Hoang Ngo : Building a New House for the Buddha – Buddhist Social Engagement and Revival in Vietnam, 1927-1951

[ndlr] Annonce d’une nouvelle étude sur le bouddhisme vietnamien concernant une période clé de son histoire. Résumé de l’étude par Christoph Giebel, publié avec son aimable autorisation.

Ref.: Hoang Ngo, Building a New House for the Buddha: Buddhist Social Engagement and Revival in Vietnam, 1927-1951, Chair: Christoph Giebel

The dissertation investigates in particular social engagement of Vietnamese Buddhists, in itself the product of the Buddhist revival emerging in the 1920s. During the revival, Vietnamese Buddhists attempted to remake their religion into a this-worldly Buddhism, establishing Buddhist associations and monastic schools and publishing periodicals to propagate the Dharma. Their goal was to use Buddhism to effectively deal with the colonization of the country by the French and the challenges posed by colonial modernity.

Hoang follows in great detail the debates within and among the emerging Buddhist associations of Cochinchina, Annam, and Tonkin, particularly during the 1930s and early 1940s when new ideas and profound change caused much excitement and activities as well as great anxieties and self-doubt.  What was the best way to propagate the Dharma among the masses?  How could one separate the “true” monk from the “fake”?  What was to be the proper balance between the sangha and the laity?  How could Buddhist associations organize themselves and operate effectively within an all-encompassing colonial order of control?  What role was there for revived Buddhism in the national(ist) struggle?  These and other questions fueled an explosion of intense debates, both in personal interactions as well as in various print media, over doctrinal, organizational and institutional aspects of Buddhism.

Despite personal and institutional rivalries, tensions between leading monks,  newly empowered lay people, and French authority, and persistent regional divisions, the ideal of a unified, all-Vietnamese Buddhist organization remained a long-standing, if elusive goal.  Unity, however, would come about only in the twilight of the colonial empire and the early years of the Cold War, and via the catalyst of the World Buddhist Conference in Sri Lanka.  In an epilogue, Hoang links the (short-lived) moment of unity in 1951 to the Buddhist Struggle Movement in the 1960s Republic, the subject of his earlier, pre-dissertation work.  At the end of a rigorous and vigorous defense, Hoang’s committee urged him to turn this important and richly documented dissertation into a full-fledged book manuscript.

Christoph Giebel, 15/09/2015.