Friday, April 20, 2007

Thich Nhat Hanh leads prayer for war dead

In a sermon delivered today at the Non Nuoc pagoda, about 25 miles outside Hanoi, Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh urged thousands in attendance to pray equally for those who died on both sides during the Vietnam war, stating:

"We know that you fought courageously for our nation. And we are proud of you. We will not distinguish between north and south or discriminate by race, religion, party or ideology."

Last month Kay Johnson of Time magazine reported:

"Originally, the Grand Requiem ceremonies were to be billed in Vietnamese as the 'Grand Requiem for Praying Equally for All to Untie the Knots of Unjust Suffering.' But Vietnamese officials objected, saying it was improper to 'equally' pray for soldiers in the U.S.-backed South Vietnam army, not to mention American soldiers.

"'The spirit of the Vietnamese people doesn't agree with the idea of praying for foreign imperialists coming to kill millions of Vietnamese,' says Bui Huu Duoc, director of the government's Religious Affairs Committee for Buddhism. So Nhat Hanh agreed to change the name to simply 'Grand Requiem For Praying' though his supporters say the spirit of the ceremony remains the same."

His sermon began a three-day ceremony at the pagoda, the last of three such prayer ceremonies for the war dead held in the country (the other two in Hue and Ho Chi Minh City); ceremonies of this kind had previously not been allowed under the communist regime.

Ven. Nhat Hanh, well known for his advocacy of engaged Buddhism and teachings in recent years, has been travelling through Vietnam along with about 150 followers from overseas and will continue until May 9. His visit has been opposed by the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam leaders and by the International Buddhist Information Bureau, the overseas press office of the UBCV. Official media in Vietnam, on the other hand, has praised his visit as evidence of religious freedom in the country.

Sources: Reuters, April 20; Time magazine March 2; VNA/Nhan Dan April 17; VNS April 18.


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