By One of His Lay Students
Following is a report by an elderly Vietnamese woman who recently visited Ven. Thich Huyen Quang, Executive Director of the Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam, currently under house arrest. This report was given to us by Ven. Thich Minh Dung, a disciple of Ven. Thich Huyen Quang.
I sighed as if hundreds of kilograms had just been lifted from my shoulders as I walked into my own home. My eldest daughter cried out when she saw me, "Mom is home, safe and sound."
During the last three days, my mind had been greatly strained by my illegal visit with Ven. Thich Huyen Quang, who is being detained. To my knowledge, I was his first visitor since he was arrested. My family worried that I might be risking everything by visiting him. But I am old now and I am one of his life-long students.
The road leading to his place of detainment was long and winding, accessible only by ox-cart. The air was steaming hot. Amidst a deserted patch of farmland, a small house was newly erected to imprison Ven. Quang. I could only see a few small straw huts nearby. A few kilometers away was a mountain inhabited by some highlander groups. I arrived at the house where Ven. Quang resides at exactly noon—the time of day the guards are most likely to be napping.
"Is anyone home? I am lost, thirsty, and would like a glass of water, please," I announced. I made no attempt to hide my presence, for doing so would only attract the attention of the guards living next door. The door opened. Ven. Quang walked out with the help of a cane.
"Teacher," was all I could say to him at first. The tears from my eyes could not stop flowing, and I could not find the words to say anything else to him.
"Why did you risk coming to see me—an old woman alone on a dangerous trip? Let me open the door widely so the guards won't be suspicious," he said. "Come in."
"How are you, my teacher?" I asked.
"I was ill for a few months, but I am getting better. I don't know about next month, though."
"Does this isolation sadden you?"
"The fate of religion under suppression saddens me. Life here is quiet and deserted. There are only a few people around, and as they are the guards, and I am their prisoner, we do not get along well."
"If Nguyen Thieu Pagoda submits a pardon request to have you come live there, would you go?"
"No. How can Nguyen Thieu Pagoda do that? They had no say in my being imprisoned here in Nghia Hanh Hamlet. How can they now ask for my pardon? Some have approached me about this before. But, no. I will return with proper documentation to the place where I was illegally arrested. If I committed a crime, put me on trial. If I am found guilty, I will accept the punishment handed to me. If not, I would like to receive an official apology from the government to the Buddhist faith."
"When they arrested you from Hoi Phuoc Pagoda, what did they do? What did they say to you?"
"Two policemen took me by the sides and pulled me to the car. The others glared at me with watchful eyes. But they wasted their effort. If an old man like me decided to go against them, he would do it with his head, not with his fists. They didn't need to use force."
"Did they return any of your belongings they confiscated?"
"Only the bed, a small table, and a few things."
"What about your files and the stamp belonging to Vien Hoa Dao (Institute to Propagate the Dharma)?"
"They took them all, including cassette tapes which recorded programs such as VOA, BBC, New Horizon. They did not even spare the tapes we use for religious ceremonies!"
"Did they take any money, teacher?"
"When they confiscated the money, they told me that it would be forwarded to Tu Quang Pagoda for safekeeping. I had $3,000 that had been sent to us from people all over the world. They took it all. Later, Tu Quang Pagoda informed me that no money was forwarded to them."
"Did you file an official complaint? It has been more than six months. How do you survive, in terms of food and medicine?"
"Oh well, let's consider everything lost for now."
"In Saigon, I visited the family of a layman who was arrested, and learned that more than $5,000 that had been borrowed for the flood-relief effort was confiscated."
"Yes, everything is lost. But I firmly believe in the buddhas and bodhisattvas. Please leave now. You have been here for more than half an hour. The authorities forbid me to receive guests. There were six policemen here not too long ago. Occasionally, whole car-loads of policemen come to guard me. Now there are two, sometimes four."
Ven. Quang was very concerned about me. He walked to the door and went outside. In my mind, I prepared for a dialogue with the police, should there be one. I would say that "the old man" (Ven. Quang) and I were conversing about how to get herbal oil for his troubled legs. I was going through the scenario as I took a look around to see how Ven. Quang was living. It was a small room which included also a bathroom and a kitchen—two mangos and some flour on the kitchen table—that was all. How could Ven. Quang cook and look after himself when he is in such poor health? Does he even have the strength to draw water from the well?
"Now, you must leave, my pupil. The police are looking at you from the house next door. I am used to life in prison. The lack of facilities here is only like a mosquito bite on someone being burnt alive. Do you have any news about Ven. Thich Quang Do?"
"No, my teacher. Some say that he is still being kept in Saigon. Some say he has been transferred north."
"Oh, I wish him well. My fate is tied with prison and his with exile. Both of us are monks, and both of us endure such cruel fates."
"My teacher, did they just build this house?"
"Oh, yes. They built it in twenty days in December. On the 28th, I was brought here. Many interrogators come. Now, there are two, sometimes four, sometimes as many as ten. They come with guns and bullets strapped to their bodies. They as questions about our life, our faith, and our country. Go home now. The police are beginning to stand up over there."
I bowed to him as I was leaving. Ven. Quang sat silently for a moment and then said, "Stay calm and answer quickly if you are stopped by the police."
I walked out, pretending I was calm. Actually I was hurting badly inside from fear and from having to leave Ven. Quang behind.
Two policemen in civilian clothes asked me where I was going. I told them that the water from the well was very refreshing, and I was no longer tired after having a drink from it. As I walked, I prayed to the buddhas. About one kilometer away, I looked back. There was a small house in an otherwise deserted area. A monk nearly 80 years old was being imprisoned there, without anyone to look after him. Oh, people of authority, why are you so cruel? You are executing him not by bullets but by years of isolation, ill health, and interrogation sessions. If something terrible happened to my teacher, who would know? Oh Buddha!