Most Venerable Thich Nhu Dien
Most Vietnamese started to appear in Europe after 1975 in various countries such as England, France, Germany, Russia… If I am not mistaken, there are about one million Vietnamese people living in Europe out of three million currently living in a foreign country, and most of them are Buddhists. Therefore, whenever any member of the Vietnamese Sangha moves to a foreign country, they always seek to establish a pagoda, temple or similar places to cultivate Buddhism and provide the necessary spiritual needs such as ceremonies, funeral, dharma education, etc.
In Europe, more than one hundred of such places have been established compared to the close to one thousand amounts worldwide. The responsibilities of these Vietnamese Buddhists could be divided into two main missions:
The first is integration with the local societies and cultures. The second is to conserve and promote our own culture and religion. These two missions prove to be heavy responsibilities for both the Buddhist Sangha and lay people. The first thing to do is to learn the local language, then slowly promote the understanding of Buddhism so that the new society could accept and provide easier living environments.
I myself came to Japan to study in 1972 and moved to Germany in 1977 afterward as a refugee. It´s been more than 40 years. Preserving Vietnamese Buddhism, whether traditional or radical, in foreign countries has always been in my mind. There will be less people who choose to become ordained from the second and third generations. Thus, if Dharma could be taught to the natives, there would not be such as bleak a future for Vietnamese pagodas and temples as what had happened for the Chinese Buddhists in America since the revolution in 1911. Their pagoda and temples may have vanished without a trace in present time.
The phenomena of Europeans leaving the Catholic or Evangelic are numerous, and maybe they won´t change to Buddhism right after. This creates a spiritual empty space for many people, which we as spiritual leaders should focus on to help and ease the spiritual pain. I think it is not an impossible task for Buddhism despite we don’t have a missionary organization like other religions. The religion of today must be a religion of compassion and wisdom, to guide people on a positive road to liberation. If not, then we are no different from other religions.
Currently, there are hundreds of German Buddhist centers, leaded by German monks or lay disciples. At the same time, Universities also have subjects such as Buddhism and Religions. Another great news is there are more than ten million vegetarian German and vegetarian food becomes common in Germany. Not all German vegetarians are Buddhist. However, if we could combine Buddhist dharma of compassion into society then Buddhism will quickly spread in Germany and other countries, and guide people toward a better direction for their spiritual minds.
The late Most Venerable Thích Tâm Châu, Thích Huyền Vi, Thích Thiền Định, Thích Minh Tâm, Thích Minh Lễ and Thích Nhất Hạnh have been parts of the Council and also the great architects for both Vietnamese and European Buddhism.
I wish the Congress success and always be mindful to help the Buddhist developments in Europe.