Buddhist InterhelpLondon, England 12 Shell Road, London SE13 7TW Tel. and Fax: (44)181.692.1737
By Mai Nguyen
Our Sangha, Buddhist Interhelp, began practicing together in early 1982. In 1986, Thich Nhat Hanh named us with the English equivalent to Hoi Tuong Te Phat Giao-the Sangha of lay Buddhists in Vietnam who assist the Abbot or Abbess in daily tasks to maintain the Temple, support the teaching and practice of Buddhism, share practIces with the family, and help each other. They are an integral part of Vietnamese culture, found in every district, neighbourhood, or village with a Buddhist temple.
Abbreviated, Buddhist Interhelp is Bi, which in Vietnamese means removing suffering, or karuna. The term beautifully expresses our Sangha's philosophy, objectives, and action. Our activities embrace three principal aspects of practice: mindfulness trainings and practices, preservmg and enriching Vietnamese culture, and working to help others.
During monthly Days of Mindfulness, we recite the precepts and sutras, and engage in Dharma discussion. We also receive Dharma talks from Thay, and have retreats with him and other Buddhist masters in both the Mahayana and Theravada traditions. To help each other apply the teachings in daily life, we discuss practical subjects such as dealing with anger, family, happiness, reconnecting to our roots through social action, and celebrating the special Vietnamese and English days. We work to preserve and emich our Vietnamese culture through seminars on history and literature, discussions, and inviting guest speakers particularly aiming at the young Vietnamese members and their friends to encourage dialogue between generations. From time to time, we have the opportunity to share our Buddhist practice and culture with non-Vietnamese members working with the Education Authority and other agencies, or through workshops, conferences, or exhibitions. Sangha membership is open to everyone. Through several charity projects, Buddhist Interhelp responds to suffering and supports the practice of mindfulness. The Bi-Lotus project, launched in April 1997, employs social workers in Saigon to work with children who have been forced into prostitution. Our workers help the children return to safer environments or home as appropriate. One teen-aged client is HIV positive.
Another of our projects is Bi-Study-Vietnam, Students Training Using Donations from You in Vietnam. We implemented this project in 1994. Through Bi-Study Vietnam, we provide educational opportunities for students in several Vietnam provinces. We aim to help educate the most needy children in remote, poor, rural areas, and particularly try to provide more scholarships to girls.
Other projects include the project Bi-Befriending and Bi-Training. In the late 1980s, a group of experienced .Sangha members--the Befrienders--began taking turns visiting the sick, the dying, .or other friends in distress. In 1996, we began BI-Training, a project to provide scholarships to monks and nuns in Vietnam who may require specific Buddhist training not available at their temples.
In 1997, Typhoon Linda swept through Vietnam destroying almost 80,000 homes, many schools, hospitals, roads, and markets, and taking many human and animal lives. Many families lost their loved ones and their livelihoods. In response, our Sangha established the Bi-Natural Disaster Project, through which we offered help to some of the 150,000 worst-affected people. We have also helped people in refugee camps from Hong Kong to Malaysia to Ethiopia, and worked with the Environment Protection Charity to find ways of preserving natural resources, including other species.
Buddhist Interhelp is currently seeking a practice centre for our spiritual extended family and friends and to shelter all our activities. We hope to set up a centre near London where most of our members live. Nuns and monks from Plum Village and other countries will be invited to come and teach the Dharma.
Mai Nguyen, True Beauty, is the General Secretary of Buddhist lnterhelp. Any contributions--finances or energy--to any of our projects, especially the Centre Project, are warmly received. Our charity status is imminent.