairly successful, bearing in mind that the first generation of monks left Vietnam as individual refugees without any collective intention or plan to reorganise themselves within a structure like a mini UBCV in Australia.

 

Newly established temples received strong popular support not only in terms of attendance for regular Dharma teachings and traditional festivals, but also by way of practical donations. Some temples were assisted by State governments for land, but most relied on private donations in cash and kind from within the Buddhist community.

 

The Federation/Congregation became known nationally and internationally through its membership of the Australian Buddhist Federation, the World Sangha Council and the World Fellowship of Buddhists.                                                  

 

By the early 1990’s, Vietnamese Buddhists could frequent their own temple for worship and Dharma learning in Canberra and all State capital cities with the exception of Hobart, while a small community in Darwin had to rely on sporadic visits by monks residing in the southern States [10].

 

As the Congregation was entering its stage of consolidation, internal disunity began to appear within its executive council. It became dysfunctional in 1997 and after its public split in 1999, a new and separate Congregation (the second Congregation) was established and headed, reportedly with some reluctance, by the Adelaide-based Most Venerable Thich Nhu Hue who was until then Deputy to Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue in Sydney. The latter retained his position in the original Congregation but only with one third of its original membership.

 

This split represents the first organisational failure suffered by the Vietnamese Buddhist community. It was still unfortunate even though it was not caused by differences in policy or goals. Both organisations remain non-political but supportive of the struggle for human rights and religious freedom by the UBCV which has endured on-going repression and persecution by the communist authorities in the Socialist Republic of Vietnam. Both are committed, as Australian Buddhist institutions, to cater for the spiritual life of Vietnamese and Australian believers and to promote Dharma Teachings for a harmonious and peaceful society.

 

Looking back a decade after the event, Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue told me that he would have preferred the original Buddhist Federation to remain rather than to become a Congregation, because in his view, the reality was not conducive to a vertical structure. Basically, individual temples look after their own operational requirements and their own future [11]. Some even enhance their equity base by extending their operations inter-state. Perth-based Pho Quang Temple, for example, has had a sister temple, Pho Minh, in Sydney which was recently relocated and is still under construction in 2015 at Bankstown, NSW.  Canberra-based Van Hanh Monastery also has its own Nguyen Thieu in Sydney.

 

Most Venerable Thich Bao Lac believes the split was unavoidable because of distrust among the leadership, while Senior Venerable Thich Quang Ba attributed part of its cause to clashes of personalities.

 

In Perth in April 2007 during the Third four-yearly National Conference of the second Congregation, I sought the view of the US-based Most Venerable Thich Ho Giac (who passed away in December 2012) , then Leader of the Overseas UBCV, on this internal division. He said he was not disturbed by it at all, as the two Australian Congregations always endeavoured “to honour Buddha by serving human beings”.

 

For whatever reasons, the two Congregations moved on and have conducted themselves in mutual respect, albeit at some arm’s length.

 

Some Buddhists felt saddened when this disagreement became public, but the community has generally disregarded the split and continued their connection and sometimes multi-connection with the temple(s) of their choice across the two Congregations. Compared with the long-standing division between the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of Australia and the Greek Orthodox Community, the Vietnamese Buddhist leadership remains quite amicable with each other indeed.

hthuyenquangMost Venerable Thich Huyen Quang

 htthichquangdo-2
Most Venerable Thich Quang Do




However, the disruption that has shaken the confidence of both the Sangha and the community came almost unexpectedly from Vietnam in September 2007, when the UBCV, in the names of the 4th Patriarch, Most Venerable Thich Huyen Quang and his Deputy, Most Venerable Thich Quang Do, decided to disband the overseas Unified Vietnamese Buddhist Congregations in the USA, Canada, Europe and Australia (i.e. the Second Congregation) to pave the way for a re-organised UBCV’s Overseas Office located in the USA. This was to be headed again by Most Venerable Thich Ho Giac, who had been one of the most senior members of the UBCV in 1975.

 

Again distrust amongst the leadership of the Sangha and ambition by some lay Buddhists played a major part for the UBCV’s arbitrary move which has probably weakened the overseas Vietnamese Buddhist structure and the UBCV itself. Although it was not legally binding and effective in Australia, this UBCV’s decision has generated an unprecedented negative impact on the second Congregation in Australia. Most Venerables Thich Nhu Hue and Thich Bao Lac, its Head and Deputy Head, were so disappointed that they declined membership of the newly re-organised Overseas Office of the UBCV based in the USA. Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Nhon, founding Abbot of Pho Quang Temple, was appointed the sole Australian representative to the Overseas Office.

 

In August 2008, Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, 87, resigned as head of the original Congregation, for a personal reason and because of ill health. He was succeeded by his two disciples, Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Bon, founding Abbot of Los Angeles-based Phuoc Hue Temple, and Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan, Abbot of Quang Minh Temple. Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue passed away on 28 January 2012.                                                                                                                  

 

   Demographic challenge

 

Leading members of the Vietnamese Sangha in both Congregations believed they would be able to meet these structural challenges to retain the confidence of the Buddhist community. What they have agreed as far more difficult to overcome, however, is the community’s demographic changes which require the second generation of monks and nuns to follow a different approach in terms of language skills, IT competence and good knowledge of Australia and the Australian society.  At the moment, the Congregations’ ability to respond is rather limited.                                                                                                             

 

This demographic challenge, however, is by no means unique to the Vietnamese Buddhist community - bearing in mind that less than half (or 48%) of the Generation Y believe in religion [12] in today’s world of increasing secularism.

Generation Y includes persons born between 1981 and1995. For the younger ones born toward the end of the 20th Century and during the first decade of the 21st Century, it seems that the impact of secularism is more pronounced in Christianity than in Islam and Buddhism, in percentage terms. Census 2011 shows that around 18.5% of Buddhists and 20.8% of Moslems were under the age of 15 compared to 12.5% for the Catholics and 9.2% for the Anglicans.

In assessing the first decade of Vietnamese Buddhism, one can argue that the successful focus in establishing physical facilities has had its costs. Phap Loi believes that the Vietnamese Sangha did not pay enough attention to “train people” as human capital for the Congregation’s sustainable future in its role as the medium for Dharma promotion.                                                                                    

The leadership of both Congregations still maintains that this was the right approach, because the initial lack of facilities actually denied the Buddhist community a proper environment to pursue their faith. The Federation’s first conference in 1981 was indeed held at a borrowed Cabramatta meeting hall in South Western Sydney.

But Senior Venerable Thich Quang Ba, Van Hanh’s Abbot and Senior Venerable Thich Thien Tam, his counterpart at Hoa Nghiem Temple, thought the issue was more fundamental than just a perceived insufficient effort on the part of the first generation of monks and nuns.

 

Vietnam has had a two thousand year Buddhist history, and at least two thirds of its population were born into that tradition and live with it as a matter of course”, said Senior Venerable Thich Quang Ba. “When a tree is uprooted from one place to re-grow at another place, it loses or changes part of its original traits”, observed Senior Venerable Thich Thien Tam.

ttquangba
Most Venerable Thich Quang Ba,

 

Just like many waves of settlers before them, the Vietnamese have travelled through the same migrant experience. Their values and aspirations are not always shared by the second and subsequent generations. In fact, their sons and daughters are often hostile to their views of the world. Some families try to enforce the “traditional” discipline and fail, while others tolerate their offsprings’ hybrid life [13] inside and outside their home. A peaceful family and a harmonious community as well depend on their ability to navigate this cultural diversity. Vietnamese families still play an important role for this navigation to be successful. Be Ha says her wish has come true as her two children who are now young professionals, actively retain their Buddhist Faith.

 

   Inter-generational Issues

 

“Vietnamese temples are not engaging with young people” – Vi Phan.

 

I think the Congregations and individual temples understand the need to engage with young people in the community. To what extent they are able to do so depends on their ability to change themselves and to train and nurture a new generation of leaders and teachers.

 

When I asked the current leadership to identify their most difficult challenges, invariably they mentioned the dual issue of communication with the young Australian-born generation and the temples’ relevance to their aspirations. And what are the strategies and time frame to meet these challenges?

 

In multicultural Australia, Senior Venerable Thich Thien Tam wondered whether there might be lessons to be learned and experiences to be adopted from other religious communities.

 Thich Phuoc TanSenior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan, Abbot of Quang Minh Temple

thichnguyentang
Senior Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang, Abbot of Quang Duc Monastery.



The Greek Orthodox Church has been in Australia for over a century and remains largely relevant to many generations of Greek Australians. During the last few decades, it has gradually become bi-lingual. The Tibetan Buddhism is much newer in Australia, but thanks to the high profile and world standing of His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama, it has enjoyed a strong mainstream and multi-ethnic support [14]. Like the Greek example, Vietnamese Australians provide a community base for the Vietnamese Buddhism which is yet to become multicultural. Any strategy that may attract English-speaking second generation Australian-born Vietnamese would also help the Vietnamese Buddhism expand to the broader community. Opportune time is now for bi-lingual and Melbourne-based Senior Venerables Thich Phuoc Tan, Abbot of Quang Minh Temple and Thich Nguyen Tang, the newly appointed (in late 2014) second Abbot of Quang Duc Monastery.

 

Most Venerable Thich Bao Lac said, however from his observation, while the number of grandparents had been much reduced over the years, the middle group of mature Buddhists who were in their twenties and early thirties some decades ago would still remain committed and active members of the Congregation. This middle group’s children are the real challenge – young persons like Dieu Kim, Stephen Nguyen, Vi Phan and Liz Thanh.

 

Some elder members of the Congregations’ leadership have taken steps to renew and rejuvenate the Vietnamese Sangha. Most Venerables Thich Nhu Hue, Thich Bao Lac and Thich Phuoc Nhon already vacated their position as founding Abbot and appointed their young disciples to manage their respective temple in Adelaide, Sydney and Perth.

 

Others temples such as Van Hanh, Quang Duc, Pho Quang and Huyen Quang in Bankstown, NSW, have sponsored young Bhiksus and Bhiksunies from Vietnam to join their locally-trained monks and nuns.



htnhuhue

Most Venerable Thich Nhu Hue

 
3-HT-BaoLacMost Venerable Thich Bao Lac



This sponsorship option has had two drawbacks: (a) It takes a long while for young monks and nuns to adjust themselves to the Australian cultural and social environment, especially when they are not fluent in English; and (b) the retention percentage is low. Senior Venerable Thich Quang Ba (who has now joined the highest rank of Most Venerable) estimated that around half of the sponsored returned to secular life within five years of arrival.  Amongst those who stayed, some have achieved exceptional success like Senior Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang at Quang Duc and Venerable Thich Nhuan An at Nguyen Thieu. The former is skillful in computing and the latter, in teaching young participants at retreats. Venerables Thich Nu Tinh Anh and Mandarin-speaking Thich Nu Bao Truong, as sponsored nuns from Hue in central Vietnam, recently became Abbesses of Pho Quang and Pho Minh. The successful ones tend to re-qualify themselves at the tertiary level or take post graduate studies.

 

Locally-trained monks who are young Australian graduates of Vietnamese background would be ideally suited to replace their first generation elders. But an “ideal” solution is often elusive.

 

Vietnam has had a good track record in the field of religious training which was a combination of in-temple learning and practice and full-time attendance at an advanced institute of Buddhist Studies. Most Venerables Thich Bao Lac and Thich Quang Ba were graduates respectively from Hue Nghiem in Saigon and Hai Duc at the coastal city of Nha Trang, while the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue used to manage Buddhist schools in the Mekong Delta. Most Venerable Thich Bao Lac believed in-temple training alone could not create the kind of collegial bonding among trainees he had enjoyed at Hue Nghiem. Before 1975, Van Hanh Buddhist University in Saigon was a major learning centre for lay Buddhists and trainee monks and nuns alike, even though the university’s admission criteria were non-denominational.

 

Discussions for an Overseas Vietnamese Advanced Institute of Buddhist Studies took place intermittently during the last few decades, but such a scheme remains at best an aspiration, because of resource limitations – in both human and financial terms.

 

In Australia this resource difficulty is common amongst Buddhist congregations and individual temples, unless they can raise or receive assistance from external sources.  The Chinese Fo Guang Shan Nan Tien Temple in Wollongong NSW, which celebrated its 20th anniversary in September 2014, appears to have successfully overcome these resource limitations not only in terms of its construction as the largest temple in the Southern Hemisphere but also in its ability to provide government-recognised tertiary education  “grounded in Buddhist values and wisdom”. The Temple’s Nan Tien Institute was officially opened on 1st March 2015 [15].

 

An ambitious expansion of Phuoc Hue Temple would have included an Institute of Buddhist Studies, but the plan failed to materialise. Half a dozen of young monks and nuns were sent to Taiwan and India for further Buddhist studies and an equal number attempted post-graduate research in Australia. Unfortunately, the retention rate is also low. At least three young and academically inclined monks left Phuoc Hue Temple for secular life within 5 years of their formal ordination. Those who were academically successful and stayed as serving members of the Sangha, have often taken a more traditional role elsewhere. Senior Venerable Thich Phuoc An is now Abbot of a Vietnamese Temple in Auckland, New Zealand, and Venerable Thich Nu Hue Khiet and Venerable Thich Nu Phuoc Sinh, PhD, reside at their own temple in Sydney and Melbourne.

 

The task of training locally-engaged novice monks and nuns is difficult enough in the absence of a formal Buddhist institute staffed by qualified teachers it proves even much harder to keep them afterwards because of secular distractions in a modern consumer society.

 

The majority among some 50 Vietnamese monasteries and house-temples across Australia and New Zealand are still managed by the first generation monks and nuns trained in Vietnam. At least one, Chanh Giac Temple in Perth, used to be run by a lay Buddhist. In gender terms, however, the ratio between abbots and abbesses is around 10 to 1, reflecting the strongly male-dominated Vietnamese Sangha, which is in step with those in other Asian Buddhist countries. Abbesses are the exception to the norm.

 

In Sydney, Abbesses Thich Nu Tam Lac and Thich Nu Phuoc Hoan run their respective nunnery single-handedly and are well-liked and well supported by the community. Senior Venerable Thich Nu Hai Trieu Hanh (deceased in 2014) took her role as a Buddhist chaplain very seriously and frequently visited correctional institutions to provide moral support for young in-mates. Elsewhere, some nuns have taken charge of well-built temples as abbesses, like Senior Venerable Thich Nu Chon Dao at Quan The Am in Perth, Venerable Thich Nu Hanh Thang at Phat Quang in Melbourne and Venerable Thich Nu Tri Luu at Linh Son in Brisbane.

 

The gender imbalance within the Vietnamese Sangha will indeed take a long time, if ever, to change despite the increasing number of Bhiksunies entering the Congregations. On the other hand, the generational gap between the Sangha and the Buddhist community’s younger members appears to be partly addressed with some success.

 

   A way forward

 

At Phap Bao, the second Abbot was a young man living in Victoria to complete his education before his in-temple training in Sydney for 16 years. Venerable Thich Pho Huan is very keen to keep touch with the young and old not only by face-to-face interactions but also, with his laptop in hand, through modern technology.

 

The current Abbot of Quang Minh was a 10-year old boy who had intended to stay only for one week at a temple in Saigon. As a refugee minor at 11, he received all his secular education in NSW and his religious in-temple learning at Phuoc Hue Temple as a novice for a decade, before becoming an ordained monk some 20 years ago. Apart from his daily role of an Abbot, Senior Venerable Phuoc Tan supervised the new Quang Minh building project at Braybrook, Victoria. He is active in the Inter-Faith Dialogue and considered as a leading voice in matters of cross religious and cultural nature.                                                                                                                     

 

Senior Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang was in fact trained in Vietnam, but he was successfully re-qualified at La Trobe University. He is the webmaster of one of the better designed websites of any Vietnamese temples (www.quangduc.com).

 

Still in their late thirties or early forties, these second generation Abbots and others who will emerge, represent the best hope for renewal and growth of Vietnamese Buddhism. Not only are they re-activating the connection with the young through the traditional way of the “Buddhist Youth Family”, but they are also able to communicate Buddhism as a living and evolving religion to different groups of people – those who were and remain Buddhists, those who are lapsed Buddhists and those who are yet to be interested in Buddhism

 

The languages of communication nowadays certainly include the Internet, i-phones and social media. Senior Venerable Nguyen Tang says the www.quangduc.com website contains more than 200,000 texts and documents in Vietnamese and English and has more than 2,000 visits daily, 80% of which are Vietnamese and 20% English [16] compared with the traditional library at Hoa Nghiem with 13,000 titles in Vietnamese, English and Chinese and around 100 visitors weekly. These data are modest but important as indicators of an early effort for change. Most major Vietnamese temples have now built their websites to extend their reach.

tuvienquangduc_6

 Quang Duc Monastery in Fawkner, Victoria                                                                                              

 

 

 

But Senior Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang believes the IT-based means is only a complementary method and not a replacement for both teaching and learning. Ngoc Han, a lay Buddhist who was an executive producer of SBS Radio in Sydney, agreed. As a learner, she did not need go to a temple because she was a member of an international Dharma Teaching on the Net, hosted from Saigon by Senior Venerable Thich Tue Sy, a well-known scholar and former professor at Van Hanh Buddhist University [17].

 

The information superhighway allows students to be in virtual contact with their teachers without leaving home. However, Buddhists like Ngoc Han continue to frequent their temple because they like its environment and enjoy the opportunity of real human company. People are social creatures. Today’s temples are no longer like a parish pump, but their social and cultural attractions and camaraderie remain relevant to the non-economic needs of Buddhists.

 

Vi Phan was justified in her observation that Vietnamese temples failed to adequately engage with young persons. One reason is the generational gap and the other is the languages of communication.

 

The first generation of leadership such as the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue and Most Venerables Thich Huyen Ton, Thich Nhu Hue and Thich Bao Lac are very knowledgeable in classical Chinese, Sino-Vietnamese and of course Vietnamese. Most Venerable Thich Bao Lac is also a noted author and translator of sutras from Chinese into Vietnamese with a long list of titles to his credit, which are well read by first generation Vietnamese. Other books written in Vietnamese by the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, by Senior Venerables Thich Phuoc Nhon, Thich Nhat Tan, Thich Phuoc An and recently by Venerable Thich Phuoc Thai of Quang Minh Temple, are similarly received. But young Vietnamese Australians still miss out, as their first language is English and their preferred means for information are the Internet, iphones and social media.

 

The Vietnamese Sangha’s second generation is better equipped to meet both challenges – the structural reform as well as the demographic change, because they are bi-lingual, bi-cultural and IT-literate. But they will not be able do so, unless they are given increasing responsibilities at the temples and within their Congregation.

 

In years to come, the Buddhist message of loving kindness and compassion will remain the same, only the mediums of communication need be new and creatively different.

 

   Tangible and Intangible Contributions

 

Pride is not part of the Buddhist sentiment in this impermanent world, but the Vietnamese Buddhist community felt pleased to have achieved some contributions towards multicultural Australia which has given them a second chance in life and freedom of Faith.    

 

Generally, these contributions can be seen in a physical sense, by the presence of Vietnamese temples in suburban Australia, and socially through the spiritual well being of Vietnamese Buddhists as an integral part of a broader inter-faith community. Elected representatives of all three levels of government and civic leaders frequent these places of worship during festive seasons and major religious events in recognition of their roles in community life.                                                                                                                           

 

There has not been, however any attempts either on behalf of the Vietnamese Buddhist congregations or officially by a government agency to evaluate these contributions in terms of tangible and intangible cultural heritage of Australia. The process of heritagisation may have started in a small way by institutions such as immigration museums at the state level and the National Museum of Australia as part of their historical records, or the National Library of Australia for its oral history.                         

 

Be that as it may, the passing of a prominent Vietnamese Australian Buddhist leader provides an opportunity for recognisation of these contributions through both civic and political expressions.                                                                  

 

 
Thien Vien Minh Quang Sydney (4)

                                                                           Minh Quang Temple in South Western Sydney                           

 

 

Perhaps unseen previously amongst the non-Christian Faiths in Australia, the death of Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue on 28 January 2012 as the first and long serving Patriarch of the Vietnamese Australian Buddhist community brought into focus his achievements and those of the Vietnamese Australian Sangha as a whole. As expected, his peers from various Buddhist lineages and traditions in Australia and overseas paid tributes to him as a teacher, a scholar and an advocate for peace, social harmony at home and abroad [18].

 

What, I believe, was exceptionally significant was the message from the Head of the Catholic Church of Australia, His Eminence Cardinal George Pell, and the condolence motion moved on 27 February 2012, by the Hon. Philip Ruddock, MP, former federal Attorney-General and Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs. This motion was seconded by Mr. Craig Kelly, MP, and supported by a further four MPs from both sides of politics in the National Parliament.                                                    

 

Mr. Ruddock’s motion reads:                                                                                         

 

“That this House (1) expresses its deep regret at the death on 28 January 2012 of the late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue OAM, the Spiritual Leader of the Phuoc Hue Buddhist Monastery and leader of the Vietnamese Buddhist community in Australia; (2) places on record its appreciation of his long and meritorious public service; and (3) tenders its profound sympathy to the Vietnamese Buddhist community in its bereavement”.                                                         

 

Mr. Ruddock then placed on the official parliamentary record the text of Cardinal George Pell’s message of condolences: “The Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney joins with the senior Venerable Thich Phuoc Tan, OAM and other senior monks, nuns and lay practitioners who mourn deeply the passing of this exemplary spiritual leader and scholar. On occasions of significant ecumenical and inter-religious activities, the strong support of The Late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, OAM and his community was keenly felt and much appreciated. The Late Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue, OAM will remain an inspiration not only the Australian Vietnamese Buddhist Community but to many other Australians as well, recalling his contribution to the life our country with gratitude”.                                                                                                                                                               

 

In conclusion, Mr. Ruddock said: “The Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue has achieved a great deal in his efforts to rebuild Vietnamese Buddhism as part of the fabric of and as a contributor to multicultural Australia”.                                   

 

Other speakers agreed.                                                                                                                       

 

Mr. Chris Hayes, MP, noted that [the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue] “aspired to rebuild Vietnamese Buddhism not only to serve the religious needs of Vietnamese Australians - mostly refugees - but also to make a genuine contribution to multiculturalism in Australia”.                                                                   

 

In his view, “The Phuoc Hue temple is more than just a sacred place, particularly for Buddhist people, it is also a place of compassion and a place of giving. It is also an iconic feature in the fabric of multiculturalism as it stands in Western Sydney”.                                                                                                                   

 

This tangible contribution was also emphasised by another MP.                                   

 

Mr. Craig Kelly, MP, said: “Through his drive and persistence, he built, or was instrumental in the building of, Vietnamese temples in Sydney, Melbourne, other capital cities of Australia, and in New Zealand”.                                                                                                            

 

As a Member of the federal Parliament of Jewish background, Mr. Michael Danby not only paid tributes to the late Most Venerable but also drew a parallel example to another religious leader. He said:  

 


HT. Thich Tac Phuoc
Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue [is] probably the most influential Buddhist leader this country has seen. Vietnamese Australians have contributed so much to Australia, and the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was essential in shaping those contributions. He reminds me very much of the legendary rabbi of the post-war generation, Rabbi Chaim Gutnik, who revived belief in the Jewish refugees who came to Australia in their own background and faith. I think that Australia was a better place for him and his activities - religious, cultural and interfaith”.                                                                                                                   

 

For his part, Mr. Russell Matheson, MP, remembered some specific events in the life of the late Most Venerable: As the first president of the United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation in Australia and New Zealand, the UVBC, he had a long and enviable list of accomplishments, both in Australia and internationally. Some of these include the selection by His Royal Highness Prince Charles of Phuoc Hue Temple as a neutral place to hold discussions with Australia's religious leaders from the Christian, Muslim, Jewish, Hindu and Buddhist faiths in 1994. In 1995, the Most Venerable Thich Phuoc Hue was awarded the Medal of the Order of Australia in recognition of his contributions to the Vietnamese Buddhist community”.                                                                                                       

 

To sum up, the former Parliamentary Secretary for Multicultural Affairs, The Hon. Laurie Ferguson, MP, captured the mood of the moment in the following words: “Here in the national parliament of Australia, we are celebrating the life of a person who was born in 1921 in a village near Saigon, who fled his country, who was a refugee in Hong Kong in 1979 and who was then sponsored into this country to become the first resident monk of Vietnamese background in Australia. We are celebrating his contribution to this country, what he accomplished and the fact that this can happen in Australia” [19].

 

In terms of tangible contributions, there has not been a specialist appreciation of Vietnamese Buddhist temples in Australia.  Apart from the “Vietnamese appearance” of better known temples such as Phuoc Hue and Phap Bao in Sydney, Hoa Nghiem and Quang Minh in Melbourne, Phap Hoa in Adelaide, Pho Quang in Perth and Phap Quang in Brisbane, to name just a few, one may look at, with some details, Quang Duc Monastery in Fawkner, Vic and Minh Quang Temple in Canley Vale, NSW.  The former grew out of a suburban school which had not possessed any architectural features of note and the second was built from scratch with around “80% Vietnamese materials” by a Vietnamese architect.

 

For those who had seen the school prior to 1990 and subsequently the monastery since 2010, Fawkner landscape changed beyond any recognition and for the better, thanks to the tireless efforts of its founding Abbot, Senior Venerable Thich Tam Phuong and his successor, Senior Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang: the monastery stands out architecturally. Bhikkhu Thich Tam Phuong encapsulated these efforts as follows: “Twenty years is a long period in human life, especially for Buddhist followers, rushing to escape from Samsara, the circle of birth and death, no time to waste on the journey to, or from, our spiritual home. Twenty years have past, our first generation had to suffer and make sacrifices to build infrastructure and to build a solid foundation for the next generation of Vietnamese in Australia” [20].

 

Built much later in 2003 with Mr. Pham Van Duc, an architecture graduate of the University of Saigon in charge of the project, Minh Quang Temple in South Western Sydney marked its 10th anniversary in 2013 – as one of the newest infrastructure among the Vietnamese temples in Australia. On this occasion, Most Venerable Thich Minh Hieu, its founding Abbot, explained the two reasons for its existence: One is the religious and cultural needs of Vietnamese Buddhists and the other is cultural contribution to Australia from Vietnamese Buddhism by way of an architecturally Vietnamese style. He expressed his ardent hope that this temple would withstand the test of time for three centuries rather than three decades [21].

 

Conclusion

 

Vietnamese Buddhism has shared the same testing problems with other non-Christian religions in its effort to establish itself in a predominantly Christian country. Thanks to strong support from a battling refugee community during their early resettlement, the Federation / Congregations were able to expand timely throughout Australia to cater for the spiritual needs of Buddhists who are mainly first generation of Vietnamese settlers. Amongst the other challenges, the 1999 structural split has not hindered its ability to serve Vietnamese and, in a limited way, non-Vietnamese believers. However, as the demographics amongst Vietnamese Australians have changed, the Congregations have to move forward to attract younger Buddhists and potential Buddhists. Numerically, the Congregations are well equipped with over fifty monasteries and house-temples across the country, but its second generation of leadership - currently small in number and imbalanced in gender - are still finding their way to engage with the young, bi-cultural, IT literate and English speaking Vietnamese Australians.

 

(c) [2015] Tuong Quang Luu, Sydney Australia

 

 

Notes:                                                                                                                                 

 

[1] A shorter version was published in Part II Chapter 5 “Changes and Challenges to Vietnamese Buddhism in Australia of [2011] Cristina Rocha and Michelle Parker, Eds, Buddhism in Australia – traditions in change, Routledge, London, UK                                                                                                                                 

 

This article has been updated to cover events up to early 2015 including the author’s presentations delivered at a Seminar on Buddhism, organised by Dr. Anna Halafoff of Deakin University, at Quang Minh Temple, Melbourne on 27 October 2012, and a round-table talk at the Buddhist Council of NSW, Sydney, on 11 June 2013                                                                                                                                             

 

[2] All quoted views are taken from the author’s interviews with Buddhist leaders of various lineages and traditions, lay Buddhists and others via face-to-face meetings, and some times by emails.

 

[3] [2014] Commonwealth of Australia – Department of Immigration and Border Protection, The People of Australia – Statistics from 2011 Census

 

[4] Census 1976

 

[5] [1991] Luu, Tuong Quang, Chuc-Thanh, and Ngoc Han (eds) The United Vietnamese Buddhist Congregation of Australia and New Zealand 1981-1991, Phuoc Hue Monastery, Sydney

 

[6] This article drew the attention of politicians, particularly in the State of NSW, to the unmet needs of Vietnamese Buddhists.

 

[7] Skennar, John, Sydney, A City Growing Within: The Establishment of Buddhist Centres in Western Sydney, in Casula Powerhouse Arts Centre’s “Buddha in Suburbia, Greater Western Sydney”, 2005.

 

[8] See Note [5]

 

[9] [2008] Phap Bao Pagoda, Gia Dinh Phat Tu Phap Bao – 25 Nam Ky Niem (25th Anniversary of Gia Dinh Phat Tu Phap Bao), Sydney.                                           

 

[10] See Note [5]

 

[11] [2011] Luu, Tuong Quang, Vai Van de Phap ly trong sinh hoat tu vien Phat Giao Viet Nam tai Uc Chau-Tan Tay Lan / Some Legal Issues relating to Vietnamese Buddhist Temples in Australia-New Zealand (Presentation to the 4th National Vietnamese Buddhist Conference, at Phap Hoa Temple, Adelaide, 17-19 March 2011)                                          

www.tuvienquangduc.com.au/tacgia/luutuongquang.html   

                                                                                                                                             

 

[12] Sarah Price & Susanna Kass, Generation Y turning away from religion, The Age, Melbourne, August 6, 2006.

 

[13] [2002] Ang, Ien Professor & Others, Living Diversity – Australia’s Multicultural Future, University of Western Sydney, Sydney (a research project commissioned by SBS Corporation)                                         

 

[14] Interview on 17 October 2012 at Barom Kagyu Chodrak Drupju Chuling Buddhist Sydney Centre.

 

[15] www.nantien.edu.au/ Nan Tien Institute (NTI) is the place for quality education                                 and cultural exchange…                                                                                                                                  

[16] Ngoc Han, Interview with Senior Venerable Thich Nguyen Tang on the occasion of the 20th Anniversary of Quang Duc Monastery - VOA Vietnamese Service on 6th November 2010 and Dan Viet Weekly, Sydney, 5th November 2010     quangduc.com/author/about/86/ngoc-han?r...

[17] Luu, Tuong Quang, Some Thoughts on Buddhism and Communications in
Multicultural Australia,
Australian Buddhist General Conference: ‘Engaging                                       Buddhism in Australia’ at Victoria University, Melbourne, from 20th to 22nd                           February 2004.                                                                                                                            www.tuvienquangduc.com.au/tacgia/luutuongquang.html                                                   

[18]  Luu, Tuong Quang, Thich Phuoc Hue (1922-2012): Leader advocated                                   social harmony, Sydney Morning Herald, February 18, 2012  http://www.smh.com.au/national/obituaries/leader-advocated-social-harmony-20120217-1teeh.html                                                                                                                                                     

[19] Commonwealth of Australia, House of Representatives, Hansard, Monday, 27 February 2012, pages 79- 85

[20] [2014] Kỷ yếu Hai Mươi Năm (1990-2010) Thành Lập Tu Viện Quảng Đức                                – The 20th Anniversary of Quang Duc Monastery                                                                                 

[21] Ngọc Hân, The 10th Anniversary of  Minh Quang Temple, Interview with Most Venerable Thich Minh Hieu, VOA Vietnamese Service on 7th August 2013 at 10 PM ;              Nhân Quyền Weekly, Melbourne, 7th August 2013, Văn Nghệ Weekly, Sydney,                         8th August 2013.                                                                                                        quangduc.com/author/about/86/ngoc-han?r...


Some selected references:                                                                                                                 

[1989] Paul Croucher, Buddhism in Australia 1848-1988, New South Wales University Press, Sydney Australia                                                                                                                                           

[2011] Dr. Cristina Rocha and Dr. Michelle Barker (ed.), Buddhism in Australia – Traditions in Change, Routledge, London UK                                                                                                                                        

[1973] Nguyen Lang (reportedly a pen name of Most Venerable Thich Nhat Hanh), Viet Nam Phat Giao Su Luan (Critical Essays on the History of Vietnamese Buddhism), first published by La Boi, Saigon, Vietnam.

                                               * * * * * *

 

 

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The Most Venerables, Venerables, Professors, Researchers, Monks, Nuns, Lay Buddhists, and every bodies are present today. I would like to introduce cultural life, living spirituality of ASEAN countries and discussing the role of religion in this area.
26/10/201605:34(Xem: 5552)
In India in the 6th century BC, Sakyamuni, "a wise man of the Sakya tribe", had been meditating under a tree when, suddenly, he was struck with the comprehension of all things. He became Buddha, meaning the « Illuminated ». His message, based on a pragmatic philosophy, taught how to free oneself from all needs in order to achieve illumination. After the death of the Enlightened One, his disciples – a few monks – began to spread his teachings all over India, from Ceylon to the Himalayan. Fearing man’s penc
11/04/201700:46(Xem: 1677)
Unlike most other NESB or CALD communities, the Vietnamese came to Australia in large numbers within a rather short period of time when the host multicultural society was still in its infancy. Their presence as an Asian visible minority was really a test to the strength of Australia’s political leadership and tolerance of the population at large. Initially without any intra structure of support, Vietnamese Australians learned to adapt themselves to the new social and cultural environment to become a vibrant community with tangible and intangible contributions to Australia. In future growth however, Vietnamese Australians appear to face a challenge as today’s new settlers from Vietnam bear little commonality in life experience and outlook with the essentially Vietnamese refugee community of the past few decades.
07/04/201507:08(Xem: 1737)
Almost five years ago on June 1st 2010, I arrived with my two dogs in Tasmania to start a Ph D in Buddhist philosophy at the University of Tasmania and to continue my training in Clinical Pastoral Education, a form of professional preparation for chaplains and Pastoral/Contemplative Care Workers. On our way south to Hobart my attention was drawn to my right, looking towards the north west of this island state. I felt that I had an appointment with somewhere in that direction and that it would be important for my life.