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Interview with Thich Minh Chau, 1981

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Summary
Thich Minh Chau discusses the history of Buddhism in Vietnam. He describes the effect of numerous colonization’s and divisions of Vietnam on Vietnamese Buddhism, and specifically comments on the damaging effects of American culture.
Topics
Buddhism and politics, Buddhism, Colonization, Vietnam--Civilization, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Personal narratives, Vietnamese, War and family, Imperialism, Nationalism--Religious aspects--Buddhism, Vietnamese reunification question (1954-1976), Cultural traditions, Vietnam War, 1961-1975--Influence, Vietnam--Civilization--Chinese influences, Vietnam--Civilization--Buddhist influences
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Transcript

Division, unity and Buddhism in Vietnam

SR 2095
THICH MINH CHAU
688 TAKE 1
Clapstick
Interview with Thich Minh Chau, 61, Buddhist Superior. In English, transcribe as is.
Interviewer:
Could you tell us a little about when Buddhists, when Buddhism is strongest and when it’s not, I mean if you would look right at me.
Thich Minh Chau:
Buddhism was introduced into Vietnam about 2nd century A.D. And from that time, you see, the Buddhists are very faithful to their own religion, mostly during the period when the Vietnamese got full independence, not under the Chinese domination. The Buddhism was very flourishing and we were very active in the cultural, social, education activities of the country.
For instance, during the dynasty of Ly, dynasty of Tran, you see, you can say that Buddhism was almost the... the ... the nation's religion of the country. So we were very happy during the time when we got full independence and full sovereignty. But when the country suffered from foreign domination mostly we suffered one thousand years Chinese domination, at the time of course we are very unhappy. And Buddhism also shared the same fate with the people.
Interviewer:
What about when the country was divided in 1954? How did the Buddhists feel? Could you have accepted two Vietnamese if there were less religious discriminations?
Thich Minh Chau:
Of course (interruption because of noise) I can say that to the Vietnamese peoples and also to the Buddhist peoples, Vietnam was only one country. And people, the Vietnamese people, are only one people. We have no divisions, south, north or center. All these are imposed on the Vietnamese people mostly by the colonialist peoples. So as Buddhists we are only happy when our country is unified, united, only one. And we also were very happy if we have only one government working for the welfare of the country and keeping up the Buddhist tradition of the country.
Interviewer:
Would you comment on your fears about the American presence in Vietnam and how it would affect the culture?
Thich Minh Chau:
Of course you know that the life of the American is totally different from the ancient way of life of Vietnam. You see, we are not accustomed to all this kind of luxury and these kinds of divisions, influences that divide the family. So when the American's civilization came into our country, of course we have to suffer from such influences. So the is why the Buddhists are not so happy with the American's civilization.
689 Take 1
Clapstick
Thich Minh Chau:
You know the Vietnamese peoples they mostly they respect the... our own traditions. And these traditions are influenced by Buddhism. So the Buddhist way of life is most respected by the peoples. When the foreign or American influence came into our country, these influences disrupted the old way of life and disrupted also the simple way of life that we are accustomed to. So that is why many Buddhists are against this new way of life imported from foreign country.
SR 2096
THICH MINH CHAU
Beep tone
Roll 96 of Vietnam Project
Interview with Thich Minh Chau continues. In Vietnamese.
690 Take 1
Clapstick
Interviewer:
Please tell us again – this time in Vietnamese – how Buddhism identifies with the country when the country is strong and not when it is weak and divided.
Thich Minh Chau:
It can be said that Buddhism entered into Vietnam in the 2nd century A.D. From the time of its entrance into Vietnam to the present time, the Vietnamese Buddhists have always been faithful to their traditional religion. And during the periods when the country was unified and independent, Vietnamese Buddhism flourished. For example, during the Ly and the Tran dynasties Vietnamese Buddhism was regarded as a national religion. And the Vietnamese Buddhists were also very unified in their effort to build the nation.
It can be said that the monks contributed very significantly to the cultural, artistic and educational life of the Vietnamese people. Whenever Vietnam lost is independence and sovereignty such as during the 100 years under Chinese domination or the 117 years under French and American domination when the country was divided and the people suffered, then Vietnamese Buddhism also had to endure much losses and suffering.
Therefore, to the Vietnamese Buddhists, Buddhism and the nation of Vietnam are one. The glory of the country is only the glory of the Buddhist Church and the shame of the country is also the shame of Buddhism. Therefore, we wanted more than anything else the independence of the Vietnamese nation.
Interviewer:
Could you also comment, also in Vietnamese, about your fears of the effect of American presence in Vietnam?
Thich Minh Chau:
We also realized that American culture brought about many bad influences on the daily life...
691 Take 1 Clapstick
Interviewer:
Could you comment, please, on the effect of American culture on Vietnam?
Thich Minh Chau:
As you may have realized the Vietnamese people have a long standing religious tradition which has been influenced by Buddhism and in part by Confucianism. When the American influence came into the country it turned upside down and disrupted the simple way of life of the Vietnamese people. For example, you can see that in a Vietnamese pagoda life is very tranquil and simple.
And in a Vietnamese family you usually had a kind of harmony between parents and children, creating a real extended family feeling. But when the effect of American culture became widespread in Vietnam, it disrupted the family life in Vietnam and the very tranquil and simple life of the Vietnamese pagodas. For this reason the Vietnamese Buddhists as well as other Vietnamese could not accept the influence of the degenerated way of life and the violence brought about by American culture.
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